"The Prime Minister's wife?"
"Never thought she wanted to see you, though. Hard to tell with her. And then she had the accident..."
"Where else do I need to sign?"
"Here. And there. Things were different back then, weren't they? Before all these aliens showed up. I mean, there were aliens before, but I didn't realize how many."
No one really had, even after the Dalek invasions in 2010, the planets in the sky, and all of the other strange things that should've been obvious to everyone. As the nurse led the way down the dark hallway, she continued rambling on about alien invasions and the missing children of London. He'd stopped listening pretty much from the moment she started talking to him.
London had changed. He used to think he could take a holiday from Earth, leave the world in the very safe hands of a Cardiff team up north and a small group of investigators off of Bannerman road. It was very like having a large, extended family.
It was. But now that capable team in Cardiff was gone and the very capable investigators of Bannerman road were reduced to one.
The nurse stopped in front of the door labeled Chandra, R. She slid open the window to glance in, and then pushed her key into the lock.
"She doesn't get many visitors. Her parents used to, but they passed away during the Slitheen attack of London. Do you remember that?"
He looked over the small woman's head to the window. Very little was visible, apart from the white, padded walls. "I wasn't here," he said.
"Funny," the nurse said, her voice puzzled. "It was all over the news." She gave a small shrug then turned the large handle on the door, pulling it open.
The tiny room was dimly lit by the high, barred window. There was no bed, just the soft, worn padding that covered everything. By the foot of the door was a plastic tray of food, untouched. Curled up in one dark corner was a lanky woman in a hospital gown. Her long, dark hair was tangled and matted, and her bony knees were pulled up to her chest.
"Miss Chandra," the nurse said. "You've got a visitor, sweetheart." Not waiting for a response, she sighed and turned back to him. "She's been like this ever since her parents passed away. Before then, too, but not quite to this level."
"I'd like to speak to her alone," he said, his eyes not leaving the woman's form.
"Suit yourself." She turned and left, shutting the door behind him.
His red trainers sunk a little into the soft floor. It was a bit like walking in a room made of bedding, and under any other circumstances, he might've been inclined to jump up and down to try to test if it was just like a bed. But he wasn't the same man he had been ten years ago, just as this woman wasn't the same girl she'd been before.
"Hello, Rani," he said. When she didn't reply, he crouched in front of her, and she curled up tighter.
Peering behind a curtain of hair was a young woman, maybe twenty-five, with deep-set dark eyes. She looked like she'd been crying, like she'd been crying for a very long time.
"I don't know you," she said. Her voice was quiet and hoarse.
"I'm a friend of Sarah's," he said. "Do you remember Sarah? Used to live across the street from you when you were a girl."
There was a pause, and then the girl said, "Sarah Jane. She didn't like being called Sarah."
He was a little surprised by that fact. "She didn't mind me."
The woman's eyebrows knitted together, like the concept of him being different from everyone else didn't make sense. That sort of a petulant, confused expression really belonged on someone much younger, he thought. But who could properly grow up in a place like this?
"And you were her friend?" she asked. "She didn't have a lot of friends."
"She had me," he said, firmly. Once, she did. Once, back when he was younger and thought he had the whole universe and time enough. He promised her once that he'd always be there for her. But then, one day, he decided to visit, just to say 'hi' and bring a present to make up for all the birthdays he missed. He landed the TARDIS right in her attic. Her empty, dusty attic with a dead, rotting Xylok in one corner and no Sarah Jane to be found. At first, he thought she'd moved. Maybe decided to take her son out somewhere in the country. Maybe go back to UNIT? But no, she was gone. Utterly and completely.
But that was always his life, wasn't it? Figuring out just how important things were right when it was too late. And he was never very good at keeping his promises.
"I just didn't get here fast enough," he said.
"I don't think you could've," she said, shaking her head. The action was rough, as though she was forcing herself to move after a very long time staying still. She looked up at him through her hair. "How did you know I was here? Nobody visits me anymore."
"Maria told me," he said.
She laughed. It was quiet and bitter. "Maria. Of course. Everyone's favorite girl. Bet this wouldn't have happened to her. Everyone loved her very much."
He shook his head. "Do you know what happened?" When the woman didn't respond, he asked again, more firmly. "Rani, do you know what happened to Sarah and her son?"
The woman choked back a sob; one he imagined had been stuck in her throat for a very long time. "They're gone."
"Gone," he repeated. "Gone where?"
"They're just gone," she whispered.
