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Loup Femmes

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Serena Wolfe rests under the cerulean comforter of the queen sized bed, wearing little more than her pride. Her eyes open slightly as the sunlight beams through the open French doors. She’s able to make out a form standing there in the doorway, wearing only the short, blush colored silk robe around her body, knowing exactly who it would be. “You’re up early.”

 

Glancing over her shoulder, Bernie Wolfe holds her warm coffee cup between her hands. “Earlier than you, yeah.” She huffs a soft sound of amusement to herself, “actually, you’ve slept in.”

 

“Time is it?”

 

“Quarter past nine.” Bernie turns away from the French doors, leaving them open as she nears the bed. Setting her coffee cup on the bedside table, she begins to crawl across the bed, toward her wife. Leaning in, she captures a tender kiss from the woman. “Are you hungry? I can order breakfast.”

 

French Riviera. Serena has always loved France, ever since she was a girl, but she had never actually been to the coast. Always choosing the smaller quaint towns and vineyards inland for her trips. When her granddaughter suggested they travel to the French Riviera for their anniversary holiday together, she couldn’t think of a better choice. Bernie loves being by the water, and she loves being in France. Win, win. “Will they deliver?”

 

Bernie hums her approval, stealing another kiss before sitting with her back against the headboard. “You order through the hotelier service app on your mobile. I was taking a look at it earlier, but would hate to wake you with room service and food that you weren’t prepared to eat just yet.” She reaches over to the bedside table for her mobile.

 

“Order us something then, darling. You know what I like.” Serena smiles softly, yawning a bit as she rolls onto her back, slowly still waking. “I haven’t slept this late into the morning in years.” She starts to stretch, the blankets moving down and exposing her bare chest. Before, earlier in their relationship and marriage, Serena was still modest when around her wife. However, now, there wasn’t anything either of them hadn't seen on one another regularly. Her modesty had gone out the window.

 

“Well, you weren’t terribly tired last night.” A smirk starts to form on Bernie’s face as she focuses on the mobile in her slender hands. “Kept me up for hours, that’s for sure.” She receives a playful nudge from her wife, causing her to give a low chuckle.

 

“I wasn’t complaining.”

 

“Neither was I.” 

 

Serena’s cheeks turn crimson as she reaches over to gently touch her wife’s long, muscular leg. “Can’t we extend our stay for a full week?”

 

Glancing over to her wife slowly, Bernie arches an eyebrow, “I wanted to do that in the first place, but you were the one that argued against it. The children need us, you said.” Setting her mobile back onto the bedside table, Bernie scoots down on the bed to be face to face with her wife, “you were correct then, are you willing to admit that you were wrong now?”

 

Leaning in, Serena presses a soft kiss against her wife’s nose, “no.” She exhales slowly, “they do. I mean, we’ve only been out for two days, thus far, and Cole has had you on the video conference for an hour each day.”

 

Bernie smirks to herself, “he’s worried about us.”

 

“He’s worried about you . What’s a shadow without a host?”

 

“It is lonely without having him next to me.” She pouts playfully, “I suppose you are a sufficient substitute.”

 

“Oh, I think I may be a bit more than that.” Serena rolls over top of her wife, pinning her to the bed. She leans in, kissing Bernie’s lips passionately before beginning to trail softer kisses down her jaw and neck. “I don’t want you to mistake it again.” She jests, knowing that her grandson’s relationship with his Gran was obviously something vastly different from what she has with her wife.

 

Bernie moans softly, placing her hand atop Serena’s head, threading her fingers through her hair as the woman reaches her chest, being playful as she runs her lips against the silk robe. Suddenly, a knock is heard at the door, causing her to softly begin to hum a giggle to herself. “That’s too bad.” Of course she doesn’t want to move. That’s the last thing she wants, “Breakfast is here.”

 

Serena groans, rolling back onto her back. “Let me put on my-”

 

“Come in!” Bernie yells, not giving her wife a moment as the silver haired woman screeches with embarrassment as she slides down in the bed, pulling the covers over her head. Bernie starts to laugh harder as the attendant pushes the large cart of food into the room, “thank you so much.” Her long legs climb effortlessly from the bed as the attendant slips out.

 

“Berenice Wolfe, you’re the worst.” Serena lowers the blanket, scowling toward her wife.

 

“Probably, but you married the whole thing, darling, and it’s too late to rid yourself of me now. I have you exactly where I want you...naked and in bed.” Bernie smirks playfully as she lifts a raspberry to her lips from the plate of the light breakfast that France is so known for. “ Un café noir et un croissant... ainsi qu'un assortiment de confiture et de miel.”

 

Serena grins broadly, thinking of how turned on she happens to feel at that very moment with the beautiful French coming from her wife’s mouth, even if it is just the breakfast menu of what she ordered, “I did marry the whole thing...and you haven’t changed a single bit since the day we were.”

 

“Few more wrinkles...many more grandchildren.” Bernie lifts a blueberry from the bowl of fruit included with their small meal, bringing it over to feed to her wife in bed, only to be pulled down by the woman’s arms onto the bed as she does so. Hearing her mobile begin to ring, she decides to ignore it in favor of giving in to her wife’s whims. 

 

“Mum.” Cole Wolfe barges into his mother’s bedroom, which she’s also fashioned into a sort of office for herself, a nervous tone to his voice. “Mum, I can’t get a hold of the Grands.”

 

“I bet you can’t.” Charlotte Wolfe mumbles to herself, smirking as she focuses on her rose gold, ultra thin laptop. “Why do you continue to bother them anyway? They’re on a well deserved weekend holiday and you’ve phoned every day. I mean, they’re only out for an extended weekend, Cole. They aren’t staying there forever.”

 

“But they could decide to.” Cole nods, “I’ve researched photos of the place they’re staying and other tourist attractions of the French Riviera and it’s beautiful there. A paradise of sorts.” He takes a seat at the end of the bed, lifting his leg to look at the boot cast still on his leg, “I mean, if Grandad and Auntie Sian decided to move away, I’d be disappointed, but...it wouldn’t be like if the Grands moved house.”

 

“Goodness, Cole.” Char turns in her cream colored desk chair to better face her eldest son, “has anyone ever told you that you think too much?” When he doesn’t answer, she sighs, leaning back in the expensive office chair, “your Grands have never been on a proper holiday together since their honeymoon. That was over a decade ago. Yes, I know they’ve gone on holiday with you and Gwennie here and there, but nothing with just the two of them since you lot were born.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why, what?”

 

“Why haven’t they gone on holiday with just the two of them since their honeymoon?” Cole gets up from the bed, starting to pace. It’s something he does to calm himself, but he only really does it when he’s anxious. He hasn’t done it in months.

 

Charlotte watches him, then shrugs a little, “they uh...they helped me with you because I wasn’t...” She attempts to find the words, adjusting her position within the office chair. “I wasn’t at my best, but you grew intensely attached to them in that time...then your brothers came along not long before your second birthday and they were...a bloody handful.”

 

“So why did you have them then?” He mumbles, not actually meaning the words.

 

“Your father grew attached and they were the last two left in the box of babies.” Char smirks, teasing in her statement, “also, could you imagine a world or even this family without your brothers? I mean, Owen does his thing, though he’s doing much better now that his hip has healed, including the laps around the house that he’s so fond of doing to keep himself occupied. Lane is getting better every day. Doesn’t even use the walker anymore if he takes his time...and his cane.” She thinks back to the car accident that gave Lane multiple brain bleeds, caused her daughter’s early birth, and ripped her husband from his family entirely, but manages to keep her wits about her. “What’s gotten into you?”

 

Cole shakes his head a little, his voice low, “Nothing. Everything’s fine.” It isn’t fine. His mind travels a mile a minute as he makes his way from the room. He’ll try to phone his grandmothers again in a bit.

Chapter Text

“I know you’re like, fighting sleep or whatever, but it’s hot in here and I can’t put the wrap on to hold you, like you like, because I keep sweating when I do.” Guinevere Haynes holds her infant cousin up to stand as she sits on the cool, Walnut hardwood floor. Lavinia Wolfe had gained quite a bit of weight in her month at home. She was two months premature and spent her first month in Holby City’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. However, the girl was growing just fine now.

 

“She’s a slave driver.” Lane grins, watching his sister and his cousin interact. Though he wasn’t quite at a hundred percent since the automobile accident, he works nearly every day to get back to where he was before. He lounges on the sofa, wearing a pair of lightweight shorts and a cropped tank top that he had cut himself. “Probably looking for the Grands.”

 

“I mean, she does spend most of her days with them. Auntie Char takes over in the night and early morning. Then the process repeats.” Gwen shrugs, closing her knees together and pulling her legs up for Lavinia to rest against her thighs. “Look at how Cole turned out. Reckon she’ll be close to the same.”

 

“He keeps telling me to read Mum’s first book.” Lane shrugs, “it isn’t that I don’t want to, but-”

 

“You could always listen to the audio of it.” She knows it’s hard for him to really focus on anything. Music and spoken word, he could do. Anything else was rather difficult. “Don’t remember which actress reads it, or if Auntie Char reads it herself, but...I own it if you’d like to borrow it.”

 

“Never listened to it?”

 

“I mean to, I just haven’t ever found the time.” Guinevere notices the baby eagerly bringing her chubby little fist to her mouth, gurgling as she does, “are you hungry, Vinnie?” She looks around, for her mobile, finding it on the coffee table. Quickly she looks at the time and tosses the mobile back to where it was previously. “That’s it. That’s why you aren’t going to sleep, you’re hungry.”

 

“Mum’s been in her room all day.” Lane watches his cousin, “she could probably use the break.”

 

“You’re probably right.” Gwen pushes herself up to carefully stand, holding the baby comfortably in her arm. She walks to the stairs, ascending them quickly before reaching her aunt’s bedroom. Gently opening the door, “Auntie Char?” Her tone is gentle, quiet. “I’m sorry to bother you.”

 

“No, I only write for a living and need to...get this revision and the other book sent to my publisher as quickly as possible so that my family can eat.” Charlotte exaggerates, only half meaning what she says. Spinning around in the office chair, she motions to the bedroom door with her head, “Close the door as you come in.”

 

Doing as told, Guinevere carefully closes the bedroom door, nearing the work area where her aunt’s writing desk is stationed, “I don’t mean to bother you, I just-”

 

“Your intrusion is well appreciated.” Char holds her hands out for her daughter, “she looks hungry.”

 

“Yeah, and I think she may be sleepy, so I thought-”

 

“She and I could have a bit of bonding time.” Charlotte winks to her niece when she hands the baby over, “you’re an incredibly intelligent young woman, Gwennie.” She nuzzles the babe against her chest, “my boys driving you crazy like they are me?”

 

Gwen shakes her head negatively, hopping comfortably onto the bed, “It’s just really hot.”

 

“We’re in the middle of a heat wave. Hottest England has ever had, apparently.” She looks her daughter up and down, “speaking of which, I bet she’s just as hot as the pair of us are.” Wheeling the office chair closer to the bed, Charlotte places her daughter onto the mattress then carefully unzippers her baby onesie. “There you go, love.” She notices the soft smile from the babe, “just the diaper for today sound good to you?”

 

Moving closer to the baby on the bed, Guinevere grins, “look how happy she is.”

 

“Reckon we’re all happier when we’re naked.” Char lets the baby have a few moments there before glancing to her niece, “did you bring your swimsuit, by chance?”

 

“Why would I? You haven’t got a pool.”

 

“Well, nothing vast, but I can order us one. Nothing too large, but something for us all to just go out and relax in. Cool off.” Charlotte nods, “even a baby float for Lavinia. What say you?” She reaches to her desk, obtaining the mobile that matches her laptop and handing it to her niece.

 

“I’d say it’s one of your better ideas.” Gwen smirks, taking her aunt’s mobile. She accesses the purchasing app on the second page of the mobile screens, showing the woman a picture, “what about this one?”

 

Char shakes her head, “bigger.” When her niece scowls, pulling up another picture, Charlotte shakes her head again, “bigger.”

 

“Any bigger and it will take up most of the garden.”

 

“Now you’re getting the idea.” Charlotte lifts the side of her tank top up, unclasping the cup of her brassiere before placing her daughter against her breast, smiling when her Lavinia begins to hungrily suckle. “You were quite hungry. Surprised you didn’t start yelling and crying at Gwennie like you do with Cole.”

 

“She likes me more than she likes Cole.” Gwen teases, comfortably lounging back onto the bed. She shows one last picture to her aunt, earning a nod from her before ordering it with the credit card saved within the purchasing application. “It should be here in about an hour, but it will probably take all day just to fill.”

 

“Well, we can borrow the Grands water supply as well as our own. Halve the time.” She nods, “oh, make sure to get Vinnie some swim nappies and a swim boat for her to float about the pool in. You know her size.”

 

“On it.” Guinevere smirks, always comfortable with her aunt. She was like an older sister most times even though she was old enough to be her mother. “Can I get a pair of sunnies as well?”

 

“Sure.” Charlotte glances down to her daughter again, “let me switch you before you fall asleep so I haven’t lopsided tits.”

 

“Is that something that really happens?” Gwen continues to add the things she asked into the cart of the shopping app on her aunt’s mobile. “That she’s able to drink so much out of one breast that it makes it much smaller than the other?” She pauses, finally touching the button to place the order. “I mean, what if someone already has uneven breasts to begin with?”

 

Char hums her approval, clasping one side of her bra before unclasping the cup of the other side, then placing her daughter to it again, glad the girl wasn’t finished. “She’ll probably be falling asleep shortly. Would you like to nap with her? Reckon you can use my bed since she and I co-sleep often.” She sighs, “that is, if you don’t mind hearing me type.”

 

Yawning, as if on cue, Guinevere shakes her head. “One of us needs to listen out for the delivery person.”

 

“Text Cole. If he’s going to pace, he may as well do it downstairs.” Char pauses, “where’s Owen?”

 

“Already sleeping.” She smiles a little, “he started signing goodnight before walking himself upstairs to his room.” Gwen chuckles softly to herself, “I checked on him and everything. Sound asleep, so I put his gate up, but Cole or Lane will probably hear him if he wishes to get out when he wakes.”

 

“Let the boys fend for themselves for a spell.” Charlotte smirks before yawning herself, “blimey. Reckon I should catch a quick kip myself.”

 

Guinevere nods emphatically, “Vinnie can sleep between us.”

 

“Like I said before, you’re brilliant.” Charlotte lets her daughter finish her meal before clasping the cup of her nursing sports bra. The babe having fallen asleep in her arms. Carefully, Charlotte places the girl between herself and Guinevere, staying on top of the covers to keep themselves cool. Today may go just fine after all. 

Chapter Text

“We spent three hours in a small, family-owned shop purchasing overpriced souvenirs for our grandchildren. I think I’ve earned the right to get a bit of sun on our last day here.” Bernie smirks, large sunglasses covering her face as she lounges atop the beach towel she’s laid out. “You should join me. We can both go home looking perfectly bronzed.”

 

“And risk possible skin cancer? No, thank you.” Serena sighs heavily, glad their cabana was on the beach, connected by an internal ramp for hoteliers to deliver things. Lowering herself onto the sand, next to her swim costume clad wife, Serena lifts her head up, large floppy hat and her own pair of sunnies covering her face as well as a cheetah print, gauzy outfit.

 

“That isn’t how you were when we were in Gibraltar.” Bernie smirks, a raised eyebrow moving just above her sunglasses.

 

“You let me burn while we were in Gibraltar.” Serena stares out toward the waves, “also, I wasn’t in my sixties when we were in Gibraltar.”

 

“It’s always about age with you.” Glancing over toward her wife, Bernie continues, “just live, Campbell. Let the sun be your blanket and the sand your mattress. There’s no one here on our portion of shore. That’s one of the reasons Guinevere was so excited about this place.” Propping herself up with an elbow to better look to the woman next to her, “not so much so you can whip your tits out, but...for us to have peace and quiet...and freedom to act like teenagers.”

 

Serena starts to smile a little, “like having it off on the beach, did that once. Was washing sand out of places I was unaware it could get to for about a week after.” She sighs a little, the corner of her mouth still upturned, “how do you go about without any consideration to-”

 

“Others?” Bernie shrugs, lying back down, “I’ve just never really cared. I purchase what I like. Reason why I haven’t many articles of clothing.”

 

“You buy designer.”

 

“Sometimes, but not every time.” She pauses, “I buy quality.”

 

“We’re both guilty of paying too much for clothing, darling.” Serena nods, finally beginning to slide down in the sand, her head next to her wife’s on the beach towel. “I can’t shake this mindset. I’ve spoken with Annette about it and...I don’t know what it is.” She mentions her long term therapist, turned family friend. It was nice to have someone impartial to vent to.

 

“Type of midlife crisis?” Bernie closes her eyes, not sleeping, but just enjoying the comfort of the atmosphere, “which doesn’t need to be a bad thing. It is what you make of it.” She reaches over, comfortably taking her wife’s hand in her own without needing to look at her, “I think you’ve been hard on yourself since...since everything happened.”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“And you should think about treating yourself better.” Bernie gently touches her head to her wife’s, though they aren’t facing one another, “in more ways than one. More holidays away, even if it’s to a local hotel. More clothes, more...whatever you want. You know I’d give you the world if you wanted it.”

 

“I know.” Serena smiles a little to herself. She sits back up, clearing her throat before carefully removing her gauzy top. She lies back down, bare chested. “Better?”

 

“Well, you know I’m always up for you being nude, sweetheart, but it isn’t about me. How does it feel for you?”

 

Inhaling and exhaling slowly, Serena attempts to find the words. “The breeze is cooler than I thought it was.” She hears her wife’s soft chortle, “but it’s still...it’s nice, I suppose.”

 

“I didn’t think you’d actually do it.” Bernie smirks, “but I am enjoying the view.”

 

Serena grins a bit more, adjusting her hat to cover her face a bit more, “maybe I’ll color my hair. Go back to brunette...maybe some blonde highlights.”

 

“That’s an idea.”

 

“Maybe I’ll...exercise more.” Serena curls her lip, unimpressed with the idea. “I’ll...eat healthier.”

 

“You already eat healthily.” Bernie takes hold of her wife’s hand again when the woman offers it to her, “I know Charlotte was playing with the thought of doing a bit. Maybe you and she could help one another.” She offers, then turning to tease her wife a tad, “not everyone is able to be in perfect shape, like myself.”

 

“Not everyone can be as humble either.”

 

“Exactly. That’s what I’ve been saying for years.” Bernie rolls over to lie on her belly so she can begin to tan her back. “Really though, Campbell, you don’t need to do any of that. You’re perfect exactly how you are.” She leans over, capturing her wife’s lips in a tender kiss, “I love the way your voice sounds first thing in the morning, I love the shape of your thighs. I love the softness of your skin...as if you bathe exclusively in milk and oatmeal.”

 

Serena blushes, lifting a hand to rest on her wife’s cheek, “you’re far too kind.”

 

“When you get embarrassed, I love the way your nose goes all crimson with your cheeks.” Bernie leans down, giving the woman another kiss, “but most of all, I love how much you love our family.” She raises an eyebrow, “it may not be exactly as we would like, but it’s what we have and...it’s ours.” Bernie’s voice turns to that of a whisper toward the end of her statement.

 

“Well.” She clears her throat, “before my breasts get all sunburnt, would you care to...help me get a bit of sun cream on?” Serena raises a suggestive eyebrow, “If I’m going to bathe in the nude under this...hot, hot sun, I’m going to need a bit of help ensuring I’m completely covered. Wouldn’t you say, darling?”

 

Bernie returns the facial expression, a cheeky grin quickly growing across her face. She pushes up to standing with little effort before offering her wife a hand to help her up, “I can only promise to do my best.”

Chapter Text

Guinevere tilts her head to the side, watching Owen as he relaxes in the water. The pool isn’t deep in the least, hits her just above the waist when she stands. Only bad thing was that it had taken a whole day to fill, even though they used the water from the Grands’ house as well. “Look at him, he’s just...zen.”

 

“Proper zen.” Cole nods, smirking a little, “I don’t know if Owen’s ever really been in a larger pool before, their parents always worried about his abilities due to his autism. Probably a whole different experience for him, sensory-wise.” He gently pushes his sister in her boat float over toward his cousin again, “sounds, feelings, weightlessness. Same things that make Vinnie excited about the water...baths or pools.”

 

“Didn’t think of it that way, but sure.” Gwen nods, looking toward her other cousin, just walking along the perimeter. “You’re doing great, Laney.”

 

“Thanks.” Lane nods, finally taking a moment to bob down onto his knees, relaxing. He offers a soft smile, his speech still slowed and nearly slurred, “I’m...I’m trying to be able to go back to school in the fall without issue.” He lets the other two send over the baby boat for him to continue pushing around. His sister clapping and squealing with excitement. “I know I still have a ways to go, but...I’m trying.”

 

“And you’re doing a really good job.” Cole offers a gentle smile toward his brother, “Probably why they brought your physio down to two days a week instead of the four like you were doing previously.”

 

“Maybe.” Lane nods, still participating in the passing around of his baby sister while she kicks her little feet in the water.

 

“Does anyone need a reapplication of sun cream?” Charlotte calls out as she closes the back screen door behind herself. Seeing a wave of negative head shakes, she smirks, “Very good, cubs.” Using the small ladder over the side of the pool, she climbs into the cool water. “I’m all for hot tubs, but this...is a lovely new experience.”

 

“I’m not complaining.” Cole smirks, watching his mother as she moves over to Owen. 

 

Charlotte begins running a hand over his dark hair. She’s glad she’s gotten in the habit of tying it up for him. If he wasn’t going to be a fan of getting it trimmed, she had to keep him cool during these warm summer months. The boy doesn’t respond, only offering her a relaxed smile. She leans in, kissing his eyebrow before turning out, noticing what the other children were doing. She joins in, gently pushing her daughter on to the next person, “where’s your boot, Cole?”

 

“It was right next to the ladder and I’m not even standing in here or putting pressure on my leg. I’m sitting down.” Cole gives his mother a knowing look, “also, how come you, Gwen, and Vinnie got sun specks, but Laney and I didn’t?”

 

“Thought you already had a pair. The big aviator ones that Gran gave you.” Guinevere scowls toward her cousin, unbelieving. “And Lane always breaks every pair he’s ever given. He had that neon pink pair, then the black pair, then the sky blue pair-”

 

“I didn’t ask for a pair of sunglasses.” Lane shakes his head negatively, “but you don’t need to be so mean about it. I’ve changed.”

 

“Okay, can we stop, please?” Charlotte sighs, submerging herself in the water up to her chin, watching them all before switching to a kneeling pose as well, “and it isn’t as if they’d take forever to get here if I did order you a pair, sweet boy.”

 

“I forgot about the pair Gran gave me.” Cole mumbles, disappointed in himself slightly.

 

Gwen feigns disbelief, “What? Cole, forgetting all about something that Gran gave him? We must take you to hospital this instant.” She hears Lane begin to giggle, as well as her aunt.

 

“Is there room for two more?”

 

Cole glances over, seeing his grandparents standing on their side of their shared yard. “Welcome home!” He calls out, beaming. He’d get out to hold onto the women if he didn’t have to put his boot cast back on immediately when exiting the pool. “Go put your swim costumes on.”

 

Bernie nears the group, an ivory colored, button-down linen romper hangs perfectly on her frame, “Where’s the fun in that?” She kicks off her slip on plimsolls before getting into the pool. She doesn’t care in the least about her clothes getting wet, or her curled hair getting wet.

 

“Alright, Gran!” Cole grins, amused greatly by his grandmother. 

 

“Feels amazing, doesn’t it?” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, watching her mother replace her water drop laden sunglasses back onto her wet face. “You weren’t supposed to bring the heat back with you.”

 

“It was hot even before we left.” Bernie moves to the edge of the pool, quickly noticing what the group was doing with the baby float. She smirks when her youngest grandchild notices her new appearance, “Hello to you as well, Vinnie.” She playfully splashes in front of the girl, earning her an excited squeal.

 

“Berenice Grizelda Wolfe.”

 

“Someone’s in trouble. She used your whole government that time.” Guinevere turns slowly, smirking when she sees her Nan. “Water’s fine. Come in.” She calls out, pushing the baby’s boat to the next person without needing to look.

 

“I will not.” Serena steps close to the pool side, her arms folded across her chest. She’s highly amused by her wife’s childish behavior, but wouldn’t dare admit it. Glancing down, she notices Lavinia reaching toward her when the float nears the edge of the pool. “Hello there, sweetheart. Are you having so much fun?”

 

“Pretty sure the grandchildren are the only reason she wanted to come home.” Bernie raises an eyebrow, lounging against the wall of the pool. “I just followed her because I’m madly in love. Curse really.”

 

“I’ve dealt with her all weekend. It’s your turn.” Serena explains to the group, hearing their laughter. When the baby starts to cry because she’s moving away from her, Serena waits for her to near again, “does she need anything, Charlotte?”

 

“A proper cuddle from her favorite Nan.” Char smirks, watching as the woman lifts the wet infant from the baby boat. “She’s also probably tired since she’s been in here for a few hours.”

 

“Woke up and immediately got in the pool?”

 

“Well, we woke up, ate breakfast, then got in the pool.” Cole clarifies, “honestly, we thought you weren’t coming home until later tonight.”

 

“He’s lying. I told them what time your return tickets were booked for.” Guinevere shakes her head, rolling her eyes. “Auntie Char said we would order out for lunch since we weren’t sure if anything would delay your plane.” She lounges against the side of the pool since she doesn’t have to push her baby cousin around anymore.

 

Cole playfully splashes his cousin, watching his Nan still, “we had absolutely no idea.”

 

Serena presses a kiss against the baby’s head as Lavinia rests against her chest, “reckon Lavinia’s hungry then as well.” 

 

Charlotte dramatically sighs, trudging back to the ladder to get out of the pool. “That she is. Also, Wolfe pack, we’re doing salads for lunch. I’ll call to have a couple delivered. Any special requests? I’m thinking of a chicken caesar, since I know I can eat that tomorrow as well.”

 

“Mum, can we have the one with the pork and apricots?” Lane lifts his head, hoping his mother remembers.

 

“I was going to say the crab and tomato one.” Gwen waves her eyebrow.

 

“I can get all three. That’s fine. Family sized portions in case anyone wants to mix and match.” Char nods, “is everyone happy with that?”

 

“I mean, if we must have salad, I guess.” Cole grumbles, though he actually does love the salads that were mentioned, he’d never admit it. He watches his mother and Nan retreat into the house, glancing over to his Gran, “did you have a nice trip or did it rain every day?”

 

“Oh, it was absolutely beautiful.” Bernie smirks, “our travel agent, Guinevere Elinor Haynes, is highly rated.” She glances over toward the girl, “even the restaurant you recommended. It was as if you lived there once and knew exactly what we should do.”

 

“I did my research.” Gwen nods, offering a proud smile. “It’s what I do best.”

 

“Wouldn’t be able to do half of my shows if it weren’t for her.” Cole nods, then looks to his other brother. He moves closer, swimming around him a little, “reckon O’s fallen asleep.”

 

“Not hard to do in this water. It’s nice and cold.” Lane nods, “should we wake him?”

 

Bernie shakes her head negatively, “let him rest. We’ll only wake him when the food arrives or we decide to get out.” She smiles softly as she looks to her grandson, “we could all stand to learn something from our Owen. Learn to relax a bit more, enjoy the pool instead of thinking about what else can be done in it.”

 

“Trust me, I’m relaxing. It’s pushing thirty-nine degrees in the house. I’ve checked.” Guinevere sighs, “I’ve found going down to the cellar is nice. I’ve done a few loads of laundry for Auntie Char since it’s so much cooler down there. Even folded everything...even Cole’s stained pants.”

 

“I hope you enjoyed it.” Cole smirks to his cousin, knowing she’s just trying to get a rise out of him.

 

“Yes, I definitely missed this.” Bernie listens intently, amused by her grandchildren. She grins to herself, not knowing how she would have felt if they did stay a week instead of just a three-day weekend.

Chapter Text

“Holiday was nice?” Charlotte rounds the kitchen island, picking up her mobile from the charging pad as she leads the way to the living room. “Probably better than what’s going on in here. Bloody scorcher we’re in.”

 

Serena begins to smile, nodding, “it was amazing, honestly. We realized just how much we missed it. Not only being together away from home, but also spending time together. Just having a good time. I haven’t laughed so much in...years. I mean, I have, but...” She lifts her head, “It was invigorating.”

 

“Oh my. Lots of wild tantric sex going on then, I assume.”

 

“Charlotte.” Serena blushes, scowling playfully toward her step-daughter. “How about you? How comes the writing?”

 

“Well, I’ve submitted the revisions for the new book. My publisher said with the movie about the firefighters set to release in theaters, people are very eager to get their hands on everything related to Juniper Street.” Char exhales a little, “so expect to be contacted.”

 

Nodding a little, the older woman gets comfortable on the sofa, her granddaughter just holding onto her. Gently squeezing and releasing a fist full of Serena’s lightweight blouse, Lavinia is just glad to have the woman back. Serena gently rubs the baby’s back, “how do you stand it without so much as a fan in here?”

 

“Hold on.” Charlotte has her mobile in hand, placing the order for food before opening the front door to pull in the package that had been placed there. She wasn’t about to tell the children she had an ulterior motive about going in the house beside ordering lunch. “I could have made bloody salads on my own.” The box is large and heavy, but she manages to pull it inside.

 

“The hell is that?” Serena furrows a confused brow, watching the younger woman.

 

“Well, it’s a temporary solution to a problem.” Char explains, pushing the box to the lounge before she begins to tear the tape off, opening the box. She starts to smile, “you’re more than welcome to join in on the pajama party we’re about to have here tonight.”

 

“I’m lost.” She shakes her head, “what is it?”

 

“It’s an air-con.” Char nods, “I wanted to be a surprise for the others. My editor said it was, and I quote, ‘fucking hot out’ and they’re sending someone over to outfit my entire house. In the meantime, I have this one...and I get to keep it. So, once the house is finished, you and Mum can have it.”

 

Serena listens to her stepdaughter, glancing down to the baby still cuddling her, “Why is your editor-”

 

“I’m not asking any questions. Also, they’re American and believe it’s absurd not to have one in every room so...I’m more than happy to reap the benefits.” Charlotte smirks, “let me get you a bottle for her before I start trying to set this up.”

 

“Do you even know what you’re doing?”

 

“Nothing a quick online tutorial can’t teach me...or the papers included.” She shrugs, stepping away from the box and her stepmother to return to the kitchen. She warms a bottle of breastmilk for her daughter, making quick work of it. Testing it on her wrist before offering it to Serena, she waves her eyebrows. “If that doesn’t help, I’ll just wing it.”

 

“That sounds like a terrible idea.” Serena sighs, adjusting her hold on her granddaughter before placing the bottle at her lips. She notices the girl attempting to hold the bottle herself, placing her tiny hands on either side, but knows Lavinia isn’t quite strong enough yet. “What about phoning a professional to install it?”

 

“Doesn’t sound fun at all.” Charlotte glances down at herself, “I should probably at least put on actual clothes. High waist bikini isn’t proper air-con install attire.”

 

“You’re going to hurt yourself. Also, you know you shouldn’t be lifting heavy things yet. You’re just over two months postpartum from a cesarean. That takes at least six weeks to heal on its own. Not to mention your lung injury that you still need to take very seriously.” Serena starts mumbling a little, “I don’t need anyone getting hurt in this family so soon after our last fiasco.”

 

Char licks her lips, knowing the woman is right, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t...” She takes a seat next to Serena, “I just...wasn’t thinking.”


“You don’t like to be still. It’s a family trait. Blimey, look at your mother.” Serena speaks softly, being cautious of the baby in her arms, “couldn’t hold her down if I wanted to...and lord knows I’ve tried.” She smiles toward the younger woman. “If you want to try installing that thing, feel free. However, don’t lift anything you know you shouldn’t be lifting.”

 

Charlotte gets up from the sofa again, offering Serena a casual salute with her two fingers at her brow. She keeps herself going for a reason. She knows if she stops for too long, she’ll start thinking about her lost husband. Really, she’s writing about him in the book as it is, she doesn’t want his memory to flood her thoughts during the other times. It hurts too much. Char swallows, it hurts too much. “Stop.” She mumbles to herself, trying to focus on the large machine in front of her.

 

“Charlotte.” Serena notices the slight change in her stepdaughter, but she can’t quite put her finger on what’s going on.

 

“Stop.” She says again, finally walking from the lounge to the foyer. Charlotte begins to ascend the stairs, quickly needing to move and get away from her thoughts, from that room.

 

What the hell was that? Serena stares toward the spot her stepdaughter was just occupying, not understanding what was going on in the least. After a moment, she looks down to her infant granddaughter in her arms, “the Grands are back, darling. Never fear.”

Chapter Text

Charlotte feels an arm pulling her above the water of her large bath tub, muscular, thin, feminine. She blinks a few times, trying to clear her vision. “Mum, what the hell are you doing?” She’s nude, the water tinted an aloe infused chartreuse surrounds her. 

 

“Me? What are you doing?” Bernie stares at her daughter, looking for any visible sign that the young woman is injured or unwell. She shakes her head, already partially dry from having gotten out of the pool. “We yelled up to you several times that lunch had arrived. I came to check on you since you were unresponsive.”

 

“Why? I was taking a bath. There’s a small bit of chlorine in the pool. I don’t need it to make my skin dry.” Honestly, she lost track of time. Lost track of what she was doing. “That’s all. Promise.” Charlotte can tell her mother doesn’t believe her, not with the look she’s giving her.

 

“You nearly gave me a heart attack.” Bernie finally lowers herself to sitting against the tub from the outside, her back facing her daughter. “Serena said you were acting bizarrely and rushed up here. I thought-”

 

“What did you think happened?” Char reaches over, gently running her nails through her mother’s messy blonde hair like she used to when she was small. It’s almost subconsciously, she otherwise wouldn’t.

 

Bernie swallows, licking her lips a little. What is she brave enough to admit? “Sleeping. I thought you had fallen asleep.” She doesn’t move, feeling her daughter’s gentle motions. She doesn’t want to bother her, doesn’t want to call attention to the behavior or the strangeness of it. Bernie relaxes her head back to lean on the tub more. “What’s going on, Char?”

 

Charlotte leans her head against the lip of the deep tub, still gently playing with her mother’s hair. She’s comfortable, but doesn’t know what to say. “Everything’s fine.”

 

Words she’s heard too many times from the both of her children. Even more once they considered themselves adults. Bernie hums a soft sound of amusement. “Ah...the only words you and Cameron think of when speaking to me.” She smirks, “I was only away for three days. No need to bullshit on my account.”

 

Smiling softly to herself, Charlotte doesn’t stop gently twisting her mother’s hair around her finger. “I...I come up here and...I shut myself off from the others.” She swallows, speaking honestly, “I write or...I-I lay in bed and...stare at the spot where Ryan slept.” Char starts to bite her lip, “but I can’t...I can’t cry because if one of the children walks in, I need to look strong for them. Appear as if nothing's bothering me and...” Her chin trembles as she attempts to find the words, “my soul cries out. My consciousness screams to me to let my children know I miss him too, but...I just can’t. It hurts too much.” She finally stops, changing her posture a little so she leans against the end of the tub with her body straight, “To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”

 

Bernie furrows her brow slightly, “was that last bit Shakespeare?”

 

“Henry the sixth, yeah.”

 

“Thought it sounded familiar.” She turns her head to the side, only watching her daughter from her peripheral vision, “Charlotte you’re allowed to grieve. You were married for as long as Serena and I. You had three children together and raised four. The pair of you went through more in your first year of marriage that most people don’t experience in ten.”

 

Charlotte swallows, just listening as she stares at the wall where the fittings to her bath are located. Faucet and shower head need to be cleaned .

 

“And though he’s worked himself to the bone for many years, he came around once the two of you spoke about what you needed of him.” Bernie continues, finally turning more to see her daughter’s face. “He never once stopped loving you...and I know you never once stopped loving him.”

 

“It’s like...there’s this part of me that’s missing.” Char finally says, her eyes filled with unshed tears, “a gaping hole that...is just going to remain that way.” Her chin stiffens as a tear finally slides down her cheek though it’s hidden slightly by her already wet face. “I...I’m trying so hard with...everything. I keep...if I keep moving, I don’t think as often. So...I cook or I...move furniture or I...” Charlotte shakes her head negatively, knowing she probably isn’t making much sense at this point.

 

“Keeping busy is good.”

 

“Every time I...look at the twins, I see him. Owen especially. He...looks exactly like Ryan.” Char hums a soft chortle to herself, “I’ve...looked at pictures of them both at the same age. Absolute spitting image.” She nods slowly, “Laney’s a perfect mixture of us, but Owen...is all his father.”

 

“Ryan was a handsome man and you’re a beautiful woman. It comes as no surprise that your children are gorgeous as well.” Bernie smirks, noticing the young woman starting to calm herself down, “how about I get your towel for you? Help you pick out something comfortable to change into?” She pushes herself up, using the tub as leverage as she walks about the master bath.

 

“The water is only lukewarm now.” Char squeezes her hand, making the water spurt up. “It was nice while it lasted though...relaxing.”

 

“Cole and Guinevere put together the air-con.” Bernie nods, obtaining the towel and holding it open for her daughter, “not that there was much to put together, but they worked together to install it.” She huffs a soft chuckle, “I swear, those two are going to run the entire country one day.”

 

“Or the world.” Charlotte steps into the towel, letting her mother wrap it around her frame. “When you came in and...pulled me from the water...” She watches the woman’s face, “you thought I might be dead, didn’t you?” It’s a rhetorical question, once she knows the answer to, but doesn’t expect her mother to respond. 

 

Bernie wraps her arms around her daughter, hugging her closely. She doesn’t care if her clothes are getting wet again. It’s the furthest thing from her mind. “I’d kill you, if you were. Saddling me with all of these damn children.” Make a joke to lighten the moment , of course. “Not that I mind them, but...a teenager, two just shy of becoming teenagers, and an infant. You want me to go mad.”

 

“You and Serena would be able to handle it all together though.” Char rests her head against her mother’s shoulder, just needing this right now. It’s been a while since she felt this, even the first time in a while she’s been held. “Of that I have no doubt. You’d be brilliant parents to a bunch of unruly teenage children as long as you did it together.”

 

“I’m a much better grandparent to them though.” Bernie corrects, placing a soft kiss at her daughter’s hairline before pulling away to guide her daughter to the young woman’s bedroom. “Come on, let’s get you something to lounge around in. Your salad is getting cold.”

 

“You have jokes.” Charlotte smiles a bit more, glad to have a few moments of peace and clarity in her wild household. 

 

Bernie waves her brow as her daughter takes a seat on top of the bed, “Only the finest.” She opens the closet door before disappearing within. She pauses, taking a breath once out of sight of her daughter. She knew the young woman was having a hard time with things previously, but had no idea things were actually this bad for her. This is something she’ll need to discuss with her wife to get another opinion.

Chapter Text

“Do you remember how it was after the twins were born?” Bernie paces in front of the foot of the bed she shares with her wife within the confines of her bedroom, “we’d stay over Char’s all the time to help. One new baby is enough, but two is a nightmare. Remember that?”

 

“How could I not remember that?” Serena responds quietly, a duffel bag in front of her as she puts a few articles of clothing within, “that’s how they realized that Cole would still sneak into our room at night and sleep between us.” She smiles softly to herself, fond of the memory, “get our toothbrushes from the bath, please.”

 

“You’re packing again? We should be unpacking.”

 

“You’re coming to me because you’re noticing the bizarre behavior coming from Charlotte. Which we saw more of today and can be of more help to her.” Serena nods, lifting her head to meet her wife’s eyes, “also, they have air-con and I love to sleep in a frigid room if I’m able to.”

 

“Only because I’m there to warm you up.” Bernie smirks, stepping away from her wife to go to the bathroom in the hall, obtaining their toothbrushes. She smiles softly, noticing her grandson’s toothbrush near theirs. Her mind begins to wander back to when her own children were small and she isn’t exactly sure why. Seeing Cameron’s toddler toothbrush next to that of her and Marcus. Bernie shakes her head, furrowing her brow. “Why is that on my mind?” She whispers to herself.

 

“Bernie?”

 

Bernie turns her head, seeing Serena in the doorway near her. “Sorry.”

 

“Everything okay?” Serena leans her head against the door frame, having been watching her wife closely. She knows the woman still forgets things, simple things. It’s something Serena is growing used to. “Just need you to grab our toothbrushes.”

