A/N: Hey look, I'm back! Sorry for the delay...though I managed to avoid a year this time...but yeah, I'll try to keep working on chapters. Admittedly, it's kind of hard to keep writing SJA now, given Elisabeth Sladen (still shocking and horrible and tragic to think about, really)...but in the spirit of Sarah Jane and all the wonderfulness she stood for, I'll do it. In the meantime, this installment's a little bit different – have some confrontations and angst! Oh, and I have the ending written out now. I just have to get the in-between bits written.

Maria hurried after Sarah Jane into the attic, shocked. "Luke, what's – "

"Mum was going to load the cure for the Armageddon virus onto Mr. Smith," Luke said, clutching the plug tightly in his fingers. "Weren't you?" he added accusingly to Sarah Jane. "But you can't, it isn't safe – "

"Luke, it's the only way–" Sarah Jane began.

"No!" Luke cried. "If you bring back the Xylok, he'll know to look out for the virus, even if you wipe him with it afterwards. He'll take precautions this time, and he'll try to blow up the world again. We might not be able to stop him a second time." He leaned against Mr. Smith's console as he spoke, his voice shaking slightly.

"I'm trying to help you," Sarah Jane pleaded. "If you heard us talking, you know how dangerous this is. I'm trying to save you!"

Luke shook his head. "I'm not going to let you risk the world to save me, mum," he said. "If you tell Mr. Smith to use those codes, you'll be directly countermanding his objective to protect Earth. If you try...I've convinced Mr. Smith to reroute all his power into the auxiliary power cords." He held up the two wires connected by a plug in a trembling hand. "If I unplug this, it'll take you at least two weeks to get Mr. Smith up and running again, and by then it'll be too late."

Sarah Jane shook her head, refusing to take in what he was saying. "Luke, you should be in bed – "

He grinned slightly, and Maria caught a glimpse of the ordinary Luke under all the fear and exhaustion. "I'm not a normal human," he said. "I'm stronger than I look."

Sarah Jane stared Luke down for a few more moments, then held out her hand to Maria's father. "Could you hand me the codes, please, Alan?" she asked.

Alan immediately handed them over, staring wide-eyed at the tableau. Sarah Jane purposefully took the coding in her hands and ripped up the pieces. Then she tossed them to Luke, tiny pieces of paper fluttering and settling around the attic.

Luke didn't bother to catch them, but stared at her. "We'll have to sweep that up now," he said, setting the plug carefully down in a groove along Mr. Smith's console, then leaning hard against its edge. Maria saw Luke's knuckles whiten.

She turned desperately to Sarah Jane. "What are we going to do now?"

Sarah Jane moved over to Luke and tactfully steered him to a couch, her arm around him. "Well," she said, thinking out loud, "I'm sure there's something we can do. "We just have to figure out what it is." Maria perched herself worriedly on the side of the couch, and Sarah Jane sighed. "You're right, Luke. It would be wrong to bring back the old Mr. Smith, but...there has to be an alternative somewhere."

"Well, let's think about this," said Maria. "What we need is some way to stabilize Luke's genetic code, right?"

"Not just that," said Sarah Jane. "We also need to return it to the way it was in the first place."

"The problem," Luke chipped in, "is that we no longer have the original version – it's been decaying randomly. So...we have to recover it somehow."

"Hang on," said Maria, her face brightening. "DNA's in all our cells, right? So, couldn't we just look for samples of Luke's cells that were taken before the whole thing started happening?" She paused. "Did that make any sense?"

"Actually, yes," said Sarah Jane. "Maria, fetch me Luke's comb and his toothbrush, will you? Ouch!"

Until then, Sarah Jane had been careful to touch Luke only through the fabric of his shirt, but as she had spoken, she'd absent-mindedly reached out to take his hand. As soon as she touched it, though, she pulled her hand away. Where she'd touched Luke, her skin was red and raw-looking.

"Sorry," said Luke wretchedly.

"Shouldn't he also burn the fabric or furniture or something?" Maria asked.

"I think Mr. Smith meant that the energy Luke is exhibiting is bio-electrical in nature."

"Meaning it burns skin?" said Maria.

Sarah Jane nodded. "Meaning it burns skin."

"I'll get a sweatshirt for Luke while I'm down there," said Maria.

"Sounds good," Sarah Jane said ruefully.

As Maria headed for the door, Alan caught her arm. "I'll let myself out," he said. "Let me know if I can help with anything."

"Of course," said Sarah Jane. "Sorry for kidnapping Maria like this."

Alan grinned. "You're welcome to her, I get enough of her at home."

"Dad!" Maria exclaimed with mock indignation as she followed Alan out the attic door.

