In the Zero Room, the Doctor floated absently around, pulling energy from the TARDIS herself. He opened his eyes and looked around, finally realising that Sarah wasn't there. The last time he'd checked, she'd been floating along beside him, just as he'd taught her when she travelled with him.
He stood up and searched along their imprint to find her and frowned when he felt where she was. He had been hoping that she would get rested and recovered from her injuries. He wandered his way through half built corridors and noted that they seemed to all be done in a gunmetal grey colour. He frowned slightly at that, but made a note to talk to the TARDIS about it later.
He opened the hallway door and was pleasantly surprised that the pool room was larger than it had been before. A holographic image of a bright sunny day filled the ceiling and walls, and given the warmth in the room, it made a convincing image of an ocean-side resort pool.
He sat in one of the chaise lounges and simply watched as Sarah swam slowly back and forth from one end to the other. Finally, she glanced up and saw him. She swam to the side closest to him as he said, 'I was hoping you were resting and letting your body heal, Sarah.'
'Best form of isometric exercise, swimming. Gives you the interplay of muscle against muscle. So I am healing, in a way. All my muscles are stiff from being temporarily paralysed, so this was a good way to stretch them all and hopefully get my mobility back fully.'
'I don't want you to overdo it and get hurt.'
'It's a little late for that isn't it?' He glared at her, but softened when she tilted her head and gave him a small smile. 'Besides, I'm not trying to train for the Olympics.' He stood up and started to pace back and forth along the sidewalk. She regarded him for a moment. 'Being in the TARDIS is making you itchy to leave, I can tell.'
'Well, the TARDIS isn't ready yet.'
'That wasn't what I meant, and you know it.' She swam towards the steps and got out of the pool, grabbing a towel and wrapping it around her. She walked over to one of the lounge chairs and sat down. He glanced over at her, then crossed over to perch on the edge of the same chair. 'You could stay, you know,' she said softly. 'Despite our time together here before, there's so much of Earth you haven't seen yet.'
He reached out and took her hand in his. 'There isn't anyone I'd rather see it with. It's hard to tell how long the TARDIS will be truly out of commission. This is the first she's let me near her in over three months. It could be months before she's ready to fly again. And we have to try to find a power source.' He sighed deeply. 'It's like my second exile all over again.'
She looked down at their joined hands. 'I'll be glad to have you with me for as long as I can.' She looked up at him, a smile crossing her features, 'I'm getting rather used to having you about.'
He reached up and gently tucked a stray strand of wet hair behind her ear. 'So, what do we do next?'
She tilted her head slightly back towards the pool. 'Go for the rest of my swim? You're welcome to join me.'
He smiled, dropping her hand, but reaching up with both hands to cup her cheeks, gently stroking them with the pads of his thumbs. 'I think I just might take you up on that offer.'
'To stay or to swim?' she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
Instead of answering her, he leaned in and kissed her. After a moment, when he pulled back to allow her to breathe, he stood up and extended his hands to her. With a smile, she silently took his hands and stood up, allowing him to lead her from the room.
Sarah awoke to the touch of the Doctor tracing his fingers absently along her bare shoulders. She gave him a lazy smile as she reached up and ran her hand up and down his arm. 'I could get used to this.' She sighed. 'I wish I could, anyway.'
'Sarah, please,' he started before she reached up and put her finger over his lips.
'Think about it, Doctor. We're in the TARDIS. Your home. The Universe is your first love, how much longer until she calls you back to her?'
'It's true that I travelled the Universe before I met you, while we were together and again after we were separated.' He reached up and ran a finger along the edges of her face. 'But the Universe isn't you. It can't care for me the way you do. I chose to share the imprint with you, not with the Universe.'
She allowed his words to flow over her as she let her fingers slowly travel along his chest. As she touched him, she watched his eyes, bright blue, boring into hers as if he were reading her every thought and emotion. 'I'm not possessive by nature,' she said softly, 'but I can't help feeling a little bit that way about you.'
