Spoilers: There was a war...
Characters: Sarah, Torchwood Team and others.
A/N: This was written for sarahafterdark's 13 Nights of Christmas Challenge. 13 individual challenges to be posted after dark between December 25 and January 6. Somehow I ended up writing a vaguely cohesive 13 part story for this thing. I'm not sure how or why. Some bits are drabble length, others are longer (total word count is ~3700) and how well the parts fit with the prompts is left as an exercise for the reader.
I've linked each challenge at the beginning of the section, for the curious. One section has been moved earlier in the story, because it fits better there.
Disclaimer: Don't own Torchwood or Sarah Jane, and probably never will. And I stole the title from the last episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which I don't own either.
Night 01: Boxing Day Is When Everything Changes
Sometimes Sarah thought she'd never stop running. Sometimes she thought she didn't want to. Adrenalin had been her drug of choice for too many years.
If she missed anything, it was the feel of another hand in hers. Knowing that there were others working with her to save the day and the world.
That was why she had joined Torchwood when they invited her. She missed being part of a team.
That was why she was running now, to save them, her team, her family from the monsters.
She pushed herself harder, she couldn't afford to fail this time.
Night 02: 51st Century Boy (Future Shock)
Mostly Jack played the part of 21st century man to perfection. Sarah would never call him on the rare slips he made. She knew sometimes, when she was tired or relying on instinct to pull her through a crisis, that she slipped too. Travelling with the Doctor changed people, in ways they never realised and even she, who had been born into this time and place, no longer felt like she belonged here on Earth.
Then she joined Torchwood, where her odd skill set was useful. Jack recruited her and she'd never blow his cover. She understood all too well how hard it was to keep that mask in place.
Night 03: Creulon yw'r crynhaeaf ond per yw'r don
When Sarah joined Torchwood Three, she bought a house in the Welsh countryside. She loved it there, even after the cannibals. Despite the long drive home when work kept her late at night and despite the fact that she'd been a city girl all her life.
The country had two advantages to her mind.
The first was the lack of nosy neighbours. No one to ask questions about her dog or the police box that occasionally appeared in her back garden.
The second was the lack of CCTV cameras. So that no one at Torchwood would ask those questions
Night 12: Cyberpunkstravaganza
The biggest hazard of alien tech was that people used it in ways that were never intended. Sarah and Jack discussed this often, wondering and fearing what would happen if one of the huge, multi-planet corporations decided that Earth was their next great market.
Sarah's experiences in fighting against the Crimson Chapter's influence and with the whole Bubbleshock scare had left her incredibly wary of what the consequences would be if aliens started invading not with guns, but with goods and services.
So they formulated plans and worked out strategies and hoped they'd never need to use them.either.
Night 04: Power Games (51°29N 3°11W)
Sarah was running again, wondering why Jack could be such an idiot sometimes. She'd warned him about the Crimson Chapter of the Orbus Postremo, but he'd shrugged it off. He couldn't be bothered by a merely terrestrial threat. Even when she'd told him about some of the catastrophes they had engineered.
Now the whole Torchwood team was making their way across Europe, unsure of the cult's final destination and knowing only that if they achieved their goals, they would have enough atomic fire power to destroy the polar ice caps and send the world into a global ecological disaster that might last for centuries.
Out of Time
Night 05: The Time Agent Who Went Out Into the Cold
There was something off about the man in the shadows watching her and Jack. He didn't belong here, in this time. Sarah tended to notice these things now.
When she pointed him out to Jack, he froze before saying "Time agent, after me. Fuck. If he notices we've seen him, he'll just travel to another point along the time line. We have no way of tracking him."
Sarah hesitated. This belonged to the class of things she never told anyone. "I can track him. I 'see' temporal anomalies. That's why I noticed him in the first place. So the real question is what you want to do with him once we've got him."
"Do you have retcon pills?"
"We'll set you up as an informant. Let's make sure he's seen us together. And then...."
"Get him to buy me a drink, and drug him." She smiled at him. "I think I can manage that."
Night 06: Sometimes You Pay the Price
Jack had lost two years worth of memories and sometimes Sarah envied him. Her life had become a major battle during the Time War, and somewhere along the way, her mind had stopped resetting itself, leaving her with memories of time lines that no longer existed and lives she hadn't actually lived. A living time paradox.
