Beta: paranoidangel42 and hilandmum
Prompt: 26. Either due to an alternate universe breach or someone messing with the timeline, Sarah Jane comes face to face with an evil version of herself who let her abandonment issues and bitterness consume her.
Notes: I seem to be stuck on Lauren and why she's no longer canon. John Chesterton/Johnny Chess is from the novels and there's fanon that he was married to Tegan Jovenka at one point. This is part of a longer story which may see the light of day someday.
Spoilers: A Good Man Goes to War and the last series of Sarah Jane Adventures
It wasn't until Sky had put on her pyjamas that she remembered what she had wanted to ask Luke. Sarah Jane was still upstairs finishing her article on Joseph Serf, and Sky wasn't sure she would get another chance. She was about to cross the hall to his room when there was a knock at her door. Padding barefoot across the floor, she opened it to find Luke standing there. "What's up?"
Luke pushed past her and sat down on the bed. "I have a very odd question for you." He hesitated before saying, "Have you seen something strange in this room?" It was an oddly guarded question.
"You've seen her too, then. Lauren, I mean." She sat down on the bed beside him. "Sarah Jane says there's no such thing as ghosts."
"Yeah." He looked embarrassed. "I thought it might be just me."
"Not just you, I turn around sometimes and she's there. Always in this room. She asked about you so I thought it would be okay to ask you. She said not to tell anyone and especially not Sarah Jane, so I haven't. Should I?" Sky swung her legs and looked at Luke earnestly, absolutely certain he'd know what to do. "She hasn't said much to me. Just that she lived here once and something about a car accident. I think she's scared."
"Me, too." Luke covered her hand with his. "The funny thing is, the ghost hasn't always been here. I first saw her about two years ago - right after the Doctor saved me from being hit by that car. And back then it was just glimpses of a figure. It was ages before she started looking at me rather than through me, and even longer before she spoke to me. And I never saw her outside my room either."
"She asks lots more questions than she answers," Sky said. "Mostly about Sarah Jane, but about the world too." That hadn't gone too well, since Sky had barely known anything at first, but she'd quickly learnt how to look things up and the things Lauren asked about were all common knowledge, like the name of the Prime Minister. "I wondered if Sarah Jane had set this up to teach me all the things I didn't know, but if you saw her too-"
Luke might have said something if Lauren hadn't suddenly appeared in front of them. "You're both here." She seemed surprised by this. "I always wanted a brother or sister," she said wistfully, "but my parents didn't even want me." She didn't give them a chance to react before adding, "I think they're about to do something incredibly stupid. They've been horribly distracted and they keep locking themselves in the attic for days at a time."
"We should tell Sarah Jane. I'm sure she'll help," Sky blurted out.
"No. That's the worst thing you could do." Lauren hesitated. "I think, maybe, this is supposed to happen. Or has already happened." She reached over and tried to pick up a book but her hand just went right through it. "I'm not really here, you know. Maybe I never was."
There was a knock at the door which caught both Sky and Luke's attention and when they looked back, Lauren had disappeared just as quickly as she'd appeared. "Come in," Sky called cautiously.
Sarah Jane peeked in. "I thought I heard voices. How about some cocoa before bedtime?" She brought a tray with three mugs into the room.
Luke and Sky looked at each other and nodded. For now, Lauren would be their secret. At least until they understood what was happening to her and figured out how to help her.
"Johnny, I can only tell you what he told me. He didn't seem thrilled about the prospect of returning to Earth but he seemed to think that Tegan's wedding was worth coming back for. As for the Doctor, I've been leaving messages but they haven't been picked up yet. And you don't even know when Nyssa was from, so I've got no hope of contacting her without the Doctor's help." Sarah Jane listened for a while, pacing the length of the attic and rolling her eyes in a way that made Sky giggle. When the lights flickered for the third time, Sarah Jane realised what her daughter was doing and caught Sky's eye.
Sky winced and went back to her homework, pointedly asking Luke for help with a maths problem. But even whilst she was listening to his explanation, she couldn't help but notice that her mum's voice grew more exasperated with the man on the other end as the conversation continued.
"He'll call me when he gets here. He wasn't sure how long it would take - technology moves on, on Trion as well as on Earth." The conversation went on for a little while longer, mostly gossip about people whose names Sky carefully noted down in the margins of her maths book for future reference, before Sarah Jane managed to end the call. Almost immediately, the mobile rang again. "Tegan. What can I do for you?" Sarah Jane sat down on the sofa. "What now?" She looked like she wished she hadn't answered the phone.
