Silver and Gold
By Martha Kuhn
Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine and I have no right or intent to profit by their use. The writers and actors who have brought them to life over the years have just made me love them so much that I want to see more of their stories.
Sarah Jane Smith was suddenly very awake.
She lay quietly in her bed, breathing softly as she explored her surroundings with all of her senses. The rain tapped lightly on her windows just as it had been doing when she went to bed. Occasional flashes of lightning were followed, at some seconds delay, by gentle rumblings of thunder. Nothing loud enough or bright enough to wake her. Besides, the sounds of a storm usually lulled her to sleep rather than bringing her out of it.
The lighted numerals of her clock radio glowed dimly red. 3:00 AM. Just two hours since she had fallen exhausted into her bed. And now she was facing the prospect of crawling back out of it and into unknown danger. She thought about dialing 999 on her mobile, but realized quickly there were two problems with that idea--one, she had nothing but a feeling of dread to report to the police, and two, she had left her mobile in her handbag downstairs on her desk.
As she slipped quietly from under the covers, she carefully pulled open the drawer in her night stand and took out a hefty torch. She didn't turn it on as she padded silently out of her room and into the hallway, because she knew her home well enough not to need it and because she knew that if danger waited for her, turning on the torch would make her a hard-to-miss target. Still, its solid weight in her hand comforted her. In a pinch, it could double as a weapon. She crept down the stairs, hugging the wall, careful to avoid the creaky spots, eyes and ears and nerves tuned to a pitch she hadn't had to call on since her days with the Doctor.
At the base of the stairs she paused, probing the darkness ahead with her eyes and ears and that sixth sense that had helped keep her alive during her travels in the TARDIS. Her living room opened out in front of her, a dark chasm, with darker lumps that gradually resolved themselves into her familiar wing chair and ottoman, desk, floor lamp and couch as she scanned the room. Seeing nothing out of place, she stepped into the room, feeling first the smooth, cool hardwood under her bare feet and then the soft fabric of the Oncabrian rug.
She headed towards her desk, aiming to retrieve the mobile in case she needed it, but halfway there she stopped. A dark shape lay on the floor in front of her desk, a shape she knew had not been there when she went up to bed. She froze in place and held her breath. She could hear breathing anyway, ragged breathing she realized was coming from what looked like a heap of old clothes that had been dumped on her floor.
"Great," she thought, as the worst of the fear drained out of her. "A junkie chooses my house to burgle for his fix money and then crashes and burns before he can leave with it." She stepped around the unmoving figure and snapped on the desk lamp. She reached for her handbag, surprised to see that it lay where she had left it, unrifled by her visitor. "Must have collapsed before he even got around to stealing anything," she thought, feeling unwonted pity for the sad remnant of a human being that lay on her floor.
She pulled out her phone, flipped it open and started to hit the 9 button, glancing down at her unwelcome visitor as she did so. Then she stopped. She disconnected, placed the phone back on the desk, and slowly lowered herself to kneel beside the figure on the floor. She smoothed his dark brown hair back off his forehead, feeling a sticky wetness as she did so. She noticed, in unnaturally clear detail, as if time had gone into slow motion, the dark stains on the shoulder of his long, brown coat. The face was bruised and swollen, but still recognizable. She unbuttoned the pin-striped jacket that she found under the coat and slipped her hands inside it, pressing one to each side of his chest. "Thank God," she whispered as she felt the slow but steady heartbeats under each palm. "Oh, Doctor. What's happened to you?"
She reached up to the desk and grabbed the phone again, this time hitting a speed dial button. As she waited for an answer, she rested her free hand on the Doctor's upper arm. He lay curled on his side, knees drawn up, his hands lying limp on the floor in front of him. She stood up, stepped to the couch and grabbed a throw pillow, went back, lifted his head and slid the pillow under.
"Damn," she said into the phone. She waited for the mechanical voice to give her her cue, and then said, "Harry. It's Sarah. Call me. Now. I mean it. I need you." Just before she clicked off, she heard a sleepy voice in her ear.
"Harry! Thank God. How fast can you get here?" She listened, shook her head. "It's the Doctor." She listened again. "Yes, the Doctor. He's here and he's injured. He needs a doctor. Who else could I call?" She waited again, then laughed softly. "We both are, Harry. Get here as quick as you can, alright?" Satisfied by his answer, she folded up the phone and put it back on the desk. Then she got up, turned the rest of the lights on, went into the kitchen and ran warm water into a stainless steel bowl. Taking two clean dish towels out of a drawer, she went back to sit beside the Doctor and began to gently clean the blood out of his hair.
"He's still unconscious," Sarah Jane said as she led Harry to the Doctor's side twenty minutes later. "I was afraid to try to move him. Thanks for coming, by the way. Sorry to knock you up at this hour."
Harry Sullivan just nodded, his entire focus on his patient. He knelt next to him and gently turned his face to catch the light. His eyebrows went up as he looked at Sarah Jane. "This is the Doctor? You're sure?"
She nodded. "I ran into him again a few months ago. He said he'd regenerated half a dozen times since we'd last seen him."
"And got younger every time, from the looks of him," Harry laughed ruefully. "While we get older. That's just not fair." He carefully rolled the Doctor onto his back, supporting his head with his hand. "Help me get him out of this coat."
Fifteen minutes later, Harry sank back on his haunches, winced, and slid to a sitting position on the floor by the Doctor's side.
"He should be in hospital."
"I know," Sarah Jane replied.
"So why did you call me and not 999?" he asked.
"Take a Time Lord to a human hospital? What are the odds he'd get out alive?"
"Times have changed, Sarah Jane," Harry said. "It's a different world these days. A new millennium."
She nodded. "I know. But even if they didn't want to dissect him, what then? It's not like they offer classes in Time Lord medicine at uni."
"He breathes the same air as us, drinks our water, eats our food. How different can he be?"
"He has two hearts, is over 900 years old, and regenerates into a whole new person when injured badly enough."
Harry pursed his lips. "Fair point. But I still wish I could get some xrays, maybe even an MRI. He's obviously got broken ribs, but I'd like to see how badly broken and if they're threatening to puncture a lung. Was he this thin when you last saw him?" he asked, "Or has he lost weight?"
Sarah shook her head. "He looks about the same."
"I can diagnose broken ribs without an x-ray when there's not much covering them," Harry mused. "But his hands…. Can't really feel fractures with all the swelling, but I'm betting there are some. Someone worked him over right and proper." His eyes travelled over the Doctor's bruises and abrasions. "He could be bleeding internally." He sighed. "Of course, since I have no idea what normal blood pressure is for him, I'm just guessing. But even if he isn't, with as much blood as he lost, I'm sure he needs fluids. A transfusion would be better."
"Got a Time Lord blood donor on hand then?" she asked pointedly.
Harry shook his head. "You know I don't. But I would be very surprised if lactated Ringer's caused him a problem."
"Is it worth the risk? Is he dangerously dehydrated?"
Harry took a deep breath. "I honestly don't know, Sarah. They didn't teach Time Lord medicine at uni when I was there, either." Their eyes met and they each saw memories of the Doctor, their Doctor, in the other's eyes, and what their time with him had meant to them. "Guess I should have asked for a crash course when we were travelling with him."
"We always seemed a bit busy back then," Sarah said.
He nodded. "Well, with any luck we can get him up off the floor and into bed without injuring him further. Can't be sure without xrays, of course, but I didn't feel anything obviously out of place. Then I can stitch up his head without further destroying my own back." He put one hand in the small of his back and arched backward to a chorus of pops and creaks to illustrate his point.
It was after 5 AM by the time Harry had given her a hug at the doorway and headed home, promising to return in the evening. Sarah didn't see much point in going back to bed at that hour so just dragged an overstuffed chair over to the Doctor's bedside and settled in it with her laptop. Many words later, mixed in with a few tea breaks, she noticed a slight movement in her peripheral vision. She set down the computer and leaned forward.
The Doctor's eyes opened slowly. He blinked up at her.
"Sarah Jane?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper. His eyebrows furrowed in disbelief. "What are you doing here?"
She smiled fondly at him. "Where do you think here is?"
"On..." he started, then stopped. His eyes roamed the room, finally stopping on her face. "Where is here?"
He frowned. "On Earth?"
"Last time I checked."
He shook his head slightly and, by the look on his face, immediately regretted it.
"How did I end up here?"
"I was hoping you could tell me that," she said. "I found you bleeding on my living room floor last night."
"Sorry," he murmured.
"Don't be silly. You know you're always welcome to drop in," she said with a wry smile. "Better when you're not bleeding, of course."
He closed his eyes and gingerly took a deep breath. "Bleeding where?"
He raised a hand to the side of his head, carefully felt the line of sutures in the patch of shaved scalp. "Did you stitch me up?"
She smiled. "No, I never was much of a seamstress. Harry did it."
"Harry? Harry Sullivan?" he asked.
The Doctor laughed softly. "Harry Sullivan. So you two are still in touch."
"We're members of a very exclusive club," she said. She immediately regretted her attempt at humour when his dark eyes lost the sparkle that had come into them at Harry's name. "Where did you expect to wake up?" she asked, hoping the subject change would deflect whatever had bothered him.
She paused, waiting for him to elaborate. When he didn't, she gently continued. "I'm not surprised. Who did this to you?"
He was silent for so long that she nearly gave up waiting. "Judoon," he said at last.
"And what's that when it's at home?" she asked.
"Galactic police. Well," he corrected himself, "more like rent-a-cops. Mercenaries."
"And why were they after you?"
"They weren't." Her eyebrows went up and he noticed. "No, really, they weren't. It was mistaken identity. Honestly."
"And." She really didn't want to ask this question. "Rose? Mickey?"
Those remarkably expressive eyes of his ran through a series of emotions at light speed, too fast for her to follow.
"Oh," he said. "They weren't there. I was on my own."
"They're fine," he interrupted quickly. "Living on a parallel world."
She raised her eyebrows, but didn't comment. He quickly filled the silence this time. "Rose's dad had died in this world, and her mum had died in the parallel world, and Mickey's gran had died in this world but was alive in that world so, well…" he trailed off, looking at his bandaged hands.
"Just seemed to work out best for everyone?" Sarah suggested.
"Except you?" she asked softly.
"Sarah Jane, could I have some water?" he asked, ignoring her last question. "I'm parched."
She guiltily jumped out of her chair. "Of course you are," she said as she nearly ran for the kitchen. "Right back," she called over her shoulder. Grabbing two liter bottles of water from the fridge, she tucked one under her arm, cracked the lid on the other on the way back to the bedroom and handed it to the Doctor. She put the second one on the night stand as he gratefully drained the first one without coming up for breath.
"Better?" she asked.
"A good start on it," he answered. He reached for the second bottle, but before he could try to twist off the cap with his damaged hands, Sarah took it from him, opened it, and handed it back to him. He proceeded to down it, too, in one long gulp.
"More?" she asked as he put the empty bottle on the nightstand.
He shook his head. "Later. That should do me for now."
"Don't tell Harry you had to ask," she said. "The last thing he said before he left was to make sure to fill you up with fluids as soon as you woke up."
"You didn't wait long," the Doctor comforted her. "And I won't tell."
"He'll be over this evening to check on you," she said. "He wanted to take you to hospital last night."
"Could have been a bit problematic," the Doctor answered mildly.
She nodded. "That's what I thought. He has more faith in humanity than I do."
The Doctor looked at her sharply. "I hope that's nothing you learned from me."
"No. That's something I've learned from living on Earth. But I think Harry learned his faith in us from you. You always did seem to have such a high opinion of us." She paused. "Except when you were calling us stupid apes, of course."
He grinned crookedly at her. "You and your people amaze me, Sarah Jane," he said softly. "Even after all this time." He took a deep breath and winced. Freckles stood out darkly over his cheekbones as his face paled.. He sank back into the pillow, his eyelids at half mast.
"You look like you could use some more rest," she said, but he was already asleep. She shook her head. "Never did do anything by halves." She tucked his arms under the covers, curled up in her chair, and was asleep herself almost as quickly.
Sarah Jane stretched her cramped arms and legs, rubbed the crick in her neck, and opened her eyes. Despite the protests from her aching muscles, she leaped to her feet in astonishment when she saw that the bed was empty, the covers turned back. She hurried out into the hall, checked the living room, and then heard voices and saw light from the kitchen.
Hustling into the kitchen, she saw Harry and the Doctor sitting at the table, empty takeaway containers littering the surface in front of them. Harry was finishing up his curry while the Doctor was crumbling some Weetabix into a bowl. They both looked up at her sudden entrance, and her jaw dropped as the jumble of questions in her mind fought for precedence. The first one to make it out of her mouth was an astonished, "What are you wearing?"
The Doctor looked down at himself. "I found it in the closet. Didn't know what you'd done with my clothes and I hated to wake you.. Didn't think you'd mind." He poured milk into the bowl and stirred the cereal. "Do you?"
Sarah laughed. "No, I don't mind. Just not sure how well it suits the new you." The sight of the Doctor in her aunt Agnes' ruffled magenta dressing gown brought back fond memories of his dress preferences from when she first met him.
"I should have brought you some pajamas and a robe," Harry said. "Didn't think of it. Sorry." He looked the Doctor up and down. "Although you'd have been swimming in them, I'm afraid."
"I put your shirt in the laundry and your suit and coat in the hall closet to go to the cleaners," Sarah said as she joined them at the table. "They both had some serious bloodstains on them."
"The police will be round for a visit after you take them to the cleaners," Harry said.
"Oh." Sarah frowned. "Hadn't thought about that."
"Bring them here," the Doctor said. "I'll take care of it."
Sarah fetched his coat and suit jacket and handed them to him. He fished in the pockets until he came up with his sonic screwdriver, peered at it, dug in the pockets again for his glasses, put them on, peered at the screwdriver again, and made some adjustments. He draped his long coat over the back of the chair next to him and inspected the dark stain that covered the shoulder. Apparently satisfied with his findings, he aimed the screwdriver at it.
"The sonic screwdriver now does dry cleaning?" Sarah asked.
"Skeptic," he said, focussing on the task at hand. "Once the blood dries, the right sonic frequency can turn it to powder and shake it loose from the fabric." He brushed the coat but the stain stayed put. He set the screwdriver again.
"Might have to just chuck it and get a new one," Harry suggested. "I seem to recall you had quite an extensive wardrobe on the TARDIS."
"But I love this coat," the Doctor said distractedly, again sonicing the stain. "You wouldn't believe who gave me this coat." He brushed the stain again and this time, it came off the fabric like chalk dust off a blackboard. "Molto bene!" he exclaimed, delighted.
"You never cease to amaze, Doctor," Sarah Jane said.
He grinned, and despite the bruises that darkened his face, seemed almost his old cheeky self as he basked in her reaction. He proceeded to sonic the bloodstain out of his suit jacket, and then turned back to his Weetabix.
"Are you sure you should be eating? With possible internal injuries?" Sarah asked.
"Oh, that's just dessert," Harry said, a big grin on his face. "He's already had the curry I brought for him, and the one for you, and a few leftovers we found in your fridge, not to mention an orange, a kiwi, and two apples."
Sarah Jane's eyebrows went up. The Doctor paused, spoonful of cereal dripping milk halfway to his mouth, and glanced from one of them to the other.
"Have I done something wrong?" he asked in a small voice.
"No. Oh, no. Of course not," Sarah assured him hurriedly. "You're welcome to anything I have. I'm happy you have a good appetite. In humans, at least, that's a sign that you're on the mend."
"It's more of a necessity in Time Lords," he explained around a mouthful of cereal. "We...." He hesitated, then started over. "I heal rather more quickly than a human, but I burn a lot of energy doing it. Which is why I was starving." He finished the Weetabix, lifted the bowl and drank the last of the milk, then sat back with a sigh.
Sarah Jane got up and inspected the contents of her fridge and her cupboards. "I'd better make a grocery run before the shops close, then," she said. "If there's anything you want in particular, let me know." She turned to face him when he didn't reply. "Doctor?"
"Hmmm?" he responded, looking at his hands, obviously not having heard her.
"Is there anything special you want? Or need?" she asked again.
"Scissors," he said, turning his hands over and gingerly feeling one with the other.
"Scissors?" she asked, puzzled.
"Um hm," he said. "Need to get these bandages off. I can't set the bones with them on."
"I have some in my bag," Harry said, fishing them out. "Let me do it."
The Doctor obediently held out his hands, and Harry carefully cut off the bandages. The Doctor then closed his eyes, bent his head, and began his examination. The long, slender fingers of his left hand gently explored up and down the bones of his right hand. A sharp wince told Sarah and Harry when he found a break. With his fingers on the back of his hand and his thumb on the palm, he worked the bones back into place.
Harry watched the process intently. "What are you going to do to hold the bones in place once you have them set?"
"They'll stay," the Doctor answered, his voice strained, "as long as I don't do anything strenuous with my hands for a day or so." His left hand slid down to his right wrist, and he slowly and carefully flexed the fingers of his right hand. Apparently satisfied, he started the same process on his left hand, only to grit his teeth and stop.
"Can I help?" Harry asked.
The Doctor opened his eyes and looked at him. "Maybe. Thanks. This is easier when only one hand is damaged." He held his left hand out to Harry, who took it and began palpating the bones as he had seen the Doctor do.
"Is that..." Harry started to say.
"Yep," the Doctor interjected. "Now just work it back where it belongs. That's it. There you go." The Doctor gasped, then breathed out, eyes closed.
"S'alright. Can't be helped."
"If you'd told me what you were about, I could have given you a local before you started."
"Human pain medications don't work on me. Well. Some make me itch and some give me a rash, but they don't take away pain."
Harry nodded, and continued gently palpating the bones in the Doctor's hand. "Everything feels back in place to me," said Harry. "Check it out."
The Doctor flexed the fingers of his left hand as he had done with his right, and smiled.
"Well done, Harry Sullivan. Thank you." He sighed and his eyelids drooped. Sarah saw his freckles jump into prominence again as his color faded.
"Right, time to get you back to bed before Harry has to carry you again," she said briskly, standing up and taking the Doctor by the elbow.
"Yeah," he agreed groggily. "That's the other thing about fast healing. Need rest. Do fine for awhile then just..." His voice trailed off as he staggered to his feet and, leaning heavily on Sarah, started toward the bedroom. Harry quickly came up on his other side and wrapped a steadying arm around his waist.
He was still awake, but only just, when they got him out of the ruffly robe and back under the covers.
"You know what would help," he said drowsily. "Music."
Sarah's eyebrows went up. "Music?"
"Yeah," he said dreamily.
"Any particular kind?"
"Oh, strings for healing," he said.
"Great, next thing he's going to want is a crystal grid laid around him," Harry said with an exasperated frown. "And some patchouli oil rubbed on his forehead."
"What?" asked the Doctor.
"Don't pay any attention to him, Doctor. Harry's not up to speed with alternative med yet." Harry humphed. "Strings, eh? Let me think. I have some Vivaldi."
"That would be good. Any Pablo Casals?"
Sarah frowned. "Not sure. I can check."
"Wish Harpo were here. He'd have me played right in no time," the Doctor said with a fond smile.
Harry's eyebrows went up this time. "Harpo? As in Marx?"
"Know another? Man was a genius," the Doctor drawled as he drifted ever closer to sleep.
"Hold on," said Sarah. She hurried out of the room and was back in a tick with her Best of the Marx Brothers DVD box set. She opened the D drive on her laptop, slid "Night at the Opera" in, waited for the program to boot, then clicked through the scene selections until she found Harpo's number. She set the laptop on the bedside table, plugged the headphones in and slid them onto the Doctor's head. "Laptop speakers are such rubbish," she said in answer to Harry's quizzical look. Then she clicked on play.
The Doctor fell asleep with a beatific smile on his face.
On her way to the kitchen the next morning, Sarah Jane passed the open door to the guest bathroom, stopped abruptly two steps beyond it, then backed up.
"What are you doing?" she asked the Doctor. He was standing in front of the sink, dressed in his blue shirt and pin-striped trousers, peering intently in the mirror as he lifted his hair and pulled gently on a suture with his left hand while he wielded a pair of nail scissors with the right. He snipped the suture, pulled it out, and tossed it in the bin before turning to look at her.
"Taking the stitches out," he said.
"I see that," she said. "Why?"
He blinked at her with an utterly baffled expression. "Because...." He paused, frowning a bit. "Why not?"
"Harry just put them in yesterday."
He lifted his eyebrows, widened his eyes and inclined his head toward her slightly, clearly waiting for an answer that made sense to him. Before she could give him one, a light dawned in his brown eyes. "Ah. How long do humans leave stitches in then?"
"Oh, a week, ten days," Sarah answered.
"Really?" he asked. His expression was a comical mixture of disgust and horror. She just nodded. "Well, look," he said, lifting his hair and turning his head to give her a good view. "Not entirely healed yet, but close enough not to need these anymore." He pulled gently on another suture, snipped it, tugged it out. "Mind you, the hair will take longer to grow back," he said, looking in the mirror with a frown.
"Oh, don't be so vain," she said, stepping up to his side and finger-combing his hair down over the shaved patch. "There, that's not so bad. It's not like you don't have plenty of it. If you wore it as long as you used to, no one would ever notice."
"Those were the days, eh?" he said, absent-mindedly, as he removed the last of the sutures. He looked in the mirror again, did some finger-combing of his own, then sighed. "Ah well. Can't be helped. Could wear a hat, I suppose, but, well, that's not really me anymore either."
"Whatever became of that scarf of yours?" Sarah Jane asked as they walked together toward the kitchen.
"Somewhere in the TARDIS wardrobe," he answered. "Wherever she is," he added wistfully.
