The Time Lords delighted in causing him pain, the Doctor was certain of it. There could be no other reason for the telepathic summons. True, he would've ignored anything else, but he didn't consider that a reason. But the summons, a telepathic ice pick triggering a primal compulsion in an otherwise scientific mind, was just in their style to call for him. They were all probably watching his reaction in the Matrix, his physical and emotional pain merely their socially acceptable evening entertainment. "Tune in tonight to see the Doctor leave behind his best friend." Rubbish. He wouldn't just abandon Sarah at their command.
He would, however, leave her behind to keep her safe from the Time Lords.
But as much as the summons compelled him to obey Gallifreyan law and his own logic compelled him to protect Sarah, the Doctor didn't want to go to Gallifrey without her more. Only a small part of that was his pride, he had outwitted gods after all and the Council weren't yet gods, but mostly he didn't want to let go of her. Sarah, by simply being human, made him forget he was a Time Lord. And as many times as he reminded her, reminded himself, it had stopped mattering -- until the summons.
As the Council had so successfully and succinctly proved, he was a Time Lord. A Time Lord with all the skills taught in the Academy and the intellect to become a better being despite it. Just because he never bothered to use the their methods didn't mean he was unable to do so. He was a bit rusty at thinking like a Time Lord, but if he had to think like those dull-witted, withered, old buffoons to keep traveling with Sarah, he would.
It was important to stay angry, otherwise her fear would overtake her. Sarah haphazardly threw her items into her suitcase with more force than necessary, her every action designed to hold onto her fading resentment. She proceeded to stomp back to the control room, somehow managing to balance her things while opening the door. The Doctor stood at the console too lost in his own contemplations to notice. Disregarded, her anger safely rushed back over her. With her arms still full, Sarah kicked the door behind her. As soon as her foot had hit the door, a spell was cast, her vision shifted, and the Doctor became clear.
He had always looked Earthling, or she looked Gallifreyan, and she sometimes wondered if that was the reason he thought she accepted his friendship. But he didn't look anything like a human at that moment. The Doctor's distinctive features had softened and Sarah could almost see a familiar face among the three layers beneath. A spark of ancient power coursed through him with his double pulse.
There were fragments of words in her head, mutterings in his harsh scolding tone, though he wasn't physically speaking. As she wondered at her new abilities, she simply found the answer in her mind: her human perceptions were being altered by the TARDIS's telepathic field. Yet, despite the new perception, she was still too human to entirely understand what the Doctor was saying. Just as she was too human to understand the waves of his emotions as they washed over her. There were echoes of her own anger and fear, but also a pull to something which was far deeper than her own sense of duty. And woven through everything was a feeling she could only describe as affection.
But there were still gaps. Not even the TARDIS could fill everything lost in translation. The Doctor had once called their communication a Time Lord's gift. Witnessing the Doctor almost as he truly was, Sarah mentally corrected him; it was a gift from the TARDIS.
The door slammed shut behind her and Sarah jumped as she had completely forgotten she had kicked it. The TARDIS's spell broke and she returned to a sudden emptiness which had always been her reality. She had never before realized how lonely it was to be human. But in that moment she had been something more and time had stopped, though the phrase really should've been erased from her thoughts after her travels with a Time Lord. Time was fragile and could be rewritten but it was also resilient and wouldn't stop. Yet, for all her linguistic skills, time had stopped.
Not more than two of her primitive, self-centered, Earth seconds could've passed, but time was relative as well as resilient. Her own emotions crashed without the mix of the Doctor's. She was isolated from her surroundings in a way which she never before knew she always had been. Her dry eyes ached with the pressure of tears which wouldn't form. She wanted to fall to her knees with her arms tightly around her chest and hide from a world where she was so alone without the TARDIS translating the Doctor for her. But there had been a message there, a question, a story which the TARDIS had wanted her to tell. Her curiosity peaked, she dug her nails into her palm and focused on discerning the meaning.
Despite the noise, the Doctor had never moved. She had only been able to catch a few of his stray thoughts about senile imbeciles and antediluvian rituals; the Time Lords must have contacted the Doctor while she was gone. The fact his anger was internalized and she otherwise would've missed it was a clear indication the situation was beyond her previous experiences with his race.