Luke and Sky looked at each other. Their mum had spent the past fortnight fielding calls from Tegan and Johnny, regarding their marriage or rather remarriage. Judging by Sarah Jane's reactions both during and after the calls, she wasn't quite sure how she had got entangled in this. It didn't seem like she was a close friend to either of them. Tegan had travelled with the Doctor, but not until long after Sarah Jane had left. Somehow both she and her husband to be had decided that Sarah Jane could arrange just about anything and they seemed determined to put this to the test.
Sky could understand this in the matter of Tegan's friend, Turlough, who lived on another planet. Sarah Jane had had to use Mr Smith to connect to that planet's comm system and then it had taken her another few hours to locate him - apparently Turlough was his surname and he was important enough to be surrounded by layers of security. Sky hadn't been in the room when her mum had finally managed to speak to him, so she wasn't sure whose idea it was for him to come in person. All she knew was that Johnny was planning this as a surprise for Tegan for their wedding and Sky had been sworn to secrecy, even though she wouldn't know Tegan, Johnny or Turlough if she met them on the street. But just the fact that Tegan and Turlough were also former companions of the Doctor made them interesting, and Clyde and Rani, who had been present for some of the calls, had insisted that she and Luke learn everything they could, so she'd done her best.
However, since Tegan's calls tended to involve her going on and on in a voice that was loud enough to hear but not loud enough to be intelligible and her mum just making noises at intervals to show she was paying attention, Sky turned back to her homework and Luke returned to whatever he was building on the floor. She and Luke were invited to the wedding, so they'd have the perfect chance to investigate on Saturday. Especially since it sounded like other former companions of the Doctor were also invited.
Saturday morning, Sky woke to the feeling that something was off-kilter, but she wasn't sure what. Still, the feeling only intensified when she passed her mother on the stairs. "Morning, Sarah Jane."
"What? Oh, morning, Lauren." Sarah Jane suddenly looked up at her and frowned. "Lauren, I know you've been slipping out to play with Rani across the road and that boyfriend of hers. Don't today. Get your breakfast and bring it up to your room. Please." Her mum didn't wait for a response but turned and headed up the stairs to the attic, leaving Sky standing speechless on the landing.
Warily, she went down to the kitchen. "That was so weird," she blurted out at Luke, who was sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast. "Did you speak to Sarah Jane this morning?"
"No, I didn't even know she was up. She didn't come in until after two this morning. The hen night must not have been quite as dire as she expected." Sarah Jane had sworn she was just going to put in a quick appearance.
"She wasn't drunk, was she?" Sky asked.
Luke shook his head.
"Are you sure? It was a hen night. Those things get pretty wild."
"You've been watching too much telly. Do you honestly think mum would drink to excess?"
Reassured by Luke's certainty, Sky relaxed. "I didn't think so, but I haven't been here long."
"What happened, Sky?"
Sky tried to remember her exact words. "She accused me of sneaking out to play with Rani and her boyfriend. And she seemed to think my name was Lauren. I'm not sure if she was angry or scared or maybe a little of both." Sky paused as something sunk in. "Luke, she called me Lauren. Do you think she meant-?"
"I think she must have. But that doesn't make sense. None of this makes sense," Luke replied. "Maybe Lauren isn't a ghost after all. Maybe we should go up and see if she's there."
Sky grabbed a piece of toast before Luke herded her upstairs. Ghost hunting didn't sound like something that should be done on an empty stomach.
Just as they reached the stairs, there was a knock at the door and they both jumped. After a moment's hesitation, Luke peered carefully out one of the windows before opening it. "Doctor. What are you doing here?"
"I detected a temporal fluctuation centred on this house." The man dashed into the room, scanning it with a device which looked similar to Sarah Jane's sonic lipstick. "I couldn't land in the attic, which worries me to no end. I had to land over by the school. This is Doctor River Song, by the way. River, this is Luke, and-" his voice hung in the air for a minute before he guessed, "Lauren?"
"No, she's Sky," Luke said, looking worried. "But you're the second person who called her that today."
"That's not good. Has anything else strange happened today?" He even sounded like a doctor, looking for symptoms, Sky thought.
Luke shrugged. "Mum got home early this morning from a hen party. The only one who's seen her this morning is Sky and she called Sky Lauren."
"The hen party was for a former companion of yours, Tegan Jovenka," Sky added, though she couldn't see how that might be important but one never knew.