 

“I...” Bernie nods a little, reaching forward to obtain their toothbrushes, offering them to her wife. “Of all the things to put back right away, toothbrushes.” She swallows, glancing over to her, “when Cameron was small, his...his toothbrush was a bright green...with turtles on it.”

 

Serena reaches out, slowly taking the toothbrushes from Bernie’s hand, “was it?” Just entertain whatever she’s remembering, regardless of how  minuscule, Serena knows.

 

Clearing her throat, Bernie offers her wife a soft smile, “we bought it for him before telling him I was pregnant with his sister.” She looks back to the toothbrush holder, smiling a little. “I-I had gotten back from Bosnia a couple days prior. Marcus and I...spoiled him a bit that day, even though his birthday was right around the corner.” She shakes her head, “we didn’t think he was going to take the news well.”

 

“And did he?”

 

Bernie raises her brow, “yeah, well, as well as one could expect from a three-year-old, nearly four-year-old.”

 

Serena takes her wife’s hand, guiding her back to their bedroom, trying to get back on track. “Is there anything special you’d like to wear tonight or tomorrow over Charlotte’s? I’ve already put your pants in there, as well as our swim costumes if that’s something you want to do...though I know you’ll just get in fully dressed.”

 

“I will.” Bernie starts to grin, taking a seat on the edge of the bed, “dried off within the hour though, didn’t I?”

 

“You did.” Serena turns, placing a soft kiss on her wife’s lips. “You’ve been wanting light clothing lately, with good reason. I just didn’t know if that’s what you wanted to take to Charlotte’s with you.”

 

“Sleeping in the nude would probably be frowned upon.” Bernie hums a soft chuckle, feeling her wife swat her upper arm softly. “I have sleep shorts, don’t I?”

 

“I’ll pack them. What about tomorrow?” When her wife just looks at her, Serena continues, “so, you’ll wear whatever it is I pack for you? Even if I pack a heavy burka for you?”

 

“I’ve worn a shayla hijab in the desert before. I had to meet with some...rather religiously strict individuals, but they did commend me on my understanding of Arabic and my politeness.” Bernie nods, “never received another compliment on those grounds ever again.”

 

“That’s nearly hard to believe.” Serena smirks, chuckling a little to herself as she continues on her mission, “I’ll pack you things that you’ll like.” The duffel isn’t terribly large as they were only going next door, but they’d make an effort not to need to go home tonight. “I’ve been married to you for over a decade and I didn’t know you spoke Arabic.”

 

“As well as French and Italian...small bit of Spanish because of the Italian.”

 

“You’re absolutely brilliant, you know that?” Serena leans down to give her wife another kiss. “I thought tonight would be as good a time as any to tell the grandchildren that we’ve decided to both only return to work in a much lower capacity, teaching basis.” She shrugs, “few hours a day instead of throughout the day and night.”

 

“If we’re ever cleared to go back.” Bernie reaches for her wife’s hand, pulling the woman to sit next to her. The air grows quiet, nearly uncomfortable between them. “I-I know I’m not doing as well as I think I am. I’m sorry for that.”

 

“There isn’t anything to be sorry for.” Serena shakes her head negatively, lifting her free hand to tuck Bernie’s wild blonde hair behind her ear, “also, you have a TBI, darling. I’m surprised you didn’t have more brain trauma than that, with the way you hit your head on the glass. I’d say, from a medical point of view, also from the point of view of a very proud wife, you’re doing amazing.”

 

“I wasn’t noticing how...how much of an act Char was putting on.” Bernie smiles sadly, “I don’t know about the children, but...it’s been a couple months. Owen’s hip is practically back at a hundred. Lane isn’t using a cane at home or as often, but is still sluggish and slurs when speaking. Cole’s in a boot...which was pretty quick, from what I understand.”

 

“You understand more than you think you do, darling.” Serena nods, meeting her eyes, “you’re the most intelligent person I know when it comes to our field. You’re in medical journals, medical books. Did you know that?”

 

Bernie smiles softly, honestly not remembering that. However, she won’t admit it as to not worry her wife. “We’d better hurry up and get back over to Charlotte’s before the younger ones cause a fit.” She pauses, “also, I’d really like to get back into the pool before it gets too dark.”

 

“I may have a way to allow us more pool time...well into the night.” Serena waves her eyebrows, “let us keep drinking chilled Sangria and gaze at the stars.”

 

“I can’t wait to see your solution.” Bernie leans in, capturing her wife’s lips softly before gently placing her forehead against Serena’s, “I love you.”

 

“I love you too, darling.” Serena knows Bernie is starting to become self aware of her shortcomings when it comes to her memory or smaller issues tied to her mild traumatic brain injury. Honestly, if she could take the feeling away from her wife, she would do it in a heartbeat.

Chapter Text

“So, does this mean we’re like...wealthy now?” Cole sits with his face directly in the air path of the air conditioner’s span.

 

“Yeah because nothing screams We’re Rich like sleeping the night in your lounge with your entire family while watching some old movies.” Guinevere teases her cousin, hearing the Grands have genuine laughs behind her, even Gran with the honking one that she does. It brings a smile to her face.

 

Charlotte sighs as she enters the room, finally flopping onto the air mattress. She had set up two of them, king size, side by side, in the lounge. Better for them to all relax on. “Unfortunately, Owen will not be joining our little sleep over. His yelling stim is just...too much. Also, he’s been having a hard time getting to sleep at normal hours. So we’re just going to let him do his own thing.”

 

“Is he cool enough in his room?” Serena asks cautiously, “that’s what this is all about. We’re in the midst of a heatwave, darling.”

 

“He’s too active at night for him not to be in his room.” Char shakes her head, “paired with that yelling stim, he’s going to need to occupy himself with that.” She sighs softly, “I really wanted him to be included in this, but...can’t always get what you want. Also, he has a ceiling fan.”

 

“The temperature isn’t as bad tonight as it has been lately.” Lane answers slowly, “Owen likes being warm.”

 

“That’s true.” Gwen nods, “even does it when sitting here on the sofa to rock. When it wasn’t this hot, but like...still warm, he was bundling himself in different blankets he had plundered from various rooms of the house...because the four throw blankets in the basket next to the couch obviously aren’t enough.”

 

“Obviously.” Char smirks, tilting her head up when she hears her son doing his loud yelling stim from the floor above. “I’ve been thinking of putting sound dampening panels up in his room if he continues on with that for much longer.”

 

“He’s done it before, hasn’t he?” Serena glances down to Lavinia’s soft babbles as the babe leans against her. 

 

“He has, but his voice is starting to change and he’s become very aware of it.” Char sighs softly, “and I know it’s still going to keep changing. That’s how Cole’s has been.”

 

“And we know that Cole loves to hear himself talk.” Gwen smiles at her infant cousin, tickling the baby’s belly to hear a soft giggle.

 

“I’ve made money from it.” Cole glances over his shoulder, waving his brow. He smiles, turning around to the rest of his family before taking a seat on the sofa, adjusting his Gran’s feet to sit under them. “So really, Gweenie, that means other people like to hear me talk too.”

 

“Of course they do, Cole.” Bernie offers him a soft smile and a nod, earning chortles from the others.

 

Char sighs softly, hearing her son begin yelling again from the floor above, “I’ve tried to...get him to go upstairs on his own when he feels he needs to stim. Not that he can always control the urge, but more often than not, he can.” She exhales slowly, “he doesn’t always care, but that’s another thing entirely.”

 

Bernie smirks, “He’s nearly a teenager, Char.”

 

“And you know us teenagers, the bloody worst.” Cole waves his eyebrows.

 

“You are.” Bernie gives her grandson an amused look before continuing the conversation with her daughter, “I was home for quite a while during your teenage years and I thought I had seen it all with some of the things you and Cameron got up to.”

 

“Seen it all that you ran back to the military the first chance you got.” Charlotte absently mumbles, then glances to her mother with a downcast expression, “sorry.” She closes her eyes for a moment before getting back up from the bed and walking off to the vestibule and kitchen area.

 

Cole sighs softly, glancing over to his Gran, “she doesn’t mean it.”

 

“Yes, she does.” Bernie offers him a gentle, closed mouth smile, “it’s okay.”

 

“No, it isn’t.” Guinevere begins to slide from the mattress. 

 

Serena starts to shake her head, “Guinevere-”

 

“No. She’s been like this. One minute she’s your best friend and the next she’s snappy, angry, and vengeful.” Gwen shakes her head, “it isn’t fair to any of us. To be constantly reminded of something that happened like...twenty years ago, that you have made up for ten times over...” She stands in the doorway for a moment, “it isn’t okay, Gran. You don’t deserve that.”

 

Bernie watches her eager granddaughter, “There is a time and a place-”

 

“What better time than the present.” Guinevere gives a clever smirk before taking off toward the kitchen.

 

“I don’t see this going well.” Lane watches as everything unfolds, almost nervous about what could happen with all this. He’s grown used to his mother being this way since his father died. She gets frustrated with him often when he tries his best. Lane licks his lips, glancing over to Cole. He makes eye contact with him, but doesn’t feel like he needs to say anything.

 

Cole sighs heavily, seeing his brother’s gaze, “I’ll go if she gets out of hand.” He’s usually one of the only people that can talk Guinevere down when she gets in one of her moods like this. He’d do it for his Gran, but only because she didn’t want it to occur in the first place.

Chapter Text

Charlotte attempts to focus on the ingredients in front of her, knowing what she needs to make a simple cake. Eggs, flour, butter, milk. She’ll worry about the flavor in a bit, just needing to get the mixture started. Char feels a presence in her space, only seeing someone take a seat at the kitchen island with her peripheral vision. She does her best to ignore the person, knowing it isn’t one of her mothers. “Go back to the other room, enjoy the air-con.”

 

No response.

 

She swallows, obtaining her larger mixer from an upper shelf. Things were organized in such a way that there was never a time she wouldn’t be able to find her supplies quickly. Charlotte can feel the steel-like gaze coming from the person on the stool at the kitchen island. “I don’t like being watched.”

 

Still, no response.

 

Turning, Charlotte finally sees her niece sitting there. Someone she didn’t expect, honestly. “Go back to the other room, Guinevere.”

 

Guinevere raises her eyebrow, retrieving her mobile from the pocket of her pajamas. She slides her finger over the screen a few times, finally pulling up what she wanted, “ When I was fourteen, I sneaked out of the house for the first time. My brother had just started University the week prior and I noticed my parents were growing increasingly distant from one another. My mother would go to my brother’s room and just sit on his bed, as if he was deceased and not just an hour or two away going to school. My father would tease her and remind her that he’d call when he cared to. ” 

 

Charlotte tries to ignore her, but knows what the teenager is doing. She’s using my words against me , Char knows. She takes another look at what’s in front of her and what she has in the refrigerator. Char puts back the sugar in exchange for the dark-brown variety of sugar. Baking soda, salt, vanilla extract, a bar of semi-sweet chocolate.

 

“I had agreed to meet with friends that night, fancying a close friend of my brother at the time. Luckily, he was far cooler than my brother and mature for his age. For all intents and purposes of this story, we’ll call him Geoffrey, or Geo for short.”

 

She had cooked and pureed beets earlier in the day, expecting to use them to make soup tomorrow. Charlotte raises an eyebrow, as she returns to the fridge, tugging it open. She obtains the large bowl containing what looked like blood.

 

“I was slim with delicate features. I had a streak of cyan in my honey-blonde hair as a display of rebellion, the only type I could think of at the time.” Guinevere continues to scroll through the passage of her aunt’s book, “Geo picked me up on his motorcycle a block from our house, so as to not wake my parents with the motor, and drove me to the park roughly fifteen kilometres away. He made a grand, romantic gesture in laying out a thick blanket for the pair of us to lie on so we could gaze up at the stars together, as well as bringing a bottle of wine. I expected my friends to show up, but they didn’t. I never knew they weren’t invited in the first place.”

 

Charlotte begins separating the eggs, just needing to occupy herself with something so as to not let the thoughts of her husband get to her. That’s all she thinks about anymore and she knows she’s short changing her family because of it.

 

“Geoffrey was very gentle with me. Even going so far as to offer me his leather jacket to place under my head while we kissed.” Guinevere raises her brow, not actually reading the story this in depth earlier. She wasn’t really paying attention to it as she could have been. “He asked me if he could go further and, of course, I agreed. I was intoxicated by both my surroundings and the cheap Cabernet I had been sipping on. My inhibitions were virtually nonexistent and I didn’t really know what I was agreeing to in the first place.”

 

Licking her lips, Charlotte begins to absently listen to her niece, mixing dry ingredients, then wet.

 

“I had worn a short, yellow, button down, flowered dress with a pair of brown boots. I was set up exactly how he wanted.” Gwen gives a quick glance to her aunt before looking back down to her mobile. “Virginity, something that is prized and cherished to some, promised to non-existent partners on a wedding day that comes in the distant future or not at all. That night, I gave mine to Geo. However, what I wasn’t expecting, was the pain from it all, nor the blood after. He was tender, but experienced.”

 

“Didn’t expect to be reading about my first time having it off, did you...” Char chuckles a little to herself.

 

“We finished and I was scared. I asked him to take me home, which he kindly obliged without argument. The seat of Geo’s trembling motorcycle hurt and I found myself with tears trickling down my face. He believed he did something wrong and, as to not face any sort of retaliation from my parents who may or may not be awake, he dropped me off a kilometre from home. I don’t blame him, honestly.” Gwen furrows her brow, knowing she doesn’t plan to speak or put her two cents into all of this, “my parents had a small metal frog hidden among the front garden flowers which contained a spare key to our moderately sized, stately home. I decided I simply couldn’t climb back up the trellis to my bedroom window, which is the way I had gotten out in the first place, as I was suffering too much discomfort.”

 

Charlotte turns to the kitchen sink, washing her hands of the brightly colored beets. She reaches to the smaller cabinets above, obtaining a bunt pan to set onto her side of the island. She starts to grease the interior of the pan with butter.

 

“When I opened the door and attempted to sneak into the house, I found the dim entryway light on and my mother sitting on the stairs. The lowest few after the landing. Her eyes were red, as if she had been crying, something I had never seen her do when I was younger. She took one look at me, seeing the blood that was covering my dress near my groin area. I had tucked it under myself to sit on while on Geo’s motorcycle, not thinking of what it would do. I was too drunk to care.”

 

Pouring the mixture into the pan, Char sighs, realizing she’s forgotten to preheat the oven.

 

Guinevere starts to smile, “ My mother sprang up and collected me in her arms. She held me tightly as I sobbed against her chest. She didn’t mention how she could probably smell the alcohol on my breath. She didn’t mention how disappointed in me she was that I had given my innocence to the first boy that showed any sort of interest. She didn’t mention how angry she was for worrying her. Instead, she led me upstairs to my bathroom and drew me a warm bath.”

 

Sliding the cake into the oven and closing the door, Charlotte sets the timer, feeling the tears as they begin to fill her eyes. She doesn’t turn around, doesn’t know if she could.

 

“She asked if I was okay and looked relieved when I told her I was. She washed my hair, gently threading her fingers over my scalp. More tender than I’ve ever encountered her before. She fetched me her own large, fluffy bathrobe. I don’t remember much after that. I think I may have finally succumbed to the cheap Cabernet. However, I was placed back into my own bed with a sanitary napkin inside a clean pair of my pants and an ice pack resting against my crotch. Nothing was ever said about that night. My father never found out and my mother and I weren’t about to tell him.”

 

“His name was Jonathan, but we called him Joe.” Charlotte still doesn’t look toward her niece, collecting her own thoughts, and her breath. Something she wasn’t aware she had been holding. Her eyes are closed as she attempts to calm her emotions down. “I was too young. Please, don’t try to go out and have it off with just any random boy.” She swallows, “I forgot all about that.”

 

“I didn’t.” Bernie shakes her head, earning the eyes of both the other women in the room. “I took her dress, after noticing her blood wasn’t the only stain left on it. I folded it and placed it into a zipper bag...just in case.” She leans against the doorway of the kitchen, her arms folded. “In case she wasn’t okay or...” Bernie shrugs, falling silent for a moment, “I didn’t know.”

 

“I woke the next day with two tabs of paracetamol and a glass of water on my bedside table.” Charlotte smiles softly, “which was for the best. It was the first time I ever had a hangover too.”

 

“You’re welcome.” Bernie smirks, moving into the room more.

 

“I kept...getting it into my head that, you didn’t care about us because of...how often you’d be away with the RAMC.” Charlotte brings her hands up to her face, wiping away tears as they start to fall, “and it...had taken me years of therapy to help me through those thoughts, but...then I’d remember that story. I’d remember the night I came home after losing my virginity and I realized...you loved me more than anything. If I really was assaulted that day, you’d probably go and kill him.”

 

“I know thirteen ways to kill a man with my bare hands.” Bernie shrugs, “must I go further?”

 

Charlotte closes the gap between them, wrapping her arms around her mother tenderly. “I’m sorry.”

 

“I know.” Bernie presses a kiss to her daughter’s temple, holding onto her as well. “You’re making a...blood cake?”

 

“Beet cake. Like red velvet, but...with beets.” Charlotte lifts her head, glancing over to where her niece was previously sitting, only to see the space empty. “She’s terribly sneaky.”

 

“And terribly like Serena.” Bernie sighs softly, “which will probably cause her parents some trouble if it hasn’t already. Serena is a handful once you get her going.” She starts to help clean up what her daughter had messed up in the kitchen, “drives me wild.”

 

“Well, you married the whole thing.”

 

“Lucky me.” Bernie smirks to herself, glancing over to her daughter. She notices the sadness in the younger woman’s smile, how she’s focusing on something else entirely right now. Taking her time with watching the bowls and utensils she used to mix her cake batter.

 

Char stands there at the sink when she finishes, just staring at her hands as they run under the water, lost in her thoughts. She only lifts her head when the water is turned off in front of her, looking toward her mother’s face, “Mum, I’m scared.” Her voice is only just above a whisper, trembling along with her hands. “I’m scared of myself.”

 

“Everything’s going to be okay.” Bernie answers tactfully, using her children’s own words against her daughter. “I’m not going anywhere and neither is Serena. There’s no reason for you to shoulder all this burden on your own.” Her daughter doesn’t respond, but she lifts a hand, gently tucking a stray hair behind Charlotte’s ear, “if things are becoming too much for you, you just have to let one of us know. Does that sound possible to you?” Noticing a subtle nod from the young woman, she smiles, “good. Now, let’s head back to your cold lounge and those two king sized beds. Take something to help you sleep and we’ll tend to the children in the morning.”

 

She doesn’t know how she’s gotten so lucky as to have a mother like Bernie Wolfe, or why she thought it was bad luck when she was younger. Once Charlotte got to properly become reacquainted with her mother, it also helped her understand her mother’s motives as she was growing up. It was never about her or Cameron. It was about a life Bernie Wolfe didn’t want from the start, but has slowly come around to loving with her grandchildren and the proper partner at her side.

Chapter Text

Bernie sits outside within the confines of her daughter’s garden, gazing up at the stars while relaxing in an aubergine colored mesh lounger. Her youngest granddaughter on her chest, gazing up as well, wide awake. “Positively beautiful tonight, isn’t it?” She pauses, listening to the babe’s babbles, as if responding to her question.

 

Serena peers through the window of the back kitchen door, seeing her wife in the chair with the babe. She smiles a little, remembering how attached at the hip Bernie was with Cole when he was a baby. She pushes the door open quietly, listening to the pair conversing. “I thought Charlotte had lifted her from between Guinevere and myself, but here you are.”

 

“Couldn’t sleep.” Bernie smiles softly, sensing her wife nearing them on the lounge chair, “neither could Vinnie.”

 

She hums, taking a seat next to her wife’s hip on the lounger while staring at her wife and granddaughter, “there’s something about you with babies that I don’t think you ever realized before Cole was born.” When Serena notices the quizzical expression from her wife, she continues, “besides making you incredibly alluring, they seem to calm you quite a bit.”

 

“Was I... not calm before?”

 

“Yes, but after the outburst from Charlotte earlier, I know it may have left you a bit uneasy.” Serena knows her wife and she knows her well. Any small disagreement with her children has always made Bernie anxious. If it were anyone else, a patient or a superior, she’d give them a good argument. However, the Wolfe children were another story.

 

“I don’t know why.” Bernie huffs a soft sound of amusement, a soft smile on her face. “I...You know, I never read Charlotte’s book when it was released a decade ago. I assumed there would be information in it about myself and our relationship and...” She licks her lips, brow raising in thought, “I wasn’t prepared, at the time, to hear those things. I didn’t know which way they’d go, actually, what type of light they would cast on me...on us.”

 

“When I read it at the time, I remember it being mild. I knew she had skimmed over large portions of her life, which would have been far more interesting, and focused entirely on Juniper Street because that’s what people wanted at the time...and they were more than thrilled to have it all.” Serena hums a soft chuckle, “I remember the few morning telly interviews. She hated it.”

 

“Yeah.” Really, though, Bernie doesn’t remember. Only people speaking to her about it at work, and only vaguely. She remembers how excited Cameron was that his sister would be the next nationwide sensation. “I had always felt bad about not paying attention to all of the hype that surrounded it.”

 

“What does that have to-”

 

“It seems dear Guinevere is reading her Auntie Char’s book.”

 

Serena raises an eyebrow, “Really?”

 

Bernie hums her approval, “that’s what...I walked in on earlier. Guinevere just read a passage of Charlotte’s book to her. I’m...unsure of what she was expecting to accomplish at first, but...the longer I listened, I realized what it was.” She smiles a little to herself, “a short passage about when she lost her virginity. While it was so...elegantly written, and my time spent listening included Char constantly telling Gwennie not to get any ideas, hearing our teenage granddaughter read this passage without fear or...any sort of shyness, I heard the words that...made me realize why she started reading that particular passage in the first place.”

 

“Which was?” Serena smirks to the baby who is just softly babbling to the stars while listening intently to Bernie, Lavinia quieting anytime her Gran was speaking. An affinity for Bernie’s voice, she’s certain.

 

“It was...one of the few times she scared the hell out of me when she was a child.” Bernie nods, “I mean, truly left me terrified for her safety and well being.” She licks her lips, shrugging slightly, “and Char included it. She included it in the book. Not just that it happened, but...what happened after, and how it was something that we kept between the two of us. Obviously, not anymore, but...I hadn’t realized how...deeply it touched her. It touched me deeply as well, but from the opposite side.”

 

Serena tilts her head to the side, “what about it scared you?”

 

“Well, I knew she had sneaked out. However, I didn’t...really know anything about her friends or...the places she could have gone. I didn’t know who I could possibly ask, if she had gone missing, without seeming like the horrible mother I knew I was.” Bernie reaches a hand up, placing it on the baby’s belly, smiling softly when Lavinia takes hold of her index finger. “I knew her mobile number, but I also knew that if she were in a dangerous situation, she’d phone one of us. However, it still set my mind into overdrive. What if she can’t phone? What if she’s being held hostage? What if she’s leaving her mobile on so we can track her location via satellite? ” 

 

“You would have sorted it all out though. You’d know what to do if something went wrong, Bernie.” Serena shakes her head, gently taking her wife’s free hand, “besides, after four children from her, one would assume it was all a long time ago.”

 

“It was.” Bernie smiles sadly, “I just...didn’t realize she thought so highly of me then...when she was a teenager. When I...tried to drill into my children that anything less than the best just meant you weren’t trying hard enough and...” She swallows, shaking her head a little, “I-I went back to Kabul. I...” Bernie bits her lip, “I went back to a woman there and...I thought my darling Charlotte hated me.”

 

“Why would she hate you?”

 

“I don’t know.” She shakes her head, “I just...got it in my head that, at the time, she did. When, in reality, she-” Bernie stops herself, feeling the heat of forming tears, but decides to ignore them. “She needed a mother.” She pauses, “she needed me and...I wasn’t there for her.”

 

“But you are now.” Serena answers honestly, “she needs you now and you’re here. You’re here to talk her down. You’re here to build her up. You’re here to hold her hand. You’re here to listen to her. You’re here to comfort her fears” She pauses, feeling herself growing ever so slightly upset as thoughts of Elinor fill her mind, “you’re here to hold her.”

 

Bernie lifts Serena’s hand to her lips, softly kissing her knuckles, “yeah.”

 

Serena swallows, clearing her throat after. She continues holding her wife’s hand, able to calm herself by Bernie’s simple touch. She motions to the babe on her wife’s chest with a nod of her head, “she’s fallen asleep.”

 

“That was my plan, initially.” Bernie shrugs a little, “then I became sidetracked by the stars and the lively discussion with an infant...and then you. Which, honestly, you’re a far better conversationalist than Lavinia.” She smirks, gently squeezing her wife’s hand.

 

“Come inside. You’ll feel better.” Serena leans over the lounger, placing a tender kiss against her wife’s lips. She lets it linger for a moment before pulling back a tad just to look into the woman’s beautiful deep brown eyes. “I’m not used to not sleeping next to you anymore.” She pauses, carefully standing from the edge of the lounger, “not even necessarily directly next to you, but just in the same room...knowing where you are. It puts me at ease.”

 

“Glad to be of service.” Bernie winks to her wife, cautiously getting up herself. Her hand remains on her youngest granddaughter’s belly. She adjusts the babe to rest in the crook of her arm, knowing she’d sleep better.

 

“Charlotte set up the travel cot for a reason, you know.” Serena attempts to help, leading their way back into the house. Her voice in a hushed tone as she continues, motion to the babe, “take advantage of it. Especially since her mother is sleeping like a rock.”

 

“Well, yeah. I told her to take one of her sedatives or else she’d keep focusing on whatever sounds Owen makes from the floor above.” Bernie explains, following closely behind her wife, “she’s earned it...a bit of a lie in.”

 

“As have we.” Serena raises a brow, returning to her place on the mattress next to her older granddaughter. She gently wraps a protective arm around the teenager, smiling softly when Guinevere snuggles against her out of instinct. Serena appreciates the closeness she knows isn’t going to be afforded to her much longer.

 

Bernie neglects returning her infant granddaughter to the travel cot, needing to have the girl close. She would say she didn’t miss the early morning or late night feedings from time to time when speaking to others about her children, but she did in reality. She missed the bonding feeling she’d get with tending to her children without Marcus hovering. If she could feel that same warmth now with her grandchildren, she’d jump at the chance. Maybe she actually has always been maternal after all.

Chapter Text

Owen gently traces his finger over his mother’s features as she sleeps. His head tilts to the side, a serene expression filling his face. His hand travels to her hair, running his fingers through the natural softness, a texture stim for him.

 

“O, come on.” Guinevere whispers to her cousin, “are you hungry? Nan is making omelettes. We get to choose what’s inside.” She offers a smile, trying her best to tempt him away from bothering the woman, “and you can put cheese in yours. All the cheese you want. I know you love cheese.”

 

“That’s the best you’ve got? Tempting with cheese?” Charlotte smirks a little, her eyes remaining closed, “you should work on your manipulation skills.”

 

Gwen sits on the mattress, her eyebrow raised, “we thought you were asleep.”

 

“I was until I began to smell the omelettes.” Char still doesn’t move otherwise, letting her son continue to trace her facial features with his fingers. “Owen, you used to do this when you were small.” Her gentle, melodious voice causes the boy to smile lovingly, though she isn’t able to witness it considering she maintains her closed eyes. “As did Cole and Laney, all my boys did it. Never understood the pleasure in it myself, though it is incredibly relaxing to be on the receiving end.”

 

“I think it’s sweet.” 

 

“It is.” Charlotte finally opens an eye, receiving a surprised giggle from the boy. She reaches out, gently tickling him before he lurches forward, giving her a hug. “Think I’ve any eggs left?”

 

“Your supply has been used and Gran ran over to theirs and retrieved more. So we’ve got more than enough.” Guinevere pushes herself off the air mattress, standing. “What would you like in yours?”

 

“You mean there’s more than just cheese?”

 

“Very funny.”

 

I thought so.” Charlotte finally rolls to the edge of the bed, taking her time to stand once Owen grows tired of the attention his mother was giving him, venturing to the vestibule and kitchen on his own. “I’ll come and see for myself.” She wraps an arm around her niece’s shoulders, “I wanted to thank you for yesterday.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Guinevere smirks innocently, “you mean when I read allowed from a random book on my mobile? That part?” She feels her aunt squeeze her shoulder, as they finally cross the threshold of the kitchen.

 

“Oh, darling, we didn’t want to wake you.” Serena speaks to her stepdaughter, though she scowls toward her granddaughter.

 

Gwen furrows her brow, staring toward her grandmother incredulously, “I didn’t do anything. You woke her!”

 

“How is that possible?”

 

“I smelled your cooking.” Charlotte remains relaxed, amused by the other two. “Also because it feels like Vinnie may be ready to feed.” She snarls her lip in playful description of her own feelings on the situation. Char turns her head, seeing the alert baby lounging on Bernie’s lap with the woman’s arm wrapped comfortably around her.

 

“She’s fine thus far, occupied. How about you have something first?” Serena offers, “omelette? Choose your fillings?”

 

“I’m on my third.” Cole answers, earning a surprised look from his mother, “I like variety.”

 

“Understandable.” Charlotte lets go of her niece to walk nearer to the kitchen island, “tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms...maybe a touch of hot sauce.”

 

“Sound like your mother. Down to the hot sauce.” Serena mumbles under her breath, putting the ingredients together. “Does sound heavenly though.”

 

“How about I take over and make them for us?” Charlotte offers, gentle smile gracing her face, “to show my appreciation for tending to my children in the meantime and allowing me to sleep a bit longer.”

 

Serena has caught on to her stepdaughter’s ways over the years, “let’s not kid ourselves here, Charlotte, we both know it’s because you don’t like many other people to cook in your kitchen without at least your supervision. Otherwise known as control issues.” She smiles knowingly to herself.

 

“Or she may not like her eggs overcooked.” Lane mumbles softly to himself while he sits at the large table within the room, earning a snorting chortle from his elder brother and Gran, “not that we don’t appreciate what you’ve done. They taste great.”

 

“Very funny.” Serena sighs softly, “and Berenice, stop encouraging that behavior.”

 

“I haven’t the foggiest idea of what you’re on about.” Bernie responds sweetly, watching as her wife hands their daughter the kitchen towel that was draped over her shoulder. “You know that’s a fight you aren’t going to win, don’t you?” She asks Serena once the woman finally sits next to her, not expecting an answer. Bernie glances down when her younger granddaughter begins to coo, excited by the bustle of the space around her. “That’s what I’m saying, Vinnie. I haven’t any clue why my beloved wife would think that I would mock her in any fashion.”

 

“Because you’re a sarcastic old fool.” Serena teases her wife as she leans back in her chair, glad the rest of the boys and Guinevere seem to be enjoying themselves and the fruits of her labor.

 

“Maman, what do you want in your eggs?” Charlotte calls over to her stepmother, eggs already cracked in a bowl. A smorgasbord of pre-chopped vegetables and cheese laid out in front of her on the kitchen island. Really, she’s impressed by all the effort Serena put into this. “Or would you rather be surprised?”

 

When Serena doesn’t immediately answer, Bernie nudges her elbow gently against her. She motions to Charlotte with a casual point of her fork, “Think she means you.”

 

“You’ve called me many things, but never Maman.” Serena raises an amused eyebrow, “I didn’t know you spoke French.”

 

“Neither did I.” Guinevere thought she knew much about her aunt, but not all of that.

 

“She hasn’t gotten to that chapter yet.” Cole smirks to himself, taking another bite of his egg.

 

“Je te pardonne. Je ne l’utilise pas tous les jours.” Charlotte continues, teasing the woman a bit, “Comment aimeriez-vous vos omelette? Tomates? Champignons? Fromage? Fais ton choix.”

 

Serena begins to slowly clap with her hands above the table, a smile growing on her face. “Very good. My maternal grandparents were French. I spent many summers there. Gave me quite the affinity for it.” She tilts her head to the side, contemplating her choices, “Suprends-moi.”

 

Char nods, “Volontier.”

 

“I’ve never heard Mum speak French.” Lane listens to the words, his face showing pure bliss from just the sounds of it all. “Mum, why don’t you more often?”

 

“Last time she did, she pretended she was a French tourist who didn’t speak any English in order to get out of a parking ticket.” Cole laughs a little to himself, “honestly, are Gwennie and I the only ones who actually read Mum’s book?”

 

“I’m actually okay with you all not reading it.” Charlotte replies quickly to her son, “it’s honestly fine. Because of this whole movie business, sales of the first book have seen a sudden increase. Which is why my publisher has been pushing me a little for a follow up...which I’ve been meaning to do anyway, so win-win.” She occupies herself with cooking, “I’ve submitted the rest of those chapters, which they seem to be...liking. I’m currently working on the book after that.”

 

“I didn’t realize you were actually accomplishing anything in regards to your writing.” Bernie answers honestly, “I mean, no one would blame you, honestly.”

 

“Most of it was already written and on the hard drive of my old laptop. I just had to transfer the files to the new laptop, do a bit of revision, then I sent them off.” Char tilts her head from side to side, finding the talk tedious. “I’ve...actually been approached about turning it into a movie. They said there’s a large audience for it, but I don’t know...”

 

“Could we be in the movie?” Cole raises his eyebrows, possibilities of what this would do for his web show running through his mind. “I’d be great at playing the role of Cole Berenike Wolfe.”


“There probably isn’t even going to be a movie and if there was, no one would cast you in it.” Gwen glances over to her cousin, teasing him a tad. “Also, it would mean Auntie Char would have to sign her rights away. That’s what usually happens, doesn’t it?”

 

Charlotte doesn’t answer, pouring the perfectly cooked omelette onto a cobalt colored, ceramic plate for her step-mother. She notices some roasted potatoes on the side that were repurposed from yesterday’s dinner, setting them onto the plate as the side. Charlotte seasons the food one last time before carrying it over and setting it in front of Serena. “I’ve had other offers as well that would allow me to maintain control. So, we’ll see what happens.” She ruffles Cole’s hair as she passes behind him, returning to the stove to cook food for herself.

 

“Uh, before you start on that.” Bernie says weakly, hearing the baby begin to whimper and seeing that she’s starting to suck on her own little fist. “I reckon the Vinnie is ready for her breakfast now.”

 

“Of course she is.” Char smiles a little to herself.

Chapter Text

Guinevere lounges in the still chilled room, slowly scrolling through the digital version of her aunt’s book on her mobile. Absently, she plays with the lobe of her ear, staying focused. She furrows her brow before starting to laugh.

 

“What are you reading?” Bernie asks, herself laying on the inflated king mattresses from their stay over the night prior, placed just in front of the sofa.

 

Jumping slightly from surprise, Gwen lowers her mobile to her chest before glancing over the side of the sofa to see her Gran lying there, “when did you come in?”

 

“Not too long ago. Headache. Serena thinks the heat is starting to get to me and told me to play it safe rather than sorry.” Bernie sighs softly, “which is a fine tradeoff if I get to sleep in this morgue-like room.” She had just been lying there silently with her eyes closed for maybe a half hour or so. “What are you doing here? Wouldn’t you rather be lounging in the pool or working on your tan?”

 

“My burn, you mean?” Guinevere sighs softly, “started my menses this morning and I’m really crampy...also, I just don’t really want to deal with them...or anyone.” She shrugs, “you’re fine though.”

 

“I’m honored, thank you.”

 

“Hell, I didn’t even know you were there.”

 

“You seemed rather immersed in whatever it is you’re reading...or whoever you’re talking to.” Bernie smiles softly to herself, “pass me a throw blanket, would you?” She doesn’t open her eyes, expecting to feel a balled up blanket thrown near her on the bed, instead, she feels as it’s gently draped over her a moment later. “Thank you.”

 

“Is there anything I can get you? Tea or water maybe?” Gwen sounds worried, gently laying on the bed near her grandmother this time. Guinevere studies her grandmother’s face, each subtle wrinkle that is hardly seen when her eyes are open are fully visible now. She looks pale. To Gwen, her grandparents have never looked, or acted, old. It was something that amused her when they’d be mistaken for her parents if they were to venture out of their bubble, where people didn’t know them. “Should I get Nan?”

 

“No, darling. Promise, nothing that a bit of proper relaxing won’t remedy.”

 

Guinevere bites her lip, reaching a hand over to gently stroke her grandmother’s hair that had fallen into her face. She decides to leave it alone, somewhat. “You’ve been so focused on Auntie Char’s health and...healing or whatever, that you’ve been neglecting your own.” 

 

“You’re too young to worry as much as you do. At that rate, you’ll have wrinkles when you’re twenty.” Leave it to Bernie Wolfe to try to soothe the moment with a joke, “but...there’s something you need to understand. If one doesn’t live their life how they want, their life is never fulfilling.” She raises an eyebrow, also amused by the soothing nature of her granddaughter, “when you get older, you’ll understand just how important that is.”

 

“I understand that now.” Gwen shakes her head, “it’s why Auntie Char skims over her life prior to Cole. It doesn’t read well, that portion of the book. That’s why I was laughing before. It really doesn’t read well. Everything else in that book is perfect, but...there’s only a single chapter that skims over her pregnancy, Cole’s birth, and then suddenly she’s with Uncle Ry and celebrating Cole’s first birthday. Just one chapter and she doesn’t even mention Cole’s biological father, she vaguely implies that it’s Uncle Ry. However, it doesn’t add up. He couldn’t have been Cole’s father if they met while Cole was poorly. One chapter that’s ten pages long. Cole’s biological father isn’t how Auntie Char wanted her life to go, or...be remembered. She skimmed because it was a portion of her life she didn’t want to think about or go back to.”

 

“I’m sorry, you’ve lost me.”

 

“You couldn’t live your life like you wanted to live when you were younger. Had you been with Nan or...another woman in a domestic fashion, you probably would have been present for more of your children’s lives. However, you wouldn’t have had your children. You wouldn’t have had your life now. Helping everyone now, especially since you’re with Nan and allowed to be out and proud, which I’m betting wasn’t so much the case when you were with Uncle Marcus, is how you always wanted to live your life.” Guinevere is met with silence, she sighs, believing the woman to have fallen asleep during her long explanation. She removes her hand from her Gran’s hair, returning to her mobile to read.

 

Bernie thinks about the precocious teenager’s words, taking a few moments to do so, “Maybe.”

 

Gwen glances over, smiling softly to herself, “yeah.”

 

“Your Nan and I...we’ve talked about it from time to time.” Bernie smirks, “how different our lives would have been if we were there to raise our children together from babies.” She finally opens an eye to gaze up toward her granddaughter next to her, “everything would have been very different.”

 

“My Dad always says that Auntie Elinor loved Nan, but never really showed it like she could have to her.” Guinevere thinks about it for a moment, “that...she would be really mean and then blame it on Nan, like whatever Auntie Elinor was angry about was Nan’s fault.” She huffs a soft chortle to herself, “sometimes it’s hard to figure out what my dad’s talking about if he’s sidetracked.”

 

Bernie closes her eye again, listening to the girl, “no, that sounds about right.”

 

“He said that she was never mean to him, even welcoming. Which...putting those two personalities together, doesn’t even sound like the same person.” Gwen sets her mobile down, folding her arms over her chest, thinking about it all. “I...I always want to know more about her. Like...would we have gotten along?” She goes quiet for a moment, then finally begins speaking again, “from what I’ve heard...I don’t know. Nan portrays her as this perfect thing, which I understand because she’s her mother and misses her dearly. Dad portrays her as Mixed Signal City. It’s almost as if they’re talking about different people.”

 

“Because they probably are.” Bernie huffs a soft chortle to herself. Opening an eye to look up at the girl again, she notices a confused expression looking back at her. She closes her eye again, lowering her voice, “is your Nan about?”

 

“I’ll check.” Guinevere slowly gets up from the inflated mattress, then steps around their current floor, seeing if her Nan may have snuck in without her knowledge. She returns to the lounge, sliding onto the bed again, “coast is clear.”

 

“You’re fourteen. I reckon you’re old enough to hear the truth and I don’t expect Serena to tell you anything and I know your father won’t tell you because we never told him.” Bernie sighs, finally opening her eyes and edging herself up against the pillows on the inflatable mattress. “Do you know how Elinor died?”

 

“Um...all I know is that there was a car accident and she hit her head. There was a slow bleed and it wasn’t caught in time.” Guinevere shrugs, “that’s just from my Dad. Nan...doesn’t really talk about it, like I said. Understandable, also like I said.”

