Title: The Stars, Her Destination
Medium: Doctor Who
Characters: The Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, with mentions of Sarah Jane Smith.
Disclaimer: Yeah, they're not mine.
Word count: Around 2480.
Summary: "How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to."
Author's Notes: Elisabeth Sladen died on 19-04-2011. With her died Sarah Jane Smith, and a piece of my childhood was gone forever. Here, then, is my small little tribute to her and her effect on my life.
The presence of the Fifth and Seventh Doctors here might be a bit of a stretch (Five met Sarah in The Five Doctors, Seven in a Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, "Train-Flight") but I felt that they might as well have their chance to grieve.
The graveyard was particularly peaceful that time of day. When the sun was beginning to sink below the horizon, cloaking everything in a golden haze that was, ever so gently, beginning to darken, and the shadows of gravestones began to be cast over those they stood over. There were few people still around, all but the bravest or most grief-stricken of mourners braving the gradual chill to remain by their departed loved ones.
One such man walked through the paths, past the many markers to those interred here, an impassive frown etched into his lined yet strangely youthful face. He was tall and thin and angular, with a beaky nose and a mane of grey hair. His clothing was black, from the tip his gleaming polished shoes to the top of his black silk Inverness cape, with only the red lining of his crushed velvet jacket and the stark white of his ruffled shirt providing any kind of colour. His unusual clothing might have drawn comment, if anyone had been sufficiently distracted from their own personal grief to care. He held in his gloved hand a simple red rose.
The man finally stopped at a freshly covered grave marked by a simple yet elegant stone. Flowers still adorned the grave from the surface, the brightness and beauty of the colours testimony to a life passionately embraced, their sheer number testimony to a person much loved. One of the groundskeepers remained, placing the final touches to the grave; he nodded at the finely-dressed gentleman in acknowledgement.
"Begging your pardon, sir," The groundskeeper replied respectfully. "Just finishing up."
The gentleman nodded abruptly. His concentration remained fixed upon the gravestone. Specifically, the name embossed on it in gold. There was a moment of silence.
"I didn't manage to get to the service," the gentleman admitted. Although the gravedigger remained, he got the distinct impression that the gentleman was talking to himself, or the air. "I should have, but I had… business." He sighed the final word out, as if painfully aware of how inadequate it sounded.
"It was a fine service, I'm told, sir." The groundskeeper assured him. "Many people showed to pay their respects. She'll be a woman much missed, by all accounts."
"Yes," the gentleman sighed, "she will indeed."
"Did you know her well, sir?"
For the first time, the gentleman smiled. A sad smile, to be true, but a smile that promised hope for the future. A smile that suggested that although the ending of the story was known, the middle part remained to be discovered – and that was the best bit of all.
"Not very well," he replied, "not yet. But I'm told I will."
It didn't seem to be the kind of comment that lent itself to a response. Nor did the gentleman seem like he needed one.
"Yes, well," the groundskeeper replied, sounding uncomfortable. "All done. I'll leave you to it, sir. My condolences." With that, he collected his tools and, with a final nod in the direction of the gentleman, he disappeared.
The gentleman waited until the groundskeeper had disappeared into the distance, and there was no one else around, before doing two things. Firstly, he gently laid the rose he held on the top of the gravestone. Then, he reached into his pocket, and produced a strange-looking metal object, a small dull metal sphere with four spider-like legs protruding from the bottom. He attached it securely to the gravestone above the rose, and pressed a button which lit up orange.
There was suddenly a low humming sound, and the air around the gravestone suddenly seemed to shimmer as the entire area around the grave was suddenly taken outside of time and space.
There was suddenly another man standing beside the gentleman. He was equally tall, equally thin, and possessed a similarly beaky nose; it might have been possible to mistake the two for brothers. But the first man's elegantly styled grey hair was contrasted by the second man's uncontrollable explosion of dark brown curls, and the fine attire of the first was replaced by a shambolic collection of mismatched and vaguely bohemian items of clothing topped off by a multicoloured twelve-foot long scarf looped around his neck.
The gentleman eyed the bohemian somewhat disdainfully. "Hardly dressed for the occasion, are you?"
"Sarah wouldn't mind," the bohemian muttered in reply, his voice deep and dark. His large, wide eyes were focussed on the grave. "In fact, she chose this jacket for me. Said it suited me, or some such nonsense. Didn't know what she was talking about, but she seemed ever so insistent, dear girl." His hands unconsciously brushed down the grey tweed overcoat he wore as he spoke.