'I've had people come and go from my life for centuries, Sarah. You're the only one I keep coming back to.' He hooked his leg around hers and pulled her even closer. 'I need you,' he said huskily before kissing her deeply. Finally letting her catch her breath, he continued to trail kisses along her forehead and cheeks. 'How's this for possessive?' he whispered between kisses.
'Strangely enough,' she smiled before continuing, 'I'm finding I don't mind it that much.'
The Doctor continued to teasingly kiss the sensitive skin just beneath her ear, and she couldn't stop a small moan from escaping, causing him to smile. 'You know how to make me singularly focused, Sarah Jane,' he whispered.
'Being the focus of all that Time Lord energy could be a daunting prospect.'
He pulled back and looked at her. 'Oh really?'
She wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly to her. 'Good thing it doesn't faze me.'
The Doctor and Sarah walked hand in hand into the console room. Sarah looked around at the gunmetal grey surroundings. Letting go of the Doctor's hand, she frowned as she made her way to the console itself. 'Are you sure this is the way you want to go?' She waited for a moment, listening. Putting her hands on the console, she said softly, 'The war is over, you don't have to be built for it anymore.'
At the TARDIS's response, she turned and looked around the room, then towards the Doctor. 'What do you think?' She asked him as he walked over next to her and wrapped an arm around her waist.
'Something with some colour, maybe?' He looked around. 'Blue, green?'
She looked around, closing her eyes and visualising what she'd seen before. 'You want something warm, something that isn't going to constantly remind you of everything you went through.' She turned towards the monitor as the TARDIS began to put sample colours on the screen. Sarah watched her go through several, then smiled. 'That's the one.' She stepped aside to let the Doctor see. 'Coral and green. I'd prefer just the coral myself, but the green suits you, don't you think?' She looked up at the Doctor when he didn't respond. 'Well?'
He stared at the monitor, then tilted his head slightly, an expression crossing his features that she couldn't quite put her finger on. He turned to her and smiled, then leaned over and kissed her temple. 'That's perfect, Sarah, absolutely perfect.' He reached up and turned her towards him and wrapped his arms around her. 'Thank you, Sarah.'
The Doctor paced Sarah's attic, waiting for Mr. Smith to return the results of his scan. Sarah sat nearby on the small sofa, occasionally looking up at the Doctor, but mostly trying to concentrate on her book.
'Doctor, I do believe I've found a suitable power source for you,' Mr. Smith finally announced.
'Cardiff. There is a rift that could be used to draw power from. You would need to make some adjustments to the TARDIS, but of course I would be happy to assist.'
'Thank you Mr. Smith.' He turned to Sarah and smiled. 'It's close by.'
She nodded slowly. 'Indeed.'
'I can safely charge the TARDIS!' His excitement was building.
'That's great,' she said softly. She already knew what was coming, but she'd lived in a certain element of denial. It had been almost six months since the Doctor arrived in the nearby alley, and now, she could sense him being pulled away from her. She knew the Universe needed him. It needed him more than she needed him, although if she were honest with herself and had a choice, she'd be selfish and keep him with her.
She sighed, knowing her wishes wouldn't be fair to either one of them, or to the events she knew had to play out. She had the advantage in this situation. She knew the future, or at least part of his future. He would leave her, have adventures and something would happen for him to regenerate before she would see him again. His voice broke through her reverie and she realised he was talking to her.
She shook her head ever so slightly to clear her mind. 'Sorry, just lost in thought. What did you say?'
He crossed his arms as he looked at her. 'I said I want you to go with me to Cardiff. I don't know how long it'll take the TARDIS to charge.'
She nodded. 'All right, I can do that.' A part of her was grateful for the opportunity to spend more time with him, but the other part couldn't shake the knowledge that things were coming to an end. Again. Her heart was already beginning to ache.
After a relatively uneventful fortnight in Cardiff, the TARDIS materialised in Sarah's back garden. The doors opened and Sarah walked out, soon followed by the Doctor. 'See, right back where we started,' he said with a smile.
She leaned into him playfully, 'Maybe you're finally getting better with these short trips.'