 

“Her injury, though preventable, was exacerbated by drug use.” Bernie says calmly, a tinge of sadness to her voice. “Had Elinor not abused cocaine, especially on the day of her injury, there's a high likelihood that she might have been fine. Cocaine increases blood pressure, besides giving one that...euphoric dopamine high. She would have moments that day where she was fine, but sometimes she was acting oddly. We’ll never know if it could have turned out differently.”

 

“So, I’m named after an addict that was nice to my Dad a few times?” Gwen seems unimpressed, if not slightly offended.

 

“No, you’re named after your aunt because your parents knew how much it meant to Serena.” Bernie answers honestly, “and thinking of her as just another drug abuser is ignoring everything else she accomplished in her short life. She wanted to be a journalist, just like you do. She was a brilliant writer.” She watches her granddaughter, “before she died, Elinor wrote this magnificent paper on her mother. Just...showed how much she adored her, but...it was as if she could never just...tell her how she felt about her. Could never put vocally what she could on paper about what her mother meant to her.”

 

“I don’t understand why though.” Guinevere brings a hand up, tucking her hair behind her ear, “why couldn’t she say those things to Nan before she died?”

 

“I don’t know.” Bernie shrugs, “and we’ll never know. Though I believe it’s safe to say that...she wasn’t in a very good place mentally at the time of her death. When people abuse drugs or act out...” She pauses, attempting to find the best words to continue, “they aren’t responsible for their actions. Not truly.” 

 

“Okay.” She falls silent for a moment, then glances over to her Gran again, “is that what you tell yourself when Auntie Char does it?”

 

“Their situations aren’t equal.”

 

“No?” Gwen chuckles a little to herself, “how do you figure?” Turning more to face her grandmother, she continues, “Auntie Elinor did cocaine. She did drugs.” She pauses, “Auntie Char doesn’t give excuses, like Auntie Elinor, I’d bet...if she’s anything like Nan. However, she has a mother that makes excuses for her and just takes what she dishes out...the abuse she dishes out.”

 

“It isn’t abuse, it’s grief and postpartum hormones.” Bernie shakes her head, “she lost her best friend. She lost the person she planned on spending the rest of her life with. She gained a daughter...way earlier than she should have.” She attempts to explain, “not to mention the stress of tending to three ailing sons. She has her hands full, even with our help.”

 

Guinevere goes quiet for a moment, licking her lip. “I don’t like it when she snaps at you...or anyone else. I hardly recognize her.” She swallows, clearing her throat to maintain her own composure as she returns to lean against the sofa where the head of the inflating mattress rests against.

 

Bernie smiles softly, reaching a hand up to rub her knuckles against the teenager’s upper arm affectionately. “I’m made of sterner stuff than you give me credit for.” She breaks the silence, surprised when the teenager turns suddenly and hugs onto her.

 

Serena appears in the doorway between the entryway and lounge, a whimpering water soaked infant in her arm, dampening her gauzy shirt. “I hope I’m not intruding.” She watches as the teenager quickly dashes for her mobile, returning to the sofa with an embarrassed blush on her cheeks.

 

“Impossible.” Bernie raises an eyebrow, offering a smile to her wife as the woman moves about the room. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever tell Serena about the conversation she just shared with their elder granddaughter, or the girl’s reaction to everything going on. However, as simple as it was, it’s something she’ll cherish for years to come.

Chapter Text

Serena balances her mobile between her ear and shoulder, having been speaking to her oldest friend for nearly thirty minutes at this point as she relaxes at the metal table in her back garden. She switches sides, “how is married life treating you?”

 

Having been asked so often by her friend, Sian is always so fearful to answer. Having such a blow to her new family on what was supposed to be the happiest day of her life, how could one be joyous in that instance? “Everything is fine. Marcus is actually quite easy to live with, thankfully. Like we speak the same...language, or something. I’m not entirely sure.”

 

“First year of marriage is always quite nice when it’s with the correct person.” Serena smiles softly to herself. “We’ve missed you around here, but I’m certain you’ve enough on your plate.”

 

Sian pauses for a moment, furrowing her brow, “it isn’t without trying.”

 

“I’m sorry?”

 

“I’ve phoned Charlotte multiple times, as has Marcus, about popping over to help her with things...or just for dinner. We would really like to see the children and spend some time with them. Especially sweet Lavinia, only had that one meeting with her when she had just arrived home from hospital, I’m certain she’s grown quite a bit since then.” Sian folds the clothing in front of her, wondering where it has all emerged from, an earbud in her ear to better hear her friend as she goes about her task. “Charlotte always says it isn’t a good time.”

 

Serena lifts her head, stemless wine glass of iced Sangria in her hand. “She’s...”

 

“I understand she’s probably busy juggling four children.” Sian sighs softly, lowering her hands from folding one of her husband’s t-shirts, “or that she doesn’t...fancy me as her father’s partner, but-”

 

“Well, that simply isn’t true. I know for a fact Charlotte thinks the world of you, as she always has.” Turning her head quickly at the sound of an aggressively opened back door in the garden next to hers, she sees her grandson slowly step his way out from the kitchen, tears running down his cheeks as the door is closed behind him, “I’m sorry to cut this short Sian. I’ll need to phone you later, or tomorrow. I’m needed.” Serena doesn’t wait for her friend’s response before disconnecting the call. She rises from her seat, making her way across the yard to her stepdaughter’s, “Lane?”

 

Lane doesn’t look over toward his grandmother, instead just focusing on the patch of grass in front of him. “I-I didn’t-” His words are still something he’s been working on regaining regularly, his speech still slurred. He wraps his arms around himself before his chest heaves in a heartbreaking sob.

 

“Oh, darling.” Serena gently wraps an arm around him, feeling him lean against her as she begins to guide him to the table and chairs in the garden she had previously been occupying, “come sit down and tell me what happened.” She takes a seat in the comfortably padded, iron garden chair, pulling the boy to her lap out of instinct as she holds him closely.

 

He continues to cry against her, knowing he’s probably dampening the woman’s shirt.

 

A few minutes pass, Serena feeling her grandson begin to calm. She brings a hand up, gently running it through his thick black hair. “Are you ready to talk about it now?” When he shakes his head negatively against her, she continues, “why not?”

 

“I know-I know how...you will be angry.” Lane swallows, it was nearly dinner time and he was attempting to help. Doing his best to help. He feels weak, knowing it happens when he tries to do too much all at once. 

 

Serena raises an eyebrow at the boy’s reasoning, “so, this must have to do with your mother.” She’s met with silence, “either you’t going to tell me or I’ll ask her. Either way, I’m going to find out.” Serena tilts her head down, trying to see as much of his face as possible with his head resting on her chest near her shoulder. “So, what did she do that upset you so much?” She hears the door open again, far less angrily than before, then steps nearing them that weren’t normal ones.

 

“Is he alright?” Cole asks, walking around the table to stand in front of his Nan and brother. “Gwennie and I were upstairs working on the show and we heard shouting...then slamming of various things.” He sighs a little, folding his arms over his chest as he sits on the edge of the table. “Knew someone was probably on the receiving end of that.”

 

“Where is your grandmother?” Serena lifts her head, making eye contact with her eldest grandson.

 

“Owen started freaking out, biting himself. So, Gran had taken him to his room, where I imagine she’s doing the basket hold thing on him in an effort to calm him down.” Cole nods, shrugging a little, “it can take a bit and he hasn’t been like that in a while, so...she’s probably still sitting with him.”

 

Serena knows her younger grandson isn’t about to stop his brother, probably easier that way. “And then?”

 

“Gwen and I were in my room and...she told me to stop recording because she heard yelling, so I did. She opened the door to have a better listen.” Cole licks his lips, focusing on his brother as he rests against their Nan. He seems so much younger than his years. “Uh...I...I heard slamming things. Bowls, pans, whatever was around, I suppose. Mum...Mum shouting about nothing. Shouting at Lane because he was slow.” He swallows, “something about not holding the knife right.”

 

Lane licks his lip, lifting his trembling hand to show the other two, “I’m...having a hard time gripping today.”

 

“Then I heard a glass break and a door slam. That’s when Gwen and I ran down. Well, Gwen ran, I hobbled.” Cole gives a reserved smile, “Gwen is currently bothering Mum, said she pushed Lane through the door.” He sighs when he sees his brother’s face contort again with emotion, “sorry, Laney.”

 

Serena sighs softly, “darling, do you think you’d be okay with Cole while I have a chat with your mother?”

 

“Don’t.” Lane shakes his head, “please, don’t.” He doesn’t like confrontation, not in the slightest. Lane wraps himself against his Nan a bit more, his head in the crook of her neck. “I just...don’t want to live there anymore.”

 

“So live at the Grands like I do.” Cole shrugs, not seeing it as much of an issue.

 

“Cole saw to it that we kept his room prepared for him. I don’t know how much of that is living with us.” Serena teases her elder grandson, smirking when Lane softly chortles against her. “Maybe I can convince Gran to get an air-con so that-”

 

“I’ll take care of it.” Cole nods, knowing he has more than enough in his account to cover the cost, “just...don’t stay there. Nan, you should probably take Vinnie too.”

 

“Your mother needs to feed her and there isn’t enough breast milk in the fridge to tie her over.” Serena shakes her head, “while I’d love nothing more-”

 

“How about Laney stays over ours? Gwen will probably come too, knowing her. You get things situated there and we’ll just...have our own house for a while.” Cole offers, raising his eyebrows, “I’ll order an air-con and Gwen and I can install it, just like we did at Mum’s. That way we don’t need to deal with Mum’s abuse anymore just to be in a frigid room.”

 

That’s what it is. Abuse. Serena nods, knowing that would put them all at least, “of course. I’ll pack a bag for you.” really, she’s worried about leaving Lavinia and Owen here as well. “I’ll...speak to Gran about what else we could possibly do.” She knows the worst thing right now would be to leave Charlotte alone, especially in this state. However, she wouldn’t dare say that with these boys present, especially so soon after losing their father.

 

“Come on, Laney. Let’s head inside.” Cole outstretches his hand, ready to help his brother. “Nan, do me a favor and ask Gwen to grab my laptop and mobile? I mean all of my other stuff is round yours already and the clothes I have at Mum’s aren’t really...anything I care about.” He shrugs, “we’ll be fine though. Can even play a board game or two. I know you like those, Laney.”

 

Serena watches as Lane takes his elder brother’s hand. Cole being far more gentle than usual. She stands, taking a moment as her smile fades. Serena knows she must confront her stepdaughter, but knowing the best way to do that is a whole different story. Especially since Guinevere already has her claws in her aunt. Serena would always be there for her grandchildren, regardless of the circumstances.

Chapter Text

“I’m not going to argue with you, Guinevere. I’m the adult here. Just go outside.” Charlotte’s voice is elevated, her eyes glaring toward her niece when she looks at her, though she’s mostly attempting to focus on everything else around her except for the teenager.

 

“He was doing his best and you pushed him to the garden!” Guinevere stands with her hands at her side, balled into fists. Her voice meets her aunt’s tone, and really she isn’t the slightest bit afraid at this point. She hears her Gran from the floor above asking them to quiet down because she was having a difficult time calming Owen. It’s all a fiasco at this point, really. When the kitchen door slams again, her gaze quickly dashes over, seeing her Nan standing there with her arms folded. The cross look on the woman’s face causes Gwen to smirk.

 

“Guinevere, could you tend to Lavinia while your Auntie Charlotte and I have a chat?” Seeing the teenager’s curt nod before walking off, Serena can tell she’s nervous. She had sent the girl a text message to her mobile about heading to her house, but can tell she hasn’t gotten it yet. 

 

“I don’t need you coming to talk to me either.” Charlotte mumbles, very aggressively chopping an onion, then stabbing the sharp knife into the cutting board when she finishes. She places either hand onto the counter, breathing heavily. “Everything is fine.” Char turns, grabbing the wooden spoon to stir something in the pan on the stove.

 

Serena steps up behind her, moving the pan to a back burner and turning off the active burner, “Let’s go upstairs, Charlotte.”

 

“I don’t want to.”

 

“This isn’t an option.” She holds an arm out from letting her focus on other things. “Upstairs, please.” Serena manages to keep her voice calm, taking control of the space since the younger woman was so out of control of her own emotions.

 

Charlotte begrudgingly starts to untie her apron up around her neck, then her hips, tossing it to the counter over the onions she had just chopped. “I don’t have to listen to you.” She turns abruptly, meeting the woman face to face, “I’m not a child, nor a teenager.”

 

“So stop acting like one. I’d like to speak with you in your room so as to not frighten the children more than you already have.” Serena doesn’t back down. She’s never been one to be intimidated easily. In fact, the last person to intimidate her, on a strictly professional basis, she ended up marrying. “I’ll be up in a moment.” When Charlotte seems like she may argue, Serena raises an eyebrow, glad when her stepdaughter finally takes her leave from the room. Popping her head into the lounge to let Guinevere know what was happening, though it seems the teenager had already gotten her text message from earlier as she was preparing Lavinia’s bag as well.

 

“Just need to grab her bottles. She has six prepared. Should last her the rest of the night into tomorrow.” Gwen swallows, then clears her throat, “do you reckon Auntie Char will cool down by then?”

 

Serena shrugs a little, “I don’t know, darling. We’ll see.” She exhales before ascending the stairs. Once she reaches the top, Serena pauses in the hallway, hearing Bernie’s loudish whispering to Owen. The boy would quiet in an effort to hear when people would whisper, unintentionally calming himself in the process. It’s a trick they had picked up over the years and it worked nearly every time. Serena smiles softly to herself before looking at her stepdaughter’s open door.

 

Stepping inside the calming space of her stepdaughter’s bedroom, Serena witnesses the young woman sitting on the edge of the bed, her arm wrapped up to the other’s bicep. She looks lost. Closing the door behind herself, she moves over to the bed, taking a seat next to the younger woman. They sit there in silence for a few moments, Serena’s hands folded in her lap.

 

“I can’t control it.” Charlotte whispers, staring toward the floor. A single tear escapes her eye and she doesn’t bother to wipe it away, only turning her head a little. “Last thing I’d want is to hurt Lane...or any of them.”

 

“What can’t you control?”

 

“My anger. My...my stupid temper. My thoughts from going a thousand kilometres a minute.” Charlotte rises from the bed, starting to pace. “I’d give-I’d give so much to just...make it all stop.” She chuckles contritely to herself, “so much to just wake up from this shit dream and...have everything be normal.” Char tightens her jaw, her tears almost instantly falling more than previously, “for just...one more dance with him. Just...” She shakes her head, sniffling as she brings her hands up to rub over her face. “Anytime I look at my twins, all I see is him.”

 

“Well, of course you would, they’re your children together.” Serena offers a soft smile though knows the young woman is unable to see it since her back is turned to her. She knows the young woman just has to get this out of her system. “They’re the best of the both of you combined.”


“I know they are.” Char swallows, “but Cole...and Vinnie, they look like me. They’re-they’re much easier for me to be around.” She starts to stare toward a spot on the floor, “when I look at the twins...all they do is remind me of Ry...and it makes me so frustrated that...that he left me with these memories and...this life and...every single time I look at them, every fucking time, I’m reminded that he isn’t here with me.”

 

“When Elinor died, I had taken my anger out on a young F1 that had missed the ball after the accident, missed a critical check because Ellie refused her and insisted she was fine, the F1 just taking her word for it. Which...in hindsight, sounds exactly like something Elinor would do, but at the time...all I could think about was that my daughter was gone because of this young woman.” Serena nods, watching her stepdaughter’s back, “I...I treated her so poorly. Then...I decided to take a leave of absence, your mother thought it was probably my greatest decision in a while compared to my previous actions. One of which included locking myself on the hospital roof to have a fag and a bottle or two of shiraz.” Serena huffs a soft chuckle to herself, “I remember your Mum breaking open the door to get to me because she thought I was trying to off myself.”

 

“It would have been easier.”

 

“Easier, sure, but...then I would have made your mother very upset.” Serena licks her lips, still thinking things through, “and I wouldn’t have gotten to meet you. Which, let’s face it, far more important than my marriage to one Berenice Grizelda Wolfe.”

 

Char begins to smile to herself, amused by the woman. Her tears start to subside, “Obviously.”

 

“The F1 that I had put through the wringer died about six months after Elinor did, her name was Jasmine.” Serena folds her arms over her lap, “and I was...heartbroken. One of the last things I had told her before I left, well...not the very last thing because I was legless and in the mood for pep talks, was that...I wished she had died instead of Elinor.”

 

“But you didn’t mean it. You said what you said out of...anger, I guess.” Charlotte begins to move back to the bed, taking a seat next to her stepmother again.

 

“Grief, darling.” Serena turns her head, watching the young woman, “I was in France and...your mother came for a weekend to inform me and...I suppose as a breather to herself. I didn’t expect to be so upset, but she knew me better than I knew myself. I had been venturing around France and just...taking time for myself. Bernie surprised me a couple months later when she said she was there for good. She quit at Holby when they closed her AAU Trauma Unit down. Understandably, that was her baby.” When her stepdaughter remains quiet, obviously calming significantly, Serena continues, “Grief is something that you don’t need to experience alone. You have three children who are experiencing it with you. Losing a partner and losing a parent are different things, but they’re both difficult things to deal with.”

 

“Puts it mildly.” 

 

“You have more on your plate than most, and you’re still so young, Charlotte.” Serena reaches over, taking hold of her stepdaughter’s hand, “things are slated against you, but those children...they’re your champions. You just need to let them be.”

 

“Easy for you to say.” Char leans her head against Serena’s shoulder, “Elinor looked exactly like you, even after lightening her hair. Same eyes, same chin, same nose. You didn’t have to look at your ex-husband when you looked at her because it was a mirror for you.” She swallows, falling silent a moment before continuing, “and I’m thankful my twins look like Ryan, but...currently, they only serve as a reminder that...he isn’t here.”


“Which is why it’s imperative that you speak with Annette again.” Serena offers, “speaking to her, allowing her to help you sort your thoughts, feelings, and emotions is the only thing to help you get over them.”

 

Char shakes her head negatively, “I don’t deserve that.”

 

“What?”

 

“My pain is my punishment.” Charlotte answers quietly.

 

Serena furrows her brow, confused, “punishment for what?”

 

“Surviving.” Char whispers her answer, knowing it might not be something the other woman would understand, but it wasn’t a feeling Serena Wolfe was about to change. She clears her throat as she stands, making her way to the walk-in closet, “I’m putting my pajamas on and ordering a curry. I..” Her eyes begin to well again, “I think I just need to be alone for a while.”

 

“You don’t have that luxury, Charlotte.” Serena watches the open door of the closet, “Cole has taken Lane round to mine for the night because you scared the boy. Guinevere has taken Lavania over as well, so she doesn’t hear more of your shouting.”

 

“It’s better for them that they aren’t around me.”

 

“Obviously.” Serena finally stands, stepping over to the closet. She doesn’t care that her stepdaughter is in a state of undress, nothing she hasn’t seen before. “However, it isn’t better for you to be alone.” Serena folds her arms over her chest, “just gives those wounds time to fester.”

 

“I don’t have a partner that is going to hunt me down in the south of France, Serena.” Char runs a hand through her shoulder length honey brunette hair, not quite as light a shade as her mother, but not quite as dark as her father either. “No, no, he’s dead. I mean, super fucking dead. I saw his open eyes in the car before I...” A rueful huff leaving her lips, “and I didn’t start to remember it...until recently.”

 

“The brain, Charlotte, the brain works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, it tries to protect us from the things we can’t control by making us act out in ways we usually wouldn’t.” Serena sighs softly, taking into account how thin she’s begging to get. Not eating properly, that’s for sure. “You’re displaying classic signs of post traumatic stress disorder and survivor guilt. Which have stacked onto your other mental issues, not to mention your hormones being all over the place because of Lavinia.”

 

“Survivor guilt.” Charlotte lifts her head finally, looking to the other woman though she stands bare chested with only a pair of underwear on. The angry red scar at the top of her pelvis, poking just above the waistband of her black cotton panties. She didn’t realize that it was an actual thing, had a name and everything.

 

“You aren’t the first one to have it and I highly doubt you’ll be the last.” Serena shakes her head, “and I’m telling you to return to therapy, not just for yourself, but for your children. Do you honestly want their memories to be filled with their mother growing sour once their father died? Is that truly fair to them to lose two parents just because one thought checking out would be easier than working on her feelings?”

 

Char swallows, turning her head again to look for one of her sleep bras, which made things much more comfortable while she nursed. “Of course not.”

 

“So then finish what you’re doing and we’ll go and speak with the children. Especially since all parties involved have had time to calm down.” Serena takes a deep breath, “something I fully believe in is that you don’t go to bed angry with the people that you love.”

 

Finishing hooking the last clasp of the bra, Char turns to her stepmother, rushing into her arms. She closes her eyes as she feels the older woman press a kiss to her temple. “Thank you.” She whispers, knowing that Serena would push her while her mother would try not to rock the boat.

 

“Of course. I’m always here for you, Charlotte. We all are.” Serena embraces the younger woman tightly, bringing a hand up to run through Charlotte’s hair out of instinct. “You just need to allow us to help you.” She feels Charlotte’s absent nod before smiling softly to herself, hopeful she was able to make even the slightest difference with her stepdaughter.

Chapter Text

Bernie stands in the hallway of her daughter’s home, leaning against the wall next to her grandson’s room. She remains quiet as her wife guides the younger woman to her bedroom. It’s as if Charlotte doesn’t see her standing there. She furrows her brow, confused and concerned for the situation. Bernie waits a few moments, sinking to comfortably sit on the floor, before Serena slowly closes the bedroom door behind herself to meet her in the hall. “All of the grandchildren are gone, with exception to Owen. What happened?”

 

Serena hums, nodding slowly, “understandably, the children are fed up.” She nears her wife, leaning against the wall and sliding down to sit next to the woman. “The missing ones are round ours. Cole is taking care of Lane, who was the subject of Charlotte’s ire this time.”

 

“Not Laney.” Bernie sighs softly to herself.

 

“Oh yes, so, when I had her go over to apologize, which she wanted to do anyway, Cole made it very clear that Lane didn’t want to see her right now. Which...she didn’t take well, to put it mildly. She broke down...completely. Cole’s declaration that her tears weren’t going to work to make him feel bad anymore...” Serena chuckles ruefully, “well, that was an unforeseen twist.”

 

“What did you think would happen?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, glancing to her wife, “he’s our boy. He has our joint desire to protect and our joint willfulness of confrontation when necessary. Though...that last one is usually used only on a professional level.”

 

“For you, maybe. I was never afraid to deal with Edward.” Serena leans her head back, taking a deep breath, “this, Bernie, this is why we haven’t gone on holiday more than we have. We went for a long weekend, had an amazing time, and came back to a minefield.” Honestly, she feels a sense of guilt in the back of her mind. Seeing Lane’s reaction today made her curious as to how many times Charlotte had verbally attacked him before, as well as the other children. “This is different, Bernie. She wasn’t like this before.”

 

“Agreed.” Bernie swallows, looking forward again. “I...I don’t know what to do.”

 

“I phoned Annette Vickers.” Serena starts to speak of the therapist she and Charlotte have shared for well over a decade, taking a moment, “she said it doesn’t sound as if Charlotte is taking her medication and may possibly be having a break of sorts.” She stops, waiting a moment before continuing, “that it is completely expected and she’s surprised it hasn’t happened sooner, all things considering.”

 

“You really think she’s going to go willingly tomorrow?”

 

“She doesn’t have a choice.” Serena states simply, “either she goes to her sessions regularly, and properly takes her medication, or you and I care for the children full time, Lavinia included, and she becomes sectioned at hospital.”

 

Bernie begins to shake her head negatively, “I’m not pushing her away, Serena. I’m not sending her-”

 

“It isn’t pushing her away. It’s protecting her children.” The silver haired woman glances over to her wife again, her eyes dampened, “you didn’t see how absolutely gutted Lane was. You didn’t see Cole’s face when he came out to check on him. These children are growing used to her outbursts and that isn’t fair to them. Not a single one of them.” She reaches a hand over, gently tucking a section of Bernie’s hair behind her ear. “Nor is it fair to us.”

 

“Yeah.” Bernie breathes out, her voice just above a whisper. She still feels like she’s failing her daughter, though knows it’s probably what is best for her. Bernie won’t talk about it anymore if she doesn’t need to, “Owen did a number on his arm.” She nods, “no sutures required this time, but I don’t know if he’ll leave the dressing on.”

 

“Anything cause his upset?”

 

The blonde shakes her head negatively, “nothing that I’m aware of. I walked in on Char attempting to calm him down, but he was growing violent, so...I don’t know.” She exhales softly, “I just-I don’t understand how everything was fine for...two months, right? Things were fine while they were all back and forth to hospital for their associated treatments. Things were fine when Lavinia came home.” Bernie pauses, “or were they not and I was just...blind to it all?”

 

Serena shrugs, “if you were blind then so was I.” She wraps an arm around her wife, pulling her closer, “you know, I spoke with Sian today. You remember how excited she was when she and Marcus came over the day after Charlotte brought Lavinia home from hospital. Apparently, she’s been phoning quite often, offering assistance and to just...come and visit. For both she and Marcus to build and strengthen relationships as a whole. Charlotte gives an excuse every time.”

 

“You know how she feels about Marcus.”

 

“In the past, maybe. However, you and I both witnessed when she danced with him at the wedding. Even embraced them both before leaving. Things were changing for the better.” Serena absently rubs her wife’s back as the woman starts to lean against her. She knows her wife changed the subject before because she was growing uncomfortable with the route of the conversation, but feels she must, “Bernie, tell me you understand...about what I was saying before.”

 

Bernie swallows, thinking for a moment, “if she’s sick, I’m going to take care of her, Serena. I’ve promised her that before and I’m sticking to my word. I’m sorry.”

 

“I have four of our five grandchildren over our house. Two of them are afraid, one is just angry with it all, and the last one is too small to care either way.” Serena answers quietly, “you haven’t any need to be sorry. If the other children weren’t being put at risk, I’d be there right along with you.”

 

“I just...have this gut feeling that...something’s coming.” Bernie sits back up again, moving from leaning against her wife, “that this is going to get worse before it gets better and...” She smiles ruefully to herself, tears beginning to form in her eyes, “and I don’t like it. I don’t like experiencing that feeling of...dread and not knowing where it’s coming from.”

 

“It’s coming from instinct, darling.”

 

“Probably.” Bernie nods, “so...what do we do now?”

 

“One of us stays here and one goes to the house with the other grandchildren.” Serena has put some thought into all of this, even if it wasn’t exactly something she actually wanted to think about. “Though, I reckon the grandchildren may actually be fine if-”

 

“No, you’re right.”

 

“Should we roshambo for sleeping arrangements?” Serena raises an eyebrow, hearing a soft amused snort come from her wife, “though you were dealing with an angry eleven year old who is unable to communicate or calm down easily.” She gives Bernie a half smile, “so I reckon you can go with the other four tonight since they’ll be far easier to deal with. I’ll stay here and sleep on the daybed in Lavinia’s room.”

 

“Your back is going to hurt from that.” Bernie smirks, “are you sure?”

 

“Positive, darling. Go put the others’ minds at ease.” 

 

Bernie leans over to her wife, capturing her lips in a tender kiss. “This isn’t the return I had in mind after our holiday, you know.” She nuzzles her nose against Serena’s before kissing her again, “things were going to be different. We were going to take more time for ourselves, remember?”

 

“Of course I remember. I’d never forget something like that.” Serena brings her hand up to rest against Bernie’s cheek, pecking her lips again. “We can take more time once everything gets sorted. We’ll have Guinevere plan us another holiday.” She smiles reassuringly, “and we’ll go at a time where everything is far calmer than it is now. I reckon our last outing simply occurred too soon to everything else. Lavinia has only been home a month, the twins still aren’t fighting fit, neither is Cole. Not to mention the heavy cloud of grief hanging over this house, and this family as a whole.”

 

“Unfortunately, I don’t expect it to dissipate anytime soon.” Bernie says softly, placing her forehead against her wife’s, closing her eyes. “I love you.”

 

“I love you too. Things will get better, they must.”

Chapter Text

Bernie quietly closes the entry door to her house behind herself. She leans against the door, closing her eyes for a moment before hearing the soft thumping of Cole’s boot against the hardwood. She opens her eyes, seeing the dim night light on in the kitchen. Taking her shoes off near the front door before making her way to the room, she spots Cole speaking with his sister as she sits comfortably alert in his arm.

 

“Thought I heard you come in.” Cole keeps his voice quiet, smirking when his Gran stands in the doorway leading to the vestibule. “Owen ended up falling asleep, yeah?”

 

Nodding, Bernie moves closer to the kitchen island, leaning against it. “How are the other two?”

 

“I had them take some of my melatonin to help them sleep because I knew they wouldn’t otherwise. Worked like a dream, but Vinnie is a night owl, like her favorite brother.” Cole raises his brow, “so I’m...making food, I guess. Cheesy pasta, if you’d like some.”

 

“Cole, it’s half past eleven.” She’s amused, watching how much more relaxed the boy is compared to what he was only months ago. “Of course I’ll have some cheesy pasta.”

 

“Good.” Cole nods, offering his sister to his Gran to hold. “I ordered pizza earlier, so Gwen and Laney ate, but...I don’t know. I just wasn’t in the mood to eat then, I guess, so here we are.”

 

Bernie takes the baby into her arms, snorting when the baby begins to babble softly to her. “He did what?” She pretends to understand the sounds escaping Lavinia’s mouth, nodding in response, “well, he’s making cheesy pasta now, so I’m certain he’ll eat.”

 

Cole chuckles a little to himself, then pauses when he hears the space still aside from the sound of boiling water, “So...how’s Mum?”

 

“Well, Nan’s hoping things will blow over in the morning. Your mother has agreed to see Ms. Vickers tomorrow and do whatever it is that’s asked of her.” Bernie edges a seat against the counter, watching the teenager while her infant granddaughter continues her soft babbling. “That might mean going to hospital for her though.”

 

He swallows, stirring the wide egg noodles with a large wooden spoon. “Is it because I wouldn’t let her see Lane?” Cole bites the corner of his mouth, trying to focus on the task in front of him, “because if that’s all it is-”

 

“No, cub, it’s much more than that.” 

 

Cole nods a little, “so...” He moves over to the smaller saucepan where a heavy cream, chicken broth, and Asiago cheese mixture simmer gently, giving it another stir, “what does that mean for us if she does go to hospital?”

 

“Well,” Bernie inhales slowly, then exhales slowly, “we can stay over the other place. I remember your mother saying something about a company installing an air-con throughout the house. So...we’d have that to look forward to, eh?” She licks her lips in thought after attempting to lighten the mood, then adjusts the baby in order to see the infant’s face. “Vinnie doesn’t seem to mind either way.”

 

“That’s why you’re here and Nan isn’t.” He turns, looking over toward his Gran. “You’re afraid you’d bow out if it came down to that...or if she begged you not to.” Cole moves over to the fridge, tugging it open. He finds a couple other cheeses, pulling them out to add to the simmering saucepan. His grandmother doesn’t need to respond, he already knows the answer. “It’s alright.”

 

She absently bites at the skin of her lips, feeling her eyes dampen. Bernie hums a soft amused huff to herself when the baby starts eagerly attempting to communicate again, and it reminds her so much of when Charlotte was a babe. Her chin begins to tremble, but she clears her throat, trying to keep the emotion from her face as she brings Lavinia up to look over her shoulder.

 

“Are you okay though?” Cole glances to his Gran again, stirring his melting cheese. She doesn’t answer him right away and he knows it’s because she just isn’t able to. He lifts the pot of noodles, draining most of the water but only leaving a little, he places it back onto the stove, throwing the butter he had set aside onto them, then his cheese mixture. “Because it’s okay if you aren’t. None of us are.”

 

Bernie tilts her head back, huffing a rueful chortle. “Which shouldn’t be the case either.”

 

“Shit happens, Gran.” Cole shrugs, continuing to mix his concoction as he speaks, using his best American accent, “ it ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.

 

Bernie begins to chuckle to herself a little, knowing he’s only repeating the things he’s heard her say in the past. “Yeah.”

 

Cole glances over to her again, smirking, “heard some smart woman say that once.” He opens the upper cupboard door, retrieving a couple of bowls, gently pouring some of the cheesy pasta into each. “Now, I can’t make any promises with this, but I threw it together once over Mum’s and Lane said it was pretty good, so I guess it was edible.” He places the bowl in front of her.

 

“Cheese and pasta. I like both, so what could possibly go wrong?” Bernie takes a fork as it’s offered to her by her grandson, finally skewering the noodles onto it, bringing them up to her mouth. “Cole?” When she hears an acknowledging hum from the teenager, she continues, “this is really good.”

 

“Thanks.” He shrugs, “I mean, really, I just whipped it up so...of course it’s good.” Cole teases a bit, hearing her softly hum a laugh again.

 

Bernie lowers Lavinia from her shoulder, holding her on her lap. She dips a finger in her cheesy pasta sauce then offers it to the baby, who quickly takes it in her mouth. Lavinia’s eyes widen at the new taste, causing her to smack her lips and eagerly look at the bowl for more. Bernie begins to give her much louder, honking laugh. She quickly attempts to stifle herself when she remembers the other two sleeping in the lounge. “I’ll speak with Char about giving her cereal soon...not supposed to until six months though.”

 

“I’d hope so. Look how happy she got.” Cole grins, glad his grandmother seems uplifted again, even if she’s just preoccupied with something relatively trivial.

 

“Oh, meant to ask, where did you get the money for the air-con? I know the other is still over your mother’s, so you didn’t just transport it here.” Bernie gives a quick glance to her grandson when she’s met with silence.

 

“Back alley drug deals.” Cole carries on, sighing heavily.

 

Bernie rolls her eyes, knowing he’d make a joke out of it, “Okay.” 

 

“Definitely not my successful web show, if that’s what you were thinking.” Cole shoves a forkful of noodles into his mouth, “I received a plaque yesterday for surpassing a million subscribers. I don’t even do anything like I used to do anymore and people eat it up. Gwennie and I still do investigative stories once in a while, but I’m slowly turning it into just talking about my family and how adorable my baby sister is.” He shrugs, “really, it doesn’t matter what you post as long as you make it interesting.”

 

“One million people subscribe to you?” Bernie seems surprised, unaware just how popular her grandson was on the internet.

 

“Well...over one-point-four million, but I don’t care about the numbers anymore.” He shakes his head, “companies reach out to me to sponsor them, talk about their product or service. I pick what I agree with or believe in. Some I don’t do because they just...aren’t me.”

 

“That’s incredible.”

 

Cole shrugs, unfazed by it all really, “I also do some late night streaming, that’s why I have the sound dampening pads in my room both here and at Mum’s.” He pauses, “I just bought white ones for here so they don’t show as much on the wall.” He brings his index finger up, tapping it against his temple. “Sometimes I play video games and sometimes we just have chat sessions where I might, I don’t know, just organize my book collection or something. Chill sessions, I like to call those.”

 

“Well, I’m very proud of you in all your endeavors.” Bernie nods, taking another forkful of pasta in her mouth before moving over to the fridge, “Reckon she’ll sleep if I give her a bottle, don’t you think so?”

 

“I mean, she was supposed to already be asleep by now, so really it’s probably time she had one. Might help her sleep in later as well.” Cole smiles to his Gran. It isn’t that he didn’t think she was proud of him, but that hearing it once in a while from her still made him happy. He’ll sleep better now that she’s here, for sure.

Chapter Text

Annette Vickers, head consultant of mental health services at Holby City hospital, gently places the mug of hot cocoa in front of her patient before taking her own seat. She pulls her legs up in a crossed fashion. “I’m glad you’re here.”

 

Charlotte nods absently, drawn within herself. She stares at the mug, but doesn’t know if she actually wants the cocoa within it. “I had to come or else Serena wasn’t going to let me see my children.” She replies, her voice not much louder than a mumble. 

 

“Why do you think she’d give you that sort of ultimatum?” Annette tilts her head to the side, taking a sip of her own coffee. When her patient doesn’t answer and it doesn’t seem like she’s about to, “Why would Serena want to keep your children from you?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“You’re a writer, you can come up with a better response than that.”

 

Swallowing, Char shakes her head. “I’m having a hard time, but...I don’t think taking my kids is the answer.” Her voice breaks slightly toward the end of her statement, tears starting to fill her eyes, “They’re all I have anymore...and I can’t...I can’t allow myself to give her that...that satisfaction of holding that over me.”

 

Annette tilts her head to the side, placing her mug onto the coffee table in front of her. “Why would she give you that sort of ultimatum?” She asks again, only to be met with silence again, “what are you having a hard time with, Charlotte?”

 

Her chin trembles and she starts to bounce her toes against the floor, an outlet for her anxiety. “I really miss my husband...and...I’m having a hard time dealing with my children because they remind me so much of him...in everything. Looks, mannerisms...smile. Even Cole and...he wasn’t even biologically Ry’s.” Her hands begin to tremble though she doesn’t notice it, “and I need them so I can take care of them. I owe it to Ry to tend to them myself.”

 

“No.” 

 

Char lifts her gaze finally, meeting the eyes of her therapist. She’s confused really, and starts glancing around the room at anything other than her therapist’s eyes, “I-I don’t understand.”

 

“You owe it to your late husband to ensure his children are properly cared for. Make sure they’re happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. So, let’s go through your children.” Annette sits a bit straighter, leaning against the back of her high backed chair. “Oldest to youngest good with you?”

 

She still doesn’t understand what’s going on or what her therapist is talking about even. “Yeah.” Char replies weakly.

 

“How is Cole’s leg?” Annette had spoken with Serena and was always fed updates on how the children were since it was a part of Serena’s life and sessions as well, and she was on a regular talking schedule with her. “Does he still have the boot?”

 

Something else to focus on besides her feelings. Char bites the skin of her lip absently, glancing away and focusing on another portion of the room, “Cole has the boot for at least another month and he’ll be assessed. Um...it can take up to six months for a tibia fracture to heal. Luckily his break isn’t a type that required surgery, just manual adjustment. So, it should warrant a lesser healing time.” She nods, “but he isn’t a fast healer like Mum and I. Laney got that...hopefully Vinnie.”

 

Annette listens closely, “you’re a fast healer?” Establish a base of safe questions before going to harder to answer ones.

 

“Always was. Ever since I was a girl.” Char lifts a hand, tucking a portion of her hair behind her ear, “Cam didn’t get it either. He’s stuck with my father’s healing factor.”

 

“How is Owen?”

 

“Lost.” Charlotte licks her lips, blinking slowly. “He um...his hip is doing okay. Luckily, he knows that when it begins to hurt, that he needs to sit down...and I put an option for him to ask for medicine on his communication tablet.” It seems like she’s holding back, and maybe she is, subconsciously. 

 

Annette nods slowly, “does he ask often?” Seeing her patient’s negative head shake, she continues, “well, that’s good. Does he use the communication tablet often?”

 

“Yeah, well, before I had taken it from him.”  It’s obvious Char is getting to a section of the conversation that she isn’t completely comfortable with. When her therapist watches her, as if to encourage her to continue. “I had...forgotten to take Ryan off of it. He just kept spamming the button and...I couldn’t take it anymore.”

 

“So, you confiscated the tablet?”

 

Charlotte nods, “but he was listening to music on it and...he wasn’t happy. So...he just started to just sign father-father-father over and over again...as fast as he could.” She shakes her head, “and I just...I just yelled at him to stop and he...he started to scratch at me before biting his own arm. I couldn’t...I couldn’t handle it. Luckily, Mum came in at some point and guided him toward his room.”

 

“I take it he doesn’t understand the concept of death.” Annette sees her patient begin to fixate on her coffee cup again. “Was Owen in the car with you during the accident?”

 

“He and Laney.” Char feels her throat start to tighten.

 

“What you remember...”

 

“I’d rather not.” 

 

“Okay.” Annette nods, folding her hands over her lap, “and that’s fine. However, something happened that warranted Serena to call me. Something had her so worried about your mental state that I canceled a funding meeting with the board in order to be here today. I’m inclined to agree with her, whether you do or not.”

 

Charlotte blinks, her eyes softening a little. She keeps her gaze toward her mug on the table, but then the table itself, her eyes shifting. “She doesn’t like to see me cry.”

 

“Maybe, or maybe it’s something more than that.” Annette starts to turn sideways in her chair, getting more comfortable as her legs hang over the edge of the arm. “Something that we need to...start from the root and work our way up to the top.”