But all roads had led her to Torchwood. Different causes leading her to the same effect. She had joined for the thrill of adventure, to save the world, at the behest of UNIT or the Celestial Intervention Agency. In this time line that had asserted itself since the war had ended, she had joined because the Doctor had asked her to. A double agent, working against the organisation she had agreed to serve.
She knew the team would never forgive her if they found out. So she couldn't let them find out. They were the only family she had now.
Night 07: In Winter, The Nights Are Long
Winter nights were long and cold, and it was then that Sarah found the shifts of her memory hardest to bear. Especially on clear nights when she could look at the stars and pick out where Gallifrey once had been. She had reinvented herself so many times now, she wasn't sure she remembered who she was. Often she would delay the trip home, especially on nights when she knew the house would be empty, and go out for drinks with the rest of the team.
Loud noise and alcohol were the second best way she had found to keep the memories buried. Flirting with Jack and Owen and Tosh, she could pretend she was young again, and her past wasn't the burden it had become.
Some nights though, she could slip away with a private smile, knowing he'd be there waiting for her and that the night would be spent holding him and being held by him, keeping each other's demons at bay.
Night 08: Where Were You On January 2, 1977?
Sarah had reason to celebrate. She'd got her first proper job, on the strength of the freelance pieces she'd been writing since she'd left uni. She and Jeff Linton had plans to slip away from the pub and celebrate privately. Jeff was her first proper boyfriend, and Sarah was starting to think he might be the one.
Jack was tracking a temporal anomaly. Something major had shifted in the time line and the Agency had traced it back to 2 January 1977 and sent him to investigate.
Neither one knew that this night would see the first salvo in a war that would echo through time and space; that the Daleks had planted a bomb in the pub, intending to kill Sarah before she ever met the Doctor.
Jack doesn't remember the events of that night. The Celestial Intervention Agency wiped two years from his mind.
But Sarah remembers. The charming stranger she ended up drunkenly flirting with after she found out that Jeff was shagging her best friend, who persuaded her to leave the bar with him. The explosion, later blamed on Irish terrorists, which killed all of her friends and might well have killed her, if she hadn't been focused on some petty payback. The CIA operative who wiped her mind, believing that was the end of it, and that the mind wipe would stick. It did, for a time.
And most of all, Sarah remembers that she owes Jack her life, and she hopes she will never have to choose sides against him.
Time and Again
Night 09: Echoes Of Dead Planets
Sarah dreams of Gallifrey's destruction, and knows the dreams will never go away. Saying 'the night it was destroyed' is meaningless in a war that encompassed all of time. And she had become too big a player in the war not to notice it was gone.
She sees traces and echoes in everything. Living and working near the rift helps, creating background noise to drown out the screams of the dying and the dead.
She was killed by the Daleks, only to have it unravelled again by the Time Lords. She isn't sure when her mind stopped overwriting the old time lines with the new. She does remember being mind wiped more than once, in what became a futile attempt to preserve her original time line. And she remembers when she slipped, and called the agent they had sent to protect her by his name, pushing him down to the ground to save his life.
She remembers all the twists and turns all the choices that led her to this point, or didn't, and envies Jack the gaps in his memories. Sometimes she wishes she could forget the past.
Night 10: Torchwood Undercover
Everyone in Torchwood keeps secrets. That's the first thing Sarah learned when she joined the team. She sits back and watches the dance. Who is sleeping with whom? What other, more dangerous secrets are they hiding?
She keeps her own life tightly under wraps. Flirts, but never goes beyond that. And some late nights, when one or another of them will offer to put her up in town, so that she won't have to drive home, she just smiles and shrugs and says that she doesn't mind the drive and that she sleeps better in her own bed.
The drive gives her time to think, to process the events of the day, but she finds herself resisting the urge to speed.
She smiles when she approaches her house and notices that the lights are on, welcoming her and when she pulls into the driveway she sees a familiar blue box.
As she lets herself in, he looks up from whatever he has found to occupy himself until she gets home and grins at her, before gathering her up in a tight hug. "Hello, Sarah Jane."
She kisses him fiercely, not caring what face he is wearing this time. "Hello, Doctor."