Maria watched her dad clatter down the stairs and out Sarah Jane's front door. He seemed so...calm, like he thought this was something they handled very day. Did they really seem that confident to people like her dad?

After all, though, she reflected, it wasn't as though this was a crisis yet. The world wasn't in jeopardy this time, and they had some time left to solve this. So why didn't she feel at all at ease?

...Shaking her head at herself, she hurried down to fetch what she'd promised.

A few minutes later, she returned with a sweatshirt and Luke's toothbrush, brush, and comb.

"Why is your brush magenta?" she asked Luke jokingly as she tossed the sweatshirt to him.

Recognizing her attempt at cheering him up, Luke smiled. "It was Mum's. What's the point in buying one when I hardly use it anyway? Even if Clyde would laugh." He pulled the sweatshirt over his head, then tugged the sleeves over his hands as an added precaution.

Sarah Jane, meanwhile, had taken the other items off Maria's hands and was now giving them over to Mr. Smith for inspection.

"Reconstructing," he said simply.

Luke sat up suddenly. "I'm going to bed," he announced quietly, then walked out of the room, not meeting anyone's eye and shutting the door softly behind him.

Maria stared after him, surprised. "...I'd have thought he'd want to see how well Mr. Smith could do."

"It'll probably take a while," Sarah Jane pointed out, sighing a little. Neither of them addressed the question that passed between them silently as they wondered what was going through Luke's head at the moment.

Luke wasn't sure himself what was going through his head at the moment, but he still felt weak and tired, so he'd decided in a perfectly logical manner to follow his mum's advice and go to bed (unlike the last time, where he'd lied – something he still wasn't accustomed to – and sneaked back up to the attic to find out what was going on). His decision had nothing to do with the fact that he didn't have names for the different feelings running through him at the moment, nothing to do with the fact that he didn't know how to respond to the way Sarah Jane and Maria kept looking at him. Or, at times, kept not looking at him.

He shut himself in his room and kept the lights off and the blinds closed, walking over to his bed and burrowing into it. He was still in his clothes. Lying down in jeans was uncomfortable, he noted clinically. He'd never really done it before. Come to think of it, he'd never really slept in the daytime, either. True, he and Sarah Jane would sometimes stay up late, occasionally with Maria and Clyde in tow, to observe some astronomical phenomenon through Sarah Jane's telescope, but they'd always just slept in afterwards, and that wasn't the same thing...and he was almost always up with the sun anyway.

He didn't regret what he'd prevented Sarah Jane from doing. He was absolutely sure it was the right thing. He knew what it felt like to believe oneself responsible for the potential downfall of the planet, and it was anything but pleasant – he never wanted to feel that again, let alone expose his guardian to the same feeling. It made no sense to risk the entire planet for the sake of an easy solution, not when there was the possibility of another way – even if they hadn't yet determined what that way might be.

Genetic degradation. He would hardly have believed it, he thought, staring blindly at the ceiling, if he'd been anyone else. But he was already a being cobbled together by alien technology from literally thousands of human beings, so on second thought it really wasn't that surprising. He was an artificial construct, built to play the role of a test subject. Maybe these new developments were inevitable, and the PHAROS headset and incidents with telekinesis were only partly to blame.

Maybe he just hadn't been built to last.

It would explain a great deal – the speed of his assimilation of knowledge, the fact that he was "born" an adolescent, his creators' scant, if not entirely absent, attention to his social programming... He wondered how long he'd been made to live. Given the plans of the Bane, it wouldn't have needed to be long – a few years, at the very most. They could easily have accomplished the requisite modification of their drink's formula within six months, at an outside estimate.

The bad woman whose name he still couldn't remember had even already had that ring that had almost killed him. If it had been built with no other purpose in mind (which, admittedly, was an assumption without much basis), then what did it mean that, before he was even completed, she'd already had it on her finger?

Luke curled into a ball, hands over his ears for no reason he could determine. It wasn't as though someone was speaking these ideas to him; he was coming up with them himself. He wasn't used to having thoughts that he didn't want to – another thing that had never really happened to him before.

He really was inexperienced, he thought as he drifted off. After all, he was a short-term human...as Clyde would have put it, it came with the package.

A/N: Oh, and before I forget...the obscure reference back in Ch. 8 was from the Classic Who arc Inferno. And on a technobabble-ish note...basically, Luke's body is releasing a special kind of energy that only causes damage to living cells...in case anyone was wondering. Which probably nobody was, but oh well. (Oh, and the "adversary" of the summary is supposed to be Luke. Or the return of the Zygon [no, wait, Xylok, thanks for the correction! Fixed now], whichever works. ...Hopefully saying that was redundant. XD)