"Ah, that is interesting. Tegan's getting married. You'll have to tell me all about it." Just as Sky thought the Doctor had gone completely off topic, he added, "But the fact that Sarah didn't remember your name is even more interesting. Are you sure your name isn't Lauren?"
"No, it isn't. I've always been Sky." The Doctor's sudden attention swings spooked Sky, even though the others had warned her. She forced herself to breathe and to dissipate the energy she could feel gathering inside her. The last thing she wanted was to cause another power outage.
"I see. Which leaves us with the question of who Lauren is and why your mum thinks you're her. And more importantly, why is the temporal disturbance in this house growing and how do we stop it? This house has a history, but that timeline was overwritten long before the war. My people made sure of that." No part of him was ever still, Sky noticed as he continued his monologue. "Once in a completely different timeline, a couple lived here who experimented with time, which isn't a bad thing, in and of itself. It's what they did with it. Their daughter died and they couldn't leave well enough alone. They ripped apart the fabric of time, like the crack in your mother's wall." He looked at River as he said that. "And they tried to get her back. Did a lot of damage in the process and in the end the Time Lords had to step in and fix things. The CIA, I imagine."
"Your people have a Central Intelligence Agency?" Luke interrupted. Sky didn't blame him. It was the only way anyone could get a word in edgeways.
"Celestial Intervention Agency. Quite different. Except when it wasn't. But they ended up having to rewrite history so none of that ever happened. So it shouldn't be affecting the house right now. It must be something else." But he didn't sound certain, which worried Sky. If the Doctor didn't know what was going on, things had to be bad.
Professor Song had disappeared into one of the other rooms while Sky was distracted by the Doctor and she returned, some sort of monitor in hand. "Upstairs, I think. The readings are very low down here. Coming, sweetie?" She started up the stairs and then paused, as though she suddenly remembered that she was in someone else's house.
But Luke had taken the cue. "Most of the dangerous stuff is kept in the attic." He took the stairs two at a time, the others all crowding after him.
Sky hung back. The unsettled feeling she'd had before had returned, worse than ever. As she passed her own room she glanced in, and she was unsurprised to see Lauren staring out the window. The other girl turned to look at her and without a word to the others, Sky went into the room. As far as she knew, Luke hadn't even told Clyde and Rani about Lauren, and Sky wasn't about to betray her presence to the Doctor and Professor Song, who were still strangers.
"Hi," Lauren said, as Sky quietly and carefully closed the door. "What's going on out there?"
"I'm not sure anyone knows. Mum was acting weird earlier and then the Doctor showed up." Sky sat down on the bed. "He's a friend of hers."
"You didn't tell him about me, did you?" Lauren looked even more scared than she had before. She came over and sat down on the bed next to Sky, though Sky noticed that the bed didn't show any signs of her weight. "I think my parents are in big trouble. There was this man who came over and there was yelling in the attic. They never liked me going out after the accident, but now they've practically locked me in my room."
"We'll figure this out." Sky covered the other girl's hand with hers, and tried not to notice when she felt the bed covers instead of Lauren's hand. She didn't understand what was going on, but wasn't this what Sarah Jane had taught her and Luke to do? If things had been different, she would have been happy to have Lauren as a friend.
"I tried to call Rani, but Sarah Jane caught me and took away my mobile. She and Clyde are going to wonder what happened to me," Lauren continued. "I was supposed to meet them tonight. I shouldn't even be in here."
Now Sky was really confused. Rani had moved to Bannerman Road after Sarah Jane had. She and Luke had assumed that whatever had happened to Lauren happened before then, but now the girl was talking about Rani and Clyde as though they were her friends. But they were both almost adults, talking about uni and future plans and Lauren looked to be Sky's age, or the age Sky looked. It was all a muddle.
"I wish- I wish they would just let me go. They never wanted a daughter anyway." Lauren bit her lip. "Maybe they've finally figured it out. How to fix things, I mean." She slammed an insubstantial fist against one of Sky's pillows. "I know they must have. But I don't want-" she broke off, as if she were afraid to admit to not wanting whatever it was.
"You should let Sarah Jane help. She's good at fixing things," Sky offered. It would be so much easier if they had Sarah Jane's help.
"No!" Lauren snapped. "That would be the worst possible thing to do." She swiped an arm across her face, wiping away tears. "You should go. They'll wonder what happened to you. And it will be easier if there's no one around."
Something in her face made Sky disinclined to ask what she was afraid was going to happen. "Are you sure you'll be okay?"
