There are moments that slip by unnoticed. Tiny, seemingly insignificant moments that set us up for bigger moments. The kind that changes lives. Little moments that influence the next. Whether to turn left or to turn right. Whether to say yes or no. Each moment ticks over into the next, events crashing into each other like dominoes in a way that they were always set up to fall.
Whether we knew it at the time or not.
Luke had always been a people watcher. In his early days it was how he learned, watching his new family interacting with each other, talking with his new friends. He would spend breaks and lunchtimes at school observing the other students, marking out the behaviours of each year group and social group.
Clyde had pointed out the geeks and the bullies and the sports crew. He observed each group and quickly determined the social relationship structure. He even took to watching the teachers on duty, identifying adult peer relationships in addition to those of who were closer to his supposed age.
People watching was his thing.
So here he was, people watching in his own home. An hour ago they had buried his father. And about 45 minutes ago he had hugged him and said a final goodbye which would normally be the wrong way to do it except nothing about his life had been what most people would consider normal.
There were the lawyers from the office. They had reverted to their comfort zone and were huddled together, discussing things in low whispers as if they were conferring with clients.
Liz and Alistair were sat on the sofa, the former fussing over the latter. Their children, in laws and grandchildren were the only ones eating the buffet spread that Nicole had channelled her grief and energies into. He could tell that Liz and Alistair had been to too many funerals of loved ones. They had seen too many people put into the ground before their time. They had buried friends and loved ones but this? This was different and he ached to talk to them about it. Alistair had been his mother's friend throughout both of her lifetimes, been a part of the world that led to this. Liz was a woman of science, of answers, and Luke needed those. He needed to know why all this had happened.
The Chandras were holding back, feeling slightly excluded from the personal world of the Daltons.
Peter Anthony, Sarah Jane, Nicole Grace, Luke. A family unit. He started to watch his mother, trying to understand. There had been a whole other life, a whole other universe where she had been Sarah Jane Smith and he had been Luke Smith. A time when this happened somewhere else. To other people.
He knew that before his mother had grieved for Peter but he wondered if it had been like this. Her grief had been the basis for this whole existence after all. Here she had memories to comfort her. Photos, events, a biological daughter. All these reminders of Peter – his father – and his love for her.
He wondered what it had been like before, just the two of them. She had assured him that they were happy before, but it was a different kind of happy. But what was he like? Developing... no, growing up with a father and a sister would have had an obvious effect on him. How had he been before? What about their friendships and relationships?
Liz and Alistair had been a big part in Sarah's life this time by simple virtue of being Nicole's godparents. He thought about all the things they must have been to his family, playing a part in the life of this little girl, growing up in a world where she shouldn't exist. Sarah hadn't said anything but deep down Luke knew that before, in that other lifetime, she hadn't had much contact with them. So there was that then.
He watched Nicole walk into the room, moving on instinct and auto-pilot towards Scott. He understood how she was feeling, acting. Nothing seemed to be working under her control, her body did what it did by instinct. Breathing, blinking, movement. But no thought. Memories yes, but no thought. For him it was the first time he met the man who became his father. The man that Sarah Jane knew would be a father to him long before she knew he would be a father to their own child.
He also thought about the times they spent together, the father-son bonding trips Peter took him on in those early days. Nicole accepted her new brother, Sarah was filled with love she had carried with her for over twenty years. But his father? That had taken a bit of getting used to. He'd enjoyed the time they spent together. He wondered what effect having a father had had on him. His mother had told him that they were happy before, but this was... this had to be a different kind of happy.
He watched Scott wrap his arms around Nicole and he was struck by something but even his advanced brain couldn't hold onto it in his grief and it went as quickly as it came. Before there was no Nicole and therefore there was no Scott. Well, there probably had been a Scott but he wouldn't have Nicole. Another relationship that didn't exist before...
The moment of temptation washed over him and he wanted to know what it had been like. He wanted to see it, live it for a little while. Him and his mother in this big house. The two of them with their friends and their supercomputer, saving the world from their attic in Ealing.
His mother, quietly grieving.
When she walked into the room everything changed. Everyone's attention was diverted to her, every mouth spoke platitudes in hushed tones. Sarah nodded and was gracious but Luke felt like screaming on her behalf. Peter was dead, dead and buried and nothing anyone said or did would make that OK. After a few months she was hurting so badly she changed time. Now she had history and family...
Unable to bear it any longer he pushed himself from his position, half hidden in the corner, and took for the stairs. He tried to take them two at a time but slipped on one and crashed to his knees. A pair of hands placed themselves on his shoulders and turned him around. Through tear-filling eyes he was able to make his mother who then held him against her chest as he cried.
