A/N: This is a direct follow-up of my story Bleeding and won't make a whit of sense unless that's read first. I'm doing this in two parts. The first is a conversation between Sarah Jane Smith and Teresa Lisbon and, as I'm convinced it could very easily be one of many, there's not as much in it as there could be; it's just the start of something. It'll take place before Season 4 of The Sarah Jane Adventures (or at least before Luke's off to Oxford)and, of course, after The End of Time, with a mention of the events of Torchwood: Children of Earth, and around the time of The Red Box for The Mentalist. The second part, which will be more substantial, is where the Doctor gets dragged back into the thick of things, after Planet of the Dead. Of course, for CBI, it's then after Jolly Red Elf….
Standard disclaimers apply. Also, I request that I not be skewered if the following conversation, once we get to it, does not live up to expectations; that is why it is intended to be the first of many, and also why I am only writing the first one. The search for answers, after all, always continues—each answer leads in turn to dozens more questions. And some of those questions, I'm afraid, simply don't seem to have answers.
Teresa Lisbon stared at the scrap of paper in her hand. She'd been doing that a lot since she'd gotten it. It wasn't that she didn't understand it—containing a name and phone number, it was fairly self explanatory—but rather that she wasn't sure what to do with it.
She hadn't told any of her colleagues. She didn't doubt that they'd noticed her preoccupation; she'd gotten more than her fair share of sidelong looks, even if she had yet to receive an outright comment. She suspected Jane may have had a hand in that. He knew more than Cho, Rigsby, or Van Pelt, and he'd probably figured out what was on her mind without her having to open her mouth. He wouldn't know everything, of course, but he'd doubtless guessed by now that the Doctor had turned up, claimed his key, and left her with something to think about in exchange.
More than one thing in exchange, really. Far more. He'd given her more questions to puzzle out than answers. She still didn't even understand who he really was. The Doctor—well, that told her absolutely nothing. She'd tried to search for him, but the closest she'd come to any answers were some ludicrous stories on the Internet, likely written by one nut or another; at any rate, any of the pictures she'd turned up had been of other men, not the one she was looking for. Her search for Dr. Grace Holloway hadn't been much better. She'd apparently started doing research, but exactly what kind of research appeared to be buried beneath so many layers that Lisbon couldn't hack through it. At least, not at home, and she wasn't about to bring it into work, what with all the questions she'd have to answer if anyone realized what she was up to.
That left her with the easy option: phoning this Sarah Jane Smith.
She didn't find it as easy as she ought to, though. She'd be phoning up a perfect stranger to ask ridiculous questions about an impossible man. Regardless of what the Doctor had said, she didn't think it was his place to give out Sarah Jane's number, and her sense of social boundaries was holding her back from making the call.
That was one reason she hadn't actually told Jane the whole story yet; if she had, he would have dialled the number and handed her the phone and then she would've been stuck. Worse yet, he would've dialled, waited for Sarah Jane to answer, and then handed her the phone. Either way, she didn't fancy just hanging up on someone, especially if she thought she would want to call again once she had gathered her courage to make the call herself. Liquid courage wasn't an option, either; she wanted to remember the conversation come the morning and she didn't want to drink when she needed a clear head to do her job.
Come to that, she didn't want to be preoccupied while on the job, either—at least, no more than she had been already—and that was why, at midnight, she was curled up on her bed, phone in hand, staring at the wretched piece of paper she'd received not five days before.
She was running out of reasons to delay making the call. She didn't want to leave it too long or she would feel she'd lost her chance. She wouldn't be remembering things as clearly, and she'd be more likely to write it off for a reasonable explanation like everyone else, even if she couldn't quite accept it if she thought about it for too long. She had to bite the bullet and just make the call.
She didn't need to talk long. She only had a simple question: who was the Doctor? He'd never seen fit to give her a straight answer to that when she'd asked. She had other questions, of course, but she didn't need to ask them all at once. She couldn't really afford to, and she meant that quite literally—transatlantic calls were expensive. So with any luck, Ms. Smith would only have time to answer one question before she had to go off to work, doing whatever normal thing she did each week, just as Lisbon herself did.
Of course, despite the knowledge that curiosity killed the cat, Lisbon couldn't help but wonder what Sarah Jane's story was. She might not have a very good measure of the Doctor after her encounter with him, but she'd gotten the rather strong impression that he tended to underestimate things. He'd said that he'd left Sarah Jane in a lurch a few years back. How many, he appeared not to recall—she hadn't taken him to task on that; he probably would've made some ridiculous comment about memories and old age if she'd tried—but if the incident itself was memorable enough, she didn't imagine that it had been very pleasant. At least, not for Ms. Sarah Jane Smith.
The Doctor had called what happened to her nothing more than a dream, and as intangible as that, but Sarah Jane had been left in a lurch.
