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AN: My own tribute to Elisabeth Sladen; a tragic loss to the world in general and the Whoniverse in particular
The Best and the Last
As he stood at the silent grave, the stone so simple that it almost appeared inadequate to commemorate a woman who had done so much for the world she lived in, the Doctor couldn't help but feel inadequate in the face of this kind of death.
He might have once told Samantha Jones that everyone was always dead and alive when you could travel in time, but that didn't mean that you couldn't miss people when they were dead; the knowledge that they wouldn't experience any new events with you could still hurt, even if there was still the possibility that he could encounter them in their pasts.
Sarah might have once said that she'd know if he had ever died, but the problem with being a time traveller was that you were always acutely aware that virtually everyone you knew or would know was going to be dead or wouldn't exist yet when you landed in most of the locations you were going to visit (Adric was a particularly painful one in that regard, given that he'd died millions of years in the past- getting stuck in that pocket dimension didn't really count as living from the Doctor's perspective- and was therefore dead in a vast majority of the times the Doctor visited)...
It was one reason he tried to avoid finding out too much about his companions' lives after he'd left them, really; he preferred not to think too much about the bad things that might happen to them that he couldn't change, particularly when it came to their deaths (Even if his discovery of what had happened to Dodo after they'd parted company had left him resolved to at least make sure they left him with their health intact). They lived good lives when they were with him, and- with the obvious exception of Elizabeth Klein- he had a good impact on who they were as people after they left him no matter what the likes of Davros might have tried to make him think; sometimes, you had to be content with that.
Still... when faced with examples like this- a good woman, with a good a life and a good family, her life on track after so long living alone, connecting with the world around her while also helping it, cut short through a tragic fluke of biology when she could have lived for so many more decades if her cards had fallen in the right manner-, it was hard not to feel frustrated at what the universe did to those he called friends.
He'd already had to sacrifice his planet for this universe; was it asking so much for it to give his friends the chance to see their children grow up?
He wasn't even sure if he wanted to be here in the first place; after Amy and Rory had left him he had just been wandering for a bit- he didn't really feel like getting new companions after the impact Amy had had on him from the moment of his regeneration-, had seen the funeral advertised in the paper and decided to take a quick spatial hop to be there, only to arrive after the funeral.
He'd thought about going to the wake- he could see Bannerman Road just a short distance from the hill where the grave was; 13's windows were even still illuminated-, but if he'd missed the funeral, was it really his place to just... drop in like that?
"What are you doing here?" another voice asked, breaking his train of thought.
Turning around, the Doctor couldn't help but smile at the sight of the man standing behind him; a tall man, apparently physically older than his current body, with thick curly brown hair and a prominent nose, dressed in a floppy hat and a long brown coat with a ridiculously long scarf wrapped twice around his neck.
Despite the grim mood of the situation, the knowledge that this man was here as well really made things feel a bit better.
"Just what you're doing here, Doctor," he replied; it might be breaking a few laws of time, but so long as he didn't give away anything vital, he could allow himself the chance to have a partner in his grief at a time like this.
"What- oh," his fourth incarnation said, his eyes widening slightly as the two men exchanged the brief mental contact of Time Lord identification (The Doctor naturally concealing his full past from his younger self). "So... why did you come here?"
"I had... personal reasons for wanting to be here," the Doctor clarified, shrugging slightly as he looked back at the grave. "I mean, you knew Sarah best, don't get me wrong, but I..."
He smiled wistfully for a moment. "I... spent some time with her shortly before it happened; there was this whole thing with someone faking our funeral and Jo and Sarah being used to try and gain access to the TARDIS-"
"Jo?" the younger Doctor said, looking at his future self in surprise. "That must have been an experience."
"Oh, it was; they both proved themselves as exceptional as ever, I assure you," the Doctor replied, before he sighed and turned back to the grave before them. "It was only a few months before..."
"What was it?" the Fourth Doctor asked.
"The obituary didn't say, and I didn't want to find out," the Doctor replied.
His past self didn't ask him to elaborate, but they both knew why that was the case; sometimes, the possibility that they were responsible for their friends' deaths wasn't worth considering (He'd definitely felt rather depressed after the discovery that Barbara had died to cancer caused by radiation exposure, apparently caused by the damage she'd sustained during her time on Skaro; the Doctor hadn't even been able to do anything because it had been part of history)...
"I thought about not coming," the Fourth Doctor said after a moment's silence. "I thought that, if I didn't come here, it would seem less... real..."
"Some things can't be changed, I suppose," the Doctor said, his mind briefly flashing back to the Pandorica crisis- the temptation to try and change some events had been so hard to resist even if the rest of him had known that he couldn't do it; he'd fallen victim to that arrogance in his last incarnation, and it had nearly killed him-; after he'd been restored, he'd spent some time checking to see what had happened to his companions in this new timeline, but nothing had significantly changed compared to what had happened to them originally. "What changed your mind?"
"After everything she... well, everything she'd meant to me," the Fourth Doctor said at last- the fact that his past self said that much said it all about how much Sarah had meant to him; this incarnation was never the most expressive person when it came to his feelings-, "I felt like it was my responsibility to come here, and with Romana and K9 being a bit busy..."
