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Timelines Part 2

Timelines Part 2

A/N: This one's for Lis. Because she'll always be amazing in our hearts and because we're all still learning to get by without her.

“Rani’s front door just closed. Do you think...” Luke trailed off, as he turned back to the other three. Dismal faces greeted him, confirming the train of thought currently steaming through their minds, bringing unwanted foreboding and regret in its wake.

“Oh dear.” Sarah said quietly, and they all agreed exactly with the sentiment.


.~*~. .~*~. .~*~. .~*~.

Luke and Clyde both tried calling Rani several times over the next hour, Sarah Jane even phoning a couple of times, but there was no answer. Sarah had been pacing for most of that hour, guilt laden in her stomach for what Rani must be feeling, how betrayed, how alone, how angry. She cursed a few times in her mind that of all the talking they had done, the only damaging section to Rani had been the one she overheard. She didn’t believe in Fate, but Sod’s Law? That she had found plenty of evidence for – and this was a prime example.

Maria sat awkwardly in one of the armchairs, wishing with every atom of her that Rani hadn’t heard. She didn’t want to alienate (no pun intended) the other girl – she welcomed a friend that she could discuss teenage-girl-things with, on the rare occasion she had a need to do so. The boys were brilliant, and loads of fun, but patient and blessed with long term attention spans, they were not.

“Of all the times for her to walk in...” Sarah Jane moaned quietly, flopping onto the sofa, head in her hands. Clyde nodded gloomily, while Luke once again tried to ring across the road.

“Hi Mrs Chandra, is Rani there? Could I speak to her, please?” There were a few moments of silence in number thirteen as Gita evidently went in search of her daughter, and told her she had a call. There was another prolonged, muffled pause as a conversation was exchanged, before Gita put the phone back to her ear.

“I’m sorry my darling, but she won’t come to the phone. Have you two had some sort of tiff?” Luke looked awkward, not really knowing what to say, before Sarah Jane stood and took the phone from him.

“Gita? Yes, hello, would you mind if I popped across to speak to Rani? Thank you.” A beep followed the ending of the phone call, and Luke smiled gratefully at his Mum, while the older woman looked pensively across the road through the window.

“Sarah Jane?” Maria finally spoke, standing and moving swiftly to her friend’s side. The older woman looked down a little at the dark haired girl whom she cared for so much, and saw eyes shining with unchartered empathy and care back at her from such a young face. It was comforting in a way Sarah had missed dearly. “Let me go. It’ll be me she’s really angry with. There are a few things I need to explain, and give her the chance to say.”

Her mentor was about to object when Maria laid a hand on her arm and smiled, a little anxious but nonetheless determined. Sighing shortly, and wishing as Maria had that circumstances were anything else, Sarah nodded slightly. The girl nodded and slipped past the others to the front door, mentally steeling herself for the upcoming confrontation.

She knew exactly what accusations, anger, and hurt she’d be faced with when she entered that house, but she would not let Sarah bear the brunt of that. She knew because she’d felt the same when the boys had told her about Rani. But the newer friend would learn, and come to understand as Maria had, that with the group of friends they belonged to, it wasn’t a question of being replaced. They all went through too much to ever stop caring about the people with whom you went through all those amazing experiences. Maria hoped that she’d be able to explain that to Rani and clear this up before any lasting damage was done.

It felt odd, darting across the road towards her old house, knowing her old key might still fit in the lock but she had no right to use it any more. Her room wouldn’t look like hers any more. The living room would be dotted with pictures of Rani, and her family. Then she thought of their house in Washington and the marvellous view, the massive windows, the open plan kitchen, and didn’t mind looking at her old house to notice the differences. Knocking gently at the front door, Maria tried to fit together what she could say to Rani in her mind, wondering how to start this kind of awkward conversation. She suddenly wished she knew a bit more about the girl.

“Hello, you must be Maria.” The door had opened in a rush and a barrage of colour greeted Maria, along with a big smile and a welcoming gesture to wave her into the house. The girl nodded, smiling back, wondering if Rani had told her Mum what had happened. “I’m Gita, Luke’s told me so much about you. You must feel you’re welcome around here any time my darling, I’m sure you and Rani will be great friends. She’s very friendly, our Rani.” That would be a ‘no’ on filling her Mum in, then, Maria thought and couldn’t blame the other girl. How little had Maria shared with Chrissie over the years?

“I’m looking forward to getting to know her while I’m around.” The young brunette replied honestly, trying not to look around with wide eyes at the new furniture and pictures. “I just popped over to have a chat with her, if that’s ok?” The girl looked hopefully up the stairs, wanting to clear the air as soon as possible. She had the feeling Gita would sucker her into a rather lengthy conversation at a second’s notice, if she could.

“Oh of course my darling, go on up, although – has she had some sort of falling out with Luke or Sarah? She didn’t seem very happy when she came back here and she wouldn’t tell me why.” Maria could see the similarity between her mother and Gita, although the woman in front of her seemed a little more aware than Chrissie did on a normal day. And there was genuine concern in the mother’s eyes too, which was something Maria had hardly ever seen in her own relation’s expression.

“Just a tiny misunderstanding. It’ll be sorted really quickly.” Maria reassured the older woman before moving past her up the stairs, guessing that Rani was in what had been her room as Gita nodded, taking Maria’s word completely and gesturing up the stairs as if to say she was sure Maria could solve the little hitch that had sprung up. The young brunette wished she was as confident. Moving quietly down the corridor, she went over the things she’d planned in her head, before knocking on Rani’s bedroom door and then slipping inside before the other girl could find out who it was and stop her.

“Mum, I said I – oh. It’s you.” The irritation that had fuelled her first phrase hadn’t left upon seeing Maria enter her bedroom but at least Rani sat up on her bed and pulled a cushion towards her so Maria had space to sit down.

“Hi.” Maria wasn’t sure if she should sit down, but standing in the middle of the room felt even more intimidating, so she perched on the end of Rani’s bed and tried to meet the other girl’s eyes.

“I heard everything you know.” Rani declared defiantly, and Maria could see the hard edge that was quite clearly covering just how vulnerable the other girl was feeling. “They don’t like me at all, not like they like you. They never have done. I’m just a stand in. All because you came first.” Rani jumped in before Maria had a chance to steer the conversation anywhere and the last sentence really bit hard.

“That’s not true. They love you, all of them. You don’t get to be part of their group if they don’t like you.” The brunette countered, turning a little towards the other girl and looking at her seriously.

“I don’t believe you. She’s never liked my Mum, not really. And if she can pretend to like her as well as I’ve seen, then she can pretend to like me just as easily.”

“Rani, you know that’s not true. And really unfair to Sarah Jane. She doesn’t lie if she can help it, you know that, and she does like your Mum, it’s just one little thing that’s occasionally annoying. She goes out in the evenings with your parents – she wouldn’t do that if she didn’t like them!” Maria insisted, remembering how envious she’d been when she’d heard Sarah Jane had been out for a meal with the Chandras, knowing that could never happen with her family.

“How do we know? She always brings up the name thing – it’s not Mum’s fault, she’s just not very quick at some things.” Rani’s voice was far more defensive than Maria would have liked and the questions were beginning to go around in circles, so she called in the big guns.

“I bet your Mum had never accused Sarah Jane of having a statue of your Dad in her living room. Or called her and Luke ‘wierdos’. Or told you to stay away from them. Or called the police about her because she thinks she’s stolen Luke from another family.” Rani’s eyes went a little wider with each sentence and Maria gave her a grim but “told you so” look.

“If Sarah Jane still lets me inside her house after my Mum did all that, I don’t think she could have anything against you just because your Mum misses off her last name. At least your Mum is friendly! Mine could be downright hostile!” Rani almost smiled after that, and her head dipped a little in a half nod. Maria gave her a minute and looked around her old room, registering the tidy desk and remembering doing her homework on the floor by her feet.

“It’s not just Mum though. She’s different with you too, compared to me. She hugs you all the time and smiles whenever she looks at you, or talks about you. She’s never done that with me.” There was a hint of unwelcome exposure in Rani’s voice now, and Maria remembered exactly how that felt, knowing someone else was being treasured in a way you didn’t get to experience. For a moment, the young brunette wasn’t sure how to answer, and she bit the inside of her lip, something she’d picked up from Sarah Jane years ago.

“I think you’re comparing two very different things, Rani. When I moved here, I barely had a Mum, certainly not one I respected or looked to for advice. And then, almost as soon as we moved in, I met Sarah Jane, and the next day, I was part of this team to save the world with her, and she was everything I hadn’t even realised I’d been looking for. And she knew it, or part of her did. She took me under her wing, gave me the security and warmth I needed. That’s how she sees me – the daughter she’d always wanted.” Maria swallowed sharply as she tried to ignore her own words.

“Part of me does see her as a maternal figure, someone I know I can turn to for anything. And all the while, she’s showing me this incredible new way of seeing things – a whole universe I hadn’t known was out there, which just makes everything so much more special! With a normal parent, you share meals and watch TV. With her, you build weird machines that make the sky rain jelly bean-looking things and watch fleets of spaceships pass by like shooting stars. Your relationship with her – you know it’s different. You’ve got a Mum you can talk to about most things, spend time with, who obviously loves you in the way a mother should. You’re not looking to anyone else for that stuff. You’re looking for a teacher and a friend, someone who can guide you through the amazing, big world you’ve been introduced to. And she is your friend – you know you could go to her with anything, and she’d do everything she could to help.”

