As they exited the TARDIS, Wilf and the Doctor saw Sylvia from a distance standing on the doorstep, wearing a wide-eyed genuine grin for the first time that either of them can remember. Holding the smile, Sylvia leaned forward against the brick house with a short wave that Wilf quickly dismissed by waving his arm.
"Woah, she's smiling," the Doctor said from behind Wilf, as Wilf then turned around to see the rather tetchy look on the Doctor's face. Wilf shrugged his shoulders as the Doctor said, "As if today wasn't bad enough."
"Heh." Wilf's sound was muted and short as he eyed the Doctor, thinking about what was going to happen next. In Naismith's mansion, the Doctor had said that 'it' had started, and Wilf didn't understand what 'it' truly meant.
"Anyway," the Doctor said, turning his full attention to Wilf and holding his tongue for a second as he thought of what to say. He saw the tears and worry forming in the older man's eyes, and knew Wilf thought this was the end. "Don't go thinking this is goodbye, Wilf. I'll see you again. One more time."
"What do you mean? When's that?"
"Just—Keep looking, I'll be there." The Doctor's eyes darted back and forth from Wilf to the street around them and then back again. He knew how much time he had left and what he wanted to do before the very end.
"Where you going?" Wilf couldn't believe what he was hearing. After everything that had happened, everything they had done together to defeat the Master, the Doctor was just going to go away again.
"To get my reward." With his one hand still on the TARDIS doors, the Doctor took a side step and re-entered the TARDIS, his eyes never leaving Wilf as he closed the door. Once inside, the Doctor put forehead against the doors and closed his eyes. He knew Wilf would stand outside and wait until after he had gone.
Visiting the companions of his former selves had been easier than the Doctor had expected, although he'd almost run into Ace with his seventh self trying to find the Hand of Omega when he stopped to look in on Susan, Ian, and Barbara in 1963. He catalogued all thirteen of Jo's grandchildren in 2015 including the youngest dyslexic one, and left a beaker sitting on Liz's lab table in 2003 with the stable compound that would undoubtedly save her from Agent Yellow.
Jamie, Peri, Mel, Zoe, Dodo, Turlough, Victoria, the list of companions seemed a mile long as the Doctor set the coordinates of the TARDIS console each and every time in his own preferential order, knowing which ones were easier to visit first. He knew there were those that he couldn't visit, like Leela, who had just been re-locked in with the rest of Gallifrey, and others like Adric and Katarina who were stolen from life before their time.
He did his best to not interfere in any large way, but as in the case of Liz Shaw and a few others, he couldn't help but leave something small in order to make their lives a bit easier for when he was gone. He thought of Romana, and thought that maybe this time, even she would have approved of his limited interference. After all, she always did think she knew best.
He looked in on the Brigadier in the late 1980's after that nonsense with Morgaine, and wished he had the time to sit down and reminisce with one of his oldest friends. As it was, he felt the radiation internally destroying him piece by piece at an increasing rate and knew that time was drawing to a close, which led him to his recent companions.
He saved Mickey and Martha from the single Sontaran with a hammer from under the TARDIS console, and from the looks on their faces, knew what they thought. He was content to know that Mickey and Martha had found one another, and that their lives would be even more extraordinary than either of them expected for having done so.
Introducing Jack to Alonso in the space tavern seemed natural enough. Both men had lived through numerous catastrophes and needed someone, whether to love and protect one another or simply keep them grounded, in Jack's case. Losing Ianto had definitely taken its toll on his friend. At the sound of Jack's voice, the Doctor made his way back to the TARDIS, setting the Time Rotor for the next stop.
The Doctor knew it wasn't a good idea to visit Joan Redfern, though he wanted to connect to her life in some way. The TARDIS helped a bit and he gave her the leeway to take him where she thought he should go. He ended up at a book signing of Joan's great-granddaughter, and knew from the look in Verity's eyes that Joan had a happy life, despite him.
Which essentially led him back to Wilf and Donna. The Doctor stood and watched as the happy chaos of Donna's wedding made their way out of the large church. As Wilf led the sounds of happy cheers and petal tossing, he could feel his hands shaking and balled them up in his coat pockets, trying to hold on for just a tad bit longer.
Everyone quickly made their way down the front path for pictures as Wilf and Sylvia stood in the grass to the side with Minnie between them. The Doctor's lips curled upwards as Minnie dropped a pile of petals on Wilf's head that Wilf quickly brushed off as Minnie then went to try and catch the bouquet.
