Evil Plotbunny (hhertzof) wrote,
Evil Plotbunny
hhertzof

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Out of Time

Title: Out of Time
Author: hhertzof
Rating: PG
Beta: paranoidangel42
For: schizophrenic whose prompts were:

Prompt #1: Sarah Jane/Nine. Okay I'm sad and I'd like them as a pair,
but really any versions of them together would be fantastic.

Prompt #2: Sarah Jane and the Third Doctor. Sarah Jane gets sick..
like a cold, not some disease and Three has to take care of her. Not
fluff really, more like her bitching about people taking care of her
and she can take care of herself when she can't.

Prompt #3: Harry and Sarah Jane in an adventure on Earth post Doctor
that has nothing to do with the Doctor but still can be kind of
alienish as long as he doesn't show up.

Summary: Prompt #1 pretty much covers it, a minor reference to the story I started but didn't finish for prompt #2 (it kept turning fluffy or smutty - I'll probably finish it and post it at some point).
Spoilers: Original series and Dreamland. Set before School Reunion. Vague references to Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones and the Chalet School series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer.
Wordcount: 10550




The Doctor stared at the latest intelligence reports. "Why Earth? What could they possibly hope to gain?"

"It's a distraction," Romana said dryly. "You know that. They want you out of the way, Doctor. And revenge. The target is here." She pointed at the multi-dimensional war map. "They can't change your past, so they're trying to change the past of your companions. Specifically the ones who were with you on Skaro."

"Sarah Jane and Harry. I can't ignore this. We can't ignore this. It isn't just a distraction, Romana. If they succeed it will alter the entire course of the war." He started moving restlessly around the room.

"So, you'll just have to make sure they fail. Doctor, can you do this?"

"I have to." He frowned. "But what could they possibly hope to accomplish in 2004? That's long after the fact in both Sarah and Harry's personal time lines."

"We have no idea. We've given you all the information we have."

"I think I liked you better before you became President." He could see the strain in her face, the war they were fighting had cost too much already, and there was no end in sight. He wished...but there was no point in wishing.

"Come back safe, Doctor, we need you," Romana said softly as he walked out the door. Since his regeneration, he'd become more ruthless, more driven and they needed that now.

---

Sarah woke to find herself handcuffed to a hospital bed. This was not good.

She still felt groggy, as she tried to focus on the last things she remembered - the disastrous space flight and facing down the Mandragora helix. She had won that battle somehow and saved the Earth once again. She wondered how much Josh would remember and what he would think about what happened. The Crimson Chapter had been right, after all, she thought grimly. I was the herald of an alien invasion, but it was a trap, not a prophecy.

And now.... She looked around the room. The labels on the machines were in English, so Earth or some place colonized by Earth. The machines themselves looked somewhat shabby, as if they hadn't been properly maintained. She had existed outside time and space for a time. Had she come back to find that a century had passed, like in the tales of humans stolen away by the fair folk? She decided to bide her time and find out more before she tried to escape.

Her revere was interrupted by the sound of a wheelchair, as Nat entered the room. Not the future then, but something very odd was going on. Had she been possessed again?

"Hello, Nat," she said cautiously.

"Sarah Jane." Nat didn't sound happy. "I can't believe you did that."

"Did what?" Sarah hedged, "My head's still a bit foggy."

"You know precisely what I mean. Showed up at the Dauntless launch site. There's a warrant out for your arrest, you know. Planet Three has stood behind you through all your wild schemes, but this is taking it too far. You agreed that you'd keep a low profile, just get the interview and leave." Nat's eyes drilled into her. "You're a brilliant reporter, but you've become foolhardy. You don't seem to realise that you're not just endangering yourself, but everyone around you. We used to be friends, but if you won't listen to me I don't see how we can continue on like this. Sarah, I can't do this, I've got my family to think of."

Sarah started, "But...." then stopped abruptly. This was all wrong. She hadn't worked for Planet Three in years, not since they'd fired her on trumped up evidence. Which she had traced to Hilda Winters and then to the Orbus Postremo. Too many questions ran through her head. She focused on one. "Josh. Is he alright?"

"Josh who? You don't mean Josh Townsend do you? The guy you called a spoiled rich brat just this morning, after he called off the interview. Since when do you care what happened to him?"

"Humour me, Nat," Sarah said, while cataloguing this latest bit of information. "We were friends once."

"Oh, alright. The Dauntless had a rough landing right near where you were standing. That's how you were injured and captured." Nat said pointedly. "The pilot is dead and Mr. Townsend suffered some injuries that haven't been revealed to the press yet, so no one knows. Considering all the bragging he did about being the first civilian chosen to go up in space, when all he did was buy a ticket with his father's money, it serves him right. His father isn't thrilled, as you can imagine. After all the time he spent publicly arguing with his son about this, he's been vindicated. Sir Donald Wakefield has been all over the news telling reporters precisely what he thinks of the whole business, and it isn't very complimentary."

A man wearing a uniform that Sarah couldn't identify, came into the room. "Time's up, Ms. Redfern."

Nat looked at him, then turned to Sarah. "This is it, then. We won't be seeing each other again. I'm sorry it had to end this way, Sarah."

"I'm sorry too, Nat." Sorry that the world seems to have gone all topsy-turvy while I was in space. Sorry I couldn't dig more information out of you. And most of all sorry that I can't explain this to you...you'd never believe me. "Go. Do what you have to do."

Sarah watched as the uniformed man escorted Nat from the room and took stock of her surroundings once again. They probably weren't planning to kill her immediately, if they were giving her medical attention, though that might have been only for Nat's benefit. She looked over at the handcuffs. Most of the tricks the Doctor had taught her for freeing herself involved being conscious when she was bound, but if she could get her hands on something to pick the locks....

For the moment she was stuck here, so best to use the time to go over what she knew. Josh had been in the Dauntless. He and his father were on the outs. And most importantly, Sir Donald hadn't been involved in the space expedition, which implied that there was no Orbus Postremo. There was a good chance that Josh was in the same situation, she was in...not under lock and key, but with a set of memories that didn't seem to fit the world he found himself in. And unlike her, Josh had never travelled with the Doctor, he wouldn't have any idea what was happening. She wondered if they hadn't released details of his injuries because they thought he'd gone mad.