Her own pain lessened with her increased determination. A rush of peace overcame her -- a mental hug from the TARDIS, a reward for a test passed -- washing away the remainder of the withdrawal. Something fundamental had changed between herself and the Doctor, something that neither of them controlled, but controlled him. And while she still didn't know what it was, she was aware it existed and with that she had a chance. Sarah wanted to throw her arms around the blue box, to somehow hug the heart of the TARDIS for her confidence and trust, but Sarah was inept with such things. She had, however, developed one way to deal with the Doctor's broodings about his heritage.
He startled at her soft touch to his shoulder. "Oh, Sarah. You're a good girl."
Sarah tightened her grip as he tried to shrug out of her touch. "What do they want this time?"
He startled again, though she was unsure if the reaction was to her words or the annoyed edge in her voice. "How did you know?"
"I'm a journalist. It's my job to piece together what people aren't saying from what they are, even if they aren't saying it out loud. And I'm told I'm good at it, especially when it comes to someone whom is my best friend."
"Your best friend," his eyes widened momentarily before he shook his head. "I won't deserve that title after this."
"I'm a grown woman. I think I can decide that for myself." Even with her hands on her hips and her most scolding look, Sarah failed to appear mature in her pink striped overalls. "Stop being such a drama queen and tell me what's wrong."
"I've received the call from Gallifrey. I must return."
"Oh. I know they're not your favorite race, but your lot can't all be bad. Besides, I've always wanted to see Gallifrey."
"No, Sarah. I must go alone. Humans aren't allowed."
Sarah had to bite her tongue to keep her exasperated teasing from moving back into annoyance. "Since when do you follow the rules? You can't go to Gallifrey without me."
"I must. This is your stop."
Shifting her weight, Sarah tested for movement under her feet. It would be the one landing so uneventful she wouldn't notice. She resisted mentally reaching for the ship again, determined to reason with him under her own power. "Where are we?"
"See for yourself." The Doctor flicked on the scanner.
"That's my living room." As she stared at her own dust covered furniture in the darkened room, Sarah failed to hide her awe.
"I can hear it in your voice. This is your home."
Sarah chewed her lip as she stared at the screen. "And I've visited it thanks to you. But seeing it reminds me I have two homes now. I do need to check the rent, grab a few things, and send a note to Aunt Lavinia, but it won't take more than a moment."
"What of your demands to feel human again?"
"I didn't think you were listening. I was just joking. Besides, how would you get along without me? You're far too trusting." It was a statement of fact, not a complaint. She hated the Daleks and the Cybermen most of all because she knew he always doubted them. He might give them a chance to surrender or retreat, but the Doctor never expected them to take the offer or to act as anything other than a soldier for their species' wars. That was supposed to be her human fallacy, to be unable to see the individual within the group, not his.
"I don't see how trust is a dreadful thing."
"No? Not even that bit with trusting Eldrad because you thought he was a frightened alien on a foreign planet?" Eldrad had threatened her place with the Doctor like no one before. It was petty to bring him in such a way, especially as she was still wearing the Doctor's coat from Kastria, but the dig was all she had.
The Doctor puffed his chest. "I didn't trust him then; I only thought we should communicate instead of blindly attacking."
"Well, you forget he'd been doing a lot of communicating in my head until you put it to an end."
"I see, you're upset I didn't trust your opinion."
"Yes. No." They were still so alien to each other. But humans were always limited in their understandings of others, so their miscommunication seemed normal to Sarah. She again felt the ache the TARDIS had left behind. "Doctor, I know I'm only human and I can't understand Time Lord nuances, but you've always railed against the 'dirty work' from those 'meddlesome, interfering idiots.' Your acquiescence is disturbing."
"It's the call, Sarah. I have no choice."
While she had no reference for reading the Doctor's emotions except through her own human ones, she was certain his sense of duty had been triggered by some outside force. "So they've hypnotized you?"
"No, it's one of those Time Lord nuances."
He seemed unaware of her brief touch with the TARDIS so he couldn't know that she had felt it, that pull of obligation. There was little doubt that he would follow it and there was only one way she could tag along. I worry about you, she had said, but he wouldn't accept the same words so soon. "Well then, to prove you haven't been hypnotized you'll just have to take me with you."
"It's too dangerous."
"I'd never forgive myself if I let you go off all hypnotized." She backed up quickly out of his reach. "And don't even think about hypnotizing me to get me to stay out of it."
