Barcelona: a warm word, spoken by the Caribbean breeze and blown softly over the shores of Spain.
A place to meet, to walk, to mingle, to sit in the sun and doze.
Those sitting in the sun on the beaches of Barcelona that day might or might not have noticed the appearance of a most atypical bathing machine: what looked like a London police box, complete with flashing light on top.
The woman who came out of the box looked strained: like she was holding back some revelation, some terrible change that she was refusing to allow herself to face. She stepped out of the police box and took a few steps, and then looked behind. As though someone was about to follow her out.
She brushed her blonde hair out of her eyes: was the police box wavering like a heat mirage?
And she waited.
* * *
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor - the new Doctor - stood by the control console.
Along with his new self, new teeth, new short messy brown hair, new everything in fact, he was wearing new clothes. A brown pinstripe suit and brown wingtips: he thought they suited him. The new him.
But instead of walking out the door and joining Rose, his hand fell on the console. And the TARDIS began to move.
"It's only for a little while," he told himself. "She'll never even notice that I've gone, I'll be there and back again, land in exactly the same spot."
He ran his hands through his hair.
"I just…before anyone else gets to know me, I need to get to know me. It's…it's all going too fast. I need to touch base, I need to-" and then he stopped, the words thick in his throat.
I need to go home, he thought to himself.
But home isn't there anymore.
But there are people in your life who make a place home: people with whom you are instantly comfortable, people who can be trusted. People who if you come scratching at their door at any hour, or wearing any body, would let you in and give you a nice cup of tea and time to rest, to chat. To get to know yourself.
So the Doctor set the TARDIS on her course, not far, not so far: to a London flat, south London, where a journalist of his acquaintance could be found. One with a sharp tongue, a kind heart, and a most unusual dog. A friend. Two friends, really.
He hoped she had a kettle on.
* * *
Sarah Jane Smith did indeed have a kettle on, as well as a bathrobe and a thick pair of warm slippers, and she was disinclined to open the door to the young man who had knocked.
"If you're the doctor, you should be next door, that boy's got a dreadful cough," she said.
"Not the doctor. The Doctor."
"The-" Sarah Jane's smile lit up her face. "Doctor!"
As though to prove it, he stepped aside and pointed to the corner, where a rather battered police box seemed to have taken up residence.
"Doctor, come IN! Now!"
He smiled as well, and stepped inside with a happy stride; and only in the back of his mind mourned the new lines that Sarah's smile drew around her eyes.
Time happens to all of us, he thought, as she got him a seat (he had to clear several folders of photos off of it) and got each of them a cup of tea. He put his teacup down on the table and exclaimed - "K-9!"
It was K-9, the robot companion in the shape of a rather stylised dog that he had sent to Sarah. But - he did not react. His ears stayed still. He sat there under the table, not moving.
"Doctor, I wish that you could take a look at him. Something's gone wrong with his motive unit, I think. He can't get around at all, so I keep him here so that I can talk to him. But I think he might be-"
The tea was handed to Sarah and the table was unceremoniously cleared; K-9 was atop it and the Doctor was undoing his side panels.
"Could it be his Blott coils?" he wondered aloud, sonic screwdriver already humming.
"I think it's his parallel buffer sorter, actually," said Sarah, looking on. The Doctor looked up at her with a pained look on his boyish face.
"His parallel buffer sorter?" he said.
"Well, that's what the manual suggests I replace. Unfortunately they haven't been invented yet, so-"
"Hmm." The Doctor tapped at his own temple with the sonic screwdriver. "Hmmm."
He took the teacup back from Sarah, took a sip, then leaned over and stared again into the inner workings of the robotic dog. Then he put the tea down and slapped his palms down on his knees, hard.
After which, he felt his knees a bit gingerly.
"Doctor?" asked Sarah.
"These knees are bonier than they used to be, just regenerated you know. Tell me, do these knees feel excessively bo-"
"I'm not going to feel and find out," she retorted. "You just regenerated? Shouldn't you be resting, or recuperating, or something?"