He shook his head. "Rani, they're not just gone. They've been wiped from the timeline. Every moment of her---of their life after that day in 2009 has stopped existing, completely. I can't even find her."
"I wanted them to leave me alone." He wasn't entirely certain she was still talking to him. "I wanted them to leave me alone because I was angry. And now they're gone. Clyde, too, but you'd have missed it, what with all of the disappearances afterwards." She looked up at him through her hair again. "I got what I wanted."
He got back to his feet and sighed. It wasn't unlike trying to get information about the Master from Lucy Saxon. Too far gone from the loss, and no matter how often he promised her he'd make it better after the Valiant, it was too late. The human brain often made very little sense to him, but times like this just emphasized how different they were. And he was never very good at keeping his promises.
He turned back towards the door, but a hand caught his trouser cuff in a tight grip. She'd uncurled, for the moment, and she looked up at him, eyes wide with desperation.
"You're the Doctor, aren't you?" she asked. "You were her friend?"
"That's me," he said.
For the first time in what he imagined to be a very, very long time, the woman on the floor smiled. A wide, relieved smile, like someone had just handed her the solution to the universe's most difficult puzzle.
"I tried so hard to find you," she breathed. "I tried for years. Mr. Smith would send out radio waves, trying to pull you back, but you never came."
He nodded. "I was busy," he said, though his voice was more guilty than irritated. Busy worrying about his own death, busy worrying about the other parts of the universe he thought needed saving.
"Can you bring them back?" she asked, her voice rushed. "I made a wish and a ship made them all go away, but you can bring them back, can't you? Eve said she was a time sensitive, you know what they are, don't you? Sarah said you could do anything, can you bring her back?"
Time sensitive. There were so many races of time sensitives in the universe. So many races with the ability to pull people from timelines. If it were something he recognized, he'd have seen the traces along the timeline. He'd have seen them, and reversed it. This was something new. Something new, or something extinct. And whatever it was, it took Sarah Jane. His Sarah Jane, the one he watched grow from a brilliant girl into an even more brilliant woman. Time brought them together again and again, and now she was gone.
He was getting too old to struggle for battles that were already lost.
He shook his head. "I don't think I can."
"But you have to!" she cried. Her voice was tinged with panic. "You have to! You're the Doctor! You have to save them!"
"They're gone, Rani," he said, stepping away. "I just wanted to know why. And now I do."
Her grip stayed firm. "You can't just leave like this!" she shouted. "It was a mistake! I was just angry! I didn't really want them to go!"
"We all make mistakes," he said. "My mistake is that I should've come back sooner. Among other things." He offered her a small, sympathetic smile. "Yours is a wish made in anger. We've got to live with that."
"Please." Her voice was no longer loud, and tears brimmed in her eyes. "Please, don't leave me. I don't want to be alone. They're gone, and now I'm alone."
He wanted, very much, to hate her. No matter how simple a mistake it was, her mistake took Sarah Jane from him. Deprived Luke of a life, and, apparently, also took away some bloke the Doctor had never heard of before. He wanted to hate her for it, but he couldn't. He understood. He made a mistake (a decision) a long time ago and lost everyone he cared for. Everyone. And it hurt. It hurt enough that if he were a human, maybe he'd have gone mad, too. And now, this woman was in the same place. The exact same place.
He knelt next to her again and wrapped his arms around her in a hug. She froze, a little stunned, and then reciprocated, clinging to him tightly with long, bony arms.
"I'm so sorry," she cried against his shoulder. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
He wasn't entirely sure how long he held onto her like that. Long enough that her tears finally subsided and she went a little limp in his embrace. He knew from her records that she'd been in this place for eight years. How many of those were without visitors? Without hugs or anyone to care for her? He knew what that was like, too. The TARDIS was a friend in her own right, but sometimes she might've been a cell, cold and empty in the void of space.
He placed her gently back on the floor, where she curled up again, though not as tight as a moment ago.
"Don't leave me," she begged. Her voice was hoarse from crying. "I don't want to be lonely."
He smoothed her hair back. "I'll be back," he promised.
He would, he promised himself. He'd make up for everything that went wrong with Sarah. He'd save Sarah's friend, and then maybe, somehow, they'd save her and Luke. He wouldn't let them down.
The nurse knocked on the door four times, signaling him that he had to leave. He stood and gave her another, small smile.
But he was never very good at keeping promises.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who / The Sarah Jane Adventures
Word Count: 1,957