There's no one left to care that they're doing this and her past is in tatters anyway. They've given up all pretence of playing by the rules. She doesn't know how he tracks his visits, so that he doesn't run into himself (and she's not sure she'd mind if he did).
She gave up thinking there could be anyone else a long time ago, and she knows that through some quirk of biology, Time Lords mate for life. She'd been an embarrassment once, when he had found with her what he couldn't find among his own people. It doesn't matter now, she knows, and in a way he feels lucky - if she'd been a Time Lord, he would have lost her too.
And that's what it amounts to: making do with fragments of their war-shattered lives.
Sarah strokes the velvet or leather or wool before tugging off his jacket, and dropping it on the floor. The path to the bedroom is marked out by the clothing they shed along the way. By the time he lowers her on the bed, they are both naked and aching. Sometimes they take it slower, but not tonight.
Afterwards they talk. Sarah gauges her conversation carefully to the man lying beside her, but it doesn't matter, just having him here is enough.
Only to the most recent of his incarnations does she speak of Torchwood and her work there. For now her work and her love life don't conflict. She hopes the day never comes when they do. She doesn't want to betray the team, but her loyalty was given long ago, and as far as she's concerned, her choice is clear.
She wraps herself in his arms and his presence, and tries not to think about what they have lost.
Night 11: Out of Sequence Thursday
Sarah remembers the day that the Celestial Intervention Agency realised that her memories were not resetting themselves and that the mind wipes no longer worked on her. Too many attempts by the Daleks to subvert the time line had destroyed her brain's ability to cope.
She remembered dying at the age of six with her parents in a car crash that was no car crash. The attack on the boarding school she attended at the age of twelve had got her expelled, when she set off an explosion in the science lab to destroy the Dalek who was trying to kill her. The more minor twists - sending her and her aunt to America, so that she wouldn't meet the Doctor; a slew of minor inconveniences causing her to miss job interviews, deadlines, and exams; messing with her bank account so that she couldn't pay the rent. Some of the attacks failed, some succeeded but were undone by future/past interventions.
She'd had her own CIA agent assigned to her after the first attack. When she started to recognise him, she kept it to herself. She knew he was there to protect her from these alien robots, who wanted to kill her, and as far as she was concerned this was a good thing.
But the time lines shifted and changed and ironically it was the Daleks' original attempt which made her slip. (She could list the attacks by the Dalek time line now, not just by her own.) They had noticed, as she had, that she was being protected, and targeted the agent. She pulled away from Jack and pushed the agent down, out of the line of fire. And that was the end or perhaps the beginning.
She was brought to Gallifrey (though the name of the planet didn't mean anything to her then) and stood before the CIA and the High Council, while they debated what to do with her. Later she would realise that while the CIA, like the Time Agency, had noted the temporal anomalies surrounding her life, they didn't understand the significance as yet. This was a time on Gallifrey long before the war had started.
In the end, after much rhetoric and philosophical meanderings about time paradoxes and temporal distortion, they decided that the best thing they could do was recruit her to the CIA, in the hopes that understanding the consequences of her knowledge would prevent worse disasters. But all prospective agents were required to have a degree in temporal maths and physics, so they enrolled her in the Academy first, and hoped her 'primitive' human brain would be able to pass the rigorous course.
They altered her biochemistry, time moved differently on Gallifrey, but finishing the course would take fifty years, and to preserve what they could of the time line, they intended to return her to the time and place she had left.
After some debate they arranged for her to be placed under the wing of a promising young genius, named Romanavoratralundar, who was not told why. Sarah grew used to Romana and most of the other students treating her as if she were a curiosity. The feeling lessened somewhat over the years, as she managed to pass exam after exam - some by the skin of her teeth. It got easier as her knowledge of the Gallifreyan language improved. She was stubbornly determined to prove herself to everyone involved.
Despite her superior attitude and barely hidden scorn, Romana turned out to be a great asset, if not the most entertaining of companions. Sarah ended up picking up a surprising amount of other scientific and technological knowledge from the other woman's conversation about her studies.
Many nights, she'd slip outside the dome to look up at the stars, so different from the ones she saw at home. She considered this a great opportunity, but sometimes the confines that the Time Lords lived their lives under stifled her.
