Characters: Sarah-Jane, Luke, Rani and Clyde.
Word Count: 4,215
Warnings: Nowhere near as many as there should be given its the Year That Never Was! Some slavery and starvation off screen. Lots of implied death, two actual deaths (not main cast).
Notes: Written for the End of Sarah-Jane Adventures ficathon, using Prompt 14: Sarah Jane and Co during the Year that Never Was. It's also surprisingly in keeping with the show - by accident, I hasten to add, but I found I couldn't bear to do anything too awful to any of them! EDIT: Also, possibly more AU than I thought - I've just gone and recalculated my years and I think it should still have been Maria... Damn, I missed that.
Martha Jones wasn't the only one that walked the Earth at the end of the world - or bits of it, anyway.
Mr Smith was the first problem. His energy signature was like a red flag to the Toclafane, but it didn't take Sarah-Jane very long to realise it either. Clyde and Rani and Luke were too busy being shocked by the assassination of the President of the United States to think it through. But Sarah-Jane wasn't a journalist for nothing - she'd had cause to observe the takeovers of countries by hostile forces before, both on Earth and on many alien worlds. More to the point she knew who the Master was and what that might entail, although there even Sarah-Jane was wrong, for he was more insane than that, and much more destructive than even the UNIT files gave him credit for.
It didn't matter. The first thing she did, as they stood in the attic exclaiming over the news, over the screams that were beginning to start, was order Mr Smith to shut down, a priority override that didn't even give him time to discuss it. And her voice had that note of controlled panic, that strained note that meant you just didn't want to argue with Sarah-Jane, you just did what she wanted. So the screen went black, and Clyde felt his back-bone stiffen into a flight-or-fight response that was virtually second nature now. That's when they realised the screams weren't just on the screen, they were beginning in Bannerman Road. The high whine that accompanied the Toclafane was first heard, and Rani tried to leave the attic to go look for her parents. But Sarah-Jane didn't just tell her no, when Rani went to push past her - voice frantic, her eyes panicked - Sarah-Jane just said, "Stop her, Luke. You have to stop her, Clyde." And when they didn't move fast enough, Sarah-Jane did it herself, using some kind of karate move that Clyde hadn't even known she was capable of.
Rani banged her head on the wooden steps of the attic, and had blood pouring from her nose while Sarah-Jane was sitting on her back, whispering, "Sorry, sorry..." All Clyde could do was stand there with Luke feeling too shocked and dazed to move, while his stomach tried to drop through the floor. Everything was happening so quickly, the end of the world in an instant. And then he watched helplessly as Sarah-Jane used her sonic lipstick to short out the first little Toclafane bastard to break through the attic window...
Rani tried to hate Sarah-Jane after that. Her parents died that first day, because they'd immediately gone into the street to see what the noise was and had been killed in the Toclafane's initial decimation. She hoped that was the reason, but in her heart of hearts she worried that they'd gone to look for her. But in the end, maybe it didn't matter why they were out there. Maybe it was a mercy of sorts, or at least that's what Rani tried to tell herself now. They didn't have to see what was happening to the world. They didn't see the slave labour camps begin, or watch the shipyards rise along the South Coast in a pall of black smoke that could be seen from Birmingham. They didn't see all the death that followed or the cruelty. Maybe it was better.
Because they knew what the Toclafane were now. From that first day, in fact. They'd all seen what was behind the metal spheres - the giggling insane face of a terrible child who shouldn't even have existed for ten trillion years. Not that they could tell anyone about their discoveries as communications was one of the first things to go down, but Rani kept an obsessive diary nonetheless - because perhaps she'd never get to be a journalist one day like she'd always dreamed but that didn't mean her words might not be read. She kept the diary in an hermetically sealable aluminium box she'd found, and she put in a Rosetta Stone too - the English alphabet next to Raxacoricofallapatorian pictograms, in the hopes that when her race was dead and gone, some archaeologist might find her account of their last days.
