"I'm the Doctor. Well, they call me the Doctor. I don't know why. I call me the Doctor too. Still don't know why."
It all started with foxes.
Well, they weren't really foxes, more shape-shifting alien monsters terrorizing a colony of refugees. But that's alright, since he's not really a doctor, either, and the colonists refused to call him anything but. He decides why not? A doctor is kind, and good, and gentle. A healer, a wise man.
And when he wakes her from the dream chamber, after the foxes are done and gone, she decides to become Susan. No, Grandfather, not Susie or Sue. Just Susan.
Privately, though, he will never be able to think of her as anything but (arkytior), that little girl who spun fantastical tales of an old, old man in a fabulous time-and-space machine. He was very lonely, and so she decides to go with him.
And that is the start of it.
Susan is the one who comes up with the acronym for her. "See, Grandfather, it's sort of like a name," she explains.
"Hmph," he grumps. "It's a machine, child, not a person."
Susan just laughs at him.
Pretty soon everyone adopts the phrase, and TARDIS she was/is/will always be.
The thing they don't realize is that Susan is twice their ages combined. They treat her like a child, and they view him with distrust. Barbara is alright, he supposes, but Sir Chesterton-Chatterhouse he wouldn't mind getting rid of at the soonest opportunity.
"It's another dimension."
"It's basically another dimension—what?" The Doctor stutters to a halt. Rory Williams glares at him.
"After what happened with Prisoner Zero I've been reading up on all the latest scientific theories," Rory explains. It's apparent that the young man likes one-upping the Doctor. How rude. "FTL travel. Parallel universes."
The Doctor stares him down. "I like the bit when someone says 'It's bigger on the inside.' I always look forward to that." If not for Amy, he thinks, he wouldn't mind of getting rid of Rory Williams at the earliest opportunity.
If not for Amy, Rory Williams wouldn't even have been invited along at all.
They want to leave. Ian and Barbara want to leave. He hadn't thought his heart could break anymore after Susan left, but he feels a tiny rip in his heart for his human companions. They had been the very first, and he had loved them.
It's always going to be like this, he realizes. Always. My heart will always break for them.
Vicki is pleading with him. "Doctor?" He turns towards her reluctantly. He doesn't want to listen to reason. He wants to be belligerent and old and fussy and stubborn as a mule and why would they want to leave him?
"Doctor," Vicki continues, gaining steam as she goes, "you've got to let them go if they want to. They want to be back in their own time."
Oh, Vicki Pallister. The girl who thirsted for adventure. The girl who would inspire Shakespeare and Chaucer. Sometimes she spoke too much sense.
"Don't you want to go with them child?" he asks her. Do you want to leave this old man all alone? He isn't sure how he would handle rattling about through space and time all by himself. He'd probably make a spectacular mess of things.
Vicki stares at him as if he were insane. "What for? What would I want to be back in their time for? I want to be with you." And that warmed his heart brighter than anything. He would never be able to forget Vicki Pallister, because she had been the first to crave stars as much as he did. "Doctor," she adds, "you've got to help them."
"Don't you realize, child, the enormous risks?" There are worse things than death.
But she is stubborn. "But it's up to them." And there's that naivety.
The Doctor sighs, and for the first time since he'd heard the pronouncement he turns to face them. "Do you both realize the enormous risks?" My dear, dear friends. Please don't leave.
"We do," Ian says, and he is and forever always will be the Knight of Joffa, gaze direct, clear, and uncompromising. Ian has made up his mind. He wants to go home. "We still want to go." And yes, he and Barbara are holding hands.
"Please, Doctor." Barbara now.
He'd always liked Barbara better anyways.
"Very well," the Doctor sighs, defeated. "Follow me. But you must follow my instructions implicitly, understood? Implicitly! You—you will both have about a fifty-fifty chance." Brisk now, brisk and clear. You can cry later. "Follow me, come along."
They leave him, and he will come to find that they will always leave him.
"I suppose . . . they break my heart."
Ian and Barbara burst into laughter, cawing like crows. The bus driver is affronted. The Doctor and Vicki watch them on the scanner, all the way in the year three thousand and fifty-two.
"Doctor!" Vicki exclaims. "They made it! They made it!"
He smiles. "I shall miss them. Yes, I shall miss them, silly old fusspots." And then, because Vicki craves stars too, he says, "Come on, my dear, it's time we were off."