"Sarah, you know I'd never."
"Good, then it's settled. I won't be but ten minutes."
Nothing was settled but still she opened the TARDIS doors herself before gathering her things and walking into her living room without glancing behind her. As soon as she was in her bedroom she closed the door, half collapsing on top of it. Adjusting the Doctor's overcoat tightly across her body, Sarah choked back her tears. "Sarah Jane Smith, you silly thing, if you don't hurry up he'll leave you behind." She didn't think about how true her words might've been.
Moving quickly to finish her tasks, Sarah found herself humming though not too loudly so she could still listen for the familiar wheezing of the TARDIS. When she had almost finished a quick reassurance letter to her aunt, Sarah realized the melody sounded suspiciously similar to You Like Me Too Much. The song wasn't relevant, she was absolutely sure of that. It had clearly been written with the romantic notion of eternal pursuit to appeal to the massive throngs of teenage girls. Sarah wasn't a teenage girl nor did she have romantic notions of pursuit. I'm packing my goodies and I'm going home, she had said. She stopped humming.
The TARDIS was still there when she dropped the letters in the post and grabbed an overnight bag she always kept packed. The TARDIS door was still unlocked and it opened with her touch. Yet, the brown control room was gone and replaced by the white room she had first known. Sarah rolled her eyes, in the time it took her to post a letter the Doctor had rearranged the layout.
"Over here, Sarah." His brown curls popped up from behind the console. "I know it's nothing new, but I thought." The Doctor raised his arms in an encompassing gesture.
"Oh, yes, yes, it is." There wasn't a hint of doubt in her mind it was so. "It's all that and more."
"Good." He grinned slowly at her leaving tiny wrinkles by his eyes. Sarah smiled back wishing the TARDIS would touch her again so she could feel his emotions, but he rubbed his hands together and the moment was lost. "We're off then."
"Is it long to Gallifrey?" Finally ready to return his coat, she inspected the controls as he slipped it back on.
"Just long enough."
Sarah paused at the doors to watch the Doctor adjusting switches on the console. She ran her fingers through her still damp hair and double checked the laces on her shoes. Choosing function over style, she had picked a dark pair of jeans, a plain shirt, and trainers. She wasn't sure what typical Time Lords and Ladies wore, she was sure none of the ones she had met were typical, but she doubted any of them would notice one outfit over another. It was better to be prepared for running, ducking, climbing, or falling. She had been doing far too much of the latter lately and it disturbed unpleasant memories. If she could manage one trip to Gallifrey without falling off a cliff it would be a success.
"I've noticed humans choose to preface something harsh with nicer truths. I only travel with the best. And you have been. I've never doubted you -- might've slightly misplaced you, or ignored your ideas until I ran out of my own, and there was that one time I-"
Sarah could count her heart beats in her ears. "Doctor."
"I just want you to understand when I tell you to stay in the TARDIS."
" 'When you tell me', which would be now?"
"Yes. The Time Lords have been xenophobic for longer than your race has been alive. The title of Time Lord itself speaks of their arrogance. But they have been unchallenged in power and for that, collectively, they are tedious and uncreative. Change is slow; with regeneration comes stagnation. It has been generations since anything has truly affected the Time Lords."
"And when someone does they exile him?"
"I hardly affected them. I stole a TARDIS and ran."
"But you do affect them every time you walk through those doors and save a life. And I, for one, am glad none of them saw your potential for political change."
He grinned conspiratorially at her before his smile fell. "I can't save them all, but I can try to save you. Sarah, listen to me. On our other adventures you could've died. I know you believe in me to protect you, and such faith is a gift, but you still could've died. However, you only could've died -- not on Gallifrey. There I can't keep you safe; I'm an exile, an errand boy, their executioner. Promise you'll stay in the TARDIS until it is safe."
Typically she would've made some joke to lighten the mood but his shoulders were tense, his face lined with worry, his voice filled with concern, and it seemed inappropriate. I worry about you, he had said.
"I'm not leaving you behind. I just need to know where you are. No wandering off to pick oranges in groves or through strange panels in space stations or into blue boxes of men whom demanded you make them coffee."
"Even if it kills you?"
"Especially then. If you are inside I know the TADIS will return you home, alive and whole."