"Do you mind if I use your computer today, Sarah Jane?" he asked, sipping his coffee. Nothing but the odd crumb remained of the toast and eggs, bacon and kippers, sausage, oatmeal, muffins and strawberries that had filled the table half an hour before, most of which now filled the Doctor. Sarah had indulged a bit, too, and was feeling the need to unbutton her jeans. She usually just had a bran muffin and black coffee for breakfast, but it was hard to resist when the Doctor was tucking in with such relish. She'd just have to skip lunch. And possibly dinner.
"Help yourself. I'll sign in and you can take over. I take it you'll be trying to find the TARDIS?" He nodded. "How are you going to do that using just my PC, though?"
"Well," he said, elongating the word as he laced his fingers together, stretched his long arms over his head and arched his back. He straightened up rather abruptly as his sore ribs made themselves felt. "I might have to make some...adjustments to it?" He raised one eyebrow and tilted his head. "Would that be alright?"
"As long as it still works as well or better than it does now when you're done," she said.
"Oh, it will be better, Sarah Jane."
She grinned. "I can just imagine. But when they ask me for my sources, how am I going to explain my new intergalactic internet access?"
The Doctor gave her a cheeky grin. "Never explain. Your friends do not need it..."
"...and your enemies won't believe you anyway," she finished the quote. "I suppose Elbert Hubbard got that line off of you?"
He just gave her a wink, then stood up and starting clearing away the dishes.
They finished the washing up companionably. The Doctor then headed for her living room office, while Sarah went to her room and changed out of her jeans and into a pair of soft knit trousers. "Ah," she sighed in relief. She went back downstairs and gathered up her notes, her handbag and her phone, trying not to look as the Doctor dug into the innards of her beloved PC, glasses perched on the end of his aquiline nose, sonic screwdriver glowing blue and humming intermittently.
"I have an interview. I have to go," she said. "I'd cancel it but it took me months to set it up."
"Hmm?" the Doctor responded, totally focussed on the PC.
"Will you be alright for awhile?" she asked. "Need anything?"
"Fine for now, thanks," he said absently. He looked up at her then, saw her putting her jacket on and slinging her handbag over her shoulder. "You going somewhere?"
She gave him a wry smile and shook her head at the selective hearing of men--human or Time Lord. "To interview Sir Richard Morrisey. There's something going on in his office that has my journalistic antennae quivering."
"Well, if it involves hostile creatures or alien invaders, please don't find out about it for a few more days. I'm not quite up to helping with it just yet," he said, as he turned back to the PC.
"I'll try to hold myself back." She smiled fondly at the back of his head, then let herself out.
When Sarah Jane let herself back in, burdened with bulging grocery bags, she heard The Four Seasons playing softly. As she emerged from the entryway, she saw that the living room curtains were drawn and the lights had been turned down, leaving the room in semi-darkness. She saw the Doctor's long, lean form lying on the couch, glasses pushed up on his forehead, a damp cloth over his eyes.
She stood still for a second, torn between worry for him and not wanting to disturb him if he were just resting. He ended her dilemma when he reached up, took the cloth away from his eyes, and propped himself up on his elbows.
"Hullo," he said. "How did the interview go?
"Very frustrating," she said, continuing on toward the kitchen."He spent two hours saying all the right things in all the wrong ways."
The Doctor levered himself up from the couch and in a few long strides, he was at her side, taking several of the sacks from her hands. She held on to them for a second. "You're recuperating. You don't need to help."
"I'm recuperated enough to carry a few little bags," he assured her, and she let him have them.
"Is this it?" he asked, as they deposited their burdens on the kitchen counter.
"There's more in the car," she said. She eyed him up and down. "You sure you're up to it?"
He raised his eyebrows and gave her a look, and she smiled. "Alright then. Here are the keys. Catch."
He snatched them out of the air with precision, then headed toward the door. As his hand reached out for the knob, he turned back toward her.
"Oh. Which car is it?"
"The blue Prius with the 'Well behaved women seldom make history' bumper sticker." He grinned, nodded and nipped out the door, returning shortly with four more full sacks.
Sarah Jane was already unloading the first batch. He rummaged in the remaining sacks, inspecting each item as he removed it, then handing it to her to be put away.
"Hungry?" she asked. He nodded. "Well, if you see anything you like, set it aside and we'll have it for lunch."
The pile of food on the counter once everything the Doctor didn't find interesting was stowed away was impressive. Sarah just lifted her eyebrows and set to making it all into a meal, with the Doctor's sometimes less than helpful help.
"Aren't you eating?" he said, when they pulled their chairs up to the table.
"Still full from breakfast," she responded truthfully. She watched him with a feeling bordering on awe as he made up for her abstinence. After polishing off three sandwiches, a can of baked beans, a carton of pasta salad, an apple, an orange and half of the raspberry crumble she had bought at the bakery, he sat back with a contented sigh.
"Where do you put it all?" she asked in amazement.
"Time Lords. Bigger on the inside," he said with a wink and a click of his teeth.
"How did the search for the TARDIS go?" she asked over the washing up.
He shook his head. "Not well. I need more power. Hacked into a couple of sources but none of them had enough."
"I hope you didn't leave a trail anyone could follow back to me," she said as she handed him a plate to dry.
"I hope not too," he said, which did not give her a great deal of confidence. "Do you still have any contacts in UNIT?"
"Why, am I going to need them?" He gave her an exasperated glance but didn't respond. "The Brigadier was in South America somewhere last I knew. Benton got out of the service and sells cars. Haven't kept track of anyone else. Why?"
"Just thought they might have access to some technology that might be helpful."
She thought a moment. "What about Torchwood?"
His head snapped up and his eyes flashed. "Torchwood is dead."
"I've heard rumors that it's reforming. New man starting it back up and all."
"Oh, isn't that good news," said the Doctor with heavy sarcasm. He threw the dish cloth down on the counter and stalked out of the kitchen.
Sarah followed him. "What's wrong with Torchwood?" she asked as she opened the curtains to let in some light. She saw a muscle jump in his jaw before he answered.
"Right, I'm a journalist, I love a good story. And I don't have to be anywhere in particular anytime soon." She dropped onto the couch, put her feet up on the coffee table, leaned back and challenged him with a look.
His eyes were hard, almost fierce, as they met hers. If she hadn't known him for so long, through so much, she would have quailed. Instead, she kept her gaze level, sensing the pain behind his anger, inviting him to speak.
After a few moments, his eyes softened, his focus turning inward. "Torchwood considered me Earth's greatest enemy."
"What?" Sarah Jane sat up straight. "After all the times you've saved this planet? Where did they get that rubbish?"
He sighed. "Queen Victoria. She founded the institute after meeting me. Me and Rose. She knighted me--us--and then banned me from the British Empire."
"Banned you?" she asked. He nodded sheepishly. "I notice how seriously you took that royal edict."
"Well, she was being ridiculous. Just because that werewolf bit her..."
"The what did what?" Sarah Jane exploded.
"It was just a scratch, really. Not even sure it was a bite. It was just that, well, Rose and I had a right old laugh about it being a bite and explaining a lot of things about the royal family from that time forward." He swallowed hard and looked down at his hands.
Sarah thought about it in the silence that followed, and then tried unsuccessfully to stifle a giggle. "It does, though, doesn't it?"
His faint wry smile didn't reach his eyes.
"I saw a Rose Tyler listed as one of the dead at Canary Wharf," she said, very gently. "I was so afraid. But I hoped it wasn't your Rose. Someone else with the same name. And then you said she was living on a parallel world."
"She is. Because of Torchwood. Because they invited Cybermen and Daleks into your dimension. And the only way I could undo what they had done ended up costing me...." He stopped, and, agitated, started pacing up and down the room, running his hands through his hair until it stood on end, looking like a porcupine sitting on his head.
"Why don't you just go get her?" Sarah asked.
He stopped, wrapped his long arms tightly around his chest, and stared out the window. "Don't you think I would if I could?" he said bitterly.
Before Sarah could come up with any meaningful response to his question or the pain that wrenched it from him, her doorbell buzzed. With a helpless look at the Doctor's stiff back, she went to answer it.
"Harry. Come in." she said.
"How's our patient today?" he asked, taking off his coat and hanging it in the closet.
"Upset," she responded. He looked at her quizzically, and she shook her head. "Long story. Just go easy with him."
Harry nodded, and headed into the living room. He found the Doctor standing as Sarah had left him, facing the window, hands tucked in his armpits.
"Doctor?" Harry said. The Doctor straightened to his full height and squared his shoulders.
"Harry," he said without turning, his voice hoarse with emotion.
Harry and Sarah exchanged glances. "How are you feeling today?" Harry asked.
After a long pause, the Doctor said, "You really want to know?"
"Wouldn't have asked," Harry said.
Another long pause, then the Doctor turned. "Come here," he said.
Harry walked toward him, stopping within arm's length.
"You sure?" the Doctor asked. Harry nodded, a bit wary at the grim look in the Doctor's deep brown eyes, but game.
The Doctor reached out, gently placed his long fingers on each side of Harry's face, closed his eyes, and bowed his head.
Sarah quietly positioned herself off to the side of the two men, where she could observe whatever was about to happen. She saw the Doctor's face, his bone structure showing in stark relief under tense muscles. She then looked at Harry, and watched his features open with surprise, then register concern, and finally, clench with pain. She glanced again at the Doctor, expecting him momentarily to stop whatever he was doing, but his eyes were still closed and he seemed lost in a dimension of his own, unaware of what he was doing to Harry.
"Doctor," she said softly. "Stop. You're hurting him."
Nothing changed to indicate the Doctor had heard her. Harry wasn't trying to break away, but the pain on his face was intensifying.
"Doctor," Sarah said, more forcefully this time. "Stop. Look what you're doing."
The Doctor did not react. Seeing the anguish on Harry's face, Sarah stepped in and grasped the Doctor's wrists, trying to break his grip on Harry.
His arms were like steel rods. She couldn't budge them.
"Doctor!" The fear and shock in her voice finally broke through the Doctor's concentration. He opened his eyes, took one look at Harry's face, and jumped back a step, a look of abject horror on his face.
"Oh God. Harry. Are you alright?" he asked.
Harry shook his head as if to clear it, blew out a puff of air. "I think so," he said.
"Harry. I am so sorry." The Doctor reached out a hand toward his old friend, then stopped and let it fall helplessly to his side. "I should never have tried that when I was..." He hesitated, swallowed, then continued. "...when I wasn't entirely in control of myself."
"It's alright," Harry said. His eyes were still focussed inward, his breathing audible. Slowly, he raised his head and met the Doctor's gaze. "I just.." He hesitated, groping for words. "Didn't see that coming. Is that how Time Lord doctors diagnose their patients?"
The Doctor nodded.
Harry widened his eyes, shook his head again, rolled it from side to side and back to front. He was beginning to look like his old self again, Sarah noted with relief.
"Well," Harry said. "Guess you don't need xrays and MRIs and blood tests on Gallifrey."
Grief lanced the Doctor's features for a split second, but he just shook his head in response.
"Could you teach me to do that?" Harry asked.
The Doctor boggled at him, then laughed with relief, and the tension dissipated. "I don't know. We could give it a try."
"Over a cup of tea?" Harry asked, turning to Sarah.
"Of course," she said, and led the way to the kitchen.
While Sarah put the kettle on and shook some McVities out of their plastic wrap and onto a plate, Harry and the Doctor sank gratefully onto the hard wooden chairs.
"Let's try it again," Harry said after a moment's silence.
"What?" the Doctor and Sarah exclaimed in unison.
Harry gave them an exasperated frown. "I know what to expect now. And I think you'll keep it under better control," he said pointedly to the Doctor, who nodded sheepishly. "And I didn't get to finish the exam," he said to Sarah. "Come on then, Doctor." He leaned forward, offering his face to the Time Lord.
The Doctor blew out his cheeks, rubbed his palms nervously on his trousers, and looked at Sarah with trepidation clear in his eyes.
"Sarah, stop me at the first twinge he shows," he said as he placed his fingers very carefully on the sides of Harry's head.
"Fat lot of good that did last time," Sarah grumbled. The Doctor threw her one last sidelong glance, then closed his eyes.
This time, Harry closed his eyes too. The two sat in silent communion for what seemed like forever to Sarah, but was probably no more than two minutes by the clock. They broke the connection by what appeared to be a mutual, unspoken agreement. They both sat back in silence, the Doctor resting his hands in his lap.
Sarah poured three cups of tea and sat down at the table with them.
"Well." Harry finally said. "Why are you alive?"
The Doctor shook his head. "I have no idea."
"Or at the very least, why didn't you regenerate?"
"Wait a second," Sarah interrupted. "You mean regeneration is optional?"
The Doctor nodded. "Sometimes. Depending on what triggers it."
"So, when these Judoon thingummies were beating the living hell out of you, you could have regenerated and chose not to?"
"Why would I?" he asked. "It wouldn't have gotten me out of the situation. It just would have given them a nice fresh new body to beat up." He looked Sarah in the eye and said softly, "I don't have that many regenerations left, Sarah, and I didn't particularly want to spend them all getting stomped to death over and over by Judoon."
"And why again were they stomping on you?" Harry asked.
"They wanted me to confess I was someone I'm not."
"And why were they so sure you were this person?"
"I was the only off-worlder on the planet."
Harry frowned. "So, why didn't you confess, just to get them to stop beating you?"
"Because then they would have executed me."
"Without a trial?" Sarah asked. "Just...boom...executed?"
The Doctor nodded ruefully. "That's Judoon for you."
"Remind me to avoid crossing them," Harry said.
The Doctor gave him a crooked smile. "Good plan." He took a small sip of tea, then put down the cup and picked up a McVities. After dunking it in the hot tea, he ate it in two bites.
"So?" Sarah said, encouraging him to continue.
"So...what?" he asked.
"How did you avoid getting interrogated to death or executed, since those seem to have been your only options?"
"Oh, right," he answered, picking up the thread of his tale. "There they were, accusing me of being The Dread Pirate Roberts..."
"You have got to be kidding!" Sarah blurted, interrupting him.
He quirked a grin at her. "Yeah. I don't remember the name they said. Being kicked in the head by a Judoon tends to knock the little details right out. But it definitely wasn't me. And the next thing I knew..." He looked around the kitchen as if he still wasn't sure it was real. "I was here. Waking up in your spare bedroom."
"How could that happen?" Sarah asked.
He shook his head. "It couldn't. Nothing I know has the power to naked teleport a living thing that far without harming it."
"Naked teleport?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, you know--just me, no ship, no capsule, no TARDIS, not even a space suit, nothing to protect me from the teleport forces. And trust me, if something hadn't protected me, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you now."
"How many light-years was this teleport?" Sarah asked.
The Doctor snorted. "Trying to tell you in light-years would be like you trying to tell me how far away San Francisco is in centimeters."
"So, not just the next block over," Harry said. The Doctor laughed softly.
"No. More like the back of beyond, universally speaking." He took a deep breath, sighed it out. "I wasn't much in the mood for civilization."
Sarah and Harry saw the shadow cross his features and exchanged glances. They all sipped their tea in silence for a minute.
"Well," Harry said. "As Sherlock Holmes was fond of saying, eliminate the impossible and, whatever is left, however improbable, has got to be the truth. So, what is impossible and what is merely improbable in this situation?" He helped himself to a biscuit. "Given that you are here and are sitting and talking to us."
The Doctor just shook his head and dunked another biscuit in his crumb-cloudy tea.
"It pretty much had to have been the TARDIS, don't you think?" Sarah asked.
"Even she doesn't have that kind of power," he answered.
"But what--who else was there to know you were in trouble, who cared enough about you to pull you out of it? And who else would know to send you here, of all places in the universe, where you'd be among friends and be taken care of?"
"She is sentient," he said. "But she isn't human. She doesn't think like...." His voice trailed off as his eyes grew huge with a sudden realization.
"What?" Sarah asked.
The Doctor looked at her as if from a far distance. "Rose. Could it... No, that's not.... But...." He stammered to a halt. After a minute, he realized both Sarah and Harry were staring at him, waiting for him to go on. "Rose. This...friend of mine," he explained for Harry's benefit. "We travelled together. For awhile. Quite awhile, actually. She.... We got into a difficult spot once and I..." He hesitated, then continued. "I sent her home. In the TARDIS."
"You stayed?" Sarah prompted gently when he paused.
"Did you have the TARDIS programmed to come back to you then, once it had dropped her off?" Harry asked.
"No." He swallowed. "I didn't think I'd need the TARDIS again at that point. But Rose..." He smiled, as if just saying her name gave him pleasure. "Rose didn't stay home."
"Sounds like the girl I met." Sarah smiled.
"Sounds like the girl across the table," Harry said, reaching out and covering Sarah's hand with his own.
The Doctor was oblivious to the byplay, deep in his memories. "She opened the heart of the TARDIS and absorbed the time vortex energy."
"You can do that?"
"No, of course not," the Doctor answered. "Even a Time Lord can't do that and survive. A human...." He shook his head. "I had to take the energy from her. To save her." He paused, ran a hand through his hair. "That was the last time I regenerated."
"So," said Harry. "How does this explain the current situation? Is this Rose back on the planet with the TARDIS?"
"No." Sarah jumped in to spare the Doctor having to relive the events of Canary Wharf again. "Don't you see, Harry?" She turned to look at the Doctor as she continued. "Rose looked into the heart of the TARDIS. And the heart of the TARDIS looked into Rose."
"Oh, Sarah Jane," the Doctor breathed in a voice barely above a whisper. "You always were brilliant."
"Well, apparently I'm not," said Harry. "I'm lost. Spell it out for me."
"The TARDIS must have taken on some of Rose's personality--her thought patterns--her emotions--when she looked into its heart," Sarah elaborated for him. "It was a two-way transfer."
The Doctor nodded his agreement.
"What the TARDIS did is so what Rose would have done," Sarah said.
The Doctor nodded again, his eyes downcast. "I still don't know where she got the power, though," he said. "She must have burned through the entire vortex to pull this off." He sat quietly for a moment, thinking through the ramifications of the theory. "Which means, she's probably sitting on Kreton, dead. The last TARDIS in the universe. Gone. And all to save me."
"She obviously thought it was worth the cost," Sarah said, responding to the bitterness in his voice. "So do I," she added softly.
Harry was the first to break the silence that followed. "But Doctor," he said. "If the TARDIS could teleport you across the universe, why didn't it..erm..she just teleport you inside her? Wouldn't that have been a lot easier? You'd have been safe then."
The Doctor raised one eyebrow thoughtfully. "Safe, yes. But alone." His eyes were bleak. "Maybe she would have done that if she thought I could patch myself up. I've done it before, of course," he said with a shrug. "This time I was beyond that, and she knew it." He looked up then, warm brown eyes meeting first Harry's, then Sarah's, and one corner of his mouth crooked up. "Have I said thank you?" he asked, diffidently.
Sarah looked at Harry. "I don't remember him saying thank you. Do you, Harry?" she said in a very proper voice.
Harry frowned as he pretended to search his memory. "No, I don't recall it, Sarah Jane. Not at all," he said in an equally stuffy tone.
The Doctor grinned in spite of himself. "Then let me say it now. Thank you. Both of you."
"Oh pish," said Sarah in her normal voice. "You gave us free room and board and medical care in the TARDIS. We're just finally getting the chance to return the favor."
"Yeah, but I was the reason you needed the medical care," he said ruefully.
"No one forced us aboard, Doctor," Harry said. "And I wouldn't trade a day of it. Monsters and all."
"Well then," the Doctor said, eyeing the empty plate. "Since you put it that way. Are there any more biscuits?"
Sarah answered by getting up and fetching the rest of the package. "How long are you going to be eating like this?" she asked as she shook them onto the plate.
"Like what?" he asked, his hand arrested in mid-reach for a biscuit.
Like a food hoover, she thought. But what she said was "Oh, rather more than usual."
He looked a bit guilty as he helped himself to another McVities and dunked it. "Hard to say. It's been so long since I've been without the TARDIS that I don't even know what usual is anymore."
Her eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement.
"I draw..." He paused, grimaced, then continued. "...drew a lot of energy from her. So I didn't have to get so much of it from food and sleep the way you humans do." He popped the biscuit into his mouth as her expression changed. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Sometimes I almost forget you're not human. Then you say something like that and it brings it all back."
He gave her a sharp look, then gazed around the warm, comfortable kitchen appreciatively. "Nice place, Sarah Jane. It's very you."
"Thanks," she said, a bit taken aback by the sudden subject change.
"How long have you lived here?"
"Oh, fifteen years, nearabouts."
"And when you come home after a day out in the world, how does it feel?"
She thought about it. About how she could come in, drained and exhausted, after a frustrating day fighting with editors, pursuing lines of investigation that petered out or went where she didn't want them to go. How she felt better as soon as she stepped in the door and was surrounded by her own things, her own space. How her home energized her.
Her thoughts obviously showed on her face, as he was scanning it intently. "And this place isn't even sentient, or tapped into one of the most powerful sources of raw energy in the universe." He helped himself to another biscuit, dunked it in the now-cold tea and swallowed it. "The TARDIS has been my home for many of your lifetimes, Sarah. The time vortex was at her heart. How is it odd or inhuman that she energized me?"
"Sorry," she said. "I didn't think of it like that."
He smiled his acceptance of her apology. "You took energy from her too. Both of you." He included Harry with a look. "That's one of the reasons I can't let anyone travel with me too long--for fear they won't be able to adjust to life without that energy afterwards."
"You make it sound like an addiction," she said.
He nodded. "It is." He blinked, and leaned back wearily. "And I'm going through withdrawal."
