Title: Between Now and Forever
Disclaimer: Sara Crewe belongs to Frances Hodgson Burnett, and this variation to the movie makers.
Author note: Written for Yuletide 2010
"Papa, oh, Papa, I can't believe I found you." Sara cannot stop saying it.
"Sara, my Sara, I can't believe I lost you." Ralph Crewe cannot stop hugging her.
"Oh, my, oh, my." Becky cannot stop crying.
It was Ram Dass who brought out the umbrella, and Ram Dass who herded the three sobbing, sopping found souls back into Mr. Randolph's house, down to the kitchen where the stove had made a cavern of warmth. Ram Dass who noticed when Becky pulled herself away from the other two and tried to make herself useful despite her tears. He shooed her back to her place by Sara and set to work. It was but a moment's effort to fill the teapot with hot water and leaves, a mere thought to find towels and blankets, heated for a moment against the stove. Soon he would fill the air with the promise of curry to warm their bellies.
"Who is this, Sara?" His voice is gentle.
"Becky. This is Becky, Papa." Her voice is harsh from crying, but it brims with the certainty of a happy ending.
"Hello, Mister." Her voice is quiet, hesitant. She doesn't believe. Not yet.
It was Ermengarde, her papered curls turning to tangles from the rain and her nightgown spattered with mud, who caught policeman's sleeve. Ermengarde who pushed the silver locket into his hand. "It's S-S-Sara's," she stammered, her lips already turning blue with cold or fright. "Sara's. Miss Minchin keeps taking it from her and saying she stole it, but Sara didn't steal it back, and neither did Becky. I did, and if anyone has to go to jail it's me, except it's Sara's, truly. I was only giving it back to her." Ermengarde who opened the tiny latch, despite the rain, to point to the pictures inside. "See. That's Sara's Mama, and that's her Papa. They wouldn't be in the locket if it was Miss Minchin's, would they?"
He is looking at the way Sara's hand rests upon Becky's shoulder, at the way that even now the two of them are leaning against each other, sharing a blanket between them. "Hello, Becky."
She is looking at his face, already proud of him and of the friend she is presenting to him. "She saved my life, Papa. When everything was awful, Becky saved my life."
She is looking at the floor, unable to meet a stranger's gaze with confidence. "Not exactly."
It was Mr. Randolph who overheard Ermengarde's confession and insisted that the policeman show him the locket. Mr. Randolph who realized, straight away, that the pictures meant that Miss Minchin hadn't been telling the truth when she had denied knowing the man he had been sheltering ever since he had found him in that military hospital. Mr. Randolph who called over the police sergeant to explain, in the strident tones of a man who had enough money to know, that Miss Minchin had at the very least lied, and quite probably had done worse. Something criminal, no doubt. A woman who would bring false charges of theft against two children for her own satisfaction had no scruples to speak of.
She sees the tears on Becky's cheek and reaches up to wipe them away. "Of course you did, Becky. Without you I should have curled up and died of grief."
She sees Sara's hand, washed white by the torrent which thunders on dimly somewhere beyond the walls, all pale and graceful, despite the broken nails and new calluses. Not like her own hands, forever dark and already thick with years of work. "You saved me first."
He sees the thin places in their sodden clothing, the gaps that have been cobbled neatly together with scavenged thread, and not by the daughter whom he had never thought would need to learn needlework. "Perhaps you saved each other."
It was Lottie who realized that Miss Minchin was trying to edge away toward the kitchen stairs. Lottie who carolled her observation to the world, startling Miss Minchin into flight and thereby goading the frustrated policemen into chasing after. Half the girls started screaming and the other half started shouting, and whether they were encouraging Miss Minchin to get away as the chase crashed through the school or the policemen to catch her only a bat could tell, for their voices all climbed into octaves that only excited girls could produce. Lottie screamed too, for the joy of screaming. She was good at that.
She takes a deep breath, not so lost to joy that she's unaware she's about to say something that might get her into trouble, and not so innocent of trouble any more to think it is only a matter of a frown and a night of mild disgrace. "We did save each other, Papa. That's why we are sisters now, and we're going to keep on taking care of each other forever."