It had been Sarah-Jane's idea. Of course, it had been. Even in the first days of being on the run, when Rani was barely speaking to anyone in her grief, and particularly not to Sarah-Jane, even then she'd written in her diary. Even when she couldn't bear to look at Clyde because he'd try to cheer her up, she could still pour everything she was feeling onto the pages in front of her, still push her pen forward pointlessly and futilely. Except it wasn't futile, not any more.
They'd been hiding in some abandoned B&B somewhere near the M4 when Sarah-Jane gave her the list of pictograms. Of course she knew written Raxacoricofallapatorian, Sarah-Jane knew everything - but Rani instantly knew what she meant them to be used for. Not so bad for a kid reporter. And it gave her constant writing a new meaning because it meant the whole galaxy would eventually be able to read about the silly human race - a clever species but they killed themselves in the end. Literally.
She knew whatever happened next, it wouldn't all be in vain. Because as well as her very own Rosetta Stone, Sarah-Jane gave her another gift at the same time. Rani picked it up sometimes, and it felt warm in her hand, glowing red through the translucent membranes of her fingers. When humanity was but a memory, and the Toclafane had turned on themselves until nothing was left, then the interdiction of Earth would end. When that finally happened the Star Poet's communicator would light up, glowing crimson like her blood, and send its last message across the stars - and someone would investigate. That was all.
It was comforting, thinking of it. Someone would know.
It was K9 who kept them safe. Mr Smith was too bulky to be moved and his energy signature was so large that it would have been almost impossible to mask. But K9 had abandoned his repair of the black hole early and had come with them.
"The black hole is secure, master," was all Luke could get out of him.
Luke wondered if he really meant that the black hole didn't matter any more for the brief amount of time the human race had left.
K9 was invaluable because he could modulate his energy weapon to the precise electronic surge of 58.5 kiloamperes, transferred charge 510 megajoules, that was required to knock a Toclafane out of the air. And he didn't need to sleep. That was very important. Even Mum needed to sleep sometimes, even Luke did, although part of his genetic enhancements was the ability to go without sleep for long periods, he still couldn't hold it off indefinitely. K9 could though, as long as he could be charged sufficiently often. And that meant he could protect them.
It became harder, though, as time went on - K9 had a self-charging battery system, but he needed to self-charge from ambient power at the very least, and as slaves didn't need electricity it often became necessary to be closer to clusters of Toclafane than Luke really liked. It was dangerous, of course, but Luke was a quick learner - he always had been, his genetic legacy in action. But instead of learning school work or how to react to social situations, he was learning how to sneak his metal dog near to Nuclear Plant 6 instead. Or how to steal food. He'd become good at stealing - his quick reflexes meant he made an excellent cat burglar, and his sharp senses kept him safer than the others. Luke became their main breadwinner as they travelled.
First to find UNIT - but their bases were all destroyed, their operatives dead or enslaved. Mum heard the whisper through a wire fence that UNIT's Central Control was under one of the radiation pits in Geneva. Many others died in the futile military action that tried to bring down the Valiant - there was no salvation there, not for any of them. Then they headed to Cardiff, as a last resort, to see if Torchwood had fared any better, cross-country along the M4 corridor.
Luke found he was getting more and more quiet. When he was out in the field, he had to move as silently as a cat, and it was a habit he was finding hard to break. He spent an ever greater proportion of his time alone, foraging in dangerous territory, often breaking into secure facilities to steal the dwindling food and other supplies. And when he came back, he found he didn't know what to say any more. He'd never been good at small-talk and now he'd seen so many terrible things, death and slavery and torture. Starving kids. Then he had to steal what food they might have left, so that his family might live. Luke knew it needed to be done, that he had to be practical, but he hated it - he hated every single moment.
