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The Brown Owl

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            “And I can finally go skiing again—I can’t tell you the last time I went skiing—and then sit by a warm fire…”

            “Sarah.”

            Sarah Jane Smith was only vaguely aware of the Doctor saying her name. “Maybe there’ll be skating on the ice too! Oh, I’ve always wanted to do that—”

            “Sarah.”

            This time the insistence of the Doctor’s tone broke through her daydreaming and she paused to look over at him standing in front of the TARDIS door. She hadn’t even noticed him opening it.

            His tone didn’t sound promising. It was the “we’re a little off course, Sarah, and by that I mean somewhere millions of miles from where we should be and a thousand degrees hotter” kind of tone.

            Okay, maybe it wasn’t a thousand degrees hotter, but Sarah could feel warm air wafting in from the outside as she joined the Doctor at his side.

            “This isn’t the ski lodge on Freet, is it?”

            “No,” he rumbled in a low, throaty voice. “I’m afraid it isn’t. Not quite. The TARDIS got a little off course…”

            Sarah smiled smugly to herself as she had gotten the wording just right.

            “…and now it seems we’ve ended up in Florida.”

            “On Earth?” Sarah exclaimed. She crossed her arms and huffed. “Oh, well that’s just great. Here I was, hoping for snow and skiing, but all we get is hot, sunny, Florida.”

            The Doctor poked his head out a little further as if he hadn’t even heard her. “Cheer up, Sarah,” he said after a moment, turning to flash her one of his much-too-wide grins. He walked outside and waved for her to follow. Sarah looked out and saw a Ferris wheel looming a little off in the distance, with other rides and indistinguishable shapes all grouped together.

            “A carnival?” she asked.

            The Doctor stuck the tip of his pointer finger in his mouth and then held it up in the air. “Early twenty-first century,” he announced. He smiled at her again. “How would you like to see the future?”

            Sarah had to admit that she was a little intrigued. This wasn’t so far into the future from her time; how different would it be from the world she knew so well?

            “All right, I’m coming.” She shed her large winter coat and tossed it off to the side of the console room. She wondered if she should change out of her sweater and trousers, but when she looked up, the Doctor was already walking away from the TARDIS.

            “Hey, wait for me!” she shouted, darting after him and closing the TARDIS door right behind her.

            Just from the short sprint, Sarah could already feel sweat beading on her forehead. She pushed the sleeves of her sweater halfway up her arms. The heat was sticky and intense.

            “You’re telling me you’re not hot at all?” she asked the Doctor, looking at him clad in his normal several layers, with the long scarf to finish it off.

            “I’m not affected by the weather as much as you are. Although,” he added, looking up at the sky, “even I’m starting to feel this.” He unwound the scarf from his neck, and then shed his outer coat. He hung both over his arm as they continued on.

            “Are you sure this is safe?”

            “Safe?” the Doctor echoed, looking down at her.

            “I mean, it’s not so far into the future from where I’m from. What if I run into myself? Or someone I know?”

            “Do you have any plans to go to a little Florida carnival when you’re about fifty years old?”

            Sarah frowned at him. “No.”

            He grinned. “Good. Then we have nothing to worry about.” He quickened his stride, forcing Sarah to jog a little to keep up. Oh, curse those terribly long legs of his.

            As they got closer, Sarah could hear the sounds of the fair: tinny music, whirring of various rides, shouts of children; and she could smell it too, all the wonderfully greasy food to be had.

            When they reached the gate, the Doctor reached into the pocket of his coat to dig up a couple gold coins (after producing his yo-yo, a toy doll, his sonic screwdriver, and some jelly babies first). The gate attendant’s eyes went wide when he saw the pieces in the Doctor’s hand.

            “How do I know those are real?” he asked, though his voice was in awe.

            “Take my word for it,” the Doctor said, flipping one of them up in the air and then catching it deftly again. “They’re real.”

            The man took them without another question and gave them each five blue ticket stubs. “They’ll get you on any ride, including the Ferris wheel,” he told them. Sarah looked up at the ride in question and saw that it was huge.

            “Thank you,” the Doctor said, and then led Sarah into the fair.


 

            Sarah watched the Doctor’s eyes light up. She followed his gaze to see a game designed to test your strength, one where you had to hit a mallet against something that made a weight shoot up. If you hit the top you won a prize: one of the cheap little plush animals that were hanging about.

            “This is my favourite one!” he exclaimed as he made his way over to it. Sarah noticed the men running the booth side-eyeing each other with smirks. She couldn’t blame them; as she herself examined the Doctor’s long, gangly frame, she knew there was no way he could hit it all the way to the top.

            “Are you sure you want to waste one of your tickets on this one, Doctor?” Sarah asked as she caught up with him.

            But he smiled as if oblivious. “It isn’t a waste; this is one of the finest carnival games there ever was! Hold these, would you?” He dumped his coat and scarf into her arms, making her stagger with the unexpected weight, and then placed his hat on her head like an afterthought.

            “Sure,” she muttered sourly, trying to balance the Doctor’s clothing in her arms so that she could get a hand free to lift the brim of the hat, which was currently over her eyes.

