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Gillian laughs.

“Yeah - yeah I suppose I do - me cousin is a lesbian vicar.” There’s a faraway look in her eyes.

Caroline watches her wife as her hands twist in her jacket sleeves. She’s still dripping from the rain.

“Are you coming in properly?” She prompts Gillian, aware that they’re still sitting by the door.

Gillian nods, but doesn’t move. Caroline rises, and offers Gillian her hands.

 

-

 

“I found - I found some old photos.” Gillian states quietly, making her way into the living room once she’s dried off.

In her hands, she’s clutching an old box that Caroline hasn’t seen before, she’s also wearing one of Caroline’s jumpers. It’s so big on her, nearly reaching down to her knees. Caroline bites her lip at the sight.

Gillian moves to sit with her, on the sofa. She puts the box down, and a mug of tea is placed into her hands. Caroline waits for her to talk, swallowing the unasked questions lingering in her throat.

Gillian sighs, and moves back a little. This sofa has been witness to too many revelations. She looks at Caroline, seeing the patience and trust (and curiosity) - but never anger - spread across her features.

“Okay - so Jane is me cousin - people always said we looked alike, but I never saw it. I suppose she does - I’ve not seen ‘er in ten years - Gillian pauses.

She leans forward, putting the mug of tea onto the table where her feet are nestled close to Caroline’s. Taking the box in her hands, she takes off the lid and rummages through a scattered collection of old photos. Caroline watches as she makes a quiet triumphant noise, pulling a worn photograph from the bottom of the box.

Gillian runs her thumb over the face of her mother.

“That’s me mum, there - see? An’ - she had two brothers and - that, that’s her sister.” Gillian explains quietly.

“Your mum had siblings?” Caroline asks, surprised.

“Yeah, she - she were the youngest, an’ both her brothers were killed in the war in ’43. Her, me dad, and your mum were in the same year at school - as we’ve been told many times - but me mum’s sister was quite a few years older, Margaret her name was.”

Caroline sits quietly, her brain trying to connect the dots.

“Margaret ran away - to London - soon as she were eighteen, she married some bloke and had Jane, me mum hated her for that - said she’d abandoned her, left her with parents who had lost two sons and had no love to give to their daughters. Me mum never saw ‘er again - she never went to visit, never even rang. Margaret tried, after a while - but me mum refused to speak to her. Me dad didn’t want to get involved, no surprise there.”

Gillian places the photo back in the box, resting her hand on it for a moment. Caroline’s hand finds its way to her knee, and squeezes gently.

“So, what about Jane?” She prompts Gillian, who smiles softly.

“Well, me mum never knew but - well, she might’ve known - anyway, me and Jane wrote each other letters for years. We’d send each other photos sometimes, to see what the other looked like. An’ when I were eighteen - before I married Eddie - I went to London to meet ‘er, told me mum I was visiting a friend. It were odd - meeting ‘er - felt like I’d known ‘er all me life.”

Gillian shifts a little, still smiling softly.

“I met Margaret too, me mum would’ve been livid if she’d known. She were lovely - Margaret were, bit posh but - well not as posh as you, Caz - but she seemed posh to me. I’d never been to London before, it were amazing.”

Gillian’s smile falls.

“But - but then I came back home, I married Eddie - me mum and dad hated ‘im, so it seemed like a good idea. I felt like me mum were keeping such a big part of herself from me, it were stupid - looking back it were stupid - but it’s part of the reason I never told ‘er about Eddie, an’ what he did.”

Caroline feels Gillian’s leg tense under her hand.

“They - they came to me mum’s funeral, Jane and Margaret. An’ then I went down for Margaret’s - that were the last time I saw Jane, about ten years ago. We’ll ring each other sometimes, I’ve told her all about you.” Gillian grins at her wife.

“Wow.” Caroline says.

“Yeah.” Gillian replies. Wow.

“So what’s Jane like?” Caroline asks, smiling as Gillian’s grin makes a reappearance.

“Oh - she’s a complete mess most of time. She’s too kind, that’s the thing - she were doing good, helping homeless people and addicts and the usual, y’know? An’ her and this MP bloke set up a thing, helping immigrants get themselves sorted - now that Rufus - twat - wants rid of her - ”

Gillian sighs, jaw clenched.

“Rufus is the bishop?”

Gillian nods.

“The one with the boyfriend?”

“Yeah - bloody hypocrite.”

“So. What happened with the girl?” Caroline asks.

“Hmm. Okay - yeah, so Jane took in this girl - Linh were ‘er name. She must’ve been twenty-five ish maybe, from Vietnam. An’ Jane set ‘er up with a student visa and everything, got her sorted. But it turns out she were an illegal immigrant, her visa had ran out before it were renewed. So that weren’t good, an’ then this Linh got herself mixed up in some shit when this bloke got murdered - she were the only witness, and she were off her head. Police found all sorts on her. So our Jane had to choose - well, she never really had a choice - ”

“Shit.” Caroline says.

“Yeah. That’s what I said.” Gillian replies grimly.

“So she’s coming up here?”

“Yeah. Yeah, apparently we’re in need of a vicar.” Gillian replies, moving closer to Caroline.

She sighs into Caroline’s arms. Caroline presses a kiss to the top of her head where her hair is beginning to curl from the rain.

Their moment of tranquility is broken, as they hear a car pull up outside. Gillian groans.

“I thought it’d be too damp for them today.” She murmurs.

Caroline hums in agreement, watching Alan wrestle with an umbrella as Celia waits in the car. He figures it out eventually, and opens the door for her. She emerges on his arm, and they trudge towards the house. It’s only a few steps before Alan has to negotiate the umbrella again.

“Bloody hell.” Gillian grumbles, making Caroline laugh.

She reluctantly moves away from Caroline, anticipating her dad needing assistance with the umbrella. Celia rolls her eyes at Alan as she breezes in through the door. Gillian grabs the umbrella from his hands as he stumbles in after Celia.

“Hello, love.” They both greet her, as she gives the umbrella a shake and folds it down.

She puts it to dry, and closes the door firmly against the rain. Realising the photo is still on the table, she considers distracting her dad for a moment. The sudden paleness of his face suggests he’s noticed it though.

“Alan? Are you alright?” Celia asks him, as she takes Gillian’s place next to Caroline.

Caroline tries not to sigh, and turns to Alan with concern. Gillian guides her father into a chair, whilst Caroline goes to make tea. Gillian remains standing, shifting on her feet.

“Why have you got them photos out?” Alan asks his daughter. Celia looks at him, as if she’s warning him not to cause any more drama. As if she’s never been the cause of any.

"Jane rang, earlier. So I had to explain, obviously. She had some news - ” Gillian breaks off, looking intently at her father.

Alan coughs.

“Who’s Jane?” Celia asks, looking between them.

Alan says nothing. Gillian sighs at him, and fidgets.

“She’s me cousin.” She directs at Celia, then heads to the kitchen to let her father deal (or not deal) with the aftermath.

Caroline is leaning against the counter by the sink, with her back to Gillian. She’s watching the kettle boil, as Gillian moves closer. Arms wrap around her waist, and she relaxes into her wife.

“You’ve abandoned your dad then?” Caroline comments, after a moment.

“Mmm.” Gillian murmurs into her wife’s very very soft jumper.

She’s not got much sympathy for her dad, finding herself honestly surprised that he’d never told Celia. Especially when he’d told Celia so many other things. About her. About her teenage years. About how she broke her mother’s heart. About her abortion.

Gillian sighs. Things with her dad are still complicated.

They both wince at Celia’s raised voice as it drifts from the living room. Caroline turns. Around to face Gillian, and bites her lip at the expression on her wife’s face.

“Shall we go and rescue your dad?” Caroline suggests, reaching for the tray of mugs.

Gillian puts a hand on her arm, stopping her for a moment.

“I - I just wanted to - ” Gillian sighs.

Caroline lowers her arm, her hands finding Gillian’s instead. She searches Gillian’s worried eyes.

“What is it?” She asks softly, concerned.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. About Jane.” Gillian whispers, her eyes dropping to the floor.

Caroline frowns. Gillian looks guilty.

“Darling.” Caroline says, letting go of her wife’s hands and taking Gillian’s face in her hands instead. Gillian’s eyes lock with hers.

“This isn’t some horrific horrible secret you’ve kept from me, Gillian. It’s family stuff, it’s your mother and your dad, and it’s complicated. And I’m not offended, or angry, or annoyed, alright? I’m curious, yes. But I’m not angry.”

She wipes her thumbs gently across Gillian’s face. Gillian releases a shuddering breath.

“I think ‘er ladyship might disagree.” Gillian mumbles, gesturing towards the echoes of Celia’s wrath from the living room. Caroline chuckles, then sighs.

She presses a kiss to Gillian’s forehead, and heads for the tray again. She pauses, eyes widening.

“Who’s going to tell my mother that your cousin is a lesbian vicar?” Caroline bumps Gillian’s arm with hers.

Gillian snorts.

“What was that, Alan?” They hear Celia snap, and they pause again.

 

“She’s a what?”

Chapter Text

Gillian bruised her ribs on the day of their wedding. Bruised, not broken. She knew what broken felt like.

She thought it was a funny story, but she’s not sure Caroline would agree.

It was Dolly Parton’s fault, really.

The night before her wedding to Caroline, Gillian drunk a mammoth amount of wine with Catherine at the farm. Caroline stayed with Clare, experiencing something similar only without the alcohol. It felt strange, spending the night apart. They’d protested, of course.

Celia had muttered something about them not caring about tradition anyway. Alan had spluttered, and conveniently removed himself from the room. Catherine had insisted though, so they spent the night apart, each thinking of the other.

On the morning of their wedding, Gillian woke up on the sofa of their living room with Dolly Parton (the sheep) staring at her.

“Fuck!” She uttered, as she fell off the sofa.

Dolly wandered into the kitchen. Sharp pain ran through Gillian’s side.

She blinked, remembering her reason for being on the sofa. She hadn’t been able to sleep without Caroline in their bed.

Catherine had groaned from the other sofa, eyes becoming more alert.

“What’re you doin’ on floor?” Catherine mumbled, as she ran a hand over her face.

Gillian winced as she tried to get up again, before flopping down dramatically.

“You aware there’s a sheep in your kitchen?” Catherine added.

 

-

 

After Dolly had been successfully manoeuvred back to the field, and Catherine had insisted on checking Gillian’s injury, they were ready.

Gillian hadn’t felt nervous, which was a first for her in terms of her previous weddings. She probably shouldn’t think about her previous weddings.

Celia came. Bringing with her little comments and jibes, and an uncomfortable expression on her face, but she did come. Alan looked uncomfortable too, though he had different reasons to his wife. Gillian grit her teeth as he squirmed under her gaze. He hadn’t been able to look at her, not properly, ever since she finally told him about Eddie.

Gillian made it through the ceremony, taking comfort in the impossible blue of Caroline’s eyes. Her ribs throbbed with every breath, only lessening when Caroline’s hands joined with hers.

 

The truth was revealed later, when they got back to the farm. Caroline had wrapped an arm around her new wife, as their family watched on. Gillian had bit back a wince, making Caroline freeze.

“What is it?” She’d asked Gillian softly.

“Promise - promise you won’t laugh.” Gillian had surprised her by replying.

Caroline frowned. Gillian sighed, and winced again at the action.

“I - uh - had a sheep-related incident this mornin’, wi’ Dolly.” Gillian had said, gingerly indicating her ribs.

She was overheard by various family members, and laughter rang through the living room. Except from Caroline.

Caroline had insisted on examining her in the bathroom, and pulled Gillian gently upstairs, making Celia choke on her champagne.

 

Helped by her wife - her wife - Gillian was unzipped from her wedding dress. Caroline had bit back a gasp as her fingers traced the angry bruising across Gillian’s ribs.

“Jus’ bruised, not broken.” Gillian had murmured.

The unspoken hung between them. I know what broken feels like.

Caroline seemed to hear it anyway, as she pressed a gentle kiss to Gillian’s back.

Bloody Dolly Parton.

 

-

 

She’s a what? Celia’s voice rung in her ears.

Gillian draws her eyes away from their wedding photo. Her and Caroline grin from the frame on the mantelpiece, where Celia can’t avoid looking.

Caroline throws her a look of amusement as she places the tray of tea in front of her mother. Alan is spluttering about how his niece is in fact both a lesbian and a vicar. Gillian doesn’t think she’s ever heard him utter the word lesbian before. He goes quiet again, and she sighs.

Celia is looking sharply between Alan and Gillian. Gillian watches warily as Celia’s attention turns to her daughter.

“This family, all your secrets and lies, it’s too much!” She begins. Caroline opens her mouth to protest.

“Lies.” Celia aims at Alan, making him shrink. He sits down.

“We’re sick of it, aren’t we Caroline - ” Celia looks disgusted.

Mum - ” Caroline tries to interject, before her mother’s tongue causes its usual damage.

“This is your marriage, Caroline. Based on lies and deceit.”

Gillian closes her eyes at the way Celia says marriage. It sounds unnatural and foreign.

“It were complicated - ” Alan tries to interject.

“Your wife has been lying to you, Caroline.” Celia continues.

“That’s enough mum!” Caroline tries not to raise her voice.

Celia snaps her mouth shut.

Gillian glances at her father, who looks as if he’s trying to dissolve into the sofa.

 

Right.” She says firmly, and all eyes turn to her.

Her hands curl into the sleeves of Caroline’s jumper.

“So - so I do have a cousin, yeah. She’s the daughter of me mum’s sister, right dad?” She begins, rolling her eyes as Alan refuses to join in.

“Your mother had siblings?” Celia echoes her daughter’s earlier question. She still looks uncomfortable.

Gillian repeats the information she’d previously given Caroline only moments before, leaving out some of the more sensitive details about her cousin’s reasons for being transferred. Celia surprises her by absorbing the information without making any comments.

“So why is she coming here?” Celia asks, suspicion in her eyes. Alan shifts on the sofa.

“Uh, she had a disagreement wi’ bishop I think.” Gillian says.

Rufus the bloody hypocrite.

Celia looks like she knows there’s more, but relents for now.

“I’ve some photos, if you want to - ” Gillian moves towards the box. Alan coughs.

Gillian passes a couple of photos to Celia, and Caroline looks over her mother’s shoulder.

Caroline suppresses a grin at the figure in the photos. Jane Oliver smiles back at her, wearing converse and jeans and looking all together very unvicar-ly. That’s probably not a word.

“Gosh, she looks a lot like you.” Celia murmurs. And not much like a vicar.

“How come you’ve those photos?” Alan asks his daughter. He looks betrayed.

How come you know she's a vicar, and a lesbian? Gillian longs to bite back, Caroline gives her a wary look that suggests she might know what her wife is thinking.

“We used to write to each other, me an’ Jane.” Gillian replies, looking at him intently.

Alan frowns.

“Your mother didn’t want - she wouldn’t have liked that. She told you never - ” Alan looks angry.

Gillian regards him, willing herself to stay calm.

“She’s my cousin, dad. Your niece. I’ve a right to know ‘er, don’t you think?” She replies.

“You’re betraying your mother’s wishes.” He bites back, in his usual way.

Gillian sits next to him, watching as he refuses to look at her.

“She’s family, dad. An’ she’s the only thing left that’s connected with me mum.” Gillian says softly, with tears in her eyes that Caroline longs to wipe away. She’s busy trying to calm her mother though, who is watching Gillian and Alan’s exchange in reluctant silence.

“Your mother, she didn’t want anything to do wi’ Margaret, after what she did.” Alan replies, still not looking at Gillian.

“I know that, dad. But she held that grudge all them years, and she missed out. Dad, she missed out on getting to know her own niece, her own family.” Gillian’s voice breaks slightly.

Alan looks at her properly, for the first time in over two years. Her heart sinks further when his gaze only makes her feel empty, he’s examining her as if she’s just been put in front of him.

“You went to meet ‘er, didn’t you?” He says, his soft voice laced with hidden anger just below the surface.

“I - I did, when I were eighteen, an’ I went to London, you remember?” Gillian tries not to wince.

Alan opens his mouth, and sighs. He looks defeated, and conflicted.

“What is she like, then?” He says, after a tense moment.

Gillian looks up, with a tentative smile, and tells him.

 

-

 

A little later, Gillian heads out to feed the sheep. There’s a palpable release of tension once she’s left the room, which Caroline resents the remaining occupants for.

Gillian had sent her a fond, weary smile before she left, which Caroline holds onto as she turns to face her mother again.

“It’s a lot to take in.” Her mother says sharply. Alan hums in agreement, and receives a glare from Celia.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She asks him. Caroline sighs, they’re going around in circles. She’d rather be with Gillian and her sheep, even as the rain continues to pour.

“I - I know how you feel about secrets, love. Especially after all that business wi’ Kenneth - ” Alan stammers.

Caroline closes her eyes as her mother tenses. Mentioning Kenneth was a mistake. To her surprise, her mother stays silent.

“It’s not like that though. This were different, it were what Eileen wanted. I didn’t - I didn’t know our Gillian had betrayed her mother like that.” Alan mutters.

“I’m not sure betrayed is the right word.” Celia replies, before Caroline can defend her wife.

“Surely, you understand she wanted to get to know her own cousin.” Caroline adds, agreeing with her mother for once.

“She should’ve told me.” Alan replies, with an edge to his voice. Celia raises her eyebrows.

Caroline bites her tongue. She wants to shout at Alan, to use her headteacher voice and wipe the floor with him. Instead, she takes the empty mugs of tea back into the kitchen. She can feel her mother’s eyes on her.

Is this really what you want? Her mother had asked her, when she had told her she was marrying Gillian.

 

Caroline stands by the sink, watching Gillian. She’s standing against the wind, the rain pelting down again. Caroline finds herself transfixed by her wife, rooted firm in her muddy wellies against such a raw power. She glances across to the door, where her very own (somewhat cleaner) pair of wellies sit.

 

Yes, this is what I want.

 

 

Chapter Text

Caroline wakes to an empty bed. Sunlight streams through the window, and she looks to the clock with bleary eyes. It’s 5.30am.

Her fingers find the empty space next to her, the sheet cold under her touch. She’ll have to be up soon as well. Moving in with Gillian made her commute to work longer. This is what I want. She smiles, and stretches as she sits up. Running a hand through her hair, she reaches for her glasses with the intention of checking her emails. Her hand pauses, and drops. She’ll enjoy a moment of peace first, before the chaos of work invades.

“Mornin’ love.” Gillian greets her from the door. She’s holding two mugs of coffee, and is (disappointingly) already dressed.

“Hello darling.” Caroline replies, eagerly reaching for the coffee.

Her wife smirks as she hands it over, and Caroline can tell from her eyes that she’s barely slept. Gillian places her own mug on the bedside table, and sits down next to her. Easing herself gently, and tentatively.

“Long night?” Caroline prompts, gently. Gillian leans against her.

“Mmm.” Gillian replies, sipping at her coffee.

“Any new arrivals?”

“Yeah, bloody Dolly again. As if she’s not caused enough damage, she’s gone an’ had twins. Made a right fuss an’ all.” Gillian replies.

Caroline watches as Gillian’s face morphs into a slight smile. She’d brought new life into the world last night, or more like this morning.

“I’ve been thinking.” Caroline begins, making Gillian chuckle.

“Uh oh.” Gillian adds, before she can continue. Caroline pokes her, taking the risk of having coffee spilt on her as she does so.

“Shush. I’ve been thinking, and don’t take this the wrong way - but it’s a lot for you to cope with, without Raff, when it’s lambing on top of everything else. Why don’t you ask Clare, to come and help - if she wants to? Before you wear yourself out completely.”

Images of Gillian nearly collapsing on her mother over two years ago flash through Caroline’s mind, and she pushes them away. Her wife is silent next to her, looking as if she’s considering things.

“It - it’s funny you should say that.” Gillian replies after a moment, leaning back against the headboard. Caroline frowns a little.

“Why?”

“I’ve already asked her - Clare - if she would be up for giving us a hand wi’ things.”

Caroline chuckles, as Gillian closes her eyes. Her fringe is splayed with its usual messiness across Gillian’s forehead. She’s so beautiful. There’s a tension still present in Gillian’s jaw, the cause of which is probably not the lambing, or the farm, or the early morning.

“I can take Flora to school this morning.” Caroline offers gently. They take turns mostly, though it’s more often Gillian than her.

“No, you’re alright Caz. You’ve got that meeting wi’ Mr Poncy Twat this morning anyroad.” Gillian mumbles, her eyes still closed.

“Oh shit.” Caroline replies, having definitely not forgotten. Gillian snorts, then groans.

“Right, I’ve a gate to fix. An’ some needy sheep to feed.” She says, moving away.

Caroline reaches for her as she begins to rise, and pulls her in for a gentle kiss (it starts gentle anyway). Gillian’s hands frame her wife’s face, pulling her closer. Caroline shivers slightly, either from the cold of her wife’s hands or from the general effect Gillian has on her.

“Oi, you.” Gillian pulls back, and grins at her.

“You’re not making this any easier.” Gillian whispers into Caroline’s hair.

Caroline grins, and Gillian presses a kiss to her forehead, before heading back out again.

 

-

 

“Madam Flora!” Gillian’s voice echoes from the kitchen as Caroline is about to head off.

“Is my wife actually on time?” Caroline asks in shock, pulling a (very cold) Gillian into her arms again.

“Well, no actually - your wife is about to be late. She’s still got to pick her lovely granddaughter up yet.” Gillian replies, giving Caroline a gentle squeeze.

“Is Raff not taking Calamity today?”

“Oh, he’s got somethin’ on at school. They’re actually letting him go to one of them boring meetings today.” Gillian murmurs, before hollering for Flora again.

Flora flounces down the stairs with practised grace. Gillian laughs from Caroline’s arms.

“Right, I’m off.” Caroline announces.

“Bye chicken, have a good day at school!” She directs at Flora, who decides to run at Gillian instead.

“Bye love.” Gillian says, before bracing as Flora tangles herself around her legs.

She’s used to the full force of Calamity launching herself at her, so Flora’s impact is always a welcome surprise. It’s more controlled, softer and a little less sure. Gillian squeezes her just as tight. She aims a grin at her wife, as Caroline watches fondly from the doorway, before turning reluctantly to leave.

Gillian looks down at Flora, who is currently balanced on the toes of Gillian’s wellies.

“Auntie Gillian?” Flora asks quietly.

“Yes sweetheart?” Gillian replies softly, leaning down a little without jostling the girl balanced on her feet.

“Can I name the new lambs?” Flora asks, eyes wide and serious. Gillian chuckles.

“Hmm. Well, what would you name them, Madam?” She asks, swinging Flora by the arms and settling her back on the floor. They’re definitely going to be late.

Flora thinks for a moment.

“Millie and Lily.” She decides, before running to get her bag. Gillian laughs again, and grabs her keys.

“Alright, Millie and Lily it is. Millie and Lily. Come on, Flora. We best be off.” Gillian calls after her.

