Characters: Sarah Jane Smith, Luke Smith
Word Count: 1,876 per Google docs
Edited by: the inimitable </user>dr_whuh
Summary: Belief is a complicated thing; Sarah Jane and Luke at the turn of the year.
Author's Notes: Written for cantarina1 during the 2011 fandom_stocking fun over on Live Journal. She wanted mother's being awesome, and this story took shape - proving perhaps that the fight against darkness is not solely the province of particular believers, and more the country in which we all travel.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin. I do, however, love them all, and thank the BBC for letting me play in their sandbox.
Sarah Jane maneuvered her way into the house, using her weight and that of the packages she balanced in her arms to slam the door shut against the cold December night.
"Luke? I'm home. Sorry it took so long, it seemed as if everyone in the entire store wanted to get in front of me at the check-out." She stopped, and looked upstairs, then down the hall into the kitchen. "Luke?"
"Up here, Mum. D'you need a hand?"
"Love it, thanks."
Her son came down to the front hall and quickly rescued some of the boxes from her failing grip. "I thought you said you just needed a few things from the shop. It looks like you bought out Tesco."
"I know." Sarah Jane looked sheepish. Now divested of her burdens, she was able to shrug out of her coat and gloves, unwind her scarf and doff her hat. "Honestly, I didn't intend to, but I kept remembering things we need for Christmas dinner, and then I wandered over to see if I could find some replacement bulbs for the dead ones on the tree — you were right, I should have gotten the LED strings — and I needed to pick up some wrapping paper, too, and I saw something I think Rani might like and ... well, it all got a bit away from me."
Luke grinned. "You're not the only one. I think everyone's gone Christmas crazy. Clyde's blown everything he'd saved from that art prize money on presents, even the money he swore was going into his "Just for Clyde" fund. And Rani's going mad at home because her mum's decided she's making all her gifts this year. She's been knitting hats. With balls and jingle bells on the top." He abruptly looked worried. "You don't think—"
"If she does, you only have to wear it Christmas Day," Sarah Jane laughed, suppressing her own momentary horror about what Gita might press on her, come Christmas Eve. "Come on, some of this needs to go into the kitchen and the refrigerator. And let's put the kettle on; I'm nearly frozen through, and I really need a cup of tea."
Fifteen minutes later, the two of them settled in at the kitchen table. Sarah Jane savored the tea's warmth for a moment. "The Doctor used to say there was nothing in the universe like a cup of tea on a cold night, and he's absolutely right."
"I suppose so." Luke sounded distracted.
She looked closer at him. "That's a rather pensive expression. What's on your mind?"
He was silent for a moment. "I don't know. I'm really glad to be back for the hols ... I mean, I'd have hated to spend them at uni because I've missed you and Clyde and Rani, and everyone here. I can hardly wait until Maria gets home in time for New Year's Day. But — you know that one of the things I'm studying is comparative religions, right?"
She took the conversational left turn in stride. "Right."
Another moment of silence, and then Luke resumed. "And I know we've talked about what's out there in the universe, the things you met with the Doctor — all the things that said they were gods and weren't."
Sarah Jane gave a cautious nod. She began to suspect she knew where this was heading.
"And us — I mean, all of us who've helped you here — we've met a few things that pretended to be gods or magic things, but weren't. Everything we've run into, and everything you've told me you ran across with the Doctor, they've all just been aliens from different cultures, or criminals trying to put one over on people who didn't know the truth.
"And sometimes it's not even that they're evil. Sometimes they've been spectacular." The frown clouding his face now lightened into the wonder-filled little smile she'd come to love almost before she realized it. "Really magnificent, some of them."
Sarah Jane resisted the urge to sigh. She remembered having a version of this conversation with Aunt Lavinia oh, so many years ago. Extended over several weeks, it had culminated in Lavinia's wise, kind, but somewhat starchy, "Why don't you find out for yourself?" She had, no doubt, hoped her young charge would start the journey in the sciences, but had been grudgingly impressed when Sarah Jane chose journalism.
"So all this, and the course at university?" she prompted gently.
"It's — I've never asked you what you believe in," he said, looking first at her, then the tabletop, then back at her. His gaze wasn't as guileless as it had been when they first discovered each other. But it was more human, she thought, before considering the unspoken question.
"Are you asking if I believe in God?"
"One of the things that fascinates me about the comparative religions course," he said, taking the long way round to answer her, "is how many similar beliefs humans all around the world have. No matter where you go, there are midwinter holidays — even down in the southern hemisphere. Of course, the Incas and Maoris celebrated their midwinters in June, but it's the same principle. And Christmas, it's got all sorts of things from earlier religions in it now; Christmas trees and yule logs and wassailing and such.