Her face grew solemn. "I remember what that felt like. It makes sense now that you say it. I was worthless for weeks after you dumped me..." She caught his eye and amended her word choice. "Dropped me off in Aberdeen. No energy. Depressed as hell. I thought it was just...you. I was so angry at you and scared for you and hoping you'd turn up at any second so I could scream at you or hug you. Or both." She stopped herself with a visible effort and sipped her tea. Finding it stone cold, she stood up from the table and turned her back to them, dumping the cold tea, refilling the kettle, putting it on to heat.
Harry nodded. "It does make sense, thinking back. I wasn't on the TARDIS nearly as long as Sarah and yet..." He trailed off, remembering, then gave a long, thoughtful look at Sarah's back. "You know, Doctor, it is a time machine. However long you were gone, whatever happened, you could have come back a minute after you left, even if it was just to say a proper goodbye."
"Harry, it's alright," Sarah said without turning around. "Leave it alone. We've had this out. It's ancient history."
The Doctor glanced at Sarah's back also, then met Harry's eyes. "You're right. I could have. And I probably should have." His eyes lost their sparkle, growing darker with his mood. "But I was no fit company for anyone," he said, staring down at his hands, speaking so softly that they could barely make out the words. "I was just hurling myself around the universe, looking for someone to do me a kindness and put me out of my misery."
She swiveled around to face him. "Why?"
"I told you," he said. "Everyone died."
"I thought you meant everyone involved in the mission you were called home for." She started to reach out to him, but thought better of it and drew her hand back. "Isn't that what you meant?"
He shook his head. "Gallifrey died. Burned. And everyone with it."
"How did that happen?" Harry asked, aghast.
The Doctor snorted. "How do death and destruction always happen? War. A time war. The Daleks." He spat out the word, face twisted with loathing.
"The Daleks?" Harry said, eyes widening as the name brought back memories. "But you said..."
"I know what I said," the Doctor snapped. He stood up, wrapped his arms around his chest and paced up and down the small space of the kitchen like a caged tiger. "I was a fool. Thinking good would come out of their evil. So I didn't stop them when I could have. You were there, both of you. You know. You know that...." He stopped himself abruptly, breathing hard, eyes fierce with pain.
"Know what, Doctor," Sarah demanded. It wasn't a question. "Know what. Say it. So we can deny it."
"How can you deny it?" he said, his voice rising. "I could have stopped them. I didn't. They destroyed my world and killed everyone on it and it is my fault." He threw himself back into the chair, took a deep breath, closed his eyes. He leaned forward and, holding his head in both hands, long fingers laced through his hair, propped his elbows on his knees.
His pain nearly took Sarah's breath away. "How could you have known?" she asked quietly.
"I'm a Time Lord!" He looked up at her and almost shouted the words. "It was my job to know!" He shook his head and continued, calmer. "I did know. I just couldn't do it."
"Doctor," Harry said gravely. "You're right. We were there. Sarah and I...we're the only two people in the universe who were there with you, who watched you make that decision. Blimey, that TARDIS, or Rose, or whatever it was, knew what it was doing sending you here." He shook his head, amazed. "And Doctor--no, no, no," he said as the Doctor started to speak. "Don't say anything. Just listen. Listen hard." He paused, catching and holding the Doctor's distraught gaze. "We find no fault in you." He glanced over at Sarah. "Right, Sarah?"
"Absolutely," Sarah concurred.
The Doctor opened his mouth to speak, but Harry rode roughshod over whatever he was planning to say. "I said don't talk. Just listen. Sit there and listen. We. Find. No. Fault. In. You." He hit each word with great emphasis.
The Doctor made another false start at responding, then shut his mouth and swallowed hard.
"Good," Harry said. "Just sit with it. Do you need to hear it again?"
The Doctor glanced up at him and shook his head. Sarah had never seen him so subdued.
Harry glanced at the clock on the wall. "I need to go. Thanks for the tea," he said and hugged Sarah tightly. He walked past the Doctor, then turned and, standing behind him, gripped his shoulders firmly. "Don't be in a hurry to leave here, Doctor. There's healing, and there's healing. And you are where you most need to be right now." The Doctor sat, unmoving except for a barely perceptible nod.
"I'll see you out, Harry," Sarah said, following him to the door. She got his coat from the closet and, handing it to him, said quietly, "Where did that all come from?"
"I saw it in him," Harry said softly. "When he did that psychic diagnostic thing with me." He shrugged into his coat. "I don't think he meant to let me see it, and I honestly wasn't sure what I was seeing until he started talking about it just now. But then it all came together. Worst case of survivor guilt I've ever seen." He shook his head. "Who'd have thought. The Doctor of all people."
"He's not that different from us," she responded.
"Then you'll know how to handle him," Harry said, giving her another quick hug. "I'll see you tomorrow. Call me if you need me."
"Ta. Will do."
When Sarah returned to the kitchen, she found the Doctor washing the tea things. She wordlessly picked up a dish towel and started drying. When she had put the last cup away, she turned to see him lounging against the counter, arms folded, watching her. He reached out and took the towel from her, dried his hands, then draped it over the edge of the sink.
"Did I scare him away?" He smiled. It was a low wattage smile compared to his usual incandescent grin, but she was pleased to see it did reach his eyes.
"Harry? You'd have to do much worse than that to scare him off," she said. "He probably just had to get home to take Thor walkies."
"His bouncing baby black Labrador. Seven months, seventy pounds, still thinks he's a lap dog."
"Harry has a dog?" The Doctor smiled, then smacked himself on the forehead. "A dog! Oh my giddy aunt, that Judoon really did scramble my brain. K-9! Where's K-9? If anyone can help me find the TARDIS, he can!"
"He's on surveillance duty," Sarah said. "That cloaking device you built into him is fantastic. He's playing watchdog at the FarCor factory for me."
"Can you spare him for a bit?"
How could she refuse him anything when the light of hope was back in his eyes? "Of course. We can go collect him now if you like." She gave him an appraising look. "Maybe you should stay here and get some rest while I go."
"Nah, I'm fine," he said. "Do me good to get out."
Sarah grabbed her handbag and they headed out the door. She got in the car, buckled herself in, and waited for him to do the same.
He folded his long legs up and levered himself into the passenger seat. She glanced over, saw his knees were practically tucked under his chin, and laughed. "That seat does slide back," she said, and showed him how to adjust it.
"Oh ta, that's better," he said.
She gave him an eyebrows up look and jiggled her seat belt as a hint.
"Oh. Sorry." He fumbled with the belt and got it fastened. "Don't have these in the TARDIS."
"Could've used them a time or two," Sarah muttered.
"Oi! You cracking on my driving?"
She grinned. "Course not. You always got us where we were going." She paused. "Eventually. Well. Usually."
"Humph," he snorted.
They were on the road no more than two minutes when Sarah heard soft snoring from the seat next to her. She looked over and saw the Doctor's head resting against the window, his eyes closed, sound asleep.
Half an hour later, when Sarah parked the car and turned off the ignition, the Doctor yawned and stretched and rubbed his eyes. Then he turned a horrified face to her. "Was I asleep again?" he asked.
She nodded. "And snoring."
His eyebrows came together in denial. "Time Lords do not snore."
They climbed out of the car, which Sarah had parked at the far edge of the FarCor lot, and started walking. When they had turned the corner of the building and were out of sight of the main entrance, Sarah raised a slim silver whistle to her lips and blew.
"What are you doing?" The Doctor asked, wincing.
"Whistling for K9."
"Why not just call him?"
"It's a little less conspicuous using a silent dog whistle."
"Silent?" He looked at her, puzzled.
"Yes, it's..." She looked at him. "You can hear it?"
He nodded. "Loud and clear. And rather piercing," he added, tilting his head and wiggling a finger in his ear.
"Sorry. It's out of the range of human hearing," she explained, and blew it again.
The Doctor cringed and backed several steps away from her. Then, his eyes grew huge as he windmilled his arms and tried desperately--and unsuccessfully--to stay on his feet. He landed on his backside with a thump and lay there, his legs from the knees down appearing to be suspended in mid-air.
"Doctor-Master!" said a tinny voice that somehow managed to sound happy even though it was clearly mechanical.
"K-9!" The Doctor propped himself up on his elbows with a radiant grin.
"Are you alright?" Sarah asked as she hurried over to give him a hand up.
"I'm fine," he reassured her as he swung his lower legs clear of the invisible robot dog and stood up, dusting off the seat of his trousers. "That cloaking device works a treat, doesn't it?"
"A little too well," she said. "Bad dog, K-9. It's naughty to trip people."
"Oh, don't scold him, it wasn't his fault," the Doctor said. "K-9? Where are you?" He swung one foot in an arc in front of him, checking to see if it was safe to take a step forward.
"Don't uncloak yet, K-9," Sarah said, glancing around. "Follow us back to the car. And stay out from underfoot, there's a good boy."
When they got back to the car, Sarah opened the back door and said, "Jump in." Moments later, a substantial rectangular dent appeared in the back seat cushion. "That new levitation feature comes in handy too," she said to the Doctor.
"Pirated that technology from the Daleks," he said. "Might as well get some good off them."
They climbed into the car and headed back to Sarah's. "You can uncloak now, K-9," she said over her shoulder.
"Uncloaking, Mistress," said the mechanical voice, and suddenly the familiar silver form of the robot dog was visible. His wire-whip tail was wagging furiously and his ears swivelled from side to side.
"Hullo, K-9," the Doctor said over his shoulder.
K-9 just wagged harder.
Sarah looked up from her laptop. She was curled up on the couch with it, working on an article, while the Doctor had K-9 hooked into her PC and had been deep in concentration for hours. "What about them?" she asked.
"They're the only possible explanation."
"Well of course they are. I knew that."
He stared at her, eyes wide, eyebrows raised. "You did?"
She rolled her eyes. "No, of course I didn't. What's a Huon particle?"
"An energy source."
Sarah nodded. "OK. So that's where the TARDIS got the power to send you here?"
"More than that. It's where she got the idea."
Sarah sat up and gave him her full attention. He thought for a moment, elbows on knees, then explained.
"Shortly after Canary Wharf, a woman appeared in the TARDIS."
"Teleported in?" He nodded. "Naked teleport?" He nodded again. She tilted her head and furrowed her brows. "So, why did you think it was so impossible when you did it?"
"Because it was impossible that she did it."
"But it happened."
He nodded again. "Because of huon particles. She'd been dosed with them, without her knowledge. And the TARDIS has them in her heart. So, the TARDIS attracted this woman--her name was Donna, Donna Noble--right through space and out of her wedding."
"Her wedding?" Sarah asked, incredulous. He nodded. "She must have been thrilled."
He rolled his eyes. "You have no idea. I still have the bruises."
"I thought the Judoon gave you those."
"Not all of them." He paused, deep in thought, then continued. "The TARDIS must have learned from that experience that she could use huon energy to teleport people."
"Didn't you say this Donna had been dosed with these particles?" He nodded. "Were you?"
"Not dosed, exactly, but I almost certainly have a few in me," he said. "From absorbing the time vortex or from clearing them from Donna."
"But you said the TARDIS attracted Donna because of these particles. Drew her in. But she sent you away."
He nodded again. "She reversed the polarity. Clever girl. She's been paying attention."
"Does this mean you think she's still alive after all then? And can you use this huon stuff to get back to her?"
"More like get her back to me. I used the huon energy to materialize her around Donna and me at one point. So the particles in a person can give her something to home in on." He ran his fingers through his hair. "The only problem is the distance. I was in near-Earth orbit when Donna appeared in the TARDIS, and she was parked on a rooftop in London when I called her under the Thames. Nothing like the far side of the universe."
"So you still need a major power source."
He nodded, and a slow smile spread across his face. "And I think I've found it."
Sarah looked apprehensive. "And how much trouble am I going to be in if I help you access it?"
"None." He shook his head, eyes sparkling. "It's a natural source. A rift in space/time. I think, with K-9's help, I can manipulate it enough to boost the power of the huon energy in me and pull the TARDIS to me."
"A rift in space/time," she repeated. "And how are you going to get there without the TARDIS?"
"By Prius," he said, looking hopefully at her.
"Exactly where is this rift?" she asked.
"Cardiff." He looked at her like a teenager asking to borrow the car keys. "Can you drive me there?"
"Oh. Erm. Of course," she said. "But...not right now." She looked at his eager face. "You...didn't mean right now, did you?"
"Oh. No, of course not. Not...right now." He paused. "When?"
"Well," Sarah said, looking at her laptop. "I have to hand this in by noon tomorrow and I've got hours yet to do on it. And then I'm on deadline for two other big stories before the weekend." She looked up at him. "Saturday?"
"What day is today?" he asked.
"Oh." His face fell.
"No. No, it's alright. No rush." He looked down at his hands, then back up at her and gave her a weak smile.
"You sure? I mean, it isn't like the TARDIS is gasping her last on that planet and if you don't get there in time you won't be able to save her, is it?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "I really don't know. Probably not. I'm not even certain it'll work. And it's not a question of me getting to her, it's her getting to me, so if she is dead..." He trailed off.
"She won't be coming."
He nodded. "If she is dead," he said slowly. "It will be because she put everything she had into sending me here. She wouldn't have held anything in reserve. So, odds are, a few days won't matter one way or the other."
"You said this thing in Cardiff was a space/time rift. Can you call her to you across time as well as space?"
He brightened. "Not sure. But great idea. I'll have to do some more research."
"Why don't you work on that," she said, turning back to her laptop.
He turned back to the PC, but Sarah noticed after a few minutes that she wasn't hearing any clicking from the keyboard, and looked over at him. He was sitting, head propped on one hand, eyes closed. "Doctor?" she asked softly.
He opened his eyes and looked at her, his sudden exhaustion clear on his features. "I hate this."
She gave him a commiserating smile. "I know you do." She paused. "It's hard seeing you like this. You're usually so full of energy no one can keep up with you."
"Tell me about it," he said with a sigh. He stood up, wavered a bit, and put a hand on the desk to steady himself.
Sarah noticed. "You okay?" He nodded. "Want the couch? I can move to the desk."
"You mind?" he asked.
She answered by gathering up her laptop and notes and vacating the couch. He stretched out on it and closed his eyes. She dropped her armload of stuff on the desk and went back to the couch, taking the afghan that was draped over the back of it and shaking it out, then covering the Doctor with it.
"Three more days of R&R for you won't be such a bad thing," she said, not sure if he was awake to hear her or not. "Before you try this whatever-it-is plan that's probably dangerous as all hell."
One eyelid cracked open and one brown eye looked up at her. "Not dangerous," he slurred. His eyelid drifted shut again.
Sarah pulled her CD of Paul Tortelier's Vivaldi cello concertos off the shelf, put the disc in the player, pushed the play button, and went back to work on her article.
"Cloak and jump out, K-9," Sarah said. She had just parked the Prius in a quiet cul-de-sac close to Roald Dahl Plass in Cardiff. The Doctor came around from the passenger side and she was pleased to see the spring in his step and the brightness in his eyes. Three days of rest had done him a world of good. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the salt tang of the bay was in the air, and for the first time since he had dropped unexpectedly back into her life, he seemed like his new self.
Sarah took a leash and collar out of the back seat. "Uncloak," she said and the robot dog appeared on the sidewalk before her. She started buckling the collar around K-9's neck.
"That's never K-9's collar!" the Doctor exclaimed.
Sarah looked at it, then at him, surprised. "What's wrong with it?" she asked.
"It's pink! It's got jewels on it! It's...it's...poodley!"
"I like it," Sarah stated with finality as she snapped the matching lead on the collar. "Now remember, K-9--no cloaking, levitating, or talking if anyone but the Doctor or I can see or hear you."
"Yes, mistress," K-9 replied.
"And K-9," the Doctor added. "If you locate a flare of rift activity, let me know."
"Yes, master," K-9 said. "Doctor-master?"
"What is it, K-9?"
"If I am not permitted to speak in front of others, how shall I notify you of the presence of rift activity?"
The Doctor tugged on his ear thoughtfully for a second. "Let me hear you bark."
"Arf. Arf." said K-9 dutifully.
The Doctor pulled a "meh" face. "That'll do, I guess. One bark for yes, two for no, if I ask you for details."
"Arf." said K-9.
"It's just us, K-9. You can answer."
"Yes, master," he said.
"Good boy. Let's go walkies."
They strolled around Roald Dahl Plass, window-shopping, admiring the fountain, watching the skate-boarders, and keeping a close eye on K-9, who ranged in front of them at the end of his pink, bejeweled lead, mini-radar-dish ears swivelling. Many raised eyebrows and sidelong glances followed their progress.
As they passed a millinery shop, a gray-haired man in tweeds who was loitering on the sidewalk took a good look at K-9.
"I say," he exclaimed. "What breed's your dog?"
"He's a...a Gallifreyan Spaniel," Sarah said quickly. The Doctor turned his snort of surprised laughter into a cough, but was not entirely successful in wiping the grin off his face.
"A what? Never heard of it." The gentleman stroked his mustache as he stared down at K-9 in bewilderment.
"Well, he's the only one of his kind," Sarah said. Some of the skateboarders had picked up their boards and were standing by, listening and staring at K-9.
"A prototype, yeah?" one of them suggested.
"Exactly," said Sarah Jane. "We hope to have them in the shops in time for Christmas. Howells is taking orders." The Doctor's eyebrows shot up when he heard that and his grin grew broader.
"Cool," said the skateboarder. "How much?"
Sarah looked at the Doctor, who shrugged his shoulders. "We're not sure yet. Still working out the marketing end of things."
"What's he do?" asked a little girl who stood next to a skateboarder.
"Do?" the Doctor asked, tilting his head.
"Yeah, you know," said the boy next to her. "Like, does he roll over or sit up and beg or fetch sticks or anything?"
Sarah gave the Doctor a look. "We'll have to work on adding those features." She turned to the boy. "Not yet. Thanks for the suggestions."
"Does he speak?" the little girl asked shyly.
"Speak? Oh no," Sarah started to say, then stopped. "Oh. I see. Yes, he does. K-9." The little dog swivelled around to face her. "Bark, K-9."
"Arf. Arf," said K-9. The little girl laughed with delight.
Her brother was less thrilled. "That's not a proper bark. You should get a recording of real dogs barking and program it into him."
"Another fantastic idea." She smiled at the boy. "We'll have to put you on the payroll if you keep this up."
"Is the controller in that silly pink leash?" asked the man who had originally started the conversation.
The Doctor covered his mouth with his hand, which did nothing to hide the laugh lines that leaped into sight around his eyes. Sarah threw him a glare. "No, he's voice activated. And I like the leash."
"Hmm, sorry, didn't mean to offend," the man apologized. Just then, a short, plump lady emerged from the millinery shop, hands full of packages. "Look here, Mildred. It's a Gallifreyan Spaniel."
She glanced down at K-9. "I suppose you'll be wanting one, then." She looked up at Sarah Jane. "Are they hard to house train?"
The Doctor turned away, doubled over and shaking with suppressed laughter, and Sarah nearly joined him. "No, quite easy, actually," she said, with an almost straight face. "I'm sorry, we have to be going," she said as she felt her control slipping. "Heel, K-9. Doctor?"
"Howell's, right?" called one of the boys.
"Yes, Howell's. Tell them we sent you," she said over her shoulder as they strode quickly away.
They turned the corner into an alleyway and both dissolved in laughter. "Sarah Jane," the Doctor said, wiping his eyes. "What's become of you? You used to be so serious."
"Blame yourself." She grinned up at him.
"Me? What did I do?"
"You told me that you were very serious about what you did, but not at all serious about how you did it."
"When did I say that?"
"Sometime in the middle ages. When we found a Sontaran in a castle."
A light dawned in the Doctor's eyes. "Ah, yes. I remember that time." He looked down at Sarah Jane. "That was your first trip with me, wasn't it?"
She nodded. "I wasn't at all sure about you back then."
"And now?" he asked, eyes sparkling.
"I'm still not at all sure about you," she said, laughing. "At least half the time."
"Oh, Sarah Jane." He beamed at her, then wrapped her in a bear hug that had her feet dangling six inches off the pavement. "Thank you for being my friend."
She hugged him back. "Thank you for being my friend," she echoed softly.
"Master?" said K-9. The Doctor looked down at him. "Rift activity detected."
The Doctor quickly put Sarah down, knelt next to K-9 and scanned his view screen. He tapped it a few times, then checked the readout. "Looks like it will be peaking in about two hours."
"One point eight nine seven six hours," K-9 said.
"Yes, thank you, K-9, precision is always appreciated."
"Good thing he isn't programmed to recognize sarcasm," Sarah said.
"Either way, we should have time to get something to eat. What do you say?"
"I hear Demiro's is good. And they have outdoor seating so K-9 can stay with us."
"Demiro's it is." He offered her his arm, and she took it. K-9 led the way and they headed for the restaurant.
"Under the table and stay, K-9," Sarah said when they arrived and seated themselves at an outdoor table.
"Need menus, ducks?" Their server was a smiling middle-aged woman who looked like she had had a bit more of Demiro's good cooking than she possibly should have.
"Yes, please, it's our first time here." She handed them menus and left them to decide.
"The penne formaggi for me," said the Doctor when she returned.
"And I'll have the ravioli funghi," said Sarah.
"Good choices," the server said, making notes on her pad. Then she smiled at them both so that her eyes crinkled. "I was watching you two walking in the Plass. You seemed to be having such a good time." Sarah and the Doctor smiled back at her. "It's so lovely when a young man enjoys spending time with his mother." Sarah felt the blood rush to her face, and saw the Doctor's eyebrows shoot up. The server continued, oblivious. "My boy just never seems to have time for me at all anymore. Why, he'd no more take me out for a nice lunch like this than..."
"Yes, well, I'm taking him out for lunch," interrupted Sarah, handing her the menus.
"Oh. Well, that's nice too," she said. Her beaming smile faded a bit as she looked at Sarah. "I'll bring your meals right out, then."
