A LOVE FOR ALL TIME
By Matt G. Leger
Based on characters created by Sydney Newman, Stephen Moffat and John Nathan-Turner
"You're sure?" said the Doctor, standing in the TARDIS Control Room and facing Luke Smith with a very intense look on his face. "You're absolutely certain?"
"We buried her, Doctor," replied the boy, now a young man in his face and manner if nothing else. "I had to identify the body -- next of kin and all that. And UNIT checked it out pretty thoroughly before they let us have the funeral. It wasn't any sort of duplicate or alien illusion or anything like that; it was her." His own face was grim.
"I see," said the Doctor at last. He stood there, hands in the pockets of his long black jacket, the T-shirt beneath it with "The Who" screen-printed on the front looking even more incongruous with it than usual. "I'm sorry, Luke. I am so, so sorry." Clara Oswald stood beside them both, looking at the Doctor with grave concern in her face.
"Thank you, Doctor," Luke replied. "You should have been at the funeral; so many people were there for her. Her old friends from UNIT -- some guy named Benton, Dr. Sullivan, Mike Yates, and Kate Stewart. Some of the current staff, too. And people from the papers and magazines she wrote for, even some of the celebrities she'd interviewed. The BBC did a memorial special on her last week, talked about all the big stories she'd broken, about her work with UNIT...and with you. Kate said they tried to contact you, but they couldn't get through."
"You're right," said the Doctor sadly. "I should have been there. We were trapped at the event horizon of a black hole -- no comms in or out until we could escape."
"You didn't know," said Clara, taking his arm. "It's not your fault."
"Did she get them?" asked the Doctor, his own face now grim.
Luke nodded. "She got them -- she saved us all. Those alien bastards won't try that again anytime soon, believe me."
"Good," said the Doctor with satisfaction.
Luke slid a white envelope out of a pocket in his own green jacket. "Before she left, Mum gave me this. She said that if...if anything happened to her and you showed up, I was to give it to you." He proffered it to the Doctor.
For a moment, the already-lined face of the Time Lord's twelfth incarnation looked even older and more care-worn than usual. Then, slowly, he raised his left hand and took the envelope. "Thank you," he said finally. Luke went to hug him and for once, the Doctor didn't resist. After a moment, they broke the wordless embrace, and the Doctor watched as Luke turned and left through the console room's outer door.
For a long while after Luke had left, the Doctor stood there, leaning against the central console, staring at the small, cream-colored envelope in his hand. Clara walked up to him gingerly, seeing the anguish and pain in her friend's face. "Doctor," she said, "are you all right?"
"No," said the Doctor bitterly. "No, Clara, I am about as far from 'all right' as it is possible to get just now." He didn't look up. "First the Brigadier, and now her. One more old and dear friend I let down. One more I wasn't there for when it mattered."
Clara laid a gentle hand on his arm. "You mustn't blame yourself so, Doctor," she said softly. "You can't save all of us all of the time; no one can. Do you really think she'd want you blaming yourself for her death?"
The Doctor was silent for a long moment. Then finally he sighed. "No, I suppose not," he said. "She was so caring that way...so selfless. You know, one time we were on this space station -- I think it was sometime in the one hundredth-sixty-first century. I'd just had my third regeneration -- curly brown hair and that ridiculous scarf -- but anyhow, she got herself stuck in this crawlspace. She started getting hysterical with fear. I couldn't reach her to pull her out, so...I had to pretend I was disgusted with her, say harsh, cruel things to her...get her angry enough to snap out of it and get out of there. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do." He looked up at last. "She very nearly broke my nose when she did finally emerge...and with the nose I had then, that would've taken some doing." He was grinning in spite of himself.
"She sounds like a very special person," Clara said gently. "I wish I could have met her."
"Oh, she was," replied the Doctor, nodding his head, "she was indeed. And as for your meeting her..." He shrugged as he set the console controls for launch. "Well, this is the TARDIS, after all, so you might still do; you never know. We could run into her when she was a little girl...or perhaps when she was with one of my earlier selves." His lean, lined face turned reflective. "I hope you do meet her; you two would probably get on like a house on fire. You've both got that really annoying kind of spunk." Clara giggled. He shoved the start lever over, then heaved his shoulders and sighed. "Can you just...give me a moment?" he asked. "I don't mean to be rude, but..."