Sarah met his eyes. The Doctor wasn't speculating at the consequences, he was reliving them. She had always prided herself on the ability to ask a difficult question, but she did not want to hear that particular answer. He was asking her to let him go into danger without her, to go against her nature -- the very thing that had first brought them together. She could ask for something in return. "On one condition: promise no more hypnotizing, even if it kills me."
"No, we exchange promises. It might be empty in my mind and I might be alone, but it's mine. It's not that I don't trust you." It's that I'll get addicted to you, she can't say. Because she could still keenly feel the loss of the TARDIS and if she ever felt that with him she'd never mend. Even with his latest scare she never thought about how their travels would end, but she was too practical to think of forever.
"Just for our next adventure."
"Our next three adventures together I should think. You're getting predictable anyway."
"I will endeavor to find another way to get you out of trouble then. We have a deal."
She was going to Gallifrey and she owned her own mind, but she wasn't winning. "Deal. So what shall I be doing while you are off tilting at windmills, keeping house?"
"More like keeping me like you always do."
"Haven't you wondered why I arranged for this control room?"
"Of course I did, I just accepted it as you."
"It's simply more technical, more authoritative, and has better scanners."
"And that's important because?"
"You're my second set of eyes and ears." He pulled back his curls and revealed a small device encompassing his ear. He produced a matching one from his pocket. "And with this you'll be my voice of reason."
She let him explain how to operate the earpiece and then fit it to her ear. "You could've just said that in the first place."
The Doctor gently held her chin in his hand while he adjusted her hair back over the earpiece. He studied her tilted face, his eyes moving rapidly across her features. She thought he was going to respond, but instead he turned away.
"Now, I will be exiting from the secondary control room. This control room should be hidden well enough to keep any guards from finding you in case we're boarded. The TARDIS has always excelled at mazes so be certain to stay here. While security would never think to search for communication devices so primitive, I still won't turn mine on until I'm past them. Check the news broadcasts for anything relevant until then."
"Anything in particular?"
"There's going to be an assassination attempt. I need anything about the president."
"How do you know? How are you going to stop it?"
The Doctor paused at the door. "I had a vision. And if it's to be believed, I'm the assassin."
"Doctor." He ignored her calls and had exited before she could run after him. The doors were locked tightly and didn't budge as she pounded on them. "Just wait until I see you." She yelled threats after him until she wasn't sure if they were physically possible anymore.
"And you," Sarah said to the TARDIS, "you're in on this, don't play innocent." Without knowing where to direct her rant, she began to feel silly lecturing the ship. "Sarah Jane, twice in one day and you still haven't learned. The Doctor is never going to change." She flipped on the news feed. "And you would never ask him."
Sarah tried to concentrate on the newsfeed instead of watching the security monitors which showed the guards outside the TARDIS. She tried to convince herself that the guards were merely procedural, that they were unaware of her presence, but she still had to fight to compulsion to watch them for signs that they knew. It didn't help that her research was giving her a headache.
Time Lord politics were even more complicated than all politics on Earth, especially on Presidential Resignation Day. The reporter, Runcible, rarely was able to ask questions before he was disregarded, which didn't help her research at all. She was still piecing together information on the six chapters when her earpiece chirped at her. She activated it and brought the feed up on the scanner. The Doctor appeared to be in a lift.
"What have you discovered?"
"Several things which I shouldn't say to you in polite company, Doctor."
She expected him to ask where there was polite company, but he only scolded her. "Sarah."
"All right. But don't think I'll forget. There's not much to report yet." She did so anyway.
"Still Runcible the Fatuous; nothing changes." The Doctor said once she was finished.
Sarah was used to his judgments and chose not to comment. "That vision you had, can you always see the future?"
"Time Lords could see all that ever was and all that could be. But the strain would kill us. For a time we can follow a singular timeline, but only for other species. The timeline can't predict another Time Lord's involvement. For that the Matrix is needed."
Sarah began sorting his statements. As usual, he had given her all the information necessary to ask the perfect question. "So how did you manage to see the future with other Time Lords present?"
"The vision must have come from the Matrix itself."
"It was sent to me as a message."
There were hundreds of questions she wanted to ask so she could understand, but she had figured out enough to know one thing. "You do realize this is likely a trap."
"Of course. But knowing that we can be aware of the spring."