 

“I was woken up by contractions. I put my hand down to see if my water broke, but...I was bleeding...heavily.” Charlotte swallows, “and I could hear my parents...Mum and Serena, I could hear them calling for us. Trying to rouse us and pry the doors...and I looked over to Ryan and...” Her eyes begin to fill with tears more than they have, “and his eyes were open.” She shakes her head, “and I was so afraid that...one of my boys would have the last memory of...of that. Of...of seeing his face...” Charlotte brings her hands up to her face, rubbing her palms over her eyes.

 

Annette pulls a tissue from the box, swiveling her body around to offer it to her patient. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“And...I realized that...my hand was still in his. We were holding hands on the way home, but...I was so worried about my boys that I wasn’t thinking and I tried to lower his lids. He was still warm and...I think I held out hope.” Char leans forward, taking the tissue from her therapist before leaning back again, “I didn’t know that was going to be the last time I properly held his hand.”

 

“You know, you were so worried about what your children saw and...how it would affect them as they grew older.” Vickers tilts her head to the side, “what about you?”

 

“What about me?”

 

“How do you think seeing your husband in that state has affected you two months on?”

 

Char licks her lips, shaking her head a little, “every time I close my eyes, it’s all I see.” She huffs a rueful chortle to herself, “part I don’t understand is...why now? Like, why didn’t it happen right after? I felt fine...and now...” She shrugs, bringing the tissue to her nose to blow, her nose growing red in the process.

 

“Because post traumatic stress disorder is incredibly bizarre.” Annette offers her a reassuring smile. “Some people can develop symptoms right away, some people weeks after an event, some people months.”  She nods, “but there isn’t anything wrong with the amount of time the disorder takes to develop. PTSD is something you had before...and the strange thing is that it doesn’t really ever go away. It just becomes far more manageable. Think of it like...a cake, right?” She notices a subtle smile forming in the corner of her patient’s mouth, “and this cake is a big deal. Right? You take a slice, then another person, and another, and another. What do you have left?”

 

“Crumbs.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

“The slices of cake are...coping techniques or...life experiences?” Charlotte tries to reason, seeing the consultant nod. “I can’t...I can’t even look at a picture of him now or even properly look at my son’s face.”

 

“And that’s okay. That’s normal.” Annette continues her gentle smile, “but as time goes on, you’ll be able to go back to the things you’ve always loved to do or...even just look at a photo album. This isn’t a marathon, Charlotte, you just need to take things step by step.”

 

Char’s smirk grows into more of a smile, “you sound like my Mum.”

 

“I know your mother. She’s a pretty intelligent lady.” Annette winks, reaching for her mug on the coffee table in front of her. She knows they’ve made some incredible progress in the span of one session, but it all is going to come down to her patient’s willingness to want to improve herself.

Chapter Text

“Things went well then?” Bernie stands behind her wife, arms wrapped around her waist. She rests her chin on the woman’s shoulder as they gaze through the window of their own kitchen. The older grandchildren and their daughter relaxing in the pool within the confines of their mostly shared yard.

 

“As well as can be expected, I suppose.” Serena shrugs, “Annette said to just make sure she comes to her appointments and...Charlotte seems almost as if a weight has been lifted.” She shakes her head a little, “I don’t know...maybe it’s just me.”

 

“I concur.” She smiles a little, “also, I haven’t the foggiest what Cole said to the others that they just...are going with the flow now as if nothing even happened.” Bernie raises an eyebrow, “our boy moves mountains.”

 

“That he does.” Serena places a hand over Bernie’s as it rests on her lower abdomen, “I think she needed a good cry. She came out of Annette’s office with a tissue in her hand and that red nose that she’s inherited from you...like Rudolph when she gets upset.”

 

Bernie snorts, amused, “when she blows her nose. That’s when mine goes too.” She tilts her head down, pressing a kiss where her chin was just resting. “Lavinia will probably have the same thing.” Bernie finally lets her wife go, moving over to the refrigerator to obtain a bottle of water, “looks just like Char did when she was a babe. I mean...exactly.”

 

“Oh?” Serena follows her, but stops to lean against the kitchen island.

 

“Last night while I was here and after Cole made some of the greatest cheesy pasta I’ve ever had, I caught myself just...staring at her. At Lavinia, I mean.” Bernie pauses, a tenderness to her eyes, “it um...it had taken me back to when Char was a baby.” She unscrews the top of the water bottle, bringing it to her mouth to take a sip. “I remember thinking my whole pregnancy that...I was stuck. The military gave me an exit...and a place to truly be myself. Being without it was...” Bernie shakes her head negatively, “torture, to put it mildly.”

 

“You said before that you were already past your first trimester with her when you discovered you were even pregnant.” Serena watches her wife, listening to her every word. “It still didn’t mean you couldn’t have aborted.”

 

“There was something...” Bernie shakes her head negatively, returning the lid back to the bottle before setting it onto the kitchen island. “There was something about that pregnancy. I mean...I dreaded it. I was terrified that they wouldn’t allow me to return to the RAMC for some reason.” She pauses, “and then, as she grew, I started to resent this new...anchor more and more.” She swallows, “my blood pressure wasn’t doing me any favors, but it was relatively easy to manage. However, it meant weekly visits in my last month. In my last visit, the nurse came in to do my preliminaries, as usual. She noticed the fetal heartbeat wasn’t steady, she was so young and she looked so scared. Which...didn’t exactly put me at ease.”

 

“I imagine it wouldn’t.” Serena moves around to the counter, obtaining a stemless wine glass from the upper cupboard. She moves to the fridge, tugging it open to obtain her pitcher of premade homemade sangria.

 

“Doctor came in and before I knew it, I was being rushed to hospital via ambulance.” Bernie lifts a hand, running it through her hair to tuck behind her ear. “Ultrasound showed she was breech and the cord was wrapped around her neck...and I was-I was struck with this...intense sense of guilt. That I, subconsciously, blamed her for my lack of freedom and the necessity of staying in my marriage. That she could die at any moment and all I was worried about was myself.”

 

Serena fills her glass just enough before returning the pitcher to the chiller. She brings the sangria to her lips, taking a long sip. It does bother her, ever so slightly, that her wife is so nostalgic as of late. Serena doesn’t understand why or what’s making her feel that way. However, it also means that her wife’s long term memories weren’t affected by her brain injury, so she’ll listen to every word.

 

“I woke up after my surgery and I was alone in the room. I wasn’t even sure what happened, honestly. It all went so fast.” Bernie swallows, “and I thought she had died. I thought that...I put so much negative thought and energy on this...innocent little thing that...karma stepped in as if saying I didn’t deserve her.” Bernie huffs a rueful chortle, “and it would have been right.”

 

“What about when you finally saw her?”

 

“I had been...laying there for what felt like hours. I wanted to cry, but...I also didn’t want to look weak. Especially not in front of Marcus and certainly not in front of his mother, because I knew she wouldn’t be too much further behind.” Bernie swallows, “I only pressed my call button because I was thirsty. Nurse rushed in because she wasn’t even aware I had woken in the first place, with this...huge grin on her face. She was tending to me when I was brought into hospital via the ambulance. And she said, I just saw your daughter. She’s absolutely perfect. ” Bernie begins to grin, “two little sentences that...made me the happiest woman in the whole world.”

 

“Where had Marcus been all that time?”

 

“Making phone calls to let people know I had her, also to make arrangements for someone to tend to Cameron for a bit until he could get home. Marcus didn’t come with me to the delivery room or anything like that, not that it would have mattered, I was unconscious and they whisked Char off right away.” Bernie turns her head a little when she hears something coming from the other room.

 

Serena takes another sip of her drink, “What is it?”

 

“Reckon Vinnie is awake.”

 

“Figured that with your bionic hearing, did you?” She sets the glass onto the counter before brushing past her wife as she makes her way to the lounge. Serena stands over her granddaughter’s bassinet, listening to the baby’s soft gurgles. She reaches down, gently lifting the baby into her arms as she smiles, “Have a good sleep, darling?” Serena gives the girl a proper cuddle before returning to the kitchen, “first time seeing her?” Of course she wants to hear the rest of the story.

 

“I asked the nurse to take me to her, which she was all for. She helped me, still in quite a bit of pain, into a wheelchair, and whisked me off to NICU. I didn’t know until later that Marcus hadn’t seen her yet and I was the first one.” Bernie watches her granddaughter, noticing that she stops her gurgles whenever she’s speaking. “They let me hold her and...I started apologizing to her...and I held her so close. She had the most perfect round head I’d ever seen.” Bernie’s smile grows again, “and I saw to it, over the years, that she was given all the tools she needed in order to not be stuck like I was. I made sure she had her driver’s permit the moment she could obtain it. I made sure she excelled scholastically so that she could do whatever she wanted. I tried to...I tried to make sure she knew she was loved the only way I knew how.”

 

“You did an amazing job, darling.” Serena nears her wife pecking a soft kiss to her lips. “And we’ll make sure Vinnie wants for naught as well.”

 

“Yeah.” Bernie reaches forward, running a gentle finger along her granddaughter’s cheek.

 

“You’re awful nostalgic as of late.” She finally says, though it’s obvious it doesn’t bother her at all, merely just an observation. “Though I love to hear stories, do you know why they’re on your mind?”

 

Bernie isn’t about to tell her wife about how she’s afraid she’s going to lose those memories. She can’t explain it, something in her gut. “Haven’t the foggiest.”

 

Serena can tell that her wife is lying by the look on her face. Bernie has a brilliant poker face when she needs it, except when it comes to Serena, there’s nothing much she’s able to hide. She just stares at her wife’s face for a moment, “when is your next neurologist appointment?”

 

Licking her lips, she blinks slowly as she looks away, “I’m fine, Serena.”

 

“That wasn’t the question.”

 

“I thought you were keeping track of that.” Bernie unscrews the lid of her water bottle before taking a sip.

 

Serena tilts her head to the side, “Berenice-”

 

“I finished the occupational therapy and there’s...virtually no chance I’m going to return to what I was doing previously. The only thing I’ve ever been good with and...gone in a puff of smoke.” Bernie snorts a rueful chortle to herself, “have you any idea what that feels like?”

 

“I retired seven years ago. I only returned so that I could work with you again.” Serena tilts her head to the side, “I gave things up willingly, I helped Charlotte with her twins. All the while it felt as if I was missing a part of myself. The part that went to many years of school, then many years of training, many years of...doing something that I absolutely loved. I understand.”

 

“No, you don’t. I didn’t give up willingly . My ability was stolen from me.” Bernie swallows, “my whole...” She clears her throat, glancing away. Best to keep her composure than to lay everything out on the table, “I’m going to have a lie down.”

 

“Just because you can’t do currently what you were able to previously, doesn’t mean it won’t ever come back.” Serena calls after her wife as the woman begins to walk away. Though she’s a realist and knows it probably won’t. Serena exhales slowly, glancing down to her granddaughter in her arm, “well, I refuse to allow these Wolfe women to make everyone miserable, don’t you?” She’s met with a gummy smile from the girl, glad there was a bright spot to all of this.

Chapter Text

Charlotte smiles softly as Owen slides around to her, eager to cuddle up against her. “My big baby.” She chuckles a little, holding onto him in the pool as they gently bob around. Bringing a hand up, she runs her wet fingers through the boy’s hair.

 

Cole tilts his head to the side, watching his mother closely. “That’s the first time you’ve held him in months, you know.” He smiles softly, “it’s a good thing...he’s missed you.” When she doesn’t reply, only nodding, he sighs, “I mean, I get it, you know. I get why you feel that way.” Cole licks his lips, watching still, “I was thinking of ways that might help. Like...what if we color O’s hair?”

 

“His hair is raven black. Also, do you honestly think he’d sit long enough to allow you?” Char smirks a little, “you’d need to figure a way to get his permission, then bleach it...which will take forever, then color it whatever color he wants.” She offers, “I don’t mind it if you all want to make that sort of change, but...you just need to think about school.”

 

He curls his lip, “must we talk about school?”

 

“Well, darling, it’s coming up. No way around that.” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, still cuddling her son within the water, easier to not see his face. Just letting him relax as they slowly float about, “Owen gets to be comfortable at his school, and you’ll go back to yours. Same as every other kid.”

 

“I know.” Cole lies back, floating on the water, “I just...I feel like...it’s holding me back.”

 

“What?”

 

“Like, it’s beneath me. I’m...more advanced than where I’m at now.” Cole sighs softly, “makes me sound ridiculous.”

 

“No, it doesn’t.” Charlotte offers him a knowing smile, “however, you have so much on your plate at the mo. Whether it be school, or your side hustle-”

 

“I like that. Side hustle.”

 

“Exactly.” She nods, “you’re already more successful than pretty much all of the other pupils and you’re very close to when you’d take your GCSEs. That’s really your next step to see any difference. However, studying for those on top of your current schooling, all while maintaining your source of income, might be a bit much for you.”

 

Cole sighs softly, “you’re talking me out of it.”

 

“No, I just want you to consider all of the things you need to worry about. It’s more than just school. It’s interaction with people your own age...and not just a couple of elderly surgeons.” Charlotte gently presses a kiss against Owen’s head, almost absently.

 

“I’m telling the Grands that’s how you think of them.”

 

“Stating facts.” Char nods, “Owen, are you tired? Would you like to head inside?”

 

“He isn’t going to be able to sleep properly. They’re being quite loud with the air con install.” Cole sighs, “been at it since early this morning. We heard them while we were over the Grands.” He smiles softly, “Gran and Laney made breakfast which...I didn’t realize Gran could cook, much less make a proper breakfast.”

 

“Cole, you’ve lived with them for years and you never realized your grandmother could cook?”

 

“Well, you usually cook, or Nan.” Cole shrugs, “it was cool to find something out about her that I didn’t know before.”

 

“She has a habit of losing track of what she’s doing. Only really does it with cooking. That’s why anything she cooks usually has no more than four ingredients.” Charlotte grins when she hears her eldest son laughing to himself, “imagine growing up with that . Dinner consisted usually of a protein and a side. Protein would be seasoned, but the side would be like...roasted potatoes or another carb. This is the time before one could readily look up a recipe on one’s mobile, mind you.”

 

“Doesn’t sound all that bad.”

 

“It wasn’t.” Char shakes her head, “unless she tried for something else. I remember she attempted a turkey lasagna that...was interesting. Spiciest thing I’ve ever eaten, and I like a bit of spice.” She giggles a little to herself.

 

“Hey. Room for one more?”

 

Cole turns, seeing his uncle standing there, “Uncle Cam!” The teenager grins when the man makes a running jump into the pool, completely clothed.

 

“Just like Mum.” Charlotte sighs, amused by her brother, but shielding Owen’s face from getting splashed. “Where’s your better half?”

 

“Working.” Cam floats in the middle of the moderately sized pool, his arms folded behind his head. “So, I thought what better time to come and visit. Also, you’re terrible at answering your mobile, darling Charlotte.”

 

Cole feels the need to protect his mother, especially concerning what she’s been going through, “we’ve been in the pool all day. Mobiles are in the house so they don’t overheat.” He smirks, gently gliding his uncle around the pool as he floats, “the Grands are round theirs with Vinnie. Gwennie and Laney are inside with the air-con.”

 

“You have an air-con?” Cameron asks, a sense of excitement in his voice.

 

“Window unit currently, but that’s why I have random men banging on my house at the mo. My publisher is American and thought it was ridiculous that I didn’t have one given this heat wave, so they saw to it that I had one properly installed...for the one to two months that we actually need it.” Charlotte shrugs, “I’ll reap the benefits. Never you worry.”

 

“Are you staying for dinner, Uncle Cam?” Cole smiles a little.

 

“If there’s enough. What’s for dinner?”

 

Cole starts to smirk, wanting to see what his uncle says, “Gran is making turkey lasagna. She seems pretty excited about it.”

 

“Uh.” Cameron stops floating around, sitting up instead, “Gran’s turkey lasagna?” He seems concerned, “are you sure you want to eat dinner here? Not too late to leave and order pizza round mine.” When the boy starts to laugh, he pushes a splash in his direction. “Don’t scare me like that! I still have nightmares.”

 

Char starts to smile, “I was like...six or seven or something. Cam started gagging-”

 

“You kept your cool and I have no idea how.” Cam shakes his head, “bad thing is, I remember it clear as yesterday. Dad was at work and we thought Mum was going to order take-away, because we knew she didn’t like to cook, but she insisted.”

 

“Cue Cam being a drama queen, pretending to die at the table. Going as far as to fall from his chair and roll around on the ground. I felt so bad for Mum. She really did try so hard.” Charlotte tilts her head to the side, hearing Owen’s soft snoring in her ear, “should we grill tonight? I have some minced beef, we can do burgers. Maybe some sausage...chicken.” She shrugs, “let’s just...have a big go of it, really clean out the fridge and live on leftovers for the next few days. How does that sound?”

 

“We can all help, right?” Cole sounds as if he’s almost warning her, “there’s sides to make and mixing the mince should help with Lane’s home physio.”

 

“Sure.” Char nods, “of course. I’ll work the grill-”

 

“How about I work the grill?” Cameron waves his eyebrows, “I’ll tell Morven to head over after her shift. If we need to order more groceries, we can do so from our mobiles. Sporadic garden parties are the best type.”

 

Charlotte freezes up a little, “Just Morven after work though. I-I don’t want-”

 

“I wasn’t planning on phoning anyone else. Just shooting Morven a text. That’s all.” Cam lifts his hands in the air to show his innocence. He motions to Owen with a nod of his head, “want me to help you get him out?”

 

It takes her a moment to register what her brother is offering, “take him to his room. I need to get him changed.”

 

“What about just on the lounger, Mum? That way he can continue resting for a bit and won’t be awakened by the workers.” Cole offers, making quick eye contact with his uncle before looking back toward his mother, “we can cover him with a towel. You can relax or...whatever you want instead of wrestling with him while he’s half asleep.” 

 

Cameron tilts his head to the side, seeing the sense of uncertainty on his sister’s face. He meets his eldest nephew’s gaze before carefully climbing from the pool. He moves around the pool to his sister from behind, “here, Char, I’m just going to put him on the lounger. Just over there.” He carefully lifts his younger nephew, not expecting him to stay asleep, but surprised when he falls right back to sleep upon lying him down.

 

Cole swallows, “Mum, is there something I can help you with?” He moves closer to her again, carefully wrapping his arms around her in an embrace. Cole feels his mother return his hug, weakly and almost absently. “Maybe we should get out of the pool and warm up a bit. We’ll let Laney and Gwen give you a makeover after you get changed. Uncle Cam and I will get one too.”

 

Watching as his nephew attempts to help Charlotte, Cameron can tell there’s something else going on here. Something that his parents, nieces, and nephews have been bearing the brunt of without mentioning much, if anything, to anyone else. He inhales deeply, catching his eldest nephew’s eye before making his way over to his parents’ house, thankful they share a garden. “Grabbing a change of clothes...hopefully they still have some of Jason’s. I’ll be back.” He calls out, though it’s more to speak with his parents alone. He’d get to the bottom of this.

Chapter Text

“Do you usually enter a house through the back garden door?” Serena sips from her mug filled with hot instant coffee, “not that I’m not happy to see you, Cameron, I am.” She offers him a soft smile.

 

“We need to talk. Where’s Mum?” Cam places his hands on his hips, “also, is there anything here of Jason’s? I’m...wet.” 

 

“Drenched is more like it. If you think they would fit, you know where his room has always been. Leave the shoes outside though. I can see the puddles you made in them.” Serena raises an eyebrow, not really understanding why he’s there, much less what he could possibly want to talk to them about. “After that, head to the lounge.” Waiting for him to pass her, Serena makes her own way to the lounge, seeing her wife sitting with her granddaughter comfortably against her as they watch shapes and colors swirling with classical music on the television.

 

“This is...oddly satisfying.” Bernie motions to the screen, “why haven’t we watched this before?”

 

“Because it’s a show for infants, darling.” Serena smirks, taking a seat next to her, “your son is here, by the by, and he doesn’t appear very happy.”

 

“Oh, is he ever?” Bernie teases, then looks to her wife, “where is he?”

 

“Went up to change. Should be down in a moment.” Serena moves around the room, turning on the table lamps, then turning down the music from the television. “I’m glad he’s stopped by. Nice to see someone else outside of our little family bubble.”

 

“It is.” Bernie lifts her head when she hears her son bounding down the stairs. She snorts, amused after catching a sight of his oversized shorts and t-shirt. “You look about ten years old.” Bernie reaches an arm out, glad when he gives her a hug. “Glad you’ve stopped by. I’ve missed you.”

 

“I bet you have.” Cam nods, standing upright, then casually sitting on the floor. He motions to the air-con in the window, “does everyone have one besides me?”

 

“Cole bought that one.” Serena offers, “we’ve...started to grow used to it.”

 

“I’d bet.”

 

“Are you staying for dinner?” Serena leans forward, adjusting her position on the sofa to straighten her back a little.

 

“Promised Char that I would man the grill.” Cameron nods, “so, yeah.”

 

It’s the way he says it that tells Bernie that there’s more he wants to add, “good.” She watches him a moment before offering him the baby, “hold your niece. She isn’t going to know who you are if you don’t come around more often.” She gets up, lowering the infant down to her son. Bernie runs a hand through his hair as she returns to her place on the sofa.

 

“You know that isn’t anything I control. Though, I plan to put my foot down more often.” Cam sighs softly, then glances down at the curious two month old who is gazing back up at him. “Why have the two of you remained silent when it comes to darling Charlotte’s condition?”

 

Bernie watches him, “what condition?”

 

“Oh, don’t play dumb, Madre. It doesn’t benefit you. I saw it myself.” Cam sighs softly, feeling as his niece takes hold of his finger, but brings it to her own mouth, “it’s why you have Lavinia here and aren’t currently in the pool. It’s why Cole is covering for her when something makes her uneasy. Like...I saw it click in her head, she was just staring into space.”

 

“We’re here because your mother has been getting headaches when she’s in the sun for very long and the heat isn’t good for her or Lavinia.” Serena shakes her head, “Charlotte needs to deal with her issues on her own. I’ll make sure to take her to appointments, but she only just started going back. She hasn’t even been able to look at Owen and Lane lately, Cameron. This isn’t something we’re talking about with other people because it isn’t our story to tell.”

 

“You aren’t worried about the kids’ safety? Owen and Lane? Cole can tend to himself more than he used to be able to, but...just bringing Vinnie here isn’t going to protect the older three.” Cameron sighs, removing his hand from his niece’s grasp to run it through his hair, pushing it back. “And you two aren’t spring chickens anymore-”

 

“Says you.” Bernie mumbles, leaning back into the sofa more.

 

“She’s going to hurt herself or one of those kids, Mum. This isn’t a laughing matter.”

 

“No, it isn’t.” Bernie finally responds, sitting up more, “no, it isn’t. Your sister saw her husband die and had a baby...all in a twenty-four hour period. Survivors’ guilt isn’t a joke, Cam. Your sister is in pain and there is nothing we can do for her. If we take the children, she won’t have anything to focus on and she’ll continue to think about the accident. If we leave her alone...” She pauses, watching him, “you have no idea how much I wish I could take that pain from her. PTSD is not something I’m unfamiliar with...and still suffer from after all of these years. Same goes for your sister.” Bernie stops again, looking away a little as she licks her lips in thought.

 

Serena gently runs her hand along her wife’s back, “mental illness isn’t something you just... get over , Cameron. Especially when one is predisposed to it.” She clears her throat, “we don’t ask for help because we don’t need it. Charlotte has triggers that...even she’s still figuring out.”

 

“Took me years to realize mine.” Bernie nods a little.

 

“So, we’re going to continue to play things by her rules. She knows that...if she thinks she would receive better care in hospital, then that’s what happens. It isn’t a punishment, it’s for her own safety.” Serena explains, her hand still rubbing over Bernie’s back, “but we’re going to let her steer the ship and the children know they’re always welcome here. Which they did, and I stayed over there last night.”

 

“Right, that isn’t fair to either of you.” Cameron shakes his head, “you should be thinking of retirement and...having fun. Not tending to your grandchildren because your daughter is losing her marbles.”

 

“We make do because that’s what families do, Cameron. I’d do the same with you if you were in the same boat.” Bernie’s face softens as she watches her son and granddaughter.

 

“Just...” Cam swallows, shaking his head, “please, don’t shut us out. Don’t let her shut us out. We want to help, but...how could we possibly if we have no idea what’s going on?”

 

Slowly moving from the sofa, Bernie kneels next to her son, carefully wrapping an arm around the middle of his back. “You didn’t come here to talk about your sister. Well, maybe here, but not...” She sighs, hoping he understands what she’s talking about, “what brought you by?”

 

“Uh...” Cameron glances between the two older women, “Morven and I...we were approved to adopt. So...we’ll have to fill the house with a bit more furniture so it actually looks lived in, but...we’re hoping to hear a lead soon as we finish up the bureaucratic side of things.” He pauses, “I resigned myself to never being a father because Morven says she can’t have kids, but...it was never her intention not to be a mother.” Cameron starts to smile as he feels his mother squeezing him closer.

 

“That is just...the best news.” Serena grins broadly, getting up to lean down to him, pressing a kiss to his mop top hair. She hears him chuckling beneath her, returning to her seat after, “how is Morven?”

 

“Over the moon.” Cam nods, beaming, “almost didn’t make it into work today because of how excited she was.” He shrugs, “I came to tell the others, but...I see there’s more important things going on.”

 

“Darling, they don’t equate.” Serena watches him, “two different things. I’m sure Charlotte and the children will be just as thrilled as we are...if not more. Good news in a dreary time is the best way of helping one through it.”

 

Bernie glances over to her son finally, loosening her proud grip on the man, “and they could all use a bit of good news right about now.”

Chapter Text

Annette Vickers sits comfortably in her high backed chair, legs folded at the knee. She peers over her coffee mug toward her patient, sitting opposite her on an overstuffed sofa. “How have you been sleeping?” She can see the circles under the woman’s eyes, covered in makeup in an effort to conceal them. “Eight hours?”

 

Serena huffs ruefully before shaking her head, “I wish. Um...it’s been a bit since I’ve gotten a solid eight. Probably when Bernie and I went on holiday. That was the last time.”

 

“So...a bit over month ago.”

 

She nods, absently bringing her arms into a fold and fiddling with the charm of her necklace with her hand, “one sleeps better when one isn’t worried all the time.” Serena bites her lip a little, “I miss it, honestly. Bernie doesn’t sleep well now because Cole hasn’t been staying over as often, but we’ve been tending to Lavinia. So...” She tilts her head from side to side, “and she’s a great baby. Sleeps through the night, just...incredibly pleasant.”

 

“Why is Lavinia staying with you?” Annette lifts a hand, tucking her hair behind her ear, “why not with her mother who is still nursing?”

 

Serena swallows, taking a moment to gather the courage to say what she needs to. No use in lying to your therapist. “We’re uh...we’re afraid it might be too much for her. Between dealing with Owen, who has been acting out as of late and getting sent home from his school, and her writing a book...” She explains, inhaling and exhaling slowly to calm herself, “and it’s just easier since Bernie and I are home that...we just tend to her ourselves.”

 

“You were very specific about how you said that.” Annette watches her patient. “ Afraid it might be too much for her. ” She repeats Serena’s words, falling silent for a moment, “is that really what you’re afraid of when it comes to Charlotte and Lavinia?”

 

“Bernie...Bernie can handle Owen, she’s incredibly patient with him and he listens to her.” Serena glances toward the window absently, feeling her eyes begin to heat with her tears, but she manages to keep them from escaping the enclosure of her eyes. “I’m...” It pains her, actually pains her to formulate the words, “I’m afraid Charlotte may hurt Lavinia. Not intentionally, of course, but...out of frustration or...by neglect.”

 

“Is she neglectful of the other children?”

 

“They’re old enough to virtually tend to themselves.”

 

“Have you ever asked them?” Annette tilts her head to the side slightly.

 

Serena furrows her brow a little, “ask them if they feel neglected by their mother?” She chuckles a little to herself, “you really do want my stepdaughter to hate me...”

 

“I mean just asking them how they’re doing.” The brunette shrugs, “they lost their father, Serena, the last thing they want to lose is their mother, but...in what little experience I’ve had with them, they’ve shown that they’re very intelligent boys. Advanced emotionally as well as mentally.”

 

“Cole will protect her.” Serena nods a little, “that’s what he does. Doesn’t matter how old he gets, he’s a protector. Whether it be with Bernie, or with his mother.”

 

“And what of the other twin...Lane?”

 

“He’s so sweet. He’s turned into a bit of a shrinking violet because of his issues.” She smiles softly, “and Charlotte has already lashed out at him once that we’re aware of. He isn’t completely healed physically from the accident, but he’s recovered significantly compared to where he was previously. However, it seems he’s walking on eggshells around her.” Serena shakes her head, “and he’s never been like that with her. Not really.”

 

“And you aren’t concerned for their health and safety while staying there with her?” Annette takes another sip of her coffee before leaning down to set it onto the coffee table in front of her.

 

“Of course we are.” Serena finally looks to her therapist, “of course we’re concerned about all of them, but...you focus on the ones who need the most help. We all have dinner together every night. If Charlotte isn’t able to, Bernie helps Owen get to bed. She’s been a bit...absent when it comes to Lavinia. Like she wants to cuddle her and give her love, but is just...holding herself back.”

 

“Okay.” Annette looks toward the ceiling, thinking of the best way to ask the next question. “I want to change course here, just a bit.” She pauses, “do you believe that...the way you’re living now is fair to you?”

 

“Fairness is in the eye of the beholder.”

 

“Serena-” When she sees her patient’s negative headshake, Annette continues, “how about Bernie? Do you think tending to Charlotte’s children is fair to her?”

 

“It isn’t about being fair though, Annette. What is the alternative?” Serena cuts the woman off, “we let our grandchildren starve for attention emotionally, physically, mentally while we sit round ours, nursing glasses of wine, and having it off on every surface of the house? Of course not.”

 

“You’ve always been present for your grandchildren.”

 

“And we always will.”

 

“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be.” Annette smiles softly, seeing Serena’s confused expression, she continues, “I’m saying that...you shouldn’t be living your life afraid of what your daughter might do to her children.” She shrugs, “I’m saying you and Bernie are in the prime of your lives. When you came to see me after your holiday, you had this...smile that nothing was going to break. You were so happy. Now?” Annette shakes her head a little, “now you aren’t sleeping, you’ve dark circles under your eyes, your worry is running you ragged.”

 

Serena knows the woman is right, she hadn’t thought of it that way. She bites her lip. “There’s no alternative.”

 

“It’s something that, even after a month’s worth of sessions with Char...I’m making no progress on, based on what you’re telling me. Something that...she might not recover from anytime soon.” Annette reaches to the coffee table, lifting her mug to her lips to take a sip, “what then?”

 

Absently bringing a hand to her face, Serena inhales, “I don’t know.”

 

“You owe it to yourself, and to your wife, to figure it out.” Annette sets the mug back down, “decide when the limit is going to be. Decide when you’ll...make the call and say enough is enough .” She nods a little, “it won’t be an easy conversation, but a necessary one.”

 

Serena begins to shake her head negatively, “I’d...I’m not giving up on her.” 

 

“I’m not telling you to give up on her.” When her patient seems confused, Annette continues, “you’re going to need me to section her if she continues down this hole. That’s only going to be able to happen if you allow yourself to come to terms with that possibility. Not just for the children, but for you and Bernie. You deserve peace.”

Chapter Text

“Just take your time, Laney.” Charlotte sits with her son at the kitchen island, her elbow resting on the counter top, propping her head up with her fist. “No need for you to rush through things.” She tilts her head to the side, noticing her son has tears in his eyes. “What’s the matter?” Charlotte had retrieved him from school an hour early because of a doctor’s appointment, luckily his last class of the day was a free period.

 

Lane shakes his head, swallowing. He quickly brings a hand up to wipe his cheek.

 

“Lane Serene.” Char runs her nails gently through his hair, sighing when he pulls away from her. “I want to help you.”

 

“I-I-I’m...not ready to be back.” Lane replies softly, biting his lip. His voice is still slower than what it used to be months ago, before the car accident, but he’s worked so hard and it gets better with each passing day.

 

“Did something happen?” When her son doesn’t respond, she nods slowly, “I’m only going to agree to talk to your occupational therapist if you explain to me-”

 

“I can’t keep up.” Lane sets his pencil down, glancing away from his homework, just to anything else on the counter top. “I-I try...really hard and...” He shakes his head, lifting his gaze to finally meet that of his mother. “And I ask teacher for help, but...they make fun of me.”

 

“Those same boys from before?” Char raises an eyebrow, glad when Cole had told her about it all months ago.

 

He nods a little, “and the teachers. They say it’s o-only a review from last year, but...I don’t remember it.” Lane’s voice is soft, embarrassed, “and they think I’m...I’m trying to start trouble, but I’m not.”

 

“Okay.” She flashes a soft smile to him, “I’ll take care of it.”

 

“I’m...I’m afraid to go back.” Lane mumbles, bringing a hand up to wipe away a falling tear.

 

“You can stay home tomorrow.” Charlotte notices her son instantly relax, “instead of homework right now, though, I need you to work on a list of which teachers were negative to you and what was said. It’s only your first week back and they’re going to do this to my baby boy? I think not.”

 

Lane begins to smile, “really?”

 

“I insist.” She winks to him, “and, while I take care of things, I’ll need you to head over to the Grands. Obviously not until tomorrow, but...not a word to them. Understand?” Seeing her son nod, Char leans over, pressing a kiss to his head, “then we’ll work on your maths on your own time.”

 

“I’m afraid you won’t be able to read my writing.”

 

“Good point.” Char removes her mobile from her pocket, pulling up the notepad app. She sets the device in front of her son before continuing, “If you aren’t able to do things that way, you can use my laptop.” She pauses, “and if you aren’t able to do that , you can just dictate and I can write things down myself later.”

 

“We can do that.” Lane nods, “later.”

 

“Sure.” She takes her mobile back, slipping it into her pocket. “Gran went to get Owen from school, Cole and Vinnie are over their house for the time being.” Charlotte slowly folds her arms over her chest, “just the two of us. So...what would you like to do?”

 

Lane thinks for a moment, “facials?” He smirks a little, “or I can do your makeup?”

 

“I like both of those.” Char nods, “you do mine and I’ll do yours?” She offers, noticing Lane’s excited nod. “Do you need help collecting your supplies?”

 

The boy shakes his head as he slowly pushes up from the table, “I’ve got it.” Lane slowly makes his way to the stairs.

 

Bernie follows behind her grandson as he pushes his way into the house, “Charlotte.” She calls out, watching as the boy anxiously thumps his way around the house. Noticing her standing in the kitchen area, “grab him, he’s bitten his arm again and I need to see how deep he’s done it.”

 

Char sighs, “Owen, come here.”

 

Owen anxiously shakes his hand, walking around from room to room. He lifts his hand to his mouth, yelling into the back of it. His non-verbal autism making it so he’s unable to say what’s really bothering him, or why something is bothering him.

 

“Do you want your tablet and some music?” Charlotte follows him a little, glad when he nods, but he doesn’t stop moving. “Do you want to try having a seat or would you rather I hold you?” It’s a question Char asks, and knows he understands. She means in a basket hold, something where he isn’t able to move, but feels secure. 

 

Bernie watches her daughter closely, “I’ll get the tablet if you hold onto him. Reckon that’s the only way he’ll let me take a look at his arm.” 

 

“On it.” Char carefully takes hold of her son, though he does fight against her a bit before she’s able to get a good grip on him. “Owen, let’s breathe in and out.” Her son struggles against her a bit, “Come on, Owen.”

 

“Mum, is it okay if we use your-” Lane comes to stand in the doorway after slowly descending the stairs with his small basket of supplies, the smile that was covering his face slowly fading, being replaced with that of disappointment as he turns around, “nevermind.”

 

“Hold on, Lane.” Char calls out to him, “come here.”

 

Lane considers it for a moment, feeling completely dejected after his time at school and now his mother was focusing on his twin brother, as usual. He slowly makes his way into the lounge a bit more, not meeting her eyes. “Yeah?”

 

“Just because I’m holding onto him doesn’t mean you can’t do my makeup.” Char offers, holding onto Owen on the floor, using her entire body, “and I’m not going to be holding onto him for very long...hopefully. Gran can take over for me if I need her to.” She doesn’t want to upset him, that’s the last thing she wants, especially today. When he seems unsure, she sighs softly, “Please, Laney.”

 

Bernie listens to the exchange from the hallway, finally moving to the lounge doorway, Owen’s tablet and the First Aid kit in her hand, “were you doing cosmetics today?” She offers Lane a gentle smile, “do you have room for one more?”

 

Lane glances over to his Gran, a twinkle in his eye, “truly?”

 

“Reckon last time I wore anything was your grandfather’s wedding, so...” Bernie shrugs a shoulder, “why not?”

 

He nods, his grin growing. Glancing back to his mother, Lane continues, “will you put my makeup on though? I don’t know if Gran knows how.”

 

“Hey now.” Bernie warns, teasingly. She slowly kneels next to her daughter and other grandson, finally able to take a look at Owen’s arm. “I may not be as creative as cosmetic trends call for today, but I can hold my own, I reckon.” She smirks when she hears Lane giggle, “go ahead and get your things set up. I just need to clean this wound and dress it.” She sighs, glancing up to her daughter, “we should talk to his doctor. He may require an adjustment to some of his medications. Especially since there’s other things in play now since the boys are growing, like increased height and weight...and hormones.”

 

“I know, I just been...dreading doing it.” Charlotte sighs softly, “his doctor mentioned before about a hormone blocker, but...I just feel terrible.”

 

“What happens if O’s angry and he can’t control it? He starts hitting and scratching you or the Grands, but he’s much bigger, taller, and stronger than he is now because of puberty?” Lane asks innocently as he slowly sets his eye shadow pallets and other makeup out. “Since he’s bigger and taller, you won’t be able to hold him like you are now or...he could really hurt people...even though he wouldn’t mean to.”

 

“Easier said than done, Laney.” Char answers softly, watching as her mother carefully cleans Owen’s arm with saline, “you two would look less and less like one another.”

 

“Better to be safe than sorry.” Bernie responds gently, applying antibiotic gel before wrapping it in rolling gauze and a wrap plastic bandage. She secures it after, “Hopefully he won’t attempt removing that.”

 

“Nan always says ‘ In the end, you must do what you think is right’. She doesn’t mean do what you want to do , but just what you think is right...even if you don’t want to.” Lane offers, then shrugs. “If Owen’s happy and healthy, who cares if he and I are the same size?”

 

“Obviously, it’s your choice, Charlotte.” Bernie mumbles, then offers her grandson a proud smirk, “Now then, Lane, are you ready for me?”

 

“Please, have a seat over here, Ms. Wolfe. I have the exact thing in mind for you.” Lane beams, glad to have both his mother and grandmother to himself for the most part, even if Owen would take up some of the time as well. It didn’t matter to him. After the day he’s had, this is exactly what he needs.

Chapter Text

Cole picks up another piece of steak to his lips with his chopsticks, glancing around the table to a few of his family members. “Steak stir fry is quite good tonight, Mum. It’s been a while since you made this.”

 

Charlotte nods a little, her eyelids heavily covered in mauve eye shadow and rose gold eyeliner, fake eyelashes and mascara on top of that. Her lips covered in a matching matte mauve lipstick, “Thank you. Just something I whipped up. I couldn’t do it without Lane’s assistance. He took the time to cut the steak while I cooked the vegetables.”

 

“Well, thank you, Lane.”

 

“No problem.” Lane smiles, his own face done much more modestly with a sharp wing eyeliner and, again, fake eyelashes. His lips painted a glossy deep violet.

 

Serena stares at her wife as the woman sits next to her, amused that Bernie is attempting to completely not draw attention to her smokey eye look, complete with natural colored lipstick. She actually looks quite beautiful, Serena thinks. “I must admit, I’m feeling a bit left out.”

 

“As am I.” Cole smirks, knowing it would make his brother happy.

 

Lane perks up a little, “I can do yours after dinner, if you like.” He nods, “Mum did mine, but I did hers and Gran’s.”

 

“I would love it.” Serena winks toward him.

 

Char gently bounces Lavinia on her knee as the baby seems quite interested in the conversation even though she isn’t a part of it., “meant to ask you, Cole, how was school today?”

