"Here we are again, Harry." Sarah raised her glass to the empty chair. "Another year, another dinner alone." She finished her wine and refilled the glass. "This place is under new management now. They didn't even recognise me." They'd been coming to this Italian restaurant every year for long enough that the staff remembered them and greeted them by name. But not this year.
"I couldn't remember how long it had been since you left on your hush-hush mission, I had to check my diary. And not a word from you since." She'd found it had been longer than she cared to remember. "I should stop coming here. It only reminds me how much I miss you when I have dinner alone." She sighed. "But there's no one else I can talk to and it's not as if you have a grave I can go to."
Her glass was already half-empty and she didn't remember drinking any of it. Harry would tell her she shouldn't be drinking so much, but he wasn't here. She put the glass back down on the table all the same. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a woman at a nearby table giving her a funny look. Sarah turned away and caught sight of herself in the mirror that was set along one wall. Then she saw herself as others must have seen her: a sad, lonely, old woman having dinner on her own and talking to herself.
"They must all think I'm mad," she said to herself and smiled at the joke, however terrible it was. "Maybe I am, but I don't care." She poured out some of the water Harry always insisted they had and some of it sloshed onto the table. "Maybe I just miss my friends and my old life." She had a sip of the water. She would blame the wine for her melancholy, but the real cause was the occasion and the Christmas not long past that she'd spent on her own, watching the spaceship in the sky and wondering if the Doctor was alive.
"Now I'm just malingering." Since Harry wasn't there she had to imagine what he'd say to her. "Now then, old girl," she said, in a terrible imitation of Harry's voice, "things aren't all that bad. You still have your health." She shook her head. "As if that ever got anyone anywhere."
At the table opposite there were enough strange looks that she could see them without making an effort. She signalled the waiter to bring the bill. "I should stop coming here." But she knew she wouldn't, not until Harry was either found or dead.
Back home, she kicked off her shoes and lay back on the sofa. Despite the warm weather, her flat felt cold and empty. She'd never felt the need to get married and she didn't desperately want a husband, but it would be nice to return home and have someone there who was pleased to see you. Someone to talk to. But she'd either made enemies of all her friends or nearly got them killed. She was much better on her own and they were much better off without her.
Before she left for dinner she'd put her laptop on the floor, so she didn't have to reach far to pick it up now. She'd been running late, as usual, so she hadn't bothered shutting it down before she left. When she brought it back to life it showed her the article she'd been writing. It was about the vaccine Harry had created that had saved so many lives. Now he wasn't around she wanted people to know what he'd done. He should get recognition for it. But only a few people knew what the vaccine was really for and she couldn't publish that. Without that knowledge, he hadn't done anything that special.
She sighed, closed the document and turned back to her news searches. It was amazing how many UFO sightings there were, once you looked. Most of them were hoaxes, of course, but Sarah had been doing this long enough to spot the real ones. It helped that the Brigadier had sent her a few things about the forty UFO sightings there had been in one borough of London. If UNIT thought it worth keeping an eye on, it was definitely worth investigating. She really ought to make more of an effort to see the Brigadier, she thought. They communicated by email a few times a year, but that was usually work-related. The last Christmas party she'd been to at his house had been the year after Harry disappeared.
A few minutes cross-searching and she found that all those UFO sightings were in the same borough as a school that had record results and they began about the same time. There were no coincidences, and this certainly wasn't one. As she read about the headmaster she knew what angle to take to get access to information. A bit of flattery, the name of a good newspaper and she would find out just what was going on at Deffrey Vale.
"Tomorrow, we're going back to school," she said to K9, who was silent. He sat in a corner, dark and dead. And he'd likely stay that way until he was invented in three thousand years time. But she stood up and patted him anyway. She really ought to break this habit of talking to friends who weren't there any more.
After the TARDIS had taken the Doctor away from the attic, Rani and Clyde were keen to show Santiago everything, so Sarah Jane brought Jo to the kitchen for a cup of tea while they waited for the taxi to arrive.
"It makes you think, doesn't it?" Jo said as she sat at the kitchen table. "Hearing that an old friend of yours is dead, even if he isn't really, makes you glad that everyone else who is still alive is still alive."
"I never believed he was dead." Having poured the tea out, Sarah Jane sat beside her and put a mug down in front of each of them. "But all the same, it did make me wonder what would happen if the Doctor really died."
"I'm sure it's not going to happen for a long time." Jo raised her mug. "To the Doctor."
Sarah Jane smiled and chinked her mug against Jo's. "To the Doctor."
After a sip, Jo smiled. "I'm so glad to see him again. I gave up ever thinking I would."
"I did too. I thought he was dead." Now, though, she could laugh about it, having met two regenerations of the Doctor since then. "But then I saw him again and he changed my life again."