That's when Sylvia noticed the Doctor out of the corner of her eye, standing in front of the TARDIS near the wooden gate. With a resounding 'Dad', she caught Wilf's arm, and Wilf turned around to see the Doctor for himself.
The Doctor waited for them to approach, knowing that Wilf would want to speak with him before he left. He only hoped that Donna didn't get nosy about who her granddad was speaking with, but from the close proximity of Nerys and Donna's new husband Shaun, Donna was preoccupied. It wasn't but another second later that Wilf came down through the wooden gate, Sylvia following behind him.
"Eh, there you are, eh? Same old face. Didn't I tell you you'd be alright?" Wilf smiled as he waved a finger at the Doctor. He was glad to see that the Doctor hadn't been wrong about seeing him again, and that he was still the same man that Wilf knew. However, the Doctor remained emotionless, his hands still in his pockets as Wilf clapped and continued to speak. "Oh, they’ve arrested Mr Naismith. It was on the news. Crimes undisclosed. And his daughter. Both of ‘em locked up."
Wilf made several motions with his hands, but didn't miss a beat as he asked the Doctor the one thing that had replayed in his mind over the course of the last several days. " Yep, but I keep thinking, Doctor. There’s one thing you never told me. That woman—Who was she?"
Catching him off guard, the Doctor's eyes went to Sylvia as he swallowed the lump in his throat and looked to Donna, who at a distance was chatting away with Nerys in her peach dress. He had done his best not to dwell on anyone that had been temporarily released from the Time Lock, knowing that there was nothing else he could have done.
"I just wanted to give you this." Taking a deep breath, the Doctor pulled the envelope with the lottery ticket from his chest pocket that he had purchased in between stops. The perfect wedding gift for the most important woman in the universe, he had thought at the time.
Wilf and Sylvia weren't sure what to make of it as the Doctor looked at Wilf and continued. "Wedding present. Thing is, I never carry money, so I just popped back in time. Borrowed a quid off a really lovely man. Geoffrey Noble, his name was." The Doctor looked to Sylvia, whose eyes lit up at the mention of her late husband's name. "Have it, he said. Have that on me."
Sylvia's hand automatically came up to cover her mouth as her eyes widened and she became slightly upset. Wilf moved to support her with one arm across her back as the Doctor hoped that his gift would be enough to take care of one of his best mates and her family.
"So, what happens now?" Wilf asked, one hand still holding the envelope while Sylvia regained her composure. "You going to be alright?"
"Oh, yeah. I'll be fine—" The Doctor sighed heavily, calculating the amount of time he had left with the precise rate of radioactive decay on his cells. "Just take care, Wilf. Watch the skies for me, alright? In case we don't meet again—"
"You shouldn't say things like that you know, because they're not true. This can't be the last time." Wilf felt a lump in his throat growing as Sylvia straightened up and wiped her nose, knowing it was time for her to rejoin the celebration as she walked away. Wilf held out the envelope towards the Doctor. "Doctor—"
"I'll be alright, Wilf." The Doctor didn't want him to say anything more. "What's done is done. Go on, you more than anyone deserve to celebrate on Donna's big day. Do me the honour of giving her my gift."
He nodded to Wilf, who pulled his arm back before turning around and following Sylvia back towards the church. The Doctor watched both of them approach Donna to hand over the envelope, and he wished not for the first time that things could have been different for Donna in the end. He always seemed to lose the best things that had ever happened to him.
A teary-eyed Wilf turned back to salute him as he re-entered the TARDIS, setting the coordinates for early 2005 where he knew he could see Rose without running into himself. He parked the TARDIS in a dark spot against an adjacent building and observed Jackie and Rose shuffling towards their flat in the snowy cold night of New Years Day.
The Doctor's brief conversation with Rose brought tears to his eyes as he knew the exciting year in his past that still lay ahead for her. Like his former selves and their companions, having Rose with him had made him a better being in the universe, making him less bitter and angry after the atrocities of the Time War. He was grateful for the opportunity to see her one more time.
Rose had entered her building and climbed up the stairs as the Doctor staggered back into the TARDIS. He fumbled up the ramp on shaky legs, not even closing the doors behind him as he peeled off his coat and tossed it to the side. The TARDIS did her best to try and help him by closing the open doors and listening extra intuitively to him as he reached the console to programme his intended coordinates.