"You can stop sniggering any time," Sarah said as the server disappeared into the restaurant.
"Oh, Sarah." The Doctor swallowed a laugh with difficulty. "I can't help how I look."
"I know," she said. "Neither can I," she added with a rueful frown.
"Sarah. Look at me," the Doctor said. She didn't turn her head, but did shift her eyes in his direction. "Come on, you can do better than that."
With a sigh, she turned to face him. "Sarah, you're beautiful. You've always been beautiful and you will always be beautiful. And I'd be honored to have you as my mother." He spoiled the moment by sniggering again.
She gave him a good-natured punch on his upper arm. "Should we tell her the truth? That you're really old enough to be my great great great great I don't know how many greats grandfather?"
"Not unless we want to be sectioned. Bad enough walking around with a robot dog and telling people he's easily house trained." They both dissolved in laughter again.
"Something wrong with your pasta, sir?" The server looked pointedly at the small amount of food left on the Doctor's plate, then gave him a worried frown.
The Doctor shook his head. "No, everything was wonderful."
"Aren't you going to finish then?" she asked. "You could use a little more meat on your bones, if you don't mind my saying so, sir."
"I've had enough, thanks," he assured her with a smile.
"Then would you like me to wrap it up for you? And the lady's?"
"We're not going straight home," the Doctor said. "I'm afraid it wouldn't keep."
Sarah's breath caught for a moment, hearing him call her place 'home.' She bookmarked the feeling in her heart for later, closer examination, as the server took their plates and carried them into the restaurant.
"She would have loved to see you eat earlier in the week," she said. "You really must be better. You're eating like a human."
The Doctor glanced over at the table next to them, where a family of four extremely over-fed humans were enthusiastically consuming their lunches. "Maybe not exactly like a human."
She followed his look. "Like some of us then."
He grinned, then a moment later sobered, looking down at his hands. "Sarah..."
"Uh-oh," she said.
He looked up, surprised. "What?"
"Your tone. I don't like the sound of it. This is where you say your goodbyes in case this plan goes horribly wrong and you get vaporized, right?"
He stared at her. "Your talents are wasted in journalism, Sarah Jane. Have you ever thought about trying your hand at fiction?"
She rolled her eyes. "Alright. Sorry. Vivid imagination. What were you going to say?"
"Well, I was going to say something along those lines, but you've rather spoiled the moment, haven't you?" He gave her a cheeky grin, then continued. "Honestly, Sarah. I think the worst that can happen is that it doesn't work and I end up standing there looking a right prat." He leaned over to peer under the table at K-9's readout screen. "And it's about time to find out."
Sarah settled the check and left a tip on the table and they strolled back across the Plass to the alleyway where K-9 had detected the anticipated rift activity.
"Ah," the Doctor said when they arrived. "It's starting. See it?"
Sarah looked. The alleyway appeared just the same as it had two hours ago. "No."
"Look. Right there." He pointed.
She looked again and this time saw a sort of shimmer in the air, about ten feet in front of them.
He took a step forward, then turned, placed his hands on her shoulders, and looked her in the eye. "You stay back, Sarah. I mean it. No matter what happens."
"You know me better than that," she said.
"I'm not kidding." He gave her a stern look.
"Neither am I."
Exasperated, he turned to K-9. "K-9, keep your mistress safe," he said. "Whatever it takes."
"Yes, Doctor-Master," K-9 responded.
With another warning look at Sarah, he turned back to face the shimmering air. It had rapidly grown brighter and had taken on a golden hue. Sarah could see ripples and waves of force in it, like golden smoke being blown about by a gentle and inconstant breeze.
The Doctor stepped slowly toward it, pausing briefly when he reached it, holding out his hands, palms forward, as if trying to feel its edges. Then he stepped into it.
The glow faded momentarily, then grew brighter. He made swimming motions with his arms as if he were walking through chest-deep water, then he reversed the motion and used his long arms to gather the energy in to him. He turned to face her, a huge and radiant smile on his face.
"Ahhhh!" he exclaimed, laughing with sheer delight. He rubbed his arms, his chest, his face, as if he were showering in the golden glow. He scrubbed his scalp vigorously with his long fingers, making his hair, which was already standing on end, crackle with energy. "Hoo--wee, this is good stuff!" He blew out a breath, watched the shimmering force roil and flow in its wake, then inhaled deeply, golden energy infusing him. "Blimey, I needed this! I'm alive again!" He stamped his heels, arched his back, looked over his shoulder and clicked his fingers in a quick exuberant flamenco dance.
"That's wonderful," she called to him. "What about the TARDIS?"
"Oh, right." He laughed. "Almost forgot." He took another deep breath of the intoxicating golden glow, then slowly turned in a full circle. As he turned, he reached out into the energy, his hands gracefully sorting through its strands, shaping them, pulling some down, lifting others up, taking some in, deflecting some away. His face relaxed and his eyes lost focus as he felt his way through the immense power of the rift.
Sarah could see the results of his work. The golden glow no longer was an amorphous mass. It was taking shape, forming patterns. The Doctor was at the center of them all. Lines of force arced away from him, circled back to him, swirled around him. Gradually, the pattern coalesced into a golden column of force that shot straight up into the sky. His body tensed, his face tightened, and the column grew brighter until Sarah had to shade her eyes to keep watching.
His eyes suddenly popped wide open. "She's alive!" The unbounded joy in his voice brought tears to Sarah's eyes. "She's alive!"
"Can you bring her back?"
"Just watch me!" He clenched his fists and closed his eyes, and the golden column began to throb with power. Sarah took an involuntary step back and crouched behind K-9, expecting at any moment to see the familiar blue police box materialize.
The muscles in the Doctor's face grew more and more rigid and his breathing quickened. "K-9!" he commanded suddenly. "I need more power!"
"Yes, Master," said K-9. A green beam of light shone from his robot nose and focussed on the Doctor's chest. He absorbed it without moving and the golden column took on a deeper hue.
"It's not enough," the Doctor shouted. "More, K-9!"
"Power at maximum output, Master," the robot dog replied.
The Doctor's face grew grim. He was breathing heavily now, and golden drops of sweat beaded his forehead. "I can't lose her again," he said. "Must...."
"Doctor-Master, energy levels approaching danger zone," K-9 interrupted.
"Keep pouring it on, K-9." The Doctor's voice was hoarse with effort.
"Your energy levels, Doctor-Master. Not mine," said K-9.
Sarah glanced at her robot dog with quick concern. "What do you mean, K-9?"
"The Doctor-Master is using his personal energy to augment the force of the rift. His energy levels are approaching danger zone."
"Doctor!" Sarah called. He didn't respond. She watched in growing horror as the golden column began to lose its shape, tendrils of power fraying out from its edges. Still the Doctor stood, rigid with effort, holding it in place with his will alone.
Suddenly an incandescent flash and a wave of force hit Sarah and K-9, knocking Sarah off her feet, blowing K-9 back into her. "K-9," she cried in panic. "K-9, what happened? I can't see!"
K-9 just whirred and pinged for a second. Then his voice reactivated itself. "Rift activity has subsided, Mistress."
"But what about the Doctor?" She pushed herself up off K-9's back and rubbed her eyes. As the effects of the flash wore off, she saw the Doctor, sprawled on his back, unmoving. She hurried over and knelt beside him.
"Not again," she said, as she put both palms on his chest and leaned over him to listen for breathing. His chest lay quiet beneath her hands. She felt no heartbeats, no rise and fall. "Oh, God. Please. No. Regenerate, Doctor. Come on."
"Regeneration impossible at current energy levels." K-9 had wheeled up beside her and was scanning the Doctor.
"Oh, God, you can't die," Sarah moaned.
"The Doctor-Master's life signs are registering at sub-optimal levels," said K-9. "Medical assistance is advisable."
Sarah turned to him. "What do you mean, life signs?"
"Heart beats, respiration, blood pressure..." the little dog started to list in response.
"You mean he's alive?" she cut him off.
"Affirmative," said K-9.
Sarah looked at the Doctor again, hardly daring to hope. She slipped her hands inside his jacket and under his shirt this time. Skin to skin, she could feel it. Faint, ever so faint, but regular--the beating of his hearts, the infinitesimally slow rise and fall of his shallow breathing.
She sat back on the concrete next to him, one knee up, elbow resting on it, fingers laced in her hair, and breathed a sigh of deep relief. "Well," she said when she could speak again. "At least you weren't vaporized." She pulled her mobile out of her handbag and hit speed dial.
"Harry?" She was beyond grateful that he answered on the first ring.
"Sarah. Where are you?"
"Cardiff. Harry, he's hurt again."
Sarah thought back over the past few minutes. "Kind of hard to describe."
"What's broken or bleeding? Have you called 999?"
She shook her head, looking at the Doctor. "Nothing like that. No visible wounds. He was trying to pull the TARDIS to earth, doing some massive energy thing and it backfired on him I think. He's unconscious."
"Have you tried to wake him up?"
"No. Harry, I can barely feel his hearts beating. He's only just breathing. I don't think he's going to shake this off like a knock on the head."
He interrupted her. "I know, I know. Trust me this time. You need to get him to hospital. Make sure they take him to Heath. I'll send a helicopter to pick him up. Tell them he's a VIP and they're not to touch him, just wait for the helicopter. Use my name, MI5, UNIT, whatever it takes to impress them. Got it?"
She nodded, not trusting her voice, then realized how useless a nod was in a phone conversation. "Thanks, Harry," she managed to choke out. "You're the best."
"Quite right," he said. "High time you realized it. Now ring off so I can start pulling strings."
The phone went dead before she had a chance to say any more.
"K-9, cloak and go back to the car and wait there for me," she said as she started to dial 999. "And try not to let anyone trip over you."
"Yes, Mistress," he said as he disappeared and wheeled away.
Before the call completed, a police constable appeared in the entrance of the alleyway. He took a step forward, tripped, caught himself, looked on the ground around him with a puzzled frown, then shrugged and looked at Sarah.
"Ma'am?" he said tentatively. "What's going on in here? Is everything alright?"
She disconnected, stood up and took a step toward him. "My friend is ill. Please call an ambulance for him."
He quickly strode over to where the Doctor lay and knelt beside him, pulling his police radio from his belt and thumbing a switch. "What happened?" he asked as he waited for a response from the radio.
It came before she could answer. He gave their location and requested medical assistance, then switched off and looked at her expectantly.
"He was...I'm not sure," she stammered. "He has a...a lot of allergies. And a...erm...heart condition." The policeman was bending over the Doctor as he listened, going through standard EMT protocol, looking for obvious trauma, checking vital signs. His face grew grim.
"Did you see anything unusual just now?"
Sarah thought fast. "You mean that big flash of light?"
"Yes ma'am," he said as he removed the Doctor's tie and opened his shirt. "Seemed to come from here. Was there some sort of an explosion?"
"Ah," she stammered. "That... I.... Not sure...what that was," she concluded rather lamely. "It all happened so fast." Best to fall back on the tried and true and vague, she thought. Couldn't get in trouble with that one. "What are you doing?" she added as the constable tilted the Doctor's head back and looked in his mouth.
"I'm sorry ma'am, but your friend isn't breathing," he said. "I'm going to administer CPR until the medics arrive. Don't worry, we'll do everything we can for him."
"Are you sure?" she asked. "He was breathing a minute ago." She dropped to her knees beside him and placed a hand on the Doctor's chest. She blew out a sigh of relief when she again felt the faint flutter of his hearts and the slight rise and fall of his breathing. "Yes, he's breathing. Feel."
He gave her an odd look, but put his hand by hers. "That's not normal breathing, ma'am, and not a normal heartbeat. Please stand aside and let me help him."
Sarah Jane had no choice but to stand back and watch.
When the ambulance team arrived, she again insisted on the allergies story--severe allergies!--to convince them not to give him anything that might harm him, and after a little argument, got them to agree to take him to the hospital Harry had specified. She watched them strap an oxygen mask over the Doctor's face and lift him onto a gurney, then into the ambulance. She started to climb in after him when one of the EMT's put a hand on her arm.
"You family ma'am?"
"Closest he has to it," she replied, and he let her climb in.
Sarah needed all of the assertiveness and creativity she had developed as an investigative journalist and the Doctor's companion when they reached the hospital. Hospital security nearly carried her out bodily at least twice, but through sheer persistence she managed to convince them that this patient, who appeared to be in critical need of urgent care, was a foreign VIP, vital to global security, with an anomalous circulatory system that was the result of a birth defect, and a host of allergies that meant no one should touch him but his personal physician, Commodore Harry Sullivan. You know, Deputy Director of MI5? That Commodore Sullivan? They finally backed down when word came from the administration that a military helicopter was on its way to life-flight the patient to London and they were to do nothing, repeat, nothing, to him or for him until it arrived and Commodore Sullivan could take over.
Sarah was waiting on the helipad with the still-comatose Doctor and the urgent care team when the black military helicopter landed and Harry jumped out.
"God, I was never so happy to see anyone in my life," Sarah said, hugging him tightly.
"Just like the old days, eh?" Harry said, a sparkle in his eye. He quickly checked the Doctor over and then supervised the life-flight team as they carefully transferred him from the hospital gurney to their own and loaded him into the helicopter. He turned back to her, the wind of the rotors disarranging his hair. "You want to ride along?" he shouted over the noise of the copter.
"Can't," she called back. "Have to get the car and K-9 home."
"Right." He nodded, then dug in an inside coat pocket and came up with a plastic card. He held it out to her, and she took it and looked at it questioningly. "We're taking him to Bart's. You'll need that to get in. Don't even bother asking the receptionist. They won't know he's there. Just call me and I'll send someone up to get you. Show him that card."
She nodded, and backed away as the rotors speeded up, preparing for take-off. "Call me if there's any change."
"Right." Harry waved and swung back into the copter.
Sarah Jane tucked the card into her purse and hugged herself tightly as she watched them rise into the sky, pause a moment, then fly off to the east.
Sarah found herself alone in the mirrored elevator on the way down from the rooftop helipad to the lobby. She used the time to take some deep breaths to try and quiet the adrenaline-fueled tremors that were threatening to take her legs out from under her, now that the crisis was over. By the time she reached the ground floor, she was back in control of herself, and headed briskly past the main reception desk toward the doors.
One word stopped her. Torchwood.
She hoped it wasn't too obvious when she slammed to a halt at the sound of that name. She quickly pretended to be rummaging in her handbag for something while she surreptitiously glanced over at the reception desk. Two men stood there, backs to her, the taller man angrily arguing with the receptionist after having identified himself as Torchwood.
"Look, lady," he said in an American accent. "We know he was brought here and not more than an hour ago. Now where is he?"
Sarah made a frustrated face, snapped her fingers, and reversed her direction, hoping she was giving a convincing impression of someone who has forgotten her car keys somewhere in the hospital and who was going back to look for them. As soon as she rounded the corner into the corridor where the elevators were, she flattened herself against the wall and listened hard.
"Jack," she heard a man say, this time with a Welsh accent. "Take it easy."
Two hospital security guards passed in front of Sarah, obviously on their way to the reception desk, probably in response to the beleagured woman's pushing of a panic button.
"Sir, is there a problem?" she heard one say.
"Yes, there's a problem," came the American voice again. "I'm trying to find out the whereabouts of a patient and this....woman...refuses to tell me."
"Sir, if you just had a name..." she started to say.
"He doesn't have a name," the American said. "He's just called the Doctor."
A cold chill went through Sarah. The Doctor was right, she thought. They are still after him. Even after Canary Wharf.
"We have many doctors here, sir," said one of the security guards in a soothing tone, trying to calm the American down.
"Not like this one you don't. Damn!" She heard a thump that could have been a fist hitting a desk or a foot kicking a wall. Then she heard footsteps coming her way and looked around for a place to hide, but they stopped before they came around the corner. Obviously, the Welshman had taken the American aside and was trying to reason with him.
"But he was here. Causing a huge rift flare right above the Hub. Of all times to be fighting a major Weevil infestation on the outskirts of town."
"How do you know it was him?"
"My Doctor detector was going nuts."
Another chill ran up Sarah's spine. A Doctor detector? Not good news.
"You said it stopped though. And when Tosh pulled the CCTV footage, what there was of it before the rift flare blew the camera's circuits, you said the man you saw, the one you think they brought here, wasn't this Doctor of yours. And the woman wasn't the girl that travels with him." He paused. "In fact, she wasn't a girl at all."
Humph! Sarah thought. She suddenly didn't much like this Welshman, even though he did appear to be the voice of reason in the conversation.
"Yeah." The American sighed, sounding defeated. "It stopped. And the Doctor detector stopped bubbling when it did. He must have taken off in the TARDIS just then. But those people were right there--they had to see something, must know something. I have to find them."
Sarah suddenly realized that it wasn't just the Doctor who would be in trouble with Torchwood if they saw her and recognized her from the CCTV footage. She quietly turned away from the reception desk and hurried down the corridor in front of the elevators, letting herself out a side door. She hailed a taxi, had the driver drop her off across the Plass from where the Prius was parked and carefully scanned the area around her car. She nonchalantly walked to it by an indirect route, relieved to see that it didn't appear to be under surveillance. Once they back-tracked her and the Doctor's actions of the afternoon, they might come looking for her, but she would be long gone by then.
"K-9?" she whispered.
"Yes, Mistress," came the tinny voice.
"Shh," she said. "Quietly." She opened the back door for him. "Jump in." The dent in the cushion told her he had obeyed. "Good boy." She quickly got behind the steering wheel and headed for London as fast as the speed limit allowed.
Sarah Jane drove straight to St. Bartholomew's without stopping at home. She phoned Harry as she parked the car and, as promised, a uniformed man met her at the door to the hospital. He asked for the plastic card Harry had given her and, when she produced it, ran it through a portable scanner. After he checked the readout, he escorted her to the elevator, inserted a key in the control panel, and turned it three clicks to the left. The elevator started down.
Harry was waiting when the doors opened. He dismissed the young soldier with a salute and a word of thanks. He led Sarah down the tiled corridors to a nicely appointed room where the Doctor lay in what had to be the most elegant and comfortable-looking hospital bed she had ever seen.
"What is this place?" she asked, taking in the room.
"VIP suite," Harry answered.
Sarah nodded, then focussed on the Doctor. He looked, if possible, more pale and death-like than he had in Cardiff.
"No oxygen?" Sarah asked, remembering her last glimpse of the Doctor as he was loaded on the helicopter.
Harry shook his head. "Didn't make any difference in his O2 saturation levels so I discontinued it."
"No beeping flashing monitors?" she questioned, looking around and noting the absence of the standard paraphernalia of modern medicine.
Harry took a deep breath before answering. "They aren't designed to monitor the condition he's in," he finally said. "According to them, he's dead. Or nearly so. Which makes them not very helpful." He paused. "Alarms keep going off. That sort of thing."
"So...how is he?" She stepped up to the Doctor's bedside and gently smoothed a stray hair off his forehead.
Harry raised his eyebrows slightly and blew out a puff of air. "His hearts are beating. He's breathing. And he has blood pressure. Not a whole lot of it, but apparently enough to keep him ticking over. All of his vitals seem to have stabilized. And his body temp is holding steady at 76 degrees."
Sarah turned to him with a horrified frown. "Can that be right?" She took the Doctor's hand in disbelief, and her eyes widened as she felt how chilly it was.
"Sarah, we had this conversation a week ago," Harry said, softening his words with a gentle smile. "They didn't teach Time Lord medicine at uni."
"Can you do one of those psychic diagnostic things on him?"
He shook his head. "I tried. When no one was looking," he added with a sheepish grin. "Didn't work. He apparently has to be awake and participating. Probably wouldn't have to with a Time Lord doctor, but with a plain old human..."
Sarah glanced up at him with a warm smile. "You're not a plain old human, Harry. You're a wonderful human."
He accepted the compliment by returning her smile. "Not very psychic, though," he added. "Probably doesn't help that I never much believed in that sort of thing." He paused for a long moment. "Or..." He stopped.
He looked at her with eyes full of kindness. "Or it may be that it didn't work because..." He broke off again.
"Because...?" she prompted, puzzled by Harry's unusual reticence.
"He might not be there to contact," Harry finally said gently.
She gave him a long look, then turned back to the Doctor. She rested her palm on his cheek, feeling again the frightening chill of his skin. "You think he might be brain dead." It was a statement, not a question.
"It happens in humans, honey," he said. "Seems like it could happen to Time Lords."
She turned to face him. "Can't you do brain scans?"
He nodded. "I've done some. His brain is so off-the-charts different from a human's that I can't tell what they mean. I have no idea what normal looks like for him."
"Right. So," Sarah said after a moment, straightening her spine. "Prognosis--unknown and unknowable. Treatment plan?"
He gave her a crooked smile. "Try to think of something useful to do for him."
Sarah nodded. "Can I stay with him?"
"Sure," Harry said. "Long as you like. No one's going to tell you you're outside of visiting hours on this floor."
She glanced around the room again. "And I'm guessing it doesn't matter that he doesn't have an NHS card on this floor either."
Harry grinned. "No. We'll just send the bill to you."
Sarah whirled around and gaped at him until the grin registered and she laughed in spite of herself. "Send it to Torchwood," she said.
He looked puzzled. "Torchwood? Why?"
She explained what the Doctor had told her about Torchwood and Canary Wharf, and then related the conversation she had overheard at the hospital in Wales.
"I'm glad you told me," Harry said. "I'll get his records classified."
"I assumed they already were."
"Well, we weren't exactly advertising his presence," he said. "But we weren't actively hiding it either. We'll do that now."
"Thanks, Harry. That makes me feel better."
He looked at her sharply. "You be careful. They have your picture."
"I'm hoping that's all they have."
Harry nodded his agreement. "Now," he said. "Would you like to tell me exactly what happened to him here, or over coffee in the cafeteria?"