They sat on the stairs, joined by Nicole after a few moments, and the remaining Daltons spoke gently and secretively. Luke asked his questions about Before and Sarah answered them with honesty and heart. Then the conversation moved around and Nicole talked about Scott. In an unguarded moment of honesty she said that he was the man she was going to marry, have kids with, and that she was scared. Not scared because that kind of love and those plans can be scary, but scared because Peter had to die to balance the Universe so what was going to happen to her? Sarah gently stroked Nicole's hair and admitted she didn't know, but she knew that she and Peter lived every moment of their lives and that their daughter should do the same.
After a little while, Scott came up to join them, sitting two steps down from his girlfriend. He rested his head on her leg and smiled up at her. When she looked down at him she noticed the album he had clutched in his hand.
"Oh," he said when prompted, "um... Alistair was looking through it and..." He flicked it open to the page and lifted it up. "I saw him."
Sarah took the album, looking at where Scott's finger was pointing. Then she looked at the young man sat with her daughter and her heart stopped for a second, the same way it had done earlier that day when she's seen Peter standing by the TARDIS.
"But..." she breathed.
"Who is he?" Nicole asked, looking at the photo.
"Harry Sullivan," Sarah answered.
"My dad," Scott added.
The thought that had registered in Luke's brain came back, slotting into place. He'd seen the wedding photos before and the resemblance between father and son was obvious now.
"But your name's not Sullivan," Nicole asked in confusion.
"Dad went over to the States and met my Mum when he was there. They fell in love, she fell pregnant. They were going to get married but he disappeared. Some black ops or something. I was two months old at the time. Mum brought me back to London where she had family and met Dad... well, my step-dad technically, but he's the only dad I've known. They got married, he legally adopted me when Dad – Harry, was declared..." Scott stopped and looked up at Sarah. "You're her. The woman he..."
Sarah bit her lip and nodded.
"Small world," Scott laughed softly.
"Was he... happy?" she finally managed to ask.
"Yeah, he was. Mum talks about it all the time. They were happy."
"I'm glad," she whispered.
And then a smile broke onto her face – an honest smile with not a trace nor hint of sadness – closely followed by soft laughter. Nicole and Scott asked but she couldn't tell them, not now.
Before, in the time when she wasn't married to Peter having his daughter (and losing the others), Sarah and Harry had been friends. Good friends but nothing more. Then along came this operation in the States and after one last dinner he boarded a plane to Peru. Two days later he was officially missing.
This time he had gone to California after her third miscarriage. She'd had to place an international call to tell him about Nicole. He was happy for her, sounded happy and content with life. (Now she knew why – his partner was pregnant with his son, due to give birth herself in a few weeks' time.) She asked what he was doing for work and it had been something insignificant. Sarah had allowed herself to believe that this time he wouldn't disappear and said nothing more, but apparently that was supposed to happen just as much as Peter's death.
Her daughter and Harry Sullivan's son. There was something fitting about that.
Eventually everyone left and the family were left behind. The four of them – for Scott was now family whether he liked it or not – tidied the house, ate a small supper, and then went to bed to sleep the sleep of exhaustion. Keeping watch over the house were a tin dog, a Xylok in the attic, and a man in a pin stripe suit and a battered pair of converses, leaning up against an impossibly blue box.
It was not long before four in the morning when Nicole's cries woke her parents.
"I'll go," muttered Sarah. "She's hungry."
She shuffled through to her baby daughter's room, her eyes open just enough to see the major obstacles in her path. She lifted the bawling child from her cot and settled in the nursing chair to feed her. Nicole settled quickly, her needs met, and she fed hungrily as her mother gently rocked back and forth.
Peter brought a cup of tea in just as she'd finished, and he took the baby to burp her.
"Remember when nothing would get us out of bed?" Sarah asked as she cupped the hot mug. "Especially not at four in the morning."
"Things are different now," Peter smiled, rubbing Nicole's back gently.
"Yeah, they are," she whispered as she got to her feet. Sarah pushed a finger into Nicole's tiny hand, smiling as the fingers closed around it. "It's weird."
"What is?" Peter asked.
"Knowing that there's nothing I wouldn't do for her. Nothing we wouldn't do for her."
"For both of you," he corrected as he turned just enough to kiss his wife. "Go back to bed."
"You have work in the morning, let me..."
"Go back to bed," he repeated. "You need to be rested to deal with her! Gotta keep my girls safe," he grinned.
Sarah headed for the door, stopping only to look over her shoulder at Peter gently soothing their daughter back to sleep.
It was a tiny, insignificant moment. No one saw it but them, no one knew about it but them. It was never spoken of again but that realisation stayed with them both until their final breath.