"Good to see you here, anyway," the Doctor said, smiling reassuringly at his past self, the two Time Lords looking silently at the grave before them once more before the older Doctor spoke again. "She had a family, you know."
"Really?" the Fourth Doctor said, looking over at his future self with an appreciative smile.
"Oh yes; she adopted a son a few years ago," the Doctor confirmed, nodding at his past self. "Luke Smith; genetically engineered by a race called the Bane as an 'archetype'- they were trying to perfect this drug they were using in a drink to make children more susceptible to their influence or something like that-, but he ended up giving her a chance to connect with the rest of the world that she hadn't had before; the two of them worked with Luke's friends to fight off quite a few invasions to Earth over the last few years..."
"Sarah did that?" the Fourth Doctor said, smiling in approval at that news. "Without UNIT?"
"I think she asked Alistair for help once, but otherwise it was on her own, yes," the Doctor replied (This wasn't actually breaking his 'rule' about providing his past self with information; it didn't directly affect his future, and he couldn't exactly remember when he'd found out what Sarah had done since she'd left him anyway). "She did a brilliant job, to say the least."
"She always did," the Fourth Doctor said, a wistful smile on his face before his expression became more solemn as he looked at the grave. "I told her once that I walked in eternity by my very nature... but I never told her that she and those like her were the ones who made that journey worth taking."
"She knew," the Doctor said with a reassuring smile, the memory of one of his last meetings with Sarah clear in his mind. "She once told me- well, the previous me, anyway- that I acted like such a lonely man, but I had the biggest family in the universe, with friends all over the universe in so many different times and places that it would be almost impossible for me to ever truly die..."
"And she shared a few of those friends as well, didn't she?" the Fourth Doctor said, looking at his future self. "I doubt Alpha will be forgetting her any time soon."
"Tommy Ramsey definitely wouldn't," the Doctor responded.
"Harry probably talked the ears off anyone willing to listen to him when it came to her."
"Max probably created an entire race who'd remember her after what she did for him."
"Kipling definitely liked her, even if their meeting wasn't quite what she was expecting."
"But none of them would have had the chance to remember her if it wasn't for you," the Doctor said, his gaze fixed resolutely on his past self to ensure he understood what he was saying, the smile fading from his face as he stared at the scarf-clad man. "You helped her realise just what she could be, and she continued to follow up that tradition ever since she left you. All those lives she saved, the people she helped, the friends she inspired... it can all be traced back to you."
"Really?" the Fourth Doctor asked.
"Would I lie to me?" the Doctor replied, before his eyes fell on the still-illuminated windows of 13 Bannerman Road, off in the distance, and a thought occurred to him.
He couldn't do that; something like that would be a serious potential risk to the laws of time...
On the other hand, if he was there to ensure that his past self would 'have' to forget it all later, and so long as he made sure Rani, Clyde, Luke or Maria- he'd heard that they'd invited Rani's 'predecessor' but he wasn't sure if she'd been able to make it or not- didn't say anything too important to his younger self, it should be all right...
"A thought occurs to me," he said at last, turning to smile at his younger self. "You remember I mentioned Sarah's son and his friends?"
"Yes...?" the Fourth Doctor replied uncertainly.
"Time you met them," the Doctor finished, indicating the illuminated Bannerman Road. "Come on; they're just in that house over there-"
"What?" the Fourth Doctor interrupted, looking at his future self in surprise. "They've met you-"
"And you were the one Sarah told them so many stories about; the fact that those stories were about me as well doesn't change the fact that you're the one they've really been learning about," the Doctor interjected, looking resolutely at his past self. "The only thing you didn't give Sarah that you could have given her is a dog- she always wanted a pet when she was a little girl, remember?-, and after everything else you did for her, that's nowhere near enough to make these kids dislike you."
As the Doctor lead his past self towards Bannerman Road, he allowed himself a slight smile at the contemplative expression on his former face as they walked.
He wouldn't remember all of this upcoming meeting, but that little comment would plant the seed in the Fourth Doctor's subconscious that would grow to inspire him to send Sarah that 'little tin dog' that would help her through so many different types of adversity...
With that thought pushed to the back of the elder Time Lord's mind, the two Doctors continued their journey towards the house where one of their dearest friends had lived, preparing to share their memories and stories with their old companion's other family.
AN 2: To those who want to know, Alpha Centauri was the ambassador of the planet Peladon when the Third Doctor and Sarah visited the world in question ("The Monster of Peladon"), Tommy Ramsey was a gang boss who helped the Third Doctor and Sarah deal with an alien invasion in 1952 ("Amorality Tale"), Max was a robot soldier who developed sentience in Sarah's company after he began generating new neural pathways to cope with a viral attack- a Time Lord informed the TARDIS crew later that robots based on Max would help destroy the Daleks- ("A Device of Death"), Kipling is obviously Rudyard Kipling- Sarah wanted to meet him as he was her favourite author, but the Doctor accidentally visited Kipling's schooldays and ended up working with Arthur Conan Doyle to investigate a murder while Sarah had to deal with a teenage Kipling's crush- ("Evolution"), and Harry is Sarah's fellow companion Harry Sullivan.