There was nothing she could do about Josh now, so she moved on to her own situation. No cult, possibly no Hilda Winters and she hadn't been fired from Planet Three. Most importantly, she had a price on her head. She laughed inwardly at her melodramatic phrasing, but it worried her. Who had she angered? Not knowing that would be her greatest danger in this alternate reality.

She decided there was nothing she could do at the moment, so she forced herself to rest for a while.

She was woken by voices in her room, but continued feigning sleep, in the hopes she could learn more.

"No concussion, thankfully. She's been treated for shock and minor contusions, but there were no major injuries. She should be well enough for transport tomorrow."

"That is good. It wouldn't do to have her too weak for torture. We need the information contained in that head. Capturing a leader of the resistance is a major triumph."

Sarah had to control a laugh, even though her situation was even more dire than she had imagined. If she'd been involved in any sort of resistance movement, she would have made sure that no one person knew enough to bring down the organisation. She had recognised the second voice as that of the uniformed man who had been in earlier So, military rule of some sort. Not complete, she suspected, or the Dauntless would never have been allowed to launch. She had her suspicions, but it would be better to be sure before she escaped.

"I'll just administer a dose of this stimulant to wake her up." The doctor's voice again. Not the Doctor, unfortunately. She'd survive this world on her own, but fixing things might require his help.

"Who? Wha'?" Sarah pretended to wake from a deep sleep.

"Miss Smith, I am Colonial James Peters. U. S. Occupation Army."

Sarah looked at him vaguely. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. James. You'll have to forgive me for not sitting up." She jingled the handcuffs.

"Colonial Peters," he corrected. "You've led us on a long hard chase, Miss Smith. The folks back at h.q. will be very happy to get their hands on you."

Not if I can help it, Sarah thought, but she said in a sweet tone, "I'd be happy to help in any way I can." She could tell he didn't believe her.

He started to say something else, but was interrupted by his walkie-talkie. He listened a minute and then said, "I'll be right there. I'm sorry, Miss Smith, but I'm certain we'll have plenty of time to talk in the future."

"I'm looking forward to it," Sarah said with complete insincerity.

Colonial Peters left the room, and the doctor started to examine her.

"Doctor Webber," she started, noting the name tag on his scrubs. He had heard the Colonial's comment about torturing her and made no objection, so she had to assume he was her enemy. "I assume that asking you to unlock these handcuffs would be out of the question."

"You're a dangerous criminal, ma'am. If there's anything else you want, I'd be happy to do it for you. Within reason, of course." He checked her over quickly and competently.

"Of course," Sarah repeated. At some point they'd have to unlock at least one of her hands, if only to change the sheets. She could wait for that. "I don't suppose you could turn on the television? It's rather boring just lying here."

"I don't see why not, ma'am. No one's told me not to, at any rate." He raised the bed, turned on the telly and placed the remote in her right hand. "You should be able to reach the call button with your other hand. Try not to drop the remote, though."

"I promise not to," she smiled at him conspiratorially. He left and she started flipping through the channels, hoping to find...CNN, that should do it. Clearly under 'our fearless overlord's' control, but as she watched she could see signs of passive resistance. Five minutes later she had the answer, and chills ran down her spine. Daleks. Make that heralding two alien invasions. Somehow, the Daleks had changed the past and taken over, though they didn't seem to be fully in control, yet. The reasons, the causes didn't matter at the moment.

She needed to free herself and try to contact the Doctor. If he was still alive. She desperately hoped that his death wasn't the cause of this time shift. She should probably find Josh too. If only to explain what was going on.

Eventually an orderly entered the room. "I'll need to unlock you to change the sheets. One side at a time, and I'd suggest you didn't try anything."

As he looked to be a foot taller than she was and heavily muscled, Sarah waited patiently as he unlocked one cuff from the bed and started stripping and remaking the bed. It wasn't until he had relocked the first cuff and unlocked the second that she made her move. Once again she was thankful the Doctor had drilled her in Venusian Aikido. She easily subdued the orderly and retrieved the keys which enabled her to unlock the other wrist.

Sarah found the clothes she had been wearing on the flight in one of the drawers of the bedside table and dressed quickly. Her handbag was with her clothing. She ignored most of the contents, pulling out only the mobile and the cash. The Treo was probably bugged. They might even have planned for her to escape, but she couldn't think about that now. She just needed to act unpredictably. She considered the other items in the bag and decided to leave them. Credit cards would be too easy to trace.

Her fingers brushed against something, and she pulled it out. The TARDIS key. She'd removed it from her key ring and put it on a chain around her neck, so that she'd have it with her during the flight. No answers there and no way of telling if she had met ever met the Doctor in this reality.

It did remind her of the other preparations she'd made before the flight. She ran her fingers along the hem of her shirt. There. A sim card, flash card and her lock picks. She quickly replaced the flash card in her Treo, and slid the original into the hole in the seam. She wouldn't discard it yet, since it might contain useful information.

She turned on the Treo, making sure the wireless mode was off, and ran a program from the flash card that would scan the mobile for spyware and bugs. Once she was certain it was clean, she shut it down and shoved it in her pocket with the cash.

She considered finding Josh's room and trying to enlist him but decided against it. He was safe here since there was no connection between the two of them in this world. Even if he remembered any of what happened on the space ship or the other reality, he'd be safer here. Besides, he was probably in no shape to travel after those gunshot wounds. Hopefully she'd be able to contact the Doctor and fix whatever had gone wrong.

The room wasn't guarded. The advantage to being a small woman. Even in this world, no one thought of her as a fighter, at least not in the physical sense.

Sarah managed to acquire a set of scrubs and found a pair of glasses in the lost and found. She hoped no one would recognise her before she managed to leave the building. She kept her head down and moved purposefully through the long halls, finally exiting through the front door without incident. After some consideration, she strolled through the parking lot, before slipping behind an 4x4. Thank heaven for big American cars. Once she was out of sight, she switched out the sim card and called the Doctor.