Lisbon was not sure she should ask what the Doctor's definition of a lurch was, especially since he struck her as the sort of person who would call a hole in a sinking boat a minor inconvenience.
Curiosity killed the cat, yes, but satisfaction—satisfaction brought it back. It was so easy to satisfy her curiosity; she just needed to make one phone call. Just one. And then, perhaps, she would be able to get a fitful night of sleep and her overactive, wild imagination would quiet itself again. She wasn't happy that it had gotten out of hand. The Doctor hadn't helped with his offhand comments. Preposterous as they were, they'd set her imagination rolling, and she couldn't seem to stop it.
Nine hundred and six her foot. He might be older than forty, but he sure wasn't that old. If he were, he'd've gained some sense. He might as well have claimed to be nine hundred sixty-nine, just to rival Methuselah.
Lisbon shook her head to clear it of her crazy thoughts—rather unsuccessfully, unfortunately—and started to punch in the phone number. Her finger hovered over the last digit, still not quite sure whether she wanted to do this, and then she pushed it and held to phone up to her ear, listening to it ring.
Sarah Jane Smith had just sent her son Luke off to school early with his friends, Clyde and Rani, with the excuse that she could finish cleaning up after the escaped (and subsequently recaptured) Noryx just as easily by herself as with him helping her. He hadn't looked entirely convinced, but it hadn't taken much urging to convince him to fly off with his friends—especially once the two of them had seen the Noryx sent back to its home planet of Tyrolis 4.
Sarah Jane chuckled to herself. What a bland life she would have led if she had never met the Doctor, had never pretended to be her dear aunt Lavinia, had never snuck into the curious police box that had been in the UNIT lab! She would never be doing this if she had never done that. She would just be a normal, nosy reporter, trying to find a good story. She knew plenty of good stories now, but few of those were anything she could ever publish. It wasn't something she minded, though, not in the least—even if paying the bills could get slightly difficult on occasion. She would never trade her wonderful friends or her wonderful memories for anything lacking the adventure of her life.
Besides, if she wasn't helping to defend the Earth, someone else might end up getting involved. UNIT wasn't like it was in the old days, and Torchwood was worse—though she had to admit that Captain Jack Harkness had been well on his way to improving it, if rumours were anything to go by. Then again, if they were, Captain Jack had lost everything anyhow—more than just the Torchwood Three base.
She remembered when that had happened. Mr. Smith hadn't been able to tell her much about it, about which alien race had been speaking through the mouths of the children. What she'd known was that it wasn't something she could stop, even if she'd tried. The stories the media had come out with after that, the so-called official reports that the general public accepted so readily in an effort to put the inexplicable behind them—those had been vague, and many had discounted what most everyone had witnessed. They'd called it all sorts of things, naming everything imaginable—save the truth. The truth wasn't anywhere to be found by the public. Well, not beyond the odd conspiracy sites on the Internet, but no one gave any real credit to those these days.
The Doctor hadn't been there to save the Earth. She knew he couldn't be there all the time, but she had thought, at the time, that he'd turn up. He usually did when the entire planet was threatened, especially when children were involved. But he hadn't, and she couldn't help but wonder why.
"Probably off dealing with a crisis on Metebelis III," she murmured. "Again." She remembered the last time she'd seen the Doctor. It would be the last time she'd see him in that form, with that face. Well, for him at least. She supposed it was possible that he'd run into her again in her future and his past, but she thought that unlikely. He wouldn't have said goodbye—as much as he could say goodbye without ever saying it—if he'd known she'd see him, that him, again in her future.
At least he had seen her again, though, even if he hadn't been able to spare the time to say a word. The look he'd given her had said enough. She'd known. He'd been dying. Whatever had caused the process had been attacking him slowly enough to allow him time to travel, time to say goodbye. She remembered when she'd been to Metebelis III and how she'd ended up captured by the Eight Legs, and the weeks she'd spent at UNIT afterwards, hoping to see the Doctor return, and how long it had taken for that hope to be realized.
That relief had seemed quite short-lived when the Doctor had stumbled out of the TARDIS. It had been quickly replaced by a growing feeling of alarm when she'd realized he was dying and despair when she'd thought him dead. He hadn't been dead, though, not really. In one way, yes, but in another way he had carried on. A different person, but still the Doctor. He always continued on, the Doctor, no matter what he faced. She was confident that, by now, he had.
She'd know in her heart if he hadn't. She was certain of that.
The ringing of the phone finally distracted her from her thoughts, and she wondered how long she had been lost in them. She didn't recognize the number and wasn't in the attic, meaning Mr. Smith couldn't tell her who was calling, so she decided the best way to find out was simply to answer it. "Hello?" she asked.
"Hello," began the voice on the other end of the line—female, American accent, and rather hesitant, as if she wasn't sure she should be calling. "My name is Teresa Lisbon, and I was wondering if I could speak to Sarah Jane Smith?"
