Characters: The Eleventh Doctor, Luke Smith, Rani Chandra, Clyde Langer, Maria Jackson (in absentia), Sarah Jane Smith (never forgotten)
Edited by: the incomparable dr_whuh
Summary: She'd been to the stars and was now of the earth. Luke Smith waits for the world to start again.
Author's Notes: I started this story shortly after Elisabeth Sladen — and Sarah Jane Smith — died, but was unable to finish it quickly. I hope I served their memories well.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin. I do, however, love them all and thank the BBC for letting me play in their sandbox.
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Luke sat on the sofa while the memorial went on around him, waiting for the latest wave of emptiness to pass.
He felt, vaguely, that 'empty' was the wrong word. Part of his mind, the part that wouldn't stop working despite everything and which he sort of hated right now, began to consider more exact alternatives.
"You all right?" Rani, her eyes swollen and red, took the cup and saucer from his hand. "You want this hotted up?"
"Oh. Yeah, thanks," he said, grateful for the interruption of ... whatever it was she'd interrupted.
He watched Rani as she edged her way around a cluster of three people blocking the way to the kitchen. The living room really was too small for something like this; they'd rarely used it, preferring the kitchen and the attic for almost everything. The kitchen door trio saw him looking their way and nodded, in that not-quite-meeting-his-eyes way that people apparently did with newly minted next-of-kin. One of them was a civilian representative from UNIT, he remembered, and another was one of the editors Mum used to work regularly with. He didn't know the third at all, except that she was someone from an off branch of Mum's aunt's family.
It wasn't emptiness, really, he decided. It was more like being stopped. Everything around him was stopped, and everything inside him was stopped. It didn't hurt. It was just a lack — of feeling, yes, that was hard not to notice — but that wasn't the totality. It was stasis of the soul.
It didn't matter, he supposed, being stopped. There was no place to go, because Mum wouldn't be there. Not forward — he might be growing up, he might be an extraordinary student at uni, he might even be a defender of the earth, but she'd still been the one with the map for him, and without it he was directionless. Nor could he go back, because memories were useless. What he remembered wasn't her.
Rani helped. Clyde helped, too, and Maria — he wished she could have been here for this official memorial, could have swung the trans-Atlantic journey sooner than next week — but he suspected all of them were stopped too, to a greater or lesser extent. He could tell with Rani and Clyde, because they were moving like he was, speaking like he was; in bursts of quickly dispersed energy, words and actions trailing off until something required them to move, to speak, to get things done because things had to be done.
"Luke, mate, you've got guests leaving," Clyde stage-whispered into his ear. "I'll find their coats, you get them out of here."
Luke re-focused. Right; looked like the UNIT representative was ready to make his exit. The ... what, second cousin; third cousin ... looked to be joining UNIT at the front door. Luke suspected he'd never see her again after today. She'd only come down from Nottingham out of a sense of familial duty, and then only because she'd apparently read Mum's obituary and remembered that Lavinia had had a niece. Luke didn't mind. She wasn't real family.
Still, the forms had to be followed. He stood up, grateful for Clyde's hand on his shoulder, and made his way over do his social duty.
The first two departures triggered a cascade of clasped hands, good wishes and offers of help, one or two hugs and — after Rani finally chased her wonderful and absolutely maddening mother back across the street — blessed silence.
The three of them picked up the detritus of the memorial — empty cups, half-eaten sandwiches and the like — and spent 20 minutes washing up before finding themselves back in the living room.
Rani and Clyde sat together, holding hands unselfconsciously as they recovered from the afternoon. For a split second (or maybe a couple of hundred pico-seconds, the part of him that wouldn't stop estimated) Luke hated them for having each other. Then they both looked at him and he saw the misery in their eyes, and all he could do was love them.
"I — " He stopped momentarily, unable to trust himself not to choke up. "Rani, Clyde ... you've been bricks."
Clyde looked up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly. "She was your mother, but she was our ... " He cleared his throat repeatedly, but couldn't go on.
"She was Sarah Jane," Rani said, She started crying again. "We're her team, and you're our friend. We — oh, god."
"Go on home, both of you." Luke rubbed his face. "Get some sleep."
Clyde put one arm around Rani, and wiped his own eyes with the other hand. "You sure?"
Luke nodded and smiled. "I'm sure. I need the sleep, too. But —" the smile disappeared. "Can — can you come over tomorrow?"
"Try and keep us away," Rani said faintly.