“Except when you’re on the other end of the computer. Then I don’t exist.” Rani shot back glumly, remembering the incident with Eve, and how ignored and lonely she’d felt. Maria sighed and pulled her legs up to sit with them crossed on the bed, wondering whether it was the best idea that she fielded these questions.

“I know what happened with Eve, Sarah Jane told me. And she felt so guilty she didn’t listen properly that first time around. But it was the first time I’d had the chance to speak to all of them in a month, and I had so many questions about the aliens I’d encountered, whether I should be trying to handle them on my own. I was worried, and Sarah Jane always knows when I’m worried, that’s why she wasn’t thinking so clearly.” Maria revealed, looking a little ashamed of her own lack of confidence but smiling weakly when Rani seemed to brighten at her words.

“She didn’t tell me.” There was a hint of reproach in the other girl’s voice but Maria was quick to rebuff that.

“She wouldn’t – not even the boys know. You heard what Clyde said – “the new Sarah Jane” – insensitive prig. They just assumed I was doing what we always used to do, and doing it fine. But I wasn’t – I was shaking like a leaf for weeks before I got the hang of things, and even now, I’m still constantly going over things, making sure I made the right choice. Gave me a whole new appreciation for Sarah Jane, I can tell you.” Maria told the girl honestly, leaning on her thighs with her elbows, waiting for a hopeful sign.

There was a lull as they both thought things over, before Maria spoke again, softly. “Sarah Jane trusts you. She cares about you – otherwise she would not have gone all the way to Danemouth after you. She’ll be your friend for as long as possible. What else could you want?” And finally the tension broke, with a long sigh and a regretful look.

“I’ve been an idiot, haven’t I?” Rani said quietly, fiddling with the hem of her top, gaze flicking up to Maria before skittering away is dismay.

“No more than I was when I heard about you the first time.” Maria confided, a blush suffusing her face as she recalled Luke’s words to her at the time, and the hour afterwards Sarah Jane spent reassuring her that no one would ever replace her. Maria had refused to believe at the time that’s what she was doing, she was just letting her best friend be nice, but looking back on it, Maria always felt a little embarrassed that she’d been so insecure. But Sarah Jane always used to warn them that emotion subverts logic every time.

“You what?” Rani looked up in disbelief and frowned.

“Clyde was the first one to talk about you – he was so excited, and so full of how cool you were, and how you wanted to be a journalist like Sarah Jane, and how quickly you’d gotten involved. He is so dim sometimes, but you’ve got to love him,” she saw the widening in Rani’s eyes and quickly added her usual, “in a strictly platonic, brotherly way.” The other girl seemed placated after that and Maria noted that information down for later hinting with her older brother figure.

“Then I asked Luke, and he was enthusiastic too, in his own way, once he got over the shyness at mentioning another girl to me. He’s so loyal, and he knew I would react a little... irrationally. I got quite snappy with him, and of course Sarah Jane overheard and took over. Took a while to convince me that you weren’t jumping in my shoes. She didn’t ever say that directly but I knew that’s what she meant.” Maria forced herself through the last few sentences, not liking how ill they made her feel. Rani really did smile then and reached over to pat a hand on Maria’s leg.

“Guess we both got our wires crossed a bit.” The girl said with a hopeful glint in her eye.

“But we won’t do it again, right?” Maria said calmly, giving the other girl a smile of her own.

“Right.” Rani agreed, looking much more like the person Luke and Clyde had described to her.

“Do you want to come back over? I’m sure Mr Smith must have found some sort of crisis by now.” The younger brunette joked, standing up from her perch on the end of the bed and motioning towards the house opposite which she knew was partially visible through the window. Rani chuckled and nodding, unfolding herself from the corner and stretching into a standing position.

“And you never know what might happen if we weren’t there.” The girl added with another light laugh.

“Definitely, without us “the whole dang opera falls apart”!” Maria attempted a thick American accent to emphasise the quote as they headed out of the bedroom.

“Three Fingered Jack, Mask of Zorro!” Rani exclaimed, pointing at the other girl in surprise. Maria simply raised a hand for a high five, which she received with gusto. “I love that film! I watch it with Mum all the time, we have to use the popcorn bowls to catch the drool over Antonio Banderas.” Maria laughed out right at that and nodded, thinking her mother would probably have done the same thing. She’d drooled over worse men.

Maria let Rani go down the stairs first, glad that she’d assuaged her new friend’s doubts about her place in the gang, knowing it wasn’t a permanent fix but it would definitely help. Neither of them were entirely confident enough to ever forget that feeling of being an outsider, but Maria knew as long as Sarah Jane wanted them to be around her, they’d never feel out of place for long.

They’d made it across the road and to the very edge of Sarah Jane’s property before the previous neighbour realised she’d slipped up in her little chat with Rani. It was a tiny detail, one she wouldn’t have even remembered being part of the conversation had Rani not brought it back up just as they were about to gain the side of their mentor’s car.

“Hey Maria, you said earlier that part of you thought of Sarah Jane as a parental figure.” Rani was frowning again, but it was an inquisitive expression this time, one Maria wished she wasn’t so familiar with. It gave her an uneasy feeling.

“Yeah?” The option of aiming for nonchalant was really her only choice.

“What does the rest of you think of her as?” Now there was a downright dangerous edge to the new girl’s voice as she spoke and Maria backed up a couple of steps, racing through her collection of believable cover stories to find one she could utilise for this situation.

“As my best friend.” Maria answered after a beat, hoping Rani wouldn’t notice her hesitation but at the same time, accepting the other girl’s instincts would tell her there was something Maria had to hold back.

“Just your best friend?” Rani probed a little further, her journalist nose pointing her a little more in one direction than Maria would like.

“You’ve had really good friends that you’ve had to move away from, haven’t you? And don’t you miss them so much sometimes, when you call them, you don’t really want to get off the phone at all?” Maria elaborated as honestly as she could without arousing suspicion but something about the way Rani tipped her a look, sideways, as they both resumed their pace towards the front door left the itchy feeling in Maria’s skin.

Unsurprisingly, Luke’s anxious face was waiting for them just inside the open front door and Maria was really glad when Rani leant over and gave him a hug in reassurance. Clyde gave her a wink over their heads and she sent a light glare back as if to say “Don’t make him uncomfortable!” Sarah Jane appeared from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel and Maria knew instantly she’d been washing up their mugs from earlier to give her something active to do rather than waiting around for news.

“Sarah Jane, I’m really sorry. I over-reacted.” Rani said when she caught her mentor’s eyes as she drew away from Luke. Clyde gave her a playful nudge with his shoulder and Rani shoved him back, a chuckle emerging from them both. “I’m sorry.” That was to everyone and Luke beamed as the world was set to rights again. Sarah Jane came forward and put her hands on Rani’s shoulders.

“I’m sorry too. There was no reason for it, what I said, and you had every right to be angry.” Maria’s best friend sounded very calm, but it was clear the incident had affected everyone and Rani looked up at the older woman a little with a faint smile.

“There is a reason. Mum really doesn’t have an excuse for forgetting your name anymore, we’ve been here long enough. She’s just a bit... ditsy.” Rani finished affectionately, but with a weariness that made them all laugh.

“You wait until you meet my mother, Rani.” Maria added with a roll of her eyes, and the other three sighed in anticipation at the mere mention of Chrissie.

.~*~. .~*~. .~*~. .~*~.

“Maria likes Sarah Jane a lot, doesn’t she?” Rani smiled, deceptively casual as she stepped up to Luke and Clyde who had been discussing something homework-related. As a group, they flicked a gaze over Rani’s shoulder to the sofa they always congregated around when they spent a longer time in the attic, where Maria and Sarah Jane were tucked into the end, the older woman’s arm gathered around the girl’s shoulder and both grinning as they talked quietly.

“Yeah, they’ve always clicked like that.” Clyde smiled as they returned their attention to each other before the two females caught on they were being inspected.

“Do you think Maria sees her as a replacement mother?” Rani asked, her tone light but she knew the enquiry was pointed enough to pull on the alarm bell, if there was one to ring. As she voiced the question, there was a distinct snort from Clyde which was almost derisive and hidden laughter, accompanied by a confused look from Luke. Rani eyed both of them carefully, with narrowed eyes and both quickly schooled their faces into neutral, having learnt from past experience that expression could only mean trouble.

“Something you want to share, Clyde?” Rani prodded, eyebrow casually raised. He shook his head and tried to signal to Maria for an escape plan but the girl in front of him moved in the way and gave him a hard stare. The older boy resigned himself to examining his shoes, hoping one of the other girls would see the indicator and come to investigate. “Luke?” The pale boy gazed at Rani with wide eyes, knowing he was obviously not supposed to say something – Clyde had taught him the signal about when to keep quiet – but he had no idea what secret he was supposed to be guarding just then. “Is there something you want to tell me? About those two?”

Rani nudged her head backwards towards his Mum and his friend reclining on the sofa, oblivious to the conversation completely as they chattered between them.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Luke finally said, and from the slight nod he received off Clyde, he’d said the right thing. Rani folded her arms and switched her interrogation from one face to the other, examining for any sign of guilt or weakness. Clyde looked the most awkward, which was odd as Luke was usually the terrible liar – unless he really didn’t know what she was hinting at. He might not even know, if Rani was right about the hint she’d picked up from Maria, she wasn’t sure she’d have told Luke either. Focussing on Clyde, the girl tilted her head, waiting for him to crack. It didn’t take long.