Flora slips her hand into Gillian’s, and they head for the land rover.

 

-

 

After picking up Calamity from Raff and Ellie’s, Gillian finds herself agreeing to look after the newest addition to the family too. Jacob was born just before Ted’s funeral, a little over two years ago. He’s a toddler now, and speaks a variety of words many of which he (unfortunately) picked up from Gillian.

Alan and Celia were meant to be looking after him, but apparently their plans had changed. Gillian wonders if they’re still arguing about the events from the day before, and remembers she should probably call Jane again at some point.

She drops a very chatty Calamity and a slightly more reserved Flora off at school, and heads back up to the farm with Jacob staring at her from his booster seat.

“Sheep.” He says, pointing at her. Rude.

“Am I a sheep?” She asks him, pulling a face to make him giggle.

“Sheep.” He confirms, as she pulls into the yard.

“Come on then, Jakey.” She murmurs, pulling him up and out of his seat.

She plonks him on his feet, and he wobbles for a moment. He looks at her, and pauses. Then, in a manner slightly less forceful than the energy levels of his sister, runs at her legs with his arms stretched out. Gillian grins at him, and grabs his hands.

“Sheep!” He repeats, a little more demanding. Pointing over her shoulder this time, rather than at her.

She laughs again, and lifts him onto her hip.

“Shall we go and see the sheep?” She asks him. He nods firmly, with a level of serious his sister has never managed.

Gillian’s weary legs make it over to the field, and she leans him on the fence. She points out various sheep, telling Jacob their names. He loses interest after a while, which doesn’t surprise her. She’s got a lot of sheep.

“Hiya Gillian.” A voice calls from behind her, and she turns around.

“Look Jakey, it’s Auntie Catherine and Auntie Clare.” She whispers in his ear, before swinging him onto her hip again. She’s getting a bit old for this.

Catherine and Clare laugh at her as she makes her way over to them. Catherine hovers by the car, which suggests she’s not staying long.

“I’m just dropping Clare off. I’m starting a shift soon, I’ll be back later to pick ‘er up.” She explains, already moving back into the car.

Gillian watches as she drives away, and joins Clare by the wall.

“Is she alright?” She asks Clare, as Jacob squirms on her hip.

“Yeah - yeah I think so, jus’ one of them days I think.” Clare replies.

“Oh, it definitely is. Isn’t it Jakey?” Gillian places him back on the ground with tired arms, and sits for a moment on the wall. She watches Jacob totter around on wobbly feet.

“So, where do you want me?” Clare asks with a grin, making Gillian snort.

“Well, I’ve two new arrivals from last night to keep an eye on, a fence still to mend, sheep to feed, and this chap ‘ere to look after. An’ - ” Gillian breaks off with a sigh as the phone rings from the house.

Clare attempts a (fairly one-sided) conversation with Jacob instead, as Gillian heads inside.

“Hello?” She answers, suppressing a sigh. If she sits down, she’ll probably not get up again.

“Hello, love. It’s Celia.”

Gillian decides to sit down.

“Hello, Celia. You alright?”

“Yes, thanks love. In fact, I wanted to apologise for yesterday. Some things were said, that might’ve been taken the wrong way. So, yes we thought we might pop over later, if you’re not busy.” Celia’s voice drifts down the phone.

If you’re not busy. Gillian thinks of the multitude of things she needs to do.

“Yeah, alright. I’ve got Jacob ‘ere at the moment, and Clare’s come to give me a hand wi’ things. But obviously you’re welcome anytime. Is - is me dad alright, after yesterday?” Gillian’s fingers thump against her knee.

“Okay, love. We might have some time this afternoon. Yes, he’s fine.” Celia replies. There’s a weary edge to Celia’s voice that Gillian interprets as suggesting that Alan is still digesting certain revelations.

She heads back out, after Celia hangs up. Clare offers to watch Jacob, as Gillian goes to check on the sheep. The day slides on, and Caroline doesn’t text her so she must be having a hectic day. Afternoon approaches too quickly, and Gillian finds herself glancing warily down the track every so often.

Clare sets off to fix the fence, insisting something about making herself useful. Gillian sits on the wall again, a slight wind ghosting across her face. The house shelters them a little, compared to how exposed the fields are. She pulls Jacob into her lap, and strokes a hand through his hair. He babbles on about something, and she listens.

Clare returns later, looking triumphant.

“You’ve not broken me fence, then.” Gillian shoots her a grin. Clare scoffs.

“Fancy a brew?” Clare asks her.

Gillian must have agreed, as she finds a mug of tea thrust at her. Keeping it away from Jacob’s curious hands, she sips at it. It’s a welcome feeling, as it burns down her throat.

“You’re lookin’ tired.” Clare says, after a moment. Gillian hums, and gives Jacob a tickle.

“Did you hear we’re gettin’ a new vicar?” Clare asks, making Gillian smile.

“Yeah - ” Gillian pauses for a moment, considering whether to continue.

“Yeah, she’s me cousin - the new vicar.” She adds. Fuck it.

“Oh. I didn’t you you had a cousin.” Clare responds.

 

Gillian decides to fill her in.

 

“Wow.” Clare says, once she’s finished.

“Yeah.” Gillian responds, looking down the track again.

Caroline always finishes early on a Monday, and picks Flora up on the way. She’ll be home soon.

“Is she good then, your cousin?” Clare asks.

“Yeah - yeah, she’s really good. She’ll probably get involved wi’ your meetings and things.” Gillian responds, which seems to satisfy Clare.

She shifts Jacob on her lap, making him giggle as she bounces him a little.

“Oh, Catherine’s on ‘er way.” Clare points out, as her sister’s car winds quickly up the track.

Gillian watches in amusement as Catherine’s car is followed by Alan and Celia’s lexus. She’s a little disappointed that Caroline’s car doesn’t appear. Gillian’s smile freezes slightly when she notices the passenger in Catherine’s car. Oh shit.

“Oh fuck.” She whispers, covering Jacob’s ears. Clare blinks at her.

“Is that - ”

“Yep.”

Catherine pulls up in the yard, and her passenger chats to her for a moment. Shit. It’s Jane.

Shit.

Celia parks next to Catherine, glancing suspiciously in their direction. Shit.

Jane climbs out of Catherine’s car, just as Gillian remembers how her legs work. She heaves Jacob back onto her hip, and tries to prepare herself. Jane smiles at her, Catherine sends her a confused look, Celia frowns, and Alan has luckily not yet made it from the car.

“Surprise!” Jane grins at her, as Gillian reaches her.

Celia has paused, and is watching them with interest.

“So you’ve got a cousin.” Catherine comments as she passes Gillian.

“Uh - yeah, Clare’ll fill you in.” Gillian replies. Catherine looks amused, and manages to head over to Clare without risking an interaction with Celia.

“Hi Jane.” Gillian says softly, pulling her cousin into a hug without squishing Jacob.

Gillian sighs, and pulls back to take her cousin in. Jane looks tired, and weary. There’s a heaviness in her eyes, deeper than the last time she saw her. The kindness is still there though.

“And who’s this handsome fella?” Jane asks, grinning at Jacob, who hides his face in Gillian’s shoulder.

“This - this is Jacob, he’s our Raff an’ Ellie’s little lad. Come on, Jakey. Gonna say hello?” She urges him. He observes Jane cautiously with wide eyes.

“Sheep.” He replies, pointing his hand.

“Oh, she’s a sheep too then, is she?” Gillian laughs. He nods firmly. Right.

“Things - things are a bit complicated, wi’ me dad at moment. He’s upset I never told ‘im about how we wrote to each other an’ things. Haven’t managed to - weren’t expecting you so soon - ” Gillian breaks off as Jane puts a gentle hand on her arm.

“It’s alright, Gillian. I’m not expecting a warm welcome, but I’ll say a quick hello.” Jane smiles softly.

Gillian turns gingerly. Celia is watching her still, and Alan has made it out of the car. He’s watching her too, with a tense jaw. She can hear Catherine and Clare talking quietly by the wall, and she hopes they’re not planning on leaving any time soon. She wishes Caroline was back home.

“So - so, this is Jane. This is Celia - me dad’s wife, an’ Caroline’s mother - you’ve met Catherine, and that’s her sister Clare. An’ that’s me dad, there.”

They all seem frozen, for a moment. Alan looks at her as if she’s betrayed him again. Celia looks conflicted. Gillian is surprised when Clare makes her way over and clears her throat.

“Hi, I’m Clare. I’ve been helping out our Gillian wi’ things today. You’ll probably be seeing a lot of me, wi’ me work down at the mission an’ with some of the groups at church.” Clare tries not to ramble, ringing her hands.

“It’s good to meet you Clare.” Jane replies warmly, shaking Clare’s hand. Gillian remains rooted to the ground with Jacob’s arms pulling at her jacket. Alan looks at her for a moment.

“It’s good to finally meet you Jane.” He says, which doesn’t convince anyone. Before Jane can reply, he turns his back and heads into the house. Gillian watches him with a sigh. Celia mutters something.

“You two look very alike.” Celia comments, looking between them sharply.

“Heard that one before.” Jane replies with a smile. Celia returns a grimace.

“So, you’re our new vicar?” Celia asks, in her clipped voice. Gillian shifts on her feet.

“Yep, it’ll make a good change from London. It’s amazing, this view.” Jane says calmly, her eyes taking in the vast landscape.

“I’ll let you two catch up.” Celia says, her disapproving look returning. She goes to join Alan.

Gillian finds herself back on the wall, this time with Jane sitting next to her. Catherine and Clare decide to leave, and Gillian can’t blame them. They each give Gillian a hug and Jane a smile, and Clare gives them a wave as Catherine drives off. Gillian sighs again.

“Fuck.” She says, and Jane hums.

Fuck.” Jacob says, and Gillian widens her eyes. Jane snorts.

 

Fuck.

Chapter Text

“It really is breathtakin’, Gillian.” Jane says, taking in the view again.

“Yeah, we’re very lucky.” She replies, echoing the words she once said to Caroline, the first time she came to the farm. The night when Raff got arrested by Robbie, and John stayed over. Bloody John. Caroline brought flowers that day. No one had ever bought her flowers before.

“So, how are you, really?” Gillian asks her cousin, as Jacob shifts on her lap again.

Jane sighs.

“I suppose some people would say I’m being tested, but that’s a load of - ” Jane pauses.

Gillian covers Jacob’s ears.

“- bullshit.” Jane continues. Gillian hums.

“What about Linh?” Gillian asks, warily. Jane seems to deflate.

“Oh, yeah she left. She’s gone - gone back to Vietnam. Said I’d obviously made my choice, and that was it.” Jane sighs.

The clouds shift above them, Jane suppresses a shiver.

“You’re looking tired, Gillian.” Jane comments, with nothing but kind concern in her eyes.

Gillian is glad of the lack of judgement.

“Oh we - we ‘ad two new lambs last night, an’ it’s been one of them days.” She smiles a little.

“Sheep.” Jacob says again.

“Yep.” Gillian replies.

“Caz.” He says, making Gillian snort.

“That’s new.” She comments, a grin spreading across her face as Jane looks confused.

“Caz!” He repeats, with more vigour. Gillian looks down the track, as Caroline’s car weaves its way towards them. She sighs in relief.

“Yes Jakey, it’s Caz!” She whispers in his ear, ticking his stomach. Jane laughs.

“You didn’t tell me your wife - your wife - drives a jag?” She says, incredulous.

“Yeah she’s - she’s a bit posh. Well, you’ve met ‘er mother.” Gillian replies, her grin turning fond.

“You’ve done alright for yourself then, eventually.” Jane grins back.

I’m glad you’re happy.” She adds in a lowered voice, and Gillian squeezes her arm.

 

The sound of Flora’s (slightly out of tune) humming accompanies Caroline as she negotiates the road. It’s the best part of the day, coming home to Gillian. She spots the lexus, and frowns a little. As she pulls into the yard, she gets another surprise.

Gillian is sitting on the wall, with Jacob on her knee. She’s spreading herself too thin. Caroline frowns a little in confusion at the figure sitting close to Gillian. Wearing Gillian’s face. It’s all a bit much for a Monday.

She carries Flora’s bags from the car, as Flora runs over to Gillian. By the time Caroline catches up to her, Flora is looking between Gillian and Jane in complete bewilderment.

“Caz!” Jacob announces, making Gillian share an amused and weary look with her wife.

“Hi Caz, and Madam Flora. This is Jane - who we weren’t expecting today - she’s me cousin.” Gillian directs the last part at Flora, whose eyes widen.

“Like me and Calam! She’s my cousin.” Flora responds proudly, making Gillian grin.

“Hello Jane, I’m Caroline. And this is Flora - oh, she’s gone.” Caroline smiles and shakes Jane’s hand, as Flora runs across the yard.

“Oh, she’ll be wanting to see them lambs.” Gillian says, rising with Jacob in her arms.

“She’s called them Millie and Lily, Caz. Millie and Lily! Bloody hell.” She adds to Caroline, silently confirming that Caroline wants to get to know Jane.

“She must’ve picked up on your sheep naming skills then.” Caroline replies, sharing a laugh with Jane as she joins her on the wall.

“Auntie Gillian!” Flora runs back, her voice imitating her mother’s with unnerving accuracy.

“Sheep.” Jacob says again, his fists tangled in Gillian’s jacket.

“Yeah, alright. Now don’t get all bored again - ” Gillian manages to let herself be pulled away by Flora whilst keeping Jacob firmly attached to her hip.

Caroline and Jane watch her go.

Caroline finds herself a bit unnerved, sitting next to a vicar with her wife’s face. It’s not quite Gillian’s face, she begins to notice. It’s paler - it’s been less exposed to the elements, less weathered and worn. There’s a heaviness though, that they both seem to share.

“I’m sorry to drop in so suddenly.” Jane startles her from her thoughts.

“I think it would have been a surprise any time.” Caroline replies with a smile. She finds herself at ease with Jane, who has nothing but (weary) kindness in her eyes.

“I bumped into your cousin Catherine you see, gave her a bit of a shock. She offered to give me a lift, since she was here for Clare anyway.” Jane explains, she’s looking a little uncomfortable.

Caroline grins at the thought of Catherine’s reaction to Jane. Catherine, who likes to believe herself to be pretty un-shockable these days.

“Hmm, I can imagine.” Caroline chuckles.

“Are you staying for dinner?” She asks Jane, who shifts slightly.

“No, thanks. I better be off soon, Gillian said she’d give me a lift back when she’s dropping Jacob off.” Jane replies, looking a little warily at the house behind them.

Caroline realises why Gillian and Jane have been sitting outside.

“Your mother did make an effort.” Jane says, watching Caroline.

“Hmm, well she can be a little - difficult.” Caroline wonders if she’ll ever find the right word to describe her mother.

“It seems I’ve got a long way to go, with Alan.” Jane adds, and Caroline sighs.

“It’s been a bit of a shock for him.” Caroline says, her eyes finding Gillian’s form.

She can’t help but smile as she watches Gillian pointing out the sheep to Flora, whilst balancing Jacob on the gate. Jane follows her gaze.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy.” Jane comments, as Gillian somehow manages to spin Flora around without dropping her grandson.

“Not that I’ve seen her much, but I could always tell - when - when she rang and she wasn’t happy. You’ve really changed her life, Caroline.” Jane adds softly.

Caroline isn’t sure how to respond, and her throat tightens. Jane doesn’t seem to be expecting a response though, as she turns back to take in the view again.

“Mummy! Mummy!” Flora shouts, as she runs back from the field. She’s definitely gotten louder, since they moved in with Gillian.

Flora stops dramatically in front of her mother.

“Yes chicken?” Caroline prompts. Flora hesitates.

“I think Auntie Gillian is sleepy. Like when I’m in maths at school, and Calam pokes me so I don’t fall asleep.” Flora mumbles, looking at her feet.

Caroline looks over at her wife again. Gillian is resting her arms on the gate, watching over her sheep as Jacob sits at her feet.

“Alright, chicken. Why don’t you go inside and talk to granny and grandad?” She suggests, watching after Flora as she runs inside with a (familiar) determination on her face.

 

Gillian makes her way back over slowly, Jacob managing to walk a little on wobbly legs. She holds his hands, and he holds all of her attention.

“Sheep.” Jacob says, pointing at Jane again when he reaches them.

“You’re still a sheep, apparently.” Gillian smiles softly at her. She can feel the intensity of Caroline’s gaze.

“I’ll be off to take Jakey back soon, if you’re wanting a lift back to vicarage?” Gillian directs at Jane, who sends her a grateful smile.

“That would be great, thanks Gillian.” She replies. Gillian throws a wary glance at the house.

“It was lovely to finally meet you, Jane.” Caroline says, turning to head into the house.

“See you in a bit.” Gillian whispers as she passes, Caroline kisses her cheek.

“Drive safe, darling.”

 

-

 

Flora is chatting to Celia, when Caroline enters the house. Celia looks as if she’s feigning interest, whilst Alan stares into space. Flora continues regardless, only pausing when she spots her mother.

“Is the nice lady gone?” Flora asks her, looking disappointed. At least someone was pleased to meet Jane.

“Yes chicken, she’s had to go now. Auntie Gillian’s taking her back with Jacob.” Caroline explains, feeling her mother’s eyes on her.

“You’re back early.” Her mother comments, once Flora has disappeared upstairs.

“It’s Monday mum, I always finish early on a Monday afternoon.” Caroline replies.

Alan looks as if he hasn’t moved for hours.

“Do you want some tea?” Caroline offers the room, before she sits down. The room refuses to respond.

“I don’t think so, love.” Celia replies, after a while. She glances over at her husband, who looks as if he’s about to speak.

Celia and Caroline wait with wary anticipation, Caroline sits down on the arm of the sofa.

“She jus’ turned up.” Alan says, as if it’s just happened. Celia sighs.

“It was a surprise for Gillian too.” Celia tells him, sounding as if they’ve already been through this.

“When did she get here?” Caroline asks.

“Oh, just before we did, this afternoon. Gillan’s been so busy, you know.” Celia responds, as Alan remains silent.

Not too busy to cope with a farm, new sheep, a surprise cousin, an upset father, a judgemental mother-in-law, and a grandson she wasn’t supposed to be looking after today. Caroline sighs.

“Well, she can’t have been that busy, she’s had Jacob all day. Though she’s been too busy to come in for a chat. I did ring her, this morning. That was before all this business - Celia breaks off with a vague gesture.

“She’s had Jacob all day? I thought you were looking after him?” Caroline responds.

“Well we had some things to discuss, didn’t we Alan?” Celia defends herself.

“Yeah.” Alan adds vaguely, his eyes clouded. Caroline feels the urge to wave a hand in front of his face.

“Right. So have things changed as a result of your discussions?” She says instead. Celia looks offended. That’s probably a no.

Alan eases himself from the sofa, leaving an imprint on the cushion. Celia takes the (subtle) hint.

“I think we best be off, love.” Celia says to her daughter, who tries not to roll her eyes. Before Gillian gets back.

“Alright mum.” Caroline sighs, watching as they trudge out the door.

“Our Gillian’s looking tired.” Alan comments quietly to her as he passes, Caroline nods and presses her lips together. Believe it or not, she had noticed.

She watches her mother drive down the track, with more speed than usual. The house is quiet, but the tension is gone. Caroline wonders when her wife will be back.

 

-

 

Gillian isn’t surprised, when she returns to find only her wife’s car in the yard. If she’s being honest, she feels relieved. Once she’s parked, she sits for a moment with her hands on the wheel. The clouds are swirling again. It’s going to rain again. She sighs, knowing she’ll have to move some of the lambs back inside.

Her feet swing onto the ground, and she heads for the house. She opens the door quietly, and smiles at the sight of Flora doing her homework at the table. Caroline looks up as she enters, with such an overwhelming fondness in her eyes it makes Gillian stumble. She tries not to feel guilty as Caroline’s fondness shifts to concern. Gillian responds with a look she hopes is reassuring.

“Hello Madam.” She greets Flora, planting a kiss to her head as she passes. Flora giggles.

As soon as she enters the kitchen, Caroline’s arms wrap around her. Gillian releases a breath, feeling as if she’s been holding it the entire day. Caroline tightens her grip, and Gillian feels like she’s melting.

“‘bout to rain again.” Gillian mutters, after a long moment. Caroline hums.

“You’ll be going back out then.” She says, softly.

“In a minute.” Gillian replies, with her eyes closed. Caroline’s breath is warm on her neck.

“How was your day?” Gillian asks her quietly. Caroline gives her a summary. Less eventful than Gillian’s, it would seem.

Flora calls from the table, needing help with her homework. Gillian grins, and untangles herself from her wife.

“I believe that’s your cue, Mrs Dr Caroline.” Gillian laughs, as she pulls on her wellies. Caroline rolls her eyes (fondly).

 

-

 

It feels like an eternity, before they have a moment to themselves again.

Gillian slips a glass of wine into her wife’s hand, once it’s Flora’s bedtime and the sheep have been sorted. Caroline removes her glasses and decides some things are more important than marking.

Her wife takes her spare hand, and leads her away from the table to the living room. Gillian’s thumb rubs against the back of her palm. They settle on the sofa, dissolving into one another. As predicted, the rain begins outside. It’s soft, to begin with, before it intensifies just as Caroline’s hand settles on Gillian’s thigh.

Gillian turns to face her wife, eyes full of utter adoration. Her breath ghosts across Caroline’s cheek as she leans closer. Caroline’s lips are on hers, feeling just as glorious as the first time and every time after that. Gillian’s hands tangle into Caroline’s hair.

Wine glasses are discarded.

 

-

 

There’s slightly less action (thank goodness), at Alan and Celia’s.

Celia watches Alan from their sofa, as he brings her a mug of tea.

“There’s more to it, isn’t there?” She asks him. He sighs.

He’s been sighing a lot lately.

“What do you mean?” He replies, knowing full well who she’s referring to.

“This situation, with Gillian and Jane.” Celia confirms.

“Yes. I suppose there - there is more to it, more than our Gillian knows.” He mutters, defeated.

Celia glares at him again. More secrets.

Chapter Text

It’s a pleasant surprise for Caroline, to wake with her wife next to her. A smile spreads across her face as she turns to face Gillian. Her smile widens at the rare sight of Gillian’s sleeping form. Her wife hasn’t quite made it back into bed, as she’s lying sprawled across the top of the duvet. She must have already been out to check on the ewes. Caroline notices a smudge of mud across her wife’s brow, and chuckles lightly as she snuffles in her sleep.

Gillian is already dressed, wearing her jeans and one of the jumpers Caroline bought for her. Caroline notes with relief that Gillian’s feet are at least welly-less. Settling back against the pillows, Caroline checks the time.

She indulges herself a couple more minutes, watching her wife.

The beginnings of sunlight filter through the window, curling across Gillian’s face. Caroline decides today, she’ll be the one to make coffee. Careful not to wake her wife, she slips out of bed onto the creaking floorboards. She allows herself another glance back towards the bed, before she heads downstairs to the kitchen.