"Thanks." Then, as the two of them got up from the sofa, he found himself unexpectedly grinning, and glad of it. "Clyde?"
"Wipe your nose."
He saw them out and then, exhausted, headed upstairs. He passed his old bedroom, made his way up the second staircase to the attic, and collapsed on the dear, tatty old sofa. He slept.
The box's arrival should have awakened him; the wind from all that displaced air, and the grinding, should have been impossible to sleep through. But there it was, silently arrived from somewhere and unexpectedly expected. He lay there for a moment, just taking it in. It blocked his view of Mr. Smith, and the sun coming in the attic window threw its shadow across the floor in front of the sofa.
The door opened slowly, and Luke sat up, ready to welcome, or deal with, or ward off, the Doctor. He wondered which one would step out. He knew the one he'd met was gone, linearly speaking; regenerated into someone who apparently wore a bow tie and was just a little more unkind than the one he'd known. Clyde had liked him, though, and Mum hadn't been able to keep back a giggle or two when she talked about him, so he couldn't be all bad.
When no one came out, Luke sighed. He wasn't irritated, quite, but he really didn't want to move from the sofa, Still, needs must ... and it was obviously an invitation to go inside. He got up, wondering how he'd been put into the position of being a guest in his own house, and accepted the invitation.
One look at the interior — all soft glow, sharp corners and optical illusion — and Luke knew he had to be dealing with the Doctor's latest iteration. And there he was, standing on the upper level, suspended on glass but otherwise almost hidden behind the rotor console. "Doctor?"
"Up here, Luke."
When he heard the Doctor's voice, Luke knew he'd heard the news. He wondered what he could possibly say to the alien, but got no chance to speak.
Luke flashed back to the other Doctor, telling Mum that he couldn't save her once and never fiance from death. And suddenly, inexplicably, he was furious. "Why?"
"Why are you sorry?" He found the ramp and walked up to face the Doctor, who still looked far more unnervingly and youthfully alien than his previous incarnation. "It's not as if you could have done anything. It wasn't an alien invasion. It wasn't the Trickster. It was cancer. Just cancer."
The Doctor tilted his head and stared at him with those newly deep-set eyes of his. Which, Luke saw, were red-rimmed and wet. "Did I say I was sorry? I am, very sorry, but I know I couldn't have done anything for her. She wouldn't have let me, would she? I mean, you know your mother — probably better than I do. Did. Ever did. Would she have let me?"
"No." Luke was horrified as he said it, both at the gut punch realization that Mum really wouldn't have let the Doctor try to save the day, and at how easily his rage turned on her because of that. How could she not have wanted to be better? How could she have wanted to die, to leave him—
"And I'm sorry about that, too, but your mother — your mother, do you know how odd that seems to me to say it, even now? Your mother always had a sense of timing. And she would have said that this was her time ... anyhow, when I said I was sorry, I meant that I can't stop wishing I was less of a rather horrible person. I wish I could have come back more often to visit her. I could have, that's the thing, but I didn't, and look what that left me. I mean that I wish there had been something I could have done — something she would have accepted." The Doctor's hands had been fluttering above the console, but they slowed as he stopped speaking.
Luke was momentarily, and unexpectedly, fascinated by the long pale fingers. Then he realized that the Doctor was waiting for him to say something.
What on earth could he possibly say to this ... this strange creature about his mum? Or what he felt like right now?
This creature with the ever-changing face, who had lured his young mother into a life she never expected; who had handed her adventure and danger, fear and impossible victories, and then had dumped her back on Earth ... what could he say to him?
And the part of Luke that couldn't stop thinking or measuring or observing answered. He blinked.
It was a line, as mathematically direct a line as you could wish for, he suddenly realized. This mad alien had infused Mum with curiosity and the desire to right wrongs — no, Luke silently amended, he'd found both of those things inside her and had nurtured them. Curiosity and the urge to right wrongs kept her in touch with the universe even after the Doctor left her behind. And those were what drove her to the Bubble Shock factory.
As simple as A to B to C.
"She told me once that she'd got three gifts from you," Luke said slowly. "K-9, the lipstick, and a mission in life." It had sounded more than a bit mental at the time, but everyone tended to babble after the kind of close shaves they were prone to. And it hadbeen a particularly close one, involving two polyformic assassins and a vertiginously high cliff face. Now, though ...
"You really shouldn't worry about that. In fact, you gave me something," Luke continued. He wanted the Doctor to understand. "If she hadn't met you, I wouldn't have met her. I'd never have had the chance to become Luke Smith; I'd just have been some expendable, nameless genetics experiment.