 

Cole shrugs, “I’m just biding my time, honestly.”

 

“For what?”

 

“Until I’m finished with that place.” Cole sighs, “do you know, Smithers gave me a documented late warning? My class before is on the opposite side of the building and I left five minutes early, which...is normal when someone has a broken leg. I went as fast as I could and was like...walking into the door as the bell went off and Smithers still gave me a warning.”

 

“Smithers? He was there when I was.” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, “and are you kidding me?”

 

“Like, they make the pupils sign the documented warnings now as a way of preventing argument or something and I wrote that I didn’t agree with it. So, if you were to look at the paper, you’d see This is shit. I was in the room when the bell went off.”

 

Bernie starts her loud, honking laugh. “And he said nothing?”

 

“Don’t encourage him, Berenice.” Serena scowls toward her wife, mumbling under her breath, “I believe you could have rephrased that a bit better.”

 

“He doesn’t care. He’s the worst.” Cole shakes his head, “he has written up the most people in the entire school. Some of my friends have had actual documentation on their permanent record about tardiness and we’ll be in the room. He says-”

 

If you aren’t in your seat, you are not considered present. ” Charlotte finishes for him, seeing her eldest son’s nod. “you know, I don’t remember if I was ever written up for that. Other things, but I don’t know about that.”

 

“More than what I know about?” Bernie raises an eyebrow toward her daughter.

 

“I don’t know, probably. I used to forge your name because I’d trace it when you’d send letters.” Char admits, sheepishly smiling, “and the teachers wouldn’t check. They didn’t care. Just Mr. MacGuiness, but I could do no wrong in his class anyway.”

 

“The maths teacher? I have his class next semester.” Cole smiles a little, “why did he favor you?”

 

“Because I climbed over a desk and grabbed some smartass bloke by the collar after he called another kid a...rather unsavory homophobic slur. Let’s just say...I gave him a piece of my mind...and scared him shitless.” Char bows her head when the others at the table begin to applaud, causing her to laugh a little, “So, I was then his favorite. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had a civil partnership with his husband when it was legalized, then married him when that was legalized. He had told me all of that after it happened. Kind of protected me at that point.”

 

“I didn’t know about any of that!” Bernie proudly smiles toward her daughter.

 

“Do you think he’d remember you?” Lane asks quietly, “I mean...it was a long time ago.”

 

“It was, you’re right. I was about Cole’s age at the time.” Char nods, smirking at the thought. “Um...I don’t know, though. You’d need to ask Mr. Mac.” She thinks for a moment, “I know your Uncle Cam wasn’t a fan, but Cam never knew when to keep his mouth shut.” 

 

“Still doesn’t.” Serena smirks, listening to the story. “I think the worst I ever did was smoke a fag in the girls’ toilets when I was in school.”

 

“They had fags then?” Lane finds himself whispering in mock surprise, earning a chuckle from his older brother and mother.

 

“Just started making them when we were in school.” Bernie continues teasingly, “my mother used to hand roll hers in pink paper.”

 

“They say they were fags, but we all know what they really were.” Cole continues, causing himself to laugh harder.

 

“Reefer was rather popular when we were in school.” Bernie shrugs, acting innocent, but earning a playful elbow to the gut by her wife.

 

“Stop, I’m going to wee myself.” Char leans back in her chair, adjusting her daughter on her lap, noticing the baby laughing when everyone else does. “Vinnie, don’t take after your rabble rousing grandmothers and all their talk of cannabis use. It’s terrible.” When the baby gives another belly laugh, Char grins broadly.

 

The table quiets down a bit and Cole continues, “So, like...when you went to Uni, Mum-”

 

“Just undergrad classes.” Char shakes her head, “not proper Uni. Always wanted to, but...these terrible little jerks clawed their way from my loins in quick succession and I decided their health and safety were paramount compared to my schooling.” She shrugs, “I’ve watched quite a few lectures on the internet when I realized writing was something I wanted to do as my profession. Luckily, your father’s salary and the money we received from other things was enough to keep us afloat and learning wasn’t something that...I gave further thought to.”

 

“To her credit, she did incredibly well in regards to those undergrad classes.” Bernie watches her daughter, leaning back in her chair and casually folding her arms over her chest.

 

“Life happened.” Serena offers her stepdaughter an understanding smile, remembering back to when they were reunited in hospital nearly fifteen years previous. Seems so long ago at this point. “Sometimes, we just need to...let life happen and allow the pieces to fall wherever they may.”

 

“Couldn’t have said it better myself.” Charlotte nods, holding Vinnie to her chest more and cuddling her.

 

Cole has a feeling this has to do with his creation and biological father before, but decides not to go into it more. “Do you write about it in the newer book?”

 

“The one that isn’t out yet?” Seeing his nod, Char returns with her own, “far more than I ever did before.”

 

“Good.” A warm expression fills Cole’s face, glad his mother is finally giving all the dark and dreary details of her incredibly fascinating life. Something he started an entire web channel on, and made himself successful in doing so. He’ll tell her about his business offers later, now they’re just having a warm exchange and his mother is acting like herself for a change. He hasn’t seen her smile like that in so long, he’d reap every second of it.

Chapter Text

“You didn’t need to be so handsy.” Charlotte folds her arms over her chest, leaning back in the seat within the interrogation room of the police station. She actually appears quite relaxed, her one leg folded over the other. “I don’t even understand why you’re going to these lengths with bringing me in here. It’s a Breach of Peace charge at the very most, not anything else.”

 

“I could tack on an endangerment of children charge.” The heavyset, bald officer sits opposite her, leaning an elbow on the desk. A clever smirk filling his face, “could be the end of you.”

 

“You could, but you have no grounds, PC McShane.” She shakes her head, “also, you know absolutely nothing about me. You just started running your mouth and trying to assert your authority when it wasn’t required.” Char continues to watch him, not flinching or anything, “you brought me to this room, alone, without another officer. Also, if that camera isn’t on...well...it was nice knowing you.”

 

“So, tell me about yourself then.”

 

“Oh, I’d love to, but not without my solicitor here.” Charlotte notices his sweating brow despite the room remaining temperate.

 

Detective Chief Inspector Kaitrin Warne opens the door, immediately glaring at the officer sitting there. “McShane, are you fucking kidding me right now?” She doesn’t give him a moment to respond before glancing toward Charlotte, “Ms. Wolfe, you can come with me. McShane, you stay exactly where you are. I’ll be back to speak with you.”

 

Char smirks a little, offering the man a wink as she rises from the table, making her way to the door. “Thank you. Reckon he was getting off on that.” She sighs, bringing a hand up to tuck her hair behind her ear.

 

The detective hums a soft chuckle, “I mean, it isn’t funny, but...reckon you’re right.” DCI Warne leads Charlotte to her office, leaving the blinds open, “take a seat. I just want to have an informal chat.”

 

“I just told PC McShane that if any questions were going to be asked, I’d prefer my solicitor-”

 

“Just humor me for a moment.” Warne offers the young woman her rose gold mobile that they had confiscated when she was brought in. “If you’re concerned, you can record our conversation.”

 

Charlotte seems a bit un-trusting, but does as offered to her. She takes her mobile, taking a seat in front of the detective’s desk. “Am I being charged with anything?” 

 

Warne snorts, closing the door to her office after walking in. “Do you want to be?” She doesn’t expect a response as she takes a seat in her desk chair. She lifts the landline phone in her office, making quick work of telling someone else to handle and document McShane for ‘being an arsehole’ as she says. She returns the telephone to the receiver before looking to the younger woman across the desk from her. “So, Ms. Wolfe, My name is DCI Kait Warne. I just need a general understanding of what happened in your words. That’s all. Feel free to record it.”

 

“I recorded my exchange with Glover in case she attempts to change up her story, but fine.” She takes a moment before continuing, “My family and I were in an automobile accident a few months ago.” Char watches the woman, there’s something calming and familiar about the older woman. “I have an older son, he’s thirteen. The twins are nearly twelve. Also a three month old.”

 

“Quite the age gap.”

 

“Imagine my surprise when I found out I was pregnant with her.” Char exhales, smirking a little to herself. “My oldest had a broken leg. The older of the twins had a dislocated hip, and his twin brother suffered the most...um...” She pauses a moment, “he suffered multiple internal injuries and multiple brain bleeds. He was in hospital for weeks.”

 

“The baby?” Warne tilts her head to the side, intrigued. She isn’t going to stop the woman from talking, but will draw her back to the subject at hand if she needs to.

 

“She was born. Nearly two months premature, but...she’s a hell of a fighter.”

 

“Good.”

 

Char nods, “Um...so...My son, the one who had the worst of the injuries, his...brain bleeds left him...um...almost like a pensioner. His speech and thought processes were slower, he needed a walker to actually...get around the house. However, he’s worked so incredibly hard with his physio that...he only takes a cane when we’re out for stability and his speech has gotten much better, he only slurs a bit. It isn’t all moonlight and rosemary, but...he’s come such a long way and I’m very proud of him.” She explains, taking a breath before she continues, “so, you can imagine how...frustrated I was, as his mother, as someone who has watched him work his arse off, to see him...completely heartbroken.” Her eyes go a bit glassy, “This is their first week back and...he’s begging me...pleading with me...not to make him go. That he isn’t ready and don’t make me go .”

 

“Does he...have issues at school?” The detective is obviously quite interested in the story, mostly at the relaxing change of pace, still trying to place the young woman in front of her and why she seems so familiar. “Fighting, or bullies...does he get good grades?”

 

“He’s...incredibly shy. Always tries to fit in enough so he doesn’t stand out and it’s not always with the best people. So...when some boys were really harassing him and even went as far as physically injuring him, my eldest son stepped in and got caught in a bit of a...scuffle with them.” Charlotte nods, “didn’t find out until...days after. My Mum handled it with the school and...my eldest insisted that I wasn’t told since I was very pregnant at the time, but...I found out anyway. Also, that the other boys involved in the altercation, who were not my boys, were let off with a warning while my sons were threatened with suspension and expulsion for defending themselves. Two boys against five or six, and nothing was done except a slap on the wrist to them.”

 

“Do you have a hypothesis why?”

 

“One of the boys is what they refer to as a legacy student and their father put enough money into the school, that they named a wing of the school after him.” Char shakes her head, “My brother and I went there when we were kids because my father went there and his mother insisted. She never liked me, but that’s neither here nor there. It used to look great on a Uni application and be a pretty good school, but...not anymore. Pay enough and you can murder another pupil on campus with multiple witnesses and they’d still blame the victim.”

 

“Were these same boys harassing him again?” Warne leans her elbow comfortably on her desk to rest her head on her hand, finding no reason not to believe the woman in front of her

 

“Yeah, but...it was the teachers as well.” She nods slowly, “and...Lane doesn’t lie about that. He just doesn’t, especially since the accident. It’s like he forgot how to lie.” Char shrugs, “he learned his lesson about protecting people when those boys hurt him last time.” She exhales slowly, “and...while he’s asking teachers for help because he isn’t remembering the things they were claiming were just review, they made fun of him. Made fun of his speech and even acted as if he was having a laugh by asking questions pertinent to what was being covered. Not to mention being told he’s stupid in front of the rest of the class by one of the previous harassers, and his teacher laughed.”

 

“What a bastard...”

 

“Yeah. So, of course, I went there asking how this was acceptable. Plain and simple. I gave examples and...didn’t even raise my voice.” Char chuckles a little to herself, “like, made it a point that I remained calm just so that my words would land a bit better with the headmistress.” She nods, “instead, she phoned you and claimed I was being irrational about ten minutes after I entered her office.”

 

“I usually handle murder cases, you know? Like...big time things. However, Tamera is a friend of mine and I sent a PC straight to her and told him to bring you here so that I could sort it out myself...not for him to be creepy with you. Sorry again about that part.” DCI Warne nods slowly, watching the woman’s face. After a moment, she finally comes out with, “I recognize you now. Wolfe...we had a case earlier in the year about a boy who was held against his will and...shot his kidnapper with the kidnapper’s own gun. Is that your son?” Seeing the woman’s nod, she continues, “is that the one being picked on?”

 

“No, actually. Um...Cole’s my eldest.” Charlotte nods.

 

“And you...you were the Third Floor Hero.”

 

Char straightens up a little, folding her hands in her lap. “I am, but I don’t really like that title though. My publisher does.”

 

“You’re telling me that...after everything you and your family have been through, this school is still being shit to them? Especially the eldest who has been through...hell, to put it simply.” DCI Warne runs a hand through her perfectly coiffed white hair, shaking her head, “You know, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but this is a violation of health and safety. Your children were physically assaulted, as well as mentally and emotionally harassed. Their instructors and headmistress failed to provide a safe and secure learning environment for your children.”

 

Furrowing her brow slightly, Char tilts her head to the side, “I didn’t think of that.”

 

“Tamera Glover might be a friend, but when it comes to children, I don’t play around. Neither should she, regardless of how much money is shoved in her hand.” Opening a drawer in her antique, wooden desk, DCI Warne pulls out a small stack of papers, “Would you like to press charges, Ms. Wolfe?”

 

Charlotte begins to smirk after taking a moment, nodding slowly, “absolutely.”

Chapter Text

Serena leans forward, noticing her grandson continually glancing through the front windows, almost as if looking for someone. “Lane, everything okay?” He had been quiet throughout the day, but it seemed his thought process was going a kilometre a minute.

 

“Yeah.” Lane turns quickly, meeting her eyes. He leans on his cane as he thumps back over to the sofa, finally taking a seat, “I’m...just having a bad day, I think.” His voice is quiet and he bites the corner of his lip after. “Do you sometimes have days where you just want to cry a lot?”

 

“Oh, Sweetheart. Of course.” Serena walks closer, lowering herself next to him. She carefully wraps an arm around him, “and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you have a lot of days where you feel melancholy though, there may be something you can take to help you...not feel as bad.”

 

“I feel like a baby.” A tear slowly makes its way down his cheek and he slowly wipes it away.

 

“Is that why your mother allowed you to stay home today?”

 

He doesn’t answer her question, just leaning against his Nan. Lane knows exactly where his mother went off to, and he was quite concerned at this point. She’s taking much longer than he thought she would. Swallowing, Lane quietly explains to his grandmother the situation and how his mother said she would handle it. “I promised her I wouldn’t say anything, but...I’m really worried that she did something that...she might get in trouble for.”

 

That was the last thing Serena expected. “Well, I am as well, now.” She exhales softly, “have you tried phoning her?”

 

Lane shakes his head negatively, “she said she wouldn’t be long, but...it’s nearly time for my brothers to come home.” His sister was napping in the master bedroom with his Gran, leaving some time for him and his Nan to be alone together.

 

“Well, let’s try phoning first.” Serena offers, starting to reach over to the side table.

 

Charlotte silently lets herself into her parents house, taking note of the relatively quiet surroundings. She sees her son and stepmother sitting on the sofa in the lounge, “I apologize. Meeting went on far longer than-”

 

“Jig is up, darling.” Serena nods toward the high backed chair near the window. “Have a seat.”

 

She rolls her eyes, sighing as she follows orders. “Going to tell me how unstable I am?” Charlotte folds her arms over her chest, keeping her sunglasses on, “feels like that’s all you ever talk about anymore with me.”

 

“No, I was not.” Pressing a kiss to Lane’s temple, “darling, would you mind going to check on Gran and Lavinia? Then possibly watching a bit of telly in your brother’s room while your mother and I have a chat?” When the boy nervously nods, using his cane as he walks from the room, doing as told. Serena looks back to her stepdaughter, “he was incredibly worried about you.”

 

“He didn’t need to be.” She answers quietly, “and neither did you.”

 

Serena takes a moment to formulate her thoughts, “I worry about you constantly and I doubt I’ll ever stop.” 

 

“That would explain the increase in wrinkles.” Char glances over to her, “really, I’m fine. I might have moments, but...I’m fine.” She shakes her head, “and you...you really shouldn’t be worrying that much about me. There’s so many other things that warrant your concern and I’m the last of those things.”

 

“You’re sporadic...and not in a good way. You do before you think.”

 

“Such as having a word with my son’s headmistress over his constant harassment and abuse?” Char raises an eyebrow, “you’re telling me you wouldn’t have done the same if it were Elinor?”

 

Of course she’d do the same. Serena licks her lips, “You left early this morning.” She continues to watch the younger woman near her, “were the authorities phoned?” When Charlotte doesn’t answer, Serena nods, knowing full well that they probably were, “that’s what I’m talking about.”

 

“You’re assuming things.” Char folds one leg over the other, “the headmistress called upon her friend to pick me up. This friend happens to be a Chief Inspector and, quite honestly, has far better and more important things to do than deal with such a menial task because Ms. Glover didn’t want to hear the concerns of a frustrated mother.” She starts to smirk, “this made DCI Warne quite...cross. Especially since I had a recording of the conversation between Ms. Glover and myself. So...I launched a formal complaint into health and safety, as well as child welfare, concerns against the school and the teachers involved...all at DCI Warne’s insistence.”

 

A smile grows on Serena’s face, “you’re joking.”

 

“Not at all.” Char smirks, “so, I’m pulling Lane from the school effective immediately and I’ll do some homeschooling with him.” She shrugs a little, “I’m not going to allow my son to continue to be harassed to the point where he’s traumatized. I just won’t.”

 

“What of Cole?”

 

“I’ll talk to him when he gets home.” Charlotte stands, running her hand through her hair, “I’m far from the point of caring with that place anymore.”

 

“Understandable.” Serena stands with her, taking a moment to walk closer to gently place her hands on the young woman’s upper arms. “I’m glad things went well,” She tilts her head slightly, “but that isn’t ever going to stop me from worrying about you.”

 

Char snorts, a smile forming on her face again, “of course not.” She swallows, feeling as her stepmother gently removes the sunglasses from her face, looping them onto the front of her blouse.

 

“I’m glad you’re okay.” Serena nods, feeling the soft tremble of the young woman’s arms beneath her fingertips, “also you look very nice today. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen you in anything other than cotton drawstring shorts and shirts that make it easy for you to feed Lavinia at a moment’s notice.” There’s something in her stepdaughter’s eyes that makes Serena pull Charlotte into an embrace after a moment. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

 

“Thanks.” Charlotte replies softly, wrapping her arms around her in return. “I kept threatening to phone my solicitor, but they didn’t catch on that I didn’t really have one.” She mumbles into her stepmother’s shoulder, hearing the woman’s soft chuckle. “Thank you for taking care of Lane and Vinnie, Maman.”

 

“Always.” Serena breaks her hold, rubbing Char’s upper arm after, “let’s have a glass of wine. Reckon you could use it.”

Chapter Text

Bernie watches the television within the confines of the master bedroom, her wife reading a book next to her. Really, it’s serving as white noise at this point. She’s changed the channel too many times to actually know what’s going on in any one show. “I’ve given some thought about returning to work.”

 

Serena raises an eyebrow, finishing the sentence before sliding the bookmark that Owen had made at school between the pages. She closes the book and sets it on the bedside table. “And?”

 

It’s obvious Bernie’s having a difficult time with the subject, not really understanding why she even brought it up. “I’ve had a good run, haven’t I?”

 

Removing her reading glasses, she sets them on top of the book. “Bernie, you’re in medical books. Literal medical books. I’d say you’ve had a fantastic run.” Serena turns to her side to better watch her wife, “but you’re thinking of it all as an end.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You and I both know you’re not a fan of idle hands. Even when we were traveling back and forth between here and Nairobi. Each time you were here, you would seek out Ric or Abigail Tate to allow you to help. Do you remember that?” Serena chuckles a little to herself, “I don’t believe you’d honestly be able to stop now.”

 

Actually, it puts Bernie at ease. “My memory has gotten significantly better. Even the little shadow has noticed it.”

 

“Cole?”

 

Bernie hums approvingly, causing her wife to laugh a little to herself. “And I do worry about...being in the middle of a procedure and just...blanking.” She finally turns to her side to completely face her wife, “but that’s stuff we think about when we’re in Uni, isn’t it? I reckon every surgeon has had that fear at least once in their life.”

 

“Absolutely.” Serena nods, “and sometimes it even happens, but that’s why you have your team with you. Usually one’s instincts kick in and adrenaline and...that fear just goes away completely.”

 

“I was going to retire, but...your idea of just...lowering hours makes more sense. Especially with how tired I always am.”

 

“At least Lavinia is also tired quite often. Allows you to get in some proper snuggles with her.” Serena reaches to her wife, pushing a lock of her hair behind her ear. “I can tell that you enjoy being a grandmother to these children far more than you enjoy being a surgeon. It’s the boredom you can’t stand, darling.”

 

“So...I’m at a crossroads.” Bernie turns the television off with the remote, just looking into her wife’s eyes, “On one hand, I love being a trauma surgeon. I love the intricacies and...challenge of it all. I love the rush. While on the other, with Char planning on homeschooling, she’s absolutely going to need assistance. It takes a village.” She pauses, “whereas our village is a single mother and a couple of old lesbians.”

 

Serena begins to laugh harder, “best village around.”

 

Bernie smiles a bit more, “We could help her by covering different subjects, I reckon. I’ll speak to her about it. Keep things fresh and interesting for Laney.”


“I feel so terrible for him.”

 

“Yeah.” Bernie nods, “you know, when he did our makeup before dinner the other day, he was so happy. In his element, smiling, laughing. We just...let him go to town and he loved every moment of it. I haven’t seen him smile like that in...a while.”

 

“His last therapist was hesitant to try medicine because of his age. Sometimes it’s a necessary thing though. I’d rather he be comfortable in his own skin than depressed.” Serena trails, “and that’s all it is. Depression, anxiety, and grief. He’s gone through quite a bit and he deserves to be happy.”

 

“He’s eleven...nearly twelve.” Bernie sighs softly, “of course he deserves to be happy.” She pauses, “he deserves something nice.”

 

“They all do.” Serena thinks for a moment before answering, “we know that he enjoys cosmetics. Maybe a gift card to his favorite shop.”

 

“Yes.” Bernie starts to smile again, “and maybe some...lessons to hone his abilities.” She shrugs, adjusting the pillow a little under her head, “I mean, if you’re going to do something that you love and enjoy, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be the best at it.”

 

“All or nothing with you.”

 

“Absolutely.” Bernie moves closer to her wife, reaching out and placing a gentle hand on her hip. “That’s why my children hated me when they were teenagers. I accepted nothing except perfect scores.” She blinks, thinking back to then, “looking back, I should have been a bit easier on them, especially Cameron, but...I don’t know if I would have done anything differently.”

 

“Slave driver.” Serena leans in, softly kissing Bernie’s lips, “you’ve never been that way with Cole.”

 

“I never needed to be.” Bernie shakes her head, “he’s perfect when it comes to his schooling. Charlotte was too.”

 

Serena snorts, “okay.”

 

“I didn’t say in regards to getting in trouble at school, but...their grades have never suffered, luckily.” Bernie takes a moment, “and Charlotte never really...got caught doing anything that was particularly bad . It was only ever standing up for another person. I couldn’t be angry with that.”

 

“Cole follows his mother who follows his grandmother.” Serena reaches a hand up, placing her palm to her wife’s upper arm. “I do love your sense of chivalry, darling. It’s quite the...” She trails, moving closer to her wife again.

 

“Aphrodisiac?” 

 

Serena captures Bernie’s lips tenderly, “Yes, that’s it.”

 

“I once shot a pistol near a superior officer’s foot because he continued flirting with a recruit, going as far as getting a bit grabby, even though she very strongly told him she wasn’t interested.” Bernie waves her eyebrows a little, humming a soft chortle when her wife pushes her to her back and climbs over her to straddle her hips. “When questioned about my decision by my own commanding officer, I told him that my gun accidentally went off while I was stopping an attempted assault.”

 

“Quite the white knight, darling.” Serena leans down, kissing her wife again before trailing the kiss to the woman’s jaw and neck, “listen, Lancelot, I plan to show you my appreciation. Especially with Cole staying over his mother’s and us having the house to ourselves for a change.” She pauses, “I don’t plan to be quiet about it.” Seeing her wife’s growing grin, she continues. They haven’t had a night together, a proper night together, in weeks. Serena plans to show her appreciation indeed.

Chapter Text

Cole sits opposite his therapist, his foot bouncing against the floor with his heel in the air.

 

“You seem anxious.” Kennedy “Ken” Fetterman watches his patient. He’s spoken to Cole over the course of the past year to help him cope with his traumas and grief. The boy went from hardly speaking to entrusting his deepest, darkest thoughts in him.

 

“Angry.” He corrects, his eyes lifting to meet that of the man across from him. “Um...frustrated.” Cole nods a little, knowing the man was going to ask him to continue on, which he does so anyway. “I asked my Mum like...weeks ago if I could try testing out of school or to move up a level. Something. I just...everything I’m being taught, I already know. It’s like...they’re repeating year eight for...no reason.”

 

“First week or so is usually a recap of the year prior.” Ken offers, “studies show that twenty to fifty percent of what one was taught in the previous year is often lost during summer holiday. Given the things you’ve experienced-”

 

“I never stopped school though. I’d read and do whatever I was told to do. Essays and...worksheets. Guinevere would drop them off to my teachers. There was a whole system. Even after...um...after the stuff with Mrs. Hero, I focused on school. Gave me something to do.” Cole shakes his head, “my Mum pays too much for me to go to this school for them to treat us like idiots.”

 

“The cost of a school does not indicate the quality of the school.”

 

“I never said it did.” Cole sighs, “I-I-I asked my Mum if I could try testing out to go onto year ten instead of...this bullshit with year nine.” He leans back on the bright turquoise sofa, relaxing a bit. “I mean, all of it. I even looked through the books they have us using for both English and History, they’re two main classes I have this semester, and...it’s all the same shit.”

 

“What happened when you spoke to your mother?” Ken figures he wouldn’t have brought it up if something hadn’t come from it. “Was she supportive?”


“No. Her and the Grands. They talked me down from it. They were saying I wouldn’t be able to focus on my studies and my web show at the same time. That if I already knew the things I’d be learning, it would just make the year go by quicker for me.” 

 

“They aren’t wrong.”

 

“No, they aren’t. However, I don’t give a shit about the web show.” Cole starts to calm himself a little more, rubbing his hands over his face for a moment before continuing, “but I get stories from viewers who...tell me about how my show helped them through some really...terrible times. That if I could find the will to go on, they could too.” He swallows, “life stories in the comments on a video about my brother doing Gwen and my makeup.”

 

“It’s a bit...manipulative as well, wouldn’t you think?” Ken asks, “like an emotional sort of abuse.”

 

“I don’t know.” Cole lifts his hand, running it through his hair. “I enjoy it still. When I stop enjoying it, that’s when it’s done.”

 

“So, they talk you out of this and...you were upset about that?”

 

“Frustrated.” Cole corrects again, “all this happens and...I just go with it. Ya know? Maybe they’re right. Maybe I just need to take it easy and take my time. Ace my classes.” Cole huffs an amused exhale, “and my brother...he’s very proud to be gay.” Cole smiles softly to himself, “and I’m proud of him too, but...there’s some...true arseholes who...want to make his time at school a living hell. They’ve beaten him, they’ve...picked on him. To the point where he even...alluded to...taking his own life.” He swallows, his eyes going a bit glassy.

 

Ken furrows his brow slightly, “have you told your Mum or grandparents about that?”

 

Cole shakes his head negatively, “I told him not to give them the satisfaction and...he backed down from it. Made me promise that I wouldn’t say anything.”

 

“But that’s a pretty deep reaction for someone his age.”

 

“Yeah, I know.” The teenager swallows, going quiet after a moment, “I’m just...It’s just dawning on me now about how ridiculous I was before.” Cole licks his chapped lips, starting to bite the skin as he draws his lower lip into his mouth. “I don’t know how it came about, but...I think my Mum saw how...upset he was. She marched up to the school the next day and demanded answers.” He smiles to himself.

 

“Did she get any?”

 

“No, she got arrested instead.” Cole laughs to himself when his therapist appears surprised, “no charges or anything. In fact, she turned the tables on the school about child safety or something...especially from the thing that happened before my Grandad’s wedding. I did my best to protect Laney, but...they managed to break his nose. That group has been...reigning terror all over that place for years and...they walked away with warnings. The headmistress attempted to say other parents were worried because word got out that I had returned to school after the thing with Mrs. Hero and tried to expel me for trying to protect my brother. She even tried to suspend Laney when he was the one being bullied. Luckily my Gran wasn’t having any of it, as she had done with my mother two decades prior, apparently. I didn’t know about that until recently though.”

 

Ken listens to his patient’s story, actually quite invested in the intricacies of the tale. His calm, grounding demeanor permeates throughout the room. “I bet you were pretty disappointed with your headmistress’ response.”

 

“Puts it mildly. Though, honestly, I couldn’t care less about that school.” Cole shakes his head, “as my Mum said, it looks good on a CV when you’re older and it matters.” He smiles to himself, “Mum...immediately pulled Lane from the school. Said she’ll home school him unless proper action is taken with the problem students, but we both know it won’t be. Mum knows it won’t be. I think she’s taking on too much though.”

 

“You did mention in our previous session about how you were worried about her. Has that gotten any better?”

 

“I mean, I guess.” The teenager shrugs. “It’s always really hard to say with her. She has really good days where we’ll play board games or...just relax and watch a movie and she’ll be present, in the moment. She’ll have other days where...she’s snapping at people. She has days where she just...gives Vinnie to the Grands and locks herself in her room.” Cole draws his lower lip into his mouth again, his chin dimpling as his eyes start to fill with tears, “and I...I just want to help her, but...I know I can’t. I can’t bring my Dad back.” He brings a hand up, wiping away the fallen tears. “If I could, I would, but I can’t.” A soft, rueful laugh escapes his lips.

 

“Do you think that’s what she wants?” Ken gets up from his seat, walking around to behind his desk to obtain a couple of water bottles from the minifridge there. The good ones, with the base shaped like a square. “Do you think that would be the only thing that could help her?”

 

Cole shrugs, “I mean, I think it would probably help.”

 

“That wasn’t the question.”

 

“My Mum...has never really been...” He pauses, trying to find the words, “I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.” Cole opens the bottle of water, taking a sip to give himself a moment. “I always see my Nan just...watching her. Sort of like a ticking time bomb. Just waiting for her to explode.” Cole smiles a little to himself, “and I know my Nan is doing it for a reason, I just...don’t quite know what that reason is just yet.”

 

“Would you say...” Ken thinks for a moment, taking his seat again, “What do you think it’s about?” When the teenager starts to shake his head negatively, “if you had to guess.”

 

“I mean, it could be about a few things.” Cole lounges on the sofa a bit more, setting his water bottle on the coffee table in front of him, “I was able to get a peek at her newer book. The most recent one. It isn’t out yet, but...I know people are really begging for it. I see the comments to her social media from complete strangers saying how inspiring she is. Saying how...they want to know more about her.” He nods, “So, stress might be a thing. I know, from what I saw in the book and evidence I have proving its truth, that she’s been through multiple traumatic experiences. Not even including the ones more recently, which contain a car accident, death of her husband, premature birth of her daughter, nearly losing her son. They’re all incredibly traumatic...in my opinion.”

 

“I concur.” Ken smirks, always fascinated by his patient’s precociousness, especially in terms of medical thinking and terminology.

 

“Also, Owen has been getting a bit more physical with her lately and...I think she’s starting to realize that she isn’t able to handle him like she could previously.” Cole explains, “he listens to my Gran, nearly all the time. I don’t know why. I think it’s her voice.” He smiles a little to himself, “I know it always calms me down too.”

 

“Have you ever spoken to your mother about your father?”

 

Cole shakes his head, “I see you’d like for me to make my mother cry.”

 

“No, not at all.” Ken laughs a little to himself, “no, I mean...not even necessarily about the accident or anything like that, just...in general. Reminiscing about family trips or...maybe little quirks your father may have had?”

 

“The only family trips we ever went on were to see my father’s parents and they didn’t happen often. I went on more trips with my Grands than I ever did with my parents.” Cole reaches forward, obtaining his water bottle again. He slowly begins to unscrew the cap, “the dynamic I have with the Grands is the one I should have had with my parents, but...I just...never really felt it.” He shrugs, “I’m not upset about it, or anything like that. My mother tries to...show her love, and she succeeds, but...I feel like I care about her like a brother cares for his sister instead of like a son caring for his mother.”

 

“That explains an awful lot, actually.” Ken nods, “especially your sense of protectiveness. It’s...it’s as if the two of those things you mentioned are verging into one. You want to protect her from herself like you protected Lane, but...you also need time to grieve with her...and I don’t believe you’ve properly grieved yet. Which is fine. We all grieve in our own time, in our own way. However, healthy coping mechanisms are far superior and work better in the long run to unhealthy coping mechanisms.”

 

“For example.”

 

“Talking with your siblings about your father and the time you all spent together is a good coping technique. It’s perfectly okay to cry. When my great-grandfather died, I would write him letters and toss them in the fireplace so that he’d get them wherever he was...did the same thing for Father Christmas, by the way.” Ken sees his patient’s amused smile growing, “a bad coping technique would be to turn to illegal substances or alcohol to numb the pain. That never works. Another bad one is suppressing your emotions. Pushing it down doesn’t make it go away, it just makes it fester.”

 

“Understandable.” Cole watches the man as he excitedly paces about the room. “Like looking at old photo albums might be a good one.”

 

“Yes, exactly. Great suggestion, Cole.” Ken nods, glancing to his wrist when he feels his timepiece begin to vibrate, signalling their session to be over. He touches the screen for it to stop. “Do you think you’d be able to try some of these yourself at home?”

 

Cole smiles a bit more, standing, “Sure.” He takes another sip of his water.

 

“If you think everything feels a bit too much, let me know. I can help with that, okay?” Ken walks closer to his patient, giving him a pat on the shoulder with one hand as he opens the door to his office with the other. “Who is retrieving you today?”

 

“My Nan. Laney had a session with Dr. Santos today. His first one.” Cole seems proud of his brother, “I mean, we did like...a few grief counseling sessions together, but...I think it will be good for him.”

 

“I do too.” Ken nods, giving a cordial wave to Serena when he sees her in the waiting room.

 

“Have a seat, Lane isn’t finished just yet.” Serena lifts her hand up, checking the antique ladies’ watch that adorns the space, “about ten more minutes I reckon.” She smiles over to her grandson, lifting a hand to run through his hair, pushing it from his eyes, “how was your session?”

 

“Good.” Cole nods, not planning on going into detail about anything that was discussed. He smiles a little to himself, “really good.”

Chapter Text

Owen claps excitedly before yelling a little into the back of his hand, glad when his Gran closes the entry door behind herself.

 

“Hello, Owen. Can you take me to your mother?” Bernie asks him gently, knowing what he’ll do. The boy gently takes her wrist, leading her to the living room of the house. It’s just off the vestibule where they were just standing, but Bernie knows her grandson likes to help where he can. “Thank you very much. You may return to your patrols, Private Anand.”

 

Charlotte snorts her amusement when the boy does as told, “that’s exactly what he does when he’s like this. Patrolling.” She holds Lavinia to her chest for a feed, glancing down to check on her every few moments. “Serena’s taken Laney and Cole to therapy. I hope Laney’s is a good fit for him.” She sighs softly.

 

“As do I.” Bernie nods, taking a seat on the other end of the sofa, “I had a great idea.”

 

“Congrats.”

 

She smirks, knowing her daughter would retort with that, “you used to have respite care come over every night? Every other night? Something like that. Why did you stop?”

 

Char shrugs a little, “Owen started going to his new school and she needed to focus a bit more on her studies, but-”

 

“But she finished those studies and now holds a degree.” Bernie’s eyes are dancing a bit, excited she thought of something that her wife, or anyone else, haven’t. When Charlotte watches her, as if asking where she’s going with this without saying the actual words, “why don’t we hire her back? Owen loves her and it would be of great help to you, so you’ll be able to focus a bit more on Lavinia and the other two boys.”

 

Starting to nod slowly, Char raises her brow, “that would be a really good idea.”

 

“Glad I already phoned her then.”

 

Charlotte snorts, amused. The room goes quiet a bit and she looks over to her mother, “and I’ve spoken to his GP this morning through a video conference.” She waves her eyebrows, smiling softly, “we’ve agreed to...set up some hormone blockers which should help a bit with his anxiety as well.”

 

“You got right on that.” Bernie seems impressed.

 

She holds an arm out toward her mother, showing the large bruise the boy had left when her wrapped his hands around her forearm. “He didn’t mean anything by it, obviously, but...he got in one of his...focus hold stim things.” Char swallows, though doesn’t seem upset by anything she’s saying, “luckily I had just set Lavinia down in her bouncer in the kitchen...barely a moment before. I think it’s because he couldn’t get my attention.” She pauses, “had he grabbed her instead of me, he’d have broken at least one of her bones, I reckon.”

 

“I know how difficult it was for you to come to that conclusion.”

 

“It’s hard, as a parent, to...know you need to actively stop your child from growing up.” Charlotte nods, glancing down at her daughter again. She adjusts the baby to her shoulder, then covers up her exposed breast. Char begins to gently rub her daughter’s back to wind her, “You want the best for them, you want them to find a ‘happily ever after’ and...holding them back for the safety of themselves as well as others...is quite a bitter pill to swallow.”

 

Bernie adjusts her position on the sofa to better face her daughter, “the correct decision isn’t always the easiest one to make.”

 

“Yeah.” Char licks her lips a bit, still comfortably holding her daughter after the babe belches softly in her ear. “Did um...did Evie...” She shrugs, “I just...we just never...” Charlotte attempts to find the words, but knowing that her mother isn’t always good at deciphering between certain inflections in a person’s voice. “Ry just told her to focus on her studies and we didn’t...hear from her anymore. I thought she was cross with us.”

 

“Didn’t sound that way when I spoke with her.” She shakes her head, “asked how everyone was and if Owen was attending his specialty school in conjunction with any sort of therapy.” Bernie shrugs, “sounded glad that you didn’t just seek out another therapist.”

 

“Well, good then.” Charlotte slowly begins to stand, “meant to show you this. I ordered it online earlier today-”

 

“And it’s already arrived?”

 

“Welcome to the future, Mum.” She hears her mother chuckling softly near her as she reaches down, underneath the side table, for the object she purchased. A taupe colored foam seat that matches the rest of the furniture. Placing it onto the coffee table in front of her, she sets Lavinia inside, allowing her to sit up and work on her posture. Charlotte grins when the babe seems a bit confused, but delighted. “The bounce lounger was pissing her off because she wanted to sit up, so...I gave in a little.”

 

Bernie scoots closer, watching her granddaughter, “Did the boys have one of those?”

 

“I think we had one for Cole, but...I honestly don’t remember, it was forever ago.” Char explains, “I mean, it isn’t a new invention or anything like that, if that’s what you mean, but she seems to absolutely love it.” Lifting her head when she hears a commotion near the door, she notices Owen pacing in front of it, “guess the others are back.” She stands again, moving to the vestibule.

 

Watching as her granddaughter’s lower lip begins to quiver and pout, Bernie smirks, “same pout that your brother had.”

 

Charlotte peeks back into the room, noticing the teary eyes of her youngest child. “She’s been doing this all day. I set her down somewhere and she just loses it anytime I’m somewhere she can’t see.”

 

“Practically obsessed.” Bernie remarks sarcastically, a playful smirk on her face. She gently lifts her granddaughter from the seat before scooting down to the edge of the sofa again, “Mumma is right there, darling.” Bernie points a little as Charlotte stands in the vestibule with the front door open.

 

Lane smiles to his mother as he carefully walks up the pathway behind his elder brother and grandmother, his cane tapping against the pavement with each step. Once he reaches his mother, he wraps his arms around her, tightly, just seemingly holding onto her.

 

Charlotte raises an eyebrow, stepping aside as she holds onto him in return. His head resting on her chest, she tilts her face down to press a kiss against his hair, “I assume therapy went well?”

 

Nodding, Lane yawns, “I really like Jamie. He likes makeup like I do.” His speech always becomes more slurred when he’s tired and this is of no exception. “And he’s funny...and even makes his own granola. It was really good.” He pauses, “can I try and make my own granola?”

 

“Sure, maybe we can go to the shops tomorrow.” Char lifts her gaze, looking to her mother, “when is Evie supposed to start?”

 

“You hired Evie back?” Serena smiles a little, taking a seat next to her wife on the sofa. She leans over to kiss Lavinia’s soft brunette hair.