"Speaking," Sarah Jane replied, curious now. She hadn't any idea who this was, but whoever it was hadn't started straight into a sales pitch, thank heaven, and she did have the right number—though how she'd gotten the right number was another question.
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then, "I hope you don't mind my calling. I was given your number by a mutual…acquaintance, I suppose I should say."
"Acquaintance?" Sarah Jane repeated, wondering if some of the other rumours she'd been hearing about Captain Jack lately were true—perhaps he had gone over to America after all. She'd thought he'd left Earth behind. Somehow. She had no doubt he'd've found a way. He had seemed quite the resourceful type when she'd met him and was everything and more than all the reports she'd found on him seemed to say.
"Do you have time to talk?" the woman blurted, ignoring the question.
"Oh, I imagine so," Sarah Jane replied, "though I have to say I would be more inclined to do so if I knew why you were calling."
"That is why I'm calling," Teresa admitted. "I was told you'd understand, and I don't understand anything. I can't work it out, and it's…getting in the way of my life when it shouldn't."
Not Jack, then. Jack would have undoubtedly been quite willing to spend as much time with the woman as necessary, though Sarah Jane rather doubted most of that time would be dedicated to word-filled explanations if Jack had his way. "Best tell me, then," Sarah Jane said kindly, "or I won't understand any more than anyone else."
"It's just…. It wasn't that long ago, but…. I think it was about a week ago, a bit longer, maybe. I'm not sure; it's hard to remember. Well, no, if I think about it, I can remember it, but I can't really figure out an exact date because it didn't really happen anyway, so I've lost a day and…."
Sarah Jane started to laugh, causing Teresa to trail off. "You've met the Doctor, haven't you?" she asked, though she knew the answer even before Teresa confirmed her suspicions. She didn't know who else could cause someone to get into such a muddle. From the sounds of it, time had been erased, or rewritten, or something of that sort. That had the Doctor's mark all over it.
"Who is he?" Teresa asked.
"Did you ask him?"
"He never really answered."
"Well, that much hasn't changed, then," Sarah Jane remarked. She wondered which incarnation of the Doctor Teresa Lisbon had encountered. "Look, why not tell me what happened first, and then we'll see what we can sort out?"
Teresa's tale wasn't what Sarah had expected once she'd said it was a time trap—it didn't seem similar to the one in which the Trickster had caught her, with Peter, Luke, Clyde, Rani, K-9, and the Doctor, on her wedding day. But she knew enough to know that that didn't mean much. Time, she had learned, was unpredictable, so it stood to reason that anyone who managed to use it would likely do so in a slightly different way than someone else. If you knew enough to look for the little, telltale signs, you would be able to figure out who devised it.
She didn't know, of course, and Teresa certainly didn't. But she suspected that the Doctor might know. He usually did, even if he never bothered to tell anyone.
"Are you the only one who remembers?" Sarah Jane asked quietly.
"No," came the response. Then, ruefully, "But I do seem to be the only one it bothers. Jane…. Jane can act like it never happened, but he'll still catch my eye sometimes, and I know he knows that it did. I'm not sure about everyone else. I never asked." There was a pause. "What happened to you? What's your story?"
Sarah smiled. "It's a bit longer than yours," she said. "I don't have time to tell it all. I met the Doctor years back. 1974, I believe it was. I—"
"1974?" Incredulity, plain and simple.
Sarah Jane chuckled. "Yes. It is a while back now, I will admit, but I expect it's been even longer for him."
"The trouble with the Doctor," Sarah Jane said, "is that he's notoriously difficult to find." She paused, then added, "Among other things." From what she could gather, Teresa had met the Doctor in his tenth incarnation. She didn't know that incarnation as well as she knew the third or the fourth, but some things never changed. "The thing is, Teresa, you don't have all the pieces to the puzzle. I can't fill them all in. I can tell you about the Doctor, but only he really knows what you went through. If he doesn't want to talk about something, I'm quite certain you'll not hear of it." She hesitated, then added, "I think it might help if I tell you a bit about the first time I met the Doctor," and proceeded to fill the young woman in, detailing her astonishment at finding herself in the Middle Ages—once she'd accepted that it truly was the Middle Ages, of course—and how she'd ended up helping the Doctor fight off a Sontaran. She made a point of including the fact that the Sontaran, Linx, had recognized the Doctor for what he was—a Time Lord—and where he was from—Gallifrey.
"Teresa?" Sarah asked after a moment.
"But that's ridiculous," Teresa said weakly.
"Hardly more so than ending up where you did, I think," Sarah Jane pointed out.
"Think about some of the things that have made the news in the past few years," Sarah Jane suggested. "All those things you heard of and dismissed, perhaps even witnessed and purposely forgotten. They aren't all hoaxes or terrorist attacks or whatever else the media says, and more often than not the Doctor's been there."