---

The Doctor didn't know how he'd managed to stay alive. The Daleks had managed to bomb Gallifrey back to the stone age and there were only a few ships left to fight. He was among the hunted now, as the Daleks conquered the galaxy. He didn't know how much longer he'd be able to survive.

When the TARDIS' communication system was activated, he felt a frisson of hope. He had thought he was the only Time Lord left in this sector. "Hello. Is somebody out there?"

An unfamiliar female voice answered in English, "Doctor, it's Sarah Jane."

"Sarah Jane who? I'm afraid you have the wrong number." He wondered if the communications system had broken down. She was an old TARDIS and it was no longer possible to get parts, except by scavenging.

"Oh, God. You don't remember me, do you?" she whispered. The woman was persistent, he had to give her that.

"Haven't a clue. How did you get this number anyway? And why aren't you speaking in a normal voice?" He always was too curious.

"You gave it to me, you idiot. Alternate time lines. You're a Time Lord fighting a war throughout time and space. Think. And I don't dare stay on the line much longer, I seem to have become America's most wanted." She tried to think. What would remind him? What would make him understand? She finally snapped, "Oh lord, what's that line of Polly's? 'This is impossible. For you, the only way to behave well was to behave badly. For me, the only way to win was to lose. You weren't to know me, and I wasn't to remember you.' You recommended that book to me shortly after we met. You must have read it before then."

Alternate time lines, and somehow she had remembered him, but what did he remember? The Doctor heard sounds in the background...Daleks. Whoever this woman was, she needed help. "Where are you?" He started to trace the signal, in case they were cut off.

"An army base in Nevada called Dreamland, I've just left the base hospital and...there's a patrol coming...." The line went dead. He hoped she had just hung up, but he couldn't tell. The TARDIS had managed to lock on to the signal, and he set a course to rescue her.

The Doctor started reviewing time lines, searching for ones in which he'd met a woman named Sarah Jane, and for the anomalies that would indicate tampering with the time line. There. He cursed. The Daleks had nearly got away with a major shift. If she hadn't remembered him, no one would have noticed. He allowed the memories associated with that reality to slip into his brain. The knowledge would be important if he wanted to undo this.

---

Sarah decided that the car park was too busy and made her way carefully to the neatly manicured grounds beyond. She managed to slip out of sight just in time, crouching behind some bushes as she watched the patrol go by and thought of Skaro and the Doctor, remembering the conversation they'd had before she left for Nevada.

It had been late and Sarah had been packing for the trip and wondering if she could handle what was to come. She'd been trapped on Earth too long, and she'd forgotten that once upon a time she had enemies who weren't human, who measured time in centuries instead of months and years. It had taken her too long to put the pieces together, even though they were staring her in the face. Now all that was left was to see it through to the end and hope she would make it out the other side.

She really should have seen it, though. Mandragora. Five hundred years. Why hadn't she been expecting it? Why hadn't she been paying attention?

When she hung up the phone after convincing Nat to come to Nevada with her, she felt like a hypocrite and wondered how Nat would feel when she found out that Josh wasn't the only one who was lying. She wanted Nat along because she didn't have an agenda. Nat would be someone she could talk to and someone she could trust. She still didn't know why Nat had stayed friends with her after all that had happened, but that wouldn't stop her from taking advantage of it.

She supposed that she hadn't lied completely. It was entirely possible that this was why the Doctor had left her on Earth, knowing the Mandragora helix and the comet would be back after five hundred years and that someone had to be here to stop it. It had felt good to speak of him to someone else, even if she couldn't tell Nat everything.

She wished the Doctor was here. Not for the first time and not just because she missed him. Missing him was a nagging ache she had learned to live with, long ago. She just didn't know if she had it in her to do this. He was the one with the knowledge, the glib tongue. She missed being just the assistant, but someone had to save the world, and she would have to do.

Still, if the Mandragora helix was out for revenge, wouldn't it be against both of them? She had no way of contacting him. If K-9 were still working, she might have been able to jury-rig something, but ordinary twenty-first century electronics weren't going to help much. Sarah wondered if he'd turn up anyway, before this was all over.

Sarah had been dreaming of him more these past few months, nightmares from which she'd wake up screaming, leaving her with a vague sense of dread that wouldn't go away. She wished she could only see the Doctor one more time, just so she'd know he was okay.

"One last grand adventure." Sir Donald had no idea....

---

When she answered the doorbell, Sarah didn't recognize the man standing there, which was almost a relief. She'd been afraid it would be Josh, and she didn't want to talk to him at the moment. "Can I help you?"

For a moment, the Doctor was unable to speak. He'd spent too much time focused on the war, on basic survival to think much about the past. Seeing Sarah again hit him harder than he expected. Finally, he found his voice, "Hello, Sarah."

She stared for a moment, not quite believing. "Doctor?!?" He seemed to have traded in his eccentric garb for an outfit that wouldn't look out of place in modern London. Jacket, jumper, jeans. A chill ran down her spine.

"That's me. Did you miss me, Sarah Jane?" He leaned against the doorpost.

She swatted him with the book she was holding. "You just left me. In Aberdeen. Not South Croydon. Aberdeen! Do you have any idea? And now you just show up on my doorstep as if nothing has changed...." She trailed off. "You look tired. Tea?"

"You English are so predictable. Tea would be good, yes." He followed her into the kitchen, noting the open bag laid out on the table in the dining room. "Are you going somewhere?"

"Nevada," she answered as she started the tea. "It's a long and convoluted story that I should tell you, but since I'm certain you didn't suddenly show up out of some sense of nostalgia, why don't you go first? What's going on, Doctor? I've been dreaming about you more, lately. Bad dreams."

The Doctor winced, "I hadn't thought...you're something of a latent telepath. It's what made you so susceptible to mind control."

"And hypnosis," Sarah added mischievously. The laughter quickly faded from her eyes, though. "The war. It's real then."

"Yeah, I'm sorry. I would have spared you that, if I could." He reached over and brushed her cheek. "It never occurred to me that our bond would still be so strong after all these years."