He is happy that they are happy. And he supposes, in the end, that's the only important thing.
Jamie and Zoe. Jamie and Zoe. Forced to forget about him. His fault, really. Should have known better than to take them to Gallifrey. Should have known better.
Should have known better.
He isn't even given the luxury to cry for them before he's ripped wide open and sent into exile.
(born infant scre—)
Gallifrey is calling, and Sarah—oh, funny, little, wonderful Sarah Jane Smith—of course she wants to go. Of course she does.
Of course she does.
"Ahem!" she reappears inside the console room, carrying her things in several shopping bags.
"You're a good girl, Sarah," he blurts out. Why did he say that, he hadn't meant to say that, he'd just said it. He tells himself that it's a good thing she has to leave now, before he falls in too deep.
It's a good thing. Really, it is.
"Oh, look, it's too late apologizing now. Everything's packed. I've got to go."
"What?" he breathes, and he makes the mistake of looking at her. "How do you know?"
But she's just as confused as he is. "What?" Oh. She had been joking.
His hearts twist inside of him, and it hurts. He's surprised it hurts so much. Like someone had punched him wide open with a plasma gun.
"I've had the call from Gallifrey," he explains.
"So?" she laughs. But he can see she's starting to get it. A slow, dawning horror that you desperately want to shove in the Cupboard of Things that Scare You.
"So I can't take you with me." Twist. "You've got to go." No, not a plasma gun. It's poison. It hurts like poison crawling through his veins.
"Oh, come on. I can't miss Gallifrey." Now she is frantic. "Look, I was only joking. Hey. Hey, you're not going to regenerate again, are you?" As if that is something far less horrible than being left behind. Sometimes Sarah is wonderful because she is human and she understands, and it hurts him.
"Not this time. I don't know what's going to happen."
"You're playing one of your jokes on me, just trying to get me to stay."
Yes, definitely poison.
"No. I've received the call, and as a Time Lord I must obey."
"Alone?" She's given up trying. She knows, she knows.
Sarah is standing at the door, and she's leaving him. Sarah refuses to cry. She smiles instead.
Oh Sarah, you are cruel.
"Don't forget me."
"Oh Sarah. Don't you forget me."
"Bye, Doctor." She makes as if to leave, but turns back one last time. "You know, travel does broaden the mind."
"Yes," he says. "Till we meet again Sarah."
He doesn't stay to watch her laugh. The Doctor does what he does best.
Sarah is in shock. Sarah cannot believe he left her. It takes two days for her to break down and cry.
Afterwards she decides to go by Sarah Jane, and no, not Sarah, thank you.
"Grandfather, tell me a story."
"I don't know any stories."
"Well I do. Once upon a time—that's how you always must start stories you know."
"Where'd you hear that?"
"Mummy told me. Once upon a time there was an old man who had a beautiful granddaughter. One day they decided to go see the stars and left in a ship that could go to them. And they had lots of fun, and lots of adventures, and then they came back home. The End."
"That's a . . . very nice story."
"Well, it's not all of it. But it's too long for me; I can't know it all. I'm only a little girl."
"Yes. And it's time for little girls to go to sleep."
And there she is, standing right in front of him.
"I heard the call, Grandfather, and I came."
"Arkytior," he hisses, pulling her to one side. "You're not—why are you—your son! Your husband! What will they think? If we lose this war—"
"Then we will never have existed. My son will have never been born. David will grow old with someone else, will die without ever having met me." Her gaze is direct and clear. It pins him to the floor. "But I knew you would need me, so I came. Silly Grandfather."
He wants to cry.
He does not think they will be able to win this war.
And he was right.
Better a broken heart than no heart at all.
"Do you want to know why I initially picked Rose?" River turns to look at him, startled.
"What?" The books she's holding sags in her hands. It's late in his time line and early in hers and he still can't quite seem to look at her.
"Why I picked Rose." He picks viciously at a loose thread on his cuff, twisting it around his finger until it hurts, until the thread snaps. "Don't you want to know why?"
"Why are you—?"
She takes a deep breath. Her voice, when it comes, picks over the words, careful to not break a single one. "Why did you choose Rose?"