The sound of the kettle seems to startle the house, as Caroline watches it boil. Steaming mugs in hand, she makes her way gingerly back upstairs. The act of passing Flora’s room still makes her smile, and her eyes stay fixed for a moment where a sign bearing her daughter’s name hangs on the door. Gillian had hung it, with Flora’s help and Caroline’s instructions.

This is your home, Gillian had told her.

Caroline reaches their bedroom. As she heads through the door, Gillian looks up from the side of the bed with bleary eyes. She’s sitting with her legs hung over the edge, feet dangling in the air.

“Mornin’.” She mumbles softly, as Caroline hands her a mug.

“Good morning.” Caroline returns, with slightly more coherency.

Gillian looks as if she’s considering something. Then she sighs, and moves further back onto their bed. Caroline joins her, sitting with their backs against the headboard.

“Sheep can wait.” Gillian explains, leaning into Caroline’s warmth.

Caroline looks at her wife, watches as her fingers fidget on her leg and her brow furrows. Something’s worrying her. She waits.

“Me dad texted, last night. Wants me to meet ‘im later.”

 

-

 

Jane turns her back to the room, once the session is over. She tidies up abandoned cups and discarded biscuit wrappers.

“That were really great.” Clare says, as she approaches from behind.

They chat a little, as Clare helps her put the chairs away. Jane senses Clare is waiting to ask her something.

“Did the situation improve - up at Gillian’s t'other day - after Catherine and me left?”

“Hmm. Not much, really. I’ve got a way to go with Alan yet.” Jane replies, aware that that Clare is still avoiding what she really wants to ask. She hopes it’s not another query about the trials of being a lesbian whilst also a vicar. She’s already had a lot of questions, mostly from curious old ladies.

“Don’t think I’ve ever seen Alan like that.” Clare says, looking down at her sleeves.

“He’s caught between the wishes of a dead wife and well, me and Gillian. My mum never got to meet Alan, but - it used to strike me as being strange - she said she loved him for taking care of Eileen. For being there when she couldn’t.

Jane pauses for a moment, thoughts lingering with her mother. Clare nods silently.

“I was wonderin’ - ” Clare begins, almost whispering as they walk up through the graveyard towards the vicarage.

Clare stops walking, her eyes flickering towards one of the headstones. Jane waits for her to continue. Blowing air harshly through her nose, Clare puts a hand gently against Becky’s name and turns back to face Jane.

“Catherine isn’t copin’. She says she’s fine, but she - she’s really strugglin’, and I don’t think I can help her - ” Clare breaks off, tears in her eyes. Jane puts an arm out towards her, an offer of comfort.

Clare takes a breath, takes Jane’s hand, and continues.

“It - it would be good for ‘er, I think. To ‘ave someone to talk to that weren’t me or even our Caroline and Gillian. She don’t have a good history wi’ vicars and priests but you’re not exactly the uh - normal type - ” Clare trails off with a wince.

Jane laughs, and Clare relaxes a little.

“Yes, I suppose I’m not what most people expect.” She replies with a grin, moving closer. Her eyes settle for a moment on Becky’s name.

“Of course, I’ll see if I can help Catherine. You never know, she might even step inside that church one day.” Jane adds. Clare seems sceptical.

They continue up the path, and Jane tries not to think of the feelings rising at the thought of spending more time with Catherine. Not really appropriate, vicar.

She clears her throat, startling Clare a little. Jane clenches her fists as they pass Eddie’s name, greeting the letters with a glare mirrored by Clare. Bastard.

“So you know about - about our Gillian an’ that bastard.” Clare murmurs, glancing at Jane and her fists.

“Yeah - yeah she told me a bit, after everything. She told me how you and Catherine helped her, he’d made her so small, she’s always been different. Fucking bastard.” Jane replies, mouth twisting bitterly.

Clare’s eyes widen.

“Did you just - ?”

“Oh. Yeah, I swear. I draw the line at blasphemy though.”

 

-

 

Gillian is nervous. Her fingers drum on the table, in the way she knows would drive Celia mad (if she were here). She glances towards the door of the pub every so often, waiting apprehensively for her father. She realises she’s in the same seat as when her dad told her about him and Celia’s argument over Caroline and Kate. She’d met him off the train, and they’d gone for a pint. He could still look at her then.

He didn’t need meeting off the train today, he’s driving himself (which suggests he has Celia’s approval for whatever this is). Gillian used to enjoy meeting her dad for a drink, before. She can probably guess the main topic of conversation.

Maybe she should’ve told him about Jane.

The door swings, with too much force to be her father. She looks up anyway, her knee resuming its usual bouncing. A man enters, and for one stupid moment she thinks it’s Robbie. The way he holds himself, and the way he turns his head makes her eyes drop back to the table. She closes her eyes tight, and tries to breathe.

Caroline, Caroline, Caroline. That normally works. Shit.

Caroline’s laugh, Caroline’s hands, Caroline’s soft soft jumper. She tries again.

Caroline.

“Hello, love.” Her dad says. She hadn’t heard the door open.

“Hi dad.” She manages, pulse hammering. He’s not looking at her properly anyway.

He gets himself a pint, and sits opposite her. His fingers drum on the table, echoing her earlier rhythm. Knees bounce in tandem.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, about me and Jane keepin’ in touch.” She breaks the silence.

Alan’s eyes remain fixed to the table.

“An’ I didn’t mean to upset you by doing it, we just - we just wanted to know each other, dad. It weren’t meant to be some big secret, I just thought you’d be better off not knowing.” She adds, hands gripping her pint. Alan stiffens.

“I think I understand, love.” He says quietly.

“I can’t say what your mother would’ve thought, not really. She - she were so upset, after Margaret left. They never spoke again.”

Gillian knows this.

“It were a surprise, to see her Jane up at farm yesterday. It were a surprise.” He continues, still not looking at her.

“I’m - I’m not expecting it to be easy, dad. But don’t you think it’s been long enough?” She replies, watching him intently as his eyes shift to the glass in front of him.

He seems to be considering her words.

“You managing alright, up at farm on your own?” He says instead.

“Made it through lambing in one piece, yeah. An’ I’m not on me own, dad.” She replies.

“Clare’s been helping out too.” She adds. Her father nods.

“It’s a lot to manage wi’, even when you’ve got Caroline.” He replies, Gillian feels her skin bristle.

“I’m coping dad, I’ve always coped. An’ now I’m coping, an’ I’m happy.”

Alan still manages to look surprised at the prospect of his daughter being happy.

“I managed before - managed when I were on me own after - after Robbie, and - and now I’ve got Caroline.”

They both wince at Robbie’s name. Alan sighs. There’s something else.

“What is it, dad?” Gillian asks, wary of any more bombshells.

Alan sighs again.

“It’s not your heart again, is it? Or Celia, is she alright?” Gillian’s brain starts to panic.

“No, love. We’re alright, it’s not - it’s nothing like that.”

He still can’t look at her.

“It’s to do wi’ your mother, and Margaret. You don’t know - she never told you the whole story. We always told you, that Margaret were the oldest. An’ there were the two brothers lost in the war, and your mother were the youngest. That were what ‘er parents - your mother’s - wanted everyone to know.” His shoulders hunch, and he shrinks into his chair.

“Okay, what’s the whole story then?” Gillian’s leg muscles clench under the table, her leg stops bouncing.

“Margaret weren’t your mother’s sister.” Alan almost whispers. Gillian blinks.

Alan’s eyes flicker over her face for just a moment, before returning to his glass.

“Margaret were Eileen’s mother, she ‘ad her when she were fourteen.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Alan is looking at her, properly. He’s wary and uncomfortable, looking at his own daughter. Gillian doesn’t say anything for a long time. When Alan looks away, she watches him. He’s shifting in his seat, his mouth open a little as if it’s preparing to let loose more revelations. His hands are trembling slightly, and she wonders if it’s from the effort of talking to her. It seems to drain him.

“Does Jane know?” Is the first question that breaks the silence between them.

It startles her father, to hear her speak. Her voice sounds raw.

“I - uh - I’m not sure about that, love. Margaret might’ve told ‘er. You seem to know ‘er better than me.” He replies, adding a harder tone to the last part of his sentence.

Gillian sighs. When she were fourteen.

She doesn’t have to look at her father to know what particular disappointment of hers he’s now thinking of. Her mother had been adamant at the time, you broke your mother’s heart.

Our Gillian had an abortion, when she were fifteen. His words from years ago ring through her head, as if she needed a reminder. The air had left the room, at his statement. Even Celia had been speechless.

You broke your mother’s heart.

When did me mum find out, about Margaret being - ?” Gillian asks.

Alan sighs, his gaze shifting to the window. He’s running out of places to look, other than at his daughter.

“It were after she left - Margaret - an’ moved to London. Around the time me an’ Celia met actually, it must’ve been. Your mother - she changed after that, she weren’t quite the same. Maybe - maybe that’s why she never gave me that note from Celia, I’ve always wondered. Maybe it were because of that, she didn’t want anything else to change.” Alan’s eyes remain fixed to the window.

Gillian’s brain hurts. Her phone vibrates in her jacket pocket, she glances quickly at her dad before pulling it out. He seems lost in the past now. She smiles a little - it’s a text from Caroline. How’s your lunch date going? Alan looks back towards her (more in her general direction than actually at her) as she makes a strange noise in an attempt to suppress a snort. She puts her phone away, planning to reply later.

She wouldn’t be able to talk to Caroline, without revealing the latest family bombshell. Caroline deserves a break from all of this. Caroline deserves -

Her thoughts stop. She was wrong about that man from before, it’s not Robbie that he looks like. It’s Eddie. She pales. He’s watching her from across the bar, and she’s aware that she’s probably staring at him. It’s not him. It looks like him but it’s not him. Her leg bounces.

Alan glances at her, aware that something’s changed.

“You alright, love?” He asks, surprising her with his genuine concern.

“Y-yeah. I’m just, I’m gonna - ” She breaks off, gesturing in the direction of the bathroom and leaving the table before Alan can add anything.

He watches her, and spots the man across the bar whose eyes remain fixed to Gillian. God, he looks like - oh. Alan’s eyes widen, he’s not sure what to do. He decides to keep watching the man (who isn’t Eddie). Eddie is dead, that’s not Eddie.

Eddie is dead.

Gillian grips the sink. It’s not him. She wonders if she should ring Caroline. Caroline deserves -

She throws up in the sink again. Shit. She doesn’t know what to do.

Her vision blurs, and all she can see is him. The look in his eye before he - no.

In her pocket, her phone buzzes again. She retrieves it with shaking hands, frowning in confusion as she realises her dad is texting her.

It’s not him. Meet outside? It reads. Her dad sees Eddie too. She releases a sob, and throws a hand over her mouth. She tries to breathe.

Caroline. Caroline. Caroline deserves -

She doesn’t look at her reflection.

The door swings behind her, as she leaves the bathroom. He’s moves closer, the man who isn’t Eddie. Alan has gone, the table is empty. He hasn’t left, he’s waiting outside.

She holds the door in her sight, feeling herself being drawn to the light pouring through the window. She feels like a shit moth.

He’s still moving closer, she can feel it. A group of walkers enter the pub, and Gillian spots her dad outside as the door swings closed again. The man (who isn’t Eddie) moves with the group, closer and closer. His hand finds its way to her lower back as she tries to pass him. Bile rises in her throat. It’s the look in his eyes. She pushes forward, through the group.

He’s still behind her, but she’s nearly at the door. She can’t bring herself to glance behind. His hand moves towards her again, aiming lower this time. Her gut lurches, and she almost lunges for the door. It swings behind her, and she heads with shaking legs towards Alan.

She reaches the wall, and sits down. Alan joins her, placing a gentle (unsure) hand on her shoulder. She tries not to flinch at his touch. She fails, and his hand retreats to his own knee.

Gillian risks a glance back at the pub. The man hasn’t followed her. It wasn’t Eddie, you pillock.

“Do - do you want me to ring Caroline?” Her dad says, his voice wavering.

Gillian releases another shaky breath. Caroline. Caroline deserves -

“No. No - it’s fine, dad. I’m fine, I just need a minute. It were that bloke, he just - ” Gillian stammers, running her hands through her hair.

“What about Celia? You could come back for a brew?” he tries again. Gillian sighs.

Celia. She sighs again, without enough energy to argue.

“Alright.” She says, sounding defeated. Alan tries (unsuccessfully) to hide his surprise.

He glances at the pub again, just as the door swings behind the man. Gillian stiffens again, as she feels his eyes on her again. Alan stiffens next to her, muttering something under his breath.

“You get in the car, love. We’ll come back for the landy later.” He says quietly. She doesn’t argue.

Gillian slides into the lexus, as Alan takes a strangely defensive stance in front of the car. He’s facing away from her, between her and the man. Alan stands his ground, and the man (who isn’t Eddie) looks amused. He looks again at Gillian, before losing interest and turning back towards the pub. Alan slumps visibly in relief, increasing Gillian’s feelings of guilt.

He considers texting Celia, to warn her, but he’s not sure what to say. Instead, he gets into the car in silence and looks at his daughter. Gillian looks tired, and the heaviness has returned. He hadn’t seen it so much, after Caroline’s influence. After a moment, she slowly offers him her hand. Like she used to. He takes it gently, and gives it a squeeze.

 

-

 

Celia frowns at the clock, and at her phone. She hadn’t expected Alan to be so long. The familiar sound of the lexus makes its way from outside, and she peers out the window.

She watches Alan, as he puts an arm around Gillian. Celia’s brow furrows further. Something’s happened. They head slowly towards the door, and Celia removes herself from the window and puts the kettle on instead.

Alan takes Gillan into the living room, before joining Celia in the kitchen.

“What’s happened? Did you tell her, about - ?” Celia asks him, keeping her voice low.

Alan sighs, his fingers fidgeting in a very Gillian-like manner.

“I told her, yeah. It’s not that - that’s not why - ” He breaks off.

“Is Caroline alright? It’s not to do with Flora?” She tries to prompt Alan into speaking again.

“No. No - it’s not that, they’re all alright. It were this bloke down at pub, he - he looked like Eddie, an’ he kept watching her. She went to loo an’ I waited outside, something must’ve happened, I think - ” Alan winces, and Celia watches him with tight lips.

“She didn’t want to ring Caroline.” He adds. Celia sighs.

She instructs Alan to finish the tea, and heads into the living room. Gillian is sitting on the edge of one of the sofas, with her knee bouncing it its usual way. Her fists are clenched. Celia is struck by the hollowness of her eyes as Gillian looks up when she enters. She tries not to squirm under Celia’s gaze.

“Hello, love.” Celia says, as she sits down on the sofa.

She’d hoped they’d not be in this position again, after Robbie -

Gillian looks uncomfortable.

“Flora’ll need picking up soon.” She murmurs, her voice wavering.

“I can send your dad to get her.” Celia replies softly, reaching slowly to put a hand on Gillian’s knee.

Gillian doesn’t flinch this time.

“I’m sorry - ” Gillian begins, stopped by the sharp look Celia gives her.

“No apologies, remember?” She says firmly.

“I thought it were him.” Gillian whispers. Celia listens.

“He had the same look in his eye, when he - ” Gillian stops, knowing Celia can fill in the unspoken.

“Did he - this man in the pub - did he do anything?” Celia risks asking. She feels her own anger rising.

“No. No - not really, he just put his hand on - ” Gillian breaks off again with a shaky sigh. She watches Celia’s nostrils flare.

Celia mutters something that includes filthy animal. It takes a moment for her to realise Celia isn’t talking about her. She blinks. Celia swallows her offence at Gillian’s surprise.

“Are you sure you don’t want us to ring Caroline?” Celia asks. She watches something complicated and conflicted swirl in Gillian’s eyes.

“No. She’s - she’s got enough on today as it is.” Gillian replies, before reciting the details of Caroline’s busy schedule. Celia smiles a little.

“You’re not a burden for her, love.” Celia says, as Gillian refuses to meet her eyes.

Alan brings the tea in. Gillian seems to shrink back into herself again. Silence resumes as tea is poured.

 

-

 

In the end, Gillian goes to pick Flora up. Celia protests a little, as Gillian waves away her offer to send Alan. She’s glad of the distraction, feeling out of place in Alan and Celia’s pristine living room.

She knows Celia will probably text or ring Caroline. It makes her feel guilty. Caroline deserves better than this.

Her fingers drum on the wheel, as Flora chatters about her day. Gillian manages to react in an appropriate way in all the right moments. Flora seems to sense something is different, as her wide eyes linger longer on Gillian’s face.

Caroline won’t be home for a couple of hours. Gillian tries not to think about how many minutes stand between her and the arms of her wife.

After the sheep are fed, and Flora’s homework is attempted, Gillian settles on the sofa for a moment. She can’t bring herself to think about cooking. Flora climbs into her lap, which is something she might be getting a bit old for. Gillian decides to allow it

He’s not there anymore, when she closes her eyes. That’s a good start.

She doesn’t intend to fall asleep.

 

-

 

Caroline pauses for a moment, once she’s parked in the yard. Celia had rang and told her, something had happened at the pub. Gillian was upset. No more information was offered.

She wonders what Alan had needed to tell Gillian. It seems to have been dwarfed by whatever had happened afterwards. She’s spent the whole day with Gillian never far from her thoughts.

The house is unusually quiet as she enters. It’s usually filled with Flora’s laughter at Gillian’s amusing sheep-related stories. She’s very good at voices.

This evening, there’s no laughter to be heard and the house is cold. She slips off her heels by the door, and cautiously enters the living room. Flora’s head pokes up from her position in Gillian’s lap on the sofa.

“Shush. Auntie Gillian is sleepy again.” Flora whispers to her mother with an unnerving authority.

“Okay chicken.” Caroline whispers back, as she edges closer.

Gillian has somehow managed to be sleeping without relaxing. It’s a far cry from the sight that greeted Caroline earlier that morning. This Gillian’s brow is still furrowed, her jaw clenched. Flora untangles herself as her mother reaches the sofa.

“I’m going to my room.” She announces to Caroline, giving her mother a brief hug on her way.

“Right.” Caroline replies, feeling a little weary herself.

She watches Flora run upstairs with quiet, considered footsteps. Releasing a breath, she sits on the floor by Gillian’s sleeping face. She leans back against the sofa, her eyes finding their wedding photo on the mantelpiece. Her own face grins back at her, as does Gillian’s.

“What you doin’ on floor?” Gillian mumbles from the sofa, her voice crackling.

“Well, someone is taking up the whole sofa.” Caroline turns to face her wife.

“Mmm.” Gillian replies, wincing a little as she makes space for Caroline to join her.

Caroline approaches carefully, looking for permission before taking Gillian in her arms and tangling their legs together.

“I’m - I’m assuming ‘er ladyship told you things.” Gillian begins, closing her eyes as she feels Caroline’s breath against the back of her neck.

“A little. Can you tell me what happened?” Caroline asks, gently and tenderly.

 

This isn’t him. Caroline isn’t him.

 

Caroline feels the shakiness of Gillian’s breath.

“It’s so bloody stupid.” Gillian whispers. Caroline waits.

“There were this bloke, an’ - an’ I thought he were Robbie at first. Then me dad dropped another bombshell and - and it messed wi’ me head I think. He weren’t Robbie anymore - this bloke - he were watching me wi’ this look an’ it were like he were there - Eddie - it were like Eddie were watching me. I - I went to loo, an’ me dad went outside - he - he must’ve seen it too. He looked like he’d seen it too. I went to meet me dad outside and this bloke he kept watching me wi’ that same look, an’ he came closer an’ - ” Gillian breaks off, feeling nauseous again.

Caroline strokes a hand through her wife’s hair.

“He put his hand - it - it were the same look, I’ve seen it before. Eddie always had that look - right before he’d - ” Gillian stops, relaxing into Caroline’s touch.

“You could’ve called me.” Caroline says softly into her hair.

“I - I know. I wanted to but I - I couldn’t. You’d ‘ave been busy, all them meetings you had.” Gillian leans further into Caroline.

“I would’ve made time for you, darling. Always.”

“You shouldn’t ‘ave to though.” Gillian murmurs.

“You’re my wife, Gillian. I love you, and I’m here for you. Whether you like it or not.” Caroline’s arms tighten around Gillian.

Gillian’s throat tightens.

“Celia tried - me dad took me up to theirs for a brew. She were making an effort, I just - ”

Gillian swallows.

“She told me - she said I’m not a burden for you, Caz. Like she knew exactly what I were thinkin’.”

She feels Caroline stiffen slightly, and pushes away the worry that she’s said the wrong thing. Bloody idiot.

Caroline manoeuvres them both gently, so that they’re facing each other. Gillian tenses at the tears in Caroline’s eyes. Caroline takes her wife’s hands firmly but tenderly, and waits for Gillian to look at her.

“You are not a burden for me, Gillian. Any time, for anything, I am here for you. Alright?” She waits for Gillian to nod.

“Right.” Gillian whispers, as if she doesn’t quite believe it.

“What did your dad want to talk about?” Caroline asks, after a while. Gillian seems glad of the distraction, even if it’s what messed with her head in the first place.

“Oh. Yeah - that.” Gillian’s voice lowers again, and Caroline begins to regret asking.

“It’s alright, I wanted to tell you anyway - soon as me dad told me.” Gillian reassures her.

Caroline smiles softly, her thumbs skirting lightly across Gillian’s knuckles.

“It were about me mum an’ Margaret.” Gillian states, as Caroline watches her brow furrow again.

“He were sort of sorry - me dad - I think, for how he were the other day when Jane appeared. He’s had time to think about things I think - but - but he told me there was something I didn’t know - ” Gillian pauses.

She sees the worried look in her wife’s eyes, and wishes for once she wouldn’t be the cause of it.

Gillian sighs.

 

“Margaret weren’t me mum’s sister. She were her mother, she had ‘er when she were fourteen.”

Chapter Text

Caroline’s looking at her. The intensity of her gaze pulls Gillian closer.

“Shit.” Caroline says. Another bombshell.

“Does Jane know?” Caroline asks, echoing Gillian’s question to Alan.

Gillian sighs, her fingers dance across Caroline’s arm.

“I - I don’t know.” She replies.

Our Gillian had an abortion when she were fifteen. Broke her mother’s heart.

Gillian’s grip on her wife’s arm tightens. Her scars bristle against the cold. She can feel them all, burning like they do when it rains. The skin on the back of her neck aches where Eddie put his cigarette out. The ribs he broke, the hand he crushed, the mark on the inside of her wrist.

“Gillian.” Caroline says softly, as if she knows where her wife’s mind is going. Gillian releases a shuddering breath.

“I’m - I’m alright.” Gillian whispers. Caroline doesn’t look convinced.

“I just - I were thinking about what me mum must’ve - when I were fifteen an’ I told ‘er I were pregnant she - she were so angry. She just went silent, I never saw ‘er like that before. Me mum didn’t say a word to me for weeks after. An’ I think I - ” Gillian breaks off, her hands remaining clasped around her wife’s arm.

The feeling of Caroline’s skin against hers grounds her.