Clyde tried to make up for his and Rani's silence, of course, and Luke tried to appreciate his chatter, but he couldn't tell him everything because he didn't want Clyde to be sad too. He wanted to protect him. But Mum understood. Maybe not the specifics, because Luke was careful there too, in case she didn't approve of some of his... methods. But she knew what he was going through, because he'd heard enough stories about the wastelands and slavepits of Skaro to know she'd seen worse, and he'd seen her strength in the face of all kinds of horrors.
She didn't ask him for details either, and that was lovely, and surprising. Instead, just before they went to sleep, when Luke didn't think he could possibly let go of any of his hyper-alertness, couldn't relax, not even for an instant, Mum took to humming low under her breath, and began to stroke his hair. It was something she'd never done before and it made Luke feel as he imagined a tiny child might feel - loved and safe. Wrapped up in bed without a care in the world, with no responsibilities and no worries. It meant he could sleep, and that was a gift from the stars.
On the day Clyde turned sixteen the only person who knew was Sarah-Jane. It was too easy to lose track of days on their eternal march, and so Clyde knew his birthday was soon but not that it had actually arrived. They were somewhere near Gloucester by now, a necessity because the Severn Bridge was far too long and bare to be crossed easily without making themselves a target, so they were taking the long way round. Suddenly, while there was still a good portion of the night left to walk in, Sarah-Jane stopped and said brightly, "Here we are!"
They were in a village called Eastington according to the metal sign they'd walked past, so incongruous in its cheerful declaration, with painted enamel flowers too out of proportion and garish, to Clyde's mind. It was far too small to be of immediate use to the Toclafane, and Clyde saw Luke tip his head a little to one side as he judged the likelihood of any successful scavenging and knew by the crease in his forehead that pickings were going to be slim. It was a safe enough haven though, Clyde guessed - Sarah-Jane was good at choosing those. The village would have had its population cleared out and into one of the slave camps, as there looked to be a missile factory at nearby Stroud.
So Eastington was theirs, for what it was worth, a small collection of streets with minimal damage, and only a few wild dogs, nothing dangerous, not like coming out of London, when the packs were just forming, when they still had an amount of training and liking of humans, and didn't think of them as food, before starvation had properly kicked in. Clyde didn't want to even think about doing that now. Anyway, here in Eastington, K9 could see off any small pack.
Sarah-Jane forced open a door, and it wasn't too bad, a broken window in the front bedroom, but the rest of the house was sound, and with no nasty surprises. Its owners could have stepped out yesterday, except for a little dust. And then Sarah-Jane managed to surprise Clyde even more - she pulled open her rucksack and pulled out a can of coke, and an honest-to-goodness cake in a battered plastic wrapper. It was McVitie's Jamaica Ginger cake, and was a bit squished and a month past its sell-by date but was still the most delicious thing that Clyde had ever eaten.
"Happy Birthday!" said Sarah-Jane, kissing his cheek, and Rani looked up from her diary and smiled and said it too, while Luke just stood about looking awkward and weird until Clyde pulled him into a hug, and if there was a little moisture at the corner of his eyes then it was just dust from the road, right?
Because Clyde didn't know what he'd done to deserve these friends of his, when he was so useless - he couldn't plan like Sarah-Jane, or forage like Luke, or even record things for posterity like Rani. All he could do was make stupid jokes, and keep walking, keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep filling in the silences that got too long and difficult. He didn't deserve to be here - he should have been with his Mum, but she wasn't here, was she, because she'd been rounded up in the first wave, and was somewhere in the slave quarters that used to be Slough. They'd got a message out just before they ran, so he knew Mum wanted him with Sarah-Jane. That Mum said she trusted Sarah-Jane to keep her Clydie safe. But it didn't stop him feeling guilty.
Today was his sixteenth birthday and he hadn't even realised. He should be with his family - all his family - but he tried to put it out of his mind. He had birthday cake, and coke that was sweet and fizzy in his mouth, and it could be a kind of bliss if he didn't think about it very hard. Clyde was really good at not thinking about things too hard.