She gave him a grateful smile. "Coffee sounds heavenly, thanks."
The cafeteria coffee was anything but heavenly, but Sarah didn't care. She wrapped her hands around the mug and enjoyed its warmth as she did her best to describe to Harry exactly what had happened in Cardiff. He listened closely, occasionally interrupting with good questions that she couldn't answer with anything but a shake of her head, a shrug of her shoulders, or pure speculation.
"Sure is easier when he's around to explain the weird alien stuff and all we have to do is pretend we understand and trot along after him," said Harry finally.
She nodded. "Now it's his weird alien stuff and we're on our own trying to figure it out."
He reached across the table and took her hand, giving her a smile that was meant to be reassuring. "We won't let him down, Sarah Jane. Not for want of trying, anyway."
She shook her head. "No, we won't."
Harry let go of her hand and leaned back in his chair, stirring his cold coffee absently. "You said you thought he was dead, right after, when he collapsed, right?"
"And it was K-9 who said he was alive?"
She nodded again.
"How did he know?"
"A beam of some sort came out of his nose and scanned the Doctor. Sensed his condition somehow."
"I didn't know he could do that."
"Neither did I. I'm still learning about all the new features in Mark IV. The Doctor didn't give me an owner's manual with him. Of course."
"Whoa, slow down," Harry said. "Mark IV?"
"Didn't I tell you?"
She thought back. "That's right, you were out of the country. I left you a couple of messages but you never called back."
"Yes I did," he said. "I left you a message."
"Yes, I got that message and then I called back and left you another message." They stared at each other for a beat, then burst out laughing.
"Remember when we didn't even have answering machines?" he asked.
"Yes. How did we ever manage to not talk to each other back then?"
He grinned. "So, you have two K-9s now. Do they get along?"
Sarah felt her eyes suddenly well up and ducked her head.
"Honey? What's wrong?" Harry asked, his voice full of concern.
"Nothing," she said, as she picked up a napkin and dabbed at her eyes. "He....it was just a daft robot dog. It's ridiculous to blub over a piece of machinery."
"What happened?" he asked softly.
She couldn't answer for a moment, then got her voice under control. "He blew up some very nasty aliens. And himself with them."
He came around the table and slid in next to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. "Aw, Sarah. It's alright. Have yourself a good blub. I'd be the last one to tell you not to."
She leaned into him gratefully but still fought back the tears. "You're going to bring on a full-fledged snot-filled sobbing meltdown if you keep this up," she said.
He squeezed her tighter. "Like that's never happened in a hospital before."
"Over a dog?"
"Over a robot dog?"
He chuckled. "Well, alright, maybe that would be a first."
They both laughed, Sarah through tears. She took a deep breath, dried her eyes and blew her nose.
"So, you were asking about K-9," she said firmly.
"I was wondering what else he could tell us about the Doctor's condition."
Sarah's eyes widened. "Oh, Harry. You are brilliant."
"Well," Harry said with faux modesty, obviously pleased. "Since the Doctor built him, he might know more about Gallifreyan medicine than I do. Which wouldn't take much," he added ruefully.
They went out to the car to talk to K-9. Sarah opened the back door and told him to uncloak, which had Harry's eyes popping with surprise.
"K-9, this is Harry. He's a friend of mine and the Doctor's."
"Hullo, K-9," said Harry as he crouched down to be on the little dog's eye level.
"Greetings, Master Harry," said K-9.
"That's cute," he said to Sarah. He turned back to the robot dog. "K-9, can you scan the Doctor and tell us what's wrong with him and how to treat him?"
"Negative," said K-9.
"Oh." Harry's face fell.
"Why not, K-9?" Sarah asked.
"Doctor-Master is not within sensor range," K-9 answered.
Harry and Sarah shared relieved smiles. "So, if he were within sensor range, could you diagnose what is wrong with the Doctor and help us treat him?" Harry asked.
"It is possible. The Doctor-Master programmed medical routines into my database."
"How close do you have to be, K-9?"
"Within three point one four five seven meters, Mistress."
She rolled her eyes. "K-9, numerical responses can be given to the nearest whole number," she said.
"Updating default numerical answer mode, Mistress," he responded.
"Thank you." She turned to Harry. "So, how do we get him within three point one four five seven meters of the Doctor? I have a feeling he'd trip a few security alarms if we just tried to walk in there with him. Even cloaked."
Harry chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully as he gazed at the little dog. "Yeah, I think you're right. He'd cause more of an uproar than the Doctor. All the IT blokes would want to get their hands on him." He looked up at her. "Might be easier to bring the Doctor to him."
And that was how, on a sunny Sunday morning, Sarah Jane Smith found herself waiting for an ambulance to deliver the last surviving member of an ancient and powerful alien race to her spare bedroom. Who also happened to be in a coma. Who also happened to be one of her dearest friends.
It really didn't do to think about it too hard.
"What's all this then?" Harry said as he pulled a chair up to the side of Sarah's desk and sat down. He picked up the top sheet of the web page she had just printed and looked at it. "Reiki?" he asked, pronouncing it rye--like the bread--key.
"Reiki," she said, pronouncing it ray-key. "Energy healing." She pushed her reading glasses further up her nose, peered at the computer screen, clicked a few keys. "That's what K-9 says he needs."
"I take it the transfer went alright?" Harry asked.
She nodded. "He's all tucked up in the spare room again. Seems fine. Well." She raised her eyebrows. "Seems no worse than he was in hospital. Not that you could call that fine." She turned to look at him. "Did you get all of his paperwork cleared away?"
Harry blew out his lips. "Got a start on it. I'm sure it will be haunting me for weeks to come."
She gave him a commiserating smile, then turned back to the monitor.
"What else did K-9 say?" Harry prompted her.
She swivelled her chair to face him and took off her glasses. "He put too much of his own personal energy into trying to bring the TARDIS back and basically..." She paused, searching for the right words. "...burned himself out. Some survival instinct kicked in at the last possible moment and sent him into shutdown mode to keep him from destroying himself completely."
"Shutdown mode," Harry repeated slowly. "Like a computer?"
She shrugged. "That's what K-9 said. Since he is a computer, makes sense he would put it in computer terms."
"So. He's in..." He paused, frowning, as he searched for a better word, one that might apply to something living. "...hibernation?"
She smiled. "That's a computer term too."
"I meant like a bear."
"Not quite the same. Bears spend months eating like...well...horses to prepare for hiberation. It's not something that just hits them."
"He was eating like that last week."
"Yes, and using it all right away to heal himself. He didn't store it up for the winter."
Harry acknowledged her point with a nod. "I was just thinking how bears slow their metabolism down when they hibernate to the point where they're scarcely breathing, and their heart rate slows to next to nothing. Their body temperature drops, too."
She nodded, acknowledging the parallels. "He's doing the Time Lord version."
"So what's the treatment? Did K-9 have that information in his databanks?"
"Of course," Sarah said. "There are several options for energy-depleted Time Lords to recharge themselves. He could spend a few days in a Grondonian Vorlapse tube, or visit the spa on Fergolia and be floated in a jorslom solution while the Fergolians sprinkle him with...."
"Okay, okay, okay," Harry interrupted, holding his hands out palms-up to stop her. "What on Earth can cure him?"
Sarah sighed, and her eyes went still. She shook her head. "K-9 didn't have any answers when I asked him that question."
"But Google does." Harry looked pointedly at the computer and grinned at her.
"When in doubt, Google." She managed a weak grin back at him.
"And when you searched 'Recharging Energy Depleted Time Lords' you got how many hits?"
She punched him in the shoulder. "I searched 'energy healing' and 'energy therapy' and got roughly a bazillion hits."
"And this reiki stuff came top of the heap because...?"
"It's energy therapy. Pure and simple." She picked up the papers and looked them over again. "I wrote a series of articles on complementary therapies last year." She saw Harry roll his eyes. "That's what the practitioners prefer to call them. And reiki was one I wrote about." She put down the papers. "I was thinking about calling the woman I interviewed. She seemed very credible."
"And how is this reiki supposed to work?"
She fixed him with a challenging stare. "I'm not going to discuss it with you if you're just going to pish-tush it."
He gave her his most earnest look, held up his right hand. "I promise. No pishing. No tushing."
She was dubious, but decided to give him a chance. "Reiki practitioners channel universal life force energy through the use of symbols after they've been attuned by a Reiki master."
He struggled manfully to keep a straight face but a small derisive snort escaped him.
"Right, that's it, we're done here," she said, turning back to the computer.
"Sarah, I'm sorry." He laid a hand on her shoulder, which she ignored. "It's just....I'm a doctor. A medical doctor. A military medical doctor."
She ignored him for another long moment, then softened. "I know." She swallowed hard. "I'm just..." She let it hang.
"Too trusting?" he suggested.
She turned to him with a wry grin. "Thought you'd go with hopelessly gullible."
He shook his head. "Never. Overly hopeful, maybe."
"Completely desperate comes closest to the truth," she said softly.
"He's in here," said Sarah Jane, as she led the reiki master into the bedroom where the Doctor lay motionless.
Chalyce Williams was a green-eyed brunette, not fat, not thin, not tall, not short--someone you'd pass in the grocery aisle and never remember having seen. But she stepped up to the Doctor's bedside with an air of authority that reassured Sarah.
"What did you say his name was?" she asked, eyes searching his still features.
Sarah hadn't said. "John. John Smith."
Chalyce turned to her. "But not a relative? You said a friend?"
Sarah smiled. "A lot of us Smiths about. No, no relation."
"What happened to him?"
"Industrial accident," Sarah extemporized.
Chalyce looked suprised. "He works in a power station? I don't remember reading about any accidents."
"No," Sarah said. "Not a power station. A research firm. They work on ways to make nuclear power safer."
Chalyce nodded, and turned back to look at the Doctor again. "Guess it didn't work."
"Not very well," Sarah agreed.
"Are you sure he's..." Chalyce hesitated. Sarah followed her gaze, saw the Doctor through her eyes for a moment, deathly pale, unmoving.
"He's alive," she assured her. "Just very low on energy."
"Which is why I'm here," Chalyce smiled brightly. "Right, let's get started."
"Do you need him to be undressed?"
She shook her head. "The energy goes right through fabric. If we could just do without the covers for a bit. So I can get a clear fix on his chakras."
Sarah pulled back the sheets and covers and folded them at the foot of the bed. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Chalyce close her eyes, take a deep breath, and reach out towards the Doctor. Then....
Sarah hurried around the bed, knelt by Chalyce's side. She was already sitting up, but with a dazed look on her face. She looked at Sarah, blinked a few times, and said, "That wasn't supposed to happen."
"What did happen?" Sarah asked.
"I..." She blew out a breath. "I started to work on him and it was like all the energy went right out of me. Got dizzy and, well...ended up down here." Sarah put a hand under her elbow and helped her up.
"I'm sorry," Sarah said. "I didn't think. Him being so low on energy. It never occurred to me that he could...well...drain someone like that."
"It isn't supposed to work like that. It's not my energy that I give to my clients. I'm just the conduit for universal energy." She gave the Doctor an appraising look. "He shouldn't be able to drain that."
"You don't know him," said Sarah.
Chalyce squared her shoulders, then gingerly held her palms out toward the Doctor, eyes open this time.
"Careful," Sarah cautioned her.
Chalyce nodded. "Trust me. That won't happen again." She moved up and down the side of the bed, hands outstretched, never coming within even two feet of actually touching the Doctor, and yet seeming to outline him with her gestures.
"Whew, he is an energy vacuum," she finally said. She gave Sarah a direct look. "I'll do what I can, but I'd really like to call in my teacher on this case. The one who gave me my attunement. He's been doing this a lot longer than I have. He's actually a third degree Reiki master. I'm only second."
Some time later, Chalyce was enjoying a much-needed cup of hot sweet tea when Sarah's doorbell rang.
"That must be Porter," said Chalyce. "Shall I get it?"
"You stay put," Sarah said and headed for the door.
She was back in a moment with a short man in a tie-dyed t-shirt and scruffy jeans. His shiny pink scalp was ringed by long grey hair which was tied back in a ponytail. Chalyce stood up and they shared a quick, affectionate hug.
"Thank you for coming, and so quickly," Sarah said. "I'm Sarah Jane Smith."
"Porter Davis," he said, shaking her hand. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Something that's got Chalyce this shaken up must be fascinating."
"Porter," Chalyce said, rolling her eyes in Sarah's direction. "You're talking about her friend."
"Oh." He looked abashed. "Sorry."
Sarah smiled. "It's alright. My friend's just like that. When he's himself."
"Let's meet him then," said Porter, and Sarah led the way to the bedroom.
"Be careful," Chalyce said as he approached the Doctor. "It's really powerful."
Porter stretched his hands out in the same way Chalyce had done and moved them up and down, side to side, well above the Doctor's body. He frowned with concentration and, as his examination progressed, his frown deepened. Finally, he stepped back, let his hands fall to his side, and turned to Sarah Jane.
"Who is he?" he asked quietly.
Sarah raised her eyebrows slightly, paused a moment too long. "My friend."
Porter nodded. "I don't doubt that. But who is he? I've never felt anything like this before."
"Didn't I tell you?" Chalyce chimed in.
Porter gave her a look and a slow nod. Then he looked back at Sarah Jane.
Silence filled the room. Finally Sarah spoke.
"He is my friend," Sarah said, meeting his gaze steadily. "And he needs help. Can you help him?"
Porter took her measure for another minute, then broke eye contact. "Right. Chalyce, call Tom, Ed, Priss, Sue and Cindilla. I'll call Tony, Chris, Barbara, Molly and, oh, let me think. Pam. She should be available. You have your mobile?"
Chalyce nodded, while Sarah glanced from one of them to the other with trepidation. "What are you doing?
"Calling in the troops," he said with a grin.
Sarah lost track of who was who as Porter's students and peers arrived in quick succession. They all went through the same motions with the Doctor as Porter and Chalyce had done, and all agreed that this was a case that needed their combined efforts. They wanted to take him out of bed and lay him on the living room floor, where they could all sit in a circle around him, but Sarah vetoed that and they had to settle for pulling the bed away from the wall so they could form a ring of energy around him and achieve a proper balance. Several of them had brought new age CDs and a lively discussion ensued as to which would be the most supportive of their efforts.
"What have I gotten myself into?" Sarah wondered as she inserted the chosen CD and hit the play button. She looked at the group around the bed as they began the Doctor's treatment. "And what would Harry say if he could see this?" Her eyes travelled from face to earnest face as they stood, eyes closed, arms out, hands suspended in space above the Doctor, and she shook her head slowly.
The next afternoon, Sarah Jane sat at her kitchen table, stirring her soup glumly, staring idly at the patterns that formed as her spoon circled the bowl. When the phone rang, she gave up on the idea of lunch altogether, and went to answer it.
"Hi, Harry," she said, making no effort to hide her mood.
He noticed. "What's wrong? Is the Doctor..."
"He's just the same. Nothing's wrong. Nothing new anyway."
"Oh." Harry sounded a bit nonplussed. "Well, I was calling to let you know I won't be over until later tonight. Busy wretched Monday here."
"Okay. I have a lot of work to get done anyway." She looked around the kitchen apathetically.
"Sarah, what..." He paused. "Oh," he said, the light dawning. "You called one of those reiki chaps, didn't you?"
She didn't answer.
"And he came out and did whatever it is they do and the Doctor's just the same. Am I right?"
She still didn't answer.
"Well, I hope you didn't pay him any outrageous sum."
"One of the nice things about being single and earning your own money, Harry," she said sounding more like her usual self. "Is that you get to spend it however you see fit and not have to account to anyone for it."
He didn't say anything for a moment, and when he spoke again his voice was gentle. "I'm sorry it didn't help."
"Yeah," she said. "Me too."
When her doorball rang much later that night, she opened it expecting to see Harry. But before she saw anything, she was hit by a furry juggernaut. She staggered back a step and felt Harry's hand grab her elbow and steady her against two black paws that had planted themselves on her shoulders while a big warm washcloth of a tongue swiped enthusiastically at her face. A thick tail thrashed back and forth with such vigor that her whole body swayed with it.
"Thor!" she said and promptly regretted it as his tongue went in her mouth.
"Thor!" Harry said. "Off!" He grabbed Thor by the collar, pulled him off Sarah, and set him firmly back down on all four paws. "Sorry. Can we come in?"
"Of course," Sarah laughed as she wiped her mouth. "My God how he's grown. I could carry him last time I saw him."
"Unfortunately, their bodies grow faster than their brains," he said, stepping into the house with Thor on a very short lead. "His hasn't nearly caught up yet. I did think he had better manners than that, though," he said, glowering down at his dog. Thor just wagged harder, seeing he had his master's full attention.
"Never mind, no harm done," Sarah said as she led the way to the kitchen. "Do you want me to hold him while you check on the Doctor?"
"I came more to check on you," Harry said. "You sounded so down this morning." He seated himself at the table, pointed to the floor in front of Thor's nose and said "Down." Thor obediently lay down. "Good boy. Now stay." He confidently dropped the lead on the floor next to Thor and turned to face Sarah.
"You think that's going to work?" She grinned.
"It had better," he growled, looking down at his dog. Thor thumped his tail on the floor but stayed in position. "Good boy," Harry assured him. "Just spent an hour at the dog park throwing balls for him so he should be willing to lie down for a bit," he said to Sarah.
"Mmm-hmm," she said.
"Guess I could have left him in the car, but it was such a long day for him, alone at home..."
"Don't apologize, he's always welcome," she interrupted. "Just as Solomon was."
Harry smiled, a bit sadly. "Well, Sol was welcome anywhere. He was a gentleman. Not like this one," he said, looking down at Thor again.
"Give him time. Sol was every bit that bad when he was that age."
"Was he?" Harry sounded genuinely unsure. "I can't seem to remember him as anything but the dear old soul he was the last few years. After Marilyn..." His voice trailed off.
Sarah gently slipped her hand under his as it lay on the table and gave it a squeeze. "So, tell me about your busy wretched Monday," she said.
They talked, the way two old friends will, about their respective days, which led into days gone by, and then to days they hoped were yet to come, and time passed unnoticed until Harry glanced up at the clock and saw it was nearing midnight.
"Good grief," Harry said. "When did it get to be that late? I'll never be able to get up in the morning. Thor..." He turned to look where he'd left the Labrador on his down stay, preparing to pick up the leash and release him. But Thor wasn't there.
Harry stood up, looked under the table. "Did you see him go anywhere?" he asked Sarah.
"No." She laughed. "He must have tiptoed out on little cat's feet while we were talking."
"Thor!" Harry called as he strode into the living room, Sarah at his heels. No Thor appeared. Harry checked the bathroom while Sarah looked into the spare bedroom.
"Harry," she said quietly.
"What? Did you find him?" He looked up and saw her leaning on the doorframe, crooking a finger at him in a "come here" gesture. He stepped over to her side and looked into the room.
Thor was on the bed, snuggled comfortably up against the Doctor. When he saw them in the doorway looking at him, he gave them a happy, tongue-lolling Lab grin and thumped his tail on the bed, but he didn't move.
"Thor," Harry said in a warning voice. "Get off the bed." The tail thumped again. Harry stepped over to him, took him by the collar, and guided him down to the floor. "Sit." Thor did. Harry handed the leash to Sarah and quickly examined the Doctor.
"Think he's any better at all?" Sarah asked wistfully.
"Seems about the same to me. Everything holding steady." He took Thor's leash back from Sarah. "Sorry." He brushed at the covers. "Sorry about the dog hair on the bed, too."
Unlike Harry, Sarah Jane had the luxury of sleeping in, and the next morning, she took advantage of it. One of the best perks of being self-employed, she often thought. When she finally did get up, she checked on the Doctor and thought he looked--maybe, just maybe--the tiniest bit improved. Either that, or a good night's rest had restored her optimism levels to normal. She had K-9 run a scan on him.
"Give me those results again, K-9?" she asked. He did. She called Harry. She gave him K-9s results and waited. "That's good news, isn't it?" she finally said when she couldn't stand to wait any more.
"Well, yes, of course, any improvement is good news," he said. "But I can't get too excited. It's so slight."
"But he's better. Right?"
She could practically hear Harry's mental hems and haws. "Less than one percent better. With any diagnostic tool less sophisticated than K-9, we probably would have missed it. It could just be a normal fluctuation in his readings, depending on the time of day they're taken or..."
"Harry," she interrupted firmly. "It's good news."
"Yes, ma'am," he concurred, recognizing the voice of authority. "It's good news."
"Sarah! Where have you been? Off on one of your investigations?"
"Sort of." Sarah smiled into the phone at her neighbor's enthusiastic tone. "Any chance you could come over today and spend a few hours with an old friend of mine while I run some errands?"
"Sure! Is he cute?"
Sarah thought about it for a second and then smiled. "Actually, yes, he is. But at the moment he's in a coma."
"Oh." All the joy went out of Jen's voice. "Sarah, I'm so sorry. Didn't mean to..."
"It's alright," Sarah interrupted. "You didn't know."
"Is that why I haven't seen you around?"
"Yes. Been kind of busy with him."
"Shouldn't he be in hospital?"
"He was. We decided he'd be better off at home. You know my friend Harry?"
"Dark curly hair, graying at the temples, nice shoulders, great smile?"
Sarah had to grin. Trust Jen to remember certain details. Especially about men. "That's the one. He's a doctor."
"Oh, I remember that! He's looking after your friend then?"
"Yes, he checks in on him every day."
"Mmmm, so he might stop by while I'm there?"
"Is that a yes to the original question then?"
"Of course. But..." She hesitated. "I'll have to bring Smokey."
Oh Lord, thought Sarah. "Why's that?" she asked, her tone carefully neutral.