"Even so," the gentleman pressed, "you could still make the effort - "
The bohemian snapped his head up, an angry snarl on his face. "Are we really here to debate my dress sense?" He snapped furiously.
A heated debate might have broken out had not a third voice spoken up. "Gentlemen, please. Let's not bicker, today of all days."
Slightly abashed, the gentleman and the bohemian turned to regard the new sudden arrival. He was younger than the first two, with a long mop of straw-blonde hair framing his youthful face. He was dressed in a long beige coat with, of all things, a stalk of celery on the lapel, and a white jumper and striped trousers as if he intended to go for a game of cricket. But from the sad, slightly disapproving look on his face, games were apparently the furthest thing from his mind at that point.
"Quite right," the gentleman responded, sincerely. "I apologise."
The bohemian didn't reply, but a toothy grin that didn't quite meet his eyes indicated that there were no hard feelings. The matter resolved, the bohemian turned to the cricketer, curious. "I wasn't aware you had met her."
The cricketer nodded; temporal anomalies tended to play tricks on the memory at the best of times, and even more if you were trapped within them. Few of the participants privy to that particular meeting would have remembered it after. "Very briefly," he replied. "Too briefly. But memorably."
"T'was ever thus, with Sarah Jane Smith," a Scottish voice boomed out, making the other three men briefly jump. The newcomer – a little man in a dark jacket and a truly obnoxious question mark-festooned pullover – smiled faintly at the reaction his sudden arrival had, before turning his attention to the grave. He seemed to clutch the umbrella and straw hat he held in his hands tighter to his chest upon seeing it. "She was nothing if not memorable."
"And you as well?" the bohemian inquired.
"A little matter on the London Underground," the Scot replied. "Disappearing trains and so forth."
"Spoilers, my dear fellow," the cricketer admonished gently.
"Not to worry," The Scot replied. "Assuming the time field holds, nothing will be ruined."
"An impressive little contraption, by the way," the gentleman commented. He'd always liked gadgets, and in any case, any excuse to take their minds off why they were here. "I look forward to making it."
"Yes," The Scot replied, a mysterious expression on his face, "it comes in handy."
Conversation exhausted, the four men turned their attention back to their silent contemplations. For a few moments, all was quiet.
"Is it just us?" The bohemian replied, sounding rather disappointed. "I had hoped for a better turn-out."
"Two more," The Scot replied. "We probably shouldn't strain the time field too much, otherwise we'd all be here. I thought it best to limit it to those who actually met her in person. They should be here momentarily. For some reason things get a bit tricky when we try and make contact with selves past me."
There was another moment of silence, before it was interrupted by the faint sound of grinding in the distance, followed by the sound of bickering. Two more men hurried towards the grave, a taller man in a black pinstripe suit and a tan overcoat, and a smaller man – the youngest yet – with floppy black hair, a tweed jacket and a black bowtie.
"All I'm saying is," the younger man in the bowtie was insisting, "if you hadn't blown up the TARDIS, she'd be a lot more reliable about these things."
"Yeah, well," the pinstripe man snapped, "next time I'm driving."
"You say that every time."
"This time I mean it."
"Nice of you to finally arrive," the gentleman said pointedly when the two men took their places around the grave.
"Yeah, sorry," the pinstripe man replied. He shoved a thumb in the direction of the younger man, who smiled slightly sheepishly. "He screwed up the coordinates."
"Really," the bohemian eyed the younger man disapprovingly, "it wasn't that hard."
"'Least I didn't leave her in Aberdeen," the youngest man muttered slightly sullenly to himself.
"Anyway," the cricketer interrupted before a fresh round of arguing could break out, "now that we're all here, perhaps we should begin."
"Yes," the Scot replied, and his voice was the most solemn he'd been yet.
"Dearly beloved," he said, "we are gathered here to mourn Sarah Jane Smith. Journalist and companion extraordinaire. Who would like to start? Perhaps you?" he finished, gesturing to the gentleman.
"I'm not sure that would be appropriate." The gentleman demurred.
"You did meet her first," the cricketer reminded him.
"Yes, and knew her least. I wouldn't feel comfortable. Perhaps you?" the gentleman gestured courteously to the youngest man. "You were the last to know her."