"Unless your opponent expects you to be aware it's a trap."
"Except we've thought of that too. Do keep up, Sarah, you're not usually this slow."
The door opened to the lift. "I'll contact you again once it's safe." The feed cut off before she could object.
"He wants me to be his eyes and ears but leaves me blind and deaf." She stroked the console softly. "It's no wonder you have fits and kick him out."
The guards had left the range of the scanners. Sarah looked at the TARDIS exit, her fingers hovering over the door controls. She should be out there even if she couldn't stand beside him. Because even when they were separated she was meeting people, finding clues, and causing commotions which always got them to the true story. She wasn't helping by sticking to research. Sighing she turned the newsfeed back on. Their promises had meant something.
Runcible was attempting to interview the Cardinal of the Prydonian chapter with even less success than his earlier interviewees. Either the Time Lords needed to revise their journalistic skills or the Doctor was right about Runcible being fatuous. Sarah pulled what little facts were presented from the newscast reflexively, her main concentration elsewhere. While the Doctor calmly accepted his vision of becoming an assassin, she hadn't. Because, while the Doctor seemed to know all of human history, he never knew what was going to occur next. That he did had to mean something.
The Doctor's feed flickered back on over the news. Though he didn't address her, Sarah determined he was in the ceremony hall. For a moment, she forgot the mission and remembered that this was what she wanted to see. She was among Time Lords with their ridiculous hats and colored robes and for a shameful second all she wanted to do was give them one of her old feminists lectures on equality. For one of the most advanced race in the universe they were pretty behind the times.
As he made his way towards Runcible the Doctor scanned the crowd. But even during his awkward conversation with the other Time Lord his gaze kept returning to a particular balcony.
"Is that the location of the assassination?"
"Yes, yes," the Doctor said over Runcible, "that's all good in theory but-"
The rest was lost in the proximity alarm. Sarah brought up the security feed to find two guards attaching some sort of device to the blue panels of the TARDIS.
"This won't work. The translocation defenses won't allow-"
"You've got your models all wrong. These old type 40s don't have the new defensive capabilities. We just have to find the proper frequency. You'll see."
Sarah finally turned off the security feed. It was only a distraction. The TARDIS was a ship that could move through time and space but could also be picked up and stolen as if it were just a police box. Sarah would never understand Time Lord engineering. But she had seen it stolen before, had been inside it once when it was transported, and aside from needing to make sure there was air when she exited Sarah wasn't worried.
She noticed the rifle in the balcony a second after the Doctor. Everything clicked into place in her mind as he started yelling and pushing his way through the crowd. If only he had told her how the assassination was supposed to occur she might've figured it out sooner.
"Doctor, no." She had to keep him from going up there. "You can't go to the balcony. You've seen the vision; if you go there the assassination will occur, even if you don't pull the trigger. And if you do pull the trigger, the only reason will be because of that vision. You'd never resort to simply using a rifle to solve your problems otherwise. The balcony is a diversion."
The Doctor changed directions from the balcony stairs and managed to slip unnoticed back into the crowd as the guards ran past him. Sarah sighed again, the Doctor would've simply followed the vision into a trap even knowing it was one. "There has to be some other way to protect the president. If you're the one shooting the rifle in the balcony, the real assassin has to be somewhere else."
A ramp emerged from the wall for the president's arrival but Sarah only got a glimpse of something gold before the Doctor was off again. He was shouting about a pistol but the guards had run to the balcony and the crowd was too thick to get through. Sarah heard a shot but the Doctor was moving so quickly that his camera lost focus and she couldn't see if anyone was hurt.
"Doctor, what is-" she let out a yelp as the TARDIS violently lurched. Trying to find her footing Sarah reached for the console only to grab at air. She fell back ungracefully, landing painfully on the arm she had used to break her fall.
"I told you it would work." Sarah opened her eyes to find the two guards from the proximity alarm standing over her. The TARDIS was gone.
"And I told you that a criminal never changes his MO. He had passengers last time, he has passengers this time. I suppose a stronger deterrent is needed to prevent a next time."
Sarah tried to roll away from the guard, but they surrounded her. One of them gripped her injured arm and she let out a hiss of pain. She could hear the Doctor calling her name in her ear. She tried to call back to him but there was a sharp pain in neck and everything went dark.