"Sarah's still left, TARDIS—I need Sarah," he said, looking up to the Time Rotor as the console room's warm glow became that much more important to the sentient TARDIS's state of mind. The degeneration of dendrites had already started to mess with his sense of time, and so like he had with Joan, he trusted the TARDIS to take him where he needed to go. "Can you take me to her, TARDIS? My Sarah Jane?"
The Doctor slowly circled the console to the monitor, now holding his stomach with his right arm as the TARDIS displayed the various bits of information in front of him. He barely had time to even glance at it before a large tremor knocked him to the deck, and he closed his eyes.
A familiar voice forced the Doctor's eyes open as he rolled onto his back, and saw that he was no longer in his normal console room, but in the forgotten second console room of the TARDIS. Dark wood adorned the walls and smaller console with gold metal railings around the room once used by his curly-haired fourth incarnation with the long colourful scarf.
"I don't suppose it would be too much to ask what you're doing here?" His fourth self was quick to lift him to his feet and take a step back as he tried to ignore his decaying dendrites and curb his loose smile. He had in fact, travelled back to his fourth self.
"I don't really know, but oh my TARDIS is brilliant." The Doctor grinned at his luck, and it was obvious his younger self was not amused.
"Well, of course, you ever doubted her?" His fourth self didn't have to study him for very long to know that they were both the same man. "I may have lowered the shields a bit, but you've essentially used that to your advantage, haven't you? I don't think either of us shall get very far if we're stuck together like peanut butter and pastrami."
"Peanut butter and pastrami? Who eats that?" The Doctor made several awful expressions, to include sticking out his tongue at the thought of the texture of peanut butter and pastrami in his mouth. Then he thought about it, and realized that his fourth self had never been conventional. "Oh right, never mind, I remember now, just so long as you happen to have a jar of extra crunchy JIF peanut butter handy. None of that Skippy or Peter Pan nonsense. On second thought, you really should try adding some provolone cheese but that's beside the point. Where is Sarah Jane?"
"What do you mean, where's Sarah?" His fourth self threw his hands up before placing them on his hips. "If you're me, you know perfectly well where Sarah is."
"Well, from lack of coat, white shirt, brown pants and ridiculously long scarf, I'd say she's in her room, packing her things. After we left Kastria, she got rather upset with me and went stomping off before I had the chance to really say anything at all which means—" The Doctor looked away, piecing his thoughts together as best as he possibly could as he pointed his finger at his fourth self. "You've just received the summons, haven't you? From the Time Lords? To return to Gallifrey?"
His fourth self sighed.
"Not a split second ago. I'll assume since your TARDIS was so accurate in materializing around mine that we're stopped in time and can't progress forward. Well done, Doctor." The fourth self stood back, crossing his arms. He knew something was wrong with this Doctor because he knew the sequence of certain events and yet, was asking him questions. "You know as well as I do that I certainly can't take Sarah with me to Gallifrey, or have you forgotten what happened to Jamie and Zoe?"
"I haven't forgotten, but things are different this time. Gallifrey isn't going to just wipe her memories, but you need to be extremely careful. So, either keep her with you and out of sight, or drop her back on Earth for her own safety. But, if you decide to drop her off on Earth, you make sure to drop her off in Croydon, not Aberdeen, and when you're done, you pick her up exactly five minutes after you left her."
The Doctor wagged a finger at his fourth self. "Do not, I repeat, do not just let her sit there for thirty years and wonder what's happened to you with this face. It's inconsiderate on your part, and there's really just no telling if she'll end up in the Death Zone again later."
"The Death Zone? I'm afraid now, Doctor, you've just got me plain curious as to what happens to a future me if Sarah ends up in the Death Zone at some point."
"—It's a long story." The Doctor felt himself fighting for breath as the pain was reaching its peak point. "Just promise me. Promise me you'll take care of Sarah for as long as you can. Take the slow path on Earth if you have to. Anything. And, whatever you do, don't go to Logopolis to try and repair the chameleon circuit. Just leave it alone and stay away from there. Someone else can try and stop the Master when the time comes."
"Alright, if I must."
