averita: (tv: doctor who - lis clapping)
Title: We'll Find A New Equation
Author: [livejournal.com profile] averita
Summary: Luke's third night here, she'd woken at half two in the morning to the sound of quiet footsteps on creaking stairs; her sonic lipstick was in her hand and she was halfway out of bed before she remembered.
Rating: G
Word Count: ~2250
A/N: Written for the [livejournal.com profile] sarahjane_fic End of SJA Ficathon. Prompt was: Sarah Jane struggling with being a mum in the early days of Luke's arrival. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wild_force71 for the beta!
Disclaimer: Not mine; title comes from "Chances" by Five for Fighting.

Maria's there, thank God, the first time it really hits her. She takes one look at the scene in front of her and gently closes the refrigerator door.

"Luke," she says, "I think I left my bag up in the attic. Would you mind running up to check?" Luke frowns, perhaps recognizing the lie, but obeys without question; Sarah Jane can hear his new shoes pounding up the stairs as he literally runs across the house. She can't stop shaking, and sits silently in the chair Maria pulls out for her.

It's been two weeks, two awkward, stilted weeks that have gone by like a dream. Everything's done and dusted - papers forged to perfection and signed, the spare room decorated and closet filled with clothes that Maria has assured them both will help Luke fit in with other kids their age. She's kept Luke occupied most of the time, exploring the town (Sarah Jane forgets, sometimes, that she's in a new environment too) and gently teasing him, teaching him things that he won't learn at school or at home. Their home, Sarah Jane thinks, and grips the edge of the table.

"Sarah Jane? What is it?" Maria sits next to her, putting a hand over the one that's turning white against the wooden table. Her eyes are wide and worried, but young, so young, still. "Are you all right?"

"I'm out of bread," is all she can manage in return, steadying herself with two deep breaths. "I buy one loaf of five grain wheat bread every week and it's been three days but it's gone."

Maria's confused, but trying not to show it. "Yeah, Luke and I had sandwiches with tea yesterday," she says slowly. "We'd have been at my house but Dad was out and he doesn't like me at home alone before we get to know more of the neighbors. I didn't think you'd mind."

"Mind?" Sarah Jane thinks she sounds a little hysterical now, and she swallows the laugh that's threatening to burst out, shaking her head. "No. No, I don't mind. I'm sorry, Maria, I need a minute. Will you take Luke - somewhere?” She sucks in a breath, hurrying on before Maria can object. β€œI need to work today, I just - really need some peace and quiet."

She's pleading, and it takes all of two seconds to see that Maria is unimpressed. "No, you're not trying this again," she says, not moving an inch. Luke is still upstairs; Sarah Jane thinks maybe he got the hint after all, and wonders if that's progress. "You're stuck with us, now, remember? So spill it."

Maria is a sight, all of thirteen years old with frizzy hair and a spot on her chin, sitting across from her with folded arms and a frankly impressive glare. Sarah Jane doesn't know whether to laugh or get in the car and drive away as fast as she possibly can. "That's just it," she finally snaps. "I'm stuck with you. I have a son, Maria, and I may be able to take on Sontarans and Daleks and all manner of evil but I have absolutely no idea what to do with a teenage boy, much less one who knows less about the world than an average toddler!" Her voice has risen, and she brings it back down to a normal register, shaking her head again. "I don't know what I was thinking," she sighs, leaning back into the chair, mouth twisting into a bitter smile. "Well, I wasn't, was I? I didn't think, and now I'm stuck with a house full of children that I have no idea what to do with!"

"That's not fair," Maria argues, flushing. "You're panicking, but don't take it out on us. You're going to be a great mum, it's just an adjustment. Having a son might be new for you, but the whole world is new to Luke. He needs you, Sarah Jane."

"I told you before," Sarah Jane says, calmer now, "that my life is dangerous. It's no place for a kid. There are so many people who could take him in, people who actually know what they're doing and didn't just get caught up in the excitement of saving the world." She nods, once, convincing herself. "He'll be much better off with someone else."

"You're running away." Maria straightens, still glaring fiercely, and Sarah Jane feels her own anger building - Maria may be smart, may have been a godsend over the past two weeks, but she doesn't know what she's talking about and has no right to what she's saying. "You know that Luke could still be in danger. Mrs. Wormwood is still out there and for all we know she's making plans to get him back right now.” She lets out a breath. β€œHe needs you, Sarah Jane - and I think you need him."

She stands before Sarah can think of any sort of response, and puts both hands on the table, leaning close. "I'm going to get Luke and we're going to go to the park," she announces. "We'll have lunch at my house but we'll be back here for tea, around four." With a last long look, Maria turns and heads for the attic.

Sarah Jane doesn't move until long after she hears the front door close behind them.

***


For years, after the Doctor left, she kept her life deliberately empty. After all, what's five years when you have all of space and time to consider? He couldn't even make it to Croydon, for goodness sake. And ten years - well, she had a life, she had a job she liked and a good friend in Harry so long as he kept that bloody ring in his pocket, but every time she moved she tucked a small, heavy suitcase into the corner of her closet. By the time she'd accepted that the Doctor wasn't coming back (and it took longer than she'd ever admit) she was too used to the emptiness where he was supposed to be, and couldn't summon the effort to fill it. It was a quiet life, satisfying if not happy, and she'd lived it for a very long time now.

