Sarah Jane answered the door and nearly fell over in shock. The Doctor gave her a watery smile and cleared his throat twice before murmuring, "Hello Sarah Jane. Is it okay if I come in?"
Composing herself after her surprise, Sarah Jane nodded quickly. "Yes. Yes, of course." She held the door open for him and he walked through her hallway and into her living room.
"This is probably unexpected," he said.
She sat down on the opposite sofa to him and replied, "A bit, yeah." And then she waited patiently for him to talk.
He stared at the floor for a few moments, then looked at her, his eyes so very, very sad. "I know that she kept in contact with you. So I thought you ought to know the truth about what happened."
The nervous feeling in Sarah Jane's stomach grew worse. "I – I saw the list of the dead," she whispered sympathetically. "I'm so sorry, Doctor."
Something flashed in his eyes and then was gone, leaving him looking hollow again. "She's not – she's not dead, Sarah."
Sarah Jane frowned in concern. "Doctor - "
"She's safe and she's with her family and she's – she's not dead," he said firmly.
"But - "
"Don't look at me like that, I'm not being delusional. She's not."
"Isn't she with me?" he finished for her, exhaling roughly. "Well. She's trapped in a parallel universe."
Sarah Jane's eyebrows climbed her forehead. "Oh dear."
"I'll never see her again," he said next. His voice was scratchy.
"I'm sorry," Sarah Jane said earnestly. There was a small pause. "Would you like some tea?"
His gaze was far away for a moment, so she repeated her question softly, and he jerked back to awareness. "Um. Yes. Okay. Thank you."
"You're welcome. I'll just be a moment." She went to the kitchen and turned on the kettle, readying two mugs with teabags and sugar, and returned to the living room whilst it boiled. "So. Tell me everything."
Half hour and a couple of teas later, the Doctor had told her the story, along with details about his run-in with Donna and the Racnoss. He didn't tell her about his and Rose's goodbye on the beach, it felt too personal even to share with Sarah Jane. With a long breath, he finished, "Anyway, like I said. I knew she stayed in touch, so I didn't want you to wonder…"
"How did you know that Rose called me every now and then?"
The Doctor grinned, then, briefly and in memory. "She used to pretend that she was ringing her mother. But I knew the difference between her phone calls – the difference between what she'd tell Jackie and what she'd tell you. It was easy to guess, really."
"I saw Jackie's name there too, on the list," Sarah Jane said. "I'm glad that she's alive, that she's with her."
He glanced at the floor. "Proper family now. Rose has her mum and the parallel version of her father, and Mickey. Oh, and the baby." Sarah Jane gasped, and he quickly clarified, "Jackie's. Not Rose's."
She sighed in relief. "Blimey, you nearly gave me a heart attack there."
"Imagine how I felt when Rose said the same thing to me," he remarked. "As casual as you like, just dropping it into the last conversation I'd ever have with her." He shook his head with a wry smile. "Impossible thing. Anyway, I'm sure…I'm sure she'll be happy. She's got everything she could want."
"Except adventure," Sarah Jane put in.
"Oh, I reckon she'll have plenty of that, too. She said that she'd join their version of Torchwood. It's a much – a much better version, trust me, and she'll…well. They'll need her." He nodded resolutely.
"How do you know?"
"How did she tell you all that, about the baby and the job?"
"Ah. Yeah, I managed to get a goodbye to her. When there was a tiny slither of a gap left, I was able to send a projection through. We had a couple of minutes to say goodbye." He closed his eyes, looking pained. "After all that, we had just two minutes."
"Oh, Doctor," Sarah Jane said sadly, placing her hand over his. She squeezed it gently in a gesture of comfort.
He opened his eyes. "You're a very kind and gracious woman, Sarah Jane."
She shrugged. "You're my friend. And so was she. I really liked her."
He nodded and let out a whoosh of breath.
"So, she'll have a little brother or sister to take care of as well, which is an adventure in itself," Sarah Jane continued. "That must feel strange, for someone who's been an only child for twenty years or so."
"It'll make it easier for her, I think."
"To move on," he clarified.
"Do you really want her to?"
He looked at her in alarm. "I can't just expect her to pine for me forever, Sarah. I'm never going to get her back, so she might as well live a fantastic life without me. I don't want her to be unhappy."
Sarah Jane swallowed hard and nodded. "Of course." She paused, then, weighing up her next words. She released his hand and picked up her cup, taking a few sips of her tea. He had that faraway look in his eyes again, so she didn't think he minded the break in conversation. She put her cup down and said, quietly and carefully, "When you spoke to her, to say goodbye…"
"Yes?" he prompted her to continue, meeting her gaze again.
"Did you tell her?" she whispered.
He knew, instantly, inexplicably, what she meant. She could tell, because his face crumpled and he quickly brought his hand up to hide it. He was silent for thirty seconds or so, just breathing deeply, his thumb and fingers pinching the bridge of his nose and surreptitiously pressing against his tear ducts.
And then, he said, in a low, sorrow-filled voice, "I ran out of time."