The other girl forced a smile onto her face, which didn't reassure Sky in the slightest. "I'll be - fine. Just go, please."
Sky would have hugged her if she could have. As it was, all she could do was offer up an uncertain smile of her own before carefully opening the door and slipping out into the hallway. Absently, she closed the door behind her and started up the stairs, trying not to worry about the loud voices above her. But before she'd gone more than a few steps, she heard someone at the door. Indecision gripped her for a moment, but then she headed downstairs. Whatever was going on in the attic, it was probably best that she get rid of whomever was at the door.
"You must be Sky. Sarah has told me so much about you. Is she here?" and with that the man, who had introduced himself as John Chesterton had pressed past Sky and into the entryway. "Or more importantly, is Turlough here? After we ran into the hen party at the last pub we visited last night, they fell into conversation and then they left abruptly without even saying good-bye. Admittedly, we were all pissed by that point, so they might not have bothered." Johnny massaged his temples with his fingers as though he had a headache. "But Tegan was worried so she sent me over to see if they were here."
Sky wished the man would talk slower and perhaps more quietly, but he was already heading up the stairs. "No, don't go up there," Sky blurted out, even though she knew it wouldn't have much effect.
"It's okay," Johnny reassured her. "My parents travelled with the Doctor too. I might even be able to help."
And with that all Sky could do was trail after him as he headed to the attic. She didn't know how he knew the Doctor was involved but since he did, she was going to have to trust him.
"A politician and a journalist. Is this what we've been reduced to?" Sky didn't recognise the man's voice, but his words were loud and clear as she climbed the last few steps. The door to the attic was open, and everyone was standing around focused on Sarah Jane and the strange man beside her. He must have been the one who had spoken. She guessed he must be Turlough as Sarah Jane didn't often invite strangers up into the attic. She wondered if he'd spent the night there, as she hadn't seen him before this. The air felt funny, like it was saturated with some sort of energy. Not electricity, Sky would have recognised that. But something was causing everything to look out of focus. No that wasn't right. It felt like the attic wasn't quite real.
"If you want me to trust you, let me speak to one of them," the Doctor was demanding as she entered the room. "They've done nothing to deserve this."
"Why should we do that, Time Lord? Why should we trust you?" Sarah Jane asked as though she didn't even know who the Doctor was. And after all her stories that spooked Sky even more. "Who made you the arbitrators of everything?"
Once again she made an effort to control the electricity building inside her. She didn't want to hurt anyone and more importantly, she didn't know how her powers would react with this weird energy that surrounded her.
The Doctor was frowning. "You don't know enough about the forces you're playing with. You could do massive damage without meaning to. Let me help you." For a moment, Sky thought he was talking to her, but then she realised he hadn't shown any sign that he knew she was there.
River had noticed, however. She gave Johnny a very odd look before turning back to the tableau in front of them.
Turlough and her mum looked at each other in a way that Sky didn't like at all. Finally, Sarah Jane said, "Fine. Two minutes," blinked and suddenly the coldness was gone from her eyes. "Doctor," she said in a very different voice.
After a moment Turlough blinked too, as though the same force had been controlling him and had now stopped.
"Sarah, Turlough, are you all right?" The Doctor asked. "What can you tell me? Do you think you can break free?"
Sarah Jane grimaced. "No, she's too strong. And much more ruthless than I am."
Turlough nodded his agreement. "I'm not sure if they care if people get hurt as long as they get what they want."
The air in the attic was wavering more than ever and Sky suddenly understood why everything looked so blurry. It was as if there was another attic superimposed over the one they were standing in.
"Doctor, this isn't your fight. You know that," Turlough continued. "You must have known-" He broke off suddenly, staring into a corner of the attic as though there were something there. "You." His face had turned hard again, and Sky had no doubt that whatever was possessing him had taken control again.
Sky stared intently at that corner in the attic trying to figure out who he was talking to. After a minute, a figure blurred into sight. He looked more real than the attic that was overlaying the one she was familiar with, but she had no idea who he was or where he'd come from.
"Me. You know why I'm here. And I know what you're trying. It won't work, you know." If it hadn't been for the outlandish robes, Sky would have taken him for a businessman or a civil servant. "We warned you that you couldn't keep on with your experiments."
"Narvin?" The word was half a question, half complete and utter disbelief. Sky hadn't thought anything could shake the Doctor's certainty, but this man's appearance certainly had.