"You must," the Doctor said as Sarah entered the console room, carrying all of her things in preparation to leave. She started shouting at his fourth self, who obviously still wasn't paying attention to a word she was saying. The Doctor looked to her, and her voice dropped off as she realized that they weren't alone. "The Bane will try and take over Earth in the year 2006. You'll need to be there, in the Bubbleshock factory, to stop Mrs. Wormwood. Save the archetype. He'll be important to Sarah—to the both of you."
"For being me, you certainly are giving me quite a number of spoilers. Are you sure that's very wise, Doctor?"
"Sarah is worth every bit of sacrifice, trust me." The Doctor felt his knees weakening, and gripped one of the gold railings for support. "Because when I was you and received the call from Gallifrey, I dropped her off without looking back and spent more than half my incarnations basing every companion I had on her. She needs to know how much she means to you. I made the mistake of not telling my Sarah, and I'm making up for it now since I've been given this chance."
Having heard what she had by this point, Sarah put her things down, tilting her head as the Doctor fell on all fours to the floor and his fourth self moved to stand behind her. Energy had begun to form around the Doctor, and his fourth self knew that the process was too far-gone to be stopped now.
"We can't help him, can we?" Sarah felt the tears in her eyes as she recognized the same condition that had turned her first Doctor into her current one. She looked back over her shoulder at his fourth self, not even knowing the full story of what was happening and yet having a quasi-understanding of what was taking place.
"No," his fourth self said, placing his hands on her shoulders and shaking his head. Sarah started to move towards the Doctor on the floor, but his fourth self dropped one hand to her waist, holding her to him as he leaned towards her ear. "There's nothing we can do, Sarah."
"My Sarah Jane—" Blinking several times, the Doctor wore another loose smile with more tears in his eyes as he looked to his fourth self holding Sarah. His vision became blurry as the tears fell and he knew time was altered beyond what it was supposed to. "I don't want to go, but if I am, I'm so very glad I got to make this up to you—"
In a golden glow, the Doctor vanished, and his fourth self felt full power being restored as the slight hum of the Vortex resumed under his feet. Sarah took a step towards where the other Doctor had just disappeared, and the fourth Doctor just let her go.
"I was in my room packing, and felt this overwhelming sense of dread. Almost like a shiver," she said, willing herself not to cry. "It felt like time had come to a full stop."
"I'm sure it did for a moment, Sarah. Probably all across the universe, every planet and every star felt the same thing as the same time that you did—" Her Doctor's voice was slower and lower than Sarah was accustomed to hearing as she turned around with tears in her eyes and reached out and wrapped her arms around him.
"Will he be alright?" The hug was unexpected but not unwelcome, and Sarah's voice was muffled as she pulled away. He touched her cheek, wiping one of her stray tears. He never wanted to see her cry.
"I don't know." He shook his head of curls. "For my sake, I certainly hope so."
"He said so many things." Sarah stared at the Doctor's chest, gathering her own thoughts. "How many of them can we actually believe?"
"I think it's fair to say all of them, Sarah. After all, he is me, or will be me someday." The Doctor sighed, putting one finger under Sarah's chin and lifted her eyes to his, studying them. "But, I don't want to lose you like he did. If he said he let you leave without looking back, then I want to do the complete opposite. He was right. You mean a great deal to me."
"He said something about Gallifrey." Sarah nearly choked on her next words, trying to process everything being thrown at her. "That means Time Lords. What do they want this time?"
"I won't know until I land. But first, first I need to know if you want to really risk going to Gallifrey. I don't care what that Doctor said; it can't have changed all that much, Sarah. It's nothing like your Earth. There are very real dangers there."
"I—want to go where you go. I was only kidding before—" Sarah caught the lump that had seemingly grown in her throat as the Doctor took her full face in his hands and she shook her head. "We all say things that we don't mean, Doctor, and I don't want to be left behind. Not when it's Gallifrey or any other planet. I want to stay with you."
"Are you sure?" As soon as Sarah nodded, the Doctor pulled her close and guided her head to rest against his as they rocked back and forth slightly. The Doctor's voice lowered as he said, "Oh Sarah, thank you."
"What for?" Sarah stepped back, a twinkle in her glassy eyes as she touched his cheek with one palm, and for once, he leaned into her caress. "I didn't do anything."
"You've done more than you could ever know." The Doctor moved towards the console, setting the coordinates for Gallifrey as Sarah waited and then came up from behind and slipped her hand in his.
"Right then, off we go," she said, giving his hand a squeeze as the Doctor smiled, and pushed the final button.