He catches the words he wants to say in his throat and changes them, not so lost to propriety to be unaware of the social ramifications of what his princess is asking of him, but entirely too aware of how strong the bonds are that form between people who have been caught in the same corner of Hell. "I understand, Sara. Truly. But surely Becky's family will not want to lose her?"
She is still trying to breathe, still trying to believe that Sara has said what she's said, and entirely in doubt that she can have heard what Sara's father has said at all the way she wants for it to mean, and in the end she can only gasp out a single word. "Family?"
It was Miss Minchin who left in the paddy wagon. Miss Minchin whose protests were ignored, for it hadn't helped that in her attempts to escape she'd managed to black the sergeant's eye. She sulked in the odoriferous darkness, wishing her neighbor the joy of trying to settle down a school full of obnoxious brats for the night, unaware that Monsieur Dufarge had already been sent for and that the cook, at least, had a fair notion of just where her sister Amelia had gone the night she disappeared. Miss Minchin kept her head high, and her chin firm. Logic and practicality would get her through this. And with any luck she'd never have to look at Sara Crewe's contemptible little face again.
She's sorry she hasn't looked him in the face before, because he has the kindest eyes she's ever seen outside of Sara's face. "You've been all alone, haven't you?"
She's sorry that she's never thought to ask about her friend's past before, and she hugs the thin shoulders all the harder as Becky answers. "Always. Ever since I can remember. Miss Minchin got me from the orphanage."
He's sorry that he hadn't made stronger provisions in his will, something that would have protected Sara for all the long months when he was blind and broken and lost to memory, but grateful too, for this small dark child who has reached through her own sorrows to solace the heart of another, and heartrendingly proud of the child of his heart who has reached through the barriers of position and color and class to solace the heart he will never again be able to think of as belonging to a stranger or servant. "It's all right, Becky," Sara is saying. "You won't be alone now."
It was Lavinia who shooed the little ones off to bed when the clock began to strike the hour. She who decreed that if girls wanted to sleep in the same rooms together that they should, for no one would come to light the fires in the morning, and it was going to be cold. Lavinia who, for all her pride, still knew how to persuade each of the girls who had been her friends once to follow her lead and present a united face to Monsieur Dufarge. She didn't want to leave school, to go home to a family that scarcely acknowledged her existence, only to be sent somewhere else, where no one knew her and she would have to fight for her place again. Lavinia who sat in her window that night, looking over to the Randolph house and wondering what was being said there. Whatever it was, she knew, it was important. Come morning, everything in the world would be different.
"Oh, Sara," Becky wants Sara to be right, wants it more than she's ever wanted anything, but she knows the difference between reality and pretend. "We can't be sisters."
"Why not?" Sara says, as if she can pretend the world is different than it is. As if she can change it with her dreams. "Why not, if we love each other?"
"Because sisters have to have the same father," says Ralph Crewe, "And I haven't asked her yet."
It was Hanuman who heard the news first, and leapt to spread it abroad before it could be lost. Hanuman who darted up to Ram Dass's shoulder and chittered the message, as if Ram Dass could understand proper monkey language, and perhaps indeed he could, for a smile broke out on Ram Dass's face, his white teeth gleaming in his beard. Hanuman who danced up the stairs to find the man with the wheels, because telling one person was simply not enough. Love must be shared.
"I don't know what I have to offer you." He hasn't sorted anything out yet, and there are a million questions to be answered. "I'm ill, and even when I recover I'll have to go back to India - something must have happened to my money, or Sara would have been all right - but what I have I want you to share with us, and..." He doesn't know what to say, or how to say it.
Sara giggles, nervously, "You sound like you're proposing, Papa," she says. But Becky is round eyed and waiting, and the millionth and one question has suddenly come quite clear. He goes to one knee, the way he did a dozen years ago to another beautiful, gentle lady, and takes Becky's hand in his own. "Will you be mine?"
It was Becky who broke the spell. Becky who threw aside everything she ever knew about what people would think and what kind of trouble they could make. Becky who nodded and smiled, for herself and for Sara, and for dreams come true. "Yes," she said simply. "Yes, I will."
"Mine," he says again, and his arms have gone around both girls, holding them tight as they press their faces against either side of his own. If blood could leap past skin from one to the other it would, for their hearts are beating together, father and daughters with a single pulse, warming at the same fire.