"The renegade. Regenerated again, I see. How careless of you. Doctor, this isn't your fight. Don't interfere. These two," he gestured at Sarah Jane and Turlough, "couldn't let things be. Their own daughter died and rather than accept it, they're attempting to kidnap the child that was born in this reality. They shan't succeed." He paused, his eyes skimming the people in the room before settling on Sky. "Lauren, perhaps you'd best go downstairs. You may think these are your parents, but they aren't."
Sky might have protested if she'd been given a choice. She wasn't. The next thing she knew, Johnny had slung her over his shoulder and was heading towards the door.
"River, go with them." Sky couldn't see the speaker, but recognised Sarah Jane's voice, or rather the voice of the being that had possessed her mother.
"Why should I?" The other woman asked recklessly. Out of the corner of her eye, Sky could see that the other woman had unsheathed her guns. Unwise, given how much Sarah Jane disliked guns, but then, how would River know that?
"Because you still owe me for the lift home," Sarah Jane replied cryptically.
Somehow that was enough because when Sky twisted her head, she could see River backing out of the room behind them, guns still drawn and aimed.
Once they were out of the room, River closed the door and turned to Johnny. "Where are we going?"
"I'm not Lauren," Sky protested, as he set her down on the landing.
"I know that and you know that," he knelt so he could look her in the eyes, "but he didn't and he wanted you out of there. We don't know why, and for now it's probably safer to go along with it. Besides, now we might be able to come up with a plan to free your mother and Turlough."
Sky didn't think that was a reasonable rationale, but she couldn't think of a counterargument. Besides, she was starting to worry about the real Lauren. If it was her parents possessing Sky's mum and Turlough, they were even worse than she'd described. It didn't help that River and Johnny were looking at each other warily. "Why did she want River to come with us? Are you possessed too?"
"Hardly, sweetie. Maybe she wanted me to protect you. We only have Narvin's side of the story after all." River finally sheathed her guns. "And I'm not sure I trust him. I don't think the Doctor did."
Sky didn't feel comforted. Something about what the being possessing Sarah Jane had said had startled River. She couldn't rule out that they had a connection and that River might be the enemy.
They started down the stairs and had just turned a corner when they ran into Lauren emerging from Sky's room. The real Lauren. With Rani. The shock caused Sky to stop short.
"I finally managed to pick the lock. Rani helped me," the other girl said, looking oddly at River and John. "You're Johnny Chess, the singer." She looked suddenly confused. "What are you doing here?"
"Guilty as charged. And rescuing you, I think." He grinned at Lauren as if he knew her, bewildering Sky.
"No, I made you up." Lauren pushed past the three of them. "What are they doing up there?" River grabbed at her, but she kicked River and ran up the stairs.
"What are you doing, Lauren? I thought you wanted to get out of here," Rani called before swinging around to face River and Johnny. "You're all part of some sort of cult, aren't you?" Her eyes skimmed Sky without a hint of recognition but she grabbed Sky's hand anyway. "I'm going to get you out of here too. It's all going to be okay."
Sky wasn't sure what was going to be okay, or why Rani thought she was being held captive, only that Rani was acting strange. Maybe like Lauren's Rani. Not like Sky's. And if that were true-. She suppressed the thought. That woman up there couldn't be an alternate Sarah Jane Smith. She was nothing like Sarah Jane.
"That's not good," Johnny said as he helped River up, but Rani was pulling Sky up the stairs.
None of this made any sense, but the one thing she did know was that Lauren was in danger. Sky heard the adults on the steps behind her but she didn't look back. "Don't go in there."
Lauren already had her hand on the door. "I won't go quietly. I thought I could, but I swear I will kick and scream and keep fighting until the end. I won't let them do this to me."
"Do what? Lauren you need to tell me what's happening." Sky asked.
Lauren stopped cold and wrapped her arms around herself, shivering even though the house was warm.
Sky pulled away from Rani and caught Lauren's hand. It was warm and reassuringly solid in her hand. "It will be okay."
"No," the other girl said sadly. "It will never be okay again." She looked into Sky's eyes. "I don't want to be forgotten. But you will. Even if I make you promise."
"I won't forget you," Rani said, coming up on Lauren's other side and wrapping an arm around her friend. "Not ever."
"Yes, you will." Lauren pulled away from both Rani and Sky and stared the door to the attic, all of the other people forgotten, absently wiping the tears off her face with the back of her hand. "He's going to offer them something they wanted more than they ever wanted me."
"I can't believe that. They're your parents," Rani insisted. "They love you."