 

“I asked her to start next week. Gives her a bit of time to prepare, though she seems eager to return.” Bernie nods, “I reckon a sense of normalcy will do everyone some good. Get back to how life was before the mishaps.” She nods a little, noticing Lane’s genuinely happy disposition, possibly the biggest grin she’s seen from him in quite a while.

 

“Hear, hear.” Serena nods, looking over to her wife. Her eyes twinkle with pride that her wife had taken some initiative where Charlotte was concerned. Usually they were reacting to setbacks instead of enacting precautions in case a difficult predicament ever arose. This was a brilliant stepping stone on the right path for all of them.

Chapter Text

Serena steps into the kitchen of her stepdaughter’s home with Lavinia comfortably in her arm. She notices Owen holding onto Evie Fletcher, just humming softly. Not exactly a behavior she sees often, or at all from him. Serena raises an eyebrow, “teaching him dancing?”

 

“This is the fourth time he’s hugged me in the past twenty minutes.” Evie smirks, watching her. 

 

She moves around the space, getting herself a glass from the cupboard. Serena sets it onto the counter top before moving over to the fridge to fetch the pitcher of chilled water. “He’s missed you. We all have.”

 

“She’s incredibly cute.” When Serena looks back over to her, Evie motions to Lavinia with a nod of her head.

 

“Just under four months old and thinks she owns everything.” Serena teases, carefully pouring the water into the glass, “however, she’s been very clingy with her mother as of late. Had to put on a Baby Einstein just so that Charlotte could sneak away without Lavinia throwing a conniption fit.”

 

Evie nods, just gently swaying with Owen because it seems that’s what he wants to do at the moment. “I uh...Dad told me about what happened to their father. I...I want to offer my condolences to Char, but I can’t find the correct words. I mean...how do you in that instance?”

 

“I will strongly suggest you don’t say a word about it.” Serena meets her eyes, setting the pitcher onto the counter for a moment, “no one in this family is taking it well...at all. Cole is spending some time with Bernie, Lane is spending time shopping for granola supplies with his mother. All of them are in therapy over what happened. Myself included.”

 

“I...I wasn’t going to make light-”

 

“I know your heart is in the right place, darling, but...I can’t deal with Charlotte locking herself in a room for a week.”

 

“That bad?” Evie raises an eyebrow.

 

“Putting it mildly.” Serena nods, tugging the fridge back open and placing the pitcher back inside. She notices her granddaughter has a fist in her mouth, “you can’t be hungry just yet. You’re eating us all out of house and home.”

 

“How um...” Evie pauses, “how have you been, Auntie Serena?” Her tone concerning, “the way Ms. Wolf was speaking, the two of you are often left to tend to the children. Which, I know you probably don’t mind, but...I would think it would also become rather...exhausting.” Evie motions to the kitchen table for Owen, “let’s play with some clay...or would you like your tinker toys?”

 

Owen watches her, thinking for a moment. He doesn’t know what he wants either, just happy to have his friend back after far too long. He moves to the table, absently tapping on the table as he rocks a little. He doesn’t really make eye contact, only occasional glances as he makes his content groan sounds.

 

Evie supposes he’ll be satisfied with whatever she places in front of him. She takes note that Serena hasn’t answered her yet, “Auntie Serena?” Maybe she didn’t hear the question the first time.

 

“No, I’m-I’m fine, Evie.” Serena answers quietly, listening to Lavinia coo to her.

 

Raising an eyebrow, she watches the woman, “are you sure?”

 

“You’re here to help Owen, not me. I pay someone else for that.”

 

“Dad...he said you hurt your shoulder in that pile up and...” Evie shrugs a little, “and I wanted to come and visit you, but he didn’t think it would be the best idea because of...all the other things that happened.” She pauses, “and I’m old enough to make those decisions on my own, and I often do, but he’s usually right when it comes to you.”

 

Right ?” Serena raises an eyebrow, lowering Lavinia to her hip, “I wouldn’t go that far.”

 

Evie smirks, “I would. My siblings and I don’t call you Auntie Serena for the hell of it, we call you that because of how close you and Dad were. You were always there for us after Mum died.” She can see her words affecting the older woman, “and we appreciated it. Still do. Wish we saw more of you, though.” Evie smiles a little at the baby when the infant grins to her, “I understand why you haven’t, but just know that you’re missed greatly.”

 

“Thank you.” Serena winks to her, not making a big show of the gesture. “I won’t lie, I have missed you as well.” She pauses, “and maybe even Mikey.”

 

“He’s going to be a dad soon.”

 

“What?” Serena looks appalled, “you must be joking.”

 

“Not at all.” Evie chuckles a little to herself, moving over to where Charlotte usually left his clay. She takes it from the cupboard, opening the container before setting it in front of Owen. “Well, I say he’s going to be a father, but he doesn’t seem too certain about it and...we don’t know much about the mother, but...” She shrugs, “I’m a little excited at the prospect of being an Aunt.”

 

She continues to watch the young woman, “what does your father say?”

 

“Not much. I reckon he’s worried for Micky, but I do like to jab him about being a grandfather soon.”

 

“Good girl.” Serena nods, “my giddy aunt. I haven’t realized just how...” She inhales and exhales slowly, “I’ve spoken to your father over the years and, of course, you used to be over often, but...I just never thought about that.”

 

Evie hums her approval with a nod. “Thought that one might get you.” She takes a seat at the table, near Owen. “Owen, can you make me a shape?” A simple question, one that takes the boy time to attempt, keeping him occupied. “Why haven’t you headed out with the others, Auntie Serena?”

 

“I waited here with Owen for you and I’m watching over Lavinia.” Serena responds defensively.

 

Nodding a little, Evie glances down, smiling to the boy as he continues to play with the clay instead of actually fulfilling the request. She shifts her gaze to the older woman again, “you could be spending time with Ms. Wolfe and Cole. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind the both of you. I remember how wrapped around his finger he kept you when he was small.” She tilts her head to the side, “Ms. Wolfe could have stayed here while you-”

 

“Bernie and Cole have been playing Chess since he arrived home from school over to ours.” Serena shrugs, “which...isn’t really my bag, to be honest. Lane and Charlotte deserve some time together. I believe they’ve gone to get mani-pedis, which I would have loved to do as well, but that leaves Lavinia high and dry, which isn’t fair to her.”

 

“You’re right.” She watches the woman step away for a moment, retrieving the babe’s foam seat from the lounge. Upon returning, Serena sets it on top of the kitchen island before placing Lavinia inside. Evie hums a little with delight when the girl seems much happier to be able to see the room. “How have the boys been with her?”

 

“Lane’s always too afraid to hold her without someone close by and Cole does a bit when Bernie nor myself are around. Owen will watch her on occasion, but he won’t make any effort to try to hold her or...anything like that.” Serena shakes her head, “I know Lane was looking forward to helping more.”

 

Evie nods a little, “I saw him with his cane and...how he talks.” She pauses, “it’s incredible how something can change so quickly...in the blink of an eye.”

 

Serena nods a little, “I’m aware.” She absently brings her hand to Lavinia’s head, gently stroking her hair. “People die and people are born...and the rest are left to pick up the pieces.” Her eyes glisten with tears forming in her lower lid, she clears her throat, deciding to ignore them. Serena instead busies herself, moving back to the refrigerator and tugging the door open. “How about I make us something to nibble on?”

 

Furrowing her brow a little, Evie notices the slight downcast expression of the other woman. She decides against saying anything about it. “Yeah, sounds good.” The atmosphere is dark and there’s a heaviness about the house. Something she can’t quite put her finger on. When Owen taps her on the arm to garner her attention, she offers him a grin, at least she can do this to help.

Chapter Text

Sian holds Lavinia on her lap as they rest in the lounge of her stepdaughter’s moderately sized, detached home. “I’m thrilled you asked us over for dinner.” She and Marcus had only seen the young woman’s family a couple times since the accident and the baby being born. “Serena tells me you make hot meals nearly every night for your family.”

 

“Well, they need to eat somehow.” Charlotte mumbles a little, glad her mother and Serena were due to be over shortly. She isn’t one for small talk. Not that she minds Sian in the least, in fact, she quite likes her, but this isn’t fun in the least. “Cole, are you nearly finished with your homework?” She calls out, not really prepared for today. Honestly, Char isn’t really sure why she agreed to it in the first place. Hearing the teenager’s shout of an affirmative response, she sighs.

 

“Um...what’s on the menu for tonight?” Sian attempts again, noticing the baby is just staring up at her. She smiles a little, “You have the biggest brown eyes, petite fille.” She coos to her, gliding her finger over the side of the baby’s cheek. When Lavinia blinks heavily while offering a gummy grin, Sian huffs a soft chortle.

 

“Beef Wellington with roasted carrots and fresh grilled asparagus with hollandaise. Laney is supposed to make the salad, but he seems fairly busy with Dad. I reckon he’s showing off the few new eye shadow palettes and nail varnish he chose the other day.” Char smirks to herself, “he’s quite proud.”

 

“Isn’t Beef Wellington...a difficult dish to make?”

 

“Well, I made two of them so...” Charlotte shrugs, “I don’t think it’s hard. Just sounds like it would be intimidating.”

 

“You’re very impressive.” Sian nods, watching as she continues to move about the kitchen. The young woman is in her element and Sian is actually quite drawn to watch her, “I um...I started reading your book. The first one. Serena says a second is about to release.”

 

“Yes, in-in about a month, hopefully.” She nods, absently biting the skin of her lip, “I’m not looking forward to the promotion aspect. Don’t know if I’m ready to talk about it over and over, multiple times a day like I did with the last one.”

 

“I’ve seen morning talk shows where they use a video link...thing. It would allow you to stay here or a studio or something, if you’re able to request it.” Sian offers, “might help if you’re-”

 

“They aren’t only going to ask about the book, Sian.” Charlotte moves to the doorway, yelling up toward the stairs, “Lane, if you’re making the salad, come on!” She waits a moment, hearing the subtle creaks of the hardwood floor above, then her son’s bare feet starting down the stairs. “Thank you.” She turns, starting to return to the kitchen.

 

“I was doing Grandad’s makeup.” Lane announces as he carefully descends the stairs, knowing.

 

Char pauses in her usual strut, lifting her eyes to meet Sian’s. “I could have sworn-”

 

“You did.” Sian nods a little.

 

Lane carefully steps up behind his mother, walking past her, “He didn’t let me glue on his lashes, but I think I found his colors.” His tone nonchalant, proud of his work. “You’ve done a very good job with yours, Auntie Sian.”

 

“Well, thank you, Laney.” Sian smirks to the boy, watching as he carefully moves behind the kitchen island.

 

Charlotte turns slowly when she feels someone standing behind her. “Dad, your eyeliner is impeccable.” 

 

“I feel like it’s a whole new me.” Marcus nods, smiling softly when his daughter seems pleased that he’d give in to his grandson’s whims. “Reckon your Mum will like it?”

 

“I’m sure she and Serena will love it.” She smirks a little, moving closer to him to hug him. Something within Charlotte had always caused her to think her father wouldn’t approve of her son’s flamboyant ways. There was no keeping Lane from acting like himself, but Marcus always seemed quiet when he would. It was the same way Ryan’s mother behaved until she said something to Ryan in opposition of the behavior. Charlotte was more than thrilled to never return to her presence, with exception to the memorial service, but still kept in contact with her father-in-law since he was so approving and accepting with her and the children, no matter what.

 

Marcus wraps his arms around her in response, not expecting her behavior in the least, but gladly accepting of it. “Maybe I should wear eyeliner more often.”

 

“Maybe you should.” Char hums a soft chuckle, noticing the door behind them, the entry door, open. Her mother and Serena stepping through. “Mum, doesn’t Dad look fantastic.” She gently turns the man to face them.

 

Bernie raises an eyebrow, “had the Laney makeover, have you?”

 

“Best in town.” Serena smirks, removing her jacket. She opens the small closet next to the door, reaching in for a clothing hanger. Once she hangs it, she looks to hang her wife’s then remembers the woman didn’t wear one. We’re only going next door . She moves past them, making her way to the kitchen.

 

“Gran, after dinner, can we have another go of chess?” Cole calls out from the library upon hearing the woman’s voice. He had actually finished his homework a while ago, but wasn’t exactly in the social mood to join everyone else.

 

Poking her head into the dimly lit room just off of the vestibule, Bernie spots her grandson, texting something on his mobile as he lounges on the sofa within. “I’d be happy to. However, if you’d really like a challenge, you should ask your grandfather. He’s the one that taught your Uncle Cameron. Cam can play us both under the table.”

 

“I didn’t know Grandad could play chess.”

 

“I’m betting you never asked.” Bernie tilts her head to him, stepping closer before lowering herself onto the arm of the sofa. “Feeling okay?”

 

“Bit of a headache. I’m not...I’m not really up for talking about myself at the mo.” Cole answers quietly, “not that Auntie Sian means to, I just don’t think she realizes she’s interrogating...or Grandad. We just...haven’t seen them much lately. I know they’re busy and they really can’t help it.”

“Actually, you were the busy one.” Bernie folds her hands in her lap, “and your Mum wasn’t feeling much up to it either.”

 

“I don’t even...I don’t know what to talk about.”


“Oh, I find that hard to believe.” Bernie shakes her head, “you have your web series and the successes you’ve had from that, you can talk about school.”

 

Cole sighs, “Topics for enthralling conversations.”

 

“Hey, they’re trying. Your grandfather and Sian missed you. Don’t blame them for not coming around, it wasn’t their fault.” Bernie responds calmly, quickly taking the mobile from his hands, “what’s all this? I haven’t my reading glasses.” She expected him to spring from his seat, eager to retain possession of his mobile, but simply does not.

 

“I’m replying to comments on my latest video.” Cole answers quietly. When he looks behind him to his Gran sitting on the armrest, he notices her facial expression, wanting him to continue. He relaxes his body again, “It was about how I’m seeing a therapist and...how seeing one isn’t always about a single incident, but sometimes it’s because of an amalgamation of occurrences.”

 

Bernie smirks softly to herself, impressed, “and people are supportive?”

 

“Not all of them, but I don’t particularly care what the negative people say.” Cole takes his mobile back when she offers it to him. “I...I’ve been thinking of joining the Video Production or Drama clubs at school, but I know how busy Mum’s going to be once the book comes out and...I don’t want to inconvenience anyone.”

 

“Nan and I would come and get you. Join whatever you want.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah.” Bernie nods, standing again, “absolutely.” She casually folds her arms over her chest, “Video Production I understand, but I’m surprised to hear you considering Drama.”

 

Cole shrugs, “I don’t know if I’d be any good, but...I think it might be fun to try.” He pauses, “the instructor is big on Shakespeare and...I’ve always found it interesting.”

 

“Like your mother.”

 

Cole smirks to himself, slipping his mobile into his pocket as he gets up from the sofa, walking with his Gran to rejoin the rest of the group, “Uncle Cam said she froze.”

 

“With many people, but not the smaller audiences. She was phenomenal when I saw her.” Bernie nods, “I reckon if she could have gotten over her fears, she’d have been a great actress. Might have been able to make something of it.” She offers, “possibly even a teacher. I don’t know. I never thought she’d be a writer, that’s for sure.”

 

“You thought she was going to be a surgeon.” Cole nods, “I think she did too, for a bit.” He had been reading a bit more of his mother’s book because of Gwen’s insistance for him to do so, having mostly stopped after things went down with his biologically paternal grandparents. He promised her that he would try harder, knowing it might give him more material for his web series.

 

“Think Lavinia recognizes me through the makeup?” Marcus crouches in front of the girl as his wife continues to hold her.

 

“I don’t think she recognizes either of us, but I’m glad you’re making a good first impression with your best face forward.” Sian smirks, her statement with a tinge of sadness.

 

“Yet.” Marcus corrects, “recognizes us yet.”

 

“You mean you’ll come to visit more often, Grandad?” Lane asks innocently, pouring the toasted walnuts in his spinach and strawberry salad. He finishes and notices that his mother had pulled out the ingredients for his poppyseed vinaigrette while he wasn’t looking. Lane smirks, starting on that.

 

“Of course.” Marcus nods, slowly rising from his kneeling on the floor. “Whenever is convenient for you all.” He notices the genuine grin coming from his younger grandson, “Should I go and wake Owen? You said he was resting.”

 

“I’ll get him. He’s liable to atta-” Charlotte pauses, smiling to cover up her near gaffe. “I’ll be back.” She offers a gentle smile to the room before taking her leave. No need to go into things with her father and new stepmother there, especially since they don’t know how anything goes while they aren’t there. No need to worry anyone unnecessarily.

Chapter Text

Though it caused quite a bit of nervous anxiety within Charlotte, everything about the dinner seemed to go off pretty well. Everyone ate, even Owen, and it was obvious his usual therapy with Evie was helping him with smaller aspects of day to day life. Char settles into the high backed chair, having just finished feeding Lavinia and handing her off to her grandparents to pass around among themselves. “Could I get you more to drink, Sian?”

 

“This is actually my second glass of wine, I’m trying to slow down.” Sian chuckles softly, noticing Owen walking from room to room, “what is he doing?”

 

“Mum calls it his patrols.” Char shrugs, “really, I couldn’t tell you. He’s done it ever since he could walk.” When the boy returns to the lounge and stands in front of Sian, not making eye contact with anyone, just looking at the seat., though it seems like he could be looking at other things.

 

Sian raises an eyebrow, “and now?”

 

“You’re in his spot.” Serena sits at the other end of the sofa, motioning her friend to scoot closer to her. She chuckles a little when her friend obliges and Owen eagerly takes his seat, instantly beginning to rock back and forth. “He can get a bit wild with that, so if you wish to change seats, I’d understand.”

 

“No, I’m fine.” Sian nods, “I’d like to understand more of his behaviors, the ones you’ve all grown so used to observing.” When he starts to sign something to her, Sian furrows her brow, “I’m sorry, I don’t-”

 

“Blanket.” Serena whispers, wanting her friend to succeed with her grandson. She motions to the basket underneath the side table, grinning when her friend obliges the boy.

 

“Marcus, do you reckon it would be a good time to show everyone our surprise?” Sian looks over to her husband, “something we’ve been...wanting to show you all and give you, but our wires continued to get crossed. A little bit of something for everyone, I believe.” She watches as her husband takes the hint, quickly leaving the room to retrieve said gift from their car.

 

Bernie sits next to Lane on the floor, using color pencils to shade in a picture inside of an adult coloring book. “I always love a good surprise.” She mumbles a little, a smile starting to spread across her face, “how is this, Laney?”

 

“Neon yellow is underutilized in couture.” Lane tilts his head to the side.

 

“That’s what I’m saying.”

 

Charlotte giggles softly, watching her mother and her son. She hasn’t felt this normal in quite a while. Her children content, her family smiling and seemingly happy, even with both of her biological parents and her partners. She lifts her head when she notices her father return with a few larger bags. When her father gives her the largest, she furrows her brow, not understanding, a similar one is given to her mother. The boys having their own.

 

“They aren’t anything too...noteworthy, but...we thought you’d like these.” Marcus nods, returning to his seat opposite his eldest grandson on the floor, offering him a wrapped, flat package as well. Almost appearing like a clothing box.

 

Cole makes quick work of his box first, seeing a picture from his grandparents’ wedding months prior. The picture includes he and Guinevere laughing at one another. He starts to grin, “oh, she’ll love this. I’ll have to send her a picture...of the picture.” He snorts.

 

Sian glances from child to child, having one for Owen, but it seems he isn’t interested. She opens it for him, showing him the picture of the twins, Owen actually making eye contact with the camera and grinning at the same time Lane does. “When we were over last, I noticed there just...weren’t many pictures of you all. Just a couple from when the children were small, but...nothing recent.” Looking next to her, she sees Serena open one of she and Bernie, comfortable in one another’s arms. Serena’s head is tilted back in the picture with a laugh and it’s obvious Bernie is the one to cause it. “Think that one might be one of my favorites.” When Sian shifts her gaze to meet that of Serena’s face, it’s showing a forced smile. There’s worry there. Worry that Sian doesn’t quite understand.

 

Bernie opens hers, chuckling a little as she shows Serena, “the two of us with the kids.” Bernie and Serena with Cameron, very pregnant Charlotte, and Jason. “I had forgotten we had even taken this.”

 

“You were pretty sloshed.” Char nods, a smirk in the corner of her mouth, opening one of the smaller one of the three next to her. One of she and her brother with her mother and father. “This is great, actually.” She smiles a bit more.

 

“I didn’t think you had one of you and your brother with your parents as adults, minus Serena and I. Obviously, we have one for him as well, but we gave that to him a couple of months ago and asked him not to say anything.

 

“This is fantastic, thank you.” Char tilts her head to the side, “Mum and Dad almost look like they’re still married.”

 

“Don’t insult us like that.” Bernie jabs playfully, hearing her former husband laugh as well.

 

Lane nods, “Mine is me dancing next to Uncle Cam.” He shows his Gran as she stands next to him, “it was one of those dances that you stand in a line for and he didn’t know the moves, but he did by the end of the song.” His voice still slurred a bit, “I miss dancing.” He trails softly.

 

Serena eyes the other two wrapped gifts next to her stepdaughter, then shifts her gaze to the young woman’s face, “Charlotte, maybe wait until later to open the other two. After desert.”

 

“Oh, why? I’d love to see her face.” Sian doesn’t understand why her friend is saying such a thing, “I think she’d love them.” She pauses, “there are a few that we just didn’t have framed and a book for you to have. They’re in an envelope in the bag.”

 

Char smirks, wanting to appease her stepmother, she opens the largest, a portrait of she and Ryan with their boys. His hand proudly on the side of her belly, but not being terribly obnoxious about it. Her eyes well up with tears, chin trembling. “I-I-I...I do love it. Thank you.”

 

Leaning against the back of the sofa, Serena sighs, knowing this would happen. “It’s beautiful.”

 

Nodding absently, Char is filled with a knowing anxiety of what’s in the second wrapped package. This one gives her pause, nearly taking her breath away. Ryan and herself dancing together. Taken in such a way that she doesn’t actually look pregnant. They’re both smiling and very obviously in love. Her hands start to shake before she quickly gets up from her space on the chair, “I...I’m sorry. I need to...” She shakes her head, quickly dashing off toward the stairs. The door slams once she ascends them.

 

“That’s why, Sian.” Serena nearly growls, pushing herself up from the sofa, ready to race after her stepdaughter.

 

“Give her a moment, Campbell.” Bernie mumbles, licking her lips. She puts her pencils away, closing the coloring book. She’s glad Serena didn’t race off. “Boys, would you mind heading upstairs? Take your sister with you.”

 

Cole can tell this is going to be a very adult argument. One he and his younger siblings shouldn’t be privy to and it’s probably going to have to do with his mother. “Yeah, okay.” He stands, stepping over to Sian and gently taking Lavinia from her. His boot thumps against the floor, glad Lane has gotten Owen to move and follow them. “We can watch stuff in my room.”

 

“And leave your mother alone, please.” Bernie calls after them, waiting to hear the door closed before nodding to Serena.

 

Serena folds her arms, still worried about her stepdaughter. “I tried to stop you. I tried to warn you, Sian, but you continued to push and push and...completely ignore anything going on around you.”

 

“They’re only pictures.” Sian shakes her head, looking at her friend, truly not understanding why Serena appears so angry. “There is nothing here. Those children have nothing to look to and remember their father. Why?” She shakes her head, “because it makes their mother uncomfortable? That isn’t fair to them.”

 

“She lost her husband.” Marcus replies quietly, “Ryan and I may have had our differences at first, but he proved himself to be a great father to the boys and a great husband to Char.” He pauses, “that being said, taking away photos and memories from their children isn’t the right thing to do.”

 

“Neither is bombarding them with thirty at once.” Bernie replies gently. “They’re absolutely beautiful and...very appreciated.” She sighs, knowing Serena is fuming at this point. She can see her leaning against the doorway behind her. “She hasn’t been doing well. That’s why we hired Evie Fletcher as respite for Owen, she helps him with menial tasks as well. Pays him proper attention because Char is just...so overwhelmed and Serena and I can only do so much. Someone always gets left out and that’s the very last thing any of us would ever want.”

 

“Why haven’t you phoned?” Marcus places his hands onto his hips, head tilting to the side. “You know Sian and I would have been over in a flash.”

 

“Because Charlotte would have known that we said something and I’m not about to risk her trust just to make things easier for us.” Serena shakes her head, “Cole sees his therapist once a week, Lane has started seeing a therapist, also once a week. Charlotte sees her therapist once a week. They’re still grieving. They’re still in pain.” She swallows, “it’s only been three months.”

 

“And we’re locked out because of trust?” Sian watches her friend, “I see a therapist as well because I blame myself...constantly. I wanted to do something nice. I didn’t know if they had a...professional photograph of their family.” 

 

“Make it about yourself.” Serena mumbles, shaking her head. She sighs, finally looking over to her friend. “I saw his dead body.”

 

“This isn’t about who saw what and how damaged you are compared to one another.” Bernie sharks her head, glancing between the women. “You’re both arguing over semantics. There is still a dead young man and a family in pain.”

 

“Agreed.” Marcus nods. “However, you need to let us help. We can...take the grandkids once in a while so you all can just...relax.” He smirks, “whatever is needed, Bern. We’ll...make sure they have comfortable spaces round ours.” Marcus glances between all of the women, still able to sense the heightened emotions between Sian and Serena. “What about...during the week? I know Cole and Owen have school, but...Lane is being home schooled, correct? I’m sure he could use a school trip.”

 

Sian smiles ever so slightly, sensing where her husband was going with this, “we can take Lavinia along as well. Head to a museum or something. It would allow Charlotte some time to herself.”

 

“You’d need to speak to her about that. Possibly bring it up to Lane and he could ask.” Bernie lifts a hand to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear, “but I’m sure they’d all love it.”

 

“It’s settled then.” Sian nods, glancing around, “let us help you clean up-”

 

“No, we’ve got it.” Serena responds quietly.

 

“Oh, come now, ‘Rena.”

 

“Just say goodbye to the children and we’ll...finish things up here.” Serena swallows, not knowing why she’s acting this way herself. However, she also knows of her friend’s pension for attention. Something the other two in the room may not be privy to. Serena begins to pick up the discarded wrapping paper and boxes, “it was nice seeing you both though. The photographs were lovely. Thank you for thinking of us while choosing to print them.”

 

Marcus places his hand in his wife, “always a pleasure, Serena...Bernie.”

 

Waiting until they say their goodbyes with the children and leave, Bernie looks to her wife, “that was uncalled for.”

 

“She makes everything about herself.”

 

“She wasn’t.” Bernie shakes her head, “if you listened to her, you would have heard her not doing that. I truly believe she thought she was doing a good thing.” She pauses, “and they did. These are fantastic memories of something good that happened that day. Not just the multi-RTC and Ryan’s death.” Bernie watches as her wife continues to clean up, “they’re smiling and laughing in these.” She moves over to the left bag, taking out the envelope and gently sliding out the unframed pictures. “Here’s one of you and Ryan. You look to be having the time of your life.”

 

Serena swallows, taking a moment to move over next to her wife to see the picture. “He was a magnificent dancer.” She licks her lip, “and I had no idea. Never had the opportunity to explore that aspect of ourselves before. I had a great time that night.” She steps away, throwing the collected packaging into the bin. “Should we go and check on everyone?”

 

Bernie nods, “Call it.”

 

Scowling playfully, Serena begins to climb the stairs, “you check the kids.” Once they reach the top of the stairs, she watches her wife disappear into Cole’s room as she moves to Charlotte’s door, only to find it locked. She sighs, knocking a little, “Charlotte, it’s me. I’ve...I’ve put everything away.” Serena presses her ear against the door, listening for something, anything. Nothing. Her heart begins to race, taking a moment to remember the key above the doorways from when Owen would accidentally lock himself in various rooms.

 

Serena notices her hands are shaking as she reaches above the molding of the doorways, finally finding one of the keys above Lavinia’s door. She rushes back to the door, “come on.” She whispers to herself, “please.” Her hands are shaking too much to open the door in an orderly fashion.

 

Finally, she gains admittance. The bedroom seemingly empty, bed made perfectly, the picture of Charlotte and Ryan resting in front of the headboard, resting against the pillows. The place where she usually puts a smaller, accent pillow. Serena opens the door to the walk in closet, empty . The rose gold laptop is open on the small desk, something she knows Charlotte wouldn’t do. She notices the bright white page of an open text document, simply stating, ‘ I’m Sorry. I love you. You deserve better.’

 

“No.” Serena whispers, finally seeing the glow coming from behind the closed door to the ensuite bathroom. She knocks on the door, “Charlotte.” Serena tries the doorknob, locked again. “No, please.” She feels bile beginning to rise in her throat. Serena rests her ear against the door again, listening for anything. Crying, movement in a bathtub, running of water, the pull of a shower curtain. Nothing. She reaches above the doorway for another key to no avail. “Bernie.” She calls out, trying to push the door open still.

 

Bernie steps into the dimly lit room after a few seconds, seeing the frantic movements of her wife. She doesn’t need to ask, it’s as if Bernie already knows the circumstances. Serena wouldn’t be trying to get into the room if she wasn’t worried. “Char.” She calls again, hearing no reply, she begins to ram her upper arm and shoulder against the door. Glad it gives way after only a couple tries, her body freezes for a moment from the sight in front of her before she allows adrenaline to take over her movements. Blood...and lots of it.

Chapter Text

I was twenty and my father had phoned to tell me that my mother had returned from Kabul. I was thrilled, but his next words will forever haunt me. He explained that her Humvee had hit a roadside IED. She was in a bad way and the prognosis was dim, but that she was a fighter. He wasn’t wrong. She had suffered a neck fracture as well as an aortic aneurysm. Dim was an understatement.

 

Bernie follows behind the ambulance medics, glad they allowed her to continue to help her daughter and give her a ride to the hospital in turn. She manages to keep a stern neutral disposition, even when she comes face to face with Ange Godard once Charlotte is taken to the Trauma Bay within AAU. “Applied pressure to the wounds and administered an IV en route. She’ll need a blood transfusion... A-Negative. I-I believe she may have nicked an artery, but I couldn’t get a good look at the wound without risking more blood loss.”

 

Ange lifts her head, taking in the sight of her close friend. Blood covering the front of the woman’s casual button down shirt. She isn’t sure how long she wants the woman to continue to stay in the room, honestly, “what was the method?”

 

It takes her a moment to realize she’s being spoken to, “she used her husband’s straight razor.” Bernie wants to help so badly, but folds her arms behind her back instead. “I’m not sure how long it was before we found her. It couldn’t have been...fifteen minutes between...” She shakes her head. “Allow me to-”

 

“Bernie, I’ve got this. Has she taken any drugs? Has she had anything to drink?” Ange asks, realizing both wrists have had a go at them. She hisses softly out of instinct. This is far harder when it’s someone known. “Absolutely anything...”

 

“Nothing illegal. Nothing prescribed that would affect blood flow. Nothing to drink. She’s currently breastfeeding.” Bernie responds, bringing a hand to her head in an effort to calm herself down.

 

“Get her prepared to go to theater.” Ange finally calls out, watching as they push the patient from the room again. She hangs back, meeting Bernie’s eyes. “I’m going to do everything I can, but it seems she may have lost a lot of blood. The wounds are deep and it does appear that she may have gotten to the radial artery.” She pauses, “why not have a seat in the office instead of the waiting room? I’m certain there’s people you need to phone.”

 

Bernie nods absently, “Yeah.” She mumbles a little.

 

I remember being over a friend’s house and just pacing. Back and forth. Back and forth. Waiting for my mobile to vibrate and for my father to feed me any scrap of information. Back and forth. I phoned my brother, who agreed to collect me and take me back to my childhood home. My brother had returned from his travels abroad and was, once again, living at his parents’ house and I was living anywhere except there. I felt a sense of existential dread. A grinding in the pit of my stomach. I expected my father to phone and explain that my mother didn’t make it through surgery. I expected to be told that she had traveled so far, only to be lost on her home soil, and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

 

Bernie sits hunched over, her elbows resting on her knees as she hears the familiar sound of someone punching in the numbers to gain entry. When she turns her head, she notices a soft, sympathetic smile from a nurse and the entry of her ex-husband. She tries so hard to keep her wits about her, especially in front of him.

 

Marcus stares at the woman for a moment. The woman he initially thought he would grow old with. The woman who gave him two amazing children. He takes in the amount of blood covering her, “any word?”

 

She swallows, licking her lips before she speaks again, “not yet. Still in theater as far as I’m aware.” Bernie feels her chin start to tremble, but she glances away from him, down to the floor. Anywhere that wasn’t in his direction. Bernie feels as if she’s starting to lose track of time.

 

Securing the door behind himself, Marcus begins to close the blinds of the windows before taking a seat atop one of the desk chairs. “It’s okay to cry, Bernie.”

 

“I’m not-” Bernie shakes her head a little, “crying doesn’t solve anything.”

 

“And neither can you.” He wheels closer to her, “do you want me to see if staff can get you a pair of scrubs?” He pauses, “maybe you can even catch a quick shower in the on-call room.” Her hands were covered in blood, certainly under her short trimmed nails. Marcus studies the woman, blood even splattered on her neck and the side of her jaw. “Did she cut the artery?” It would explain the blood splatter.

 

Bernie nods absently, “I think so.”

 

“Sian is round Charlotte’s, making amends with Serena, I’d hope...or they’re having a huge row and we’ll soon receive a bell from the police.” He had hoped that would make her smile, cut the tension even slightly. Marcus removes his mobile from his pocket, “have you messaged Cameron?”

 

Shaking her head negatively, Bernie leans back, resting properly against the sofa in the office. She closes her eyes, a tear begins to trickle down the side of her face after escaping the enclosure of her eye, “she was so cold, Marcus.” Her voice just above a whisper, “so pale...”

 

“We’ve both treated wounds such as these.”

 

Bernie inhales, “never on our own daughter.” She clears her throat, lifting her head, “I thought...I honestly thought she succeeded.” Bernie leans forward again, returning to her hunched stance, “managed to find a weak pulse at her jugular.”

 

Marcus listens to his ex-wife, able to see how traumatizing the incident was for her, “did the children see any of it?”

 

Thinking for a moment before her response, Bernie finally replies, “I don’t know.”

 

My mother was in hospital for nearly a week after her procedure. The surgeons were astonished that she was ambulatory at all, much less that she was raring to go on her second day there. I’m certain she would have gotten up sooner, but the hospital staff had to figuratively hold her down. Knowing her, she would have tried to help.

 

Ange Godard lets herself into the consultants’ office, looking between the two people there who are hungrily gazing up at her, eager for information. She thinks of her wording as she takes a seat next to her friend on the sofa. “Charlotte pulled through, but it is touch and go for the moment. She had to have lost a lot of blood at the scene.” She notices the relieved exhale from Bernie.

 

“That’s great news.” Marcus smiles a little to himself.

 

“She was in hypovolemic shock when brought in. So, I’ll have a full work up and exam of her once her fluids are replenished enough. I’ll need to see if there was any organ damage. As I’m sure you know.” Ange explains, glancing over to the man in the room when she senses Bernie isn’t going to say much, “are there any questions?”

 

“Can we see her?” Marcus is quick to ask, “well, better question, is she out of recovery?”

 

“Not just yet. We’re preparing the special treatment room, the one just behind the nurses’ station, for her.” Ange nods, “I’ve phoned in for a psych consult so that we can determine the next steps to her care.”

 

“Of course.” The man stands, “I’m going to stop down to the cantine, get us some coffee, take some time to phone Cameron in order to update him...as well as the wives.” He holds his hand out to his daughter’s surgeon, “thank you for all you’ve done.”

 

Ange nods, taking his hand, “she’s like family. There was never any question that I would.” She watches as he leaves, waiting for the door to close before she wraps an arm around Bernie’s shoulders. “I promise she’s okay.”

 

“This is my fault.” Bernie shakes her head.

 

“If she didn’t do it when she did, she would have done it another time.”

 

My brother and I traveled together to visit my mother while she was in hospital. It was not often that he and I got along at that point in our lives, but we managed to set our differences aside for our mother. Once we stepped through the entryway of the hospital, it was as if all the halls looked the same, even causing one to become quite disoriented. Cameron knew the way, though. Something always told me that he visited her before I did, but I could never be too sure and it doesn’t matter anymore. Just like it didn’t really matter then. I remember looking at my mother through the window of her hospital room door, noticing that she was asleep. The first time I had ever seen my incredibly strong mother appear weak.

 

I pinched myself, unsure if it was even really her and I was just dreaming, or if my virtually absent mother was in front of me. I wasn’t dreaming. Opening the door to the secluded room, Cameron and I had each taken a side of the bed to stand on. He placed his hands on the bed rail while I gently placed my hand into hers, needing to feel that she was actually real and not a figment of my wishful imagination. I began to cry.

 

Crying with relief above all else. I didn’t know what else to do in that instance. My mother, in her way of de-escalating an emotional situation with humor, teased me about my wet face.

 

Bernie knows what preparing a room for a suicidal patient entails. Removal of sharp or breakable objects. Removal of tubes, extra bed linens, or objects that could be used in a hanging. Yeah, she knows it all too well. Leaning against the space next to the window, she watches as nurse technicians wheel her daughter into the space. Glad Marcus seems to be taking his time returning. Nearing the bed as staff reconnects monitors and checks drips, she raises the height of the bed before gently stroking her hand over her daughter’s hair. She stands there for a few moments, the staffers filing out of the room one by one. Bernie licks her lips, “my darling Charlotte...I’m so sorry I failed you.”

 

She doesn’t exactly expect a response from her resting daughter, instead she continues, “it isn’t only about tonight...last night, it’s about before. You warned me and I...I underestimated.” She’s glad Marcus isn’t here right now. “I let you down...and I’ll never be able to properly make it up to you.”

 

She feels her voice crack, a tear escaping her eye. “I’m going to try my best though.” Bernie clears her throat, noticing her daughter’s eyes twitch before she opens them a little. “Hey.”

 

Charlotte watches her mother, “I’m here.” She isn’t exactly sure where here is or even what happened, but she’s too afraid to ask. The grin on her mother’s face is proof enough that opening her eyes is a good thing. “I’m just really tired.” Her body feels heavily, her mind is foggy at best.

 

“That’s okay.” Bernie knows the sedative given to her daughter was there as a safety measure as well, and not just from the surgery she is currently recovering from. “You gave us a scare.”

 

“Sorry.” Char can see the terror behind her mother’s eyes, though the woman maintains a relatively conservative exterior. “The kids are okay?” Her voice is low, hazy. Her head pounds.

 

“Yeah. Serena and Sian are watching over them. Your father stepped out for a coffee a little bit ago. I’m sure he’ll return shortly.” Bernie lowers the bed again, deciding to take a seat on the edge, next to Char’s hips. “I don’t believe he thought staff would bring you up so quickly.”

 

She studies her mother still, her eyes shifting down, “is that...mine?” Char hopes Bernie follows her line of sight.

 

“I’m-I meant to change, I’m sorry.” Bernie exhales, “Ms. Vickers will be visiting you once she’s in and...you aren’t going to be left alone. When your father and I go, there will always be a member of staff located within the room, unless you have another visitor.”

 

“Annette...”

 

“Yes, she should be visiting you first thing in the morning. When she does, it would be best for your father and I to leave. The two of you have a great many things to speak about.”

 

Charlotte can tell her mother obviously doesn’t want to go, but she’s informing her of these things for a reason. “Care for my children. I’m not fit for it.”

 

“We’re focusing on you and ensuring your safety. Serena and I will always tend to the children when you aren’t able to.” Bernie answers gently, “they run themselves. Just need to keep an eye on Lavinia, she gets very bossy.” She relaxes a bit when she notices a soft smirk appear in the corner of Charlotte’s mouth.

 

Though our reunion was marked with relief, my mother’s return would signify the beginning of the end of our little family unit, what was left of it. This sounds as if one should feel disappointed in the development, it would also signify the onset of truth in my family. No longer hiding overseas, or round friends’ homes. It was time for us each to face who we truly were. Though I tried my damnedest to display otherwise, I quickly realized that I wasn’t made of sterner stuff. I was weak. Possibly the weakest in my family. Weak, to a Wolfe, was just another unacceptable four letter word.

Chapter Text

Annette Vickers slowly pulls a chair over to the side of her patient’s bed. She studies the young woman’s sleeping form, taking in the delicately bandaged wrists, but sees smaller scratches radiating from the area as well. Gently touching the young woman’s forearm, “Charlotte, it’s Annette.” Her gentle east coast American accent causes the young woman to groggily open her eyes, “I’d bet you’re pretty tired after the night you’ve had.”