"No, no. I should be - getting in touch with myself, really. I think that's what I'm doing. I think that's why I came to see you."
He smiled, and like a ghost Sarah Jane saw the old Doctor, the Doctors really, that she had known, in him. Not ghosts, though. Quite real.
"You know, I think I do have a spare circuit or two I could use to get the old boy working again. But they're in the TARDIS. Perhaps I could just go over and look for them."
Sarah looked at him. She drank down the last of her tea, deliberately, and put down the cup. And then sat, her arms folded together, hands on elbows, and looked at him.
And then she smiled, and blinked once or twice too fast, and said, "Same old Doctor. And I suppose it would be easier if I just brought K-9 over with me, and then went dashing around the universe with you in bathrobe and slippers?"
"No, no, certainly not."
"Because I haven't the slightest intention of doing that."
He made more agreeing-type motions. "Of course, of course."
"So," she handed the Doctor her empty cup, and stood, "just go and rinse that out in the sink along with your own, while I put on a decent pair of walking shoes and some clothes, and we'll be on our way."
The Doctor rose as well, an empty cup in each hand, and called after her retreating back, "But we're just looking for a circuit, I'm sure it will only take a bit. A half hour."
A thump from the room where Sarah had vanished.
"Seventy minutes, at the very most!" He rinsed out the cups and put them in the drainer.
Opening and closing drawers noises.
"Plus installation time-"
And she was out, in trim khaki and neat ankle boots, with an improbable floppy yellow hat stuffed into one pocket. "Right, let's go," she said, heading for the front door.
The Doctor, rather nonplussed, closed K-9 up and picked him up in the approved rear-and-front hold; as he did he heard the robot whine, and impulsively held him closer. "Hang on boy, we'll have you set to rights," he whispered, and thought an antennae-ear might have twitched in reply.
As he followed Sarah, carrying the robot dog, he said, "But I'm not planning on going anywhere!"
At the door he was met by her, waiting, with key in lock and another smile bright enough to outshine the lights of London.
"That's what you always say," she said, while locking the door behind him. "And the next thing I know, I'm tumbling downhill with King Arthur and his Merry Men, or what have you, in hot pursuit. Something I learned from travelling with you, that's very useful for being a journalist: always be ready with a spare set of clothes, and always wear comfortable shoes."
She marched across the street and the Doctor followed, trying to walk and wiggle his toes in his brown shoes at the same time. They were comfortable enough, now, weren't they? Weren't they?
* * *
"You've done the place up proud," noted Sarah, admiring the TARDIS' dark gold interior.
"Well yes, the old girl could always do with some new attention. It makes her seem like a brand new time machine," said the Doctor, carrying K-9 through and into the TARDIS' interior.
Sarah Jane followed and stayed close: the TARDIS seemed to have an infinite number of rooms and passageways, and she remembered getting lost in here once. More than once.
So she stayed at the young man's back, (young man! Strange to think this was the same person as the tall gangly curly-haired fellow, or the elegant white-haired gentleman with the proud nose, that she had both known as the Doctor), until they fetched up in what looked like a microcircuit storeroom: cards, boxes, gears, springs, files, a vintage punch card reader Sarah thought, and thousands upon thousands of bits of hardware and circuitry were strewn around the room, hanging from the wall, stacked on shelves, and piled in heaps on the floor.
The Doctor picked his way to a table, but was unable to find a place to put the things he moved off of it; precariously balancing K-9 against his chest with one raised knee (Sarah muttered "Careful!"), he managed to scoop up a metal sheet that was leaning against the wall, put it down on top of the table's contents, and then put K-9 down on that. Then he started to rummage: around the table, then up on the shelf behind him. Then he concentrated his attentions on a single box full of widgets, bringing it over to the table and sorting through it intensely. They were very small widgets, and there were clear plastic boxes and vials in there containing even smaller ones.
Sarah Jane didn't want to interrupt, but she also didn't want to spent the next seventy minutes standing here watching him sort through widgets. When he paused and stared into space, abstracted, she asked him, "Is your kettle still in the same place?"