“ - I think I understand her, now.”

 

-

 

It’s a long night for Gillian, even with Caroline’s arms around her. Her wife sleeps, and Gillian stares at the ceiling. Eileen’s face watches her, lingering in the dark. Cold air settles on the duvet, spreading across every inch of their bedroom. Except Caroline.

The cold makes Gillian’s scars hurt again. She shifts closer to Caroline’s warmth, careful not to wake her. The hurt lessens a little, until she doesn’t notice it at all.

She closes her eyes again, willing the faces away. Robbie had been so angry when he’d found out about the abortion. Her dad’s disappointment. Caroline -

Her eyes snap open, she feels defeated.

Sometimes she lets herself wonder - just for a moment - what her baby would’ve been like. She would’ve loved a girl, Robbie would’ve - no. It wouldn’t have worked, motherhood at fifteen. Her mother had been adamant. You need to get shot of it, Gillian.

She hadn’t protested.

Caroline shifts next to her, nose twitching as her arms tighten. Gillian watches her, with a soft soft smile. It’s 3am and Caroline loves her.

 

-

 

Gillian feels lighter, in the morning. It surprises Caroline, she can tell. Her wife takes it in all in stride, in true Caroline-like fashion.

Alan pops in, as they’re having breakfast. Gillian is in the middle of persuading Flora to brush her teeth, when Caroline pauses mid-rant about that god-awful man from the board.

“Hello, love.” Her dad calls out. Caroline watches her wife attempt to disguise the way her body tenses.

“Grandad!” Flora giggles in excitement, giving him a hug before running to brush her teeth.

Caroline rises from the table, glancing at her watch.

“I came to see if I can help wi’ Flora, take her to school if you need?” Alan asks, watching his daughter carefully.

“That’s very kind of you, Alan.” Caroline smiles.

“I’m sure Madam Flora would love that.” Gillian adds.

Alan stands still in the middle of the living room. Caroline heads upstairs to remind her daughter of the time.

“I - uh - wanted to see how things were, after yesterday - ” Alan stutters, as Gillian clears the dishes from the table.

“I’m fine, dad. Everything’s fine.” Gillian replies, attempting a reassuring smile that seems to satisfy him.

He continues to watch her, as she places empty mugs in the sink. She falters, and moves slowly to join him in the living room with fidgeting hands.

“I were thinking of going to see Jane today.” She tells him, lowering her voice.

“Oh, right.” He says. The corner of his mouth twitches, but he remains silent.

“Jus’ to see - well, I want to know if she knows about - about, you know - ” Gillian sighs as her mouth stumbles over the words, settling on a vague gesture with her hands instead.

“Alright. Can - can you let me know, what she says?” Her dad asks. He looks uncomfortable, he’s not meeting her eyes anymore.

She nods.

Flora comes running back downstairs, launching herself at Gillian.

“Grandad’s taking me to school!” She whispers into Gillian's hair.

Gillian chuckles, and Caroline joins her. She makes a face at Flora, as Alan takes her hand and coaxes her gently towards the lexus.

Caroline’s fingers link with Gillian’s as they watch Alan pull away.

“You’re gonna be late for your meeting wi’ Mr important governor man.”

“Oh, he’s a twat. He owes me.”

 

-

 

The last time Gillian went to church was for her and Caroline’s wedding.

She sits in one of the pews, watching Jane deep in discussion with someone near the altar. Leaning back, she looks up into the rafters. In this church, she married Eddie. Bloody idiot. In this church, Caroline’s hand found hers even from the row behind at Ted’s funeral. Her mother’s funeral had been in this church too.

In this church, Caroline had become her wife.

(She’s not sure why marrying Caroline in the same church she married Eddie felt so strangely satisfying. She’d of married Caroline anywhere.)

Solid wood digs into her back. Jane makes eye contact, and offers her a grin before heading over.

“Hi Gillian.” Jane says, once she sits down next to her.

“Everything alright?” She prompts. Gillian realises she doesn’t know where to start.

She finds herself talking about the guy in the pub that looked like Eddie. She talks about how Alan still can’t look at her properly. She pauses.

“Me - me dad told me something yesterday. Something I never knew, about me mum and your mum.” She tells Jane, after a cautious glance around.

Jane sits in silence. Hands still as she waits for Gillian to continue.

“Margaret - your mum - she weren’t me mum’s sister. She were her mother, did - did you know?”

Jane remains silent. Gillian shifts to look at her properly. Jane sighs.

“She told me. Right before she died, she told me.” Jane murmurs, eyes moving to the rafters.

She seems as though she expects anger from Gillian, and frowns when all she can find is an almost reluctant understanding.

“I wanted to tell you.”

“It’s not exactly news you could’ve broke over phone, though is it?” Gillian replies, squeezing Jane’s arm.

“I was so close to telling you, at my mum’s funeral.” Jane continues.

They sit in silence.

“This is where me mum and dad got wed, you know.” Gillian murmurs.

Jane nods.

“An’ where we buried me mum, an’ uncle Ted.” Gillian adds.

“Me and Caz got wed here an’ all.”

Jane’s smile matches Gillian’s.

“I should be getting back to farm soon, I’ve a thousand things to do.” Gillian sighs.

“Hmm. Shit, yeah I better get moving too. I’ve convinced Catherine to come for another chat in a bit.” Jane replies, rising from the pew.

Gillian groans a little at her achy knees as she eases herself onto her feet.

“You should come to the vicarage sometime, we can have a proper catch up.” Jane throws over her shoulder as she heads back towards the altar.

Gillian smiles after her.

 

-

 

She’s under the tractor when her phone starts ringing. Sliding out with a sigh, she lays in the grass for a moment watching it ring. The ground is wet beneath her back, and begins to soak into her overalls. Gillian sighs again, heaves herself onto her feet, and wipes her hands.

“Hello?”

At this point, her phone screen is so cracked she can’t make out who is calling her. Though she’s pretty sure it’s Caroline.

“Hello, darling.”

Gillian grins. Yep, definitely Caroline.

“Hi love, you on your lunch?” She replies, her wellies kicking at the grass.

“Yep. How did things go this morning? Did you talk to Jane?” Caroline’s (slightly concerned) voice floats down the phone.

“Hmm. Oh - yeah, yeah I did. She knew about the - uh - about me mum bein’ Margaret’s. She told ‘er before she died - Margaret did. It were fine, yeah. Jane were just about to meet Catherine too, think she’s been helping ‘er talk through things.”

“Oh. Right, okay. That’s good, I’m glad Catherine agreed to that, eventually.”

“She did take some persuadin’. How’s your day been?” Gillian looks across the field.

“Hectic as always, no major catastrophes as of yet, but it is only lunchtime.” Caroline replies with a smile, her eyes wandering to her office window.

“Mmm. Oh, I’ve booked that restaurant for tonight. Raff and Ellie are comin’ over about 7 ish with Calam to pick Madam Flora up.” Gillian grins, she loves Friday nights.

“Oh lovely. We did miss our date last week, we’ve got some catching up to do.” Caroline’s voice lowers.

Shit.” Gillian utters. Caroline can hear the pain in her voice.

“Gillian?”

“That’s your fault, that is. Going an’ distracting me with your lovely voice again.”

“What’ve you done this time?” Amusement and relief flood into Caroline’s voice in equal measure.

You’ll laugh.”

“I make no promises.”

Gillian sighs, rubbing her head.

“Hit me head on bottom of tractor - again.”

Her head throbs, but she decides the glorious sound of Caroline’s laugh flowing through the phone is worth it.

“You’ve not given yourself a concussion, have you?” Caroline manages, eventually.

“Hmm. I think I’ll live.”

“Wouldn’t want you missing out tonight.”

Get a grip, bloody idiot.

“Oh, really?” Gillian attempts not to splutter, with a surprising amount of success.

“Yes, darling. Right, I’ve got to go. Try not to cause yourself any more injuries. I love you.”

 

I make no promises. An’ I love you an’ all.”

Chapter Text

Catherine sets her jaw against her nerves as she pauses before the vicarage door. It’s been another shit week, in a life of shit weeks. She’s beginning to wish she hadn’t agreed to this. Her hand rings the doorbell anyway, which feels like a betrayal to her mind.

It’s a small cottage, nestled close to the church. The paint peeling from the door used to have a different meaning, which has changed since Jane’s arrival. It used to look old, and worn and crumbling.

(Much like Catherine’s opinion of the church and their religion and their God who didn’t save Becky, or Kirsten, or - )

The cottage looks the same, but it feels different. Jane hasn’t had the time to change much, but it feels different. Jane makes the peeling paint look like unyielding faith, or perseverance in the face of a multitude of shit weeks. Catherine sighs, allowing herself a small smile. The door opens.

 

-

 

Caroline sighs in relief as she pulls into the yard. It’s been a long week. As she takes off her seatbelt, her eyes are drawn to the orange glow of the kitchen window. She pauses for a moment and smiles, before reaching for her bag.

“Mummy!” Flora darts across the living room as she enters, flinging her arms around her mother as if she hasn’t seen her in days.

“Hello, chicken. Have you had a good day?” Caroline bends down to Flora’s eye level (which is not as far down as it used to be) and listens to her daughter’s chattering.

As Flora talks into her mother’s ear, Caroline feels Gillian’s eyes on her. She looks up, meeting her wife’s fond smile with a matching one of her own. Leaning against the wall by the kitchen, Gillian looks down for a moment, rolling one of her feet as it hovers above the floor. The movement treats Caroline to the gorgeous flexing of her wife’s bare calf, and her eyes trail upwards. She takes in Gillian’s dress with a smile. She absolutely fucking loves Fridays.

 

-

 

Jane’s eyes are different to Gillian’s. The same colours swirl within them, but they are worlds apart. Jane’s eyes are calm, and considered. They make Catherine feel seen, and listened to. There’s always a lingering fear when Gillian looks at her, maybe it’s something much more complicated than fear. She’s a reminder, for Gillian.

“How has your week been then, Sergeant?” Jane offers her a grin, as she pours them both a cup of tea. It’s been a shit week.

Been a shit week, Vicar.” She finds herself replying. It still feels unnerving, swearing in front of a vicar.

“What made it a shit one?” Jane asks, with something like understanding in her eyes.

“Oh. The usual.” She sighs, and tries not to say shit again. Jane watches her, waiting.

Catherine sighs again.

“Our Ryan got himself into a fight wi’ some lad at school.”

(They both know that’s not the reason.)

“What were they fighting about?” Jane asks, gently.

“Somethin’ stupid, about a football. They were in yard at lunch.”

Jane waits. Catherine looks at her hands.

“He’s got this rage in ‘im, an’ he didn’t get that from our Becky.” She says quietly.

Jane’s eyes soften further.

“You know - Clare told you - about our Ryan’s dad. Well, he’s not his dad - he’ll never be his dad. But - ” Catherine breaks off, jaw clenched. That bastard.

Jane seems to understand.

“You’re afraid of seeing him - his influence - in Ryan?” Jane prompts.

Catherine nods.

“I think you underestimate yourself, Catherine.”

Catherine frowns.

“You and Clare, you are his biggest influences. And for that, Ryan is very lucky.”

Catherine doesn’t look convinced.

“There’s an anger in him, yes. But I hear he’s kind, and fiercely loyal. Caring, just like his grandma.”

Catherine looks up, willing herself to meet Jane’s eyes again.

(They both know that still wasn’t the reason.)

“There’s something else.” Jane comments. Catherine’s eyes remain locked with hers for another moment, before dropping to the table.

 

“I - I keep seeing ‘er. Our Becky, I keep seeing ‘er.”

 

-

 

Gillian watches Caroline over the rim of her wine glass, as the restaurant hums around them. She looks bloody gorgeous.

“How was the rest of your day, then?” She asks her wife.

“Oh, surprisingly uneventful actually. Although, my mother did ring this afternoon.”

“Hmm, uh oh.” Gillian bites back a laugh.

“I think she just wanted to chat, or check in on things. It was a little strange.” Caroline watches the way guilt seeps into Gillian’s eyes.

“Do you think it were about what - what happened wi’ me dad down pub?” Gillian’s eyes drop to the table.

“Maybe. She does care, sometimes.” Caroline replies.

Her hand moves to cover Gillian’s, causing her to look up from the table. Gillian sends her a soft smile, and marvels at how Caroline is now so comfortable to display her affection in public. She remembers how Caroline was once reluctant even just to hold her hand.

This is all you, Caroline had told her. You’ve helped me let go.

Gillian disagrees, this is all Caroline.

“Did you cause yourself anymore tractor-related injuries this afternoon?” Caroline asks, grinning.

No. I managed not to after - ” Gillian gestures to her head, as a blush dances across her cheeks.

Caroline chuckles, and squeezes her hand.

“I’m wonderin’ how our Catherine’s gettin’ on, wi’ Jane.”

Caroline hums.

“She’s a good listener, Jane is.” Gillian’s eyes look far away.

 

-

 

“It’s not unusual, Catherine. To see loved ones after they’ve passed.” Jane winces at her own wording, which feels too vicary. That’s not a word.

“I used to see my mum, after she died. I’d find myself taking to her without realising.” She adds.

Catherine looks weary.

“It - it’s not a good memory though, not like that. She’s there, but she - ” Catherine’s throat tightens, and she gulps her tea.

“Do you speak to her?” Jane asks.

“No. No I can’t.” Catherine murmurs.

“What does she do, when you see her?”

“She’s just there. Watching me.”

Catherine’s voice has reduced to a whisper.

“I thought about talking to our Caroline - she - she used to see Kate, after she died. But it’s not, it’s not good. When I see our Becky, it’s like she were when she - when I found her.”

Jane’s hands curl around her mug.

“Grief lingers, it’s not something anyone can control. I don’t think it ever goes away.”

Jane pauses.

“But this isn’t just grief, Catherine. This is guilt.”

Catherine’s shoulders hunch, she closes her eyes.

“We need to deal with your guilt, Catherine. So you can move forward.” Jane stops.

Catherine opens her eyes, and looks at the vicar again.

 

“Right.” She says.

 

-

 

After (lots of) wine has been drunk and dinner eaten, Gillian and Caroline lean against each other and stumble into the night.

They find a taxi, melting into each other in the back seat.

Caroline used to find the farm more intimidating in the darkness. It held its own darkness, being a place of so much pain for Gillian. Now, as she watches the bends of the track with Gillian in her arms, all she can see is its beauty. This farm and its buildings gave her Gillian.

Her wife, Gillian. Who moves even in her sleep, and is somehow both one of the clumsiest and strongest people Caroline has ever known. She knows her. Gillian is relentlessly hardworking, that feels like an understatement. She is incredible, and magnificent. Most of all, she makes Caroline laugh.

Gillian is everything, and - oh. Gillian is also currently asleep against Caroline’s shoulder.

Caroline smiles, softly. The house - their house - comes into view. She pays the driver, and eases Gillian gently from the car. Her wife stirs, wincing a little.

“‘m getting too old for this.” Gillian murmurs into Caroline’s hair.

Rude. We’re the same age, you twat.”

“Oh, really? That’s never been mentioned.”

Caroline rolls her eyes. Gillian laughs.

“You’re very pretty.” Gillian tells her, cheeks exploding into another grin.

You’re not so bad, yourself.” Caroline replies, as they reach the door.

Gillian collapses onto the sofa with a groan as soon as they make it to the living room.

Caroline heads for the kitchen, and Gillian attempts to take her shoes off. Bloody shoulder.

“Are you alright, darling?” Caroline asks her, once she’s made them both tea.

Gillian rubs her shoulder with another wince. Caroline sits next to her, on what Gillian now refers to as the sofa of too many f-bloody revelations.

“Just me shoulder, gets a bit sore every now an’ then.” Gillian replies.

(Caroline can sense there’s more to it.)

She’s noticed her wife grimace before, when she reaches too far with her arm. She’d put it down to the strain of the farm. The look in Gillian’s eyes suggests that wasn’t the cause. She can guess the true cause before her wife reveals it. Bloody bastard.

“He dislocated it.” Gillian confirms her suspicions.

“Did you get it looked at, at the time?” Caroline asks, already knowing the answer.

No. No - I just, I just put it back in - ” She breaks off, as Caroline winces.

“Have you had it looked at since?” She prompts Gillian, running her thumb over her wife’s knuckles.

“It’s just sore. Nothing worth fussin’ over.” Gillian’s voice is barely above a whisper.

Caroline tries not to sigh.

“This isn’t fussing, Gillian. It’s concern.”

Panic flits through Gillian’s eyes.

“I’m - I’m sorry, I didn’t mean - ” Gillian stammers.

Caroline’s stomach churns.

Gillian. Look at me, please? Alright, I’m not angry. I’m not angry, okay?” She traces shapes across her wife’s palm.

Gillian’s shoulder throbs, and she releases a shaky breath. This is Caroline. Caroline. Caroline.

“Alright.” Gillian whispers, as Caroline holds her.

Caroline presses a kiss to Gillian’s forehead.

“Maybe I’ll get it looked at.” Gillian murmurs, as her wife runs a hand through her hair.

“I can come with you, if you want.”

Gillian pulls back a little, taking her wife in. There are unshed tears in Caroline’s eyes, and a gentle concern weighing down her brow. This is Caroline. Gillian shifts on the sofa. She frames Caroline’s face with her hands, ignoring the flare of pain in her shoulder.

“I love you.” She tells Caroline.

“I love you too.” Caroline whispers, just as Gillian moves closer.

You’re gorgeous.” Gillian murmurs into her ear, as she presses a kiss to Caroline’s hairline.

Her hand slides to the back of her wife’s neck, gently pulling her closer.

You’re beautiful.” Caroline returns, her arms wrapping around Gillian’s waist.

Gillian’s dress is soft under her fingertips. The house is cold around them.

Gillian’s eyes are soft. Her hands moving into Caroline’s hair.

Gillian’s lips are soft against hers.

 

She eases them up from the sofa of too many f-bloody revelations. The stairs are navigated with a practiced ease.

 

Hands remain joined.

Chapter Text

Alan sighs, and looks up at the rafters. He and Eileen got wed in this church.

He settles into a pew, lacing his hands together. His eyes fall to the altar, where he can still see Eileen smiling at him. Maybe this was a mistake. It’s a betrayal, this is -

He sighs again, receiving a sharp look as a hunched lady turns from a few rows in front of him. She relents when he sends her his signature apologetic smile, the one that makes him look old, polite and unassuming.

Alan watches as Jane chats with the hunched lady for a while. Jane takes the woman in her arms as she starts to cry, and Alan can’t help but to compare her to Gillian. Surprise flits over the vicar’s face as she spots Alan a couple of rows back. She adjusts her face into a small smile, regarding him intently for a moment in a way that reminds him - unnervingly - of Eileen. Jane turns her attention back to the woman sobbing on her shoulder, as Alan clears his throat and returns his eyes heavenwards.

Jane’s murmurs echo across to him, though he can’t make out the details. It’s none of his business anyway. The woman continues to sniffle, and he can’t work out why it makes him so uncomfortable. He’s sure she has her reasons, but he’s not a fan of public displays of such intense emotion.

The crying stops, and the woman rises. As she passes Alan, her face morphs into Gillian’s for a moment. Twisted with tears and anger and everything he’ll never understand. He blinks his daughter’s face away, and clears his throat again. The woman keeps her eyes on the floor.

Jane makes her way over, moving cautiously towards him. She sits down next to him, leaving a generous, considered space between them.

“Hello, Alan.”

“Hello.”

Jane looks down at her hands.

“She wanted to thank you - my mum - for looking after Eileen, and for making her so happy all those years.” Jane tells him, apprehension still swirling in her eyes.

Alan nods, as if he’s acknowledging some great personal sacrifice. Jane bites her tongue.

“How’s Celia?” Jane asks, as Alan seems unable to speak.

“Fine. Yes, all fine.” He replies, a little shortly.

Jane leans back, and waits.

Alan sighs again. Jane wonders if the ceiling is really bending towards her. Maybe it’s come to consume her. Or save her. Or -

“Did you know?” Alan says suddenly, shattering the silence.

A silent question raises Jane’s eyebrows.

“That your mother were - that - Eileen were your mother’s?” He asks, eyes firmly fixed away from her.

Jane pauses, and muses - not for the first time - that, beyond the surface, Gillian is nothing like her father.

“She did tell me, right before she died.”

Alan’s shoulders rise with a wince, as if he’s about to be struck by some invisible force. Jane finds herself unable to comprehend the pain that flashes across his face.

“I’m sorry.” He mutters, and it doesn’t feel enough.

 

-

 

It’s raining again. Caroline pushes her glasses back to the bridge of her nose, glaring at the papers spread across the table as the beginnings of a headache flicker behind her eyes. The wind swirls outside, and she shudders on behalf of Gillian. She sighs, and removes her glasses. Her back straightens as she leans into the chair. The house - their house - is quiet, and tranquil. (Flora is at Raff and Ellie’s, as she always is on a Saturday).

She used to enjoy marking, when it was a distraction from everything else. When her mother wanted to complain, or John was being an idiot, or one of the boys (normally Lawrence) had done something monumentally stupid again, or -

She could always retreat to her marking, and take solace in a routine that belonged solely to her. It’s different with Gillian, everything’s different with Gillian. Her mother had remarked on it once (more than once) - the way that her and Gillian inhabited each other’s space. Joined at the hip, you and Gillian are. Celia’s eyebrows had knitted together as she’d said it, as if she couldn’t understand wanting to be so close with someone.

Her and Gillian’s lives were already so intertwined before things happened and they were married. And they could function perfectly fine without one another, thank you very much. Yet, here Caroline sat - unable to finish her marking without getting distracted. She watches the rain hammer against the window, and hopes (for the third time) that Gillian remembered to put on an extra jumper.

The way Gillian had flinched the previous night was lingering in her wife’s thoughts. Gillian had looked scared when she thought Caroline was angry, it had flickered across her face for just a moment. It makes Caroline feel sick. The darkness in the corners of the house seem to be mocking her. I’ve shed blood in every room of this house. Caroline closes her eyes. She takes a breath.

Her eyes open, and the darkness has retreated a little. The dull sky outside the window offers barely any light to chase the shadows away. Gillian had lit the fire though - before she headed out into the downpour - and Caroline watches it blaze. It strikes her as a constant battle, between the flames and the shadows dancing on the walls. It’s a beautiful conflict, and it reminds her of Gillian’s eyes.

“Fancy a brew?” Gillian hollers, as she almost tumbles through the door whilst pulling off her wellies.

Caroline watches fondly as Gillian shakes off her jacket and slips across the kitchen in her socks. She offers Caroline a quiet smile as she fills the kettle, her damp ponytail swinging as she turns her head.

“So, you bored to death yet?” Gillian asks her, as she places two steaming mugs onto the table and settles opposite her wife (careful not to drip on anything).

Hmm. I’ve managed to survive so far.”

Gillian sighs gently, wrapping her hands around her mug.

“I’ve been thinkin’ - ” She starts, and then pauses.