So just for tonight they could be in an ordinary living room, having an ordinary party, and Clyde threw himself into it, telling jokes, pulling faces, anything he could think of, and watched his family laugh. It was a brilliant idea of Sarah-Jane's, one that made them forget the darkness, forget everything, and just watching them be happy again was the best present of all. Even when they settled down to sleep at last, Clyde fought it, his eyelids drooping, but not willing to say goodnight quite yet.
He was on the sofa with Luke. It was a generous puffy thing, almost a sinful luxury compared to some of the places they'd slept. Clyde could see the glint of Luke's eyes in the pre-dawn gloom, still awake too. It gave him a pang seeing Luke like that, so ordinary-looking - they could have stayed up playing a Halo marathon or something, and be falling asleep afterwards. It could be normal.
Luke put out his hand and grabbed Clyde's. His nails were all dirty, Clyde noticed absently, before allowing himself to be pulled down. Luke was a skinny streak of nothing under usual circumstances, and these days he was whipcord thin, all muscle and sinew. But Clyde could feel the warmth of his skin through his t-shirt and as Luke shifted to pull the sleeping-bag over the both of them, he could have cried to know he still had his best friend right here, tucked up beside him, his hair all shaggy and too long, his dear stupid face still looking at Clyde with something like awe. He used to be the cool one, ok, but Clyde knew that he hadn't been that in a long time. It was Luke and Sarah-Jane who kept them alive now, and Clyde didn't deserve them.
But here was Luke still looking at him, even with both of them almost buried in the sleeping bag, their feet tangling in the joined part at the bottom, and Luke's breath was coming faster, puffs of sweet cake-scented air ghosting across Clyde's lips. He was looking panicked, Clyde thought, and a jolt of something kicked him in the stomach. He didn't think it was fear, he was almost sure it wasn't, but what it was instead... Clyde was dead certain he didn't want to think it through. He opened his mouth to ask, to make a joke, he didn't know, and Luke took it for permission, and leaned forward that extra inch or two to kiss him. It was fumbling, because Luke had obviously not kissed many people, not like Clyde had - three whole times, in fact - but it was sincerely meant and Clyde found that Luke's lips on his were brilliant, actually. Slightly dry, slightly off centre, but Clyde could fix that by tipping his head slightly and by licking at Luke's lips until he opened up, parting into sweet warmth that Clyde found he could get used to quite easily.
Their hands seemed to have found themselves naturally curling round one another, and to be resting on skin under rucked up t-shirts. The skin on Luke's back felt so soft, Clyde realised, marvelling, but he could also feel his shoulder blades sticking out like wings. You're too skinny, mate, Clyde thought, and he felt such a wave of tenderness that he was incredibly glad it was still dark, because he wasn't feeling nearly as manly as a bloke should be, quite frankly. But then, as he carried on kissing his best mate, well into the dawn and forever if he had any say, Clyde decided perhaps it didn't matter so much, not here at the end of the world. Who would know or care except for their family? And surely they would only be happy for them.
Best birthday ever, thought Clyde sleepily, before pulling Luke closer still.
Their journey ended just as they began to hear rumours of Martha Jones. She's walking the world, Luke overheard at a fissile production plant. She was the last person out of Japan before it burned, said gossip at a steel mill. Think of the Doctor, said the whisper through the wire of a internment camp. You'll know when. You'll feel it. Luke just wished he believed them.
All he knew was that he shouldn't be so happy when everything was so terrible. He shouldn't be looking forward to returning to their temporary camp and hearing the dreadful tearing cough that Rani had started to suffer after the last storm. Bronchitis, Mum had whispered to him, and told him to look for medicines, and Luke had tried, but medicine was even harder to come by than food, rarer than diamonds and much more precious. But Clyde was at the camp and Luke couldn't help himself, he wanted to see Clyde. He couldn't ever not want to see Clyde.
"Nearly there," Mum said, always cheerful, and Luke thought about how lucky they had been. If a Toclafane died quickly enough they didn't convey their last thought to the hive mind, and K9 had got really, really quick. He nodded his agreement. They were nearly to their latest goal, that was true. He wondered where they'd go next.