Now there are trainers sitting neatly by the door, already scuffed, and half of the books from her living room are stacked in what was until two weeks ago just storage as her son - her son - devours them like candy.

Luke's third night here, she'd woken at half two in the morning to the sound of quiet footsteps on creaking stairs; her sonic lipstick was in her hand and she was halfway out of bed before she remembered. Instead, she'd tucked it into the pocket of her robe and headed downstairs to find him filling a glass of water from the sink.

"What are you doing up?" she'd asked. "I thought you went to bed hours ago."

"I did," Luke had replied, looking at her anxiously. "I couldn't sleep, and then I got thirsty. Was that wrong?"

Sarah Jane had looked away, briefly, unsure what to say. The light from the moon illuminated dark circles under Luke's eyes, and her stomach had clenched as she wondered just how much sleep he'd gotten over the past three days.

She was silent for a long time before finally murmuring, "No, it's fine." She'd awkwardly patted his shoulder. "I'll get you a cup you can keep upstairs so that you don't have to come all the way down next time. You should get back to sleep." Luke had nodded solemnly, following her back upstairs and into his room, where he'd closed the door and, as she watched, turned out the light.

She wonders now if he'd gotten any sleep after that. She knows she hadn't.

***


As promised, Maria and Luke return just past four, dirty and smiling sticky smiles. "We got cotton candy," Luke announces as they enter the living room, oblivious to the wariness and slight embarrassment with which Maria regards Sarah Jane. "There was a stand selling popcorn and cotton candy. Maria says it's for a circus. I don't think I like clowns much, though. They're supposed to be funny but they look scary."

"They certainly do," Sarah Jane agrees, smiling slightly over the book she's holding. "Terrifying, aren't they? But you had fun?"

Luke glances at Maria - instinctively, it seems. She nods encouragingly. "Yes," he answers. "It was fun."

"There's sandwiches in the refrigerator if you want to set the table," Sarah Jane says. She's tense, but Luke doesn't seem to pick up on it, and she continues hesitantly, "Maybe you can tell me more about your day?"

He looks to Maria again, unsure; Sarah Jane presses her lips together tightly and looks away, surprised at the sudden pang she feels. "Okay," Luke finally answers. "I'll go set the table."

"Just for two," Maria calls after him. "I promised Dad I'd be home for tea." Sarah Jane glances at her sharply, and Maria has the grace to look sheepish.

"Did you now," Sarah asks wryly. "That's convenient."

"I thought you guys could use some time together," Maria shrugs unapologetically, sitting down beside Sarah Jane on the couch. "You just need to get to know him. He's as scared as you are."

"Yes, well," Sarah Jane says, "all the same - I haven't thanked you for keeping him company these past couple of weeks. It's been good for both of us."

Maria grins. "He's fun. It's like training a puppy." Her eyes turn serious again as she continues, "You don't have to do this alone, Sarah Jane, but I know what it's like to have a mum who isn't always there for me. Don't put Luke through the same thing."

Sarah Jane nods tightly. "I'm going to need a lot of help," she says, voice low and shaking.

She wonders if Maria has any idea how much that admission cost her; she thinks that she just might.

"I kind of figured," Maria says dryly, eyes sparkling again, and Sarah Jane surprises them both by hitting her lightly with one of the decorative pillows.

"Such cheek," she grumbles, but grins at the look of shock on Maria's face. The younger girl fingers the pillow she's holding like she's considering payback, but stops herself, and Sarah Jane breathes a sigh of relief. Progress is progress, but pillow fights are something else entirely.

Maria stands. "I'll be by later," she promises, heading for the front door and calling into the kitchen, "Bye, Luke!"

"Bye, Maria," the boy calls back. He glances quickly at Sarah Jane as she enters the room before returning to the freezer, where he's pulling ice cubes from a tray.

"I made a few different kinds," Sarah Jane says after a long moment. "Of sandwiches, I mean. Turkey, chicken, and ham and cheese - you can try them and see which ones you like best. If you want."

"Okay," Luke agrees readily, still focused on his task. The final cubes fall into the two glasses he's pulled out, and he moves to fill them with water before sitting down obediently at the table as Sarah Jane pulls a plate, stacked high with sandwiches, from the refrigerator. At her nod of encouragement, he reaches for the one on top and takes a bite.

She sits down next to him, taking a sandwich for herself and chewing thoughtfully for a moment. "I'm not much of a cook," she says after a minute, "but I bought some food today that you can try. I tend to make the same things over and over again for myself, so it might be good to experiment with some new things."

"Okay," Luke says again. Sarah Jane bites the inside of her lip, closing her eyes for a long, frustrated second.

"Luke." He looks up, eyes wide and confused, as she hesitantly puts a hand on his shoulder. "I - we're both new at this. I don't have many close friends, and it's been a very long time since I've been around children. So we're going to have to help each other learn. Maria can help, too, but we've got to help each other, or - we've just got to learn how to make this work. It might take awhile, but we can do it, can't we?"

Luke is silent for several seconds. She's pleading, now, and she knows it, but this feels a little like a last chance and she doesn't know how not to mess it up.

"I like the turkey," he says finally, and Sarah Jane lets out a breath.

It's going to take awhile, she knows, likely a long while, but her son gives her a half smile as she squeezes his shoulder and she thinks that maybe, this time, she'll get it right.
Mood:: 'dizzy' dizzy

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