She was nearly done with her course of study when the president was assassinated. Later, in Aberdeen, she would remember that day and realise that that was the real reason humans were forbidden on Gallifrey at that time. Having her run into herself would have been a temporal disaster. Still, she was forbidden to leave the campus for the duration of the crisis.
Sarah deduced that it had something to do with the Doctor. She had met him before, during the Dalek attacks, and she knew she would meet him again. She and Romana had looked him up in the archives after he announced his candidacy for the presidency, and she had not been surprised to see her own name and face in his file. She resisted the urge to read anything about her future. She knew better than that now.
In the end she did better than just barely passing the course. In fact she scored better than the Doctor, though from what she knew of him she suspected that was to be attributed to laziness rather than stupidity.
The CIA training was quicker and she passed almost at the top of her class, which surprised everyone. But her life was one big temporal paradox, and her practical knowledge proved useful in the final exam. As she packed to leave Gallifrey, she heard rumours that one of the Guard had married the Doctor's latest companion, but she had no chance to meet Leela before she left.
She returned to Earth, to the life she left behind, a CIA agent in her own right. Picking up the pieces of her life was hard. Earth felt primitive after the wonders of Gallifrey, but she had a job to do, and a life to live. They had risked telling her a little of her future, to make sure she would understand the importance of being in the right place at the right time to meet the Doctor.
The Daleks didn't try again, by her chronology, though there were several more attacks on her past before they gave up to concentrate on easier targets. She lived
It had never been intended that she would be an active agent, the CIA just wanted her to have enough information to keep the time line relatively intact, but when the war began in earnest, they needed everyone they could get. And so, one ordinary day, she got a call she was not expecting, not that she would have refused. Saving the world had become a habit.
They assigned her to the Doctor on the theory that he'd be less resistant to her than a traditional agent, and less scornful of her than a traditional Time Lord. He wasn't happy when he found out that she worked for the CIA but he understood, and for most of the war they worked together against the Daleks.
Her last assignment during the war was to return to Earth, with a copy of everything the Time Lords knew about of the Daleks, and the history of a war that was about to disappear from history. Her job was to hold the line, to remember, just in case their last desperate plan failed. She accepted the assignment, kissed the Doctor, and returned to Earth, to once again pick up the threads of a life that seemed even more alien to her.
Much later, when she understood the consequences and the ramifications of what had happened, she asked the Doctor if the Daleks had attacked Harry the same way. He told her they had tried once and had succeeded in killing him before he had joined the crew, only to find that it made no major difference in what had happened on Skaro, but had made the Doctor and Sarah much more ruthless about destroying the Daleks. When the CIA had fixed the time line and prevented his death, they hadn't bothered to try again on the grounds that it was counterproductive.
Sarah wasn't sure if that made her feel better or worse, but she never told Harry.
Night 13: Everybody Dies
Death had followed Sarah all her life. She blamed the Daleks mostly. There were days when she wondered if it had ever been just a car accident that had killed her parents, or if the Daleks had known somehow, even then.
She had watched her friends die multiple times in multiple time lines. And so she stopped allowing people to get close to her, until first Josh and Nat and then the Torchwood Team had sneaked under her radar. And then there was the Doctor who was more than a friend. How many times had she thought/believed/despaired that he had cheated death for the last time?
She wasn't sure if the hardest deaths to bear were her own, in those time lines that now only existed in her mind where the Daleks had won that battle, or that of her classmates at the Academy. She had spent over fifty years on Gallifrey, half her life, and its loss still cut her like a knife sometimes. Their scorn and resentment and her frustration at their insular view of the universe didn't matter any more. Perhaps it never had.
She'd hoped she'd never have to go through that again, but last night she'd woken up from a dream that had once been a reality, a life she had lived in another time, another place. A life in which the Doctor had left her not on Earth, but on a planet called Caprica, where she had taken a new name and built a life for herself only to see it destroyed by a robot invasion, and it turned out the only path to follow was to try to lead the survivors back to the planet where she had been born.
She lived these realities in her dreams and in her memories, holding them tight, so that they wouldn't be forgotten, no matter how the universe had changed around her and she hoped and prayed that it would never happen again.