“Look, Rani, even if there was something you didn’t know – which I’m not saying there is, right – don’t you think this probably isn’t the best place to talk about it?” He finally burst out, folding his arms defensively too and keeping his voice low so as not to attract attention, looking over her shoulder towards the other two who were not involved in this conversation.

“Is that a promise you’ll tell me when we’re not going to be overheard?” Rani shot back, determined to get her answer now she knew there was one to find. Clyde sighed and nodded defeatedly, at which Rani grinned in triumph and turned around, calling out she was going downstairs for a drink before slipping out of the attic. Clyde hoped that didn’t mean she was expecting him to follow her and tell her right now. Luke bumped his shoulder against his best friend’s and Clyde turned to look at him, his usual confident smile back in place.

“What did Rani mean?” Luke asked quietly, conscious there was no barrier between them and his mum, whom he knew could on occasion read lips and minds. Maria also possessed a similar, disconcerting talent.

“You know that thing I told you about, the thing I told you not to tell Maria you know? The thing you were absolutely never to mention to your Mum?” Luke located the memory in a matter of milliseconds and understood instantly.

“Yeah, I get it now.” He replied quietly before going over to join in the girl’s conversation, which was quite happily about the latest alien Maria had helped return to the stars. Clyde hovered pensively by the window, wondering if he should do the same before his mobile buzzed and he retrieved it from his pocket, only to see the name ‘Rani’ flashing at him, with a “You promised.” underneath it. He felt eyes on him and shifted his face into a playfully exasperated smile, as he looked up to find Maria’s eyes watching him curiously.

“Just Mum, asking what I want for tea.” He volunteered, pretending to text back as he went for the door to the stairs. Purposefully not looking back at his friends, he followed Rani downstairs to the kitchen, dreading the conversation he knew was waiting for him. Rani had put the kettle on and was leaning against the counter, two mugs already holding tea bags and sugar beside her. Clyde went for the snack cupboard and retrieved an open packet of biscuits which he could steal a few from without catching an earful from Sarah Jane.

“Well?” The girl opposite prompted, eyes shining with curiosity. Clyde munched for a few moments and swallowed before meeting the gaze.

“Look, do you really need me to talk about this? It’s none of our business, at the end of the day. Besides, you’ve got your own eyes. You can work it out without involving anyone. I’m in enough trouble.” He said emphatically. Rani chewed the inside of her cheek thoughtfully, after she’d rolled her eyes a bit at his dramatics.

“How about I tell you my theory, and you just nod or shake, that way you’re not talking about it. The way you react will tell me anyway.” Rani said confidently and Clyde shot her a look that crossed between annoyed and hurt. “Maria has a crush on Sarah Jane. Has done for quite a while. And you and Luke know, but she doesn’t know you know. And Sarah Jane had no idea.” The boy couldn’t help himself, his expression became impressed before he’d really felt the emotion. Rani smirked a little and poured the now boiled water into their mugs.

“Mostly right.” Clyde said, helping himself to a couple more biscuits. Rani looked up from the tea, frowning.

“What did I get wrong?”

“Maria knows I know. She doesn’t know Luke knows – she forbid me from telling him, but he kind of guessed – well, not really, but he’s my best friend, and he – well, he liked Maria. It wasn’t fair to...” The unfinished sentence trailed off, but Rani understood. Drawing in a sigh herself as how complicated Clyde had made that situation sound, Rani spooned out the tea bags onto the saucer Sarah Jane insisted they went onto before being relegated to the kitchen waste, then she added their milk. But as she placed his mug down in front of him and curled her hand around her own, Rani considered and admitted that the situation was a little complicated. Then she chuckled to herself. With Sarah Jane, it would always be complicated.

.~*~. .~*~. .~*~. .~*~.

Maria snuggled closer to Sarah Jane as Luke shoved himself upright and went across the room to ask Mr Smith something. The two of them had been inseparable since Maria had returned from over the road, chatting about the simplest things – from new buildings in Ealing to the newest gadget Maria’s father had bought for their house. A comfortable quiet had fallen over them for a minute or so after Luke had gotten up and they were both just resting against the other, at peace.

The girl was soaking up the familiar sensations of the attic, the sun shining through the stained glass windows over the observation chair, the smell of dust and oil from the tools and the rafters, the occasional random creak of a floorboard for no reason at all, the almost physical hum from Mr Smith’s machinery that you could feel through the floor. Most importantly though, she was absorbing the sensation of Sarah Jane’s arm around her, and the occasional, gentle, slightly ticklish brush of auburn hair against her skin.

Presently, the hand on her arm gave her a light squeeze and Maria tipped her head upwards slightly to show she’d noticed. It was a sign they both knew meant one of them was about to speak and hadn’t wanted to startle the other.

“Thank you for talking to Rani.” Was spoken softly into her ear in a voice she would never tire of hearing and Maria beamed in response, patting the hand she had close.

“That’s alright. I know you’re not brilliant at that stuff.” Maria teased lightly, biting her lip to try and hold back the smirk as Sarah Jane pretended to be affronted – she felt an indignant exhalation of breath pass by her hair and the fingers of the hand she’d patted shifted to lightly poke her in the ribs.

“I’ll have you know that I’m doing much better, with practice.” The voice was now melodiously amused, with a covering of stern that just did not pass the muster and they both knew it.

“Well, consider it an opportunity for a break, then.” Maria giggled as she squirmed slightly, still being tickled lightly by her side and she heard Sarah Jane laugh too. It was a few seconds before they resettled against each other and the frivolity subsided slightly. “I’m glad I went. I think it’s helped both of us.” The girl admitted quietly, feeling a little nervous suddenly as they got worryingly close to breaching the subject of her insecurity again.

“Considering how badly I would have muddled through, I think you did amazingly well.” Sarah Jane murmured, and both their gazes swept the room to make sure there wasn’t a chance someone could overhear them.

“Thanks. I just hope it lasts.” Maria felt both their gazes wander to the door, through which Rani and Clyde had disappeared a few minutes before. Sarah Jane gave her another squeeze, this time of the reassuring sort and Maria smiled as her doubts receded once more. The conversation from earlier, in the kitchen, filtered through her mind and a smile tweaked her lips as she remembered what she’d been about to say before discovering Rani behind the door. “I thought we’d discussed the consignment of the word ‘barmy’ to the nineteen seventies?” Maria said with a hurriedly straight face, tilting her head again to look at her best friend. Sarah narrowed both her eyes down at the younger girl.

“It’s a perfectly good word. Very apt for the situation.” Sarah said in that I’m-far-too-old-for-this tone which Maria giggled at every time.

“I’m not denying that. It just makes you sound as though you should be taking lines from Jane Austen.” The dark haired girl finally gave into her light laughter at the outraged hiss of breath that whistled by her ear after she’d finished speaking.

“Cheek! No ice cream for you later, my girl!” Maria pouted heavily, her eyes going extra wide just for effect and Sarah Jane shook her head, laughter spilling from her as she hugged her best friend a little closer. “You could rival a puppy with that look.” Was the next mock-annoyed but warm comment. Maria grinned and settled back into their previous position, the easiness and happiness that she’d felt this morning when she’d flown out of the taxi returning at full strength. Contentment quite naturally led to her thoughts wondering and a noted observation from earlier occurred to her.

“By the way – Clyde and Rani – something I should know about as resident little sister figure? Something I can tease and or torture him about?” The young girl grinned, tipping her head up again to catch sight of her best friend’s face and saw a hint of a smirk.

“You’d have to ask them.” Was the typical evasive answer, which told Maria everything she needed to know and she chuckled mischievously to herself.

“I knew it.” She muttered, shuffling down a little further to rest her head against Sarah Jane’s shoulder and grinning at nothing in particular. The world was finally back on its axis and spinning merrily.

.~*~. .~*~. .~*~. .~*~.

Thank you all so much for the comments, I'll reply to them soon. You're all absolutely amazing! Much love x

There Was Only You

Disclaimer: I don’t own the Sarah Jane Adventures, or the characters, or anything. Just the plot.
A/N: Who knew making tea could be inspirational? Or rather, laying on a sofa, waiting for the kettle to boil. There are hints from Maria’s end of something a little deeper, but if you object, you are more than welcome to ignore them.
Summary: A moment in the garden one night. Two friends under the night sky. Sarah Jane/Maria friendship. Tag to Big Finish Audio book series.

There Was Only You

Maria Jackson gazed up at the stars, smiling and trying to take a deep breath. It was a clear, summery night in Sarah Jane Smith’s back garden and Maria could not think of a more pleasant way to spend an evening than the way she had spent hers. The boys, Luke and Clyde, had been around until six, they’d had all day together, laughing, Sarah Jane doing a little bit of gardening with a few unhelpful remarks from Clyde along the way, accompanied by jugs of cool lemonade from Sarah Jane’s fridge and lots of fruit – much to Clyde’s disgust.