But Lauren had already gone into the room and all Sky and Rani could do was follow. To Sky's relief the room seemed calm, even if the air felt even thicker and the room closer to the other attic than her own.
Narvin was speaking quite reasonably and didn't even look up when they entered the room again. "I can fix the damage you've caused. It's simple enough. But it will require rewriting your histories. The two timelines will be separate and the danger will cease."
"No, don't." Lauren might have said more but Johnny caught her, just as he had caught Sky earlier.
"Think about what you're about to do," he snapped quietly but firmly.
Lauren just looked at him sadly. "You're not here. This is just some mad fantasy and maybe I'll wake up soon." She sat down on the floor, wrapping her arms around her knees. "I can't do this. Why couldn't you have wanted me?" Once again Sky and Rani moved to surround her.
Sky still didn't know what Lauren thought was happening, but she could see Narvin whispering first in Turlough's ear and then in Sarah's. Narvin didn't seem to have noticed the commotion by the door, but the Doctor had. And River had moved to stand between Narvin and Lauren as though she didn't want Narvin to see the girl. For a moment everything paused and Sky could almost feel time passing. Then Turlough and her mum turned towards her and Sky saw the joy in their eyes.
And then they both seemed to crumple a little. Narvin nodded to himself, saluted the Doctor and walked back to the corner of the attic where he seemed to fade away.
Instantly Sarah Jane's hand came up aiming the sonic lipstick at that corner, her eyes bright and hard.
"No, don't! I have to get back," Lauren snapped. She was suddenly on her feet, pushing her way past Johnny and River, but Turlough caught her. She stared up at him. "What did you do? It wasn't their bargain, it was yours." She started to struggle but he held her fast. "This isn't your world."
"Lauren, look at me. There's nothing for you to go back to. That timeline ended when your parents accepted Narvin's deal," he snapped back as Sarah Jane pressed the button on the lipstick. "Your parents, not us," he added, a little more gently. "They had their reasons."
The Doctor looked from Sarah Jane to Turlough and back again. "So it was all a diversion," he said quietly.
Turlough's arms tightened around Lauren and Sky's mum turned and glared at him.
"Does it matter? There never was a Lauren in this reality thanks to your people," Sarah Jane said in measured tones. "She isn't a paradox. She can't be." She looked exhausted but willing to fight if necessary.
The Doctor walked over to the three of them. "No, she isn't. At least she doesn't feel like a paradox. I gather she didn't die in the car accident." He looked from one to the other until Turlough gave him a brief nod of acquiescence. "You can rip a hole to take something out or you can rip a hole to hide something. They figured out that she was in danger and tried to find a safe place to hide her." He swung around, pacing the length of the room. "I should have been suspicious when you were so quick to say you couldn't fight them. That they were too ruthless. But you're both fighters and I've seen you both make difficult choices for the greater good. But your little ruse wouldn't have worked if we'd known you were working towards a common goal. What did they find and who did that threaten?"
"Rassilon," Sarah Jane spat the name out. "And he didn't play fair. Don't pretend you don't know what happened, Doctor. You must have been told when they forbade you from bringing me to Gallifrey."
"They told me the official story. I have no doubt that Rassilon very carefully controlled what parts of the story he left for the High Council to find," the Doctor added. "He always did. You challenged his power but he would have made sure they didn't know how. It wouldn't be the first time he altered history to remove someone he thought was a threat. But why would he claim Lauren died when she is clearly still alive?" He frowned at them. And then went very still. "How long have you known each other in this reality? Turlough was only on Earth for what? Two years? Three?"
Turlough nodded. "Close enough. Five minutes in Rassilon's Tomb, less than twenty four hours since I arrived on Earth for Tegan's wedding."
"So he wanted to prevent you from meeting." He resumed his pacing. "The only thing separating you was certain to accomplish was to prevent Lauren's birth."
Lauren twisted in Turlough's arms and stared at the Doctor in horror. "I don't understand. I'm not important. They didn't even want me."
"Oh, yes, you are. And I think they cared more about you than you realised." He swung around to stare at River. "When was it that Sarah gave you that ride home? The eighties? London to Leadworth?"
"New York to Leadworth," River replied easily. "She talked me into it. Paid for my ticket. And you shouldn't have known it was me," she added, staring at Sarah Jane as though she expected the other woman to explain this, though Lauren didn't understand why it was so significant.