 

Being in and out of sleep throughout the day, Charlotte knew the feeling was because of some sort of sedative. “Something like that.” She raises the head of her bed a little by pressing the button, better to see the woman next to her. “I’ve made a mess of things, Vickers.”

 

“No, you didn’t.” Annette shakes her head, “nothing that isn’t able to be mended.”

 

“Could have fooled me.” Charlotte licks her dry lips, “what happened to my sitter?” She motions with a nod of her head toward the area where the young nursing assistant had been sitting in a chair, reading a book and minding her own business for the most part.

 

“I let her out to use the bathroom.” She takes a seat in the bed, “maybe get a coffee...bite to eat.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Annette nods a little, watching the younger woman. She folds her hands in her lap. “I need to ask the hard questions, Charlotte.” When the young woman doesn’t object, she continues, “do you currently feel suicidal?” No answer. “I need you to answer my questions, Char.”

 

“I currently,” Charlotte stares toward the ceiling tiles, “I currently feel nothing.”

 

“I need you to be serious.”

 

“Serious?” Char begins to laugh, almost bitterly. “I slashed my fucking wrists to kingdom come...and I don’t even remember doing it.” She doesn’t get loud, her voice remaining neutral. Probably from the sedative, she thinks. “Do I feel suicidal? I don’t know. I wasn’t aware that I felt that way previously.”

 

Annette folds one leg over the other, listening intently to her patient, “you don’t remember?”

 

“No.” Charlotte shifts her gaze to her therapist, “I remember having my father and his wife over for dinner. Everyone was getting along really, really well.” She shrugs a little, “next thing I know, I’m waking up here...in this room...and my Mum looks terrified.”

 

Dissociative Amnesia. “Do you feel as if something may have triggered you?”

 

“I don’t know.” She sighs, “could I have a glass of water or something?”

 

“You can have something to drink when you answer the question honestly.” Annette can tell her patient is withholding information. Whether she’s doing it to protect her pride, or to protect her emotions, Annette isn’t really certain. “I’ll even get you a soda, if you’d like.”

 

Charlotte had a feeling the woman would use a bit of tough love with her, as she often does. It’s worked for them all of these years and she expects that’s what helped Annette Vickers remain in charge of her department for as many years as she has. “When Ryan died, I...I couldn’t even look at a picture of him without...without falling apart. I...temporarily removed the photos of him from our lounge and our bedroom. The boys still had theirs, but...” She swallows, “I always planned to put them back, but...I needed to heal up a bit first.”

 

“Did you explain that to your children?”

 

“They never asked.” Char answers quietly, “the detail was not lost on my new stepmother though. I don’t know if she just thought we didn’t have any or what. We usually had only ever seen her over my Mum’s because she’s Serena’s best friend, but since she married Dad, she’s been over mine a few times.”

 

Annette nods, “so you were given a picture...”

 

“A few from their wedding. We all were. They were...absolutely beautiful. Sian had chosen a few to have framed for us.” Char trails a little, “and mine included this...large one of the boys, Ryan, and myself. We looked so happy. Even Owen was engaged with the camera and smiling. I don’t know how the photographer managed that.”

 

“And that’s the one that bothered you?”

 

Char glances away, “it was one of just he and I...dancing.” She swallows, her eyes going a bit glassy, “we looked...so in love. So happy.” She huffs a sound of rueful amusement to herself, “he’d be dead a couple of hours later...”

 

“Do you believe the story of the picture triggered you, or the picture itself?” Annette asks delicately.

 

“A picture is worth a thousand words, Vickers.”

 

“I’m aware.”

 

A tear escapes Char’s eye, “why would I be saved and not him? He’s saved so many lives and...the boys would have been better off with him.”

 

“What about your parents and children?” Annette tilts her head to the side, “Lavinia, she’d be without your milk.” She pauses, “and you mention how close you and she have become, how clingy she is with you.” When her patient doesn’t answer, “they’d be left heartbroken. Serena would have lost another daughter.” When her patient doesn’t respond, “had your mothers not found you in time, you’d have left the children without parents.”

 

“It hurts too much.” Charlotte finally says, “how do we take what’s happened to us, in our lives, how do we move on when they’re just...ripped from our grasp?” She shrugs, “I don’t understand it. The feelings.” Char licks her lips a little, “There was...such a stretch where he was merely a shadow in the night. Spending time with me, but not the children. He did it for years. I always thought I meant more to him than they did sometimes, but he never showed that to them. He just...” Char inhales slowly, “and now he isn’t there. He isn’t there and I...sometimes I want to be wherever he is too. It’s hard.”

 

“The easiest option isn’t always the...best option. It isn’t always the most comfortable. We’ve been working on that...when you attend your sessions.”

 

“Yeah.” Charlotte whispers, lifting her hand to quickly wipe another tear that’s escaped her eye.

 

“I think, currently, it would be in our best interest for you to stay in hospital for a bit. We can secure sessions, whether they be personal or group sessions, maybe a mixture of the two. We would reevaluate your medications and see if anything needs adjustment.” Annette offers a soft smile to her patient, leaning back in the chair, “what do you think about that?”

 

“I don’t much like other people.”

 

“I understand that, but being alone isn’t a very good idea either.” Annette motions to the young woman’s wrapped wrists, “hurts like hell, doesn’t it?”

 

Char follows her gaze, smirking softly as she nods, “they’re worried about nerve damage and the internal structures, whatever the hell that means.” She bites her lip, pulling at the skin slightly, “and I just feel numb...and stupid.”

 

“You aren’t stupid.” Annette shakes her head, “attempting to take one’s life is not the action of a stupid person. It’s the action of a frustrated person. It’s the action of a depressed person who feels there’s nowhere else to turn.” She tilts her head to the side, “and it doesn’t mean you’re weak, or useless. It means you’re hurting.” Annette licks her lips, “how long have you known me?”

 

“I was pregnant with Cole, right?” She pauses, “Over thirteen years...nearly fourteen.”

 

Annette nods, “and how many times have you seen me wear a short sleeve shirt?”

 

Charlotte furrows her brow, “um...I don’t know.”

 

“The answer is never.” She starts to unbutton the sleeve of her emerald blouse, offering it to her patient. It shows a faint pink line across the median of her wrist. “Not exactly something I’d want people to know about in my line of work, but it’s a part of me.” Annette nods, her disposition remaining completely calm and collected, “I was in my late thirties and...I had just lost my son to brain cancer. The younger of my two boys. He was nine.”

 

“...I didn’t know.” Char whispers.

 

“No one does. Not here. Except for you. No one needs to know unless I want them to know.” Annette nods, pulling her arm back again, adjusting the sleeve of her blouse to secure the enclosure. “I was intoxicated and...I didn’t cut it cleanly or...properly. My elder son found me, he was sixteen.” She nods, “and he saved my life. Ended up becoming a naval surgeon.”

 

Charlotte clears her throat a moment, “thank you for sharing your story with me.”

 

“Of course.” Annette nods, “but this isn’t about me. It’s about you. Would you agree to staying for a bit?”

 

Uncomfortably adjusting herself in bed, Char groans when she tries to use her hands and it just plain hurts. “I think if I were to go back now, without properly...getting help, I’m afraid of what I’ll do. Not to other people, but to myself.” She shrugs, “I, honestly, don’t remember doing this, Vickers.”

 

“I know you don’t, but I think it’s incredibly brave of you to accept a hand when it’s offered.” Annette smiles a bit more, “and I’ll be there...every day. Just about.”

 

“My American savior.” Charlotte grins when her therapist starts to laugh, helping her know that things would be okay. She’ll start to properly heal from the inside out. The first step is the most important, and though she probably should have taken it months ago, she’s taking that step today...and that’s what counts.

Chapter Text

Bernie steps into her daughter’s home, exhausted. A brown paper bag in her hand, cornflower blue scrubs covering her frame. She’s greeted by Owen, who is making his rounds on the ground floor. She offers him a soft smile when he nears her. “Good patrol, Private Anand, carry on.” She clears her throat, slowly taking off her shoes, glad when the boy walks away. Sian had retrieved Marcus from the hospital and offered her a ride, but she insisted on taking a ride share instead. She needed the time alone.

 

Serena moves to the entryway of the kitchen, looking to her wife at the end of the vestibule. She moves closer to her, wrapping her arms around her in a tender embrace once she reaches her. Serena closes her eyes, knowing her wife wouldn’t be home if things didn’t go well. “Would you like some breakfast?”

 

“Just a coffee and toast.” She answers weakly, obviously spent. Bernie glances down when her wife takes her hand, gently pulling her toward the kitchen. “I uh...I’ll clean up the master bath in a bit-”

 

“I’ve already done it.” Serena swallows, her voice low, “I couldn’t exactly sleep.”

 

Bernie nods a little, not really wanting to speak more about it. “I spoke with Annette Vickers before I left. She isn’t sectioning her, but she is going to ask that she stay for treatment.” Bernie swallows, “but if she shows too much resistance, then she will.” She clears her throat, seeing Cole trying to teach Lane how to play chess at the kitchen table, since it was his newest interest. 

 

“How’s Mum?” Though Sian tried her best to keep the boys occupied, Cole’s simple lie that he had to use the toilet gave him an opportunity to explore the area his grandfather’s new wife was attempting to keep him from. Sobbing coming from his mother’s room, led to the master bath. His Nan on her hands and knees, attempting to clean the patches of tile floor. His father’s straight edge razor in the sink. He understood, very quickly, what had occurred there.

 

“Fine.” Bernie nods, “she’s doing very well.”

 

Cole watches his Gran for a moment, knowing there’s more to the story. “Can we visit her?”

 

“Cole, we’ll speak about this later.” Serena warns gently, her eyes quickly darting to Lane before looking back to her eldest grandson. She exhales slowly, looking at her wife again, “why don’t you have a rest in the lounge? Lavinia’s watching that video you enjoy so much.”

 

“Baby Einstein?” Lane giggles a little, “but that’s for babies.”

 

“You should give it a shot sometime.” Bernie smiles cheekily toward him before glancing back to her wife, bouncing on her toes for effect. “The water one or the-”

 

“It’s a newer one, I believe. One about the seasons.” Serena places a reassuring hand on her wife’s lower back, “but if you’d rather watch the water one, I’m certain Lavinia wouldn’t mind. Though, if she watches this longer, I’m sure she’ll learn it like she has the other ones.”

 

“She talks to the water one. I like to hear her converse with the various stuffed animals that show up.” Bernie explains, “she gets very excited.”

 

“As do you.” Serena shakes her head a little, “go on. I’ll bring you coffee and toast-”

 

“I think Mum made blueberry scones if you’d like one of those instead.” Cole licks his lips, “they were for yesterday. After dinner tea, but...we never really got to it.” He sighs softly, then turns over his king piece. “Sorry, Laney, I’m not really feeling it anymore.”

 

“I didn’t know what I was doing anyway, so it’s fine.” Lane notices his brother’s smile and it relaxes him a little. “Auntie Sian said Mum was sick and...needed to go to hospital, but...I don’t remember her being sick. I remember her being upset.” He pauses, “did I miss something?”

 

Bernie sighs a little, setting the brown paper bag, that is still in her hand, onto the kitchen island. She glances to her wife before moving over to the kitchen table. “Your Auntie Sian isn’t incorrect.” Bernie lowers herself in a chair, sitting opposite the boys, “your mother hasn’t been feeling well for a while, and I think you know that.” She notices Cole actively trying to restrain himself from blurting anything out, knowing it wouldn’t help anything. 

 

Serena carries a mug of coffee and a blueberry scone over to her wife, then takes a seat next to her. “Your mother...”

 

“Did she want to die?” Lane asks softly, swallowing.

 

“No one wants to die, Lane. People just think they do because there’s another source of pain or longing that they can’t repair on their own or...possibly simply don’t know where to start.” Serena continues, “however, your mother is receiving the treatment she needs...and we’re going to ensure that things are better when she arrives home.”

 

“Is it because of the picture of Dad?” Lane continues, pulling over the wooden box that the chess pieces were usually held in. He slowly starts to put the pieces away, “does she hate him that much?”

 

“Not hate. She loved him that much.” Cole shakes his head, “misses him so much that she wishes she could be where he is.” He shrugs, swallowing, “wherever that might be. I get it.” When it earns the gazes of his grandparents, he continues, “I’m not suicidal, I just understand what she might be going through. I’m able to display empathy, believe it or not.”

 

“But...suicide is bad, isn’t it?” Lane seems slightly alarmed, still putting the pieces away.

 

“I don’t know if bad is the word I’d select.” Serena watches him, “My therapist once told me that, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” She nods a little, “because I’d...I’d considered it. Not for long, but...I gave it a think and I...” Serena glances over to Bernie, “I realized there were other people who...meant a great deal to me that I didn’t want to upset.”

 

“Don’t we mean a lot to Mum?”

 

“You’re thinking of this as a ‘ what about me’ situation, Laney. It isn’t like that.” Cole shakes his head, “it isn’t about you, or me, or any of us. It’s about Mum feeling so...lost in her own mind that she saw no other option. She knew the Grands would take care of us, no matter what, she knew we’d be fine.”

 

“But...” Lane swallows, shaking his head, “but I need Mum.”

 

“We all need your mother, but we need her safe and healthy...and happy.” Serena nods, then tilts her head to the side as she leans back in the chair a little, looking toward the vestibule, “Owen’s stopped his roaming.”

 

Closing the wooden box, Lane stands, “I’ll go and find him.” Honestly, anything to get away from this incredibly depressing, and confusing, conversation. He gives one last glance around the table before slowly moving to the hall.

 

Cole leans forward, folding his arms on the table. “I’m betting that if I look in that brown bag, I’m going to see the shirt and trousers you were wearing yesterday, but they’ll be covered in blood.” He watches his Gran, who has remained silent during their discussion. “Are you okay, Gran?”

 

“Yeah, of course.” Bernie flashes him a soft smile, “I’m just tired.”

 

“Ditto. I didn’t sleep last night either.” Cole shakes his head, “I know Nan didn’t.” He stands, pushing his chair in after stepping around it, “so we have the three of us, a couple of mad twins, and an insanely adorable baby to tend to.” He shrugs, “we can take turns, if you want.”

 

“What do you know about taking care of a baby?” Serena folds her arms, leaning back in her seat. Her tone is in jest, but she kind of means her question at the same time.

 

“I can change her, I know how to feed her, I know how to make her laugh...and I’m a damn good cuddler.” Cole answers matter-of-factly, earning a soft chortle from his Gran, “Lane can watch over Owen for the most part. He might need a little help here and there, but...” He shrugs, “at least it gives us all time to sleep in shifts.”

 

“I don’t even know why we bother coming over then, Cole can run the whole house.” Bernie takes a sip of her coffee.

 

“I say it in case you guys want to go and visit Mum tomorrow or...whenever she’s able to have visitors.” He explains, “no need to phone Grandad and Auntie Sian or anyone. I don’t want to bother anybody.” Cole watches his grandparents, “your focus needs to be there and not here right now. I get that. Owen isn’t going to care, he just keeps asking where Mum is, we can handle that...and if we can’t, we’ll figure it out.”

 

“Thank you, Cole. That’s very considerate of you.” Serena smiles proudly, leaning her head against the side of Bernie’s arm, watching as the boy leaves the room. She gently rubs a hand across her wife’s back, “that boy is too smart for his own good.”

 

Bernie hums, “no, he’s the best of us.” She pauses, “and I mean all of us. Me and you, Charlotte and Ryan. Cole was able to take the best parts of all of us and adapt them to his own needs.” Bernie takes another bite of her scone, “to make his own personality...his own thought process.”

 

“He’s our brilliant boy.” Serena nods, then lets the space between them fall silent for a moment, “I just want to hold onto you.”

 

“Well, how about we let the boy do what he says he can do.” Bernie takes one last sip of coffee, finishing the mug off and setting it aside. “Two of us rest while he keeps an eye on Lavinia and the twins.” She shrugs, “we’ll ask if we can nap in his bed. I don’t...I don’t feel right using Charlotte’s.” Bernie turns her face to get a better look at her wife. She leans in, kissing Serena’s lips tenderly.

 

“Of course.” Serena whispers against her lips, taking another kiss before getting up from the table to let her grandson know of their plans.

Chapter Text

Cameron walks the halls of Perry ward, Holby City’s psychiatric unit, a duffel bag in his hand. It needed to be checked at the front desk and the shoulder strap had been removed. Two-thirteen was a personal room, quarters reserved for high profile patients who didn’t want to be seen going into a private facility, where paparazzi were notorious for sitting outside. He knocks on the door frame of the open door before stepping inside, seeing his sister resting in the hospital bed. She’s still so pale, her wrists wrapped in multiple layers of gauze, an IV leading to the back of her hand. He swallows, not expecting this. Cameron just stands there, watching her a moment.

 

Feeling a presence in her room, Charlotte begins to groggily open her eyes, expecting to see a nurse or someone come to take her vitals or administer more medication, she hasn’t really been out of bed. She smiles weakly, “Cammy.” 

 

“Hey.” He offers her a soft smile, never terribly comfortable in this ward. He’s always afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing, accidentally upsetting a patient. Luckily, Cameron has only had to come here a few times for follow up care with certain patients. “Um...I brought you some clothes. Dad said they were only letting you have your gown, so Morven phoned to see if there was anything else.” He steps closer, putting the bag onto the bed.

 

When it doesn’t appear like he’s about to do anything else except stare at her, Charlotte motions to the bag, “if you wouldn’t mind.”

 

“Oh...yeah.” Cam licks his lips, unzipping the dusk rose colored bag, pulling out a couple pairs of sweatpants sans drawstrings and cotton t-shirts, approved undergarments, and a sweatshirt with the hospital logo on it. “I...I might have borrowed this one.” He smiles softly to his sister.

 

“Thanks.” Char swallows, adjusting her position in the bed and slowly lifting the head of the bed to get a better look at him. “Really, I just...want to put it on now. This thing is so damn...” She sighs, “I keep asking for a breast pump, but I don’t think they...believe that I’m breastfeeding.” Char smiles sadly, her voice slurring a bit, “I don’t know what else I’d want a breast pump for...some sort of sexual gratification, maybe? I've had to do my best at milking myself just to relieve the pressure a little.”

 

“I’ll speak with them.” He pauses, “I can talk with them now and take milk with me to give to Mum and Serena for the baby.” Cam doesn’t wait for her to respond, venturing back out to the hall and desk to have a word.

 

Charlotte leans forward, smiling gently at the things that were offered. She clears her throat, knowing her head only feels foggy from, what she believes, is probably the lingering effects of a sedative. If not the active effects of a sedative coursing through her veins. It’s hard to use one’s hands without moving one’s wrists, if not impossible. She moans softly, trying to just pull things closer, finally needing to stop, wrists up. Charlotte does her best not to cry from the pain.

 

“Hey, they said they'll bring one in shortly.” Cam sees his sister sitting up more, appearing uncomfortable. “Um...I can...do you need help?”

 

“I just...I don’t want staff to ignore my requests. It’s not like I asked for a knife set or an assortment of good hanging ropes.” Charlotte covers for herself, “I’ve...” She sighs, calming a bit, “I’m not about to talk about my tits with you, so...let’s just say I’m sore.”

 

“I understand.” Cameron smirks softly, taking a seat at the end of the bed. “Listen, Char-”

 

“If you’re about to get all sentimental on me, don’t...please.” Charlotte licks her lips, “I-I did something stupid that I don’t even remember doing and...I need to take responsibility for my own behavior...and actions. My wrists hurt like hell, but it’s my fault. I need to...deal with the repercussions of...”

 

“Yeah.” Cam whispers, then clears his throat, speaking clearly, “but you don’t need to punish yourself for that.” He looks over toward her, “you’re sick, Char. Punishing yourself does not make your illness go away, it only perpetuates your pain.”

 

“Did that sound deep in your head?”

 

He pauses, “maybe.”

 

Char chortles lightly to herself, “they aren’t quite ready for me to get up yet. Which...is fine by me, honestly. Group sessions aren’t exactly my thing.”

 

“They might be. You never tried.” Cam smirks slightly, “might be the Duchess of the group session. Might meet friends.”

 

“Shut up.” Her tone sounds dry, but amused.

 

He laughs a little, lying back, still across the foot of the bed. “Just so you know, I’d be pretty...pissed if you had succeeded.” Cameron turns to his side to face her, “seriously...you’ve come close to death how many times now, and...you’d do yourself in? Not exactly fair to the cosmos, is it?”

 

“Fuck the cosmos.” Charlotte smirks, “I control my destiny.”

 

“Whenever you put your mind to something, you always dive in with both feet.” Cam continues to watch his younger sister, “reckon that’s why our parents always thought you’d be the surgeon and not me. Delicate, yet brash...stubborn. You’d have made a much better doctor.”

 

“Well, I...took another path.”

 

“Or you let someone else dictate your path.”

 

“Yeah.” Char nods, “and I’m not...regretful in the least. My children are brilliant and...beautiful. I wouldn’t give them up for anything.” She tilts her head with she hears a young nurse, full of remorse, knock at the door frame. The younger woman apologizes a few times, offering a mechanical breast pump, which Charlotte happily accepts. “Fantastic.” She whispers once the young woman leaves, glad they included small bags as well.

 

“Are you going to do that in front of me?” Cameron snarls his lip. He doesn’t care, only wanting to give his sister a hard time.

 

“Avert your eyes if you’re so triggered.” Charlotte waits for her brother to turn over before she removes her hospital gown. It doesn’t take her much to figure out the machine before she begins using it, sighing with relief. “I was going to ask Mum or Serena if they could bring my manual pump, but...I don’t think I’d be able to do it with these stupid...my wrists.”

 

“You’d figure it out.” Cam continues, his back still to his sister. “You know, Char, I’m really proud of you for getting help. I know it probably wasn’t easy, but...I am. I’m proud to call myself your brother.”

 

The statement takes Charlotte by surprise and she stares at the man’s back, not at any one thing in particular, but just in his general direction. “Thank you, Cammy, that means a lot to me.” She lets the room grow quiet for a moment before she playfully mumbles, “sappy bastard.”

 

Cameron grins proudly, knowing he had probably touched a nerve within his sister for her to tease him in return. Just like Mum , he thinks. If there was any time for his family to pull together, this was it. He will put his foot down more often and demand togetherness. No, he thinks, comes off too strong. Ask politely for togetherness, maybe.

Chapter Text

Bernie carries bath towels to the upstairs linen closet. Opening the door to delicately place them inside. Upon closing, she turns around to head back down the stairs, but is stopped when she’s certain she hears sniffling from someone crying. Deciding to follow it, Bernie realizes the door to her daughter’s bedroom is slightly ajar. She slowly pushes it open more, wanting to see what lies ahead.

 

Guinevere sits at the foot of her aunt’s bed, absently rubbing over the comforter covering the impeccably made bed. Everything within her is screaming for her to break something, punch something, but she knows she couldn’t possibly, especially not now. She doesn’t hear the door open or anything of the sort, only becoming aware that she isn’t alone when someone sits next to her on the bed. “Gran,” She swallows, quickly wiping her cheeks with the back of a hand, “I-I know you probably didn’t want anyone in here-”

 

“I never said that.” Bernie watches the teenager, “far from it. I just...can’t come in here to sleep, is all. Nan and I have set up shop in Lavinia’s room with the larger inflatable after moving a few things around. Works out better for us, honestly.” She smiles softly, “I’m sure you have a lot of...pent up emotions.”

 

“Auntie Char usually helps me with that.” Gwen replies quietly, “helps me with boys or girls...whoever.” She shrugs, “It isn’t a big deal, it’s just...” The teenager licks her lips in thought, “I don’t understand why she did it.” She pauses, “or maybe I do and that...makes me crazy too. Am I crazy?”

 

“We all are, in our own ways.” Bernie leans closer to her, nudging her gently with her upper arm, “you’re the investigator here not me.”

 

“Uncle Ry died and she was fine...and then Vinnie came home and...you and Nan went on holiday and...” Gwen shakes her head, “has it just been festering within her? The-the sorrow of Uncle Ry’s death?” She stands abruptly, beginning to pace slowly, “there was...she always has a Shakespeare quote for-for everything and...” Gwen bites her lip, “I can’t think of-”

 

“Um...there was one she said recently about...” Bernie bites her lip in thought, “how crying makes light the depth of grief.” She exhales, “I’m probably getting that wrong.”

 

“It sounds about right.” She stops her pacing, looking to her Gran, “it means she was holding all of that in because she didn’t want it to seem like Uncle Ry’s death didn’t mean anything to her...when it meant the most.” Gwen licks her lips, “not that...not that it didn’t mean anything to Cole or the twins...or even Vinnie when she’s older, but...I don’t know. I don’t know how to relate with what she’s feeling.”

 

“You don’t need to.”

 

“But I want to. I need to...understand her reasons.”

 

“No, you don’t, Guinevere.” Bernie watches the teenager, knowing this is probably a byproduct of having parents that require things to make sense. “Not everything needs to have a reason. Not everything needs a solution. Sometimes things just... are.

 

Gwen bites the corner of her mouth, “I don’t understand.”

 

“I know. I don’t either.” Bernie shakes her head, “I’ve never been so broken that I feel the only way to fix the situation is to take myself out of the equation. I hope I never feel that way.” She pauses, “Serena and I have already agreed that we’re going out like Thelma and Louise.” Bernie flashes an amused smirk.

 

“Who are Thelma and Louise?”

 

Her smirk quickly fades, “Doesn’t matter. What matters is that we support Charlotte’s recovery.” Bernie maintains a calm demeanor, “she’s already been there just over a week, Cameron has been bringing us her milk for Lavinia, the boys write her letters and color or paint pictures.” Bernie offers, using her hand a little as she speaks, “I’m certain she’d love to receive one from you too.”

 

“Is she allowed to have photos as well?” Gwen offers, “Um...I don’t want to send her anything that would upset her.”

 

“As long as it isn’t of your Uncle Ryan, I’m sure you’d be fine.”

 

“Cole said that’s what set her off.” The teenager motions to the picture of Charlotte and Ryan, still leaning against the head of the bed against the pillows. “That this was Auntie Sian’s fault, but...he didn’t seem angry with her.”

 

“No blame should be cast upon anyone.” Bernie shakes her head.

 

“So Cole was lying?”

 

“I didn’t say that either.”

 

“Cole wouldn’t lie about that. He likes Auntie Sian.” Gwen pushes a hand through her hair, tucking it behind her ear, “and I like Auntie Sian...and Uncle Marcus. I know they wouldn’t do anything to intentionally hurt anyone.” She bites her lip again, looking back to the picture, “they look really happy there.”

 

Bernie nods a little, “Charlotte isn’t able to deal with pictures of she and Ryan at the moment...and that’s really what it came down to.”

 

“In-In her book, the first one, she said that Uncle Ryan was her savior. A light in the darkness.” Gwen swallows, “maybe she’s afraid of the dark.”

 

“I think that’s a good, metaphorical way to look at it.” Bernie pauses, “you said her first book, has the second released?”

 

“This morning.” Gwen nods, “it went hand in hand with an article I found.” She returns to her seat next to her Gran, removing her mobile from her pocket. Guinevere begins to scroll through the news articles, finding the one she saw this morning, “ Author Charlotte Wolfe Admitted to Hospital with Self-Inflicted Wounds .” Gwen offers her mobile to her grandmother for the woman to read the story, “that’s...that’s how I found out. I think my parents were too afraid to tell me, but...I knew something was amiss with how Dad has been acting.”

 

“I’m sorry you found out this way.” Bernie reads the article quickly, “this makes it seem like she’s on life support.”

 

“Is she?”

 

“No.” She offers the mobile back to her granddaughter, “just staying for some in-patient treatment with her therapist for a bit. Nothing terribly...worrisome. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. According to Cameron, she’s doing very well.”

 

Gwen leans down a little to better see her Gran’s face, “you haven’t gone to see her?”

 

Flashes of the night she found her daughter in the bath begin to fill Bernie’s mind as she slowly begins to shake her head negatively, “she shouldn’t be there for that long. I’m more than happy to wait for her to return home.”

 

She knows that isn’t like this woman to just not go to see her daughter. Guinevere leans over, gently wrapping her arms around her Gran, “we can go together if you’d like.” She swallows, “Cole is...in the same boat as you.” She studies the woman, biting her lip as she does, “are you afraid to see her?”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

 

“Afraid of...making her have a setback or something.” Gwen offers, not seeing a response. She knows she’s correct and sits straight up again. “I doubt that would happen...and if it did, she’s in the best place for it.” Gwen continues to hold onto her grandmother. “Just...think about it. Even if I don’t go, you and Nan can go. Cole and I can hold things down here.”

 

Bernie leans her cheek against the top of Guinevere’s head, “Cole has already offered the same. I’ll speak with Serena about it.” She swallows, the unknown of the situation filling her with trepidation. “If-if Serena wants to go, would you like to go with her in my stead?” 

 

“You need to be the one to see her before the rest of us, Gran. I think it would do you and Auntie Char, even Nan, some good.” Guinevere sits up again, “I can deal with letters and waiting, but...it’s important that she see you .” She swallows, “you’re her rock, whether you like to think of yourself that way or not, it’s what you are to her...you and Nan.”

 

Standing after a moment of quiet between the two, Bernie looks down to her granddaughter, “thanks, Gwennie.”

 

“Don’t mention it.” Gwen winks, “also, maybe, you might want to try reading her first book. It isn’t as bad as you think it is.” She pauses, “even has a celebrity narrator, I think, if you get the audio version.” The teenager stands as well, leading her grandmother to the hall, “I’ll get started on the second.”

 

“See that you do.” Bernie watches her walk off. She takes another look into the darkened room of her daughter before closing the door behind herself.

Chapter Text

Bernie carries a small stack of letters and pictures under her arm, her wife walking alongside of her. Before walking into the room she knew to be her daughter’s, the pair is stopped and directed to the sitting area. Stepping through the threshold, she feels a gentle nudge against her arm from Serena, who points toward a woman staring through the window. “Char.”

 

Charlotte turns slowly, her heavy lidded eyes attempt to focus on who is calling for her. She smiles a little, her wrists still heavily wrapped in gauze and tape bandages. Moving to the pair, she weakly wraps an arm around each woman, pulling them in for a group hug.

 

Serena absently rubs her hand across the younger woman’s back. “It is so good to see you.” She murmurs into her ear, when the young woman lets them go a bit, she brings her hand from Charlotte’s back to brush a piece of hair from her eyes that had fallen from her tied back hair.

 

“We can...sit, if you want.” Char sweeps her hand out next to her, her words seem a bit cloudy. 

 

“Of course.” Serena follows her lead, glancing quickly to Bernie who otherwise has stayed virtually silent thus far. “Cameron was saying they were giving you a bit of a time when you first arrived.” She takes a seat at a table at the far end of the room, pulling Bernie with her a bit, Charlotte sitting opposite them. “I hope that’s gotten better.”

 

Charlotte nods a little, “One of the nurses brought a newspaper in for me to sign a couple days after I got here. I didn’t even know they still made newspapers.” She swallows, unable to really focus, “then a few brought my book in. I didn’t know they were releasing the second one so soon. I thought...I thought I had more time.”

 

“I reckon they’re probably capitalizing on the news, unfortunately.”

 

“They’re American, I wouldn’t put anything past them.” Char brings a hand up to her mouth when she feels herself starting to drool. “Are you thirsty? I can have them bring you tea.”

 

Feeling a nudge in her side, Bernie sets the stack of papers she had under her arm onto the table top. “These are from the children, Gwennie included.” Her voice wavers ever so slightly as she leans back in the chair, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this.” She rises from her seat, quickly escaping from the room through the open doorway.

 

“Damn it.” Serena mutters under her breath, remaining seated.

 

Staring toward the door her mother had just left through, Charlotte slowly glances to the woman across from her, “Is she okay?”

 

“This is all a bit difficult for her.” Serena leans forward a little, “but don’t mind your mother. Have a look at what we brought you. I think Guinevere made sure to include photos this time. Joint effort between her and Cole. Partners in crime, as they often are.”

 

Charlotte shakes her head negatively, “Mum was upset.”

 

“She...wasn’t too keen on coming in the first place. Seeing you here, like this, is quite a bit to take in for anyone.” Serena attempts to diffuse the situation, “think of the last time she saw you, before this.” She sighs softly, “she doesn’t mean anything by her behavior, she just...she misses you dearly.”

 

The younger woman blinks heavily, “I don’t feel like myself anymore.” She shrugs a little, “I think...I think I might talk to Vickers.” Char lifts her head, her eyes meeting that of Serena’s, “I’ve learned my lesson.” She swallows, her mouth suddenly dry from the various medications running through her system, “even if...you or Mum...even if one of you sees to it that I take my meds so that...I don’t forget or neglect.”

 

“I-We could do that. Whatever helps you, darling.” Serena reaches across, gently placing her hand over Charlotte’s as it rests on the tabletop. “We can sort pills, see to it that you have what you need, when you need it.” She smiles ever so slightly, “of course. We already do that for ourselves.”

 

Charlotte nods again, turning her hand with the palm up to better hold Serena’s. “I think they’re giving me too much. Makes it easier for them...to make sure I’m easier to manage.” She tries swallowing again, her words still very slurred, “and I miss my children...so much. I...I wanted to cry while I pumped today, but...my body just didn’t let me.”

 

“Do you have a time frame for when you want to leave?”

 

“Soon?” Charlotte pauses, “very soon.”

 

“You got it.” A grin begins so spread across Serena’s face, “and, let me guess, you’d like it to be a surprise.”

 

Charlotte nods a little, “I love to surprise people.” She starts to look around the room, blinking heavily. “I just feel...so tired...drained. All the time.”

 

“I’ll talk with Annette.” Serena nods, “in the meantime, how about I help you get back to your room for you to have a lie down?” Seeing the weak nod from the young woman, she gathers the mail under her arm, while holding Charlotte’s hand and walking along with her.

 

“You’ll find Mum? Make sure she’s okay?” Charlotte weakly asks, “bet she went for a fag.” She starts to smile.

 

“You leave her to me.” Serena makes quick work getting the young woman settled in her room, even taking a moment to tuck her in and press a kiss against her brow. Leaving the room, Serena removes her mobile from her pocket and attempts to phone her wife to no avail. She starts to think back to what her stepdaughter had said about what the woman would probably want to relieve stress.

 

Bernie takes a long drag of her cigarette, sitting atop some duct work on the Holby City Hospital roof, looking at the hustle and bustle below at the main entrance. She hears the door open, but doesn’t turn her head. Just knowing it would be her wife, “you cut that short.”

 

“Not as short as you did.” Serena walks closer to her, looking out in the same direction she is.

 

“I’ve noticed a few professional news photographers just over there.” Bernie motions with a general wave of her hand with the cigarette in it. When her wife quickly takes the cigarette from her hand, she scowls over toward her, “What was that for?”

 

“You’re still recovering from a TBI, Berenice. Last thing you need is this. I haven’t the foggiest how you got a hold of it in the first place.” She takes a drag of the cigarette herself. “Charlotte grew tired and I helped her to her room.”

 

“She’s vastly over-medicated.” Bernie folds her arms over her chest, swallowing. “That’s what...I just...” Her thoughts are scattered, making it hard to find the words she wants to say. “Do you plan to have words with Annette Vickers or are you leaving that to me?”

 

“I’ll do it, darling.” Serena answers gently, “in what little time we spoke, Charlotte was mostly worried about you. Believe it or not.” She glances over toward her wife, “not to mention she already knows she’s being over-medicated. Something tells me Annette doesn’t know that, though.”

 

“How wouldn’t she know?” Bernie’s voice raises with incredulousness. “All I had to do was see her face and I knew, when she opened her mouth...” She focuses on the parking lot below, not completing her sentence, “I thought...I thought seeing her in hospital just after surgery was...” Bernie licks her lips, “but that...seeing hospital staff rob her of her own personality, that has been the worst of all this.”

 

“No, it isn’t.” Serena wraps her free hand around her wife’s waist, “I know you’re hurting too. Even if you won’t admit it, I can tell. It’s understandable.”

 

Bernie’s chin begins to dimple, her eyes growing damp, “I thought she was dead.” Her tears fall freely, knowing she and her wife are the only people currently on the roof, “I was afraid to even take her pulse.” She trails, everything just coming to a head for her. She never cries in front of people, even her wife, but the stress of it all...it’s all just too much to contain anymore.

 

“I know.” Serena finishes the cigarette, tossing it to her feet and using the toe of her shoe to stub it out. She wraps both arms around her wife more, holding the blonde tenderly. Serena closes her eyes in their embrace, gently rubbing her hand over Bernie’s back. She could probably count on one hand the amount of times she’s seen Berenice Wolfe cry. “It’s over now, Bernie. Everything is getting back to where it should be.”

 

“She needs to be home.” Bernie whispers, starting to calm herself down.

 

“The only one that makes that decision is Charlotte.” Serena isn’t planning on letting the secret out, especially when it brings her stepdaughter so much joy to have it. When her wife raises her head, Serena leans in, planting a tender kiss to her lips. “When she does, we’ll do whatever she needs us to do. Agreed?” She receives a nod from her wife, lifting her hands to wipe Bernie’s tears from her face. “How about you text Cole or Guinevere, see what they’d like for dinner?”

 

“Good idea.” A soft smirk forms in the corner of Bernie’s mouth, “thank you for always being my voice of reason.”

 

“That’s what wives do for one another.” Serena winks, hearing her wife’s soft chuckle before stealing one last chaste kiss as they walk toward the roof access door.

Chapter Text

“Wolfeboy!” Guinevere opens the bedroom door of her cousin and best friend, “have you started reading this yet?” She notices he’s at his large-ish desk set up, Lavinia in his arm. “What are you doing?”

 

“Vinnie and I are streaming.” Cole smirks, “I think she likes the colors...maybe even the zombies.” He shrugs, turning his head to the side when he hears his cousin walk closer to him, “what has you so excited?” Their grandparents had gone to visit his mother and left them in charge of the younger three.

 

“The book, have you started reading it?” When he doesn’t respond, Gwen continues, reading a portion from the book, “ I was so in love, or what I thought was love. It was the idea of what I thought love was. His name was Anders Hero and he was the most handsome man I had ever seen when I met him. A dear friend of my father, but he was about ten years younger than him. Our courtship started as playful flirting, occasional dinner dates.”

 

Cole raises an eyebrow, “I’m shocked.” His disposition is generally uncaring. When Lavinia begins to gurgle to the actions of the screen, Cole nods, “I was going to say that. We should use the axe on that one.”

 

“Cole!”

 

“What do you want me to say, Gwennie?” Cole raises an eyebrow, “I’m so glad my mother referred to my biological father by name when she could have done it ten years ago?”

 

“My mother had recently informed my father that she was, in fact, a lesbian and engaged in a sort of second life during her time in the military. A woman Mum introduced us to as an RAMC friend without a place to go during the Christmas holiday while she was home, was actually her partner. My brother and I knew there was something going on between them though. They would give one another certain looks and smirks, heart eyes if you will. My father was the only one in the dark. When he was brought to the light, it crushed him. He lost all sense of who he was. His twenty-five year marriage was, to him, built on lies. Deep down, I think, Mum cared for him. She never wanted to hurt him or make him feel abandoned, that’s why she continued to leave him in the dark. However, that’s their story to tell.” Guinevere smirks a little, “Like....Auntie Char talks about everything, Cole.”

 

There was never really any talk of the relationship between his Gran and Grandad before he was born, Cole sighs softly, “poor Marcus.” He pauses his game, ending his streaming transmission. Cole stands from his office chair, moving over to the bed. He lies his sister down, taking a seat next to her. Cole then looks to Gwen, “keep going.”

 

Gwen nods a little, taking a seat at the end of the bed, “Anders and I began properly dating before my mother came out. The first dinner after she returned home from hospital after getting blown back to Wyvern from Kabul, my father had asked me how things were going with Anders. My mother looked shocked that my father would be so calm that I was dating his friend. She never liked him, and it wasn’t just because of the age difference between him and myself, a good twenty years.” Guinevere curls her lip, whispering, “gross.”

 

Cole giggles a little, “it kinda is.” He gently rubs Lavinia’s belly with his finger as she gurgles.