It was some kind of irony, Luke thought, that Mum hated the idea of Torchwood so much, and yet it might be their salvation. It might have some solution to the Master and the Toclafane, or at least have some supplies and shelter for a time. He didn't like to pin any more hope on things that that. Luke wondered if it was normal that he thought so little about the next day, or the day after that. So they'd walked to Cardiff? It didn't matter - they'd walk to somewhere else tomorrow.
But Torchwood was empty.
They stood looking around the Hub, as Mum called it. The white tiled walls, the water-tower in the centre and the pool below. The desks and their computers, screens all dark and abandoned. Luke supposed he should think it impressive, and he did in a way, but he'd seen all kinds of places abandoned in the last months, this was just one more. He wondered what had happened to the people, given the Toclafane had obviously ignored this place - maybe they'd left before the invasion? And perhaps the large round door Mum had opened with her sonic lipstick had been enough to shield it since?
"Mistress?" K9 couldn't sound nervous, but Luke swore it was there. "There is an incursion heading this way, mistress. Seventy nine in the swarm and its numbers are increasing."
Seventy nine were far too many Toclafane to handle even with K9 and the sonic lipstick. Luke became conscious of a kind of churning in his belly - he looked instinctively at Clyde. Who was looking at him.
"Get down behind the consoles," said Mum briskly. "Then they'll have no reason to attack you. Would you help Rani please, Luke?"
Unless they want to attack you, thought Luke, unless they'd find it funny. He didn't want to go, he wanted to stay with Mum, but he didn't have the words any more, and Rani needed Clyde and him on either side to help her down. She began coughing again, a wet rasping sound.
Our Last Stand, Luke thought, swallowing. He put his hand out behind Rani, groping until he found Clyde's, and then clutched on tight, the three of them huddling together like bedraggled puppies. Perhaps when they opened the door it had allowed the Toclafane to sense something that attracted them here, some power source maybe? Could he try and find it, and maybe switch it off? No, it was too late for that, far too late.
His Mum, his wonderful, funny, brave Mum was standing ready to defend them just like she always did. Sarah-Jane Smith with her robot dog by her side - as last moments go, Luke decided, it could be a lot worse. As the swarm of Toclafane flew down and began to mass in the entrance, Luke clutched at Clyde's fingers even harder.
And then they suddenly stuck there, hovering in mid-air, like flies in amber. There was a shimmer in the air, like an energy field maybe. They all waited for a moment, and then another, before Mum stepped forward and prodded it. Congealed and solid air, like rubber, bounced her finger back. She lifted her wrist and levelled her watch at it, while K9 trundled forward to sense too. Suddenly Luke felt he could breathe again, and realised that the muscles in his calves were cramped from all the crouching, so he collapsed back onto the floor in a heap. God, how stupid and how brilliant - he wanted to laugh at the turns the universe threw at them, so he did, just lying back and laughing, watching Rani smile at him helplessly and Clyde look at him as though he'd gone mental but that he probably loved him anyway.
"It's a time-lock," Mum called over, with a little wonder in her voice, "They can't get in and we can't get out, but there's food supplies, air scrubbers, a medical bay and..." She looked a little overwhelmed.
"So we're here for the duration?" said Clyde, sounding suspicious.
Luke tested the idea in his head. No more fresh air for the foreseeable future, but also no gut-wrenching terror, no more listening for the slightest noise on the breeze, no more picking his way through the detritus of people's lives. They could even relax for a time while they figured out the time-lock. Rani could get better. Clyde would be safe. Mum would eventually get used to the idea. Luke nearly giggled again before he thought better of it, instead just reaching up for Clyde's hand to tug him down on top of him. Clyde made an oofing noise but didn't protest as he landed against Luke's chest, solid and warm and most of all, alive.
He could live with that exchange, Luke decided, he really could. Torchwood had saved them after all.