"In the language of our people her name meant roses. Arkytior. Her mother loved human things—too much of me in her, I suppose." His mouth twists, and he doesn't look at River, just stares at the university's books. After moment she decides it's safe to hug him, and he buries his face into her neck and they stay like that for a long, long time.
The Doctor turns on her because there's no one else he can trust enough to hold up through his anger. And it's selfish of him, he knows it is, he knows it hurts her, but quite frankly he just doesn't care.
You think I wanted this? I didn't do this! This wasn't me!
River tells him the truth and breaks his heart because she knows she's the only one who would.
This was exactly you. All this. All of it. You make them so afraid. When you began all those years ago, sailing off to see the Universe, did you ever think you'd become this? The man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name. "Doctor." The word for healer and wise man throughout the Universe. We get that word from you, you know. If you carry on the way you are, what might that word come to mean?
He doesn't—he doesn't know anymore.
The last time he sees Sarah Jane she's dying, although neither one of them mentions it. The TARDIS brings him, and he sees her and he knows. But his Sarah doesn't want to talk about it; she doesn't want to say the word that hovers between everyone and her.
The Doctor's always been spectacular at ignoring the proverbial elephant, so they have a grand old time telling of days gone by. He delights in making his Sarah laugh one more time with his "daft baby face."
Luke sees him out.
The young man clears his throat. His eyes are red-rimmed from crying. "The doctor's say Mom has little less than a month. I figured I'd come home when it's over, take some online classes, take care of Sky." The Doctor knows what he's going to ask. "Can you—?"
"No. I've—I've already been to her funeral. That's how I knew to come here."
When he leaves Sarah he cries. It's definitely, definitely poison. Worse than the Judas tree.
He never talks about Donna Noble. He never really gets over her. The Doctor Donna—oh, she was fantastic.
Rose Tyler. He never did tell her he loved her.
Romana disappearing into the Neverwere.
Astrid Peth, flying amongst the stars forever.
He never did say goodbye to Alistair. And now, thanks to a well-meaning nurse, he never can.
"There's a place set for you," Rory says, and the Doctor forgets for a moment how to breathe.
"But you didn't know I was coming," he manages to choke out. "Why would you set me a place?" Was River here?
"Oh, we always do," Amy says. And because she isn't Amy without insulting him, she adds, "It's Christmas, you moron."
"Come on," Rory agrees. The Doctor is able to hear what he's really trying to say: It's time to come home.
They go inside, leaving the door open for him. Giving him time to breathe. Sometimes the Ponds understand him all too well. He can't move. He can't move. Slowly, his legs wood, his feet led, he moves. He moves into the house.
He doesn't know what to do. That's new. That's a new feeling.
To his surprise he realizes he is crying. He wipes away a tear, stares at it. It dangles from his fingertip. It reflects the whole world. He feels fit to burst with all the emotions trapped inside of him. Humanity is so fragile, but it's emotions are so raw. For once he is glad. He is glad he is so, so human.
Relief. It's called relief.
I am home. The Doctor smiles, shuts the door behind him. I am home.
"Grandfather?" Susan leans against the console. It'll take some time getting used to calling her Susan. He isn't sure if he ever really will. "Do you think we can go to Earth next?"
"Well," she reasons, "the refugees we met were human Earthlings, and they were simply splendid. And Earth is barely known by the universe; it's a backwater planet. The Consul wouldn't think to look for us there."
The child had a point. They would be able to hide much more easily there. Stay under the radar of the Consul. Maybe he could actually learn how to drive this blasted machine. It never went anywhere he wanted it to.
Besides. He, too, was interested in these humans. He had been deeply impressed by the refugees. If all humans were like this he could see himself making a home there. Earth. What a funny little name for a planet.
The Doctor smiles. "Earth it is," he agrees.
Humans. A whole new adventure. He can't wait to begin.
So. I discovered the expanded universe today. Woohoo. For the information on Susan and the First Doctor I went to tardis(DOT)wikia(DOT)com. Fabulous place. I've tried to make everything in this story either canon or at the very least I have taken pains to ensure that canon does not contradict it.
In a way this was also very much my tribute to the late Elisabeth Sladen, who was a wonderful lady and a wonderful actress. You brought us Sarah Jane, and for that we will ever be grateful. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Written while listening to "Life Among the Distant Stars" by Murray Gold. For me that is always Sarah's Theme, and nobody will ever be able to tell me otherwise.
Doctor Who (c) BBC