'Are you questioning my piloting skills?'
'Who, me? Never.' Sarah patted the outside of the TARDIS affectionately, 'Her, I trust.' She started walking towards the house, then sensed that the Doctor wasn't following her. She stopped walking and her fists clenched as she closed her eyes. This was the moment she'd known was coming and dreaded more than anything. She refused to turn around.
The Doctor felt the sadness radiating out from her. 'Sarah?'
Taking a deep breath, she finally turned around to face him, wrapping her arms around herself protectively. She knew instinctively what was coming, especially once she realised he hadn't moved from just outside the TARDIS doors.
He was puzzled by her uneven jaw, the expression on her face and the emotions coming from her in waves. 'I just want to take her out for a quick spin, just to make sure everything's in working order.' He gestured back towards the door. 'Come with me.'
She shook her head, tears in her eyes. 'I can't.'
He closed the distance between them and let his hands rest on her upper arms. 'Why not, Sarah? We'll come right back and then we can check out that Bubbleshock factory Liz sent you the results on.'
'Or not, I know how things go with you.'
'Just think, it could be like old times. Well, better than old times really. No more Time Lord rules to get in our way. Travelling the universe with my best friend, I can't imagine a better way.' He looked into her eyes, his voice soft, almost pleading. 'Come on, Sarah. Please?'
She reached up and held his face in her hands. 'I wish I could, but not this time.'
'You know something, don't you?'
She nodded slowly. 'You taught me a lot about protecting the timelines.'
He leaned down and kissed her ever so softly, then pulled back and looked into her eyes before quickly pulling her to him in a tight embrace. 'Oh Sarah Jane, I can be back in five minutes, you'd never miss me.' He rested his chin on the top of her head. 'But it's not going to be that simple is it?'
'Not with us, apparently,' she mumbled, her face buried in his chest. 'We've never been simple.'
He picked her up, and held her to him, spinning her around, just making sure to breathe in as much of her as he could. 'At least we have our imprint back. Ultimately, it means we'll never be separated again.' He finally sat her back down on the ground.
'That's why I can let you go so you can do what you need to do. And I can stay here and do what I need to do.' She reached up and ran a hand gently along the edge of his jaw. 'Do me one favour, please? Just be fantastic.'
With a nod, the Doctor finally turned and headed towards the TARDIS. At Sarah's voice calling him, he whirled back to face her.
'Doctor?' She took a deep breath. 'Make sure to tell her it travels in time too.'
A confused looked crossed his face. 'What?'
'You'll know what that means when the time comes.'
He nodded. 'I'll be back, Sarah. So get used to seeing me around. We still have our imprint, and no one can take it from us now.'
She could only nod in response as words seemed insufficient.
The Doctor gave her a sad smile, then disappeared into the TARDIS. As the winds of dematerialisation spun around her, she took a deep breath and headed back into the house. While they'd been in Cardiff, she'd gotten the message from Liz about the results from this new drink that was already being heavily marketed. The test results indicated that it was worth investigating, and Sarah figured she might as well get started on it.
The stairs to the attic seemed so much steeper as Sarah slowly made her way upstairs. As she opened the door, she was startled to see the TARDIS parked in the corner. The Doctor was leaning against the door frame, arms crossed, a smirk on his face. 'See Sarah, five minutes, not long enough for you to even miss me.'
'How long has it been for you?'
'Almost a year, give or take a year or two.'
Sarah laughed at his description, it was so typical of him. 'So have you met…'
He cut her off and nodded. 'Rose. Yes.'
'She's with her mum and Ricky the idiot.'
'Mickey,' she corrected, 'is not an idiot. You'll realise that one day.'
'If you say so. Now, enough about them.' He gave her a warm smile as he opened his arms.
Sarah shook her head disbelievingly, smiling as she crossed the room and walked straight into his embrace.
Author's Note: This told the story of how the imprint was re-established for the Doctor after the Time War, but what about for Sarah? How did she get it back? To see how the timelines were set to rights, stay tuned for "Healing Goes Both Ways".