Luke had laughed more today than Maria thought she’d ever seen from the boy she thought of as a little brother, probably because he wasn’t feeling any pressure to be anything but himself, and Sarah Jane had looked so happy all day, laughing, chipping away at her borders in soil-covered gloves with pretty flower patterns – which Luke had pointed out were a functional stupidity, as the gloves were only going to get filthy and cover the pattern - and a trowel that had seen better days. When Maria had asked why she didn’t buy a new one, Sarah Jane had smiled a little wistfully and told her these things had belonged to her Aunt, and Lavinia would have hung, drawn and quartered her if she’d kept them in a box as a memory. Not a sentimental woman, but a loving one, was how Sarah Jane had described the woman who raised her.

Now, the boys had departed for Clyde’s house – they were having a sleepover, a fact Maria had teased Clyde mercilessly about before they went. Which left Maria and Sarah Jane pottering about, finishing off the lemonade and the gardening before the sun finally succumbed it’s reign to the moon for the night, and they had no light to continue working. So, instead, they’d gone inside, made some sandwiches and poured more lemonade before coming outside to eat on a blanket the kids had been lounging on all day, now under a canopy of stars. It was a calm, peaceful night, with few cars passing the other side of Sarah Jane’s wall to remind them there was another world outside of theirs.

Now, they were laid out on the blanket together, Maria’s head on Sarah Jane’s stomach, making a ‘T’ shape while they both turned their eyes up to the heavens. Maria was savouring the earthliness of the moment, relishing in the gentle rise and fall of Sarah Jane’s body underneath her own head as she breathed, the movement and the ever-so-quiet sound that accompanied more soothing than any lullaby she’d heard. It was so comforting. Calming. Beautiful. Maria fought down a widening to her smile and let her eyes sweep over the black stillness above her. There hadn’t been any words between the girl and her friend for a while – none were needed. But as Maria traced constellations she’d learnt recently and named them, her eyes darted to her companion, whose face she could barely see, curiosity and longing to know her friend better rising.

“What do you see? When you look up there?” The girl nodded towards the stars as she felt Sarah Jane’s body twist slightly under her, no doubt trying to find an angle where she could see Maria’s face. After a few seconds of squirming, Sarah Jane gave up and the girl tried not to laugh, before she felt a deep sigh expand through her friend’s body. In her mind’s eye, she imagined Sarah Jane’s gaze floating off into the distance, into the past, while her mouth quirked up into a smile from long ago.

“I see a thousand million life forms, all connected, all moving, all amazing. I see stars and planets locked into movements by matters of physics, but at the same time, not comprehending how something so majestic and incredible could be down to just Science. I see a little blue police telephone box, bouncing among those stars, somewhere, with my wandering friend inside. I see all the nights that pass, and wonder just how many wishes have been made on all those pin pricks of light. I see adventure, mystery and magic. And, in a funny way, I see Natalie too.”

“Natalie?” Maria questioned, going to the effort of lifting her head and turning to catch a glimpse of her best friend’s expression.

“A friend of mine. From way back. Before I met the Doctor again. Before I met you, and Luke, and Clyde.” Sarah Jane reached out and ran a hand down Maria’s arm, and the warmth of light in those familiar eyes laid down in a second any worries Maria had bubbling up.

“Will you tell me?” The girl asked, raising herself up slightly on her elbow and looking down at her best friend, her eyes dark and her expression flush with curiosity. Sarah Jane smiled and again smoothed her hand down Maria’s arm, coaxing the girl back down to rest on her stomach and the girl knew that was so Sarah Jane would not be concerned about showing too much emotion. Her Sarah Jane always wanted to be in control and it seemed talking about her friend threatened that. Settling her head back on her friend and adjusting to the rhythm of her breathing again, Maria closed her eyes for a minute to listen more closely to her friend’s voice.

“Her name was Natalie Redfern. She and I used to work together, she was a researcher at a broadcasting station called Planet 3. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of-”

“Yes, I have. You worked there for a while, doing exposés on mostly major businesses. Then you got into some trouble, and your show was axed. You completely disappeared for a while after that, I couldn’t find any articles or anything...” Maria suddenly became aware she’d probably said too much and turned to catch a slight shocked and very nearly defensive look coming from her friend. “What, you didn’t think I’d googled you?” The phrase sounded so strange as it was released into the night air that both women laughed. Maria was relieved that her friend wasn’t mad with her.

“I should have guessed you had.” There was no bitterness in that voice, and Maria was very glad. “Anyway, I did disappear – someone made me disappear. I officially didn’t exist for some time – Natalie created identities and credit cards and all sorts for me. Usually found me houses and transport. She was a marvel, my Nat, quite young, very special and very much in a wheel chair but give her a computer, and she could do anything. A star, that’s what I used to call her – so often, in fact, that she used to say it with me, but you could always hear her smiling as we both said it.” Maria could hear the same thing in her friend’s voice now, and she understood that Natalie had meant a good deal to Sarah Jane once.

“What happened to her?” Maria almost didn’t want to ask, not wanting to dredge up forgotten and painful memories, but something inside her had to know. She and the boys knew so little about Sarah Jane’s friends and life before they had met her, they couldn’t help but engage in a little investigation of their own. Truthfully, Maria had not found the articles about Planet 3 – she’d been given the years after Sarah Jane had returned to earth, in the eighties. Luke had enlisted the help of Mr Smith, after some pretty major convincing from Maria and Clyde which had taken a great deal of time for him to agree with, and he had connected the dots about her apparent disappearance after the law suit against the TV company. Yes, if they’d told Sarah Jane what they’d been doing, then it would have felt like an invasion of privacy, but as long as she didn’t know, they were just being inquisitive.

“She’s gone.” Her friend’s voice was soft, quiet and sad, so Maria didn’t push any further.

“So you went through months and months of living under different names?” The girl asked instead, laying completely on her back and listening to Sarah Jane’s breathing again.

“Yes. So many credit cards. So many flats, houses, neighbourhoods, faces, jobs. And I was always moving on – there would always be someone who recognised me, someone who came close to connecting the dots, or someone I thought was always over my shoulder. So it was always another life Natalie had to find for me. I got called paranoid more times than I like to think about.” That, the note in her voice just then – that was bitter. Maria knew from her understanding of her friend how much a toll that life must have taken on her, how it would have affected her.

At least it sounded like she’d had a friend, possibly more than one if she knew Sarah Jane’s penchant for privacy – just because she hadn’t heard another name didn’t mean there hadn’t been anyone else. In fact, they knew Sarah had been connected with a Joshua Townsend but there hadn’t been any communication between them for quite some time – probably the same number of years since her friend had last spoken to Natalie. Maria rolled her head to look at her friend, wondering if now was the right time to ask about Joshua and why the woman beneath her hadn’t gotten back in touch with either of them, before dismissing the potentially dangerous question and reaching out with her hand to find her friend’s arm. She connected with her friend’s fingers and linked hers with them, leaning up to look in Sarah Jane’s eyes. Right now, she just wanted to enjoy being with Sarah, she didn’t want to go poking around. One day she would – not now.

“I’m sorry.” It meant that Maria wished her friend hadn’t had to go through all of that alone in so many ways. That she wished Sarah Jane hadn’t had to be paranoid to survive. That she wished there hadn’t been so many bad people out there, trying to get her. But never for a second did she wish it hadn’t happened – much as she would like things to be that simple, she knows her Sarah will never change. Where there is a wrong out there that she can change, Sarah Jane Smith will change it. Or perish in the attempt. So far, it had never come to that, thankfully. Sarah Jane smiled back sadly and gave her friend a gentle squeeze back through their connected hands, telling her it was alright. Maria smiled back, faintly, and lay back down. “What was the first name you took?” The girl asked, gazing up again.

“Actually, that’s the funny thing.” There was a chuckle lurking in her friend’s throat, Maria could hear it, it just wasn’t quite allowed out yet. “My first new name was Maria. Maria Balesthorpe. Natalie thought it was a funny joke, considering I was effectively bailing out on my life.” Maria had to stop herself from squeezing back, gladness leaking into her veins and straining her mouth into a beaming smile. For some reason, the thought that even before they’d met, Sarah Jane had once lived under part of her name made her heart swell.

“Did you choose it?” Maria asked, once she could be sure her voice wouldn’t betray the feeling filling her up at that moment.

“No, Natalie did. Still – a lovely coincidence, don’t you think?” Sarah Jane voiced, and although the first sentence had cut into Maria’s little sunshine-filled bubble, the second blew the bubble right up and sent it floating up into the stars. And Maria looked up, feeling connected and infinitely grateful to this mysterious Natalie, who couldn’t possibly have known what her decision would mean ten plus years later, to a girl who came to care about the woman she was protecting back then.

“Lovely.” Maria nodded, her lips tipping upwards uncontrollably and her voice echoing the happiness swimming around her heart. “What about after that?” She asked, not wanting to give herself away any more and hoping Sarah Jane would not guess why that particular piece of information meant so much to her.

“Oh, they all blended together after a while, I went through such a string of them. I was Harriet, Laura, Sally, Marie, Lila... the list goes on.” Maria screwed up her face, as the names rolled around her mind, testing them against the face she had memorised what felt like a long time ago. Sarah Jane either caught sight of her face or felt her moving, because she inclined her head up and raised an eyebrow delicately.

“What?” Maria was asked, with a hint of a smile, and the girl sighed.

“Nothing.” Sarah Jane tugged lightly on her friend’s hand, Maria felt the request in the movement but tried to hold in the feeling she’d been allowing to circle her mind.