"He chewed his way out of that new kennel I got for him so I have no place to put him if I go out. And if I leave him loose he'll destroy the house. As per usual."
Well, what's a few more dog hairs? Sarah thought. "Sure, bring him along."
When she opened the door ten minutes later, Sarah was prepared for an out-of-control canine greeting, so Smoke didn't blindside her the way Thor had done the night before. In fact, he didn't even pause to greet her, just dragged Jen past her into the house. "Come in," Sarah said to the empty doorway, and grinned. She closed the door and went into the living room, where she found Jen trying to get Smoke to sit.
"Oh, Weimaraners!" Jen said in exasperation as she gave up and let Smoke have his way. He was everywhere at once, sniffing, wagging, poking things with his nose. "They're the best once they settle down, but at this age..."
"He is a bit hyper," Sarah said.
"High energy," Jen corrected her.
"Uh-huh," Sarah agreed.
She led the way to the spare room. "You probably won't have to do anything at all with...John," she said. "I just don't feel right going off and leaving him alone in this condition."
"Of course not," Jen said. She looked down at the Doctor and grew quiet. "Poor fellow. How long has he been like this?"
"It happened Saturday."
"Oh well then. He could still come out of it."
"That's what we're hoping."
Jen looked at him more closely. "I thought you said he was an old friend."
"Oh. Well. His parents were old friends. I've known him since he was a baby."
"Mmm. Well, you're right about him."
Sarah gave her a questioning look.
"He is cute."
Sarah dropped K-9 off at the FarCor plant to resume his interrupted surveillance duties, and then spent a few frustrating hours tracking down some story leads that had gone well past their expiry dates over the past week. She finished her afternoon out with grocery shopping and then headed home.
"How'd it go?" she asked Jen as she put the grocery bags on the counter.
Sarah turned around quickly. "Is he alright?"
"He's fine. I'm sorry, Sarah, I didn't mean to scare you."
"Oh, you didn't scare me," she said, hand on her heart, eyes wide.
Jen laughed apologetically. "I was just going to tell you what Smokey did."
Now Sarah really was scared. "Go ahead."
"It was the oddest thing. He's usually such a velcro dog, you know? Always by my side. But he wouldn't stay with me. He was just determined to climb in bed with your friend! I finally put his leash on him to keep him with me, but then he tugged and whined and carried on until I was ready to strangle him."
Her friend ducked her head and answered in a small voice. "I gave in. I hope you don't mind. I made sure he didn't disturb your friend, didn't lie on him or anything. He just curled up next to him and has been there all afternoon, good as gold."
Sarah just looked at her, wide-eyed.
"Are you angry?"
"No, I'm thinking."
"Thinking you're angry?"
Sarah laughed. "No, thinking this is beyond odd. Harry brought his Lab over last night and he did the same thing."
Jen smiled. "Your friend John must have a lot of animal magnetism!"
Harry looked at the thermometer, then looked at Sarah. "His temperature is up two degrees."
Sarah beamed. "And?"
"His heart rate and respiration are up too."
Her smile brightened even more. "Could Thor spend the day here tomorrow?"
"Sarah," Harry said. "You can't seriously think..." He stopped, shook his head.
"Then why is he better?"
"Maybe he is just recovering. That's what living organisms do when they're injured. They either die or get better. He didn't die, so he's getting better."
"Why didn't he start getting better until Thor and Smoke spent time with him?"
Harry shook his head, lifted his shoulders, held his hands out, palms-up. "Coincidence?"
They stared at each other.
She broke it off first, and gave him a big-eyed innocent look instead. "What harm could it do for Thor to spend the day with his Auntie Sarah tomorrow? Hmm? Won't he have a better time with me than he would do all alone at your place?"
"Sarah?" Jen's worried voice greeted her when she picked up the phone early the next morning.
"Hi Jen," she said. "What's up?"
"I've just come back from the vet," she said. "She wanted me to call you."
Sarah frowned into the phone. "Nothing wrong with Smoke, I hope."
"That's what we're trying to figure out. I took him in first thing this morning because he was just so quiet last night. Not like himself at all."
"And I told the vet we spent the afternoon at your place, and she asked if he could have gotten into something there. I didn't think so, like I said, he just stayed curled up on your friend's bed the whole time, but I thought I'd check and see if you noticed anything out of place."
"No," Sarah said as her eyes travelled around the kitchen. She walked through all the rooms on the first floor, scanning for anything out of place or unusual. "He didn't go upstairs did he?"
"I don't think so."
Sarah walked into the Doctor's room, checked the floor, under the bed, in the bin, and saw nothing out of the ordinary. She stood staring at the Doctor's still form for a minute, noticing the slight flush of color that had come back to his skin overnight. "No," she said slowly into the phone. "I don't think he got into anything here."
"Thanks for checking, hon. I'll tell the vet."
"No problem. I hope he's feeling better soon." She rang off, still staring at the Doctor.
When Harry arrived a few minutes later to drop Thor off, she told him about Smoke's mysterious mellowness. "How was Thor after his visit with the Doctor?"
"He was a perfect gentleman. But that doesn't mean the Doctor had anything to do with it. Remember I came here straight from a good workout at the dog park."
"Is he always calm after a visit to the dog park?"
Harry looked at her, looked away, sighed. "No. He was unusually calm and quiet Monday night. And Tuesday morning. I almost took him to the vet."
Sarah raised her eyebrows at him. She reached out and unsnapped Thor's leash from his collar. They both watched as the liberated Lab trotted straight off to the Doctor's bedroom. She looked back at Harry.
"How long was Smoke here yesterday?"
She thought back. "About five hours."
He checked his watch. "Right. I'll be here to pick him up around two."
"Why not leave him all day?"
"Because if there is anything to this theory of yours," he said. "And mind you I'm not saying there is, I don't want him drained of too much energy."
The next morning, when the Doctor's vital signs had improved again, and Thor was once more the mellowest seven-month-old Lab in the U.K., even Harry was starting to come around. He wanted to let the Doctor go a day without a dog visit, just to test the theory, but Sarah wanted to go the other direction.
"We need more dogs," she said. "Don't you have friends from the dog park who would be willing to help?"
Harry looked at her. "Right, you want me to tell my friends that we need their dogs as energy donors to recharge a Time Lord's batteries."
"You don't have to put it like that," she said. "Just tell them...tell them you have a friend who is starting up a new dog daycare business. Tell them it's a free introductory trial offer. And that their dogs will be totally mellowed out when they get them back."
Harry stared at her for a minute, then his eyes started to twinkle. "Now there's a service we really could flog."
She looked at him for a second, then laughed. "You're right. People would pay good money for that."
"We could call it The Sleeping Doctor's Doggy Daycare."
"Harry, that's really not funny."
"Then why are you laughing?"
"I'm not," she laughed.
"Oh, and here's another thing to consider," Harry continued. "What if he takes on the characteristics of the dogs he takes energy from?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You know. If he takes energy from a Border Collie, will he be all intense and a tireless runner?"
She grinned at him. "He already is."
Once Harry put word of the offer out, it travelled fast through the dog park community and for the next three days, Sarah Jane's house became Canine Central. Young dogs, boisterous dogs, bouncing-off-the-wall dogs came in, made a bee-line for the Doctor's bed, curled up or stretched out next to him, sometimes two and three and four at a time, and shared their energy with him. They left four or five hours later, calm and mellow, with their grateful owners, who promised to be faithful customers for life once the daycare was actually open for business.
And every day, the Doctor improved.
Sunday evening, after she had returned Rowan, the last therapy dog of the day, to his owners and seen them off, she walked back into the house and sighed. She went to the Doctor's bedroom and stood at his bedside. By the look of him, he could just be asleep now, not at death's door, but he still had shown no signs of waking up. She pulled the overstuffed chair up to the bed as she had done the first night when he had dropped back into her life, sank into it, and took his hand in both of hers. She studied his features, remembering the different faces he had worn in the time she'd known him, wondering what he had looked like in those other regenerations he'd mentioned last time they met. Maybe she'd walked right by him and not recognized him. She didn't think so, though. Even when she had first shaken hands with John Smith, the young teacher at Deffry Vale School, she had known him on some level. She hadn't been sure enough to say anything, not until she confirmed her suspicions by finding the TARDIS. But she had known immediately that there was something about that young man, something that set him apart. Something that spoke to her heart.
She put his hand down, tucked it under the covers. Tea. That's what she needed. A nice cup of tea in the peace of her own kitchen. She pushed the chair back to its spot, and headed to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Before long, it was whistling cheerfully, a sound that always raised her spirits. She took it off the heat and, as it stopped whistling, she froze. In the sudden silence, she heard an odd shuffling noise coming closer and closer to the kitchen door.
She turned and saw him, standing in the doorway. His pyjamas hung from his thin frame, his hair lay lank across his forehead. His eyes were huge and dark. She saw him look at her, then lose focus, blink, and again, with an effort, train his eyes on her. They were a pair of deep, dark, echoing wells that she felt herself drowning in until she saw, there, just at the bottom, the spark, dim yet unquenched, the flickering light that was a Time Lord's spirit.
She stepped up to stand before him. He ever so slowly lowered his head, keeping his eyes on hers. He slowly, painfully slowly, as if it weighed a hundredweight, lifted a hand and let it fall on her shoulder. He rested, took a breath, then lifted the other hand in the same slow, heavy way, and let it fall on her other shoulder. She reached up and gently placed her hands on his hollow cheeks for a moment, then, ever so carefully, embraced him. She rested her cheek on his chest and breathed a prayer of thanks to whatever or whomever might be listening. Then she looked up at him again and, unashamed of the tears shining in her eyes, whispered, "Welcome back."
She moved to his side, wrapping her arm around his waist, taking his hand and draping his arm over her shoulders. His other arm fell heavily to his side as she helped him shuffle slowly to a chair and eased him down onto it. She crouched in front of him, the backs of her hands resting on his knees, holding his hands on top of hers. For a long moment she just drank him in.
"You have no idea..." she started, then had to stop as her voice failed her.
He blinked, gave her a slow, warm smile.
"Are you in any pain?" she asked.
He shook his head, slowly, barely moving it. His expressive face elaborated on the shake. Not at all. Kind of you to ask, though. Thanks.
"Are you hungry?"
Another small head shake, this time with a slightly nauseated expression. Ew.
A small nod. Eager eyes.
She stood up, placing his hands on his knees, and started toward the sink. Halfway there, she turned, and gave him a quizzical look. "Can you talk?"
He started to shake his head, then stopped, closed his eyes for a second, opened them and nodded. He closed his eyes again, swallowed hard, opened his mouth in a false start, took a breath, licked his lips, and finally, in a rough voice so low she could hardly hear him, said, "Hard."
"It's hard to talk?".
A small nod. The change in his breathing caused by the effort it took him to say one word confirmed it.
"Would it be easier to write?"
He shook his head. His eyes said Harder.
"Right, yes and no questions then. Water?"
He nodded. His eyes said Yes, please.
"Wouldn't milk or juice be better? Get some nutrients into you?"
Head shake. Unhappy eyes.
"Tea? Sweet tea?"
His eyebrows and compressed lips said Maybe.
"Okay, water for now." She turned on the tap, flicked the filter switch on, and filled a glass. "Oh God. Harry," she said, quickly putting the glass on the table in front of the Doctor, and then reaching for the phone. As she hit his speed dial number and waited for Harry to pick up, she watched the Doctor slowly lift his arm and let it drop heavily on the table top. He then slowly slid his hand across the table to the glass and slowly wrapped his fingers around it. "Harry? He's awake." The Doctor sat staring at the water, his face and breathing showing the effort he was putting into trying to lift the glass. "Just now. Harry? Hang on a second."
She put the phone down, walked around the table, wrapped her hand over the Doctor's, and helped him raise the glass to his mouth. He took a swallow, rested a moment, then took another. When the water was finally gone, she helped him lower the glass to the table while he caught his breath.
She picked up the phone. "Harry? You still there?" She paused, listening. "That would be great. And Harry? Bring Thor." She disconnected. "More?" she asked the Doctor. He nodded.
"You still feel so cold," she said as she wrapped her hand around his to help him lift the refilled glass. "Do you feel cold or do you just...feel cold? If you know what I mean," she added as she heard what she had said.
He smiled and almost chuckled, but couldn't quite muster the energy. His face worked as he struggled to get another word out. "Both," he finally managed to whisper.
As soon as he finished the water, she hurried off and came back with a thick warm quilt and a pair of fluffy slippers. She wrapped the quilt around him and knelt to put the slippers on his feet. She stood up and took a look at him. A small snort of laughter escaped her, and he smiled and rolled his eyes. "Better?" He nodded. "Now. Hot tea. Warm you up from the inside. Sound good?"
He nodded again, so she put the kettle back on. It whistled in no time, having still been warm to start with, and she poured him a cup of tea and sat down next to him to help him with it.
He wrapped both hands around the cup, and gave a little head shake when she tried to help him lift it. He half-closed his eyes and showed her a dreamy expression. "Feels good, doesn't it? I like to do that too," she said. He glanced back and forth between her and the cup of tea with questioning eyebrows. "Alright, I will," she said, and got up to pour herself a cup.
When Thor arrived, he raced to the spare bedroom, then came running back. When he found the Doctor in the kitchen, he gave him a quick lick on the elbow, then turned around, sat on his feet, leaned back into his legs and swivelled his head to give him an adoring look from up-side-down eyes. The Doctor grinned at him.
Harry arrived in the kitchen a few seconds after his exuberant Lab. "Doctor!" he said. "Good to see you. Well. Good to see you seeing me for a change." He stood back and scrutinized the Time Lord. "You look like hell."
The Doctor's eyebrows said yeah, well...not surprising.
Harry looked at Sarah. "He's not talking?"
Sarah shook her head. "Not unless he has to. It's hard."
The Doctor nodded.
"Do you want to do that psychic diagnostic thing?" Harry asked.
The Doctor shook his head with more energy than he had yet shown, and his eyes held genuine terror.
"Why not?" Harry asked.
The Doctor swallowed hard, struggled to form words. "Could hurt you," he finally rasped out. "Drain you." He dropped his head and gasped for breath.
Harry and Sarah exchanged concerned looks. "Doctor, do you want to go back to bed? We'll help," Sarah said.
He shook his head, recovering slowly from the exertion of saying five words. "Not sleepy." He closed his eyes, swallowed. "Just tired," he whispered.
"Those two usually go together in humans," Harry said.
The Doctor looked up at him, his breathing slowly calming. His eyes and eyebrows said, Not human.
"Been sleeping," he whispered. He looked at them with questioning eyes. "How long?"
"A week and a bit," Harry said. "I'm not sure I'd call it sleep though."
"How about the couch then?" Sarah asked. "You look like you're about to fall off the chair."
He nodded, and they helped him up and started toward the living room at the Doctor's slow, foot-sliding pace.
"Doctor, if you don't mind," Harry said. "Sarah, back off." Harry bent his knees, scooped the Doctor up into his arms and carried him into the living room, depositing him on the couch. "Well, no point in using up energy he doesn't have to spare if there's an easier way, is there?" he said in answer to their surprised looks. "It's not like he weighs anything."
The Doctor stretched out gratefully on the couch. Thor hopped up next to him and curled up behind his knees. Sarah covered them both with the quilt.
"And now Doctor," Harry said. "Let me show you some Earth technology that is perfect for someone who is tired but not sleepy." He picked Sarah's TV remote up from the coffee table and flourished it like a magician's assistant. He aimed it at her television, pushed the on button, and made a sweeping gesture toward the screen. "Television! Takes no energy whatsoever to watch, and if you're not sleepy, you'll actually be able to stay awake no matter how boring it is. Something I rarely manage to do these days," he added. He put the remote into the Doctor's hand.
The Doctor aimed the remote at the TV and hit the channel up button a few times. "Ah, you've done this before," Harry said. The Doctor nodded, and continued to surf. "I'll leave you to it then." He glanced up at Sarah Jane and said "What?" in response to her look.
Sarah Jane just shook her head.
As days became weeks, Sarah's life resumed its normal rhythms. She researched assignments, conducted interviews, participated in the occasional press conference, and then went home to write about it all. She just had a Time Lord lying on her couch, watching Strictly Come Dancing, while she did it.
He had gradually gotten his voice back over the first few days. Well, she thought. Not quite his voice. A quieter voice. He spoke more slowly now and when she listened to him, her memory often flashed on how he used to rattle off explanations at such a breakneck speed that it left her breathless, frantically sorting through what he had said to try to make sense of it. That wasn't necessary now.
"When a Time Lord starts coming out of an emergency shutdown," he had explained once he was able to string together more than two words without exhausting himself. "Different systems start working again at different times depending on how vital to survival they are. Speech is one of the last things to come back."
"You'd think that digestion would be a high priority," she said. He still wasn't eating much.
"It is," he conceded. "But it also takes a lot of energy to digest solid food. So..." He swivelled his hand back and forth. "It's a bit of a balancing act." He smiled at her. "I'd better stick with smoothies for awhile yet."
Therapy dogs kept coming at first. They curled up on the couch with him and wagged their tails when he stroked them and ruffled their ears. But as the days passed, the dogs started going home, not calm and mellow, but full of pep after spending all day sleeping at Sarah's. Some of the owners just stopped bringing their dogs at that point. The rest stopped when Sarah explained to them that she had decided against opening the doggy daycare.
"I was only doing it because of my friend," she told them. "As long as he was in a coma, I couldn't get out and do the type of research I usually do. I thought the dog daycare would make up for the income I would lose if I had to stay home and care for him and couldn't dig for the big stories anymore." They understood, were happy for her that her friend was better, and stopped coming.
The first time she heard him screaming in the night, she ran downstairs, heart in her throat. She found him tangled in the bedclothes, sweat beading his forehead, face twisted, eyes tightly closed. She woke him as gently as she could. He stared up at her with thunderous eyes that softened as the immediacy of the nightmare faded. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat up, running his fingers through his hair as his breathing slowed to normal.
"Sorry," he said. "And thanks. That was a bad one. How did you know?"
"You were screaming." He glanced at her, then away. "I didn't know Time Lords had nightmares. Or if they dreamed at all."
"When you don't sleep much, you don't dream much," he said. "I think my brain stored them up over the centuries. And now it's exploding with them."
When the nightmares caused screams, she woke him. When they brought tears, she didn't have the heart to intrude on them. She just sat with him until they stopped.
"Are you sure you won't come?" she called as she headed toward the door.
"X Factor's on," a disembodied voice replied from the far side of the couch.
"Right, can't miss that," she said under her breath. "Want me to bring you anything?"
"No, I'm fine," he said.
"He's the perfect house guest," she told Harry fifteen minutes later over lunch at Kiraku. "He's neat, quiet, helps out without being asked, doesn't litter the place with his things..."
"He doesn't have any things," Harry interrupted.
"You'd be surprised what he fits in those pockets." She continued listing the Doctor's good qualities. "He doesn't disturb me when I'm working but will answer anything I ask..."
She looked at him and sighed. "And it's driving me mad. He's a Time Lord, Harry. A Time Lord." She shook her head, searching for words. "He walks through the stars and they bow to him. And now he lies on my couch all day watching "How Clean is Your House" and "You Are What You Eat." She shook her head. "It's just so...wrong."
"It's not like he's your slacker son who's moved home after losing his job or having his heart broken by some girl," Harry said.
"I know that," she said. "You know I know that." She sighed. "I'm not saying I'm going to kick him to the kerb or tell him to straighten up and get a job." He grinned across the table at her. "I guess I'm just unloading on you, Harry. Sorry." She returned his smile, then sobered. She took a deep breath. "I miss him. The old him." She thought a second, then corrected herself. "The new him." She laughed at her own confusion. "The real him," she finally said. "The whole, healthy, outrageously impossible him."
He reached across the table and squeezed her hand. "Give him time. He'll bounce back."
"Not showing much bounce yet," she said. "Considering he was already plotting ways to get the TARDIS back when he couldn't even stay on his feet for more than six hours at a time after the Judoon attack."
"And look how that turned out," Harry said. "Sarah, the Doctor has been through hell. And not just recently. I'm not surprised he's depressed. I'd be more surprised if he weren't."
"So what can we do to help him?"
Harry raised his eyebrows. "You want me to prescribe antidepressants for him?"
She rolled her eyes and clicked her tongue at him. "Try to think outside of the pharmaceutical box."
"Take him shopping?"
Another tongue click
"Now you're back to pharmaceuticals."
He chuckled. "Why don't you just hang in there and keep loving him?" he suggested with a warm smile. "It worked for me."
Sarah walked into the house and put her handbag down, then stopped and stood still. Something was different. She couldn't put her finger on it but.... She turned in a circle, reaching out with all of her senses. Then it hit her.
The television was off.
The Doctor had excellent hearing and so kept the volume quite low. But the constant almost subliminal hum of the telly had become such a part of the ambiance of her home in the past few weeks that its absence now rang in her ears.
"Doctor?" She walked around the couch and saw that it was empty. "Doctor?" she called again as she walked to his room. It too was empty. She searched the house, then ran back to her handbag and rummaged in it. "Blast," she said, looking around. She spied her mobile on the desk, picked it up, hit speed dial.
"Harry? He's gone."
"What do you mean gone?"
"Gone. Not here. Vanished."
"Sarah, calm down. People don't just vanish." She could almost hear him making the mental adjustment as he remembered who they were talking about. "Well. Human people don't. Did he leave a note?"
She quickly sorted through the papers on her desk, checked the kitchen table, glanced at the refrigerator door. "I don't see one."
"Maybe he just went for a walk."
She thought about the Doctor as he was now. "I don't see that happening, Harry."
"Maybe Torchwood found him." She hung on the line, waiting. "Harry?"