Caroline bites back the comment that is probably expected, not really the time. She watches Gillian’s eyebrow furrow.

“What about?” She prompts softly. Gillian looks up at her, directing the full force of those beautiful eyes at her wife.

“About - about last night, an’ other things. An’ everything really, I - ” Gillian lets out a shaky breath.

“Jane were telling me - last time we spoke - about a group she runs in church.” Gillan’s eyes drop to the table, and she seems to shrink.

Caroline silently offers Gillian her hands.

“It’s - it’s for victims, well survivors of domestic abuse.” Gillian adds, her voice barely above a whisper.

Caroline runs her thumbs across Gillian’s knuckles.

“She thought it might help, wi’ things. I - ”

Gillian closes her eyes, forcing breath into reluctant lungs. Caroline squeezes her hands.

 

“I don’t want to be scared anymore, Caz.”

Chapter Text

Gillian doesn’t want to be scared anymore.

She meets Jane’s eyes across the group. The vicar smiles softly at her, urging her to take her time. Gillian’s hands curl into her shirt sleeves, air forces its way into her lungs. She’s only ever talked to Caroline about what Eddie did. Her eyes sweep along the faces looking at her, and she notes - with surprise - that they all regard her with patience and understanding.

She takes another breath, remembering the way Caroline had kissed her cheek as she left that morning. I’m so proud of you.

“I - I went to doctors, day before yesterday. My wife - Caroline - convinced me to go, I have this dodgy shoulder from - from my husband. He - he used to knock me about, for years. I were young - and stupid - when we got wed, I were his wife for - for seventeen years. So I were at doctors, an’ they got me to list all he did to me. Every humiliation.”

Gillian pauses, eyes dropping to the floor.

“An’ I ended up wi’ this list. Broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder, amongst other things. That’s - that’s what I am now I suppose - ” She breaks off with a wince.

Her eyes move back to meet Jane’s, whose jaw is set firmly. The vicar links her hands in her lap, and gives a closing sort of statement about inner strength and the importance of leaning on others or something equally as vicar-ly.

Gillian lets Jane’s words slow her thudding heartbeat. She’s getting a lot of sympathetic looks. Her legs feel shaky, as if she’s just escaped a predator. She glances around the room again, as the rest of the group fixate on Jane’s words. Gillian muses that it’s probably a bit unnerving, having a vicar with the same face as the woman who’s just spilled (some of) her secrets. Her eyes drop back to the floor, developing a sudden interest in the variety of shoes on display. Gillian tries not to wince at the muddiness of her tattered converse.

The intensity of the sun makes her blink as she negotiates the door without having to accept any more sympathetic glances. She almost staggers on empty legs towards a bench, filling her lungs with fresh air. The group’s murmuring voices fade away, leaving her acutely aware of the sound of her own breathing.

Gillian blinks again, noticing a woman lingering by the door in her peripheral vision. Her gaze seems to jolt the woman into action, as she starts to make her way over to the bench.

“Would you mind some company?” The woman asks her, as she hovers.

“Nah, you’re alright. I’m Gillian.” Gillian sends her a small smile. She probably already knows your name, idiot.

The woman joins her. She still looks unsure, as if there’s something she needs to say.

“Have - have we met before?” Gillian decides to prompt her, though she’s already pretty sure of the answer. She’s got a good memory for faces, though names have started to escape her more occasionally than she’d like.

The woman sighs, tapping her fingers on her knees for a moment.

“No - no we haven’t met, not really. I’m Ruth.” The woman - Ruth - replies.

Gillian freezes for a moment. Not that Ruth. Please not that Ruth -

“Yeah, I’m that Ruth. I used to know your Caroline, a couple of years back.” Ruth tries not to wince.

“Oh.” Gillian manages.

“She gave me your number once, when she found out how bad it was with - ” Ruth breaks off with a sigh.

“You never did ring though.”

“I didn’t. I - I didn’t know how or - ” Ruth sighs again, and closes her eyes. She runs her fingers through her hair.

Gillian tries not to clench her fists. She’s that Ruth. Shit.

“Caroline were sad to see you go, she tried to stay in touch wi’ you but never heard anything.” Gillian says, keeping her tone soft.

“I did appreciate what she did for me, but I couldn’t stay there - not after everything. He got worse - my husband - after I left teaching. Stopped me seeing friends, as well as other things.”

“I’m sorry.” Gillian says, allowing her fists to clench. Nails dig into flesh.

“It’s not your fault.”

Silence hangs between them. Ruth looks as if there’s still something she needs to say.

“Can you tell Caroline that I’m sorry?” She murmurs, eyes fixed to the gravel beneath their feet.

“What for?” Gillian asks. For humiliating her? For making her so scared to be herself again? For -

I wasn’t a good friend to her. She was trying to help me, and I - I was so shitty to her. There was a misunderstanding - you probably know - and I hurt her, I said some really awful things. I didn’t mean to. I was just surprised, I think, that someone actually cared enough to - ” Ruth stops, watching the tension in Gillian’s jaw.

“You did hurt her.”

“For that, I am sorry.”

“It took so much, for her to be comfortable with herself again. But - but I think you can understand that too now, maybe?”

Ruth nods.

In the past, Gillian would’ve been angry at Ruth. She would’ve shouted and insulted her (and probably embarrass herself), making a scene to defend Caroline’s honour. Gillian is done with explosive arguments and short tempers. She sees the defeat in Ruth’s shoulders, and all she feels is sympathy.

“So how are things now?” She probes gently, as surprise flickers over Ruth’s face.

“Oh - yeah, things are better. I finally left my husband, and I live with a friend now.”

“Has he tried to contact you, your husband?”

“No - no I think he’s moved on. Didn’t press charges or anything, I just wanted to get out.”

Gillian nods.

“I wish I could tell you it gets easier.” She says, quietly. Ruth looks at her.

“Doesn’t it?” Ruth asks, a hint of desperation lingering in her voice.

Gillian pauses. She thinks of her life, of Caroline and Flora and Raff and Ellie and Calamity and Jacob. And her dad and Celia, she supposes. Her life now. She’s lucky, she survived.

Gillian smiles gently.

“I - I guess it does, actually.”

Ruth’s shoulders drop a little, she looks relieved.

“It was nice to finally meet you. And thank you.” She says, before disappearing right as Gillian opens her mouth to reply.

Right.” She says, to no one in particular.

She’s not really sure what just happened, and decides to sit a moment longer in her bewildered state. That’s a lot to process. Gillian jumps a little as her phone rings.

“Hello?”

“Hi darling, just checking in. I’ve got a few minutes between meetings.” Caroline sounds as if she’s pacing her office.

“Oh, I’m honoured.” Gillian laughs. She can imagine her wife rolling her eyes.

“So, how was, well how was everything?” Caroline asks, cringing at her own delivery.

“It were - it were intense, you know? But it were good to get things out an’ in the open I guess. I am glad I finally did it though, took me long enough.” Gillian hears Caroline breath a sigh of relief.

“Good, that’s good. I was a bit worried, that it might - hmm - drag certain things back to the surface.”

“Hmm.”

“Gillian.”

“Yeah?”

I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah you - you’ve said.”

“Well, I meant it.”

Thank you. It - it does mean a lot.

“I know. Oh, shit I’ve got to go. I’ll see you soon, alright?”

“You will?”

“It’s Monday.

Caz always finishes early on a Monday.

“Oh. Oh yeah, good. See you later, love.”

Gillian’s cracked (shattered) phone returns to her pocket. She rises on her still wobbly legs, and fixes the target of the land rover in her vision.

“Gillian!” Jane crunches her way across the gravel.

“Oh, there’s a vicar chasing me.” Gillian snorts as she turns back around. The land rover leaves her sight.

“What was that?” Jane asks, raising her eyebrows without managing to suppress a grin.

“Nothing.”

Right.”

“Hmm.”

Jane puts a reassuring hand on her arm.

“You were good in there, how’re you feeling?” Jane asks.

“Yeah it - it were a lot, but I survived.” Gillian doesn’t miss the way Jane winces at her choice of words.

“It were definitely good though, to dump stuff on someone that isn’t Caz for once.” She adds.

Jane smiles again.

“Good, good. I’m glad you came.”

There’s something lingering in Jane’s eyes, that looks an awful lot like guilt to Gillian.

“You - you don’t blame yourself, do you?” Gillian asks. Jane tenses. Shit.

“Blame myself, what for?” Jane asks. Gillian gives her a look, and sighs.

“For what happened to me, wi’ Eddie all them years.”

Jane closes her eyes. Gillian waits.

“It weren’t your fault, Jane. What could you have done?” Gillian whispers.

Jane’s eyes open, revealing unshed tears.

“I knew you weren’t happy Gillian, I should’ve done something.” Jane sighs.

“I didn’t tell you everything, until after. It weren’t your fault.” Gillian is firm.

“You went through that for years, Gillian. Someone should’ve seen, or been able to help - ” Jane breaks off, and attempts to compose herself.

Gillian moves them away from prying eyes.

“Yes, maybe someone should’ve done something. But not you, how could you have known? Me own dad didn’t, Jane. An’ you were miles away. It’s not your fault.”

Jane pulls Gillian into a hug. Her jaw clenches at the mention of Alan.

“I’m sorry.” Jane whispers. Gillian pulls back to look at her.

“It’s alright, really.”

“Speaking of your dad, though..” Jane begins, twisting her hands into her pockets.

Gillian looks up warily.

“He came to talk to me the other day.” Jane reveals.

“What for? He didn’t say anything stupid, you know - about your mum or anything, did he?”

“No. No, nothing like that. I think he came to clear the air. Or attempt to, anyway.” Jane hurriedly replies, before Gillian decides to confront her father.

“Oh. Really?”

“It was a bit strange. He’s a difficult man to read, your dad.”

Gillian frowns.

“What sort of things were he saying?”

“I think he’s still trying to understand or comprehend everything that’s happened.” Jane says.

“As if he’s not had enough time.” Gillian says quietly, surprised when Jane hums in agreement.

Someone should’ve done something.

“I don’t blame him.” Gillian adds quickly.

“I don’t think it would be good to blame anyone for what happened. But deep down, somewhere, I think your dad does feel guilty. It just seems to manifest in strange ways.”

Gillian pauses. She sighs again.

“I - I do blame him, sometimes.” She admits.

“Why?” Jane asks, without judgement or anger or scrutiny.

“I’ve always been a disappointment to ‘im, even before Eddie. Marrying Eddie was my attempt to prove something to him, which was bloody stupid.

“That’s not stupid, Gillian.”

“Hmm. Well, I - when I told Raff about what Eddie did, he were so angry. I thought he’d be angry at me, but he were angry at me dad for not doing anything. It made me realise, I think. He knew I were unhappy, he must’ve seen things but he never did anything.”

Someone should’ve done something.” Jane whispers.

 

-

 

“There’s no reason to panic.” Celia says, as Caroline answers the phone.

“That’s not very reassuring, mother.” Caroline says warily.

“Are you finishing early today?”

“Yes, I’ve just got some paperwork to finish.”

“Right.”

“Is everything alright?”

“I just told you not to panic, Caroline.”

Mum.”

“Alright, fine.” Celia sighs, as if Caroline has forced her to reveal her reason for calling.

“So Alan is picking Flora up today.” Celia begins.

“Right. So, you’re not going with him?”

“No, love. I’m on the phone to you.”

“Yes, I’d realised that.”

“He decided to go on his own.”

“Right.”

“So it’ll just be him picking Flora up and dropping her off at the farm.”

Right.”

“He wanted to go by himself.”

“Have you had words?” Caroline asks, removing her glasses and rubbing her (increasingly) throbbing head.

“No. No, that’s not why he’s going alone.”

“Okay. So why is he going on his own?”

“Well, he wanted to talk to Gillian about things.

Things?”

“Yes. He’s been a bit off recently, I’m not sure why. I thought you might want a warning.”

“Right, okay. Thanks mum.”

“You’re not panicking, are you?”

“No, mum it’s fine. I’ll talk to you later, alright?”

“Alright, bye love.”

 

Shit. Caroline sighs, and rubs the bridge of her nose.

 

Chapter Text

Someone should’ve done something.

Jane’s words run through her head. She grips the wheel of the land rover as it speeds up the track. Someone. She knows who. Gillian’s gut churns, she feels sick again.

The juddering of the engine isn’t enough to distract her. Wind slips in through the slightly open window, spilling her fringe over her face. She tries to focus on the road. Someone should’ve done something. She’s left an indent on the wheel, formed from many years of clenched fists and tense fingers. Shaking breaths even out a little as the farm comes into view.

Her shoulders drop in defeat, when she sees Alan’s car in the yard. He’d been picking Flora up from school, now it seems as though he’s invading their space. Which is ridiculous, you idiot. Gillian sighs as she wanders up the path. Her legs still don’t feel like her own. She bites her lip hard as her gut churns again.

As she nears the door, she sees her father though the window. He’s sitting with Flora at the kitchen table, chatting to her in a way that’s so unfamiliar to Gillian it nearly stops her. She struggles to align this version of her father to the man who brought her up. He looks happy, for now.

Flora runs to her as she comes through the door, she doesn’t miss the way Alan’s smile drops slightly when she enters. His face darkens a little, and she can tell he wants to have a discussion. She tightens her arms around Flora’s back, and presses a kiss to the top of her head.

“Hello, Madam Flora. How was your day?” She bends down to Flora’s level.

She can feel Alan’s eyes on her, as he remains at the table.

“Great, as always!” Flora replies, before launching into a (very detailed) account.

Gillian listens intently with a soft smile. Flora follows her as she removes her jacket and puts her keys in the dish by the door. She manages to nod in all the right places, watching her father warily as he shifts in his chair. She wonders if she always made him feel uncomfortable, or if she’s just beginning to notice it more. Their eyes meet across the room and he stiffens, and looks away. Gillian bites her lip again. She’s tired.

“Can you pop upstairs to your room for me love? I’ll bring you some juice in a bit, I’ve just got to talk to your grandad.” She says to Flora, once the story of her day has reached its conclusion.

Flora’s eyes flicker between them. She nods and runs upstairs. Gillian closes her eyes for a moment, before turning to face Alan.

“Are you going to sit down?” He asks.

“No. No, I don’t think I will.” She replies, her arms finding the kitchen counter.

He sighs at her. She holds his gaze, though he still won’t look at her for long.

“I’ve worked it out.” He says, so quietly that the words nearly fail to reach her.

She waits for him to elaborate, wincing as the beginning of a headache thrums between her temples.

“I - I don’t understand you.” Her father adds.

“Y - you don’t - right, okay.” Gillian runs a hand over her face.

“I don’t think I’ve ever understood you.”

“Right.” She says again.

Her brow furrows and she watches him as he hunches over the table.

Do you resent me? She wants to ask him.

“What’s brought this on?” She asks instead.

“Hmm. Well, I - I were talking wi’ your Jane.” He says, as if that explains everything.

Your Jane. Gillian bites her lip harder.

“I wish you wouldn’t look at me like that.” He mutters. She frowns.

“Like what?” She shoots back, trying not to raise her voice for Flora’s sake.

Alan sighs at her again.

“Like I’m the cause of all your trouble.” He replies.

Gillian begins to taste blood. She doesn’t look away.

“Do you blame me, Gillian?” He asks, incredulously.

 

Someone should’ve done something.

 

“What? No. No - I - ” She stammers, wishing for fluent words or the ability to deliver them.

He doesn’t look convinced. There’s judgement on his face, and Gillian makes a decision.

“Why would you blame me?” He asks, and it’s the final straw.

“Really, dad? You’ve no inkling?” She bites back.

He flinches, and she feels no regret.

“I knew - I knew you were unhappy but - ”

“It’s not just about Eddie! It’s not just what he - it’s about before, dad.”

“Before?” He looks perplexed.

“Why do you think I married Eddie?” She says.

Alan frowns.

“Well. Well - you were very fond of him, at school.”

Gillian watches him, and says nothing.

“He were charming in a way, weren’t he?” Alan’s voice is quiet.

“He certainly charmed you.” Gillian replies. Her father narrows his eyes.

And you.

Gillian raises her eyebrows.

“I - I wanted to prove you wrong. You, an’ me mother.” Gillian says.

“Prove us wrong - about what?”

About everything. “About me.”

“What about you? You had nothing to prove.”

He’s not looking at her anymore. Without his gaze, she feels free.

“I - I always had something to prove to you, dad.” She tells him.

He blinks, and she turns away for a moment. Gillian leans over the bench with her back to her father, watching the afternoon light bounce off her wedding ring.

“You stayed with him all them years to prove something?” Alan asks.

It sounds ridiculous out loud, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Her throat tightens, and a nod is all she can offer in response.

“I - I don’t understand you.” He says again.

“You’ve never tried.” She whispers.

 

Gillian’s not sure if he heard, but the way he scrapes back the chair and rises from the table makes her flinch. She realises she’s scared, scared of her own father. His fists are clenched and she knows he’s going to raise his voice.

“I’ve never tried?” Alan is angry. Too angry to see the shaking in his daughter’s shoulders.

“I’ve done so much for you, even - even after everything you put us through. I’ve been there, stayed wi’ you, helped you back on your feet every time. You - you say I’ve never tried?” He starts to pace, his voice wavering from stuttered murmurs to something closer to shouting.

Gillian turns around, tears on her cheeks.

“You - you don’t understand me. I know. I’m such a disappointment, remember?” Her voice is quiet, but unwavering.

Alan stops pacing, as if someone is blocking his path.

“I never said - you were, you’ve always been a - a bit of a challenge, love.”

“A challenge?”

“Your behaviour, when - when you’re upset, I could never understand why you’d react to things how you did. Like you’re doing now - with all this - ” He gestures to her with steady hands.

“I wish I didn’t - react like I do sometimes - I wish I didn’t. But I do, an’ I know why now.”

“What d’you mean, now?”

“I’ve - I’ve been somewhere today. Somewhere that’s helping me.”

“Helping you?”

“With all those feelings you’ve been avoiding all me life, my challenging behaviour you might say. I’ve been going to a group, for - for victims of domestic abuse. Because, dad, that is what I am and what I went through. Of course it were going to effect me and change me for the rest of me life. Bloody hell dad, I’ve never moved past it all these years.”

Alan is silent and uncomfortable.

“You - surely - you cannot deny, dad, some miniscule element of responsibility for me being challenging?” She asks him.

He refuses to look at her.

“You’ll never admit it.”

Alan watches her for a long time. He steps closer to the kitchen, closer to her. Gillian braces herself against the bench.

“I am not responsible for your choices.” He says, bitterly. She shrinks a little, but he doesn’t notice.

 

“You should have told me, what that man was doing. If you’d have told me, I could’ve - I would’ve - ”

“Would you?” Gillian challenges him.

“You didn’t tell me, you didn’t tell anyone. You should never’ve got wed in first place. You were too young, we warned you. It were too soon, you weren’t ready.”

Someone should’ve done something.

“I should never ‘ave married him.” Gillian agrees.

She sighs again, Alan steps back.

“Dad?” Gillian says, when Alan makes as if to leave.

“Yes, love?” He still can’t look at her.

 

“I - I don’t want you in me life anymore.”

Chapter Text

Caroline can sense the tension even before she enters the house.

“I - I not asking you again, dad. I need you to leave!” She hears Gillian’s voice from inside, and quickens her pace up the path.

Two startled pairs of eyes meet her as she closes the door behind her. Alan looks angry, but Caroline’s focus is Gillian. Her wife’s face is streaked with tears, watching her father with raw eyes. Gillian wobbles a little, her hands still braced against the bench behind her. Alan has paused mid-pace in the living room. The intensity of his words and his gaze had retreated as soon as Caroline had entered. They both seem frozen.

“I - I’m goin’ to check on our Flora.” Gillian’s voice breaks a little.

She turns her back, and grabs Flora’s juice. Wobbly legs and shaking arms transport her to the stairs. Caroline doesn’t think she’s ever heard Gillian move so quietly, or look so uncomfortable in her own home. Their own home.

Turning her attention to Alan, Caroline watches as he squirms slightly. He’s looking a little shell-shocked.

“I - uh - ” He splutters, then sighs. Caroline waits for a moment, only speaking when it becomes clear that Alan has said enough.

“I think you should leave, Alan.” She says, quiet but firm.

Something a little like betrayal flickers through his eyes, as if he was expecting her to apologise for Gillian. He clears his throat, and wavers.

She raises an eyebrow, and he heads for the door.

 

-

 

Gillian nearly makes it to Flora’s room without releasing a muffled sob. She closes her eyes and leans against the wall, her spare hand flung desperately across her mouth. Flora’s gentle humming drifts towards her ears, and she can breathe again.

“Here you go, love.” Flora’s bright eyes widen as she enters.

“Thank you, Auntie Gillian. I’m doing my homework!” Flora replies seriously, making Gillian chuckle.

She stays for a moment, before pressing a kiss into Flora’s hair and heading back downstairs. Gillian almost collapses in relief when she sees her father has left. Reluctantly, she glances towards the window where Caroline is standing protectively in front of the house with her hands on her hips watching Alan drive away.

Wobbly legs finally give way, and Gillian finds herself sliding to the floor with the kitchen cupboards pressing into her back. She sighs in frustration as her cheeks dampen with tears again. I’m not responsible for your choices. Alan’s words cut through her. Choices. She pulls her knees up to her chest, scraping her shoes against the flagstones.

“Gillian?” Caroline’s voice is soft and tender, and Gillian wonders what she’s ever done to deserve it. She hears Caroline’s boots step cautiously back into the house.

Gillian runs trembling hands down her face, and rests her throbbing head in her hands. With her eyes closed, she hears a slight intake of breath from across the room.

“I - I’m alright.” Gillian says to her own feet.

She doesn’t have to open her eyes to know the look her wife is giving her.

Gillian raises her head when she realises Caroline has joined her on the kitchen floor. Caroline silently offers her wife an open hand, and Gillian links their fingers together.

“Flora’s okay.” Gillian murmurs, as Caroline runs a thumb across the back of her wife’s hand.

“What happened?” Caroline asks gently, stroking Gillian’s fringe from her face.

Gillian isn’t sure how to answer her wife’s question.

“I - I couldn’t stand up anymore.” She says. Caroline looks worried.

“I’ll - I’ll tell you, I will. I just, I just need to work it out in me head a bit. I don’t know where to start, Caz.”

“How about you tell me about the group this morning?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I can do that. It were - god, that were just this mornin’ - ”

Gillian breaks off for a moment, eyes glued to the dust settling on a shelf across the kitchen.

“It were good - that group - strange and weird, but good. You were right though, it did stir things up. Felt like I’d be running for miles after, I were so tired. It took a lot out of me, I guess.” She leans into Caroline.

“An’ Jane came to talk to me afterwards, there were something in her eyes that I couldn’t understand. She looked guilty, I didn’t understand why. So I asked her, I asked her if she blamed herself. I never - I never considered that she would.”

“She blames herself, for what? For what happened with Eddie?” Caroline seems as surprised as Gillian had been.

