AN: I own nothing - just playing in the Beeb's sandbox. Sorry about the delay, real life intervened, but this should wrap this one up...
Sarah woke up suddenly, sitting bolt upright in bed. She ran a hand over her eyes, trying to shake the disturbing images that shattered her sleep. Glancing over, she realised that the other side of the bed hadn't yet been slept in. Getting up out of bed, she pulled on her robe and a pair of shoes, and headed downstairs and outside towards the TARDIS.
Walking into the console room, but not seeing the Doctor, she called out. 'Knock, knock, anyone at home?' After a moment, she realised she probably wasn't going to get a reply. Instead, she sent out some telepathic feelers to see if she could locate the Doctor that way. Silently, she walked through the interior door and followed the responses she was receiving.
She walked into the bedroom that held her first wedding dress and found the Doctor asleep sitting in a chair with his feet propped up on the bed. She gently placed a hand on his shoulder and whispered, 'Doctor?'
The Doctor looked up at her and smiled. 'Sarah Jane, what are you doing awake?'
She sat down on the edge of the bed and faced him. 'Nightmare.'
He frowned, 'Do you want to talk about it?'
She shook her head. 'No, not particularly. I wish I could say it was just a bad dream and it wasn't real, but unfortunately, it was real.' She sighed. 'I'm an idiot. There are so many things that I did that go completely against all the things I stood for and all the things I believed in. And the worst thing of all is, I don't know how it happened. I don't know where I changed. If I had a friend that told me what she was going through, I would've told her to leave, to take her child to safety, and yet I couldn't do that myself? When did I quit being a strong, independent woman and become a victim that had no backbone?'
'Sarah, look at me.' The Doctor tried to get her to look into his eyes. He even reached out to take her face in his hands, but even when he turned her face towards him, her eyes remained downcast to the floor. 'Sarah, I meant it when I said I don't blame you for what happened.'
'How can you not? I could have saved Christopher. We could've stayed with you after you came back.'
'Would it have accomplished anything? You felt replaced by Leela, as did I by your husband.'
The Doctor slammed the lever for the doors as he entered the console room. He took a deep breath and ran his hands through his mass of wild curls. He started punching buttons on the console as Leela ran through the interior door, knife pulled at the ready. 'What is wrong?' she asked as she looked around, every instinct on high alert.
'Why the noise? What was out there?'
'You are lying, Doctor. It is written on your face.' She reached out and turned the knob that the Doctor had previously told her worked the scanner. 'Doctor, there is someone approaching the TARDIS.'
'You're imaging things, Leela.'
Soon there was a bang on the door, and a small voice calling from the other side. 'Doctor, please don't leave like this.'
Leela looked from the door to the Doctor. 'Who is she, Doctor?' The Doctor responded with only silence. She looked from his eyes to the small woman on the scanner. 'Are you going to let her in?'
Before the Doctor could answer, the door opened and the woman entered, holding a crying child by the hand. 'Fine, if you won't open the door, I'll use my own key.'
The Doctor kept his eyes only on the console. 'I forgot I had given you a key, Sarah.'
'That's twice in one day you've lied to me, Doctor.' She quickly realised they were not alone in the console room. 'Oh, hello. I'm Sarah and this,' she motioned to the child, 'is Christopher.'
'I am Leela, warrior of the Seveteem.'
Sarah quickly regarded Leela's outfit and the knife. 'A warrior. Very good.' She turned back to the Doctor. 'I don't want you to leave like this, Doctor.' At that point, Christopher went from crying to wailing. 'He's been like this since you walked away. I'm sure he knows or he's picking it up from you or something.'
The Doctor reached out and picked up Christopher. Immediately, he stopped crying. 'Does he respond this way with your husband, Sarah Jane?'
Leela watched the dynamic between the two. 'Doctor, this is between you and your mate. I will be in my room.' She quickly left back through the interior door, but no one seemed to notice.
Sarah noticed. 'Didn't take you long to move on either, so I don't want to hear one word about Andrew,' Sarah said softly.
'It's not the same thing, Sarah.'
'Flapdoodle! And you know it.'
'Sarah Jane, why did you come here?'
'That's rich. You started this. Because you're here, for one. Christopher needs to know his father, his real father. Not some mere human that poses for pictures and makes life look good from the outside looking in.' She ran a hand across her face and flinched as she hit the spot that she knew would be bruised in the morning.
The Doctor sensed what just ran through Sarah's mind. 'Sarah, what has he done to you? There's something you're not telling me.' He felt the mental click as she closed the door between them.
'Nothing. Nothing you need to worry about, I'll deal with it.'