"Because he's an alien." There was still sarcasm evident in the voice.
"If I was going to invent a tale to tell you, I should think I'd try feeding you something you'd rather swallow. I have no reason to lie to you, Teresa."
"No, it's not that," Teresa said, sounding apologetic now. "It's just…. I don't believe in that stuff. Not really. But the Doctor told me that. I thought he was joking. A 906 year old alien, he said. And…and I think Jenny knew what he was. I didn't remember it before, but when you said he was a Time Lord—she'd called him that, I'm certain of it."
"I wouldn't doubt it," Sarah said softly, "if the Doctor was right about being the one who was intended to be caught. But he treats time differently than you or I. He doesn't just travel about in it. He can sense it, and he protects it. I never made it to Gallifrey myself, not really, though I suppose there was one time that I hardly recall more than I do a dream. But that's why I had to stop travelling with him; he was called back to his home planet, and humans weren't allowed. Mind you," she added, "in all the years I travelled with him, his aim certainly never improved. He tried to drop me off near my home in South Croydon, and I ended up in Aberdeen!" She paused for a moment, then added, more soberly, "At least I was dropped off in the right time period."
Another lengthy pause on the end of the line. "I am not going to believe a word of this in the morning."
Sarah Jane glanced at the clock. "What time is it there?" she asked slowly.
"Now? About…oh, God, it's twenty to two."
"How time flies." Sarah Jane smiled. "Look, there's more to the story than I've told you. I—"
"How the hell can there be more?" Teresa burst out. This exclamation was quickly followed by a more tempered, rather embarrassed, "Sorry. It's just…. This is insane enough, isn't it? How can there possibly be more?"
Sarah chuckled. "We are discussing the Doctor," she pointed out quietly.
"Point taken," Teresa conceded. "He is, most definitely, the second impossible man I've ever met."
"You haven't met Patrick Jane."
Sarah Jane laughed. From the sounds of it, this Patrick Jane had kept the Doctor on his toes. She wondered if he would have faired as well against any of the Doctor's other incarnations. Likely so, in one form or another, if he had accepted and processed the very things Lisbon couldn't, the very things others had, in all likelihood, already disregarded completely. Lisbon had called, Sarah Jane now understood, because she wanted her normal life back. She thought the best way to get it back was to understand.
Sarah didn't quite have the heart to tell her that if she understood, truly understood, she'd never see things in quite the same way she had before. She didn't have to act on that understanding, as Sarah Jane herself now did. Few wanted to do exactly that, and she didn't blame them. After travelling with the Doctor, she knew a smattering of what was out there in the universe, and she'd garnered a number of resources to deal with that. She appreciated the help of her son and his friends, but there were still times she regretted drawing them into this life and all the responsibilities that were then set before them. They'd tell her off, tell her not to be daft, that they wouldn't trade it for the world—and she knew that feeling. She knew it so well.
Some people, however, didn't have that feeling, and Sarah Jane rather suspected Teresa was one of them. Her desire was for knowledge in an effort to quiet what she did feel, however similar or dissimilar that was to what Sarah herself had felt when she'd first met the Doctor so long ago. Teresa wanted to move on—something Sarah Jane had never quite managed, if she was perfectly honest with herself—and she was willing to do that without simply ignoring her experience. She thought she needed to understand things to do that, and Sarah Jane was willing to help her.
That was, after all, what she did. She helped people. Just as the Doctor had done, yes, but she wouldn't say he'd taught her, exactly; if anyone taught her to help, it would have been her dear aunt. She'd learned independence, and humility, and the grace to never leave people behind when they asked for help, even if that plea was never voiced. She did help, yes, and she always would—in her own way, in the human way the Doctor could never quite comprehend. She knew when to slow down. She knew people sometimes needed time.
Teresa needed time, and Sarah Jane would be ready to talk when it was time for their conversation to continue.
"Phone me when you're ready," she told Teresa.
"I don't know if I'll ever be ready," Teresa replied shortly, "but I'll be in touch within the week." Sarah could hear the smile in her voice. "Thank you. For…listening, and talking, and…."
"Being there?" Sarah Jane supplied. "Always. The Doctor doesn't always remember to pick up the pieces. He doesn't always see them, I think. I'm rather surprised he had enough sense to give my number to you."
"I think you taught him that," Teresa informed her quietly. "He told me that you told him that he needs to say goodbye more often. He had to slow down long enough to do that. I didn't get the impression that he does that often. I think he's trying to learn. You've been a good influence on him, and you helped him. Like you're helping me."
Sarah smiled and thanked Teresa warmly before they exchanged their own goodbyes. Travelling with the Doctor had taught her so much. If she had managed to return that favour, even in a small way, she was grateful. After all, he was still helping her. He'd handed her a friendship, and all she had to do was tend to it.