"No problem," Clara replied. "I understand. I'll just go have a bit of a lie-down, then, shall I? Is there a bed somewhere around here? Or a sofa?"
"Down that corridor, two--no, three intersections, then left at the third and go three more, then left again at the fourth and first door on the right," he said, pointing at the nearest interior doorway. "It's...it's the old bedroom Rose used to use when she was aboard." She didn't move. "Go on, Clara," he said. "I may not be all right now...but I will be, I promise; I always am. Don't worry."
"All right, Doctor, but if you need me, come find me," Clara said sternly.
The Doctor nodded again. She squeezed his arm gently, then turned and started to leave. Then the Doctor said, "Wait." He touched her arm. "I just had a silly notion. Would you mind if I ...read this to you? I think...I think it might help. And it would give you a bit of a chance to know her."
"Are you sure? It's not too private?" Clara asked.
"Well, I don't know! I haven't opened the bloody thing yet, have I?"
"Then go ahead," said Clara, gesturing at the envelope in his hand. She leaned against the console and folded her arms, waiting.
The Doctor looked down at the envelope once more, then took a deep breath and squared his narrow shoulders. "Not going to get any easier staring at the envelope, you old fool," he muttered to himself. Then he tore open the flap, reached in and pulled out two folded sheets of paper. A scent wafted up from it; the Doctor smiled.
"Perfume?" asked Clara. "She must have really cared for you."
The Doctor nodded and smiled in spite of himself. "'White Roses' -- it was her favorite. She always wore it around me; thought I didn't notice." Then he held it out to Clara. "On second thought...would you read it to me? Please? Your voice sounds more like hers than mine ever could."
Clara took the letter, looking a bit uncertain but game. "All right," she said. She adjusted her glasses slightly, then unfolded and bent over the paper sheets in her hand. "She's got lovely penmanship," she remarked, the schoolteacher in her coming out for a peek.
"She was a journalist by trade," said the Doctor. "She came up in the days before personal computers, when they were still either writing things down on paper or clacking about on typewriters." He made waggling motions with his fingers. "Said she hated the bloody things -- that's why she'd learned shorthand."
Clara raised an eyebrow. "Really? Pittman or Gregg?"
"Both," replied the Doctor with a small smile. "She was never one to do things by halves. And what would you know about shorthand, you cheeky infant?"
Clara grinned smugly. "Believe it or not, not all of us young whippersnappers only communicate by texting, Doctor," she said tartly. "I learned Gregg when I was a temp for a while, before I started teaching."
The Doctor smiled again and shook his gray-curled head. "Clara Oswald, you never cease to surprise me."
"Good," replied Clara, smiling back. "I'd hate to think I was getting boring."
"Never." The Doctor shook his head again. "Well, go on, then," he said, waving impatiently at her.
Softly, hesitantly at first, Clara read the spidery cursive handwriting on the top sheet aloud, her voice echoing slightly in the dimmed Control Room, now lit only by the softly glowing roundels on the walls and the console's transparent column moving up and down steadily as the TARDIS engines thrummed.
"My dearest Doctor:
If you're reading this, I'm sorry to say the very great likelihood is that I am now dead. My son Luke has instructions to give you this letter only in the event that I die without you being present. I've written it ahead of time, just in case...for as you know, the work I do -- both the paying kind and the work you taught me to do -- carries its own special risks, risks that I freely and in full knowledge chose to undertake ...and still do.
If I know you -- and no matter what face you're wearing now, I do -- you're already blaming yourself for not being there to save me. Please, Doctor, please don't. You've saved my life so many times, and I know beyond even the tiniest shadow of a doubt that if there were any way you could possibly have saved me this time, you would have done so. You literally move the heavens and the Earth for people you care about; that's one of the many reasons I've always loved and admired you.