"But Sarah is clever. Both Sarah and Turlough are almost as clever as I am. Sometimes more. The other Sarah Jane, she wouldn't have known what was going on but she knew Narvin didn't know what Lauren looked like. Rassilon would never have told Narvin what she was. That's why she called Sky Lauren. But she didn't know much about Time Lords and she couldn't possibly have known River. The events that culminated in River's birth couldn't have existed in her Time Line. Only you could have known that." He stared straight at Sarah Jane.
She gave the tiniest of nods.
"So you were helping her. Both of you, I imagine. And it isn't hard to figure out why. You both would have recognised what Lauren was - a human Time Lord. Artron energy in high doses at conception caused the mutation that turned my people into Time Lords. It does the same for humans but they're rarely exposed to it." The Doctor didn't seem angry. More like he was trying to understand.
Lauren laughed slightly hysterically. "All it means is that I'm never the sanest person in the room. And that's even living with my parents. I hear voices. I have imaginary friends. And I got hit by a car and I didn't die." Another laugh. "I suppose that's it. The not dying, I mean. An immortal madwoman is hardly a threat."
"You're not mad," Turlough said softly. "They just didn't know what you were. But Sarah and I, we've had more experience with such things."
"So wait, you're saying that Lauren isn't just Turlough and Sarah Jane's daughter from another dimension, she's also a Time Lord?" Rani blurted out, looking from one to the other as though they were all quite mad. "You don't do things by halves, do you?"
"Apparently not," Turlough replied lazily. He still hadn't let go of Lauren, even though the hole had clearly been sealed. "So what happens now?" There was an edge to his voice that matched her mother's tenseness, and Sky wondered what they were afraid of.
The Doctor's head swung around sharply to look first at Turlough and then at Sarah Jane. "Sometimes it's hard to remember that every once in a while you get a good day. Stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. Lauren's presence here isn't disturbing anything. No one is going to take her away from you."
Sarah Jane stared at him for a moment and then dropped down on to the sofa, almost limply. After a moment, Turlough did the same, drawing Lauren with him so she ended up in the middle. Sky's mum reached out and stroked Lauren's hair. "We did it then. We - they knew they were trying to rewrite history so she never existed and w-they weren't about to let that happen. But we also knew that if we didn't agree, the Time Lords would take more drastic measures. And we'd never remember that she ever existed."
"So you engineered this whole mess just to distract Narvin from your real purpose," River said approvingly.
"What, you think w - they ripped a hole in the fabric of time to the timeline that existed after they made their deal and then left Lauren here by accident?" Turlough rolled his eyes. "We had to take the long path, but she didn't."
Lauren turned her head to look up at him. "You- they-"
"They couldn't bear the thought of losing you forever. They might have turned the walls they built into a fortress, but they'd been so focused on protecting themselves from the rest of the world, they never noticed that the walls inside of the fortress were crumbling from neglect," Sarah Jane said gently. "You might not have been born in this timeline, but you will always be our little girl."
"Does this mean Lauren's my sister now?" Sky asked uncertainly, snuggling into her mother's other arm. She felt that arm tighten around her and relaxed a little. Sarah Jane still wanted her too.
"I believe it does," Sarah Jane smiled hesitantly at her. "Yours and Luke's. Will you mind having a sister?"
"Not if it's Lauren," Luke answered. "They can pester each other and stay out of my hair. And my stuff."
Rani snorted at that.
Lauren just looked stunned. "Why would you want me around? You barely even know each other. And you've got everything you wanted."
"Do we?" Turlough asked Sky's mum.
Sky thought her mum looked tired, so she snuggled closer. "I'd like a sister."
"I'd like a wife," Johnny suddenly said. "My wedding's at one and I'm not even dressed. Doctor, you better be there; I don't want to hear what Tegan will say if you aren't. The rest of you need to get dressed too." He glanced around the room. "A few of my friends are stuck in Glasgow. The airport was closed down due to snow and they won't be able to get down in time, so we've got some spaces to fill. Rani would you like to come? And that other friend of your kids', Clyde, was it?" he asked Sarah Jane.
"Yeah." Luke was already on the phone telling Clyde to get his suit on.
The attic emptied. Johnny practically ran out the door in his haste to get back to the hotel. The Doctor and River followed more slowly as they headed back to the TARDIS with the Doctor muttering something about knowing the perfect present to bring. Rani and Luke went down together, talking over each other as they tried to explain to Clyde what had just happened. And that left four of them.
Sky stood awkwardly, feeling like she should leave the other three alone, and yet not wanting to.
