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In Memoriam

Title: In Memoriam
Rating: PG
Pairing(s): None
Warnings/Spoilers: Character death, canonical with real-life, I guess :'(
Summary: Luke gets the news about his mum, and there's not really anyone who can make it better
Disclaimer: The Sarah Jane Adventures/Doctor Who and all their characters belong to the BBC and I make no profit from this work
A/N: This was originally written for a prompt on this multi-fandom post, who requested the Doctor visiting Luke after Sarah Jane's death. I was spectacularly broken up over the death of Elisabeth Sladen, so I thought writing fic, no matter how depressing, might be cathartic. And it was both of these things. Though I'm still not sure I'll ever be over it - this is for Lis Sladen and for Sarah Jane.

It's not like in year twelve when Alice Johnson's father died and they pulled her out of a biology lesson - one minute dissecting a heart and the next being hustled into the head's office to be told about how her father's has given out. He's at university now, he's supposed to be independent and self-reliant. There are no teachers speaking in hushed tones, no school nurse with cool hands and a soft sad smile to tell him it's alright, they're dealing with it, just allow yourself time to grieve. All he'd had was a robotic voicemail from K9, some automated protocol mum had obviously installed after Luke had come along and there had been someone to care, to be told, should the worst ever happen.

Luke supposes it had been intended to be comforting, mum being the one to break the news to him. But who wants a robot to recite your mum's last message to you over voicemail? He'd sat down on his bed, still clinging onto his shopping bag full of baked beans and discounted bottles of ale, and hadn't believed it. But then he'd called Clyde, who had obviously been crying and was totally failing to disguise that, and Clyde hadn't been able to say anything remotely coherent except for 'come home'.

So now he's cramming still-damp boxers from the radiator into his backpack and emailing his Director of Studies and texting his friends to cancel dinner plans and basically trying to deal with everything at once when all he wants to do is have someone else to take over and let him grieve.

He's supposed to be old enough to handle this. He's supposed to have had eighteen years practise, but he was made in a lab and born without any sense of what it's like to be human and although he understands sarcasm and that it's not cool to like doing homework, and although none of his friends here seem to have realised that he didn't exist five years ago that doesn't mean he knows how to do this. It's not like he's ever lost anyone before and Clyde's never laughingly tried to explain what to do when your mum dies and you're at Oxford and nothing seems to make sense anymore.

Omar knocks on his door then, and Luke has to smile and pretend that he's holding up. Omar's a great guy and a brilliant mathematician, but he also has an enormous and stable family - a mum and a dad and three siblings and a whole host of aunts and uncles and grandparents. He can sympathise and help Luke to carry his bags down to the car and promise to pick up all the problem sheets this week for him, but he has no idea what it is to suddenly discover that all the family you've ever known is gone.

It's almost a relief to be driving. When he's in the car he doesn't have to think about replying to anxious texts or trying to work out when they can hold the funeral or anything other than which junction he has to take and whether he's going to have enough petrol to get home.

But all too soon he's back at Bannerman Road, pulling into the drive and letting himself out. Clyde and Rani are nowhere to be seen, but he doesn't doubt they'll be out as soon as they realise he's back. Suddenly he doesn't want to see them. He just wants to be alone.

Luke locks the car and lets himself into his mum's house (a small part of his brain tries to tell him no, that's not right, it's his house now, it's all his. But that's a horrible thought that makes it all seem real, so he pushes it down and tries to forget that normally he'd be hugging Sarah Jane and watching her put on the kettle by now) and it's cold and grey and even though she's been dead less than a day it feels as though it's been standing empty for months. He shivers and wishes Maria was there. She'd know what to say, what to do. A cold, sick feeling fills his stomach as he remembers that he's going to have to call her and tell her. Telling his uni friends was hard but not unbearable, like an amicable break-up when you know it's the right thing to do but it still smarts to lose the closeness. But telling Maria, who knew Sarah Jane even before Luke did - that's a weird thought he's never really let himself had before - is going to be a whole new kind of pain.

Involuntarily, Luke's gaze drifts up to the staircase, towards the attic. He feels a sudden urge to be up there, where she lived and where - if he translated K9's scrambled message correctly - she died so suddenly.

He climbs the stairs heavily, dread creeping into his bones. It's ridiculous, he knows she's not there, knows that the paramedics came and took her away and she's waiting on a cold metal slab for him to go and say goodbye to tomorrow, if he wants. But he's still scared for what he's going to find.

The door swings open, and everything looks the same. It's almost a disappointment. There's alien tech spread across every surface and a bright rug on the floor and newspaper articles circled in red pen all over the walls. He doesn't know what he expected but it wasn't this. Luke wants there to be aliens gathered in mourning and graffiti on the walls and dark clouds in the sky and he doesn't even know what he wants, but it's not this. Not this chilling normality where everything is exactly the same except for the absence of Sarah Jane.