And sooner or later, there comes a time for everyone when nothing at all can save them. For you, that might not be until after your 12th regeneration; but for the rest of us who aren't Time Lords, it comes far sooner than we expect...no matter how long we live. Just please, this one time, let it go. Let me go and don't try changing history to save me. Know that I died doing what I wanted to do, what I needed to do, what I loved to do...and know also that I have always loved and will always love you, with all my heart. Even after more than three decades of writing for a living, I still haven't the words to tell you how much. Don't let my death change or dishearten you; keep on being the hero the universe so badly needs -- but for God's sake, don't do it alone.
You need companions to keep you grounded, to give you the non-Time Lord perspective on things...and you always do so much better when you have help. People talk about not seeing the forest for the trees; sometimes I think that, as good a man as you are, all you ever see is the forest...unless you have someone around to remind you to look for the trees. Luke will gladly help you in any way he can, if you let him, and so will all of us on Earth who have known you--past, present and future. Don't be afraid to call on us -- let us be your 'Secret Army' when the job gets too big for you alone, or you can't be here to do it. We all know the risks, we all can take care of ourselves...and we all believe in you and what you stand for, fiercely and without reservation.
Clara looked up at last. "She's right, you know," she said gravely. "We do."
The Doctor nodded. "Go on."
Goodbye, my sweet Doctor...and I beseech you, don't grieve for me too long or too deeply. I will always be there with you in spirit (at least, if there's anything to this afterlife stuff), watching over you and our friends, and helping if I can. Don't be sad that I've died; be glad that I've lived...because thanks to you, I have lived as very few people get to do. And I am eternally glad that I was blessed to be part of your life...or rather, your lives. (grin) After all, travel really does broaden the mind. (smile)
All my love for all of time,
Your Sarah Jane
P.S.: The Brigadier and K-9 both say hello."
Clara looked up again, sniffling. Her eyes were suspiciously bright and moist-looking, and her voice broke. "She's drawn a little smiley face next to her name." She handed the letter back to him.
The Doctor chuckled reading the postscript, shaking his head and smiling. "That is so her," he said. "That is so totally her."
"It's beautiful," Clara said, her voice trembling. "You're right; she was very special." She looked up at him and sniffled again.
"You know, you should see what she looked like," said the Doctor suddenly. "Just so you know what to look for." He leaned over the console and fiddled with a few controls, then swiveled the monitor mounted above it toward Clara. On the screen appeared a series of images of a chestnut-tressed, pale-skinned young woman in 1970s pantsuits and other outfits from varying time periods, first with the Doctor's third incarnation and then his fourth; and more recent ones of the same woman, now middle-aged but gracefully so, with his tenth and eleventh selves and her gang of young allies, led by Luke, and other companions.
"She was lovely," remarked Clara.
The Doctor nodded. "Inside as well as out," he said. "I'm not at all sure she ever realized how attractive she was. She was so concerned about being judged for her work and ability, rather than her looks; a bit of a women's libber, she was. Could be a bit irritating at times...but I wouldn't have changed her one bit. Not for the whole universe."
"I can see that." Clara nodded, putting an arm around him and leaning close. "Thank you, Doctor, for sharing her with me -- thank you so very much. I'm truly honored." She wiped her eyes and nose with a hand.
"You're welcome," said the Doctor, his own voice none too steady. "And thank you for reading the letter."
"My pleasure. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go find some tissues or something," Clara said, sniffling and laying a gentle hand on his arm.
"Same room as the bed," said the Doctor. "On the night table. I keep a full box there for guests."
"Thanks." Clara squeezed his arm tenderly, then started to leave...and then hesitated once more. "Doctor? Will you be all right now?" she asked soberly.
The Time Lord thought a moment, then looked up at her and smiled. "Yes, Clara," he said quietly, nodding, "I do believe I will."
"Good night, Doctor." Clara smiled at him, turned back and headed into the corridor. The Doctor watched her go, then stood there alone for a moment longer, looking at the letter still in his hand, taking one last whiff of the perfume. "Good night, Sarah Jane," he whispered softly before planting a gentle kiss on the written side of the paper, then folding up the letter and putting it in an inside pocket of his jacket. Then he set the TARDIS autopilot to carry them to their next destination, and followed the path Clara had taken down the corridor.
Doctor Who ©2015 by BBC Worldwide. No infringement on existing copyrights is intended or should be inferred.