Her mum caught her eye. "Maybe you could lend Lauren a dress?"
"I could," Sky felt suddenly shy as she looked at Lauren. The other girl still looked stunned but she followed Sky out of the attic. As the door closed, Sky could hear her mum saying something to Turlough but she didn't hear what.
When they got down to Sky's room, she hesitated. "I guess this used to be your room."
"Before the accident. Afterwards," Lauren made a three-quarter turn and pressed a panel on the wall and a door slid open, revealing a hidden room. Aside from a bed against the wall, the room was mostly full of boxes, labelled in Sarah Jane's none too neat handwriting. Lauren stared at one of the labels. "I guess she knew about this room."
"I didn't. I wonder if she told Luke." Sky stepped in cautiously, blinking a little as her eyes adjusted to the dark. There was a little light coming in from a pair of small round windows. "It looks cosy."
"I always thought it was just lonely. If I hadn't had Rani and Clyde-" Lauren shut her mouth without finishing the sentence.
But Sky understood. "You've got me and Luke now. And Clyde and Rani too. You are staying, aren't you?"
"I don't know." Lauren backed out of the room and Sky followed. "I guess m-Sarah Jane and d-Turlough will decide what's going to happen to me. That's probably what they're talking about right now."
"Well, we should get dressed. We can worry about that later," Sky said carelessly. "I've never been to a wedding before."
"Neither have I." Lauren smiled for the first time since Sky had met her and together they started rummaging through the wardrobe for something appropriate for a wedding.
At least Lauren fit in her clothes, Sky thought, remembering when she'd first come to live with Sarah Jane and had to wear Luke's which hadn't. The other girl had calmed down a little as they were changing, but she was still skittish and wary.
Turlough and Luke were standing at the foot of the stairs, waiting for them.
"I've never seen you in a suit," Lauren said shakily. "You always said St Brendan's had put you off them forever." Before he could reply she added quickly, "Did you marry Deela?"
Turlough stared at her as though he was trying to figure out how to answer that. "Deela died a long time ago." He didn't sound like he minded. He stared at Lauren for a moment before adding, "Before I ever returned to Trion. I was travelling with the Doctor and she decided she wanted access to a treasure and the only way to do that was kidnap me."
Lauren looked horrified. "But you two were so much in love."
"Is that what I told you?" Turlough tipped her chin up with his finger so he could look in her eyes. "Sounds to me like I'd built quite the fantasy world there. I used to be so good at that," he mused. "Let me guess, I was going to return to Trion and prove that I was wronged and Deela would come back to me. That's the sort of scenario I revelled in when I was seventeen. Better than facing the truth that Deela was a spoilt aristocrat who chose her lovers based on what would annoy daddy and dropped them when difficulties arose. Even then I knew or suspected that she'd given her father information that he'd used at my trial. Sarah Jane is worth a dozen Deelas," Turlough added, "and I say that knowing her less than twenty-four hours. Wanting something can blind you to what you already have."
Before Lauren could react to this, Sarah Jane spoke from the stairs, "All you've ever wanted rarely works out the way you planned, Lauren." She took the last few steps slowly, more, Sky suspected, because of the heels she was wearing than for effect. "Three years ago the Trickster tempted me into trying to change history so that my parents lived. And I nearly destroyed the world in the process. I'm not as far away from what your parents did as I'd like to be, but I'm not constantly rubbing salt in my wounds either."
"Turlough isn't Peter Dalton either," Luke interrupted. "You'd never give up what you do for him. She didn't." Both adults stared at Luke as though they couldn't parse what he'd just said. Sky thought he might be trying to do a little matchmaking.
Sky wasn't sure it would work, but that didn't stop her from saying "It might be nice to have a dad, even if you two did nearly destroy the universe the last time you were together." When she saw the looks on their faces, she regretted that last bit.
Finally, Sarah Jane said, "We barely know each other and from what I've seen we were best at building a fantasy world and ignoring the real one. Not the healthiest of relationships."
"The point is that this isn't some perfect world. It's just as real and messy as the one your parents chose to avoid. We just learnt to live in it. And looking at what we were, we can see what we gave up along the way because we didn't value it as much as we should have." Turlogh hugged Lauren. "We certainly didn't value you enough."
Sky felt Luke grab her hand, and looked up to smile at him as Sarah Jane hugged Lauren too. It might take some time but Lauren would realise she was wanted here. Sky caught at Lauren's other hand and squeezed it. It was going to be nice to have a sister.
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