“Come on. Tell me what you’re thinking.” It was a gentle request, but one the girl was hard pressed to refuse.

“Well, it’s just – they aren’t right, those names. They’re too normal and simple. You were never meant to be a ‘Sally’ or ‘Laura’.”

“Too boring?” Sarah Jane laughed, reading her friend’s mind so it seemed. Maria looked along to see her best friend’s raised face.

“They’re nice names, but I know loads of ‘Sally’s and ‘Laura’s – there’s four of them in my year at school. You don’t deserve a name that makes you sound like just another one of the crowd. There could only ever be one of you. One Sarah Jane. It suits you.” Maria swallowed, smiling, hoping her nerves at voicing what had meant to be a private reflection were not as acutely apparent as they felt. And she knew Sarah Jane was watching her, so she turned and laid her eyes deeply in her friends, conveying the rest of her meaning, the admiration she never really voiced but she hoped Sarah Jane understood.

“I think that’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.” Her friend’s voice was a little faint, but her eyes were glinting in the starlight, and Maria blinked, for a second wondering if there were tears on those bottom eyelids. Sarah Jane leant her head back down, onto the blanket, and Maria rolled hers back to lay on her best friend’s stomach, gladness sweeping her body that the woman below her had actually accepted and been warmed by her compliment.

For a while, the night blanketed them in stillness and contentment, both once more letting the silence lull them into a place of peace. Maria was counting the breaths she felt beneath her, basking in the scent she always knew was Sarah Jane, occasionally enhancing the sensations by closing her eyes, sometimes letting her gaze wander through the tiny portion of the Universe they could see, wondering which corners her best friend had been to, whether she could ever get to experience anything like that. If it was possible for the impossible to become achievable. Maria had never taken to Alice in Wonderland, she had trouble believing impossible things, especially before breakfast. But then, as Clyde always said, with Sarah Jane Smith, anything was possible. Although she doubted he put that into the context she hoped for.

“So, you don’t think I suited Maria, for a name, then?” Came a soft voice, wavering slightly with mirth, and Maria felt twitching beneath her that was most definitely suppressed laughter.

“I think one Maria is enough around here, thank you.” She replied, a little light laughter beginning in her own throat. “Besides, if we were both Maria, you know what Clyde would end up calling us.” Another chuckle ran through both their bodies before Maria felt Sarah shake her head.

“I dread to think...”

“M&Ms.” The combined laughter floated up from the dimly lit garden into the night sky to join the watching and waiting stars, twinkling and sparkling with the happiness and goodness that infused it.

Timelines Part 1

Disclaimer: I don’t own the Sarah Jane Adventures, or the characters, or anything. Just the plot.
A/N: It was bound to happen – we were only four episodes into series three, and already I was getting bitten by ideas like mosquitoes on a well-lit summer night! Couldn’t resist having a go at the first time Maria and Rani meet face-to-face. Hopefully character-accurate – let me know if you think otherwise, or if you like it, or anything really. I love to hear your thoughts! The ‘barmy’ mention at the end is from the Sarah Jane Adventures audio book The Thirteen Stone, it’s only small but I’ve built on it. If you haven’t listened to it, you’re missing out. Great Sarah & Maria lines!
^^^ That’s what I wrote before the 19th of April. Now I just hope there are people out there who can read this with any kind of a smile.
Summary: Maria is home for the first time in months, and there are some issues that she brings with her that may cause problems for Rani.

Timelines

Maria Jackson had closed her eyes, curled up in the back of the taxi, counting down the minutes until she would arrive back on Bannerman Road. She would see Luke, and Clyde, and Rani – and she would see Sarah Jane. She wasn’t afraid to deny she’d been looking forward to this visit for months – she loved America, and how happy her Dad was with his new job, and she was getting the hang of managing aliens on her own, but she never stopped missing her old life. Her old friends. The people she loved and cared about more than she could have dreamed of before moving to Bannerman Road.

Her Dad had meant to be travelling with her – but something really important had come up at work, something only he could deal with now, and although he’d been a little wary of the idea, Maria had insisted on not changing her plans. She’d flown on her own, the whole nine hours, and yes it had been a little lonely and a tiny bit scary, but the thought of seeing her friends was more than enough reason to smile. After all, she was nearly sixteen now, and as Clyde always said, she could handle just about any alien the Universe chose to throw at her – what was a relatively safe flight on an aeroplane in comparison? And besides, she loved the others too much to put off seeing them even a day. It sounded desperate, in her mind, but she didn’t care.

With a leap of her heart so violent she could taste it in the back of her throat, she caught sight of the hedge that surrounded her best friend’s property and she rushed to the taxi’s door and was flying out of it practically before the poor man driving had pulled it up to a stop. There was her wonderful Sarah Jane, stood maybe three feet in front of her, waiting for her. After so long apart, Maria had wondered if things might have changed between them, but the light in her friend’s eyes as she moved toward Maria, and the way Maria could feel herself grinning so hard it hurt persuaded her nothing would ever change how much they cared about each other.

In a flash, they were together and wrapped up in each other’s arms, laughing and hugging the other tightly, Maria happier than she had been in months. A minute at least they stayed like that, clutching the other close and closing their eyes to savour how natural it felt to be together again. Then they loosened their hold and exchanged their one and only smile, Sarah Jane resting her hands on the tops of Maria’s arms, asking her a few customary questions about her flight and the ride from the airport. Sarah Jane had intended to pick her up but Maria’s arrival time had been delayed owing to some sort of problem with the plane before take off, so Maria had deferred to a taxi to save unnecessary waiting around in airport car parks and overpriced tickets.

“It’s so good to see you!” Maria finally said, once the inquisition was over and Sarah Jane nodded happily back.

“It’s so good to see you, too. We’ve missed you.” There was a lot of truth in that statement, Maria was happy to find, and she claimed one of Sarah Jane’s hands from her arm to give it a squeeze.

“I’ve missed you too. So much.” Sarah Jane gave her another quick hug, whispering in her ear,

“Good to have you home.” Maria nodded against the hold and very reluctantly looked past her best friend to her other two best friends, who were both waiting a few feet away, both dying to talk to her by the looks of them. She gave Sarah Jane a look, another squeeze, and then slipped away, knowing she would go back once she’d spoken to the others. She approached Luke first, who was grinning almost as widely as she was, and as soon as she stopped in front of him, he leapt forward and hugged the life out of her. Maria laughed and hugged him back, before letting him draw away.
 
“Luke, you’ve grown!” Maria tried to make her voice sound disappointed, but it definitely expressed more delight than anything.
 
“So have you.” He said, but they both knew she hadn’t by that much. She was looking up at him now, much more noticeably than when she’d left, and she reached up to ruffle his hair.
 
“Still not too tall for me to do that, though.” She laughed, and he quickly flicked it back to how it was before she mussed it. Then she moved slightly to the left and stopped before Clyde. “Can I hug you? Or would you rather we shake hands, preserve your reputation?” She jibed, raising an eyebrow, and he rolled his eyes before reaching out and pulling her into another bear hug, even lifting her up a little.
 
“Glad you’re back, Maria.” He said, grinning down at her – he’d always been taller than her.
 
“You haven’t changed at all, Clyde.” She smiled, giving him a dig in the ribs, after which she turned to the last remaining person in the welcoming committee. “Hey Rani, how’re you?” Maria offered the other girl a big smile, in the hopes it would help put them both at ease. She wasn’t sure whether she could hug this girl – didn’t know whether this new girl was a hugging sort of person, or if she would prefer Maria not to because she didn’t know her.
 
“I’m good thanks, Maria. How’s your Dad?” No hug – ok. Maria accepted that. She got a smile in return though.
 
“He’s really happy, just busy with work. How’re your Mum and Dad?” Maria remembered Luke telling her that Rani’s Mum wasn’t so different from hers, just more inclined to be friendly to Sarah Jane than Chrissie had been. In contrast her Dad was much more stern and rule-abiding than Alan had ever been. But then, Maria couldn’t imagine anyone being more relaxed and brilliant than her Dad.
 
“Dad’s great, busy too – we’ve got an inspection at school coming up so he’s having to do prep for that. Mum is – well, tell you the truth, she’s probably watching from our window. She’s been asking about you ever since these two told her you were coming back. She did try to wait with us, but I thought maybe you’d prefer that introduction to wait.” Maria nodded, laughing.
 
“If she’s anything like my Mum, then you definitely did the right thing. And thank you, though I’d definitely like to meet her while I’m here.” Maria was curious as to what the infamous Gita was actually like – the only thing she ever got from Sarah Jane consistently was that Gita kept saying her name wrong, which kept reminding her of Chrissie. And not in a good way. Although there really was no good way to be reminded of Chrissie for Sarah Jane really.
 
“Oh, I don’t think you could avoid that.” The girls laughed, but Maria got this feeling that there was still another layer of tension underscoring their conversation that she hadn’t addressed yet. Passing it off as her mind being over-tired, she looked around for Sarah Jane and found her just behind her, watching her interaction with Rani carefully. A little worried, no doubt, that they wouldn’t get on. She should have known Maria would never let her own insecurities overcome her politeness. Stretching out a hand, Sarah Jane took Maria under her arm again and tucked her into her side, calling to the others,
 
“Time for tea, I think.” Maria let out a happy sigh of contentment on hearing that. “Unless our little American here would rather have coffee?” The tease brought Maria’s grin back up to full shine and she shook her head violently.
 