The Doctor reached out and gingerly touched Sarah's face, feeling the heat emanating from the injured skin. 'Now who's speaking flapdoodle, Sarah Jane?'
'I asked you where we go from here. I won't leave my husband, Doctor, but I do want you to spend time with Christopher. Andrew has been very kind to him, but he's not his father. There are certain things that only you can teach him.'
'I will do what I can, Sarah, although it pains me to see you with someone you don't love.'
Sarah looked at the floor. 'Sometimes convenience is easier than love.'
'You know, I actually thought about taking Christopher that day.'
Sarah nodded, not surprised. 'I rather figured.' Sarah gave the Doctor a slight smile. 'Well, it doesn't matter now. What does matter IS now, and the future. Doctor, I'm not going to hold you here any longer.'
The Doctor stood up and moved to sit next to Sarah on the bed. 'What do you mean?'
'You've been here with me for all these years. I can't hold you to Earth anymore.'
Taking a deep breath, the Doctor put an arm around Sarah's shoulder and pulled her towards him. 'I actually have something to tell you, Sarah.' She looked up into his eyes as he continued. 'I just got a notification from Gallifrey.'
Sarah took a deep breath and leaned her head against the Doctor's shoulder. 'I know I just said I can't hold you to Earth anymore, but does it have to be Gallifrey that takes you away again?'
'This isn't like last time. The Daleks put the Master on trial on Skaro. They sentenced him to death.'
Sarah barely resisted the urge to smile. 'Extermination?'
'Where do you and Gallifrey come into this?'
'The Master asked the Time Lords to send me to take his remains back to Gallifrey.'
'Because you and he have fought before, and he knows you and the Daleks don't exactly get along?'
'You have to appreciate the irony. Fortunately, it should be a quick trip. Skaro to Gallifrey and then back here.'
Sarah smiled. 'Well, it'll do you good to get off planet for a few days, yes?'
'Quite possibly. It's been a while. I know that you're still not in a great spot, so I hate to leave you while you're still trying to come to terms with everything.'
'When do you have to leave?'
'I want to talk to Luke in the morning, then probably after that. Hopefully I'm back before lunchtime.' He gave her a smile.
Sarah pulled back and looked at him. 'There's something you're not telling me.'
He winked at her before leaning over and kissing her temple. 'Would I do that, Sarah Jane?'
Sarah sat down at the kitchen table and wrapped her hands tightly around her mug of tea. It had been almost a year since the Doctor left, supposedly on a short trip to Skaro to pick up the Master's remains to take them back to Gallifrey. Knowing the Doctor's history with the Daleks, she didn't know what to think. She knew that the mental bond they shared was no longer there. Something had changed, and she could almost pinpoint the day. Right before New Year's 1999.
As she stood up to take the mug full of cold tea to the sink, a voice from behind her surprised her. 'Sarah.'
She whirled around to face a man with longish, wavy brown hair and a distinctly Edwardian look. As soon as she saw his piercing blue eyes, she dropped the mug, shattering it and spilling the tea all over the floor. 'Doctor.'
As she bent down, he quickly grabbed a towel and knelt down to help her. They cleaned up in silence. She reached out to take the towel from him, but he took her hands in his instead, and guided her back to the kitchen table.
She reached up and gently touched the side of his face. She finally trusted her voice enough to say, 'My Doctor. What happened?'
'What's the date?' the Doctor asked gently.
'15 October, 2000.'
'I was shot in San Francisco and died when they tried to do surgery on me. They even managed to leave some of the wiring in me, but it came out after I regenerated. I woke up in the morgue and it took me quite a while before I really knew who I was. It was one of my more traumatic regenerations.'
Tears welled up in Sarah's eyes as he spoke. 'I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you when you needed me.' She took a deep breath and tapped a finger against her temple. 'I feel very empty. My connection is not with you, is it specific to the regeneration?'
He took her hands in his and brought them up towards his face and quickly kissed them before placing them on the table and continuing to hold them. 'Oh Sarah, I'm so sorry. This is still new territory for me as well. We always had a bit of a bond once we reactivated the dormant DNA that I implanted in you as a child. After the genetic transfers on Indela VI, it was stronger, and then the strongest after our bonding ceremony. Given that your memory was suppressed during most of our marriage here, but came back just as strong once your memory returned, I wouldn't think that it was regeneration specific. It's probably something more along the lines of time spent together.'
'I don't know about that. When you came back and met Christopher after four years of being gone, the bond was there.'
'That's true. I wish I had more answers for you, Sarah Jane.' He paused and thought about what he wanted to say next, but then, instead of speaking, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
She didn't know what to say. 'Are you going to be able to stay long enough to introduce your new self to Luke? He should be back from school in a couple of hours.'