"Longer for you than for me, I'd imagine. So, war with the Daleks. What does that have to do with me? Or with Earth? Are they about to invade?"

"We don't know. Sarah," he took a deep breath, "the business on Skaro is now considered one of the earliest battles and, well, it's a war throughout time as well as space. We think they're going to try to alter your past. Yours and Harry's. Either to prevent you from ever meeting me, or just to change what happened."

"But I didn't do much."

"You did enough. And changing your past is the only way they can affect mine. I've been a thorn in their side for too long." He moved restlessly round the kitchen.

"But why tell me that now? I can't change my past, and if my past was changed for me, would I even notice?" Sarah wanted to wrap her arms around him, and tell him everything would be alright, but she wasn't quite brave enough and she knew it wasn't true.

"That's the big question, Sarah. We've got incomplete information. Most of this is just guesswork. All we know for certain, is that there's something happening in the next month or two that they consider significant. Maybe you'd better tell me about this trip you're planning."

The kettle whistled, making them both jump. Sarah poured the tea as she gathered her thoughts. "I suppose it started five years ago, though at the time I had no clue where it was leading." She told him about Hilda Winters and how she had been a pawn in the hands of the Crimson Chapter. "Twenty-twenty hindsight. It took me forever to get all the pieces together, and then, for a while, I missed the most significant part. The comet. The Mandragora helix set a trap for me five hundred years ago and I'm not sure what I can do except walk into it with my eyes open, and hope for inspiration."

"Do you trust Josh?" the Doctor asked.

"Of course. But trusting him isn't the issue," Sarah snapped in her frustration. "He believes. Believes that I'm the herald, believes that these benevolent aliens will come to take him away. What am I supposed to say? Yes, I'm the Sarah in the Book of Tomorrows, but that's only because I used to travel with this alien with a time machine? Even if I could convince him, he'll twist it in some way to prove that the journal is a prophecy of the future. I told Nat a little about you, but lacking any sort of convincing proof, there are some things that I can't expect her to believe either."

The Doctor took a sip of tea, "Sarah, time is shifting at an alarming rate. I need you to remember me, and there's no guarantee you will. You might wake up one morning and think your travels with me were just a dream, a fantasy. You might not remember me at all. You can anchor yourself with your memories."

"Can I? I'd have thought...I don't know what I thought. Just that if the past changed, the future would change with it. My present. You showed me an alternate future once, where Sutekh had been successful and I assumed that my memories stayed intact because I was a part of events."

"That's the general idea. I'm trying to make you a part of this, to ground you in this reality. I'll be keeping an eye on your past. You need to keep an eye on your present. The moment you forget me, it will give them an opening, and they'll win." He looked grim. "I know it seems like such a small thing, but it would have the same effect on this war as if someone were to go back in time and convince Britain that they should make peace with Hitler rather than fighting."

Sarah stared at him in horror and something suddenly connected. "That's what they're hoping for. If the Mandragora helix possesses me, I will forget you. And I can't let that happen."

"I can't burn myself in your mind, you're the one who'll have to do that. And remembering me will help defeat Mandragora as well. Keeping your sense of self." He rested his head in his hands. "I don't know what to suggest to trigger the memories if you start forgetting."

She ran a hand over his oh-so short hair. For some reason that was the strangest aspect of this new body. "I have some thoughts. Odd little things that might be overlooked, that wouldn't mean anything to anyone else, but which I associate with you. I won't be able to take much on the flight, I imagine. It's a pity I no longer fit into those red striped overalls. Now that would remind me, if nothing else did."

The Doctor grinned at her, but didn't comment.

"Have you seen Harry?" Sarah couldn't believe it had taken her so long to ask. "Or is that your next stop?"

"I haven't and I won't. For one thing, he probably isn't the main target...you are. He spent less time travelling with me, and his memories of me are more vulnerable. Also, time lines have already shifted because of the war. I had a hard time tracking you down, and I don't have time to find him." He realized what he said and started to clarify but she interrupted.

"No, I get it. Events are moving too fast. Both of the sides have similar capabilities, so you cancel each other out to some extent. Like a game of chess. And it isn't as though he'll die; he'll just forget you, while if I hold on to my own memories, I'll keep his time line intact," she finished triumphantly.

He gave her an approving glance.

"You don't know where he is, then. He disappeared a few years ago and I can't get any answers from any of my sources." She could hear her voice quiver.

"No idea. I hadn't realized...I wish I had time to track him down for you."

"But you're in the middle of a war. I didn't expect...It's bad, isn't it? Anything I can do, anything at all?" The thought of the Daleks winning gave her chills.

"You're doing it." He cupped her face in his hands, "My Sarah Jane."

"I don't suppose...God, I don't know what sort of time frame you're working with here, but if you wanted to spend the night..." She trailed off, uncertain of her ground. It had been so many years.

"Are you sure that's what you want, Sarah? I'm not the man you used to know."

She smiled at that. "You never are. Give me another reason to remember you, Doctor."

He still hesitated, "I wouldn't be able to stay till morning. An hour, maybe two at most."

"It's enough. Now stop being contrary."

That got a smile out of him. "I missed you, Sarah Jane," he said as he followed her down the hall.

"Then you shouldn't have stayed away so long, Doctor."

---

In the morning the Doctor was gone, and Sarah finished packing as she considered what he had said the night before. She found a note on the kitchen table, next to her mobile, which made her smile.

Sarah,
I've programmed the TARDIS into your mobile under the name John Smith.
Don’t you forget me,
Doctor

The first thing she did was transfer the TARDIS key, which she kept on her key ring to a chain round her neck. It might not survive a time shift, but it was worth a try.

Memory was the key, she thought. She removed the new novels she had been planning to read on the plane from her carry-on bag and placed them on her dresser, replacing them with old favourites she pulled from her bookcase. When she had started travelling on the TARDIS, she had raided the library, devouring books that her favourite authors hadn’t written yet. She specifically chose titles that invoked sense memory when she thought of them – being curled up in one of the big comfortable chairs in the library and meals they had both spent with their noses in their books, reading the best passages aloud to each other.