"And even the, you know, the religious parts of the holidays ... well, Persian Zoroastrians celebrated the birth of a god from a virgin mother just around the winter months and they celebrate the victory of good over evil, and the ancient Japanese celebrated the birth of Amaterasu, who was sort of a sky mother — haven't read as much on that as I want to, it's really fascinating ...."
Luke finally trailed off, a phenomenon Sarah Jane knew well. He was endlessly delighted with discovery, so much so that he often derailed his original trains of thought. So much like The Doctor in that way, she thought.
"Why do we celebrate, Mum?"
And there it was.
"You seem to have liked it the last couple of years," she said, mildly.
"Oh, yeah, it's brilliant!" His smile flared, then disappeared. "But I just can't help wondering—"
" — whether I believe in Christmas, given everything I've seen in my life, whether I believe in anything ... spiritual ... again, given everything I've seen. And, if I don't believe in a god of some sort, why I'm celebrating Christmas, or maybe why I'm not celebrating something else. Does that sum it up?"
Luke nodded, looking immeasurably relieved that she'd deciphered his intent. "Yeah."
Sarah Jane downed the last of her tea, and rested her chin on both hands. "Let me think."
This was indeed like her long-ago talk with Lavinia, but it was vastly more complicated. It was true, she realized; she'd seen far too much, on earth and out in the wide universe, to subscribe to any one belief.
What on earth could she say to her son? She wasn't going to lie about what she believed — she couldn't possibly insult him that way.
But as wise a young man as Luke was, as amazingly broad his view of life was because of his own origins and all their adventures together ... well, that gaze of his was indeed more human than it once was. And humans believe in things, as much as they can.
Could she take that from him? Or could she help him understand enough about the world that the things he believed in, the things in which he had faith no matter their provenance, would be good things, and true?
She stood up from the table, to gain a little time. As she did, she caught the bright green smell of the tree from the livingroom. She turned her eyes to the hall, where the reflected glow of Christmas lights held back the outer dark in greens, scarlets, blues and golds. She saw the last-minute gifts and decorations she'd bought still piled on the front hall floor.
She sat back down, and reached over the table for both his hands. He gave them to her.
"I don't think I believe that Mary had a baby who saved the world," she said slowly, measuring her words. "I don't believe Father Christmas flies across the skies in a sledge pulled by reindeer. Not with my head.
"But at this time of year, I believe with my heart."
Luke looked confused.
Sarah Jane continued. "I grew up in a place, and a time, where humanity's fight against evil — sin, if you will — was celebrated by the birth of a child destined to fight that darkness on our behalf. All the wonderful traditions that sprang up around that centuries-old story, all the beliefs that accreted from other stories like it, well, those are the closest to my heart."
She stopped and smiled. "I suppose if I had been raised in a Jewish home, I might celebrate other stories of victory over evil, or of fighting the winter dark with the light of love. And those stories would be closest to my heart. Perhaps I might celebrate in other ways if I'd been raised in Japan, or in India, or in Chad or Mali."
"But the ones I grew up with ... they are all beautiful. They are stories that become true when someone decides to try to love the world enough to save it, just as so many people believe that the babe in the manger did. They become true when people give unstintingly of themselves to others, just like Father Christmas. And because I grew up with those stories, I love everything about them, and that love becomes a sort of belief."
"But what do I believe?" Luke sounded as plaintive as a toddler.
"I think," Sarah Jane said gently, "that you have the whole of your life to find out. And I know — I know this of you, because you are my son, and you are perfectly wonderful — that you will believe in something good and fine.
"It's all light against the darkness, Luke," she said. "And for us humans, I can't think that there's any disagreement. We fight the darkness, and we seek the light.
"That what I believe, and that's why I think I'm incredibly lucky to be celebrating with you at Christmas."
They sat together in silence, hands clasped. Luke nodded slowly, then grinned again — a little slyly this time.
"Do you know that the Saami of Finland had a goddess who traveled across the sky at midwinter, in a chariot of reindeer bones? She helped bring the light and the green grass back for the reindeer to eat. They used to smear butter on their door handles, so she could eat it and be strong enough to make the journey."
"No butter on the door knobs," she replied, "Or I shall ask Gita to make you two knitted hats, and you will have to wear them every day for a month."
"Right, then, it's Christmas for us," he said, "With a tree, presents, goose and crackers."
Sarah Jane groaned. "Oh, no!"
"All that time at Tesco, and I forgot the crackers!"
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