'Who says I'm not staying longer than that?'
Sarah smiled, but it didn't go all the way to her eyes. 'C'mon, Doctor, I know how you get after regeneration, you get itchy to travel, to break the bonds that held you to places and things.'
'My fourth self certainly was. Too many memories of being exiled to Earth and held here against my will by the Time Lords. But, if you also remember, I did take you with me.' He thought for a minute. 'I wasn't sure what I was going to do at first this time, given that I was still suffering from that post-regeneration amnesia. It took longer than I thought to clear my mind, but when I remembered what was waiting here for me. My wife – my beautiful Sarah Jane and my son.'
As Sarah opened her eyes, she recognized the familiar walls of the TARDIS, but knew instantly she wasn't in her regular room. With just a touch of a lingering headache, as she reached up and ran a hand over her eyes, the arms looped around her indicated she was not alone in the oversized bed.
She reached over and put a hand on the Doctor's shoulder. 'Hey, Doctor, you all right?' she whispered.
'How's your head?' he whispered back, but without opening his eyes.
'Still a twinge, yours?'
'Same.' He finally opened his eyes. 'Sarah.'
She looked up at him, locking her eyes with his. 'This is about the ceremony, isn't it?'
'You said it was a bonding ceremony. And now you're being overly affectionate, well, overly affectionate for you anyway. So, Doctor, tell me what is going through that oversized brain of yours?'
'Sarah, that ceremony was the Earth equivalent of a wedding.'
Sarah sat bolt upright, breaking his embrace and looked at him in surprise. 'Wedding? You mean we're married?'
'Oh, ok.' Sarah chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. 'So, what does that mean to you, Doctor?'
'What do you mean? Time Lords take a bonding ceremony very seriously. I should ask you what it means for you, Sarah.'
Sarah shook her head. 'Doctor, I didn't ask what the Time Lords would say, or care to discuss me at the moment. What do you think, Doctor? What does this mean for you?'
The Doctor reached up and pulled Sarah back towards him, tightening his grip around her. 'Sarah Jane Smith. Over the years, I've cared for all of my companions, the people who have travelled with me. You have managed something that no one has managed before. You've becoming more than any travelling companion, Sarah, you've become my best friend.'
'How is that different? I'm not trying to be obtuse here, Doctor. I just want to know what that term means as far as you are concerned. Best friends has lots of connotations for me as a human.'
He looked at Sarah thoughtfully. 'I guess I never really thought of it in those terms before. I've had plenty of friends, Sarah, but never anyone I would've considered my best friend. You are someone that it would pain me greatly to lose, or to be apart from. I feel very protective of you, even though you've proven time and again that you can take care of yourself. I want to show you the universe, Sarah. I want to show you everything that time and space has to offer. I want to take you to the furthest reaches of the galaxy and watch your smile as you see suns rise across the different planets. Does that answer your question, Sarah?'
Sarah relaxed into his embrace, 'Yes, that is more than I expected, Doctor, and I am honoured to be that person in your life.'
The Doctor leaned over and kissed Sarah on the temple. 'Sarah, are you all right with this? It is bound to make things different for you, and for us going forward.'
Sarah smiled before reaching up and quickly giving the Doctor a kiss. 'I'll take each day as it comes, just as we do now, and I look forward to spending as much time with you as I can.'
Sarah quickly wiped away a tear, hoping the Doctor didn't see it, but he did. 'Oh, Sarah Jane, I'm so sorry.' He reached out and cupped her face with his hand. 'You've lost so much in your life, I hate that I've brought you so much of that pain.'
'Doctor, yes, there has been pain, but there's been so much more than that. And the good far outweighs the bad. I wouldn't trade out time together for anything else in the world.'
The Doctor stood up and pulled Sarah up and into an embrace. 'Sarah, no matter what happens, you'll always be my best friend.'
As they continued to hold each other, Sarah felt the mental bond re-establishing itself. They each smiled as the bond resolidified. After a time, the Doctor pulled Sarah out to arm's length to look in her eyes.
Looking intently at the Doctor, she finally asked, 'I sense the War that is in the back of your mind. How long before you'll have to go? And this time, you think that this is a permanent goodbye.'
'I'm sorry, Sarah. I will stay with you and Luke as long as I can. And I will make sure that Luke doesn't get pulled into it – he's more human than Time Lord, as are you. You should both be safe, as long as you stay here on Earth.'
Sarah repeated her promise from all that time ago. 'Just like before, I'll take each day as it comes, and I look forward to spending as much time with you as I can.'
They embraced again, ready to take each moment by moment, together.