“Tea would be perfect.”
 
“Coffee not your thing, Maria?” Rani asked, as Sarah Jane and Maria went to move into the house. Maria looked over her shoulder and pulled a face.
 
“Definitely not. Everyone else over there drinks it in gallons, but I never took to it.” She admitted, looking forward immensely to sitting down with a warm cup of English tea and curling up with her best friend on the sofa, either in the living room or the attic.
 
“Surely your Dad still drinks tea?” Sarah Jane asked and Maria turned her head back around to look at her, unintentionally leaving her conversation with Rani behind in the wind.
 
“Not really, not recently – needs the caffeine, he says. And we have a coffee machine now, so all he has to do is press a button and...” the rest of what Maria said barely drifted back to the three young friends left standing outside the house, watching Sarah Jane and Maria disappear inside. Rani regarded the front of the house for a moment before wheeling around and looking closely at Luke and Clyde.
 
“Have those two always been that close?” She asked, trying to mask her own feelings before they could get too out of hand. Luke and Clyde frowned in unison, having been about to follow their Mum and friend inside, before being confronted by Rani’s question. “You know, hugging and talking between just the two of them?” Rani knew asking this was a bad idea, but she had to know. Her doubts about her place in Sarah Jane’s team didn’t very often surface, except when the issue of Maria was brought up, and now she had been shoved in the gut by the sight of a woman she always thought of as semi-reserved being affectionate and happy with a girl she hadn’t seen for however many months.

“Yeah, pretty much. Why?”
 
“Well, it’s just – she’s not like that much now, is she?”
 
“She is with me.” Luke pointed out and Rani rolled her eyes exasperatedly.
 
“Yeah, but you’re her son; that’s different.”
 
“Look, Rani, she’s known Maria longer than she’s known either of us, I don’t think it’s something you need to worry about.” Clyde tried to cut her off before she could push the point.
 
“I’m not worried, I just – I’d like to know why she isn’t like that with us. She doesn’t mind with Maria. And you said she’d only known Maria a week before you met her.” Clyde opened his mouth and looked around for some answer to that, but eventually realised one wasn’t coming, and closed his mouth again. Instead, Luke stepped in.
 
“Yes, that’s true, but it’s different.”
 
“How?”
 
“It’s hard to explain.”
 
“Try.” There was a touch of impatience and irritation, building towards anger in the young girl’s tone as she spoke then.
 
“Well, Mum told you about the thing with the Bane, and Bubble Shock, how big a deal it was, and Maria was there through all of that. Her and Mum got along really well once Maria found out everything. Maria always supported her, wanted her to know she wasn’t on her own, always has done. She was as much Mum’s best friend as mine.” Clyde gave him a warning nudge as Rani’s eyebrows furrowed even further, but Luke took it the wrong way and carried right on. “I think in Mum’s mind, Maria helped her open up. She helped me feel more human, and I think she did the same with Mum.”
 
“Oh.” The boys couldn’t help but notice their friend physically shrink in on herself as she spoke and both knew there was going to be trouble.
 
“That doesn’t mean you aren’t just as special, Rani, because you are. You wouldn’t be part of us if we didn’t think you were. But you and Maria are completely different.” Rani’s expression, if possible, grew even darker.
 
“What Luke’s trying to say is you don’t have to compete with her. Right? You do all sorts of stuff for Sarah Jane and us, just different stuff than Maria. And that’s not a bad thing, yeah?” Without a word, Rani slipped past them and ducked across the road, not looking back. “Rani!” Clyde tried to call after her, but she didn’t give any sign she’d heard him, just let herself into her house and shut the door behind her.
 
“Did we say something wrong?” Luke asked earnestly.
 
“Nah, just let her think it through, she’ll be fine.” Clyde shrugged it off, although his eyes lingered on the door of No. 12 as he turned Luke around and shoved him towards the three storey house where their other two friends were waiting for them. They were greeted by the sound of tinkling laughter from the kitchen and both boys grinned, forgetting about Rani’s cold behaviour as they both began to appreciate having Maria back, if only for a little while. They tumbled into the kitchen and Clyde immediately went for the biscuits on the table in the middle of the room, while Luke closed the door. Maria and Sarah Jane were leant on one of the kitchen counters, side by side, clutching their mugs of steaming tea and Luke took a moment to enjoy having his family back.
 
“Where’s Rani?” Sarah Jane asked, frowning slightly as she realised no one was following Luke.
 
“Errm... her Mum called, needed her for something.” Clyde jumped in before Luke could answer in his painfully honest way. Letting it go, Sarah Jane directed her attention to the cookie monster currently making light work of her biscuit stores.
 
“Clyde, I’m sure Maria would like some of those too, you know.” She said pointedly, before sipping her tea, and hiding her smile behind her mug. Clyde looked up, a little shame-faced, and offered the plate dutifully to Maria, who laughed.
 
“You really haven’t changed.”
 
“And that’s why you love me.” He grinned, crumbs collected along the edges of his mouth and Maria laughed, shaking her head in that exasperated but warm way she’d learnt very early on with these two boys.
 
“If I didn’t, you’d have been alien bait a long time ago.” Maria answered, stealing a couple of ginger nuts from the plate and taking her place by Sarah Jane’s side once more. It was such a pleasant, carefree feeling to know everyone in the room understood when the girl agreed with Clyde’s statement, it was in the sense of platonic, brotherly love, there was no confusion with any other implication – something her American friends had never grasped – it was always “hidden meaning” and “denial” they insisted. Maria knew her romantic love would never tend towards her two boy best friends – that decision had already been made for her by her heart three years ago.
 
“Ah, but then who would you turn to when you needed advice with style or boys?” Clyde returned, attempting to look superior and suave, but all three other occupants in the kitchen burst out laughing the moment he’d finished speaking, at which he looked incredibly indignant. 
 
“What?” He asked, affronted. Sarah Jane shared a conspiratorial look with Maria, then Luke, before the girl turned to ‘the cool one’, her tone studiously regretful.
 
“Style, Clyde?” She repeated, furiously fighting down a giggle.

“Yeah, I’ll have you know a lot of people try and copy my style.” Petulant virtually summed up Clyde’s attitude just then.
 
“Oh, I’m not going to touch that one.” Maria waved her hands in front of her, waving that statement away with another suppressed giggle. 
 
“And what makes you think I need any advice about boys?” Maria continued, arching an eyebrow in a challenge Clyde backed away from straight away. Sometimes, he knew exactly when not to open his mouth and a statement like that was most definitely not requiring his brand of reply.
 
“Well said Maria.” Sarah Jane added, smiling behind her mug again. Luke looked between his mother and his best friend, and frowned before evidently deciding to leave his questions until another time. “So, how’s Washington?” The older woman asked, tipping her body towards Maria, watching her friend’s expression. Maria smiled in reply before taking a sip of her tea.
 
“It’s great – well, the weather’s much better.” She teased lightly and the others grinned. “There’s a park just around the corner from where we live, Dad and I go all the time. He skateboards, I read. Everyone in the neighbourhood thinks he’s the coolest parent ever,” Maria made a slightly exaggerated attempt at an American accent, which made the others grin. “I’m beginning to realise why Mum made him give it up. Some of the tricks he’s working on now, they make a Slitheen situation seem friendly and fluffy.” She admitted, rolling her eyes, and Sarah chuckled while Clyde’s eyes shone.
 
“What about school?” The only adult, in age anyway, asked, concerned as ever for Maria’s education, heading off the eager interrogation about Maria’s father’s skateboarding from the louder boy.
 
“It’s good, very practical, but it’s a bit more restricting than over here – American history, American literature, which isn’t what I’m really interested in. So I’ve been reading around.” There were the beginnings of a flush in the girl’s cheeks as she let that information out. A proud smile took hold of her older friend, and Sarah scooped an arm around Maria’s shoulders, bringing her closer into her side, murmuring,
 
“That’s my girl.” If it was possible for a human being to glow, Maria did so in that moment. She didn’t see Clyde rolling his eyes as her supposed geeky aspects, nor the sharp look from Sarah which soon vanished the look from his face. Luke was smiling happily, watching everything with those dark eyes of his, probably just happy that everything was, for a little while, back to how it used to be. “What about outside school? Have you joined any clubs or anything?” Ever the effort to be parental, Maria thought as she tried not to smirk, slipped an arm around her Sarah Jane’s waist and tucking even closer to the warm body.
 
“Not really – most of the people I’m in school with already have their friendship groups and although they were all a bit interested in me to begin with – I’ll never understand their fascination with an English accent – they’ve all drifted back to their normal friends now. There are a couple of girls who speak to me, and I sit with them to eat lunch, but we’re in different classes most of the time and it’s not as though I’ve got much time on the weekend for sleepovers and girlie chats.” Her face crumpled up in distaste at the words she’d spoken and she could feel Sarah biting her lip to suppress another proud smile, before the guilt flared.
 
“No time because of...” Sarah Jane began, her expression turning a little upset, and her friend leapt in before the feeling could solidify.
 
“Don’t do that, Sarah Jane. It’s my choice how I spend my weekends and chasing aliens beats socialising every single time.” Maria grinned, turning to Luke and Clyde for support. Both boys nodded vigorously, eyes lit up and the largest smiles plastered all over their faces which were completely genuine as they thought of the excitement they got to experience so often.
 