“I know. I couldn’t - I told her it weren’t her fault, of course it weren’t her fault, she were miles away. Someone should’ve done something, she said. Then it got me thinkin’ an’ I - I’ve tried so hard not to blame him. All these years I really tried - ”

The anger on Alan’s face lingers in Gillian’s vision.

“He were so angry.” She whispers into Caroline’s arm. Caroline clenches her jaw.

“Me dad, he were here when I got back this afternoon. Jane said he’d been to see her couple of days ago, he’d been a bit weird wi’ her. He told me he’d realised he’s never understood me, all me life he’s never understood me.”

“I realised I’m just so tired of it of all of it, an’ then he asked me if I blamed him - he were so disgusted by it as if it’d never crossed his mind that it weren’t completely all my doing. I’d had enough, Caz. So I told him why me an’ Eddie really got wed, an’ how I were proving something which were stupid but it were still part of it.”

“He said I were challenging, like Robbie used to say. I think he got it from me dad, I were a handful he always said. Me dad he - he got so close an’ he were so angry, I were scared. I were scared of me own dad.” Gillian’s voice drops to a whisper again.

I’m not responsible for your choices, that’s what he said. Fucking choices, bloody hell!”

“When he were about to leave I just told him - I just said I didn’t want ‘im in me life anymore. An’ if I thought he were angry before, well this were - ”

Caroline tries to keep her hand from trembling as she gently wipes the tears from Gillian’s face.

“I don’t want him in me life anymore.” Gillian repeats.

“Fucking hell.” Caroline murmurs. Gillian lifts her head.

“I - I don’t know if I should’ve done that.”

“Darling, I think it’s been a long time coming.” Caroline says softly, and honestly.

Gillian sighs shakily, thumping the back of her head against the cupboard door as she closes her eyes again. Caroline watches her wife, with anger lurking in the pit of her stomach. She’ll suppress it for now, for Gillian’s sake.

“Caz?”

“Mmm?”

“If we’re both on floor, who’s gonna help us up?”

 

-

 

After the rise from the kitchen floor is negotiated, Gillian reluctantly heads out to check on the sheep.

Caroline takes a breath, before going upstairs to help Flora with her homework. As she heads upstairs, she can make out the shape of her wife (a lovely shape) through the window as she trudges across the field. Flora is hard at work when her mother enters, though she still turns to greet her with the usual amount of excitement.

“Hello, chicken.” Caroline runs a hand through Flora’s hair.

“Maths is hard.” Flora replies, with a deadly seriousness that makes Caroline instantly feel lighter.

“Hmm, do you need any help?”

“Nope, all finished!” Flora says triumphantly, before glancing a little warily at the floor.

Caroline watches her daughter carefully.

“Is grandad gone now?” Flora asks. Caroline frowns.

“Yes, he is. He had to go home.”

“Oh.” Flora looks relieved. Caroline’s stomach churns.

“He was very angry, mummy. I heard him shouting, it was scary. Auntie Gillian was scared too.” Flora’s eyes are wide, and they break Caroline’s heart. She wraps her arms around her daughter, feeling her own rage building.

She settles Flora downstairs at the kitchen table, whilst she starts on dinner. Caroline glances outside again, wary of leaving Gillian alone in her head for too long. She notices the wind is picking up, and watches the hair whip around her wife’s face. Caroline can’t quite believe Gillian is still standing.

 

-

 

“Caz?” Gillian says quietly, once dinner is eaten and Flora is in bed.

Caroline looks up from the sink as bubbles swirl around her hands

“Is - is Flora alright?” Gillian’s voice lowers further, hands twisting into the tea towel.

Caroline braces wet hands against the bench.

“She was scared, your dad scared her.”

Guilt swims in Gillian’s eyes.

Shit. I’m sorry - ”

Gillian.”

I know, I can tell you’re angry and I - ”

Caroline dries her hands and places them on Gillian’s arms.

“It’s not you I’m angry with.” She says firmly. Gillian blinks.

Oh. Gillian finds herself in Caroline’s arms, and closes her eyes as her head finds its place on her wife’s shoulder. They find their way to the sofa as the wind continues outside.

“Oh.” Gillian’s eyes widen slightly.

“Hmm?” Caroline responds, as she places a gentle hand on Gillian’s thigh.

“I never asked how your day was.” Gillian bites her lip, and Caroline relaxes slightly.

Gillian wonders when would be the right time to bring the subject of Ruth up. Probably not right now. Maybe never? Caroline is so easy to talk to though, she finds herself telling her things without realising. By now, they know each other so completely that her wife can probably tell there’s something else. Another bloody revelation.

“Oh, well my day was alright. Not much to report really, lots of meetings and paperwork.” Caroline is watching her carefully.

“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Caroline looks worried again, and Gillian resents herself for it.

“Yeah - yeah, I didn’t really know how to - well yeah, alright. I - uh - this lady came to talk to me after group this morning, an’ I’d never met ‘er but she seemed to know me. An’ she definitely knew you.” Gillian begins. Caroline frowns slightly.

“Someone I know?”

“Someone you used to.”

“Someone I - oh, shit.”

“Yeah, it were Ruth.”

Oh. Right, okay. Is - is she, how is she?” Caroline seems a little stunned.

“Hmm, she were alright I think. She’s left him - her husband - living with a friend now, I think. He - uh - he got worse, after she resigned from your place. But she’s got out now, away from ‘im.”

The look on Caroline’s face is complicated.

“She wanted me to tell you that she’s sorry, for what she said an’ did an’ things - ” Gillian trails off with a wince.

Caroline hums, smiling slowly as Gillian takes her hand.

“I told ‘er it gets better, cheesy as it sounds.” Gillian says, winking at her wife.

Caroline chuckles, and blinks the tears from her eyes. It did get better, much better.

A knock at the door breaks the moment and causes Gillian’s thigh to tense under her wife’s hand. Caroline squeezes her leg gently, and gives her a reassuring look. She feels Gillian hold her breath as she rises from the sofa. Caroline reaches the door first, with Gillian hovering behind her.

She opens the door. Her eyebrows rise in surprise as her mother stands before her, looking windswept and tired.

 

“I’m sorry love, I’ve no where else to go.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Caroline shares a concerned look with Gillian as she ushers her mother inside. She takes in the weariness in Celia’s eyes, and the fact that under her coat she’s wearing her pyjamas, and her concern intensifies.

“What’s going on, mum?” Caroline asks, as Celia sits on the sofa with her coat wrapped firmly around her.

Celia sighs, and avoids the question for a little longer by directing her own concern at Gillian.

“Are you alright, love? Your dad, he - well - I was concerned about how things had been left, and what had been said. I’ve - I’ve never seen him like that - ” Celia trails off.

Surprise flickers over Gillian’s face.

“Me? Yeah, I’m alright. Has he upset you?” She asks her mother-in-law.

Celia purses her lips, avoiding concerned glances from both Gillian and Caroline.

“Mum?” Caroline prompts, sharing another worried glance with Gillian before joining her mother on the sofa.

“I’ve decided to give him some time to sort himself out.” Celia says.

 

-

 

Eddie snarls, lunging for her in the dark. His hands reach for her waist and grab her firmly. He pushes her back against the wall, slamming into a picture frame. She watches the glass shatter onto the floor, anything to avoid his eyes. He grabs her chin, forcing her to look at him. Eddie shouts, shouts and shouts right in her face, his breath curls into her nostrils and she can’t breathe. He’s shouting and shouting, grabbing at her. Then he takes a step back, he goes quiet and sways on his feet. Eddie’s face twists into Alan’s and he moves towards her again and -

 

Shit.

Gillian flings herself upright, hands tangled in the sheets. She swallows the bile in her throat, and ignores the throbbing of her shoulder. Caroline groans next to her and she freezes, trembling breaths escaping her lips. The pain in her shoulder sharpens as she gingerly moves out of bed. Gillian grimaces and reaches for her jeans and one of her wife’s jumpers. She turns back before leaving the room, watching her wife sleep for just a moment longer. The clock flashes 4am at her, and she sighs (quietly).

With Eddie and Alan still twisted and mixed up in her head, Gillian creeps downstairs. She’s long-since perfected the art of moving without a sound. White hot pain flares in her shoulder, in harmony with the scars that burn in the cold. She makes her way to the freezer and pulls out a bag of frozen peas. As she sits down, she places the bag against her shoulder. She doesn’t feel the cold.

It’s stupid. She glares at the wall where her back once met the picture frame. It’s an empty space now. Gillian runs her spare hand over her face whilst her eyes settle on the table instead.

I’m not responsible for your choices. She sighs again, knowing what she’ll see if she closes her eyes. Instead, she watches her wedding ring glint in the dark and tries to breathe.

 

“Gillian?” A voice (that isn’t Caroline’s) startles her, sending a fresh jolt of pain down her arm.

She looks up from the table, and meets Celia’s concerned eyes across the kitchen. Her mother-in-law cautiously makes her way over the flagstones to join her at the table.

“Are you alright, love?” Celia asks, eyes flickering to Gillian’s shoulder.

“Sorry, hope I didn’t wake you.”

“You didn’t, but that doesn’t answer my question.”

“Shoulder’s actin’ up.”

“Mmm.” Celia watches her intently, and Gillian feels her (already weakened and weary) resolve shaking. Celia raises her eyebrows and Gillian sighs again.

“Had a nightmare.” She winces. It’s stupid.

“Do you get them often?” Celia surprises her by asking.

“Uh - well - yeah, not as much as I used to but recently, yeah I suppose - ” She breaks off as Celia puts the pieces together.

“Do you - would you like to talk about it?” Celia asks, looking a little uncomfortable.

Gillian looks skeptical, but eventually relents under Celia’s gaze.

“It’s - it’s always Eddie, when he’s in me head. Always things he’d do, when he were angry an’ he’d shout. I can’t cope wi’ the shouting - ” Gillian shifts the frozen peas.

Celia listens, and nods silently. Her hand surprises them both by covering Gillian’s.

“Tonight it were different though - well - it were the same until, until he got closer an’ then his face an’ me dad’s got twisted in me head an’ then - ” Gillian stops again, warily.

“Oh, love.” Celia utters gently. Gillian shifts the peas again, meeting Celia’s eyes as they convey a silent question.

“He - uh - Eddie dislocated it once, me shoulder.” She explains quietly.

“What a shit.” Celia exclaims quietly, and Gillian can’t help but agree.

“I’m sorry if me dad upset you.” Gillian looks guilty, and Celia frowns.

“Can I ask what happened?”

“I assumed he’d probably told you.”

“I want to hear your side.” Celia says firmly, watching Gillian’s eyebrows rise.

“Oh. Right okay.” Gillian takes a shuddering breath, and tells Celia everything.

 

Celia’s face contorts a little, as she listens to her husband’s actions. She looks conflicted, Gillian notices. Gillian can tell she’s angry, she’s seen anger on Celia many times. This is different, this anger isn’t directed at her or Caroline or anyone else. Celia’s fingertips are almost trembling with rage at Alan.

“He told me I’m not responsible for your choices, an’ I told him I didn’t want him in me life anymore.” Gillian finishes.

Silence hangs between them for a long moment. Gillian watches Celia’s lips purse and twist and wonders if she’ll ever speak again. Celia’s eyes cloud for a moment, with more swirling within them than Gillian has ever seen. Shit. You’ve broken your mother-in-law. Idiot.

Celia inhales sharply and Gillian hides a wince.

“Do you blame him?” Celia asks, the usual sharpness of her eyes returning briefly.

“I - uh - I tried not to, for so long I’ve tried not to. But when he refused to admit any impact on my f-bloody stupid choices. He were so angry an’ he’s always just written it off as not understanding me, an’ why I do the stupid things I do. Then he were shouting again an’ I decided that were it, maybe - maybe I do, blame him. Not for everything, I know it weren’t all his doing but yeah. It’s bloody stupid.” Gillian’s fist clenches under Celia’s hand.

Celia looks pensive. She looks as if she’s afraid to admit something, as if something is about to change. Gillian feels something churn in her stomach.

“He’s not the man I thought he was.” Celia utters quietly. Gillian opens her mouth to reply, but her throat tightens and she can only nod in response.

“He’s revealed himself to be something else entirely.” Celia muses, before directing her attention back to Gillian.

“Fancy a brew, love?”

 

-

 

Caroline wakes to an empty bed. It’s 5am, just when Gillian would normally be getting up. She runs her hand over the sheet next to her, and frowns at its coldness. They haven’t had one of these mornings for a while.

By nature (and routine), Gillian is an early riser but Caroline can feel in her gut that any sheep-related incidents weren’t the cause of her wife’s absence. She sighs, and runs a hand over her face. Her jumper is missing from the end of the bed, and she knows instantly where it is. She hopes it brought Gillian some comfort.

After getting dressed, she pauses by Flora’s room. She peers through the slightly open door, and watches her daughter sleeping peacefully. The sight calms her.

He was very angry, mummy. I heard him shouting, it was scary.

Caroline sighs again, and bites a trembling lip.

 

She hears muted voices as she makes her way downstairs. Celia and Gillian sit at the table, her mother’s hand is over Gillian’s. Caroline blinks. She watches them for a moment, before they notice her presence. Caroline feels a strange pang of jealousy as she watches her mother talking quietly with Gillian in a way that could even be described as caring. Neither of them even look uncomfortable.

Caroline’s jealousy is extinguished promptly when she looks properly at her wife. She observes the way Gillian eyes flicker nervously to the door as if she’s looking for a way out. The weariness in her shoulders and behind her eyes suggests she’s barely slept again. Gillian looks up as she enters the kitchen, and offers her a weary smile.

“Mornin’ love.” Gillian mumbles, causing Celia to follow her gaze.

“Everything alright?” Caroline asks cautiously without expecting an honest answer. She pulls out a chair and joins them at the table. Gillian and Celia glance at each other.

“It’s a completely different place - here - in the morning.” Celia comments vaguely, and Gillian bites her lip. Caroline’s eye twitches.

“You’re both up early.” She tries again, eyes lingering on the two mugs at the end of the table. They’ve been half-drunk and then discarded.

Gillian eases herself up with a wince, Caroline notices the concerned look Celia shoots her daughter-in-law and wonders if she’s woken up in a parallel universe.

“Need to check on sheep.” Gillian says quietly, with something in her eyes that scrambles to be outside again. She presses a kiss to Caroline’s cheek and then she’s gone. Caroline returns her gaze to her mother.

“Are you alright?” Caroline gives it another go. Celia’s eyes bounce around before reluctantly meeting her daughter’s.

“I had some trouble sleeping, that’s all. There’s a lot to think about.”

“Right, okay.”

“Your Gillian needs your concern, not me.” Celia returns, with only a hint of her usual bite. It still stings, Caroline notes.

Caroline waits for her mother to elaborate, and tries to ignore the churning of her stomach.

“She told me she had a nightmare.” Celia begins, watching her daughter carefully.

Caroline clenches her fists and remains silent.

“She gets them a lot apparently.” Celia adds.

Caroline looks sharply at her mother, expecting a snide comment that never materialises.

“It was about Eddie - that shit - and Alan.”

Caroline freezes. “And Alan?”

“She said they were all mixed up in her head, because of the shouting. You know she can’t cope with the shouting.” Celia responds calmly.

Caroline nods.

“She told me about her shoulder.” Celia holds her daughter’s gaze as Caroline’s eyebrows betray her surprise.

“She did?”

“Yes, love.” Celia replies patiently.

She’s a strong one, your Gillian.” She adds, as Caroline blinks back tears.

 

Caroline knows.

 

Chapter Text

Alan sets the bottle on the table and glares at it. It’s barely been touched all these years, waiting for a special occasion that never came. Celia had forbidden him from drinking it. He scoffs.

The house is empty, she hasn’t come back yet. He needed time to calm down, she’d said, two days ago. Two days and she’s still not back. He sighs, and picks up the bottle.

Bloody stubborn woman.

 

-

 

“Now, you know me, I don’t usually like to get involved - ” Celia raises her eyebrow as Gillian coughs to (unsuccessfully) hide a snort as she heads out the back door. Caroline shoots her wife an amused look as she waits for the kettle to boil, before returning her attention to her mother.

I don’t like to get involved, but would you like me to take Flora to school?”

“Well, you might as well make yourself useful, mum.” Caroline replies lightly. Celia rolls her eyes.

Caroline receives a meaningful look from her mother that suggests she has ulterior motives.

“Did you say you were going in a bit later this morning?” Celia prompts her.

“Yes, I’ve got a bit more time than usual.”

“I think you would both benefit from some time together, love.” Celia explains, removing herself from the room with surprising speed before Caroline can reply.

Caroline smiles a little, then sighs. Her mother’s voice floats through the ceiling as she gets Flora ready for school. Grabbing her jacket from its hook, she ventures outside to join her wife.

The wind has dropped slightly but still lingers, leaving a strange eeriness to the landscape. With the damp grass curling over her wellies, Gillian is bent over having what looks to be a fairly one-sided conversation with one of the ewes (who may or may not be Dolly Parton). Caroline rolls her eyes (fondly) at the sight. Her lips curve into a grin as Gillian spots her and tries to act as if she wasn’t conversing with one of her sheep. Dolly watches them both with an expression strangely similar to one of Celia’s grimaces, before disappearing to the top of the field with her head held firmly aloft.

Gillian watches her go, with wellies planted solidly in the mud. Then she turns and trudges over to the gate, leaning over it to press a kiss to Caroline’s cheek. A mug of coffee is placed in Gillian’s hands as she slings her arms over the gate between them.

“Is your mum alright?” Gillian says, as she studies her wife’s face.

“I don’t know.” Caroline replies quietly.

“It’s just - well - she’s being - ” Gillian frowns as she searches for an appropriate word.

“Unnervingly nice?” Caroline suggests.

“Mmm.” Gillian agrees.

“I suppose she can have her moments. But yes, I think she’s alright.”

“I - I thought she’d would’ve gone back to me dad before now.” Gillian admits.

“So did I.”

“Did she - did she tell you? What he said to her?” Gillian’s grip on her mug tightens.

“Yes, she did eventually. After she told you on that early morning.” Caroline doesn’t miss the wince that shoots through Gillian’s shoulders.

Gillian’s eyes flicker back to the field, climbing up towards the grey expanse of the sky. She swirls the remainder of the coffee in her mug, and gulps the contents. The liquid burns in her throat as Caroline’s arms find her waist through the gate. Gillian leans further into her wife, feeling the warmth of her seep into her skin.

“I’m all mucky.”

“I don’t care.”

“I love you.” Caroline murmurs into her hair. Gillian runs her thumb across the exposed skin at Caroline’s wrist.

“I love you an’ all.”

 

-

 

“You bloody bastard.” Alan’s voice is sharp.

Eddie’s name hovers before him, too close to Eileen’s. The wall digs into his palms, stone scraping the skin of his shaking hands. He curses Eddie, the cause of everything. Bloody bastard.

“It’s your fault, not mine.” He insists.

The trees rustle in the breeze, in a way that sounds as if Eddie is laughing at him. Alan clenches his jaw and ignores the pain in his chest. His eyes drift towards Eileen’s name.

“You were too soft on her.” He says.

He regrets the words as soon as they’ve been uttered. His feet scrape against the gravel, sending the bottle of whiskey spinning. Alan watches it twirl with blurry eyes.

“I’m not to blame.” He tells Eileen. He can see her face, watching him. After Gillian had that abortion, Eileen was always watching him. She’ll have to get shot of it, Alan. He hadn’t wanted to talk about it. I told you this would happen. He hadn’t wanted to talk about that either.

“I’m not to blame, am I?” He repeats, incredulous and firm. The trees rustle again, and Alan feels the urge to through something at the branches.

“What could I have done?” Alan mutters. It wasn’t their place to get involved.

 

-

 

Caroline reluctantly heads to work, and morning slides into afternoon. Gillian leaves Celia up at the farm, and heads into Ripponden to pick up her grandson. She’s glad of a little time to herself, and Celia likely feels the same.

“Hello, love.” Gillian greets Ellie as she opens the door.

“Hiya, Gillian. Have you time for a coffee?” Ellie grins as Gillian deliberates for a moment.

“Hmm - oh, go on then. Oh, hang on - ” Gillian is interrupted by her phone ringing.

She squints at the smashed screen, ignoring the snort from Ellie at her actions.

“Hello? Oh, hiya Catherine, everything alright?” Surprise flickers over Gillian’s face.

“He’s what? Right, shit, okay. Have you rung Celia?” Gillian runs a hand through her hair and Ellie’s worried eyes lock with hers.

“Is he - is angry? Right, okay - no, that’s fine. I’m on me way.” She returns the phone to her jacket pocket with a frown.

“What’s happened?” Ellie asks.

“I’m sorry I’m gonna have to - ” Gillian makes a vague gesture with her arm.

“Something’s happened wi’ me dad, can I ring you later?” She adds, already walking back down the path to the land rover.

“Is he alright?” Ellie shouts after her, to which Gillian replies with a grimace that was probably intended to be reassuring.

Your dad’s drunk at the church, were the exact words Catherine had said. At first, Gillian didn’t think she’d heard correctly. Bloody hell. For a brief moment, she’d considered leaving him to his whisky (it’s probably the whisky he’s drinking), but she couldn’t. He needed someone and Celia wasn’t answering her phone. Bloody hell. Gillian considers ringing Caroline, as she grips the wheel tighter. She decides to wait, Caroline had a busy afternoon. It probably wouldn’t have been appropriate to interrupt one of Caroline’s meetings with the news that her father-in-law was drunk at church at 2pm. Maybe it would’ve shocked Mr Poncy Twat into a rare silence for a moment though.

When she gets to the church, Catherine is waiting for her with her lips pulled down into a slight frown. Catherine removes her reflective jacket when she sees Gillian, slinging it into her car along with her hat. It’s been almost 20 years since that night, and Gillian still can’t glimpse that jacket without bile rising in her throat.

“He’s round back, with your mother an’ - ” Catherine greets her, before breaking off. They both know who accompanies Gillian’s mother.

“We got a call from a couple, concerned about his welfare mostly. He’s not bothering anyone.” Catherine adds as she and Gillian walk across the gravel.

“Has Jane tried talking to him?”

“No. Given his opinion of her, seemed best just to let him be - up to a point.”

They reach the corner and Gillian’s stomach starts to twist. She doesn’t look at Eddie’s name, or her mother’s. She looks at her father instead, sitting on the wall that runs parallel to the church with his feet scraping at the gravel. His head snaps up sharply as he spots her, his face contorting from genuine surprise to something closer to regret.

“I’ll give you a moment.” Catherine says softly.

Then Gillian is alone with the man she never wanted to see again, but maybe it’s not as simple as that. She hovers by the wall, and he returns his gaze to the names in front of him.

“That bastard is too close to your mother.” He says, punctuating each word with another sweep at the gravel.