"What? Oh. Yes, it is," he said, diving back into the box with both hands.
So Sarah slipped out and followed the passages, and only had to backtrack once. Soon the kettle was hot, and Sarah was examining a package of crackers with dubious eyes (it said it expired one hundred fifty seven years from now, but was thick with dust and what looked like caked-on clay in the shape of a cuneiform seal) when the Doctor entered, followed by a familiar person. Of sorts.
"K-9!" Sarah exclaimed, putting the crackers down on the shelf and getting down to pet his somewhat worn metal back. "How are you?"
"Acceptable, Mistress," he said, sounding just the same as he ever did.
"Oh good, good, well done Doctor!"
"You were right, Sarah Jane, it was his buffer. I've taken the liberty of tucking two spares into his casing under a label, in case it happens again."
Sarah Jane hugged K-9 around the neck, and then hugged the Doctor too.
"Oh, it's so good to have you both back!" she exclaimed. "Now let's sit, let K-9 charge himself, and we can get caught up."
There was an arranging of cups and the finding of more suitable crackers, and getting a power receptacle adjusted so that K-9 could interface with it (as the Doctor explained it, the buffer had kept him from properly monitoring his environment or his energy levels, and his systems had shut down rather than be damaged).
"So tell me," said Sarah, wondering even as the words came out if it was terribly rude to ask, "you said you just regenerated. Which one is this?"
"Which one is - it's me, of course."
"I mean - which regeneration."
"Ah." The Doctor looked at the biscuit in front of him, and poked it with his finger, as if to see if it would flinch. Then he looked up and caught Sarah's eyes with his.
"My tenth, actually."
"Ten out of-" Sarah bit her tongue.
"Yes, I am rather running through them, aren't I?" The Doctor again ran his hand through his hair, and again failed to make it any neater. "At this rate I shan't last another millennium."
"That's not funny!"
"Yes, no, yes it's not." At a look from Sarah, "No really, it's not. But."
"I don't know. Don't know that it matters really."
He stood up and started pacing back and forth, his wingtips whispering on the tile floor. "You see Sarah, I'm…what I mean to say is…I left you on Earth because I had to go to Gallifrey, remember? And I couldn't take you with me."
"Yes, of course I remember."
"And I always thought to myself, maybe someday, maybe, I could somehow smuggle you in, give you a look round."
"And," the Doctor sat down, "and now I can't."
Sarah Jane fidgeted in her seat. She felt like there was some awful secret hiding in the room, waiting to come out.
The Doctor was drawing a spiral in the powdered sugar left on his plate. "I can't because Gallifrey isn't there anymore."
The secret was here and it was huge, it was filling the room, it was choking her.
"Gallifrey is gone. The Time Lords - are gone. I am the last of them."
And looking at her with sad and wistful eyes, he picked up his plate and threw it upwards, against the ceiling; she gasped and covered her head with her arms as the fragments of pottery rained down.
"And I could have stopped it. I was there, Sarah, and you were too, in that corridor on Skaro, with those two wires in my hand. You were there! Touch them together and - if I had touched them together right then! If I had!"
Sarah's mind was sliding around the conversation, trying to pull out enough facts to make a whole. "The Daleks-"
"The Daleks destroyed Gallifrey because I failed to destroy them!" The Doctor ground his teeth, his face a mask of anguish. "If I only-"
"Master," came an electronic voice from around their knees.
"Yes what? What is it K-9?" asked the Doctor.
"I have absorbed sufficient energy to resume my functions. I would like to test my sensor array."
"Test your sensor array. Good idea, very good. Let's - let's - "
"Let's go somewhere and test it!" suggested Sarah Jane.
As though she hadn't seen this coming a mile away.
"Yes, I suppose we could but - someplace quiet, someplace safe, yes by all means safe," said the Doctor. He jammed his hands in his pockets. "Quiet and safe, lots of quiet and safe places in the universe, go find one."
He wandered out, and Sarah Jane gingerly brushed the top of her hair, to get out any bits of broken plate still remaining.