“You’re right. Sorry.” Sarah murmured, hugging Maria lightly with one arm, accepting that the girl she’d welcomed under her wing was making her own choices. “What time will your father arrive tomorrow?” Was the next inquiry, which helped the young girl smile proudly.
 
“Well, if he can wrap up the thing at work, he should be here by tea time. Truthfully, I’m a bit worried he won’t make it tomorrow, it sounded serious – you can tell when he gets this line in the middle of his forehead.” They chuckled, thinking of the gentle father who should have arrived with their friend today. Alan Jackson had a stamp of approval from all of them, in one way or another, they all liked him.
 
“I hope he can come. He sounds like he could do with a holiday too.” Sarah commented lightly, putting her mug down, now empty and Maria nodded, copying her.
 
“I wondered for a second on the way here whether he was just making something up so he wouldn’t have to see Mum.” Clyde laughed outright at that, but quickly turned it into a cough at a friendly glare from Maria. No one got to take the mick out of her Mum except her (and occasionally, her father). The young girl also heard Sarah suppress a long sigh at the thought of eventually facing Chrissie once more, before something apparently occurred to her friend and a curious light tweaked Sarah’s expression. “What?” Maria muttered, nudging her mentor. Sarah flicked a look down at her friend before shaking her head.
 
“Nothing, just wondering whether I should invest in a name tag. It might save time, what with Chrissie and Gita.” Her voice was lightly teasing and Maria did try hard not to laugh, acknowledging that her mother had never been very easy to get along with. And now she had the opportunity to ask about the apparently friendly and inquisitive woman who now lived across the road.
 
“What does Gita call you? It can’t be as bad as Susie Q, surely?” Maria attempted to keep a relatively straight face as she spoke, but Sarah Jane’s raised eyebrows and rolling eyes were enough to make all three kids giggle.
 
“Susie Q? Oh honestly, what is so difficult about Sarah Jane?” She muttered to herself exasperatedly, shaking her head. Maria gave her a nudge, smiling, knowing Sarah knew exactly why Chrissie insisted on not using Sarah’s actual name – a way to make her seem dim, when she was in fact quite sharp about many more things than she’d ever give away. “Gita insists on calling me ‘Sarah’. The number of times I’ve told her, it’s Sarah Jane, doesn’t ever make a blind bit of difference. And she doesn’t do it on purpose, like your Mum used to – I could understand that. No, she’s genuinely forgetful. And I’m sure,” Sarah sighed, giving in to the conscience that demanded she see the good in her neighbour, “in a few months, I might not find it so irritating, may not even notice – or,” in a lowered tone directed at Maria, “miracles would never cease, she may actually learn my name – but for now, it drives me a little barmy!”
 
Just then, there was a sharp in-take of breath from outside the door and the sound of footsteps, followed by the front door closing. Every single eyebrow in the kitchen furrowed, having not heard anyone come in, before Luke and Clyde hopped up from their chairs and headed out to investigate. Maria followed with Sarah, a horrible thought having occurred to both of them as the boys pulled open the front door again and swung their heads around, looking for the intruder.
 
“Rani’s front door just closed. Do you think...” Luke trailed off, as he turned back to the other three. Dismal faces greeted him, confirming the train of thought currently steaming through their minds, bringing unwanted foreboding and regret in its wake.
 
“Oh dear.” Sarah said quietly, and they all agreed exactly with the sentiment.

SJSWAS Which Sarah Story Am I?



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The Time Warrior Adventurous, funny and interested in the past, you are Sarah's debut story, The Time Warrior.
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Understanding

A/N: My first venture into the SJA archives, and I hope you all approve. Some light SJ-crushing. Episode Tag for ‘The Mark of the Berserker’.
Summary: A conference call to a friend for Clyde helps answer some questions for Maria and poses some rather important ones for Sarah Jane. (Sarah Jane/Maria)

Understanding

Clyde sat down in front of the computer and checked behind him just one more time before typing in the right things and waiting for the call to connect. It was after six, on a Saturday, and the Sarah Jane’s household was, for once, having a quiet day. Clyde had spent the day with the most important people to him – Luke, Rani and Sarah Jane, after saying goodbye to his Mum this morning. Now he’d asked for a favour from the woman he looked up to so much to contact the other most important person to him – Maria Jackson.

He’d been in a far too sentimental mood since his father had left, again, for Germany – his Mum was on the verge of worrying about how affectionate he’d been for the past week. The others he knew had noticed, but for his sake hadn’t said anything and he was grateful. He’d thanked them, in his own way, when he’d had a moment alone with each of them, and now he just had one last thank you to offer, as well as something he’d never even considered sharing before – compassion. He said he was feeling sentimental, but he knew if anyone was going to understand this it was Maria.

“Clyde?” There was a grin spreading across both friends’ faces as the connection was secured and they greeted each other.

“Maria, hi!” He returned, straightening up and looking fully at the computer, although he kept half an ear on the door he couldn’t see behind him.

“How are you? Luke told me about what happened with your Dad – I’m sorry.” Clyde shrugged, having gotten used to acting nonchalant about the whole thing.

“It’s alright. It’s over now, anyway.” Maria smiled understandingly, knowing he wouldn’t want to be questioned but a little bemused as to why he’d called.

“I’m glad it’s all sorted – you lot should have known not to try and handle something like that without Sarah Jane.” Maria’s voice was a mix of emotions that Clyde found strangely comforting in it’s familiarity – concerned, cross and a little admiring. And he knew, like he’d always known, that the admiration was not directed at all his way. Maria reserved that for someone who he knew now deserved it far more than he did.

“Yeah, well, you helped too. You got her there.” Clyde knew Maria would understand it was his way of saying thanks, she’d always known him too well.

“Well, Dad did really.” His friend grinned, proud of her father in a way Clyde couldn’t help but envy.

“But it was your idea.” He insisted, and Maria grinned, proud of herself as well.

“Yeah, and I’m just glad it worked.” The girl smiled, but still looking a little troubled as they always did when they thought back to a moment of climbing desperation. “Luke said you couldn’t remember any of them, not even your Mum, just Sarah Jane.” Clyde shifted uncomfortably.

“I would have remembered you if you were there.” He said, forcefully, because he believed it – she was as engraved into his mind as Sarah Jane was, if he forgot one then he’d forget the other. He said it because it was true, but didn’t realise Maria could have heard it as an accusation.

“I wish I had been there.” For the first time since she’d moved, Clyde finally saw a spark of longing in Maria’s eye, the kind that grew from her being so distanced from them, and from Sarah Jane. He knew she missed them, just as they missed her, but he understood the other larger part of that a bit more now.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, actually. I know I used to tease you and stuff, about you and Sarah Jane-” Suddenly, Maria was sat very straight and looking extremely wary, her eyes shielded and she cast several glances behind her to check her Dad or anyone else wasn't nearby, before checking the screen around him. “I’m not stupid Maria, she’s not up here, I checked.” Visibly, his friend relaxed a little and she nodded, still anxious. “She’s downstairs with Luke, making tea. She doesn’t know, we none of us said anything, just like we promised.” Clyde assured her, and she relaxed a little bit more.

“Does Rani know?” Maria asked, curiously more than anything, and Clyde nodded hesitantly.

“We – well, Luke – it kind of slipped out. Sorry.” Maria sighed, having accepted that secrets escaped more easily around people your own age. After all, she hadn’t meant to let Clyde or Luke know how she felt. “We didn’t mean to tell her. I nearly did during that thing with Spellman a while back – the fear entity? She asked if you would have stayed outside and I nearly said no chance – you’d never have let Sarah Jane in there on her own in the first place. Never did like letting her out of your sight, did you?” Clyde grinned teasingly and Maria rolled her eyes slightly.

“Alright, what did you want to talk about?” Maria asked carefully and with a little smile, flicking another look around her. She was used to the jibes from Clyde. He grinned for a minute as he registered her flicker of annoyance, but then turned serious.

“Just that, I kind of understand now, about how you feel – how she’s the only person in the world sometimes that you can really trust. When she was the only one I remembered, I was quite happy to go straight to her, let her reassure me, even though my Dad needed help, I went to her because I knew she could help, I knew she was the only one who could help.” Clyde tried to explain, because even though he’d been the one to call, he was still wasn’t sure he knew why and it seemed harder than he’d anticipated to verbalise.

“You ‘kind of’ understand?” Maria questioned, torn between being happy and angry from what Clyde could see and he nodded.

“I mean, I know I won’t ever get it completely – because I’m not a girl, and you lot have a weird way of communicating sometimes that I won’t ever understand, but apart from that, I think I know. You feel safe with her. You know she’ll protect you. You know she’ll do whatever it takes.” Maria smiled sadly at Clyde’s words and leant her elbow on the table beside her, shoving her fingers into her hair as her eyes drifted away from the screen.

“But it’s more than that, Clyde. When I look at her, I see something amazing. I see someone with drive, intelligence beyond anything I used to dream of, force of will, love of life and everything in it. I see someone I wish I could be one day. But I also see someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. I see someone that is so like me in so many ways, that I can talk to without having to say much, that understands me in a way no one had ever done before. I see someone I want to hold, make feel good, someone I know sometimes hurts more than she let’s on and I want to comfort her.”