Sarah Jane bit her lip anxiously. "But she knew. She did know, Doctor."
"Yeah. Would've been nice for her to hear it for once though." He turned and looked at her, then, something fierce in his eyes. "I was going to say it. I was. I would've said. In fact I did say it, but the projection had cut off before she could hear it, and -"
"I believe you," Sarah Jane said kindly. "It's okay. She'll know that you were about to say it. Not that it needed saying, really, with the way you looked at her."
The Doctor arched an eyebrow.
"You were kind of obvious about it, Doctor."
"That's not a bad thing."
"No," he agreed. "No, I suppose it's not. I'd've hated for her to doubt it."
"When Canary Wharf happened…I didn't think you'd come here," she admitted quietly.
"Neither did I."
"Charming," she smiled.
"No, I just mean…it's difficult."
"You knew her, and…"
He sighed heavily. "I'm just sort of…lost. At the moment. Which is ridiculous." He chuckled self-deprecatingly, without humour. "I managed nine bloody centuries without her all right, for Rassilon's sake."
"That's not the same," Sarah Jane pointed out.
"I know," he sighed again. "I just can't believe it, not completely. It all feels so…we'd been separated before, now and then, but not for long, never for this long, but I still keep half-expecting her to walk into the console room. I can't seem to process it fully – the fact that I will never, ever see her again."
"Are you sure about that, for certain? Never ever?"
"Yes. I've tried everything I can think of. It's just not viable, her coming back."
"Well, she doesn't strike me the type who'd give up trying, even if you told her that," Sarah Jane acknowledged.
His lips twitched into a small smile. "No. Wouldn't be surprised if she tried to get back all by herself." His smile faded, then. "But she'll realise eventually that I was telling the truth. It really is impossible. Well, unless we risk destroying the entirety of time and space, of course."
"But you wouldn't do that."
"What would be the point?" he remarked. "The universes would collapse around us before I got the chance to reach her anyway. Horrible thing is, it wouldn't have been a problem if the Time Lords were still alive. Then again, she might not have been trapped there in the first place if they were. Then again, I might not have even met her if they hadn't all died." He paused; inhaled sharply. "Now there's a sobering thought."
Sarah Jane smiled in sympathy. "What will you do now?"
He shrugged a shoulder. "Same old life."
"You ought to find someone to travel with," she murmured.
"That's what Donna said."
He swallowed against the lump in his throat. "I just…it would feel…wrong, somehow. At the moment, at least. Even meeting someone new, let alone inviting them along."
"I know," she said, patting his arm.
He turned to look at her. "You could come for a trip," he suggested.
"I can't really, Doctor, I'm sorry."
He smiled. "I'm not exactly the best of company right now, am I?" he realised, with a small chuckle.
"It's not that. There's a lot changing in my life at the moment. I've got – I have Luke to think about. He's – I've adopted him. He's my son."
The Doctor's eyes widened. "Oh! Wow, that's – well, sudden, I suppose. How did that come about, then?"
"Oh, it's a long story," she smiled. "But he's brilliant. He's a teenager, though, so things are…complicated."
He laughed. "I see."
"He and his friends are very good at helping me, though."
"Sounds as though you've got yourself a little team," he said, sounding proud, sounding pleased.
"I have, yes."
"I'm very proud of you, Sarah. For everything…back then, and now." He wrapped her up in a hug. "Thank you," he murmured.
"You don't need to thank me."
"Oh, I do," he disagreed. "I definitely do." He pulled back and regarded her with a smile. "I'm glad I came to see you today."
"So am I," she smiled back.
He stood. "I should go, though. I've taken up enough of your time blathering on like an idiot."
She stood too. "Don't be daft. Listen, you can come and visit whenever you like, okay? Luke would love to meet you, I'm sure. He's at school at the moment, though."
He nodded. "I'd like that. Someday."
They walked out into the hall. "You will find someone to travel with?"
"Eventually," he sighed, running a hand through his hair.
"She wouldn't want you to be on your own, Doctor."
He opened her front door. "I know. I don't want her to be on her own, either."
"It'll get easier. As time goes on. You'll see," Sarah Jane assured him, giving him another hug. "At least you know that she's still alive and with her family."
"Yeah," he replied, in a mostly non-committal manner.
They pulled apart and she said, "Take care, Doctor."
"You too, Sarah." He smiled sadly. "Thank you for today. You didn't have to listen to all that…I know it wasn't very, uh." He cleared his throat awkwardly as he tried to find the right word. "Considerate, of me."
"Stop worrying about that," she said, shaking her head at him. "You love her. I understand, and I would never, ever blame you for that. Thank you for coming to tell me that she's okay. I'm so very glad that she survived it, Doctor."
He nodded. "Goodbye, Sarah Jane. Take care of that little team of yours, and make sure they take care of you."
"Oh, I will," she grinned. "Goodbye."
She watched him walk away, and something told her that she wouldn't see him for quite a while. But that was okay. She was here if he needed her. And she had lots to do.