The youngest man squirmed, uncomfortable. He wasn't very good at this. None of him were, really, but he was particularly not very good at it.
"I've only met her once or twice in this body," he admitted. "I think our friend in the scarf should. He knew her longest."
The bohemian's eyes were dark, and cloudy. He frowned, bowed his head, opened his mouth. But for once in this incarnation, words were failing.
"No," he muttered. "No. I have too many things to say."
"I will," the pinstripe man murmured, stepping forward.
"I've… We've lost a lot of people in our lives," he stated. "Too many people. And we'll lose too many more before we're done. But Sarah… even out of all of those we've loved, Sarah was special. We showed her so much and she taught us so many things. She wasn't the first person we travelled with, or the last, or the only one we'll ever care about, but she was…" Words seemed to fail him at that point.
"She was Sarah," he finished, sounding like he desperately wanted to say more but didn't know how to. "Sarah Jane Smith. She was so human. And she was brilliant."
The youngest man patted him on the shoulder as grief seemed to overcome him. The bohemian nodded. The Scot bowed his head solemnly.
"Perhaps that's all that needs saying," the cricketer suggested. "She was wonderful. And we'll miss her."
There was another moment of silence, each man lost in his own thoughts, pondering the grave.
It was the Scot who finally broke it. "I think," he murmured, "we should leave it there. Any longer and…"
The six men gathered there nodded and murmured assent. The gentleman gestured to the device on the gravestone. "Should I…?"
"I will," the youngest man replied. The gentleman and the Scot both made a sound of protest that, despite coming from two different men, sounded oddly similar. The youngest man looked at them sternly. "Yes, me. I remember what you were thinking of when you came up with that. You're sneaky enough without being able to actually bend time and space to your will. Fancy leaving this in the UNIT lab for him anyway," he gestured at the gentleman, "you know what he's like."
"I'll just make another one," the Scot replied sullenly.
"I don't doubt it," the youngest man replied, hint of a smile on his lips. "But nevertheless."
With that, the youngest man reached over and touched the button on the top of the metal sphere. The hum began to diminish.
"Well then," the bohemian said, recovering a little of his bonhomie. "I suppose this is goodbye, then."
"Yes," said the cricketer. "Under the circumstances, I won't say it was pleasant. But…. Well. Yes, goodbye."
The Scot said nothing, but raised his hat in salute to the other men before dropping it back on his greying curls. The pinstripe man looked around, before shooting a sad grin at the gentleman.
"You," he said, "You're so lucky. Because you get to experience her for the first time. Cherish her, every moment you're around her. Because she's amazing."
The gentleman bowed a little, in reply.
The youngest man turned to the other five men and rubbed his hands. "Well, off you all go then," he said. "Back to your proper times. Goodbye. It was so nice being all of you. Well," he sniffed, nodding at the pinstripe man, "maybe not you."
The pinstripe man sneered, but didn't get a chance to reply before he faded away, along with his four companions, leaving the youngest man alone by the grave. Had anyone been around to pay attention, it would have looked like the gentleman had suddenly been replaced. He turned, the moment of jollity he'd affected gone, nothing but limitless loss on his face as he placed removed the metal sphere and placed his hand over the rose that had lain underneath it, soaking up the temporal radiation used to generate the time field, feeling the cool marble of the gravestone under his hand. It was getting dark, now; the golden light of sunset had turned into the dark grey of dusk, the dun had disappeared over the horizon, and it was suddenly very cold.
"First the Brigadier, then you…" the youngest man sighed. He suddenly looked a lot older than his youthful appearance would suggest.
The groundskeeper had left his trowel behind, and was returning to collect it when, having expected the older gentleman, he suddenly noticed the younger man now at the grave. "Oh!" he exclaimed, startled. "I'm sorry, sir, it's just… well, there was someone else here when I left…"
"He had to go," the younger man replied flatly, not moving. "Long past time I was as well."
He looked down at the gravestone; SARAH JANE SMITH, 1948-2011 – THE STARS, HER DESTINATION.
"Goodbye, Sarah," the Doctor whispered. "I'll miss you so much."
Then he turned and, without so much as a backwards glance, walked away, back to the TARDIS and to the universe. The groundskeeper watched him go, then noticed the red rose lying on the top of the grave.
Try as he might, he couldn't shift it. And through the days and years that passed and the seasons that followed, the gravestone never crumbled and the red rose on top of it never died.