Gillian blinks in surprise. She’s never heard anyone (other than Caroline, and once Robbie) call Eddie that before. Especially not her dad. She thought it would make her feel different, to hear the hatred in her father’s tone directed at that man. It shocks her with a strange numbness, to know that her father hates Eddie. She wonders when it started - the pure resentment in her father’s eyes - and what made it grow to such an overwhelming force. For years, he’d visited Eileen without sparing Eddie a single glance.

“It’s never bothered you before.” Her voice is quiet, and wary.

“I thought you didn’t want me in your life anymore.” He bites back, and she clenches her fists.

“Well it’s bloody 2pm and you’re drunk in a churchyard.” Gillian’s voice rises slightly.

“You sound like your mother.” He replies.

“What’s brought all this on?” She asks, though she can probably guess.

“Have you no ideas?”

“I - I want you to tell me.”

“This - this is you, an’ him - ” He gestures towards Eddie’s name.

“An’ your mother, an’ Celia.” He adds, as Gillian tries to breathe.

“Nothing to do with you then.” She says.

“I’ve already told you, I’m not to blame!”

Gillian wonders how many times her father has said those words.

“I never meant you were to blame for all of it, dad.”

Alan makes a strangled slightly triumphant sound.

“But some of it, surely you can see that?” Gillian continues to hover near the wall. She can hear Catherine speaking to someone back around the corner.

Alan stands suddenly and moves closer towards her. Gillian steps back as he reaches for her wrist. The whiskey bottle spins under his feet and he trips, sending Gillian’s back slamming into the side of the church. Her head throbs and his hand closes tightly around her wrist.

“You’ve got to stop blaming me.” He tells her. His voice is quiet.

Gillian holds his gaze, as if she’s daring him to cause more damage. There’s something horribly familiar in the way her wrist is clamped in his fist, for a moment she expects to feel his hand strike across her face. Hurried footsteps crunch across the gravel and no blow comes.

“Alan!” Celia shouts sharply, and it’s enough to pull him out of his reverie. He gasps, lets go of Gillian, trips over the wall and collapses onto the gravel.

“Dad?” Gillian falls to her knees beside her father as he clutches at his chest.

“What the hell’s happened?” Celia bewilderedly exclaims.

 

-

 

Catherine doesn’t comment, when Celia hesitates before agreeing to go in the ambulance with her husband. Jane hovers for a while, before she’s called away. Catherine watches Gillian carefully, and observes the shaking of her hands. She drives Gillian to the hospital, insisting that she’s in no fit state to drive the land rover. Gillian doesn’t protest, which increases Catherine’s concern.

“Are you gonna ring Caroline?” She prompts gently, as Gillian’s leg resumes its usual bouncing.

“Mmm. Oh shit, yeah I should.” Gillian murmurs. Catherine sends her a look when she doesn’t reach for her phone. Gillian sighs, and fumbles in her jacket pocket.

“Hello, darling.” Caroline’s voice is tired, and Gillian considers not telling her about the latest drama, though she’s sure Catherine wouldn’t let her off that easily.

“Hi, love. I’m - uh - okay, so me dad’s had - he’s had another heart attack I think. Your mum’s with him in ambulance, and me and Catherine are following.”

“Oh shit, do you need me to come?” 

Yes. I need you. Gillian feels the words in her throat.

“Uh. No, it’s alright. We’ll be alright, but I’ll keep you updated on things.”

“Okay. Do you know what happened?”

“Yeah. I were there, with ‘im.”

“You were with him?”

“Catherine rang me earlier, he were drunk up at church. So I tried - I tried talking to ‘im and he has a bloody heart attack.” Bloody hell.

“He was what? Christ, okay. Are you alright? He didn’t - he didn’t - ?”

Gillian thinks of her increasingly throbbing head and the sharp pain in her wrist.

“I’m alright.” She replies, feeling Catherine’s eyes on her.

“Okay, well I’ll be finished in a couple of hours. I can get Raff to pick up Flora, and I’ll come along to the hospital, alright?” Caroline’s voice is firm, and worried.

“Right, alright. Okay.” Gillian tries to breathe.

“Just breathe, okay?”

She wonders if Caroline is telepathic.

“I’ve got to go, but ring me if you need me.”

Gillian returns the phone to her pocket, and winces as the throbbing in her head sharpens.

Once they reach the hospital, she finds herself leaning against the wall next to where Celia is sitting. Catherine had to finish her shift, and shot her a concerned look before she left. Gillian’s eyes shift to the chair next to Celia, and she realises that these are the exact seats that she and Caroline had sat in for hours when Robbie - oh shit, don’t think about that. Shitshitshit.

Her vision blurs, and Alan’s face swirls in her head. She can hear Celia saying something, but the words don’t reach her.

Celia looks up as Gillian inhales sharply.

“Gillian, love. You’re bleeding.” Celia murmurs, indicating the blood at Gillian’s hairline.

 

Gillian wobbles, and slides down the wall, collapsing before Celia can catch her.

 

Chapter Text

“Hello?”

“Oh good, you’ve answered.”

“Sorry mum, I’ve been in meetings all afternoon.”

“Caroline, you need to come to the hospital.”

“I thought you were both there with Alan.”

“We were - we are, love. It’s - it’s not Alan who needs you now.”

“Mum, what’s happened?”

“It’s Gillian.”

“What’s - is she - is she alright?”

“I’m not sure, love. They’ve sent her for some scans I think.”

“Scans? For - for what?”

“Her head - she must’ve hit it at some point, we didn’t realise and then she just collapsed. I’m sorry Caroline, I should’ve noticed - ”

 

-

 

Gillian keeps her eyes fixed to her feet as she swings her legs. Nurses bustle around her, but all she can focus on is the dirt smudged across her converse. Celia is talking to her from the chair next to her bed. The pain in her head has lessened (probably due to the IV in her arm), leaving her brain somewhat cloudy. She tries not to look at her wrist, where her father’s fingerprints are imprinted on her skin in flaring purple bruises. Celia pauses, and Gillian reluctantly pulls her gaze away from her shoes.

“I rang Caroline earlier, she’s on her way.” Celia states almost robotically.

Gillian closes her eyes for a moment and nods. Celia softens.

“Right.” Gillian mumbles.

“Love, what happened?” Celia decides to ask directly.

She watches Gillian’s brow furrow and winces in sympathy as the action pulls at the stitches at her hairline. Her daughter-in-law looks unsure and conflicted, and continues to swing her legs until her feet collide with each other and she blinks.

“He didn’t mean it, least I don’t think he did.”

Celia leans forward in her chair, concern pulling at the corners of her lips.

“Who didn’t?” She asks reluctantly, as if she already suspects.

“Me dad.” Gillian admits, looking far too guilty in Celia’s opinion.

“Okay, what did he do?” Celia prompts. Gillian observes Celia’s lack of surprise, and finds it matches her own.

Celia glances down to Gillian’s wrist before forcing her eyes back upwards.

“Catherine rang, said he were drunk up at church. I found ‘im talking to Eddie an’ me mum.” Gillian begins carefully. Celia presses her lips together tightly, a barrier against some great flood.

“I tried talking to ‘im, an’ he were alright wi’ me for a bit. Then he got angry again an’ sort of tripped when he went for my wrist. Shoved me back into the wall of church an’ just looked at me wi’ my wrist still in his hand.” Gillian watches Celia carefully, looking for any sense that her mother-in-law might believe her version of events. She’ll think you’re lying, like with - no. You need your head examined, remember?

Celia is silent, and waits for her to continue.

“I - I realised I were expecting ‘im to hit me, an’ it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had. But then he heard you shouting, an’ he pulled away an’ well, you were there after that.”

“Were you scared of him?” Celia asks.

“No - no, I weren’t. Not like before, this time I weren’t scared of ‘im. I thought I never wanted to see me dad ever again, an’ there he was calling Eddie a bastard - sorry - but he was - I never heard him call Eddie that before. Then he has a bloody heart attack - ” Gillian’s hands clench into the sheets.

She and Celia regard each other for a moment.

“Why are you here wi’ me, an’ not me dad?” Gillian asks, attempting not to sound too accusatory.

Celia doesn’t look offended, though she seems to deflate a little and sinks back into her chair. Her eyes search the floor for a moment, then flicker up to Gillian’s feet and her muddy jeans.

“You needed someone.” She explains, as her eyes find their way to Gillian’s wedding ring.

“Doesn’t me dad need someone?”

“He’s still not come round they told me, and I think what your dad needs is some time.” Celia’s gaze drops to her own wedding ring.

“You’re gonna go back to ‘im, aren’t you?” Gillian’s eyes are free of judgement.

“I do love him.” Celia states.

“Oh, I’ve noticed.” Gillian smiles slightly.

“I think he needs me, and I need him. More than I’d like to admit.”

“Are you sure?” Gillian asks, wary of Celia’s sharp tongue.

“I don’t think I’ve got a choice, but yes.” Celia sounds firm, as if the issue has been debated thoroughly inside her head.

“Right.” Gillian says again.

“I think you should give yourself some space from him though, love.” Celia adds.

“Mmm. Yeah, that were going really well until today.”

“Why didn’t you tell anyone you’d hit your head?” Celia asks a little sharply.

“I - uh - I didn’t realise.” Gillian tries.

“Try again, love.”

Gillian sighs.

“I didn’t want anyone knowing.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not worth fussing over, that’s all.”

“Not worth fussing over? You bloody well are, Gillian.” Celia bites back.

She sighs as surprise settles itself firmly into Gillian’s features.

“You didn’t even tell Caroline?” Celia tries to soften her tone a little, aware of how pale Gillian still looks.

“I know it’s stupid but she’s always having to worry about me, there’s always another f - bloody drama to dump on her. She deserves - ”

“Gillian. My daughter is an intelligent though somewhat stubborn woman, wouldn’t you agree?” Celia interrupts.

“Uh, well yes.” Gillian’s brow furrows again.

“Capable of making carefully considered judgments and decisions?”

Gillian can sense where this is going. Why did such an intelligent woman choose you as a wife? You’ve nothing to offer her but muddy jeans and more f - bloody dramas.

“So why did she marry you?”

Not for the money, obviously. Gillian decides not to bring that up.

“Maybe she’s bloody bonkers.”

“Gillian.”

“Sorry.”

Celia searches for the right words as her eye twitches in the same way Caroline’s has been known too (mostly when Gillian’s words try to keep up with her brain). She leans forward and gently pats Gillian’s hands, hesitating slightly before taking them both in her grasp.

“My daughter loves you, and she’s no fool, so that’s that.” Celia says firmly, leaving Gillian no room to disagree.

“Alright. I - I should’ve told her, I should’ve told you, should’ve told someone - ” Gillian winces at the familiar words. Should’ve told someone.

“It’s alright, love. Okay?” Celia can feel Gillian’s pulse hammering.

The doors at the end of the ward swing open, and a familiar sounding set of heels brings a soft smile to Gillian’s face. The thudding in her veins slows as she watches the impressive sight of Caroline walking (marching) towards them.

“Oh, here’s her majesty.” Celia mutters, with her hands still enclosing Gillian’s.

Caroline can breathe when she sees her wife. As she reaches the bed, Celia rises from the chair and removes her hands from Gillian’s.

“Hello, love.” She greets Caroline, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“I’m going to check on your father.” Celia directs at Gillian. As she leaves, she gives Caroline a look that suggests she might be in for a long phone call later.

Caroline’s gut twists at the way Gillian tenses at the mention of Alan. She moves closer to Gillian, biting her lip at the stitches at her hairline. Gently, she traces the edge of Gillian’s face before embracing her as closely as she dares.

“I’m alright.” Gillian whispers into her hair. She feels Caroline sigh.

“Darling, you’re not alright.” Caroline pulls back to look at her wife.

“I should’ve told you.”

“Why didn’t you?” Caroline asks softly.

Her hands drop down to join Gillian’s, and she gasps slightly as she notices the bruises spreading across her wife’s wrist.

“What happened?” She asks, her concern swaying dangerously close to anger.

Gillian tells her. She tells her every detail, and finds that the way Caroline looks at her makes her want to reveal everything, so she does.

“Your dad did this?” Caroline asks once she’s finished, and Gillian wonders if maybe she should’ve focused more on that herself. She hadn’t been surprised when her father hurt her.

“I don’t think he meant to.” Gillian repeats.

“That doesn’t make it alright.”

“I’m not scared of him anymore, not that that makes any sense.”

“I suppose you see him a bit differently. I wish you’d have said you were hurt.” Caroline moves to the chair where her mother had been sitting somehow without breaking eye contact with her wife.

“I - I didn’t realise at first, an’ then I nearly told you. You asked me if I were alright an’ I nearly told you, but I just couldn’t. It were like something were stopping me. I’m sorry, Caz.”

“Gillian, I love you. You’re my wife, and if you’re hurt or upset or anything then I want to know, alright?” Caroline runs a thumb over Gillian’s uninjured wrist, feeling the reassuring pulse beneath.

Gillian nods.

“I was scared - when my mum rang - I thought you might be - ” Caroline breaks off and turns away for a moment.

“God, Caz I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you, didn’t want to cause you anymore grief. I - I’m here though, I’m alright an’ I’m still here.” Gillian’s heart seizes at the tears in her wife’s eyes as she turns back.

“I know.” Caroline says softly, letting Gillian wipe her tears away.

She looks as if she’s going to say something else, before a throat clears by the end of the bed.

“Hello, Gillian. I’ve got the results of your scan.” The doctor states, eyes glued to his clipboard.

“Right, okay.” Gillian feels Caroline’s hand tighten around hers.

“So what’s the verdict?” Caroline prompts, swallowing her impatience.

“Well, there’s no brain damage which is good. Only a mild concussion, so you’ll need to be careful with your sleeping. The wrist isn’t broken, and neither are your ribs.” His eyes sweep over two surprised faces.

“Ribs?” Caroline whispers to Gillian.

“I didn’t realise I’d hurt me ribs.” Gillian states numbly.

“Well they’re just a little bruised, so we’ll give you some pain relief and you should be on your way soon.” The doctor confirms, before leaving them to it.

They sit in silence for a moment, hands still clasped. Gillian’s gaze returns to her feet, before suddenly her face breaks into a grin.

“What?” Caroline asks bewilderedly.

“You know what that means?”

What?” Caroline can sense where this is going.

“I’ve got a brain, Caz. You were wrong.”

Caroline rolls her eyes.

 

“I’m not brain-dead lowlife trailer trash!”

Chapter Text

Catherine hesitates before driving back to the hospital after her shift. Once she reaches the car park, she sits with her hands clutching at the wheel. She feels as powerless as she did years ago every time Gillian would hastily pull down her jacket sleeves to hide the bruises. Air forces itself through her nose and she tries to gain control of something (anything). Jane had called earlier - herself having been rung by Celia - to tell her what had happened since she’d left Gillian at the hospital. She’d collapsed apparently. Catherine grits her teeth, and steps out of the car.

Her shoulders slump further with each step as guilt gnaws at her gut and her brain and every vein in her body. Fucking hell, sarge. Nails dig into flesh. A nurse points her in the right direction.

Guilt is nothing new, especially where Gillian is concerned. Get over yourself, sarge. Guilt never helped anyone - it didn’t help Becky, or Kirsten, or Gillian. It lingers nonetheless. gnawing.

Caroline looks up as she approaches, and greets her cousin with a heaviness that seems unfamiliar in her features. Gillian follows her wife’s gaze, and sighs a little.

“Bloody hell, Gillian.” Is all Catherine can say. Gillian nods, and swings her feet.

Caroline looks between them, before squeezing Gillian’s hand and rising in search of a cup of tea.

Two sets of eyes watch her go, and turn to each other with uncertainty.

“Hoped we’d not be here again.” Catherine says.

 

-

 

Caroline had intended to get herself a cup of tea. She tried to guide her legs towards the cafeteria. Despite her attempts to prevent it, she found herself on Alan’s ward instead. With fists clenching and unclenching, she makes her way down corridors and through doors. She tries not to think of the bruises on Gillian’s wrist or the blood at her hairline or the way her wife flinches every time she sees her father or the sight of her so small on the kitchen floor with her back pressed into the cupboards and her head hung low and her muffled sobs -

Caroline sighs, and slows her pace. She’s not sure what to say to Alan, even if he is awake. The ward looms before her, and she frowns slightly at the figure by the door. For a moment she thinks it’s Gillian, standing with her arms braced against the window opposite. The clerical collar gives it away though, and she watches Jane turn and (almost) glare at the door. Caroline freezes and wonders if she should turn back. Her skin crawls and she feels as if she’s betraying Gillian by being so close to her father.

Jane clenches her jaw and mutters something Caroline can’t decipher. Perhaps she’s praying for him. Caroline is wondering whether Alan is worthy of anything close to forgiveness, when Jane’s surprised gaze finds her and she knows she can’t turn back. The vicar’s eyebrows rise calmly upwards in a way that Gillian’s never do. Even Jane’s surprise is careful and considered.

Caroline joins her by the window and sweeps her eyes over the car park. She turns and mirrors Jane’s position, glaring at the door. Through the window she can see her mother sitting by Alan’s bed. Celia looks small.

“How’s Gillian?” Jane asks. Caroline closes her eyes briefly.

“She’s got a bit of a concussion and some bruises, nothing broken though.”

Gillian could never be broken.

“How is she really though?” Jane adds.

“I’m not sure.” Caroline admits. Jane nods.

“It’s been a shit week, as Catherine would say.” Jane comments quietly, keeping her eyes fixed to the door.

Caroline allows herself the smallest of laughs and watches the conflict on Jane’s face.

“How’s Alan?” Caroline asks. Jane releases a strangled sort of sigh that sounds much more like Gillian.

“I don’t know, I haven’t been in.” She replies, her eyes flickering to Caroline.

“I had all these things I wanted to say to him, but it seems that energy would be better spent elsewhere.” Caroline murmurs. Jane nods.

“Have you spoken to Celia?” Jane asks, softening her gaze a little.

“Mmm. No, not yet. She wanted me to stay with Gillian.” Caroline replies without hiding her surprise.

“Catherine’s with her.” She adds quickly before Jane can point out where she is (and is not).

“Ah, I thought she might be.” There’s something complicated in Jane’s eyes, making Caroline frown again.

“What would you say to him, if you could?” Jane asks, before Caroline can prompt her on anything else.

“I’ve been angry at him, for a while now. But it’s not my place to cause any more drama.” Caroline begins. Jane waits for her to continue.

“I wish I could - be angry with him - I’d wipe the floor with him if I could.”

“I don’t doubt that.” Jane smiles slightly.

“But it would hurt Gillian, and I will never do that.”

 

-

 

“Clare says hello.” Catherine says, trying to avoid the words scrambling up her throat.

Why didn’t you tell me he hurt you? It feels too familiar. Don’t you trust me? Too close.

“Do you think she’d be up for giving us a hand on farm tomorrow?” Gillian surprises her by asking.

“Don’t think Caz’ll be letting me do much.” She adds with a smile.

“Mmm, good point. Yeah I’m sure she’d be happy to, anything to keep her busy you know.”

Gillian nods and Catherine glances around the ward. Faces blur as they pass.

“I wish you wouldn’t feel so guilty.” Gillian whispers. Catherine traps her tongue between her teeth.

“An’ don’t deny that you do, I can tell. I know a thing or two about guilt.” Gillian adds.

Catherine frowns, and Gillian’s heart begins to hammer. Shit.

“You’ve got nothing to feel guilty for.” Catherine states, and Gillian wishes that were true.

You can’t tell her. She’s police. You can’t put that on her. Don’t fucking -

“C - could say the same for you.” Gillian says instead.

“Oh, I’ve plenty to feel guilty for.” Catherine whispers, looking too lost to pick up on the true culprit of Gillian’s guilt. Maybe she knows. Does she? Would she -

Catherine watches Gillian’s fingers drum a scattered rhythm on her jeans.

“It’s been twenty years or so, Catherine.” Gillian breathes.

“I know.” Catherine turns to look at Gillian, wincing slightly at the stitches above the other woman’s eyebrow. It still lingers.

“It’s not just you, an’ what happened wi’ that bastard.” Catherine adds softly.

“I know.” Gillian pauses and puts her hand on Catherine’s arm.

“But it’s no way to live, is it?” Gillian murmurs, her eyes moving towards the window.

“Mmm.” Catherine sighs, and bites back a comment about the irony of Gillian’s statement.

 

“Caz is taking a long time getting that tea, maybe she’s got lost.”

“Want me to file a missing persons report?”

 

-

 

After a while, Celia looks up and spots her daughter lingering by the door. She glances back at her husband - still unconscious and blissfully unaware of everything - before wincing as she rises from the chair by the bed. The door swings closed behind her and she watches the two women by the window. If she’s surprised to see Jane, it’s hidden by the strangely passive expression that slides over her face as she joins them.

“Did Gillian get her scan results?” Celia asks.

Caroline relays the verdict from the doctor as her mother listens and nods.

“How’s Alan?” Jane asks (with a hint of reluctance).

“They’re not sure, really. We’ll have to see what happens when he wakes up.” Celia reports.

Her voice is sharp to Jane’s ears, but Caroline can sense the weariness.

“Why don’t you go home, mum? I’m sure they’ll ring if there’s news, and you can come back with me and Gillian if you want.”

“You need to focus on Gillian.” Celia replies, with a little of her usual bite.

Jane decides to leave them to it, wavering by the door until something finally gives her the strength to push it open. Celia and Caroline watch as Jane sits next to Alan. She regards him for a long moment before clasping her hands together in her lap and closing her eyes.

“Do you think she’s praying for him?” Celia asks, as if Caroline has been privy to more information than her mother.

“Perhaps.” Caroline replies.

“I wonder if any of us really deserve forgiveness.” Celia mutters as she turns her back to her husband and looks over the car park instead. Caroline doesn’t really know what to say to that.

“Gillian told me you’re going back to him.” Caroline prompts warily.

Her mother sighs, and wraps herself tighter into her cardigan.

“He needs me, Caroline. Look at what he did - he - he needs me.”

“I want you to be happy, mum.”

“I am.”

Are you?”

“For goodness sake, Caroline. Yes, I’m staying with my husband of nearly ten years.” Celia trembles and Caroline refuses to wince at her mother’s tone.

“Alright.” She says.

“I’ll not be coming back with you,” her mother begins, “You need your space, as does Gillian.” She states firmly.

“I don’t want you to be on your own, mum.”

“I think you’ve got more important things to be worrying about, love.”

Caroline sighs and runs her fingers across her forehead.

“Will you at least ring me, when you get home?” Caroline relents.

“Alright, of course. Now, you go and look after your Gillian.”

 

-

 

“Gillian darling, I can’t feel my arm.” Caroline murmurs softly into her wife’s ear.

“Mmm. Well maybe you shouldn’t have put it there then.” Gillian chuckles, as she shifts forward on the sofa to allow the blood flow to return to Caroline’s arm.

“Oh, that’s better. Right.”

“Uh oh.”

“How are you feeling?” Caroline attempts, already knowing the answer.

“M’fine, Caz.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Gillian assures her.