"I'm here. Just thinking. Are there any signs of a break-in or a struggle?"
She looked around quickly. "No. Harry, he would have been no match for them in the state he's in."
"Well, for starters, let's not panic."
"Too late for that," she said. But she did take a few deep breaths and, with an effort, pushed the fear back. "Right, panic postponed. Now what?"
"Good girl. Now, let's..."
Her phone beeped. "Harry, hang on. Someone's calling me. Maybe it's him." She switched over to the incoming call.
"Jen? Bad time. Can I call you back later?"
"It's about your friend John."
Sarah's heart froze. "What?"
"He's here. At the park. He's acting a little....odd."
"Is he alright?"
"Oh yeah, he seems fine. He's just talking crazy. Telling stories about when he went flying kites with Ben Franklin and how Janis Joplin gave him his coat. I figure it's just post-traumatic whatsit from the accident he had, but I thought you'd want to know."
"Oh Jen." Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. "You have no idea. Can you stay with him until I get there?"
"Sure, Smoke needs the exercise."
"Thanks, hon, you're a gem. Hang on a sec, I've got Harry waiting on the other line." She switched back over. "Harry? Found."
"Where was he?"
"He's at the park."
"What did I say? He went for a walk."
"I'm so glad you were right I don't even mind you rubbing it in." She heard him chuckle. "Off to collect him. Talk to you later." She switched back to Jen. "Okay. Now where exactly are you?"
Sarah scanned the park as she got out of the car. "I'm here. Where are you?" she said into her mobile.
"Over here. Look, I'm waving," said Jen.
Sarah spied a figure off in the distance, waving a hand furiously. "I see you." Other figures formed a loose group around her, but none of them looked like a tall thin man in a pin-striped suit. "Where's John?"
"Right here. Look, I'm pointing,"
The formerly waving arm now pointed toward the ground, toward something that looked like...well, Sarah wasn't sure what it looked like. Definitely not like a tall thin man in a pin-striped suit.
"Come on over, you'll see him."
Sarah set off across the meadow. As she got closer, the peculiar mass on the ground in front of Jen resolved itself into the Doctor, sitting cross-legged on the ground, surrounded by all shapes, sizes, and colors of dogs.
"I told you he had animal magnetism," Jen said as Sarah joined the group.
The Doctor looked up. "Oh, hullo Sarah. I was looking for you."
"At the park?"
He glanced around. "I got kind of turned around."
"Why didn't you call?"
"I did. Your phone rang on your desk."
She ran a hand through her long hair and sighed. "Yes it did."
He blinked up at her. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Everything's fine now. It's just..." She became aware of the other people listening and decided to postpone what she was about to say until she could speak privately with the Doctor. "What are you doing with all these dogs?"
He shrugged. "They like me."
"They bloody love you," said one of the people standing with Jen. Sarah looked at him, and he indicated the group of dogs with a sideways nod. "That's my Rufus there. The bloodhound. Can't get him to leave your friend alone." The others all nodded their agreement.
"I don't mind," the Doctor said with a smile as he scratched Rufus under his chin and down his throat. The big hound wagged his tail and almost purred with delight.
Smoke ran up just then, wiggled his way into the mass of dogs, and threw himself upside down on the ground next to the Doctor with all four paws waving in the air. The Doctor accepted his request, and gave him a good belly rub. Smoke then leapt to his feet and took off.
"Smoke can't decide which he wants more--to be with John or to run," Jen explained. "So he alternates."
"So I see." She looked down at the Doctor. "Doc....erm....John, are you ready to go home?"
The Doctor looked around. "It's so nice here. Can't we stay awhile?" He ruffled the ears of a cocker spaniel who had draped herself across his lap. "You know, Sarah. I'm sure Harry's a good doctor. But I think he's wrong about television."
She nudged a pug and a beagle away from him with her foot and sat down cross-legged next to him. "In what way?"
"I don't think it's good for people who are tired. It just makes you more tired."
She felt laughter bubbling up inside her as she looked at his earnest face, but she just smiled and said, "You think?"
He nodded. "Yeah. The more I watched the tireder I got. But I couldn't turn it off. It's like a drug."
She leaned against him. "So what happened today?"
A Vizsla ran up and stood, wagging and smiling a doggy smile directly into the Doctor's face. The disgruntled cocker shifted out from under its feet. "After you left," the Doctor said, running his hands down the Vizsla's smooth copper neck and shoulders. "I thought, I just turned down the chance to spend time with Harry and Sarah Jane. For this...this...mechanical box. There's something wrong here." The Vizsla collapsed upside-down in his lap, and he rubbed its chest. "So I turned it off. And I felt like...like a weight had come off me. Like I could breathe again."
Her smile kept spreading as she listened. "Of course we can stay here for awhile." She stood up, dusted off the seat of her trousers, held out a hand to him. "Feel up to walking?"
He took her hand, unfolded his long legs, stood up and dusted himself down. Dog hair flew.
They stood a moment to give the owners a chance to leash up their dogs, then strolled hand in hand across the meadow.
"Doctor," said Sarah, when they were out of earshot of the owners. "In future, If you leave the house when I'm not there, could you leave me a note?"
He looked at her. "What kind of a note?"
"Oh, you know. Just 'I'm off to wherever and I'll be back around whenever.'"
He thought for a second. "Is that something humans do?"
"Thoughtful ones do, yes."
Realization came into his eyes. "Did I worry you?"
She blew out a breath. "Oh yes."
"I'm sorry," he said. A few steps later, he added softly, "I'm so used to being on my own. It never occurred to me."
They walked into a grove of old oaks, and the Doctor dropped her hand to wrap his arms around one of the stately trees.
"Ahhh," he sighed.
"What are you doing?" she asked with a laugh.
"These guys have great energy," he said. "Try it."
"I'm really not a tree-hugger, Doctor," she said.
"Try it," he encouraged her again.
She wrapped her arms around a somewhat smaller oak and leaned into it. "What's supposed to happen now?"
"Feel the energy. Good solid Earth energy." He sighed again. "That's what first attracted me to your planet. Great energy. Low key, slow, but powerful. Always calmed me down coming here."
She let go of the tree to look at him. "You're calm when you're on earth?"
"Yeah," he answered, giving the tree a pat. Then he noticed the look she was giving him. "What?"
"Oh nothing. Just that I've never known you to be what I'd call calm. Not till recently, anyway."
"Yeah, well, recently," he said. He leaned back against the oak, folded his arms and crossed his legs. "Got a little more earth energy in the balance than usual. Since I burned up so much of my own. Had to replace it with what's available." He paused, looked a bit wistful. "Sure wish I could go back and soak up some of that rift energy. That was good stuff."
"Doctor, I told you about Torchwood."
"I know." He sighed. "If only I had the TARDIS. I could nip in and soak up some energy and nip out again before they even knew I was there." He paused, then grinned. "In fact, I could materialize and dematerialize all over Cardiff," he said, gesturing with his hands to indicate the TARDIS popping up here, there and everywhere. "Wouldn't that get their Doctor Detector going?" He looked at her with a twinkle in his eyes. "Would that be childish?"
"Perhaps a bit," she said, giving him a very childish, conspiratorial grin.
He snorted a laugh, thinking about it, then gradually his face sobered. "No, even if Torchwood weren't in Cardiff, it wouldn't be a good idea to go back at the moment."
"I'm not up to it. Not yet. It would be like....well, to put it in human terms...like someone who's had two broken legs deciding to run a marathon the day he gets the casts off. He might get away with it, but I wouldn't give him good odds."
Sarah winced at the image. "Besides, it would hurt like hell."
"That too," the Doctor agreed.
"Do you want to go back?" Sarah asked gently.
He gave her a strange look, then his eyes widened. "Oh. No, this doesn't bother me at all. In fact, it's nice. Let's walk some more."
They joined hands again and moseyed on through the grove.
"So, tree energy, dog energy--anything else we have to offer that would do you good?" Sarah asked after a moment.
"That pink stuff was nice."
"Yeah," he said, running his tongue around his teeth thoughtfully. "I don't know how else to describe it. It was....pink." he trailed off. "It was just before the dog energy started coming."
She stopped and turned to face him. "You were aware of that?" He nodded. "Were you aware the whole time?"
He shook his head. "No, I was..." He trailed off, was silent for a moment. "That first trickle of energy is the first thing I remember."
"Trickle? A dozen people shovelling universal energy to you and that was a trickle? They said it would have blown anyone else away."
"Yeah, well. Any human." His eyes lost focus, looking inward. "I was..." He paused. "Well. That first bit really helped. Sort of jump started me. Then the other energy started coming." He smiled at the memory. "It was great. Just wrapped me up in boundless, warm, giving, joyous...stuff," he concluded, for want of a better word to describe it. "Like a big ball of golden cotton wool."
"Dog energy." she said.
"Yup," he said. He gave her a playful look. "Maybe I've been hanging out with the wrong Earth species all these years."
They walked on until they reached the top of a low rise that commanded a view of the whole park. The Doctor sat, long legs stretched out in front of him, and leaned back on his elbows. Sarah sat next to him, her legs crossed. They enjoyed the beautiful vista in silence together.
"Doctor," she said, then stopped. After a moment, he looked at her, eyebrows up. "You know if there's anything we can do to help you, Harry and I, we'll do it. If we can. Right? Just tell us what it is."
He turned away and stared across the park. "You're doing it," he finally said.
"Doing what? We're doing nothing," she said. "Just giving you a place to stay."
He turned and looked at her again, and the sorrow in his dark eyes nearly broke her heart. He gazed back across the park and the silence lengthened between them. Sarah forced herself to just sit with it, saying nothing, being there with him, for him, until he had to speak.
"I've been running," he finally said. "Running so long. It was all I could do. I couldn't let it catch up." He turned to look at her. "I'm too tired to run now. Without the TARDIS I have nothing to run in. And everything I've been running from has caught up. I have no choice now. I have to stay. And face it all." He took her hand, looked at it for a moment, set it back down. "And you've given me the place to stay. A safe place. Where I'm accepted. Welcomed." He paused, and his voice was rough when he continued. "Forgiven." He looked back across the park. "It's the only thing you can do for me. And you're doing it brilliantly."
Sarah took his hand, laced her fingers through his, and looked silently out on the park with him.
"May I borrow K-9 again?" he asked as they drove home from the park.
"Of course," she answered automatically. A moment later, realization dawned and she turned to him. "Oh, you can't..." She let her eyes finish the sentence.
His pleaded for understanding. "I have to."
Her eyes held his for a moment longer than was wise while driving. When she faced front she could feel the tension building in her neck and shoulders. "Be careful," was all she finally said.
"Always am," he said lightly.
She shot him a dark glance and he had the grace to look ashamed.
They had spent hours in the park, talking. Mostly him talking, her listening. He opened up more than she had ever dreamed he would, telling her stories about Gallifrey, his family and friends, about what it was like, growing up a Time Lord on a distant planet. Funny stories, mostly. Happy memories. Bittersweet, but with emphasis on the sweet. The journalist in her wanted to whip out a pad and take notes so she wouldn't lose even one word to memory. But she fought the urge, and just listened with all of her heart. Dusk was creeping across the meadow when they finally stood up and walked back to the car. She didn't have to jog to keep up with him these days, but his slower stride seemed more relaxed after their talk, and less bone-weary.
When she drove past the turnoff for home, he looked at her. "I didn't mean it had to be right now."
"We're already in the car. Might as well," she said, facing resolutely forward.
"Sarah..." he said, then stopped. She just drove in silence. "I don't want to...to.... You know I don't..." He stopped again. "I don't want to disrupt your research," he finally said, instead of what he had been trying to say.
She took a breath and felt her shoulders relax a little. "You won't. I was about to bring him home anyway. If he hasn't observed anything suspicious in all the time he's been out there, it probably means there was nothing to observe."
"Why did you send him out there?"
"Got a tip from an employee. He said something strange was going on."
"What kind of place is it?"
"Components. Everything from medical devices to security equipment to video games."
"So, what did he say? Your contact."
"Not much. Didn't want to talk on the phone. We set up a meeting and he never showed up."
She glanced over at him. "I hope that was all."
She shrugged. "I tried to track him down. No luck." She paused a moment, then continued. "That's part of the reason I kept K-9 out there this long."
"What's the rest of the reason?"
She looked over at him and grinned. "I'm a nosy reporter."
By the time they arrived at FarCor, dusk had become dark. They walked around the back side of the building and Sarah pulled out her silver whistle. "You might want to stand back a bit," she suggested, remembering how it had affected him previously. He took her advice and stepped back a few paces. He still grimaced, tilted his head and wiggled his little finger in his ear when she blew the whistle.
Sarah Jane waited a bit. "K-9?" she said softly. No answer. She gave the Doctor a worried look and blew the whistle again.
He came a step nearer. "K-9?" he called into the darkness.
Suddenly, a door in the building behind them burst open. Before she could turn around, Sarah Jane felt rough hands grabbing her arms and pulling her backwards.
"Let go of her!" she heard the Doctor shout. But she saw over her shoulder that two men had his arms pinioned and were dragging him, struggling, after her into the building.
"Don't hurt him!" she shouted. "Ow! Don't hurt me!" She turned to look in the face of the man who had her upper arms in a painfully strong grip.
"Then come along quietly," he said. "And tell your friend to do the same."
They were dragged down a short corridor to a brightly lighted room, where they were pushed roughly onto metal and plastic office chairs. Their captors pulled handcuffs out of their pockets and proceeded to handcuff them to the chairs.
"Are you alright, Sarah?" she heard the Doctor ask softly. But all she could say was, "Oh."
In front of them, on a metal table, stood K-9. His control panel was up, and components were strewn over the table around him. "Oh, K-9," she said softly.
No tinny voice responded. The little dog's eyes were dark. His ears did not move.
The Doctor's eyes followed hers. "Oh, you shouldn't have done that," he said in a low voice. "First you put your hands on my friend. Then you broke her dog. You really shouldn't have done that." He clenched his fist and tested the strength of the steel cuff that bound him to the chair.
"Cheeky git," said the one who had manhandled Sarah Jane into the room, staring down his nose at the Doctor like a Bullmastiff stares at a Chihuahua that's straining at its leash, growling threats.
"You're really not in a position to tell us what not to do just now, are you?" said a sandy-haired man, one of the ones who had grabbed the Doctor. He had been lounging against a desk while the other two cuffed their prisoners. Now, he walked up and stood in front of Sarah Jane. "So this..dog," he said, hitting the word mockingly and nodding at K-9, "...is yours?"
She just glared at him defiantly for a moment, than answered his question with her own. "How did you find him?"
"Through you, of course." He leaned back against the table and crossed his arms. "You two turned up on our security cameras, oh, maybe a couple of months ago now."
"He didn't," Sarah said, nodding toward K-9.
"No, but we saw the oddest thing," he said. "Well, I guess it isn't too odd that a skinny prat like him," nodding toward the Doctor, "would trip over his own big feet and fall on his arse. But it did seem odd when his legs stayed up in the air afterwards. As if they were propped up on something. Something the cameras didn't see." He glanced from one of them to the other. "So we looked with something other than cameras. And voila." He raised his eyebrows and flourished his hands. "Robot dog. Cute," he added, looking at K-9. He turned back to Sarah Jane. "It's alien technology. Where did you get it?"
"Alien?" she said. "I got him at Harrod's. They may not be British-owned anymore, but that doesn't make him alien." She looked at the Doctor. "Does it?"
He shook his head, bottom lip protruding, eyes wide and innocent.
"Lady," the man said with an exasperated sigh, "We took it apart."
"Must have been a challenge when he was invisible," said the Doctor.
The man gave him a sharp look. "It was. But we have experience with alien artifacts. Once we managed to get the cover open and rip out some boards..." Sarah winced. "...Poof. There it was."
The Doctor frowned. "Experience with alien artifacts?"
"Yeah. You heard of Torchwood?"
The Doctor nodded his head thoughtfully a few times. "Seem to recall the name. Had something to do with that business at Canary Wharf, didn't they?"
The man nodded. "They collected alien technology and tried to figure out what it did and how they could put it to use. We subcontracted for them. They had found so many alien artifacts in the past few years that they couldn't keep up with the research. After Canary Wharf, the government called in all of the subcontracted artifacts." He grinned proudly. "Except for ours. Because we were smart enough to hide the paper trail."
"Sir Richard Morrissey subcontracted for Torchwood?" Sarah interrupted, incredulous.
He gave her a disdainful look. "Sir Richard has no idea what goes on in this room. It was just the three of us. Well. It was four. But Raj..." He looked thoughtfully at Sarah Jane. "He decided he had issues with what we were doing once we got into it. Thought it could be dangerous Made an appointment to talk to someone about it." He paused. "He never kept that appointment."
"Why not?" Sarah asked, all flippancy gone from her voice.
"Mmm, sad accident. Testing one of the artifacts. Went off unexpectedly." He gave her a very direct look. "He was right. It was dangerous." He unfolded his arms and pushed himself up on the table, where he sat with his legs swinging. "Oh well. More for us."
"More what?" Sarah asked.
The man rubbed his forefinger with his thumb. "With Torchwood gone, this tech is ours now. We can sell it to the highest bidder. And your little robot doggie has some primo features that our buyers will pay large for, so he's ours now too."
He hopped off the desk and stepped back in front of Sarah, then leaned over her, resting his hands on the arms of her chair. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Doctor's dark eyes glaring daggers at the man, his jaw muscles clenching, his body like a coiled spring. She leaned back as far as she could but the man moved with her, staying directly in her face. "Now, I'm going to ask you one more time. Where did you get him?"
"He was a gift," she said.
"Really. From whom?"
"From an alien," she said, bugging out her eyes at him. "A little green man..."
"Oi!" said the Doctor, looking indignant and more than a bit offended.
"Sorry," she said.
The man looked back and forth between them. "She got it from you?"
"Yeah," answered the Doctor.
"You're an alien."
He stood up and took a step back from Sarah. He exchanged glances with his mates, then they all snickered. "Which one? Obi Wan Kenobi? Mr. Spock? E.T.?"
"I'm the Doctor," the Doctor said, his voice low and level, his eyes dangerous. "I'm the reason Torchwood was founded. To protect the Earth from alien threats. Like me." He raised one eyebrow. "And they're gone now. So you have no protection. And that's a shame, because you need protection from me right now."
They sobered at the power of his voice and his intense gaze. Then one chuckled. The other two joined in, a bit nervously, after a moment.
"Bet that act went over a treat at the last Trekkie convention. Did you win a prize? Most threatening alien?" said the Bullmastiff.
The sandy-haired ringleader sobered as he looked the Doctor up and down. "Well, it would have been nice if we could have found your source for the technology. But we can always work backwards from this one," he said, nodding toward K-9. "You two can still help us with our research, though." He grinned. "Just like Raj did."
He turned and walked to the back of the table, behind K-9, and picked up a piece of equipment. It looked like something a plumber might use to fix a drain. An alien plumber. An alien drain.
"Oh, a Varthulian kurnashgrflp," the Doctor said. "Haven't seen one of those in ages."
"That's cute," the sandy-haired man said. "Keeping up the 'I'm an alien' thing."
"What is it?" Sarah asked the Doctor out of the corner of her mouth.
"Well, Varthulian is just where it's from--Varthulia. It's a couple of galaxies over. That way." He gave a big nod to his left. He squinted at the weapon in the man's hands thoughtfully. "What was it doing on earth though? Oh, I hope I don't have to sort that lot out. Again." He sounded tired just at the thought of it.
"And kurnasgerflump?" she asked.
"Kurnashgrflp." The Doctor corrected her pronunciation. "That's a Varthulian term. Kind of hard to translate. Closest I could come would be..." He hesitated, thinking. "Mmmm.....death ray."
"Death ray?" Sarah said, hearing her voice go a bit squeaky.
"Well, extermination beam would be closer. But that gives it such a Dalek flavor. I prefer.."
She interrupted him. "I get the gist."
"And the nice thing about it," said the man. "Is that it leaves no forensic evidence for the police to worry about."
He levelled the ray gun at Sarah.
In one incredibly swift and graceful movement, the Doctor leaped out of his chair and placed himself in front of her.
"Doctor! No!" she cried. But it was too late. The blue-green ray sizzled across the room and hit the Doctor squarely in the chest.
The Doctor gave a guttural cry as the beam struck him and rocked him back on his heels. He stood for a second, bent over, breathing hard.
"Fwoah," he finally said. He took a deep breath and blew it out. "What a rush." He straightened, threw his head back, and spread his arms wide. "Hit me again!"
The man's eyes bugged so far out of his head that it looked as if they were on springs, but, dazedly, he did as the Doctor asked. He pointed the death ray, hit the trigger and....
"Blast," said the Doctor. "I must have drained it."
"Get the recharger. Quick!" said the man to one of his cohorts.
"Oh, now," the Doctor said, as he took a few steps in their direction. "I don't think that's a good idea." The man fumbled frantically with the weapon, trying to attach a glowing blue tube to it. "No. I mean really. I don't think that's a good idea."
The man looked up at him. "Why not?"
"It...might explode." The man's eyes got big. "Just a little explosion. Nothing big. Wouldn't take out a city. Or even this building. Just big enough to take out the people standing near it."
"How would you know?"
"Blew one up once. Mind, it was an earlier model. Maybe they've corrected that design flaw by now."
The man stared at him for a second, then threw the ray gun from him like a hot rock and all three ran out of the room at top speed.
"Get down, Sarah Jane," the Doctor said, as he grabbed her and pulled her, chair and all, behind a counter, just as an explosion rocked the room.
Debris rained down on them.
"That was a little explosion?" Sarah asked as she shook her head, hoping the ringing in her ears would stop eventually.
"Well, in the grand scheme of things...tiny," he said. "You alright?"