"Thank you for that."
The Doctor's eyes widened. Then, very slowly, he smiled at Luke. Even more slowly, Luke smiled back.
Neither of them spoke for a moment. Luke found the silence surprisingly companionable.
Of course, the Doctor broke it. "You know, I really didn't give her a mission in life," he said. "She had it when I met her. Perhaps she didn't know it at the time, but I actually doubt that. I think she always knew it."
"Saving the earth?" Luke wondered if the Doctor knew how closely he was mirroring Luke's own thoughts.
"Not just that, " the alien replied. "Although she did a brilliant job at it, especially with you lot as her team. Now that she might have picked up from me. No, her mission was more important than world-saving. Any old hero can do that if they're told to; just look at Torchwood.
"But she — your mother, my old Sarah ... Jane, can't forget that, she preferred that — your mum and my Sarah Jane? She made other people want to save the world."
Luke thought about Clyde, fighting for the team while caught inside an insane computer; about Maria trying to help one old woman and ending up saving everyone from the Gorgon; about Rani, thrown back in time and giving the gift of friendship to a doomed queen. He thought about the things he had done, dozens of times.
He thought about his mother.
He remembered his first precious night of freedom, and the way she showed him the stars as they sat in the garden. He remembered all the times that she had stared down aliens and enemies intent on hurting him, or the others, or the world. He saw her, clear as glass in his mind; always the upward tilt of her chin, always the quiet determination to do the right thing even if she was quaking with anger or hiding fear. He remembered her, petite and wonderful, hugging him every time they'd cheated death. He remembered her, even more tiny, trying to hug him from her bed when she could cheat it no longer, settling for the warmth of his forehead on hers when she was too weak to move and closing her eyes only after she had whispered her love—
He felt it then, the world inside him lurching back into motion.
He hadn't thought anything could hurt so much.
The Doctor said nothing. He simply opened his arms and embraced Luke, letting him sob himself out. Then he straightened up, fished about in his jacket pocket and pulled out a very large handkerchief. "There you go."
"Sorry," Luke finally managed. "I didn't expect that."
"I don't suppose you did," the Doctor said, softly. "It's not a bad thing, you know." He rubbed at his own nose and eyes quickly. "Not at all." He cleared his throat. "Look, is it alright if we go outside? I mean, to your attic?"
"Oh ... yeah, sure. I'd like that." It was time for the Doctor to be his guest, Luke thought.
The morning sun had moved farther across the attic floor, warming the room and reflecting in rainbows off a faceted green stone jewel box Mum kept on one of the bookshelves. The Doctor looked about, obviously delighted. "The headquarters of Sarah Jane Smith and Company."
Luke laughed a little, marveling that he could, even as he hurt so badly inside. "Yeah, you could say that."
The Doctor's gaze shifted to the section of wall that hid Mr. Smith, and to a small table close by. He looked from the modest black urn on the table to Luke and back.
"Yeah. They arrived yesterday. Didn't know what to do with them, so I brought them up here," Luke said. He swallowed hard against a resurgence of tears.
"You know," the Doctor said, very diffidently, "people — humans, I mean — are sending those things out into the stars. Sometimes."
It took a moment for Luke to catch on. He shook his head.
"Well, certainly not everyone does." The Doctor didn't really sound hurt.
Luke looked at his visitor, and then out the window and counted to 10, and then to 20. He thought some more. "Look, do you mind giving me a bit of privacy?"
"Ah. I'll just be off, then." Now he did sound hurt.
"No, don't go. Just ... just could you go back inside the TARDIS for a few minutes?"
It wasn't often that you could confuse a Time Lord, Luke thought as the TARDIS door closed. He felt a little giddy.
He knocked on the TARDIS door 10 minutes later, not entirely surprised when the Doctor's head immediately poked out. He might have been standing at the door the entire time ... "Here."
The green jewel box had an ingenious latch on it, one that wouldn't easily open. He'd lined it with a tiny piece of blue silk before shutting it on its new contents. "The choice you made for her all those years ago ... it turned out alright for her. And here's where she belongs. With me, and Clyde and Rani and Maria.
"But part of her belongs with you." He couldn't bring himself to say anything more, just held out the box. The Doctor silently took it, and nodded his thanks.
"Goodbye, Doctor," Luke finally whispered. "Come back, sometime."
The Doctor nodded again.
When the last hint of blue box finally disappeared Luke curled up on the sofa again, felt the world move around him, and waited for his friends to come.