She suddenly realised that she had a dozen books – she wouldn’t be able to carry them. Fire and Hemlock was the no-brainer here. Rereading it might give her some other ideas or work as a trigger. She glanced over the other titles, adding A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Nine Princes in Amber. She should probably find the Chalet School books about the student whose father was involved in space travel…where were they? After a moment’s searching, she remembered that they would be on the dresser in the stack of novels she had removed from her bag, since she had wanted to reread them before the space flight anyway.

As she tried to think of other things she could pack, she found herself regretting once again that the red striped overalls no longer fit. She couldn’t help laughing at herself for that. Revisiting that outfit would be taking this a bit too far.

When Nat arrived to pick Sarah up she was as ready as she’d ever be. Over thinking this wouldn’t help. There were no guarantees, no matter what she did, that she’d be able to hold on to her memories. The only think she could do was improve the odds.

Once they had settled themselves on the plane, Sarah pulled out Fire and Hemlock and Joey and Co. in Tyrol.

Nat took one look at her books and laughed.

Sarah was about to defend herself when her friend displayed a brand new copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

"So much for being respectable adults," Nat said. "We can trade when we’re done."
Sarah smiled at that, but didn't mention that she had already read the last volume in the series, which wouldn't be published for a few more years.

They both started reading in companionable silence. Sarah read a chapter of Fire and Hemlock then put it away without bothering to use a bookmark and started the other book.

"Didn’t you like the first one?" Nat asked.

"It's one of my favourites. I'm planning to read it in bits and pieces to make it last the entire trip. I know it sounds strange, but I haven't read it in a while and I don't want it to be over too soon." Not only was it a good excuse, it had the advantage of being true.

She had come down with chicken pox shortly after she had met the Doctor, and it had been one of the books he had read to her, when reading on her own tired her eyes. She knew the book almost by heart, having read it countless times first on the TARDIS and then after it had actually been published and it was always his voice she heard reading it in her head. But judging by what the Doctor said, she wouldn't have Polly's advantage. If her past changed, she wouldn't remember the Doctor at all.

---

Sarah had been so afraid of forgetting him. It had never occurred to either of them that he would be the one to forget her. She considered the situation. The Doctor could handle contradicting time lines with equal weight, but he was a Time Lord. What had Polly done in the book? Oh, yes. She had started at the other end, before the split.

She settled down to wait, trying to trace her memories back. She didn't have long. Five minutes later, she heard a voice behind her.

"Sarah?"

"Doctor. I didn't hear you materialise." She turned to see the same man who had showed up at her door, and was surprised at how relieved she felt.

"Stealth mode. I don't use it often, but it seemed prudent. I'm a little ways off, just in case." He stared at her a moment. "My Sarah Jane."

"You remember me now." Sarah grinned impishly at him.

"Yeah. Though with those glasses on, you remind me of Laura Roslin." He grinned back. "Now, let's get you aboard and then we can have a proper chat."

She followed after him, "Josh says the same thing."

They didn't say much as he led her to the TARDIS. Sarah, perhaps because she wasn't quite so focused on remembering, was now aware of another set of memories - a world in which she'd never met the Doctor and where she was still working for Planet Three. She smiled grimly as she realised that all of her troubles in the past few years could be traced back to her time with the Doctor.

They got back to the TARDIS without incident, and once they were aboard, the Doctor finally asked, "Didn't you say there would be other people on the flight? How much do they remember of what happened?" He walked over to the console and started plotting a course.

"Josh and the pilot. The pilot died. He may have been dead before I faced Mandragora. Josh was badly hurt during the space flight. He seems to have no ties to me in this reality, so I didn't try to contact him. He's safer in hospital and out of this. So what's going on, Doctor? When I called you didn't remember me, but now you do..." She looked around the familiar room, absently patting the walls.

He stopped fiddling with the console long enough to give her a one-armed hug and a big grin. "You said precisely the right thing, Sarah. We're fighting a war through time, as well as space. Altering time lines is the most powerful weapon either side has. But I wouldn't have noticed it, if you hadn't called and drawn my attention to it. Any ideas as to why you retained your memories?" He let go of her and added, "Now hang on," as he started the TARDIS.

"I was dealing with the Mandragora helix at the time or perhaps I should say out of time. The shift didn't touch me, but Nat wasn't and she's caught in the new time line. I don't know about Josh. All I've had time to establish is that I never met you and that there are Daleks on Earth, though they don't seem to be in complete control." She paused, then added, "I'm starting to notice memories from this reality, but they're faint."

"Our meeting was very significant in the grand scheme of things, it seems. If the Daleks get away with this, it would be a major victory."

"That's what you said before. I couldn't quite believe it." Sarah looked up at him. "The weird thing is they obviously changed my past, so how could I....?" She trailed off, not quite sure how to end that sentence.

"Time is tricky, you know that, Sarah. And I think they miscalculated." He leaned back against one of the walls. "I wouldn't be surprised if the Daleks believe that the sooner they kill you, the less likely it is that this time line unravels."

"Which explains why I seem to be on America's Most Wanted list. They showed my picture on the telly and everything. I didn't think it was a good idea to stick around, so I got out of there as quickly as possible and tried to call you. I had no idea what I'd do if that hadn't worked. I was so afraid you had died." The last sentence came out a little more hysterical than she had intended.

He laid his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes. "I thought we'd got past that, Sarah. In case you hadn't noticed, it's never been true. Calling me was the right thing to do."

"I couldn't have done it if you hadn't messed with my sim card, the last time I saw you." She settled against the console to wait. "So now what we just need to figure out what happened or what didn't happen while I was travelling with you, that enabled the Daleks to take over the Earth once my presence was removed."

"Probably during our visit to Skaro," the Doctor provided. "If you hadn't been with me, maybe I wouldn't have succeeded to the degree I did."

"And if you'd listened to me, maybe this war need not have happened," Sarah said sharply.

The Doctor closed his eyes. "It would have been genocide, Sarah. I couldn't do that, even to the Daleks. Even now." It was an old quarrel.