“Did Catherine say something to you?”

“Well - uh - she said a few things, why?”

“There was a sort of tension between you, when I got back.”

Gillian resists the urge to wiggle her eyebrows suggestively and runs a hand through her hair instead, wincing slightly as her stitches are pulled again.

“She feels guilty.” Gillian murmurs.

“About what happened today?”

“Not just today, and not just wi’ me. She’s carrying all of it all the time.”

God. That’s no way to live.”

“That’s what I said. I were so stupid, I nearly - ”

“What?”

“I nearly told her about - God, that were f- bloody stupid. I said I knew guilt, I were trying to get her to talk an’ she said I’ve nothing to be guilty about. I wish that were true - ” Gillian breaks off with a sigh.

Caroline strokes a hand through her wife’s hair, carefully avoiding the stitches.

“I could never put that on her.” Gillian whispers.

 

Caroline nods, and pulls her gently closer.

Chapter Text

Alan doesn’t know where he is, but he’s not outside the church anymore. He remembers being by the wall, with the bottle skidding across the gravel. Something happened -

“You pillock.” He knows that voice.

She’s wearing the dress from their holiday to Scarborough - when Gillian was just a baby - and the sight makes his bones ache.

“Eileen.” He whispers.

“What am I doin’ here, Alan?”

He frowns, confused. His hand wavers in the air, intending to reach for her before pulling back.

“This is your head, you’ve brought me here.” She adds, fixing him in her gaze.

She’s younger than the last time he saw her. Her eyes haven’t clouded over yet like they had near the end. He’d forgotten how much of Gillian came from her mother.

“I - ” He tries as his throat tightens.

“Why me?” Eileen challenges, stepping towards him. He looks down at her bare feet.

“I don’t know.” He murmurs.

“Why not her?” Eileen asks, her tone surprisingly gentle.

“Who?” His eyebrows furrow.

“Your Celia, her majesty, your new woman.” Eileen replies. She looks more amused than angry.

“Are you - are you disappointed wi’ me? That I got wed again, are you - ?”

“Alan, love. We’re in your head. I’ll be disappointed if you want me to be - maybe that’s what it is - I’m your guilt, is that it?” She’s started to circle him, her dress flowing around her legs.

“My - my guilt?” He stammers.

“Why are you feeling guilty? There’s so much to choose from, but why now?” Eileen’s lips morph into a chest-aching smile. Impossible sunlight is trapped in the curls of her hair.

“I miss you.” He whispers, bowing his head.

Eileen stops close to him and turns away. For a moment, Alan can hear the crashing of waves onto sand and the scent of salty air fills his nostrils. She spins around again and it’s gone.

“What did you do?” Her eyes seem more piercing than he remembers.

“What - I - when?” He staggers back under the weight of her glare.

“You’ve done something, something you’re ashamed of.” Her voice lowers. He blinks.

Something happened. At the church -

“I - I can’t remember.” He squeezes his eyes shut, but she’s still there.

 

We’re in your head, Alan.

 

-

 

“Auntie Gillian!” A quiet voice scolds her.

Gillian freezes, and turns with a wince to face the young girl who possesses an uncanny ability to replicate her mother’s stern headteacher stance.

“Madame Flora, what are you doin’ out of bed?” Gillian whispers.

“Auntie Gillian, what are you doing out of your bed?” Flora replies seriously, as Gillian bites her lip.

“I’m - uh - well -

“Mummy said you need to stay in bed to get all better again.” Flora interrupts her stammering.

“Mmm.” Gillian sighs, she’s never been good at staying still.

Flora watches her intently for a long moment, then quietly moves back to her bedroom door. She pauses with her small hand hovering over the handle.

“Flora?” Gillian prompts gently, wincing as she bends down to Flora’s eye level.

“Why did grandad hurt you?” Flora whispers, her eyes wide. Gillian sighs, and lowers herself down onto the floor with her back against the wall.

“Well - okay - sometimes people do things they don’t mean to.” She says, as Flora gingerly joins her on the floor.

“Like on accident?” Flora asks, looking up at Gillian.

“Yeah, jus’ like that.” Gillian’s eyes shift towards the darkness lingering in the corners of the corridor. She glances towards her and Caroline’s bedroom, before returning her gaze to Flora.

“But grandads aren’t meant to hurt people.” Flora moves closer to Gillian.

“No, you’re very right there. It were an accident though, he didn’t mean it.” Gillian wonders if the words are true as they leave her mouth.

“Is grandad going to hurt me or mummy?” Flora asks, and Gillian’s stomach churns.

“No. Flora, it’s alright. It were an accident and it won’t be happening again, to anyone else, okay?” Gillian’s pulse throbs through her veins as Flora nods firmly.

“Will grandad be okay?”

 

-

 

“You can’t remember?” Eileen sighs.

Alan’s chest tightens. Something happened. What did you do?

Eileen’s eyes meet his as they come to the same conclusion.

You hurt her.” The words tumble quietly from her lips and Alan finds himself on his knees.

“No. I - I - ” His arms drop by his sides, fingers digging into sand. He can hear the sea again.

“You hurt our little girl, our beautiful Gillian, your own skin and bones - ”

“Stop!” Alan pleads, fists in the sand. Eileen goes quiet and it feels worse. His eyes search for her form, suddenly scared of losing her again. Relief pours over him when she appears again, further from him. She’s crouched in the sand making patterns with her fingers.

“Why did you hurt her?” Eileen asks without looking up.

“I don’t - I don’t know.” He looks down at his hands.

“Why are you making me ask you, then?” She continues, and Alan feels tired.

“I - I don’t understand.” He murmurs.

“We’re in your head, remember? If I’m asking you why, then you must want to know.” She replies, keeping her back to him.

Alan blinks again, and tries to remember.

“I were at church - well, I were outside church.” He begins.

“Go on.” Eileen urges, arms moving as if she’s holding something in front of her.

“I were drunk, god if you’d seen me Eileen, you’d have - ”

“Called you a pillock?” Eileen interjects sharply.

“Yes, I were being a pillock like you always said. She - she said she didn’t want me in her life anymore, our Gillian, jus’ like that - ”

“And why do you think that was?” Eileen leaves no space for his wavering thoughts.

“I said some awful things to her, her own dad - ” He breaks off as his own words swirl back to him. Sand falls through his fingers as he rises on shaking legs.

“I hurt our little girl.” He murmurs, and Eileen makes no reply.

He edges closer towards her, and realises she’s cradling something. As he reaches her shoulder, his face breaks into a smile at what Eileen is holding. Our little girl. The baby gurgles, emerald eyes shining as always. Alan drops to his knees again and holds his daughter in his arms.

 

-

 

“They’ll make ‘im better - the doctors - they’ll make ‘im all better.” Gillian murmurs into Flora’s hair. She yawns, and Flora mirrors her.

“That’s good.” Flora decides, and Gillian nods.

Flora goes quiet, her chest slowly moving up and down. Gillian watches her with a fond smile, and contemplates how to remove them both from the floor without disturbing her (or Caroline). It seems an impossible task, and her back is beginning to ache. Her eyes drop to the bruises along her wrist without her permission, and she sighs. Her ribs ache more fiercely with the action, and pain quickly spreads across her chest.

Gillian finds herself thinking of her mother. The randomness of when her mother enters her thoughts often surprises her. She closes her eyes and remembers.

Flora shifts in her arms, and she pulls her closer. Soft footsteps down the corridor urge her to open her eyes. Her own bare feet tense against the cold floor as she meets her wife’s gaze.

“Gillian?” Caroline prompts gently, her mouth curving into a small smile whilst concern lingers in her eyes.

“I’m a bit stuck.” Gillian whispers, indicating Caroline’s sleeping daughter.

Caroline gives her an exasperated look, before gently picking Flora up and returning her to her bedroom. She pauses for a moment (as she often does) at the door to her daughter’s bedroom as Flora sleeps peacefully within. Then she pulls herself away and shuts the door softly, moving her attention back to her wife.

Gillian remains on the floor.

“What are you doing on the floor at 3am?” Caroline whispers as she offers Gillian her hands.

“I - uh - needed a wee,” Gillian accepts her hands. “Wasn’t expecting a f-bloody interrogation from your daughter mind - ” She breaks off to suppress a grunt as her wife helps her to her feet.

“Well someone’s got to keep an eye on you - are you alright?” The humour slides from Caroline’s features as her concern heightens.

“I’m - fuck - jus’ -” Gillian winces.

“If you say you’re fine, I’ll set my daughter on you.” Caroline threatens.

Gillian huffs a small (pained) laugh, and relents. Reluctantly, she lets Caroline help her back to their bedroom.

“What is it?” Caroline asks softly, once they’re both settled back into bed. She can barely make out Gillian’s eyes as they brim with something that looks far too close to guilt.

“I - uh - me and Flora were talking a bit.” Gillian begins, as Caroline’s hand finds hers in the dark.

“Right. So after your interrogation?”

“Mmm, yeah. She - she asked me why me dad had hurt me, an’ if - if he were gonna hurt her or you. I said it were an accident, and he didn’t mean it but she - she shouldn’t be scared of her own grandad, Caz.” Gillian’s hands tighten around her wife’s.

Caroline’s stomach churns and she sighs softly into the darkness.

“You’re right, she shouldn’t be.”

 

-

 

The baby disappears from his arms and Eileen is glaring at him. She rises to her feet and the sand disappears.

“I’m sorry.” He says as he moves to follow her. Something stops him in his tracks.

A figure stands just behind Eileen. Alan struggles to focus on its face, but it looks like a woman.

“Who’s that supposed to be?” Eileen asks before he can.

“I - I don’t know.” He frowns.

“We’re in your head, remember?” She repeats wearily.

There’s something familiar about the figure his brain has presented to him. He tries to remember, but can’t quite put his finger on it until he looks back to Eileen.

Oh.” He says, as the figure comes into focus for a moment.

“You can’t remember what she looked like.” Eileen tone is a little accusatory.

“It’s been a long time since I saw her.” He tries to defend himself.

“She never wore a dress like that.” Eileen continues, glancing back at the blurry figure.

“You used to wear her dresses.” Alan says.

“Before she abandoned me.” Eileen replies sharply, and Alan can feel her anger echo through him.

“She were so young when she had you.” He murmurs as he looks between the two women.

“Why is she here?” Eileen’s voice drifts towards him.

“She - I - ”

“Something else you regret?” Eileen asks.

“Regret? Everybody has regrets, I’m sure.” He responds, wincing as Eileen looks unimpressed.

“I met her daughter recently, her Jane. You never wanted - I’ve betrayed your wishes - ” Alan admits.

Eileen watches him intently. Her dress continues to twirl in an impossible breeze.

“Couldn’t you have remembered me from a holiday that wasn’t so windy?” She says, humour dancing in her eyes.

“I - what?” He splutters.

“What do you want me to say? I’m in your head, you can make me say anything.” She moves close to him again.

“You want me to apologise, do you? For not giving you Celia’s note?”

His hands plunge into his pockets, squirming.

“All those years we had, and our beautiful Gillian, some good memories, you want me to apologise for that? No, I’m not sorry Alan Buttershaw, even if I’m just in your head.” Her voice is firm, and she turns away from him.

Panic eats at his heart as he realises she’s starting to fade away. Her dress flows and sunlight continues to bounce around her curls. She turns back towards him, saying one last thing before she disappears.

“You better look after her, your Celia.”

 

-

 

Caroline lets her thoughts slide away as she listens to Gillian’s breathing even out. Wary of her wife’s injuries, she shifts slightly against the pillows. She closes her eyes and tries not to think of anything at all.

“I can hear you thinkin’.” Gillian mumbles into her pillow. Caroline chuckles.

“Sorry.” She whispers, running her thumb over her wife’s hand.

“You an’ your big brain.”

“You love my big brain.”

“Not when it’s chugging away all night.” Gillian squeezes her arm.

“At least I have a brain.” Caroline grins in the dark.

“Mmm yeah, I’m brain-dead.”

“We have evidence that refutes that theory now, darling.” Caroline replies, inevitably thinking of her wife’s scans.

“You’ll have to come up wi’ something else to call me then.” Gillian moves closer to her wife.

“Careful of your ribs, Gillian.” Caroline warns gently.

“That’s not a very good one.” Gillian yawns.

Pillock.”

“Me mum used to call me dad that.”

“Twat.

“Oh thanks very much.”

Idiot.”

“You charmer.”

“I can do this all night.” Caroline replies.

“Ooh. Okay, what about centre of your universe?”

“Someone’s got a high opinion of themselves.”

“Light of your life?”

“Are you planning on going to sleep anytime soon?”

“Thought you said you could go all night?” Gillian teases.

“I definitely didn’t say that.”

“Mmm.”

“I love you, you twat.”

“I love you an’ all.” Gillian breathes.

“Gillian?”

“Mmm?”

 

“You are the centre of my universe.”

Chapter Text

Caroline’s warmth spreads against Gillian’s skin. Gillian listens to her wife’s gentle breathing as the shadows creep across the walls and dance slowly across the ceiling. The pain in her chest lingers, duller than before. She sighs, and her ribs burn.

Sleep is inevitable, but she can help but dread what could be waiting there for her. Weariness twists into drowsiness, and she’s pulled under.

She was expecting to see Eddie again, his face snarling. Or her dad, stumbling towards her.

Christ, Gillian. You’ve been in the wars.”

Gillian freezes, and doesn’t stop the smile that spreads across her face.

“Hello, mum.” She whispers.

She steps towards her mother, and feels floorboards creak under her feet. Eileen stands and reaches out for her daughter, her chair scraping back at the action. Gillian sighs into her mother, and the pain is gone. She takes a deep breath. The smell of her mother’s perfume and the texture of her dress against Gillian’s cheek makes her close her eyes. It’s too real.

After a long moment, she pulls back with a sniff. Her mother chuckles and wipes away her tears.

“We’ve not done this for a while, love.” Eileen says softly, taking Gillian’s hands as they both settle at the table.

“I’m glad we’re in your dream this time.” Eileen adds as humour sparks in her eyes.

“Mmm. I think it’s - it’s perfectly acceptable to talk to your dead mother in the supermarket.” Gillian manages to reply, remembering the weight of the concerned stares in aisle three.

“I suppose everybody already knew you were bonkers.”

“Oh thanks.” Gillian rolls her eyes. Need your head examining.

“Eddie used to say that, didn’t he?” Eileen’s eyes drop to the tablecloth.

Gillian winces at his name in her mother’s mouth.

“I - I - ” Gillian falters.

“That bastard.”

“You never would’ve said that. You - ”

“You were quite close this time, love.” Eileen interjects.

“Close?” Gillian frowns.

“Remembering our old kitchen, that’s where you’ve put us this time. Only the tablecloth’s wrong, I’d have never had this in my kitchen.” Eileen drums her fingers on the table for emphasis. Gillian releases a reluctant laugh.

“Sorry.” Gillian allows herself a smile.

“What’ve you got to be sorry for?”

Gillian is jolted by the familiar words.

“I’ve said that before, that must be why I’m saying it now. Are you feeling guilty again, love?” Eileen is watching her in a way that she never did when she was alive. This Eileen is sharper, more intense and exists only in Gillian’s mind.

“I - I don’t know why I’ve done this.” Gillian murmurs.

“I’m always here for a reason.” Eileen prompts a little more gently.

“Why do I want to talk to you?” Gillian wonders.

“Why wouldn’t you?” Eileen bites back. Gillian sighs.

“The last time I saw you - really saw you, alive an’ everything - you - you didn’t recognise me, had no idea who me or me dad were.” Gillian hangs her head at the memory.

Eileen is quiet and Gillian raises her head. She looks at her mother, who is as she was the last day she saw her. Wrinkles line her mother’s face, curving gently into a soft smile around her mouth. Her wrists are thin and fragile, a far cry from the smiling woman preserved above the mantelpiece. Gillian feels resentment slice through her gut at having forgotten how beautiful her mother was.

“Well I’m here now, an’ I know you.” Her mother says.

“You must have something you want to say to me, or something - something you want me to say to you?” Eileen continues, as Gillian remains silent.

“I - I don’t know.” Gillian whispers, though it isn’t the truth.

Eileen leans back in her chair, throwing another judgemental glance at the tablecloth. Her eyes narrow slightly, and her face changes.

“Why didn’t you tell me he was hurting you?” Eileen asks.

“I - that’s - ” Gillian’s head spins.

“That’s what you’ve wanted me to ask you, isn’t it. Would it’ve made a difference if I had? Would you ever have told me?” Eileen’s questions are relentless and Gillian feels each word dig into her skin. Should’ve told someone.

“No. No, that’s not it.” Gillian realises. Her mother blinks in surprise.

“Something else you need to know then.” Eileen muses.

“Did me dad ever hurt you?” Gillian asks, before she can stop herself.

“If you don’t know, then I don’t know.” Her mother replies calmly.

“I wish you were still ‘ere.” Gillian admits quietly.

“So I could call your father a pillock?”

“It’s not the same when I do it.” Gillian replies with mock solemnity. Her mother laughs and Gillian’s heart seizes at the sound.

She glances around the kitchen formed by her memories. Some details have slipped from her grasp. She can’t remember how many cupboard doors lined the wall or the colour of the tiles behind the sink, but she can remember the old biscuit tin that sat on the bench and how the floor felt against her bare feet. She can remember the lightbulb that swung high and slightly off centre from the ceiling, and the view from the window of the other terraced houses down the street. Red bricks and washing lines stretch as far as she can imagine.

“What do I want from you?” Gillian wonders as her eyes fix on one of the framed photos hanging on the wall, “Maybe it’s - I - I’m sorry for thinking badly of you, over not giving me dad Celia’s note. I don’t know why, it just got in me head and - ”

“You always were too much in your head.”

“Mmm.”

“We’d never have had you, if I had passed that note on.” Eileen’s gaze sharpens again, causing Gillian to shrink a little.

“That can’t be why, there must’ve been something else did your head in?” Eileen continues.

“I don’t - maybe - I - ”

“Don’t you dare go thinking the world would be any better off without you in it. I don’t like where your head is going, love.” Eileen’s voice is firm.

“Neither do I, but I’m trying to understand.” Gillian runs a hand over her face.

“I always hated this wallpaper, of course you’d remember it.” Eileen mutters, and Gillian breathes again.

Alan smiles tightly at them both from the photo, with his hand gently placed on a teenaged Gillian’s shoulder as she squirms away from him. It was after, Gillian realises. She must’ve been at least seventeen in the photo, just before she married Eddie. Her heart breaks as she glares at the her younger self, god she was so stupid. She was so young.

“I told you not to marry him, remember? Of course you remember.” Eileen follows her daughter’s gaze.

“Y - yeah I remember.”

“You didn’t listen.”

“No, I didn’t.”

Gillian’s eyes drop back to the tablecloth, before settling on her mother’s hands. A soft smile pulls at her lips as she remembers every detail of the wedding ring nestled on her mother’s ring finger.

“This was my mother’s ring, you know.” Eileen says wistfully, as she often did.

“I know.” Gillian murmurs.

“It’s sitting in that tin under your bed right at this moment. Right below you. I wanted you to have it, when you got wed.”

“I - I know. It didn’t feel right, it were yours an’ I couldn’t - ”

“Maybe you didn’t feel worthy of it. Which is bloody stupid, Gillian.”

“It weren’t mine to have.”

“How many times have you got wed now?” Her mother grins.

“Alright, well - well third time’s the charm an’ all that.” Gillian’s eyes move to her own wedding ring.

“I think you’ve got it right this time, love. Though you can’t have done much worse than - ”

“Alright, mum. Bloody hell.” Gillian interrupts her mother, and receives an amused raising of eyebrows.

“Are you happy?” Eileen asks.

“This time - yes. I am.” Gillian thinks of the woman laying next to her, and smiles.

“You’ve finally got there.” Her mother’s hands squeeze hers.

“I wish you could’ve met ‘er - Caroline - you’d have liked her, I think.”

“I know.” Eileen whispers and the kitchen seems to shift around them.

“I think I know, why your ‘ere in me head again. I think - ”

“I was never disappointed in you, is that what you want to hear?”

“Maybe. But I don’t believe you, you never would’ve said that.”

“What does it matter now anyway, you’ve no way of knowing what I’d really say. I’m just a mouthpiece for your memories, an' your bloody guilt.”

“You deserve more than this, mum. Being trapped in me head, even if you’re not really here.”

“So do you, love.”

“I - I don’t want to let you go.” Gillian’s hands begin to tremble.

“It’s okay, you’ll be alright.” Her mother’s voice is soothing.

“I’m sorry, mum.”

“No apologies, remember?”

“That’s what you said. I forgot, but that’s what you said. When I - when I were fourteen and you found out about all that business, you told me I had nothing to be sorry for an’ then you said nothing else all them months after. Catherine always said that, later, after Eddie and everything else. Caroline says it too - even Celia sometimes - but you were the first to tell me. I’ve nothing to be sorry for, you said.”

“I think you can let me go now, Gillian. My beautiful girl.”

“I love you, mum.”

“Go and be with your lovely wife.”

Eileen rises from the table and Gillian stands with her.

“Don’t forget me.” Eileen whispers in her ear, and then she’s gone.

 

The kitchen disappears and - for a moment - Gillian is alone.

 

“Gillian?” Caroline’s voice drifts towards her and pulls her back to their bed.

Gillian wakes with a wince and a groan and a concerned wife watching her.

“Fuckin’ hell.” Gillian murmurs. Caroline raises her eyebrows.

“Good morning to you too. Are you alright?” Caroline shifts closer towards her as sunlight begins to creep across the sheets.

“Mmm, sorry. No - yeah I’m - I’m - bloody hell.” Gillian ignores the flames spreading across her chest as she runs a wobbly hand over damp eyes.

“You’ve been crying.” Caroline says softly.

“I - I saw me mum, she were in me dream.” Gillian’s eyes find the ceiling again.

You’re bloody bonkers, Gillian. Need your head examining. Bloody bonkers -

Oh. And how is your mother?” Caroline asks, non-plussed.

“Uh. Right, yeah she’s - she’s fine, you know, considering she’s dead.”

Caroline’s hand drifts across the sheet and settles on her wife’s stomach. Gillian feels the tension and the grief (and the bloody self-loathing) leave her and focuses on the sensation of Caroline’s fingers as they splay across her skin.

“I wish you could’ve met ‘er, she’d have liked you.” Gillian murmurs, not for the first time.

“I know. Of course she would.” Caroline grins, and Gillian produces something close to a snort.

“What time is it?” Gillian asks.

“You’ve made it to 5:30 without going to check on the sheep so don’t ruin it now.”

“Well someone needs to see to them.”

“Clare’s coming soon isn’t she? I’m sure she can manage.”

Caroline shares a long and stubborn look with her wife, before Gillian finally relents.

“Alright, fine. What am I supposed to do now, then?” Gillian grumbles.

“Hmm. I can think of a few things.” Caroline grins.

 

Bloody hell Caz, it’s 5:30 in the morning - ”