For a moment he thinks about asking for Mr Smith, to hear the familiar cheery fanfare and ask him what happened. But that all feels a little bit too real right now.

So instead he steps towards the desk, meaning to sink into the chair and feel sorry for himself. But instead the chair spins suddenly around and for a heart-stopping moment Luke thinks it's his mum. Because Sarah Jane is so indomitable, so brilliant and vivid and just so alive that of course death can't hold her and she's just been waiting for him to come back so she can tell him it's a mistake.

But then it isn't Sarah Jane. It's a stranger, a man with a ridiculous amount of hair and a terrible taste in bow-ties and grey-green eyes which look washed out with tears.

"Who are you?" Luke wants it to sounds angry, accusatory - how dare anyone intrude upon his mother's space, on his mourning - but it comes out as more of a weary croak. The man looks so sorrowful; Luke has no idea who he is but he's suddenly not sure as to which one of them is sadder.

"Oh Luke...I'm the Doctor. Of course you don't recognise me," he sighs, pushing himself clumsily to his feet, all gangling limbs and tweed and it's like something from a sketch show except nobody is laughing, "I'm sorry, we missed each other last time I was here. I expect they told you about it, with the Shansheeth?" Luke nods wordlessly, trying to process it. His brain, usually so keenly fast, seems to have stopped working. The Doctor, this is the Doctor. He supposes he's got the alien in mourning then, at least.

"Yeah...I remember. You're, you're the Doctor?" The Doctor nods, and Luke can see the grief etched in every line of his face. It reminds him, like nothing else has, that he isn't the only one to have lost somebody. That Sarah Jane meant the world to this strange, lonely alien long before she meant the world to Luke.

"I'm sorry."

They both say it at the same time, and Luke actually manages a half-smile.

"Your mother was a wonderful, wonderful woman." The Doctor rests a warm hand on Luke's shoulder, and Luke feels tears spring to his eyes.

"I know." He swallows. "But she was your friend a long time before she was my mother. You...you made her wonderful." The Doctor shakes his head, but he's smiling, fond and gentle.

"No, Sarah Jane was wonderful a long time before I met her. She just...found new ways to be wonderful with me." There's a far-away look in the Doctor's eyes, as though he's remembering something a very long time ago. Then he blinks and he's back in the present, where Sarah Jane Smith is dead and everything's a little bit bleaker. "And then she found you. If anything in her life made her any more wonderful than she was already, it was you."

Luke feels himself teeter on the edge of his grief, like walking on a tightrope where the slightest misstep will leave him a heaving sobbing wreck. He almost wants to tell the Doctor to stop, to leave, to let him grieve on his own. But he doesn't.

"Your mum," the Doctor continues, and Luke is glad now that he let him keep speaking because there are tears clogging his throat and he's not sure he could have spoken even if he wanted to, "Was the bravest and most brilliant woman in the world. She saved the world with me and then she kept right on saving it without me. She had so much to be proud of. And she was so proud of you Luke. You know that? Whenever I saw her, and it wasn't often enough, it was never often enough, she always told me how proud she was of you."

Luke nods, quickly. He wants to wipe away the tears threatening to spill all over his face but his arms feel leaden. It's as though he's sinking into quicksand and only the Doctor's hand on his shoulder is keeping him rooted. Then the Doctor is pulling him into a hug and Luke lets out the smallest whimper.

"It's alright." The Doctor murmurs, cradling Luke's head against his shoulder like it's about to fall apart in his hand, "You're allowed to cry."

So Luke does. He sobs into the Doctor's shoulder, his tears leaving a dark patch on the jacket as he grips the Doctor as tightly as he can.

Luke thinks about Omar, who doesn't understand loss. He thinks about Clyde and Rani, who are grieving just like him but know him far too well. He thinks of Maria, and the thousand miles of ocean that would be between any hug they might want to share.

And he thinks of the Doctor, who has lost everything and everyone so many times. Who is both a friend and a stranger to him right now and who knew his mum, Sarah Jane Smith, probably better than anyone else.

And Luke thinks about the slight tremble that shakes the Doctor as the hug ends and they draw apart, and about how red-rimmed his eyes looked when Luke first stumbled into his grief. And he thinks that maybe, just maybe, each of them is just who the other needs right now.

In time Clyde and Rani will see the lights on downstairs and his car in the drive. They'll run to make him tea and help him pick out flowers and liase with UNIT. But until then it's just him and the Doctor, standing in the dark with their memories.

Luke holds the Doctor's hand and remembers his mother.