            Once she could see clearly, she saw the Doctor making a show of rolling up his sleeves. He took the mallet in his right hand and then stared for several drawn out seconds at where the mallet was supposed to be struck. His gaze remained on it for so long that Sarah watched the men shift uncomfortably. The Doctor placed a hand on the striking point, closed his eyes, and then, with a lightning fast move, he took his hand away and hit—no, more liked tapped—the mallet against the surface.

            Sarah tilted her chin upward to watch the weight shoot upwards. The men did the same, their mouths gaping open in shock. The weight struck the top with ease and rung a bell that made a loud, distinct chime.

            For a moment, there was silence. The Doctor turned around grinning. “Well, don’t I get a prize?”

            One of the man managed to stammer out, “Yeah, whichever one of those you want.”

            The Doctor turned to the wall of stuffed animals, hand on his chin as if it were a very serious decision. After a moment he turned to Sarah. “Which one would you choose, Sarah?”

            She joined him at his side and copied his very serious examining posture as best she could with her arms full. “I think that owl looks a bit like you,” she said, nodding at a little brown stuffed owl. “Only a bit more charming.”

            The Doctor frowned at her. “Well,” he sighed, “the owl it is, then.”

            One of the men took it down from the wall and handed it to the Doctor. He looked into its stitched eyes and shook his head. “It doesn’t look a thing like me.”

            Sarah handed him back his coat and scarf and snatched the owl from his grasp. “Says the man who changes his face,” she said with a smirk. “Who knows, this could be your future, Doctor.”

            “An owl?” He took his hat back and smashed it down on his head. “Now that would be something,” he said with a smile.

            Sarah handed the owl back to him, but he just stared at her as if she had insulted him. “What are you giving that to me for? It’s yours, Sarah.”

            “For me?” She smiled at the little plush. “Thank you. But how did you do it, anyway?”

            The Doctor turned her around and led her away from the booth. “It’s not about how hard you hit it,” the Doctor whispered conspiratorially, “it’s about where you hit it.”

            “Ah,” Sarah said, as if that made it any clearer, “now I understand.”

            But his attention was already elsewhere as he pointed at a swinging ride that looked, to Sarah Jane, like a death trap.

            “Come on Sarah,” he called, already several steps ahead of her, “keep up!”

            Sarah shook her head, laughed, and then ran after the Doctor.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

            Some time—though Sarah had never been able to keep track of exactly how much time—later, Sarah collected her things inside her room in the TARDIS. Her stomach churned and her blood boiled at the thought of the Doctor not even caring about her. Currently, he was tending to his machine, his infernal TARDIS, rather than her. He never listened.

            So she grabbed what she could fit in her suitcase, all the things she deemed most important. She was done with this, done with him. She needed some time back in the real world.

            But her temper cooled a little as she imagined life without the Doctor. It wouldn’t be forever. No, definitely not. She would spend a week on Earth, or maybe a day or two…

            Something on her bed caught her attention. She stopped stiff at the sight of the little stuffed owl the Doctor had won for her that day at the carnival. Oh, the laughs they’d had that day. Sarah smiled at the fond memory and picked up the owl, resting it in the crook of her elbow.

            Yes, maybe just a day at home, and then she’d be ready to travel again.

            She stared at the door of her room and thought about facing the Doctor. Her anger began to bubble again, and with a huff she made her way to the console room.

            Every thought held against him dissipated in a moment when the Doctor told her she had to leave. Suddenly it was like the world had come crashing down. But surely...he couldn’t mean forever, could he? He’d go to Gallifrey and come back for her. Of course he would.

            She gave him back his coat, and the loss of its comforting weight sent her heart plummeting even more.

            “Don’t forget me,” she told him. While travelling with him, in some ways she had started to feel insignificant. She’d never actually tell him, but one of her greatest fears was that he would go on and forget her entirely.

            “Oh, Sarah. Don’t you forget me.”

            Never, she thought. I could never forget you.

            As time continued in its relentless pace, Sarah Jane Smith grew older. At first, it was easier. She knew that Gallifrey was serious business; maybe something was keeping the Doctor there.

            Occasionally she’d hold her little owl and remember how she’d told the Doctor it looked like him. She could still picture his smile so clearly, and she hoped that she’d always be able to. She wondered if he was wearing that same grin at that very moment, lightyears and galaxies away.

            But he never came. Years went by. Sarah Jane made a life for herself, but she never forgot. Not for one moment.

            One day, after she had successfully investigated and stopped an alien threat, she couldn’t help but wonder, yet again, where the Doctor was. She found herself up in her attic. She hadn’t really dared to wonder, even after all these years, what had happened to him.

            But now, perhaps, it was time to face the truth: the Doctor was gone. Either he had died, or he had deemed her so trivial that he hadn’t bothered coming back for her. Both options made her miserable as she considered them.

            She went to her room and picked up the brown owl that sat dutifully on her bed still, long after she had outgrown stuffed toys. She hugged it tight.

            And, despite everything, she still hoped.

            “Till we meet again, Sarah.”

            “We will, Doctor,” she murmured. “We will meet again.”