"There are other possibilities, Doctor, that don't involve the Daleks. The Mandragora helix and everything that came of that adventure. If I'd never travelled with you, I would never have ended up in Italy five hundred years ago. I would never have met Duke Giuliano. The Book of Tomorrows would never have been written. The White Chapter and the Crimson Chapter would never have existed."

Sarah paced agitatedly around the room. "All of it. The prophecies which mention the five hundred years - the cycle of the comet and the danger posed by the Mandragora Helix." Sarah paused, then turned to the Doctor. "I know I defeated it before all of this happened. That will stick, won't it?"

"It should." He studied her thoughtfully. "And that may be why you retained your memories of the old reality, if you were inside the Helix's influence when the Daleks changed things."

"We thought the Mandragora Helix was significant, that it was part of the Dalek's plan, but now I'm not sure. They might not have known about it." Sarah gave a brittle laugh. "It seems the Crimson Chapter was right about me after all. And it all ties into my time with you. Even what's going on between Josh and his father in this reality."

"How so? I thought you hadn't talked to Josh."

"His father was the keeper of the White Chapter and Josh was an acolyte. But because in this time line I never travelled with you and never met Duke Giuliano, there's no Book of Tomorrows and no Orbus Postremo. Neither Josh nor his father have built their lives around their beliefs, so the Josh of this world grew up a spoiled rich boy who delights in tormenting his father. In the original time line, this whole trip was orchestrated by Sir Donald." Sarah paused. "In this world, his father had nothing to do with the flight and was quite unhappy that Josh was involved. I used to think the world would have been better off if the Crimson Chapter never existed. Now I'm not so sure."

The Doctor rubbed his temples. "Look around you. Daleks have invaded the Earth. Is that better or worse than what the Crimson Chapter did?"

Sarah replied, "Much worse than anything the Crimson Chapter could have ever dreamed of. So that's our mission, to make sure I meet you?"

"And if that doesn't work, we'll try something else." the Doctor added. "We will fix this. We have to. It isn't just Earth that's at stake."

---

They established that Sarah hadn't shown up because she had been distracted by the death of the Prime Minister in a car crash right in front of her, the day before, which had the dual effects of causing a power vacuum and distracting the young reporter from her original goal.

Sarah hadn't dared to leave the TARDIS, lest she ran into her earlier self, but the Doctor arranged for the Prime Minister's car to be diverted and thought they had solved the problem.

They hadn't. When they returned to the twenty-first century, they discovered that the Daleks now had complete control over the Earth. Obviously, Sarah still hadn't made it to her destination.

The second distraction involved a small child and a burning building, that evening. This time Sarah insisted on fixing it herself, on the grounds that the Doctor had botched the previous incident. He had rolled his eyes at the accusation, but had allowed her to try. She managed to stop the fire as it started, but the earlier Sarah still didn't reach her goal.

Other attempts followed. They traced her path from the fire to a breakfast meeting with the Doctor and each time the two of them thought they had solved the problem, and that Sarah would show up on cue posing as her Aunt Lavinia, something happened to stop it.

Finally Sarah realised, "The problem is that every point we go to, the Daleks have been to first. We've tried the obvious points and nothing has worked. We have to out think them somehow. Skip a point or two and go far enough back, or find something that's more significant than it appears."

"Are you saying you have another idea, Sarah? It's your past we're dealing with. And since we've become part of events, we don't have much time. There's no way to trace the thread backwards, and even if we did, they'd just go farther back." The Doctor looked at her expectantly.

Sarah started to say something, then stopped. "What if we were to deviate from the script and deliberately change my past? Didn't you once tell me that the past is elastic to some extent? What if instead of trying to maintain the status quo, we introduced a catalyst to deliberately push me in your direction? I'm a reporter, let's do something to make me suspicious before that whole business with the Sontaran."

"It might work. It's hard to tell what will just cause a ripple and what will change your past completely. We'll be playing with fire, but I think you're right about the need to do something drastic. And to that end...." He broke off and considered, then took her hand. "It'll be easier to explain with you around. Come on. Oh, and Sarah?"

"Yes, Doctor." She followed him out the door.

"Try not to greet me quite so enthusiastically as you did in the Death Zone. Remember that we haven't met yet." There was amusement in his voice and something else which surprised Sarah.

She looked at him mischievously. "Don't tell me you're jealous. How can you possibly be jealous of yourself?"

The Doctor looked embarrassed. "He was the first one of me you met. And you spoke so disparagingly of my fourth incarnation when we met again."

"You left me in Aberdeen. I was furious with you. But when I saw you on Gallifrey, it seemed silly to berate you for something you hadn't done yet and later on when I met you - blond you - you didn't give me a chance to speak to you. And why is it that talking to you always makes me sound like I know absolutely nothing about proper grammar?" She was walking rapidly, trying to keep up with him. Why did he always have such long legs?

He flashed his pass at the soldiers stationed at the entrance and they were waved through.

She caught his arm as they walked down the long hallway. "What did you show them?"

"Psychic paper. Handy in situations like this." He glanced at it and frowned. "Guess I had Battlestar Galactica on the brain." He showed it to her and she giggled.

"Laura Roslin and...Gaius Baltar. Of all the characters on the show."

"He's brilliant," the Doctor said defensively.

"Also insane." She paused. "Oh, never mind, maybe it's a better fit than I thought."

He made a face at her.

He led her up the stairs to a room she recognised. She'd be entering it herself in a few hours, if they could correct the time line. There was the TARDIS, sitting in the corner, and there was the Doctor and Sarah wondered if he hadn't been right about her, because she was so pleased to see 'her Doctor' again.

She watched as the two Doctors sized each other up, and waited for the fireworks. Thankfully, after a round of 'you shouldn't be here' and 'have you considered the consequences', they settled down to business.

Finally, the Doctor she had entered with introduced her. "Your next companion. Assuming we can stop whomever has decided to mess up her time line."

She resisted the urge to hug him, and merely shook hands.

The conversation that followed was convoluted in the extreme as Sarah and the current Doctor attempted to fill the other Doctor in on why the meeting had to happen without revealing too much of the future.