"I think so," she said, shaking debris out of her hair.
He fished his sonic screwdriver out of his pocket and started working at freeing her from the cuffs.
"Is that how you got out of your handcuffs?" she asked.
"Nah, they would have had it off me too fast."
"So how?" she asked as the cuff sprang loose.
"Something Harry taught me." He stuck the sonic back in his pocket, stood up, offered her a hand.
"Harry?" she asked, surprised. She rubbed her wrist for a second and then accepted his hand up.
He looked puzzled. "Oh," he said as the light dawned. "Not our Harry. Harry Houdini." He picked up a box and quickly started putting all of the components that surrounded K-9 into it. "Here," he said, handing it to Sarah. "You take this. I'll get K-9."
"Can you carry him?" she asked.
"Are you kidding?" He looked at her. His hair was standing on end, his eyes were wide and wild. "I can chew nails and spit tacks at the moment, little lady," he said in an accent straight out of a Western movie. He scooped up K-9 and headed for the door.
"Alright then. John Wayne to the rescue," she said, hurrying after him.
"Got that right, pilgrim," he said, flashing her an incandescent grin.
They loaded K-9 and the box into her Prius. Sarah slid behind the wheel, then saw him running back to the building.
"Where are you going?" she cried.
"Can't leave those things with them," he called over his shoulder. "Be right back."
She waited impatiently, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel. Just as she was about to get out and go back in the building searching for him, he appeared, coughing, both arms laden with equipment, with something that looked like a space suit draped over his shoulder.
"Open the boot," he said. She did, and after he stowed his burdens in it, he slid into the passenger seat.
"Allons-y!" he said brightly, and coughed. Sarah hit the gas.
She looked over at him. "You're a little sooty," she said.
He coughed again, then dusted off his shoulders. "Yeah, tiny fire going on in there now."
She gave him an apprehensive look. "Tiny like the explosion?"
He pursed his lips and waggled his head from side to side. "About that size, yeah. Where's your mobile?" She dug it out of her handbag and gave it to him as she drove out of the parking lot.
"You calling 999?" she asked.
"No. Harry. What's his number?" he asked. She took the phone from him, hit speed dial and handed it back to him. "Harry?" he said into the phone in a minute. "Need your help. I need a safe place to take some alien artifacts I just picked up." He paused, listening. "I want to check them out before I take them to Sarah's. Don't want to take anything nasty to her place." He listened again. "Great, thanks. You can give her the directions." He handed the phone back to Sarah.
Once they were on the road, following Harry's directions, she glanced over at him. "So, are Time Lords immune to Varthulian death rays and you just forgot to mention it or what?"
"Hmm?" he said, distracted. "Oh. No. If that thing had worked the second time I'd have been atomized."
Sarah's eyes widened. "So why did you tell him to shoot you again?"
He shook his head, pooched out his bottom lip. "That first shot gave me such a rush." He blew out his cheeks, remembering. "Wasn't thinking too clearly after that."
"Why didn't the first shot atomize you then?" she asked.
"I absorbed it," he said. "You throw energy at me when I'm low on it, and my body will just lap it up. Varthulian death ray energy wouldn't have been my first choice to top up my tanks, but it worked." A tremor ran through his body, his eyes widened and he puffed out his cheeks again. "Blimey, did it work."
She turned to stare at him, until he nodded toward the windscreen with his eyebrows up in a gentle hint that she pay attention to the road.
Harry met them at their destination. He offered to help carry some of the artifacts, but the Doctor refused to let him. "Not sure they're safe," he said. Harry shrugged and led them down a corridor and into a laboratory, where the Doctor put down his new acquisitions.
For the next hour, they brought Harry up to date on their adventures while the Doctor ran various tests on the alien equipment.
"Is K-9 going to be alright?" Harry asked.
The Doctor looked up from the sparkly globe he was examining. "I'll have him back together in no time. Once we're done here." He looked back at the globe, then frowned and looked up again. "Why didn't you have him in self-defense mode when you left him out there alone?" he asked Sarah.
"Because I didn't know he had one," she said. "You never gave me an owner's manual!"
The Doctor looked sheepish. "Well. Remind me to show you all of his features once I get him working again."
"Count on it," she replied.
The Doctor put his sonic screwdriver back in his pocket and took off his glasses. "This one seems safe," he said. He turned to walk over to the table where the spacesuit lay, then staggered to a halt. Sarah saw his eyes grow wide.
"Harry! Catch him!"
Harry turned just in time to see the Doctor's knees start to buckle. He reached out and steadied him, helping him into a chair.
"Doctor?" Harry asked.
The Doctor swallowed hard a few times before answering. "Ooooh. Head rush." He looked up at Harry. "Just assimilated the last of the ray gun energy." He blew out a breath. "It was a bit harsh."
"You look like it's giving you heartburn."
"It is," he said. He frowned queasily.
As Sarah and Harry stared, a low rumble started somewhere in the Doctor's midsection and travelled upwards. The Doctor looked at them with worried eyes, then opened his mouth and let out a resounding belch. A gray-green cloud emerged from his mouth. He leaned back away from it, looked at it dubiously, then fanned it with his hand until it dissipated. He looked at Sarah and Harry, who were still staring, but now with open mouths. "Harsh," he said.
Harry and Sarah looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"Sit up, K-9," said the Doctor.
The little dog's front end tipped up until his body was at a forty-five degree angle to the ground, and his weight was resting on his tail and his back wheels.
"Good boy. Now speak."
"What do you wish me to say, Doctor-Master?" came the tinny voice.
"No, no, K-9. Hold on." He opened the control panel on K-9's back and peered inside him, then made an adjustment with the sonic screwdriver. "There. Now let's try it again. Speak, K-9."
"Rowf!" It was a real dog's bark.
The Doctor grinned, obviously chuffed with himself. "Recognize the voice?" he asked Sarah.
She laughed. "The dog's voice?"
"Yeah." He waited expectantly, then shook his head. "No? It's Thor! Harry let me record him."
Sarah laughed again. "I guess Thor hasn't talked to me enough. I didn't recognize his voice."
"Down, K-9," the Doctor said, and the little dog's front end lowered back to the ground. The Doctor rubbed his hands together. "Right, I've shown you all the features in auto-defence mode, hydroplane mode, scan mode, analyze mode, and..." He twirled the sonic screwdriver like a baton. "...trick mode!"
"We owe that boy a creative consultant fee," Sarah said, smiling.
"Nah," said the Doctor. "I'd have thought of it on my own. Given time."
"Is his cloaking feature working?"
"It was last time I tested it. Give it a try."
"K-9, cloak," said Sarah.
The little dog disappeared. Almost all of him, that is. Two mini-radar-dish ears and a wire-whip tail were still visible,seeming to float disembodied above the floor.
The Doctor looked chagrined. "I had that sorted last night." He opened K-9's control panel, shone the sonic inside him, and peered down into his main compartment. "Don't worry, I'll make sure it's working before I leave."
Sarah felt herself suddenly go very still. Her heart thundered in her ears as she watched him poke around inside K-9. It was as if he were moving in slow motion, as if every detail of him suddenly came into extra high definition. She heard his voice, chattering on, but the words didn't register.
"Sarah?" he said, turning to look at her.
She saw his face change, saw the realization dawn in his eyes.
"Sarah," he said, with an apprehensive look. "Did I forget to mention that I'd run some tests on that suit we confiscated from FarCor? And that it seems...I mean...I really think...it ought to..." He rubbed his chin, looked up, blew out a breath. "Well, what I'm saying is, I think I could get back to the TARDIS in it." It came out all in a rush. He looked at her with eyebrows up and hopeful.
She just stared at him. He continued, nervous, fast. "It's a remarkable fabric, nothing I've ever run across before, and it has molecular anti-shock baffles that are brilliant, never seen anything like 'em...." He trailed to a halt. "And it's just my size," he added in a small voice. Then he gave up and simply stood, his face sober, returning Sarah's gaze.
She breathed. Then she breathed again. "Is this something Time Lords just take in stride?" she finally asked, hearing the tremor in her voice. He lowered his eyes. "Finding someone you love in pieces, picking them up and putting them back together, and then having them go out and get themselves torn to pieces again so you can do it all over?" She breathed. "Because it's not something humans take in stride. Humans find it rather stressful. Hard. Painful." She felt her body start to shake. "And the more you care about the person, the more it hurts."
He came to her in three long strides and folded her into his arms. She just stood, hands at her sides. "Ah, Sarah." She felt him rest his cheek on the top of her head. "I've put you through it, haven't I?" She could feel his voice rumble in his chest as he held her close. "I am so sorry. I never want to hurt you." He held her in silence for a minute.
"Remember what I was like, when I was earthbound before?" he finally said, very softly.
She shook her head, not trusting her voice.
"No?" His eyebrows furrowed, then relaxed. "That's right, you weren't there then. I'd just gotten the TARDIS working again when you stowed away for your first trip." He unwrapped his arms from around her, stepped back, bent down so his face was level with hers, held her upper arms. "Remember how happy I was?"
She looked into his eyes. "I thought that was just you."
He laughed softly, straightened and wrapped her up in his long arms again. "Oh no. Oh no. I was ecstatic. To be free again. After being trapped on this planet for so many years."
"I thought you liked this planet," she said, her voice muffled by his chest.
"You know I do. I just don't like being trapped on it." She felt him sigh. "And that time, I even had my TARDIS. I had her energy. Her space. Her..." He paused, searching for a word. "Her unearthliness. I could go in her and close the door and almost, almost not know that I was stuck on one planet in one time."
Sarah took a deep breath and gently pushed him away. He didn't let go of her entirely, just let his hands slide down her arms until they gripped her elbows. "One week," she said, looking up at him, holding his forearms. .
His eyebrows went up. "What?"
"Give me one week. Seven days. To get used to the idea. To catch my breath. And during that week, you check and double check and triple check everything about this new plan. And if it isn't safe, you don't do it."
"Ah," he said, his eyes thoughtful. "Well, I've already checked everything. No reason to..."
"What makes you think it will work this time?" she interrupted.
He lifted his eyebrows and took a deep breath. "I do learn from my mistakes, Sarah," he said.
"Good," she said.
"And my mistake last time was trying to bring the TARDIS to me. I thought the rift had enough power. But the TARDIS is vast." She nodded, remembering the enormous interior of his space and time ship, the seemingly infinite corridors, the many rooms she never got around to exploring. "Me, though. I'm just a skinny streak of nothing. Wouldn't take much power at all to teleport me to her. But I didn't have any protection and I knew I wouldn't make it without." She nodded again, understanding and agreeing. "So, now I have protection."
He screwed up his face, started to nod, turned it into a head tilt, started to say something, stopped. "Yeah," he finally said.
"Mmm-hmm," she said, watching his facial gymnastics. "Double check. Triple check. Quintuple check. Seven days."
He looked at her. "I only need one day."
"I need at least six."
The Doctor grinned and after a moment so did Sarah. "Done," he said, and held out his hand to shake on the deal.
She looked at his hand, looked at his face, shook her head, and, after a moment, sighed and wrapped her arms around him. "God, you're impossible," she said into his chest.
Four days passed quickly. Too quickly for Sarah. She tried to work but couldn't focus, and ended up spending most of her day staring blankly at her laptop screen, watching the Doctor out of the corner of her eye. He diligently worked on her PC, with K-9's input, mapping and monitoring the Cardiff rift, and searching relentlessly to try to understand how Torchwood's Doctor Detector could possibly work.
"They said it stopped going off when I was still there, right?" he asked her over dinner one night.
"So it must pick up on my energy signature somehow, since that's all that changed."
That thought set him off in a new direction, and the next day he was at it early, working with the alien artifacts that they had confiscated. He tore them down into their component parts and littered her kitchen table and counters with them. Then he started building things out of the parts. She gave up on tea for the day and got takeaway for lunch. That evening, he called her into the kitchen and proudly displayed four small pyramidal objects.
"Very nice," she said, nodding. "What do they do?"
"They broadcast an energy signature that's similar to mine. With a little bit of luck, the Doctor Detector will think they're me."
"Brilliant," she admitted. "Where are you going to put them? And how?"
"Thought I'd recruit Harry again. See if he'd drive down ahead of us and scatter them at various points in the city just before we go in and make the attempt."
He ran test after test on the suit. One day, he modelled it for her. She couldn't help laughing.
"What, does this spacesuit make me look fat?" he asked, striking a pose.
"Nothing could do that," she said. "But it does make you look a little bit like the Michelin Man."
"The what?" he asked, and she had to Google Image the Michelin Man to show him.
In the evenings, they relaxed. She took him to sample some of her favorite local restaurants, after which they walked in the park and talked and laughed, carefully sidestepping the topic of what would happen on Day 5. One clear night they stayed late enough to watch the stars appear, and he pointed out some of the ones he had visited and told her stories about those travels.
Day five dawned clear and warm. The Doctor was already up when she came downstairs. Their eyes met, and he poured her a cup of coffee in silence. Then he sat down at the table, folded his hands, and rested them on the table top.
She sipped her coffee without speaking for a moment. "When do you want to go?" she finally asked.
"Oh, whenever," he said, obviously trying to sound like he meant it.
"Where are we going exactly?" she asked. "Not Roald Dahl Plass again, I assume."
He laughed. "No." He sobered quickly when he looked at her face. "No," he repeated. "I've been monitoring the rift and there are several spots that flare on a regular basis. Kind of like Old Faithful. There's one due to flare around noon. Here, let me show you." He jumped up and ran out of the room, returning quickly with a map of Cardiff. "Right here." He pointed a long finger at a spot in the northeast corner of the city.
"Okay, we can leave at..." She looked at him. "How much before noon do you want to get there?"
"As close as possible. In case the Doctor Detector decoys don't work."
"Right. So we should leave in about an hour and a half. Better call Harry and synch up."
"You going to wear the suit on the way down or put it on when we get there?"
"It's pretty comfortable. I was thinking about wearing it."
She finally managed a weak, crooked grin at that. "Better hope we don't get pulled over."
"I could put it on when we get there," the Doctor mused.
And this is what it comes down to, Sarah thought as she watched him do just that in Cardiff four hours later. She scanned the vacant lot where he said the flare was due to start any minute, but saw no signs of it. She looked back at him, watching him pull on the silvery suit that was going to be his only protection against unimaginable forces. They'd been slowly climbing the first hill of the roller coaster for four days, she thought. Now they were at the top, and about to go plunging down. Four days had not been nearly enough to brace herself for this.
He stood up, bounced up and down a few times on the balls of his feet to settle the suit on his lanky frame, then double checked all the fasteners and connections. He looked out over the lot and quietly said, "It's starting."
She followed his gaze and saw the familiar shimmer in the air about ten feet in front of them. She heard him come up and stand beside her.
"Sarah," he said. She reluctantly turned to face him. "If this doesn't work." He spoke slowly, haltingly, but his eyes never left hers. "And if I survive. I promise you. I won't try again. I will find a way to adapt. To live on Earth. Somehow. Without the TARDIS." He reached out to her, squeezed her shoulder gently, let his hand trail down her upper arm. "And I would be very grateful and very honored if you would help me."
She started to answer, then stopped, swallowed hard, and tried again. "You know you don't even have to ask."
He gave her a last quick hug, then turned to face the glow of the rift flare. "Blimey," she heard him say. He put on his helmet, secured it to the suit, pulled on his gloves and sealed them to the sleeves. Then he strode forward.
The rift energy flared around him and he quickly set to work, shaping it into a golden column as he had done before. It was much narrower this time, narrower and brighter. As the glow intensified, it began to hurt her eyes, but she couldn't look away. She squinted, then held up a hand and watched through her fingers.
She saw his body stiffen, his fists clench. And then he was gone. No brilliant flash. No sparkling lights. He was just gone. And all traces of the rift flare disappeared with him.
Sarah stood, staring at the spot where he had been, for a long time. Finally she turned, walked back to her car, and drove home.
Sarah opened the door to her house and paused for a moment on the threshhold.
"Hard coming home to an empty house," Harry said, pausing behind her.
She sighed and stepped inside. "Thanks for coming with me. It helps."
"Least I could do," he said, following her inside. "I remember how it feels."
Sarah shook her head as she hung up her coat. "I wouldn't presume to compare this to your losing Marilyn."
"Why not?" asked Harry, as he hung his coat next to hers. He put a hand on her shoulder, looked down into her eyes and gave her a gentle smile. "I know how you feel about him."
"Foolish, isn't it?" she asked as she stepped out of the entryway, Harry following her. "Foolish twenty-five years ago and even more foolish...."
She stopped so abruptly that Harry bumped into her.
"What..." he started to ask and then he stopped too.
They both just stared. There, in the middle of Sarah's living room, stood a tall blue police box.
Sarah slowly walked toward it. She reached up and placed her hand on it, feeling its solidity, its subtle vibration.
"Sarah," Harry said. When she looked over her shoulder at him, he nodded toward the couch.
She had been too focussed on the TARDIS to even glance at the couch. Now she did.
He lay stretched out on it, eyes closed, his long frame even leaner than when she had last seen him.
Gazing at him, she laughed softly. Then she laughed again. Then she turned to Harry, and, seeing the grin on his face, the joyous laughter bubbled out of her.
"Oi, can't a Time Lord nap in peace?" the Doctor said. He sat up, rubbed his eyes, then gave them the cheekiest of cheeky grins.
"You made it!" Sarah cried.
"Yup!" he agreed.
Harry grinned at him. "You look ten pounds lighter and ten years older," he said. "But good to see you, Doctor."
The Doctor smiled his thanks. Sarah sat down next to him on the couch and gave him a closer look. "Rough teleport?"
He nodded ruefully. "Not something I'd want to do again soon." He stopped, frowned. "Ever, actually." Then he brightened. "But it was worth it," he said, looking at the TARDIS with an affectionate smile.
"She's working then?" Harry said, placing a hand on the TARDIS.
"She is now," the Doctor said. "Took me three weeks to put her right."
"Three weeks?" Sarah asked, frowning. "Ah yes," she said, raising her eyebrows. "So, three hours for us, three weeks for you?"
"More like four," he said. "I couldn't get right to work on her." He paused, remembering. "I was...well..." He took a deep breath, blew it out. "As you said. Rough teleport."
Sarah felt her heart twist. "And no one there to take care of you."
He looked into her eyes. "No one there to hurt."
She gaped at him. "You plum. Are you sitting there telling me you deliberately didn't come back here when you needed help just because of something I said in a weak moment?"
"Yeah," he said sadly and hung his head. Then he rolled his eyes at her and gave her a mischievous grin.
She smacked him on the shoulder.
He ducked and laughed. "No, I would have been back here tucked up in bed in a heartbeat if I had had the choice. But the TARDIS wasn't going anywhere. She had roasted up her power core right and proper sending me here originally. So, after I spent a few days in the zero room..."
"The what?" Harry interrupted.
"Zero room. It's a room in the TARDIS with a healing environment."
"Probably gets a lot of use, given your lifestyle," Harry said. The Doctor just quirked a grin at him in response.
He stood up, walked over to the TARDIS and put a hand on her, looking at her with deep affection. "Had to give her some of my life force to get her started. Then I converted some of her mass to energy to power her back up the rest of the way. So she's a bit smaller now, but her navigational matrix is right as roses and ready to fly."
Sarah took a deep breath. "So, I suppose you'll be off then."
"Yeah," the Doctor said, not looking at her. "S'pose I will. Just wanted to stop off here first and let you know everything worked out. So you wouldn't worry." He gave her a crooked grin. "See? I do learn from my mistakes."
"Good," she said. She stood up, went to him, and wrapped her arms around him.
The Doctor hugged her back and extended a long arm to Harry to invite him to join them. Harry shook his head, hanging back.
"C'mon Harry," the Doctor said. "It's the twenty-first century. Group hug!"
A little stiffly, Harry stepped up to them and wrapped one arm around Sarah, the other around the Doctor. The Doctor gathered him in and squeezed them both tightly. "Thank you. Thank you both. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. I can't say it enough."
After a long moment, they stepped apart, Sarah drying her eyes on her sleeve. The Doctor opened the TARDIS door and started to step in. Then he turned. "Harry." He nodded toward the TARDIS. "Fancy a spin?"
Harry's face burst into a huge grin, and his eyes beamed enthusiasm. "Thought you'd never ask!"
"Well come on then!" the Doctor cried, motioning him in.
Harry took a step forward, then stopped. "What about Sarah?"
The Doctor's face went quiet. "I already asked her. Last time. She turned me down."
Harry turned to Sarah. Her look confirmed what the Doctor had said, but also said there was more to the story.
"Doctor," he said. "Were you travelling with Rose then?"
"Yeah," the Doctor answered.
Harry shook his head. "How can you be so brilliant and so thick all at the same time? Dear God. Ask her again."
The Doctor looked down. Then, just raising his eyes, he looked at Sarah. "Sarah." She looked at him with raised eyebrows, listening, waiting. "Would you like to..." He nodded toward the TARDIS. "You know. Go for a ride? In the TARDIS? With Harry and me?"
She looked into those deep brown eyes and felt a grin grow across her face from ear to ear, crinkling her eyes. "Try and stop me."
"Well alright then," the Doctor said, looking pleased and relieved. "Allons-y!"
As Sarah stepped past him into the TARDIS, he leaned down and asked, "Didn't you like Rose?"
Sarah stopped and blinked up at him. "I loved Rose," she finally said. "She's a grand girl." She looked back over her shoulder at Harry. She widened her eyes and rolled them toward the Doctor. "Thick." she said.
Harry shook his head in amazement. "Thick," he agreed.
They both climbed aboard, leaving the Doctor standing puzzled in the doorway. After a moment, he shrugged his shoulders and entered the TARDIS behind them.
The TARDIS doors closed.