Clyde sat back in the chair and could feel the astounded expression growing across his face as he finally grasped something close to comprehension about Maria’s feelings for the woman who had practically adopted them. Maria seemed to catch herself after that, and she looked back at the screen, shaking her head as a bitter light surfaced in her face. Clyde hadn’t ever considered this went so deep, had just thought it was a crush, like he had on Rani – but this? This was way beyond what he’d thought.

“You know, that’s how I knew you’d been affected by the Trickster too – you thought I was trying to ask you out when I rang to see if you remembered Sarah Jane.” Maria told him, with a half-smile and Clyde’s eyes turned saucer-shaped.

“What?” He gasped, unable to believe he’d thought that – he’d known from a few weeks after meeting Maria that they were good friends, but she just didn’t see him that way and neither did he for her.

“If you’d remembered, you’d have made some really lame joke about me panicking just because Sarah Jane wasn’t in the vicinity.” Clyde threw her a playful dark look at the slight on his humour, but what she said was true. “You’d always had an idea how I felt, no more than that, but you knew. But she doesn’t see me like that – she sees me as a kid. A daughter, is what she said, the daughter she never had. She has no clue, none, about any of this – has no idea that I feel anything more than a daughter’s platonic affection for her. Do you have any idea how frustrating that is?” Maria nearly thumped the table she was sat at as she finished her monologue.

“Is that why you left? For America?” Clyde asked, unable to think of anything else to say.

“No. Or at least, that’s not what I thought at the time. I moved to make my Dad happy. Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve done, made more difficult by her saying that awful thing about being her daughter – I swear, my stomach dropped out when she said it. But it was supposed to get easier, leaving her behind, only it never did. I still miss her Clyde, and every phone call, every postcard, they’re never long enough. As soon as I’m ready for Uni, I’m moving back and this time, I’m staying. I’ll get a flat nearby, and help her. I can’t stay out here, I’d go crazy trying not to think about her.”

Clyde had no idea what to say this time. He wanted to apologise, for all the times he’d teased her about this, because he honestly had no idea that Maria’s feelings were so intense. Although, oddly, it made sense. He had a feeling Luke knew, he’d always told him to shut up when he’d taken the mick, like he’d understood better than Clyde ever could and he was probably right, as usual. Maria really loved her. And he kind of understood.

“So, you’re gonna wait three years, then come back?” Clyde asked, leaning forward, trying to make sense of everything.

“I’m going to try. You see, I love Dad too – I can’t pick up and just leave him, especially as I can’t explain why, and I can’t stay with Mum so I would have nowhere to come back to, until then.” Maria didn’t look happy about it, though.

“You gonna be alright? It’s a long time.” Clyde said quietly, sympathy swelling inside him.

“What choice do I have? Anyway, I’ll have the holidays, Sarah Jane’s promised I can come back and visit during the next holidays, and Dad’ll want me to go – he knows I miss you all. Just not why or how much. And you’re all coming over here this summer, aren’t you? She’s coming then, too.” Maria’s face lit up with the prospect of just seeing the woman she loved and Clyde sighed.

“Yeah, we’re coming. Wouldn’t miss it for the world, right?” Maria grinned, then sighed as well. “I better go, before they get finished downstairs, unless you want to talk to her?” Clyde offered, and the grateful look in Maria’s eyes told him his offer was received thankfully.

“It’s ok, I spoke to her yesterday. And Luke promised to call me tomorrow. It might seem a bit weird if I wanted to talk to her again.”

“Alright. See you soon, Maria.”

“Look after them, Clyde.” Clyde grinned in reply and held out his hands to the side of him.

“Of course I will!” Maria rolled her eyes, half-laughing before they both cut the video feed and Clyde slumped back in his chair. “Woah.” He murmured to himself, before shoving back the chair and heading towards the attic door to check on the others. A light, tuneful humming reached his ears just as he opened the door up completely, from the small crack he’d left it open at, and Sarah Jane emerged from the stairs, holding a mug and smiling.

“Clyde, Luke’s just watching something on TV, he said you recommended it?” Clyde plucked at his shirt and tried to look cool.

“Well, I better go check which one it is then.” He didn’t really want to face Sarah Jane after all that, afraid he’d let something slip, so he hurried past her and fled down the stairs, wondering whether to ask Luke about it and thinking how he could possibly have that conversation.

.~*~. .~*~. .~*~. .~*~.

Sarah Jane watched Clyde disappear down the top flight of stairs before letting the faint smile she’d been wearing drop from her face and began cringing slightly. She’d hummed. She never hummed. Did she honestly think humming would make her seem more at ease? Her expression ran from distressed to downright worried and she slipped into her attic, trying to find the calm her space usually was able to grant her. Something told her peace would be hard to find for the rest of today.

She’d just got to the attic door as Maria began to speak about her – how she saw her. She’d barely recognised that voice she knew so well, the vibrancy and vitality so different to Maria’s usual excited tone. At first, she’d beamed because she thought Maria had finally found someone, and she was glad for her – she knew Maria deserved a special person to share her life with. Then Maria had mentioned being seen as a daughter, and suddenly Sarah Jane’s blood had run cold.

She knew in that moment that the person Maria clearly adored was none other than herself – Sarah Jane Smith. And she’d struggled to breath for a minute. It couldn’t be right, it just couldn’t. It was so wrong. So twisted. So unbelievably immoral. How could Maria feel that way for her? She was three times her age! If not more than that. Yet, that didn’t seem to bother Maria at all. Sarah Jane wondered whether her young companion had even thought about it.

Oh, it was so wrong. Sarah Jane blanched as the thought again repeated its circle around her mind. She’d known Maria might not necessarily have what most people would consider ‘normal’ relationships – her brotherly affection for Clyde told Sarah Jane that the young girl she cared for was perhaps not inclined towards males to make her happy. She also knew that whoever Maria fell for, it would have to be someone spectacular, sensible, headstrong and worthy because only that combination would provide any interest for a girl who had already seen so much. But Sarah Jane didn’t think she fulfilled those needs, and besides – she’d always thought Maria saw her as a replacement mother – not a lover, in any sense of the word!

So wrong. So very wrong. Sarah Jane winced and slid down to curl up in the end of the couch, putting her head in her palm of her hand, trying to make sense of what she’d learnt. Logic – that’s what she needed. Her emotions were in such disarray, they would provide nothing useful. Thinking clinically, Sarah Jane supposed it was just about possible – Maria had started looking for a replacement mother figure, that much Sarah Jane was sure of, because her mother had left, and she was hurt by that – possibly further than Alan or Chrissie had ever realised but Sarah Jane had suspected. The young girl had accepted that her relationship with her mother would never be what she wanted, would never be fulfilling or enough. And, conveniently enough, Sarah Jane had stepped into her life at just the right time.

Sarah Jane knew that the natural frostiness of her demeanour’s facade might have been what intrigued Maria in the first place – because she was the complete opposite of Chrissie, in virtually every way. She’d suspected afterwards, that night when Maria first saw her with an alien, that someone had been there but she’d been too wrapped in the Star Poet to notice. Then afterwards, Mr Smith had confirmed it – someone had entered by the back gate, but he could not tell her who. She’d assumed whoever it was had run away and was busy telling themselves they’d been dreaming.

Then Maria had entered her world, had adapted to it so easily, that Sarah Jane felt her real personality, the warmth she’d hidden from human eyes for so long, rising to the surface – first with Luke, who needed someone to look after him, and then Maria, who also needed someone female to care about her. Maria had always been special to her, through all the problems and threats and invasion attempts that came afterwards – they’d been able to talk so easily, had understood each other without having to try.

Then, somewhere along the way, Maria had gotten confused – the life they led, the connection that can only grow with someone you share the experiences they did, their friendship that meant so much to both of them, all of that. Maria had begun to mistake that for a different kind of love, something altogether more dangerous. It wasn’t her, it wasn’t Sarah Jane she was in love with, it was the life, the experience – just like Sarah Jane had, once a long time ago...

But, a nasty little tempting voice in the back of her mind began, that wasn’t what she said, was it? It was you she talked about in that tone you didn't recognise – you she’d studied, admired, clearly longed for. She wanted to be with you, for the rest of her life, it’s you she’s coming home for in three years – that was a little harder to dismiss as mistaken admiration. And you know you cared about the Doctor deeply, much as you try to dismiss it in the same way, as a mistake – maybe Maria is just as sure. Perhaps you’re wrong this time, Sarah Jane, perhaps Maria really does care for you in the way she says, for you and not the life you lead.

Shaking her head, Sarah Jane felt her expression twist, trying to ignore the pull of that voice. She wasn’t wrong. She couldn’t be wrong. And she would have to be so much more careful around Maria now. She’d gotten very easy around all of her kids, hugging them, keeping them close, that she’d never given that proximity a second thought – now she would have to second guess every movement she made, every hug and she now understood why Maria had kept her feelings such a carefully guarded secret – it made things so much more difficult.

Determinedly, Sarah Jane rose and paced around her attic. If that was how it had to be, then so be it. Maria would get over this infatuation in time, perhaps her being in America was the best thing for all of them – something Sarah Jane had never thought she would think. The girl would recover, move on, find someone worthy of her attention and care and while that would no doubt mean her moving on from her ties in England, Sarah Jane was determined to see it as a good thing.

Time would solve this problem, for Maria anyway.

The beginning...

*MAJOR EXAM STRESS*

Has been removed in light of how... well, fourteen-year-old sounding it is.

xxx

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