"You called me on the charade almost immediately on the grounds that I was way too young to be the author of one of her articles and then you said I'd be useful making coffee." She couldn't help pointing out. "You could have known more than you were saying."

"I was testing your spirit," the newer Doctor said defensively. "I knew there was something about you I liked."

"Right. This is getting ridiculous by the way. I can't call you both the Doctor. What if I only want one of you for something?"

They both looked at her bemusedly. Finally her first Doctor relented, "I'm the Third and he's the Ninth."

"Collect them all," Sarah couldn't help joking.

"Very funny," the Ninth Doctor said dryly. "Now back to the topic at hand."

To their surprise the Third Doctor had a simple solution to the problem. "I’ll sic Liz on her. I can have her hint that something very odd is going on here."

Sarah laughed. "I should have thought of that…I studied under her at Cambridge. She'd be the perfect catalyst. Look, shouldn't we figure out how they're arranging this, whoever they are? Otherwise, won't they just keep messing with history?"

"You have a point," the Third Doctor said. "If you can get to the source of the problem, you might be able to fix it. I'll get Liz on to the younger Sarah, you two should track down who's responsible and defeat them. You can borrow Bessie."

Sarah didn't miss the bright grin that spread over the Ninth Doctor's face. "Thanks. You probably won't see us again."

"Until I see you again...in a mirror." The Third Doctor grinned at his later self, then surprised Sarah by laying a hand on her arm, "I'm looking forward to travelling with you, Miss Smith. I imagine you'll lead me on a merry chase."

"You have no idea...oof," the Ninth Doctor winced as Sarah punched him in the arm. He gave her a dark look, took her hand and led her from the building.

In the end it didn't take the two of them long to track down the responsible parties. Sarah's journalistic experiences and contacts stood them in good stead as they traced links from the fire and the accident to 10 Downing Street and then to an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of London.

"At least it isn't a quarry," Sarah snarked as they crept up to the building. Peering through a grimy window, she added, "That's a lot of Daleks. Any ideas?"

The Doctor murmured, "Oh for Ace and her Nitro-9. There are times when her destructive tendencies do come in handy."

"Explosives," Sarah said suddenly. "I think there was an abandoned munitions plant, not far from here. Think you could whip something up, Doctor?"

"I imagine so. I don't want to alarm you, Sarah, but run!"

A Dalek patrol had come round the corner and spotted them. They ran, taking advantage of the maze of buildings and finally tumbling through the broken window of another warehouse.

"I think we lost them." Sarah said, leaning against the wall with her eyes closed, trying to catch her breath. She grinned at the Doctor, "Some things never change."

He grinned back at her. "You said something about a munitions plant around here?"

"There was. One of my first interviews as a journalist was with the owner. They were shutting down because of changes in weaponry and manufacturing. I don't remember all the details, but we can hope they left some materials behind. It's a couple of streets down, I think." Sarah carefully started making her way over to the door on the other side, with the Doctor following close behind.

"Locked," Sarah said trying the door.

"Let me see." He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and set to work.

After checking carefully to make sure there were no Daleks about, they headed down the street.

"It's over there, across the street."

The Doctor unlocked this door with the sonic screwdriver also and they entered the building. Most of the windows had been broken, allowing sunlight to shine in. The place was stripped almost bare, but they found a store of chemicals that must have been accidentally left behind in the research area and they quickly set to work.

"Fantastic. That should do it. You understand what you need to do?" The Doctor had managed to jury rig four bombs to go off on a signal from Sarah's mobile. "The technology's a bit ahead of its time, but the evidence will be destroyed and this is the only way we'll be able to take out the whole building with what we've got."

"Got it. I throw my two bombs in the broken windows, then run across the street. The Treo is programmed to automatically make a call that will set off the bombs in ten minutes, so don't get caught." She smiled at him.

"Good, now run."

Sarah ran, lobbed the two bombs in the windows and then bolted for their rendezvous point, praying she wouldn't trip, or run into another patrol. She reached the spot two minutes before the bombs were supposed to go off and watched for him with an anxious gaze. Finally the Doctor came running around the far corner of the building, thirty seconds before the bombs were set to blow.

He tackled her, dragging her down behind some rubbish bins, just as the warehouse exploded. They lay there for a second in silence before he spoke. "Sorry, I nearly got caught by another patrol."

"Do we need to worry about any strays?" Sarah asked.

"They haven't been a problem. Hit them hard enough and they'll abandon their plan for another." He touched her cheek and looked at her with tired eyes. "They seem to have no shortage of plans." He stood up and pulled her to her feet. "Let's go see if this worked. If it didn't, I don't know what to try next."

When they arrived at the research centre, they found that the younger Sarah Jane had arrived on cue, so they headed back to the TARDIS.

"So, now what?" Sarah asked, as she watched the Doctor set the course.

"I drop you off at the base, and go back to the war. This isn't the only battleground." He ran a hand over his too-short hair.

Sarah reached over and gripped his hand. She couldn't think of anything to say.

They materialised in Nevada in 2004, and Sarah was about to open the doors when the Doctor caught her shoulder. "What? What is it?"

He pointed wordlessly to the viewscreen. A barren landscape filled the screen. He finally found his voice. "The radiation levels are lethal. You don't want to go out there."

"That can't possibly be Earth," Sarah said, a little hysterically. "You always were lousy at steering this thing."

"We returned right to where I picked you up, Sarah. That is Earth out there."

They both stared at the viewscreen in mute horror.

"What did we do? What didn't we do? How do we fix this?" Sarah couldn't breathe, couldn't think.

"I don't know, Sarah." The Doctor frowned at her. "I don't think it was the same incident. Something went wrong though."

"Is there any way to identify where the split happened?" Sarah asked. "Maybe we can work from there. Or can you try to trace your own memories back?"

He stared at her, "I can try." He closed his eyes and leaned against the console. "1976. Not the original incident."

"When you regenerated." Sarah identified immediately. "I nearly...I considered leaving then."

The Doctor gripped the console. "I didn't know that."

"I thought you didn't want me around any more. At least that will be easy to fix."

"How so?"