"Did it need changing the second time?"
Sarah Jane nodded. "I'd had so many friends die or disappear that I got used to being alone. The Doctor gave me back two of them. Then I adopted Luke and now I have to struggle to get enough peace and quiet to do any work."
Jo laughed. "Children are like that." Then she sobered. "I wish I saw mine more often. It's good to have Santiago around but sometimes I wish that all of us could stay together all the time."
"They grow up and leave home." Sarah Jane couldn't quite smile about that, because she still missed Luke.
Jo nodded. "Oh, I wouldn't change their lives for anything. I only think that when I haven't seen Cliff for a while. He reminds me about all the great things they're doing in the world."
Sarah Jane thought about what Jo had said about where her husband was and where she'd been and she wondered just how often Jo saw him. At least Luke wasn't far away and she still had Rani and Clyde just round the corner. She wondered if, despite all those children and adventures Jo had had, if she was really better off. But then she realised she'd recognised a name. "Your husband isn't Cliff Jones, is he?" she asked, putting her mug down.
"He is. You've heard of him?"
Of course she had. It was a subject she was interested in after all. But it wasn't one she'd pursued for a long time. "There was a big piece in the paper about him at the climate conference."
"Well, I'm glad someone saw it." Jo grinned widely. "We're trying to educate more people about global warming."
"If it's articles you want, I'm still a journalist. Saving the world from aliens doesn't pay the bills."
Jo put a hand on Sarah Jane's arm. "That would be marvellous, if you could."
"I'd love to help. Call me next time you're in London, and I'm sure we'll be able to work something out."
Jo's smile broadened, if that was possible. She smiled so much it was infectious. "I will. I'm so glad I met you, Sarah Jane. We must make sure to keep in touch."
"We will." What with Harry being missing she welcomed an adult friend she could talk to about the Doctor. "I'll give your love to the Doctor, next time I see him."
"You see him that often?" There was a hint of jealousy in Jo's voice.
Sarah Jane shook her head. She hadn't meant to imply that and she could understand just how Jo was feeling. "The first time I left I thought I'd see him again soon. The second time I was sure it was the last. But now I think maybe I will. But if I don't, that's fine. I've had more than my fair share."
"You know, I am jealous of that," Jo admitted. "But I wouldn't give my life up for yours."
"I wouldn't change mine either."
They smiled at each other before they were interrupted by three teenagers.
"Gran, the taxi's here."
Jo finished her tea in one go. "I'm sorry. Here I am, nattering away and not paying enough attention. This is why I don't go anywhere alone," she said to Sarah Jane. "I'd never be where I was supposed to. I'd be forever missing boats and trains and going the wrong way."
"That's Gran all right," Santiago muttered fondly just loud enough for Sarah Jane to hear, as Clyde and Rani took him outside to see the street.
"It's been so good to meet someone else who knew the Doctor," Sarah Jane said, as she finished her tea and she and Jo followed them out.
As Jo enthusiastically said goodbye to Clyde and Rani, Sarah Jane could see what the Doctor saw in her because it was the same thing she saw in Clyde, Rani, Luke and Maria. All you needed was enthusiasm and friendship and you could do anything you put your mind to.
Sarah Jane smiled at the waiter who took her plate, and then pulled her wine glass closer. "I keep thinking I should bring Luke to meet you, but you're never here for him to meet. He's at Oxford University now. I don't know if it's the same college as you went to. You never told me which one it was." Given that Harry rarely spoke about anything personal, it was amazing that she even knew which university he'd gone to. She swilled the wine around in the glass. She was drinking it slowly, so she could justify not having bought a whole bottle.
"I almost asked the Doctor about you. He took me to another planet, after all this time." She smiled, remembering what it had been like to see a sky that was another, alien colour. "He said that last time he regenerated, he looked back on everyone. I wonder if he visited you, if he knows where you are." She sighed and had a sip of wine. "But I didn't want him to tell me if it was bad news. I think I'd rather live in hope that you're alive than believe you're dead." It was probably crazy, but she mostly confined her hopes to their annual dinner, these days. Before he disappeared she sometimes didn't see Harry between dinners, so it wasn't much different now.
"But I did meet Jo Grant. She's Jo Jones, these days. Did you ever know her, when you worked at UNIT?" She hadn't thought to ask Jo, given everything else that had been going on. Their reminiscences had stuck to the places the Doctor had taken them.
The waiter came round with the bill, keen for her to leave, she supposed, given how busy the restaurant was this evening. Another change of management, not to mention menu, had made the place more popular. "Everything changes," she said, as she left enough money for the meal and a tip before finishing the wine. "But if you ever come back, Harry, I'll be here, still saving the world from aliens." She smiled, enjoying the memories of Harry their annual dinners brought back to here. Even if he was dead, she would never stop coming to them.