"You talk to yourself, and I'll talk to myself." He started to interrupt, but she continued on, "I know the rules, Doctor. I promise not to touch myself or do anything to upset the time line. But I know what to say to myself to get me to stay. You just make sure you're a little less dense about the whole thing and trust me."

"Fair enough."

----

Sarah found herself right where she expected, At her usual table at the restaurant where she had often had breakfast when she lived in South Croydon. Her younger self glared at her as she sat down opposite herself.

"If you don't mind," The younger Sarah snapped.

Sarah pasted on a bright smile. "Right, now you're going to listen to me. It's for your own good."

The younger Sarah ignored her staring pointedly at her book.

"I'm from the future. I'm you from the future." That got her attention. The woman did look like an older version of the face she saw in the mirror each day.

"You're not supposed to be here, are you?" her younger self asked. "How do I know you're who you say you are?"

Sarah smiled, she'd been prepared for that. "I stole a spare sonic screwdriver from the Doctor right after we met. It's hidden in your knicker drawer at the moment."

"Okay, so why are you here?" The younger Sarah closed her book, and listened attentively.

"It's an emergency. Pay attention. First of all, don't touch me. Horrible consequences and all that."

"I know that. Cut to the chase."

"Now I understand why the Doctor becomes so crotchety when confronted with his younger selves. You're thinking of leaving him. Don't."

"He's changed. He doesn't need me around. He doesn't want me around."

"Yes, he does. Just because he's an alien, doesn't make him any less of a man. He won't come out and say it in so many words, but he does want you to stay. And if you don't go with him, the Earth will be destroyed."

The younger Sarah giggled, then froze as she saw the look on her older counterpart's face. "God, you're serious. I'm not that important."

"That's what I thought. I was wrong. You're very significant in so many ways. Not famous, but you end up in the right place at the right time. You have at least two adventures yet to come that will only happen if you continue travelling with the Doctor. And the consequences of both of those adventures will drastically affect the course of human history. I've seen the future, if you don't. It isn't...it isn't a place I'd want to live. I can't tell you more." She hoped she was getting through to herself.

"I understand. I've been travelling long enough with him to know that. You really think he wants me to stay."

Sarah couldn't remember being that insecure. "I know he does. He changes but he cares for you, no matter what choices he makes, remember that." She wished she could hug her younger self. "It's worth it. The monsters, the pain. You'll make choices, some of which can't be avoided, some of which you will regret but it's always worth it."

She left the restaurant, feeling at peace with herself for the first time in a long time. Maybe she had waited too long, built her life around a dream that could never come true but had she ever wanted that other, normal life?

Sarah met the Doctor at the TARDIS, and was surprised when he hugged her before he unlocked the door.

"What was that for?" she asked as they went inside.

"Just for being my Sarah Jane." He grinned at her. "I was still a bit out of it from the regeneration, but I think I got through to myself."

"I know I did. So now what?"

"Return to the twenty-first century, cross our fingers and hope."

---

"Everything looks okay." They had materialised back where they had started.

"No radiation this time?"

"None and I'm not picking up Daleks either." He reached over and hugged her again. "Ready to face the world, again?"

"Ready as I'll ever be." Sarah hesitated at the doorway. "Will I ever see you again?"

"Maybe, when you least expect it. I don't know. I've got to return to Gallifrey, see how the war is going. I'll walk you over to the hospital, though." He followed her through the door.

"Sounds good," Sarah started. Whatever she was going to say next was lost as she collapsed.

The Doctor caught her as she fell, unsurprised. He carried her into the hospital and saw that she was safely admitted, before returning to the TARDIS and setting a course for Gallifrey.

----

Sarah woke in a hospital bed. She was relieved to find that this time around, there were no handcuffs involved. She reached over and turned on the telly. CNN was reporting about the disastrous space flight. No Daleks to be seen. She relaxed, shut off the telly, and closed her eyes, intending to sleep, only to be disturbed by a familiar voice.

"How are you feeling?" Nat's voice preceded her into the room.

"A little groggy." Sarah breathed deeply. This would be the test. "How's Josh?"

Nat's smile set Sarah's mind at ease, "Doing better than anyone expected. Apparently the bullets missed anything vital. I think it's time we forgave him."

"I do, too." Sarah pressed the button to raise the bed, abandoning all hope of sleep.

"So what happened up there? We got some of your transmission, but things got really odd towards the end, and Josh hasn't woken up yet. The pilot died by the way. I don't know if you know that."

"He was Crimson Chapter. He tried to kill me and Josh saved me again. What happened after that was very strange, and I'm not sure how much you'll believe."

Nat took Sarah's hand in hers. "I'm your friend. You could trust me for once."

"I could try, at least." And Sarah started the story of the Mandragora helix. She wondered if the memories of her other adventure would fade over time, and decided it didn't really matter. She wished him luck in the war, wherever he might be, and hoped he'd come back and see her again someday.

---

The Doctor walked into Romana's office and waited patiently until she looked up. She jumped out of the chair and hugged him. "You're back. How did it go?"

"They blindsided me completely. Thankfully, Sarah was paying attention and managed to contact me in time or I wouldn't even have noticed. We fixed her history, but it was a near thing."

"We're glad you did. The rest of the war...isn't going so well. Here's your next assignment."

He read the document swiftly. "No. There has to be another way."

"There's no other way. It's over, Doctor, one way or another, whether we admit it or not."

He argued with her long into the night, but in the end he agreed to do it. There was no one else who could.

He never expected to survive. He couldn't help smiling grimly at the irony of it. If this worked, the time line that he and Sarah had fought so hard to save would never have happened. She wouldn't remember him at all.

"Don't you forget me, Sarah Jane." He didn't realise he had spoken aloud.

---

He survived. He still wasn't sure how.

When the Doctor returned to Earth, less than a year later, he found that history had shifted again. He thought about trying to contact Sarah Jane, but decided against it. He wondered how much of the life she had fought to save was still hers and if she remembered any of it. He hoped she didn't; he thought it would be kinder.

He found a new companion, instead, one who hadn't known him before the war and he went back to doing what he did best, saving the world, and tried not to think about what he had lost along the way.
Tags: fic, sarah/nine
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