 

“Why do men do that? Why go for someone young enough to be their daughter?” Guinevere looks to Cole, “can you please answer that question on behalf of all men?” She smiles, not actually meaning her question.

 

“Old men are gross.”

 

“Thank you.” Gwen turns back to her mobile, scrolling a little before she continues reading, “when the truth about my mother came out and my father was left devastated, I decided, foolishly, that I would be the wife she never was. I’d show her that I had the capability. I quickly realized I was more like my mother than I originally thought.”

 

Cole furrows his brow, tilting his head to the side, “did my mother take on a lesbian lover and hide her from my biological father?”

 

“I hadn’t taken into account that traditional wifely duties were nothing more except a control mechanism put in place by men. I was expected to take care of the chores at home, as well as every one of my partner’s sexual whims.” Gwen makes a disgusted face, lifting her gaze, “you want me to keep going?”

 

“Does she go into the...sexual stuff?”

 

Gwen looks down at her mobile, scrolling, “a little bit, hold on.” She finally reaches a part that seems a bit more tame, “Okay.” Gwen swallows, “ he arrived home after a long day of work and demanded a brandy. We didn’t have brandy. We never had brandy. The tone of his voice made me nervous, his muscles were massive then, intimidating. ‘Bring me a brandy, woman,’ he barked. I remember my hands shaking and I clasped them in front of me. ‘We haven’t any. What about a scotch?’ My tone was timid, my body language closed. He could tell I was afraid. Anders stood from his leather rocking recliner with a smirk on his face, ‘I don’t want scotch. I said brandy.’ I licked my lips, meeting his eyes. ‘Well, you’re going to keep wanting because we don’t have any.’ 

 

The palm of his hand smacked against my cheek. It was the very first time he hit me. There was no regret, there were no apologies. Anders backed me up against the counters, a hand around my neck. He would teach me what happened to those that defied him and thought they could get away with it.” Gwen stops, swallowing, “Um...he uh...”

 

He violated her.” Cole finishes the thought, speaking softly as he nods. He exhales slowly, “if he was alive-”

 

“Yeah. I’d kill him too.” Guinevere nods, “um...I can...I can skip over that-” When she notices her cousin nod, Gwen scrolls a bit more, “Every time he didn’t like his meal, I received a bruise, or worse. I quickly learned to cook. I’d ask him to order cookbooks so I could get ideas, but I studied them like a voracious university student. My life depended on it.

 

I couldn’t contact my family. Anders had taken and disabled my mobile not long after I had moved in with him, his mobile was the only one of use and I was not permitted to use it under any circumstances. There were locks and silent alarms on the windows and doors leading outside, as well as a silent alarm on the desktop computer located in his office. I found the last one out the hard way, but I won’t go into that. I’m certain you can draw your own conclusions.

 

He wanted children, as did I, but he only wanted a son. ‘If it is a girl, it won’t be’. It terrified me. I missed my menses, but chalked it up to stress and a lack of proper nutrition, since I was only permitted to eat so much at certain times. Something within me just knew though. The morning sickness that lasted throughout the day I had to hide, the instinctual guarding of my midsection during beatings. I knew he had gotten me pregnant.

 

Anders would go in bursts where he’d be loving and gentle, to where he was abusive physically, mentally, and emotionally. My father never once asked to see me. My mother would phone, but was unaware I had no mobile, and believed my lack of response was due to the parting of our last meeting. No information about my general well being ever leaked out. Not until Anders insisted we go together to the market. It was different, I was excited. I had given some thought about attending university. He had encouraged it when he was in one of his better moods the day previous.

 

En route to the grocery, I had brought it up to him. I had an excited smile on my face when going over how I could do my starter courses at home and go to a physical, brick and mortar university once I was complete with those. He didn’t like that. I never knew what I would be met with day after day. I’d find out a cause later on, but it was just his personality at that time. Anders had driven into oncoming traffic, saw to it that my side would take the brunt of the impact. He found delight in seeing me injured.

 

I was rushed to Holby City Hospital. A hospital that, now, is all too familiar to my family, but I was generally unaware of it at the time. I had met my savior in one Serena Wendy Campbell, and for the most part, my imprisonment was over. I was finally free.” Guinevere grins broadly, “good going, Nan.” She mumbles under her breath, lifting her head to see her cousin in front of her. He isn’t upset, but downcast. “Hey, you alright?”

 

“Yeah.” Cole nods a little, “I just...I never really knew how bad it was for her.” He answers quietly, “I mean, I had an idea...because she wouldn’t just completely skim over that portion of her life in the first book if it didn’t still bother her. It was too new then.” Cole sighs, lifting his sister into his arms more for her to get a bit more comfortable when she starts to squirm, “Anders Hero was a monster. He got it honestly from his father. I...I think sometimes...what if that’s hereditary?” He pauses, “I already killed a man, Gwennie. What if I turn into a monster just like they did?”

 

“You won’t.” Gwen shakes her head, “look at you now. Vinnie adores you. Mrs. Hero...Mrs. Hero is what your mother would have been if Nan hadn’t saved her from that life, Cole. Oppressed...and thinking that being abused was normal behavior in a partner.” She holds up her mobile, tossing it to the side, “your Mum’s story doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot. Hell, the portion with her seeing Nan again doesn't even end there.”

 

A quiet falls between them, his sister happily gurgling and sucking on her fist. “You’re right.” Cole nods a little, a grin starting to spread across his face. “So...let’s do something to get our minds off of...” He shrugs, “stuff.”

 

“I’m intrigued.” Gwen raises an eyebrow, watching him.

 

“It’s going to be Vinnie’s first Halloween...and no one seems to...” Cole shrugs, “let’s just...give her and the twins the best Halloween. What do you think?”

 

“I think you have good ideas sometimes, Wolfeboy. Just make sure to run her fancy dress by me before you purchase one.” Gwen reaches over, carefully taking Lavinia from his lap, “she’s getting hungry. I’ll get her a bottle.” She pauses, “don’t need you dressing her up like Gran.”

 

Cole follows behind his cousin as she leaves the room, “a little soldier would be cute!” He argues, “what about just something simple? Like...an avocado.” When she stops in her tracks, giving him a disappointed scowl, he shrugs, “It’s just a thought.”

 

“Does Lavinia look like an avocado to you?” Gwen shakes her head, sighing softly as she makes her way to the kitchen. “What about a bat?”

 

He pauses, considering her suggestion as he watches her move around the space, “a bat?”

 

“Yeah, they’re...often tied to Halloween.” She shrugs, holding Lavinia in one arm while she tugs open the fridge with the other. “I think my parents are going to a party with some of my Dad’s friends.” Gwen pauses, “though I’m not sure about that. Mum’s been trying to talk him out of it. Either way, I’ll come over.”

 

“Why is Aunt Greta talking him out of going?” Cole furrows his brow.

 

“Um.” Guinevere sighs softly, “she said it didn’t feel right with Auntie Char in hospital.”

 

“Mum would want them to go though.”

 

“You and I know that, but...I also don’t think my Mum wants to go in general. She just needed a reason and she offered Auntie Char as said reason.” Gwen looks over toward him, using the bottle warmer for Lavinia’s milk. “Cole, I know...stuff is focused on your Mum right now, but...are you okay?”

 

“Lane and Owen are doing a puzzle together. Keeping the atmosphere calm.” Cole swallows, “I’m fine. I’m not the one that’s...in hospital. I’m not the one that found their daughter that way. So...”

 

“That doesn’t mean you can’t be worried, or...upset that your Mum almost died.” Guinevere sighs heavily.

 

“She didn’t though.” Cole comfortably folds his arms over his chest, “She’s fine and she’s healing...and I’m really proud of her.” He watches her a moment, “I don’t have time for pity. I need to be strong for the Grands and my brothers...even Vinnie.” Cole licks his lips, “she’s getting the help she needs...even if it seems like it’s taking forever. I’d rather she be getting help than...than trying to take her life again.”

 

Gwen offers him a soft smile, nodding, “Agreed.” She offers Lavinia to him, finishing up the preparation of the bottle once he takes the baby in his arms. “Just know that I’m here if you need to talk.” She tests the milk on her wrist, then hands Cole the bottle before patting his upper arm as she steps past him.

Chapter Text

“You’re going to spend your entire session with me speaking about Charlotte’s care, which I can’t speak with you about anyway?” Annette Vickers takes a sip from her mug of coffee, sitting in the high backed chair she usually does. “Serena, I’m sure more is troubling you besides that.”

 

“It isn’t though. She could barely carry on a conversation. She was drooling and confused.” Serena shakes her head, “and you’re going to tell me that level of sedation or pacification is warranted?” She watches the woman, “Charlotte is non-violent, came here on her own volition, and agreed to treatment. She’s been nothing except cooperative.”

 

“I was called to her bedside on the...third or fourth night she was here.” Annette leans forward, placing the mug onto the coaster on the coffee table before sitting back again. “She had hit her wrists on the foot board of the bed and had popped a few of her stitches.” She shrugs, “I attempted to make sense of the situation, but she was inconsolable. Kept saying all she wanted was to feed her baby.”

 

“Yes, Cameron informed me of that. She wasn’t given a breast pump and was in significant pain. If she was not allowed to pump since the day of admittance, I’d wager she was literally crying out at that point, trying to garner any sort of attention since staff was ignoring her requests. I know you have children, Annette. I’m sure you know that pain.”

 

“I was not informed of that.” Annette responds quietly, sighing. “I’ll take a look at her doses and-”

 

“She wants to leave, but doesn’t know how. She just knows she wants to be out of here very soon. Something I fully support since she isn’t receiving proper treatment from the unprofessional nursing staff, who has served to only have her sign a few copies of her book and a newspaper article about her arrival to hospital.” Serena warns, “I’m tempted to speak about this to Ric Griffin if it isn’t remedied.”

 

“Serena, trust me when I say I was absolutely unaware such things were occurring.” Annette watches her patient in front of her, “I haven’t had a session with her in a few days. She’s only participated in two group sessions, which I was informed she remained quiet during, and I have one coming up. I’ll pull her after our session and give her a once over. Including ordering a tox screen. I don’t believe my dosing instructions are incorrect, but that doesn’t mean they are being given to her that way.” She shakes her head, “I’ll have Adrian Fletcher run an investigation.” Annette tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, “I honestly didn’t know, Serena.”

 

Serena nods a little, “I believe you.” She sighs, “on this floor, more than any other floor, it’s imperative that patients are taken seriously. This is why we still have a mental health crisis in this country. People are afraid to seek treatment because of horror stories about improper treatment given.”

 

“Agreed.” Annette stands, “would you mind if I phoned the Nursing Director now?” She pauses, “I’d actually like for you to explain to him what you told me.”

 

She starts to smirk, knowing the man would be surprised to see her. “Of course.”

 

Annette calls not only for Adrian Fletcher to meet her in her office, but also for Charlotte Wolfe to be sent for a session. She moves around the room, opening the door before taking a seat again in her usual chair. “Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention, Serena. If you believe something to be amiss, I know you have your reasons.”

 

“They didn’t make me Medical Director for nothing all those years ago.” Serena leans forward in her seat, “that’s what Charlotte’s husband always called me.”

 

“Did he?”

 

“He always made me laugh...trying to find ways to appease me.” Serena nods, “one of the photographs that Sian and Marcus had gifted to us was one of Ryan and I laughing and dancing at their wedding reception.” She smiles a little to herself, “I had Bernie take it round ours to put up. Might be one of my favorites...I look great in it.”

 

“That’s always a plus.” Annette smirks, “how is Sian? You mentioned before that she stayed with you at the house while Bernie and Marcus went with Charlotte to the hospital?”

 

Serena shrugs, “she was...incredibly devastated.” She licks her lips, falling quiet for a moment, “Sian always had a...habit of making things about her. She was always one of the most beautiful women in our group of friends, and she knew she could get the attention. Never had any problem with it. I think she may have even reveled in it.” Serena sighs softly, “and she was just...inconsolable. Even sweet Lane was telling her everything would be okay.” She pauses, “I blamed her at first...I was...heated and...” She sighs softly, “and Cole told me anger wouldn’t solve anything...and he was right. He often is when it comes to...behavior and...social interaction.” She turns her head when Charlotte enters the room, offering the young woman a smile, “hello there, sweetheart.”

 

Charlotte attempts to focus on her stepmother, giving a languid smile. “Maman.” She lifts a hand, wiping the corner of her lip when she feels a spot of drool escaping her mouth. She flops down onto the sofa next to her stepmother.

 

Annette’s eyes widen, finally seeing her patient. Just as Serena said, Charlotte is a shining example of being over-medicated. “Charlotte.” She watches the young woman, and it’s as if she didn’t hear her or can’t focus on her, “Charlotte.” She tries again, slowly gaining the younger woman’s attention. She offers a reassuring smile, “Serena mentioned to me that you had concerns with your medication dosage.”

 

She has a hard time focusing on the blurry figure of her therapist, Charlotte blinks slowly. It takes her a good moment, “I miss feeling things.” She finally answers quietly, her voice rough from one of the side effects of the medications given to her.

 

Nodding a little, Annette watches the once vivacious young woman turned into a puddle of emotions. “We’re going to do a toxicology screen. I need to know what the nurses have been giving you and how much. Is that okay with you?” Hearing the approving hum from the younger woman, “so you say you currently don’t feel anything, does that also include your pain level? I know your wrists are...having a hard time healing.” She looks down to them, “Serena, could you help her remove those wraps?”

 

Adrian Fletcher knocks on the doorway of the consultant’s office before stepping through the open door. He glances to the other women sitting there, a grin quickly spreading across his face, “Serena and Charlie, well...” His voice fades as he gets a better look at the younger woman, “hello.”

 

Serena gently opens the bandage, displaying that the wound hasn’t been properly washed or anything else, “these appear as if they’re on the brink of infection...if not already infected.”

 

“Concerns have been raised about the nursing staff of my ward and their lack of care.” Annette watches the man, a hand gesturing toward Charlotte, “as you can see, my patient is overly medicated and her wounds have not properly been cleaned.”

 

Fletch nods, “I’ll have a word with-”

 

“Fletcher.” Char finally looks up toward him, blinking slowly. She smiles, mostly unable to keep her head up.

 

“Oh, darlin’.” Fletch sighs softly, moving to sit on the other side of her, “I’ll handle this myself. Don’t you worry.” He nods, then glances to the consultant across from them, “I’m assuming you plan to do a tox screen...” When she nods, Fletch smiles softly, “I’ll do that myself as well, put a rush on it. I just need to obtain supplies.” He stands, “I’ll be right back.”

 

Watching as he leaves, Charlotte looks to her stepmother, “I’m glad Fletch is here.” She pauses, “I miss him.”

 

“I know you do.” Serena nods, finishing her removal of the wrist wraps, “once he’s finished with that, I’ll have him obtain some cleaning supplies for these.” She gently holds the side of Charlotte’s hands and wrists that were unaffected, keeping the wounds up.

 

“Did I do something wrong?” Char glances between Serena and Annette slowly, “I don’t...I don’t want to stay longer than I need to.”

 

“You’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.” Annette leans forward, meeting the young woman’s eyes. She notices that the pupils of Charlotte’s eye shake slightly. “You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

 

“Okay.” Charlotte still doesn’t look like she fully understands what’s currently happening. She lifts her head and smiles to Fletch when he returns to the room.

 

“I brought some saline, gauze, and wrap to fix up her wrists as well.” Fletch nods, “what about settling her in another ward for the time being?” He settles himself on the opposite side of Charlotte, pulling on a pair of disposable gloves. “Charlie, I’m going to draw some blood, and then I’ll clean you up.” Fletch sighs softly, sad for the general state of the young woman. “Yeah, this isn’t right.” He mutters under his breath.

 

“Thank you, Fletch.” Serena smiles softly to her old friend.

 

“I’d like for us to have a joint, emergency meeting after those are taken to the lab.” Annette offers, watching him, “someone dropped the ball somewhere. I’ll take responsibility currently because Charlotte is my patient and I should have kept a closer eye on her care. I should have...noticed...”

 

“I know how things work, Annette.” Serena nods to her, “you can take responsibility all you want, but if I hadn’t seen it in Charlotte and...she wasn’t who she was, who is to say what could have happened?”

 

“My thing is, knowing who she is, why would they?” Fletch raises an eyebrow, “high profile author, daughter of two consultants, wife of one-”

 

“Not anymore. Ryan died.” Char corrects him simply, then smiles softly, “but it’s okay. I’m only sad about it sometimes.” She’s watching his every movement, surprising both Serena and Annette near her.

 

He returns her expression, surprised she's so candid about it. Fletch nods, “and you’re doing a great job handling it, aren’t you...”

 

“No, but I’m trying.” 

 

Serena studies the young woman, taking note of how much a pacified Charlotte reminds her of Cole. Her interest in what’s happening to her, even though probably painful, causes Serena to smile to herself. “You’re doing a great job, Charlotte.” She gently rubs the young woman’s back between her shoulder blades. Her gaze drifts to Annette, “Thank you.”

 

“No, I did nothing. I’m just...attempting to process how my department went so wrong while I wasn’t watching.” Annette lifts a hand, tucking a portion of hair behind her ear, “and I...I put a patient’s life at risk.”

 

Charlotte slowly looks over to the woman, “you could have ignored or made excuses, but you did not.” Her words slow and she blinks heavily, her head dipping forward as her eyes close.

 

“Almost finished.” Fletch nudges Char with his leg when he notices her falling asleep, “come on, beautiful, stay with me”

 

“Always.” Char smirks.

 

“I wasn’t aware the pair of you were familiar.” Annette comfortably folds her arms, still watching.

 

“Charlie was set to be my favorite ex-wife.” Fletch teases, smirking as he notices the younger woman grin. He finishes wrapping her wrists back up with a dark purple plastic wrap on top after using gauze and padding.

 

“He beat up my husband once.” Char continues to grin, leaning against him when he finishes.

 

Serena rolls her eyes, amused as she looks over to their therapist. “Are you giving more thought about moving her?”

 

“I’ll need to see if there’s a bed open in another unit. I’d rather she slowly be weaned off of medication as opposed to a sudden...halt.” Annette sighs softly, getting up and moving back around to her desk.

 

“What about Darwin or Keller?” Fletch lifts his head, removing his gloves, “technically, that’s a vascular injury.” He pauses, “also, we have two specialty rooms. They were empty about an hour ago.” Glancing over to Charlotte before looking forward toward Annette, “let me take these personally down to the lab, then I’ll head to Darwin.”

 

“Then back to me for the emergency meeting.” Annette nods, “sounds perfect. I appreciate it.”

 

“Anything for my girls.” Fletch smiles, reaching over to squeeze Serena’s hand before he gets up. He moves Charlotte to lean more on Serena. He gathers everything together, “I’ll be back.”

 

Serena wraps her arm around Charlotte more, “actually, I don’t believe it would be a bad thing to release her now as opposed to the weekend. Bernie and I would keep an eye on her and her presence would give the children some peace. Win-win for everyone.”

 

Annette begins to slowly shake her head negatively, “I couldn’t ask you both to-”

 

“You aren’t asking anything. She’s our daughter. We’ll always tend to her.” Serena responds softly, her arm tenderly around the young woman as Charlotte slowly falls asleep against her. “Always.”

Chapter Text

“I should have Cole do this. He’d love every moment of it.” Serena squeezes the air bulb of the blood pressure cuff, the diaphragm of her stethoscope pressed to the inside of Charlotte’s elbow. “And I need you to stay awake, please. You’re on a bar stool. I don’t need you hitting your head by falling off.”

 

Charlotte blinks heavily, mumbling, “I’m awake.” She watches everything the woman does, “do you even remember what you’re doing?”

 

“Very funny.” Serena mutters before hushing the young woman, listening for her systolic and diastolic numbers. She releases the air valve completely after a few seconds, looping her stethoscope around her neck before she removes the blood pressure cuff from the young woman’s arm.

 

Watching as her stepmother writes her numbers on a small notebook, Charlotte tilts her head to the side, “why are you doing all of this anyway?”

 

Gently reaching out to touch the side of her stepdaughter’s neck, Serena explains, “Well, the side effects of the medications you were given include hypertension or hypotension, tachycardia, confusion, vertigo, et cetera. The list goes on and on, honestly. Monitoring your vitals in half hour intervals makes things a bit easier.” She exhales softly, “certainly puts my mind at ease.”

 

Hearing the entry door open and close to her own home, Charlotte lifts her head.

 

“In here.” Serena winks at the young woman, noticing her smirk after.

 

“The older ones are at the park. Vinnie and I got a quick kip in over ours. Nothing like your own bed when you haven’t been in it for a while.” Bernie begins to speak before reaching the kitchen area, Lavinia comfortably in her arm. Her eyes widen with surprise, her grin not far behind it, “you’re home?”

 

Char smiles a bit more, her whole body moving when she nods. “Maman nicked me away.”

 

Serena smirks, still highly amused by the young woman’s name for her. “Annette and I thought it would be in Charlotte’s best interest to return home as long as one of us monitor her vitals and medication intake.” She lowers her hand, writing the number in the notebook of pulse and respiration rates. “Reckon we can teach the boys, even Guinevere, and they’d love giving it a shot.”

 

“Well, Cole certainly would, at least.” Bernie looks to the babe in her arm who is loudly sucking on her tiny fist. “Someone is hungry.”

 

“Luckily, everything Charlotte is on is fine with breastfeeding. She was simply on too much of it.” Serena motions for the young woman to stand, offering her arm to escort her to the living room. “A stool is not the best place to nurse though.”

 

“Isn’t there anymore milk in the fridge?” Charlotte blinks heavily, “I can pump.” She licks her lower lip, “I don’t want to hold her yet because of my wrists.” There’s not much of a filter on the young woman at the moment, which could serve as an incredibly entertaining aspect, or one of extreme trepidation.

 

“I think there’s still two bottles worth. That would be fine, Char. Don’t worry about it.” Bernie answers, instinctively moving to the fridge to prepare the bottle, one handed. She’s done it so much over the past few weeks that it’s nearly second nature at this point.

 

“Because they do hurt, Maman. They hurt a lot...a lot.” Charlotte slurs softly, feeling drool leak from her mouth. However, she feels Serena wipe it away this time. “Thanks.”

 

“Is the lounge okay or would you rather lie down?” When the young woman stops walking, Serena looks over to her. “Charlotte?”

 

“I’m thinking.” She answers quietly.

 

“The boys can be very loud. I don’t want them to...startle you.” Serena offers, knowing how readily she falls asleep. Especially with the medications still running their way from her system.

 

Bernie watches the pair through the doorway of the kitchen while they stand in the vestibule as the bottle warms. Serena’s overly cautious care with Charlotte does worry her a tad. Not the care provided, which is nothing except top notch, but that Char requires it. 

 

It takes a good ten minutes for Serena to help Charlotte up to her bedroom. All traces of what had happened during the young woman’s breakdown gone, hidden, and cleaned away. Serena makes quick work and Charlotte’s head hardly hits the pillow while she’s sound asleep. Sighing softly, Serena returns to the floor below, finding her wife in the lounge, feeding Lavinia a bottle. Noticing Bernie’s raised eyebrow as she watches her, Serena shakes her head, “don’t start.”

 

“I didn’t say a single thing.” Bernie shakes her head, glancing down to Lavinia, who has her hands on either side of the bottle.

 

“I wasn’t very well going to leave her there.” Serena takes a seat on the overstuffed recliner within the confines of Charlotte’s lounge. “Annette and Fletch were going to work together to shuffle her between departments, but they weren’t going to do anything that you or I couldn’t do here.” When her wife doesn’t respond, she continues, “Thirty to sixty minute observation totals, we regulate the proper amounts of her medications.” She exhales slowly, “it’s a...an undertaking we weren’t prepared for, but-”

 

“Of course we’d do it.” Bernie lifts her gaze from her granddaughter over to her wife, “but do you think it would really have been such a bad deal for her to be moved to another unit to be monitored by staff instead of us?” She watches Serena, “instead, we’ll need to wake every hour for at least twenty-four hours, if not longer, to check on her.”

 

“I can do that.”

 

“I’m not saying we aren’t able to, but we’re also responsible for the care of four children.” Bernie explains, “we’ll be running on virtually no sleep.”

 

Serena swallows, leaning back in the chair, “I’m aware.”

 

Bernie starts to nod, the space falling quiet between them before she speaks again, “it will be worth it.”

 

Beginning to smirk, Serena gazes over at her wife. “Tease.” She mutters, hearing the woman begin to chuckle. When the front door is excitedly pushed open, the children filing in, she sits forward, “Everyone, could you come in here, please?”

 

Cole seems nervous, leading the group into the lounge. “Sorry, Gran, I didn’t know you and Vinnie came back yet.” Noticing her dismissive head shake, he looks over to his Nan, “you look worried.” He begins to anxiously chew his bottom lip.

 

“Come in, have a seat.” Serena continues, watching as the children enter more, Owen has taken it upon himself to look around the rest of the house instead, Evie on his heels to follow him, wanting to give his high energy an outlet. “Okay, so, your mother is-”

 

“Dead?” Lane asks quietly.

 

“Shut up.” Cole mumbles.

 

“Your mother is upstairs, in bed.” Serena smiles at their excited expressions, “however, if you plan to go in and visit her, know that she isn’t fully coherent. There are still many medications in her system and she’s mostly just going to rest currently.”

 

“But she’s okay?” Lane asks quietly.

 

“She will be.” Bernie answers honestly, removing the bottle from Lavinia’s mouth and bringing the baby to her shoulder. Lavinia, instead of winding, decides to gurgle in her Gran’s ear, causing Bernie to smile even more. “Be careful when you hug your mother, her wrists are incredibly tender still, and were showing signs of infection in hospital. She isn’t going to seem like your mother just yet when you speak with her, including her attention being elsewhere. Do not take offense to this.”

 

Cole nods, “is there anything we can do to help?”

 

Of course he’d ask that. Serena nods, “when we ask you to do things, such as taking medication to her, please watch her take it. If you think she hasn’t taken it, please tell one of us. We won’t be angry with you or her, it’s simply a part of her illness.”

 

“But like...what about other things? Helping you take care of Lavinia, for instance.” Guinevere offers a raised eyebrow, her arms folded. She’d always be up for that. “Or like other stuff with Auntie Char. We could learn to clean her wounds and change her bandages, for instance.”

 

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” Cole nods, “or...I don’t know. Other stuff. We’re old enough to properly help.”

 

“Calm down.” Bernie watches the pair, her face remaining neutral. “We’ll take it one day at a time. Allow your Nan and I to fall into a routine before we have anyone else taking over a task.” Seeing their nods, “but otherwise, continue on as you normally would. Try and maintain a calm atmosphere, especially if you step in to see Charlotte. No raised voices, nothing to startle her.” She adjusts Lavinia to her lap for the baby to look at them, “act as you would if Vinnie was resting. Understood?”

 

Lane gives a quick glance to the older two, “I’m visiting Mum first.” He announces quietly, then smirks as the older two are about to argue with him, but stop themselves.

 

“She was falling asleep when I left her, but that was a bit of time ago.” Serena looks to the timepiece on her wrist, “and I need to take her vitals again.” She stands, sighing softly, “come along, Lane.” Hearing the older two groan, she starts to smile. “Should have called it, first.” Lane was in no way fast in his declaration, in fact, his speech isn’t much better than where it has been. So, when the boy believed himself to have the upper hand, no one argued with him.

 

Guinevere sighs heavily, “doesn’t mean we can’t go up after him.” She takes a seat next to her Gran on the sofa, grinning to Lavinia.

 

“True.” Cole nods, taking a seat on the armrest of the sofa. The room falls silent as Bernie puts on the water video for the baby, and partially herself. “Gran.” When his grandmother hums, signifying that she’s listening, he continues, “is Mum even really okay to be home?” He slowly folds his arms over his chest.

 

“They wouldn’t release her if she weren’t.” Gwen furrows her brow, answering before her grandmother gets the opportunity to.

 

“That isn’t true.” Cole shakes his head, “Gran, I highly doubt Holby would release her with an active infection, like you said she has.” The room falls quiet again with exception to the classical music being played with the videos of water and puppets, “she has a vascular injury. An infection in that area is incredibly risky and could even...cause sepsis if not properly tended to.” When he notices Gwen’s confused gaze, he clarifies, “infection could get into her blood, easily spread throughout the body if that were to happen.”

 

“Wait.” Gwen shakes her head, “if she was being properly tended to in the first place in hospital, how did she get an infection?” She pauses, “Cole, you said you saw-”

 

“Shut up.” Cole mutters, swallowing. He didn’t want his grandmothers to know what he saw while his Nan was cleaning. The room falls quiet again, “I’m just...concerned, okay?”

 

Bernie swallows, attempting to keep herself calm through their bickering. “Charlotte is home...and she’s safe.” She doesn’t acknowledge the sheen of her eyes. “That will be the end of it. Am I understood?”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Cole answers clearly, able to tell by the tone of his grandmother’s voice that they had struck a nerve. He stands, taking a seat in the overstuffed recliner his Nan was previously occupying. He’ll drop the subject out of respect for his grandmother.

 

“I’m sorry, but I can’t. I need answers.” Guinevere shakes her head as she stands. She quickly moves to the stairs, making short work of ascending them.

 

Exhaling slowly, Bernie continues to focus on the television with her younger granddaughter on her lap. She swallows, glancing down when she feels Cole touching her free hand. “I mean it. Your mother will be fine and...we’re going to do our best.”

 

“I know you will, Gran. I trust you.” Cole offers her a reassuring smile before moving over to the sofa, taking up the spot Guinevere had just vacated, also just to be closer to his grandmother. Tilting his head to the side as the movement continues on the television. “This is incredibly relaxing.” He hears his Gran’s throaty chuckle and knows he doesn’t need to say anything else. His mother is home and she’s safe, that’s all that matters.

Chapter Text

Cole carries his baby sister to his mother’s bedroom, wearing her Halloween costume. Though they had all had a small meet up with their family, a very quiet meet up with their family, Charlotte wasn’t really lucid and remained in her room during the festivities. “Mum?” He calls quietly from the doorway, knowing his mother was doing better than she was when she first arrived home, but still wasn’t at a hundred percent.

 

Turning the volume down on her television, Char tilts her head to the side, “come in.” When she sees the baby in his arms, dressed in a knit bat costume, she beams. “That is the cutest thing.” 

 

“She’s very spooky.” Cole stands the baby up at the foot of the bed, holding her arms out to show the wingspan. Not that Lavinia is able to stand on her own, but when her hands are held she’s able to straighten her legs out. “Are you scared?”

 

Chuckling to herself softly, “positively terrified.” Her eyes shift to her son, “did you buy this for her?”

 

“Yeah. First Halloween. She deserved to have something.” Cole moves to the head of the bed more, holding his sister on his lap as the babe babbles to Charlotte. “My viewers loved it. She and I dressed up for my gaming stream. I received the most viewers I’ve ever had there.”

 

“Gaming stream?” Char raises an eyebrow, “is this a new endeavor?” She reaches out, gently stroking the baby’s cheek, smiling when the girl roots toward it with her mouth.

 

“Not really. I just focused on my edited channel more, but...it’s a nice distraction.” Cole shrugs, “we’ve found that Vinnie really loves zombies.” When his mother begins to point toward the television, appearing confused, Cole attempts to figure out what she’s thinking. “Did you want me to show you on the telly?”

 

“Are you able to?”

 

He’s glad he got it right, honestly. “Sure. Let me see your mobile.”

 

Char reaches over to the bedside table for her mobile she had just set there only a few moments prior. Her hand trembles and she notices her ability to close her hand around the device just doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with her.

 

Cole watches for a second, realizing she was having a tough time, “no worries, I’ll get it.” He lays Lavinia onto the bed before getting up. “Are your hands okay?” He walks around to the other side of the bed, using his mother’s mobile to find his streaming page.

 

“They’re fine.” Charlotte answers quickly, “no need to...run and tell your grandmothers about it.”

 

“I wasn’t going to.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Cole bites his lip a little, “you have tendons in your wrists, flexor and extensor. As well as some in the rest of your hand that make it move.” The teenanger demonstrates with his own wrist, then hand, “I know you damaged the vascular structures within, but do you know if you damaged the tendons?” When she seems weary, he continues, “it would explain why you’re having a hard time closing your hand. Also the nerves, I’m certain they would be a literal pain as well.”

 

Char opens her mouth as if to say something, but shakes her head negatively instead, “there wasn’t much they told me.” She pauses, “at least not that I remember.” Charlotte inhales deeply, looking down at her daughter next to her on the bed. She gently strokes the baby’s belly with her finger, smiling softly as the infant gurgles to her.

 

Sighing softly, Cole continues, “I’m not telling the Grands, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.” He returns to his seat, finally playing the stream. He’s dressed like a vampire, with sparkles because that’s all Lane had in his cosmetic repertoire, and Lavinia is wearing the same bat costume she’s wearing currently.

 

“It’s only going to worry them...and they’ve been doing so much for me.” Charlotte finally lifts her gaze toward the television, “vampires sparkle?”

 

“Lane said he read it in some old book, but...I think he just made it up.” Cole shrugs, “we got the teeth and the blood right at least. Really, that’s all that matters.” He pauses, “speaking of books, your new one came out while you were in hospital. Seems to be doing well, congrats.”

 

“My publisher said in an email that the book was released early as a sort of public relations rebound.” Charlotte sighs, biting the corner of her lip. “I think it just makes it seem I lost my mind in order to promote my book.”

 

“You didn’t lose your mind a month ago.” Cole smiles chortles softly to himself, “you lost that years ago.”

 

“True.” Char smirks to herself.

 

“Gwennie has been voracious in her reading.” Cole licks his lips, looking over to his mother after a moment, “I...I understand now.” When his mother glances over to him, confused, “why you kept the knowledge of...many things about your past from me.” He bites his lip, “um...”

 

“I’m sorry, Cole, I...” Charlotte shakes her head slowly, “I don’t remember much of what I put in there.” She blinks heavily, “I lived it, but...” She yawns, covering her mouth with the back of her free hand, “based on your reaction, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t remember.”

 

The teenager studies his mother for a moment, deciding not responding would be his best option. “You look tired. I uh...I just wanted to show you Vinnie’s Halloween fancy dress since you missed it.” Cole gently lifts his sister into his arms, the baby still very interested in her generally unfamiliar surroundings.

 

“You don’t have to go.”

 

“We can come up later.” Cole offers his mother a half smile as he rises from the bed. “Hard to imagine, but we do live here.” He nods, “it’s nearly time for Vinnie’s afternoon sleep.” It wasn’t, but he knows the woman doesn’t really have a true handle on time just yet. “Tell Mum we’ll see her later, Vinnie.” The babe releases an exasperated sigh, causing her mother and brother to laugh. Cole takes his leave from the room, his smile fading quickly as his mind fills with worry.

Chapter Text

Bernie sleeps with her arms around her wife as they squeeze on the inflated bed in their granddaughter’s nursery. Their faces in front of one another, Serena’s forehead in the crook of Bernie’s neck. They had been sleeping this way since Charlotte had taken ill and required more care. Honestly, she might even love it more than sleeping in their own bed sometimes.

 

The sunlight beaming through the windows causes Serena to flinch. She’s exhausted. Neither she nor Bernie have had a proper night’s rest in weeks. Especially with the necessity of needing to wake every two hours at this point to check Charlotte’s vitals. Two hours. Her eyes bolt open, knowing she hadn’t taken the girl’s observation stats all night long. Also, Lavinia hadn’t woken them like she usually did. “Shit.” She whispers, beginning to peel herself from her wife’s arms.

 

Groaning, Bernie pulls her closer, “She’s fine, Campbell.”

 

“No, I need to...I need to take obvs and check on the children.” She notices her mobile isn’t next to her, the thing that would wake Serena when she required it. Serena pushes herself to sit up, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed.

 

“Don’t you find it odd that we’ve been able to have a lie in?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, bringing a hand up to shield her eyes from the bright sunlight coming through the windows, “and the baby’s missing...as is your mobile...or else it would have sounded several times over.” She pauses, “I don’t even know what time it is.”

 

“All the more reason so...assess the situation.” Serena raises a hand to her hair, knowing it probably looks a bit crazy. She exhales heavily, “I feel like we need another holiday once things clear up a bit.”

 

“Well, at least just a weekend where we...stay at home.” Bernie smiles lazily, bringing a hand to Serena’s back, gently walking her fingers along her lower spine. She pushes herself up to sitting, gently placing a kiss on Serena’s shoulder. “And even now, after you case the joint, you should come back here...”

 

Humming softly, Serena raises an eyebrow, “I’m worried you won’t be able to contain yourself if I do.”

 

Bernie grins a bit more, “well, after checking things out, maybe we can head over to ours for a bit.” She waves her eyebrows, “the older ones have been getting better and better with watching the younger ones.”

 

“While that sounds absolutely savory, we haven’t left them be while Charlotte is on the mend.” Serena shakes her head, “and I’m unprepared to do that just yet.” She licks her lips in thought, when she feels her wife’s arms wrap around her from behind. “I’m sorry.”

 

“You don’t need to apologize.” Bernie gently places her head on her wife’s back, “but you also don’t need to worry as much as you have been.” She bites her lip, “it has the ability to...consume us. Not the worry, but the... what if scenarios running through our heads.” When her wife doesn’t respond, Bernie presses a kiss to her wife’s shoulder again, “they aren’t fair to us, and they aren’t fair to Charlotte or the positive progress she’s made since everything happened.”

 

Serena stares out in front of herself, “I’ve already had one daughter clinging to life in a bathroom, to find another was...” She inhales slowly, and exhales at the same pace in an effort to keep herself calm, “and then discovering that her treatment was...less than acceptable was a whole different beast to cope with.” 

 

“Yeah.”

 

“And I’ve brought up my...trepidation with Annette, but...it doesn’t make them go away.” Serena turns a bit in bed to better face her wife, “and I can only imagine what you must be going through...though I know you’ll try your best at maintaining that poker face, you’re still a terrified mother underneath.”

 

Bernie lets her wife go, pushing herself to lean against the back of the daybed against the wall, “Many of my friends ended their lives because of things that occurred, or things that were seen, during war. I’ve seen them end things because they found life too hard when they returned back to it.” She swallows, “I’ve been to many wakes with closed caskets.” Bernie shrugs a little, feeling her wife’s hand on her upper arm, “thinking Char was about to join them...was terrifying, but...she didn’t. Luck was shining on her, or maybe shining on her children. To lose two parents in such quick succession would have...” She shakes her head, “absolutely ruined them.” Bernie pauses, “and I...” She begins to shake her head.

 

Serena nods a little, looking away and doing her best to hold herself together. She clears her throat, “I need to check on things.” Serena stands, staying in her pajamas as she leaves the room. Feeling the need to get away from the conversation or thought process. She’d go through the motions and it wasn’t necessary to dwell on her reasons.

 

Guinevere sways from foot to foot as she stands in the kitchen, Lavinia comfortably in a sling around her midsection. The teenager feeds the younger babe a bottle with one hand while scrolling through her mobile with the other. Hearing footsteps behind her, she knows exactly who that gait belongs to, “afternoon, sleepyhead.” She turns, smiling a little to her Nan.

 

“Afternoon?” Serena seems thrown.

 

“We’ve had everything under control. You deserved it.” Gwen nods, “there is one thing though.”

 

“Truly, afternoon?”

 

Guinevere hums her approval, “Cole is upstairs feeding his mother some lunch. Lane made an amazing arugula salad with caramelized pumpkin and a pomegranate ginger vinaigrette and it was just...so ridiculously good. Cole ordered him some fresh produce since there isn’t much in the fridge except leftover pizza or other takeaway. Evie, Lane, and Owen have all gone to the park when they finished with lunch since Evie pointed out that they were both having issues with coordination, so it might benefit Laney if she helps him out with that as well.”

 

Serena furrows her brow slightly, raising a hand to stop the young woman’s ramble, “wait a minute, Why is Cole feeding Charlotte?”

 

The teenager sighs, “well, and you didn’t hear this from me because Auntie Char made Cole promise not to tell you and now it’s this whole big thing.” She sets her mobile on the counter top, realizing she isn’t going to be able to focus on that if she’s going to carry on a conversation with her grandmother. “She has been having a difficult time grabbing or holding objects, especially smaller ones. The handle of a utensil has been torture. Her wrists have really been bothering her.” Guinevere sets Lavinia’s bottle onto the counter before gently removing her from the wrap in order to gently rub her back to wind her, “Cole ordered an electronic blood pressure cuff last night so it would be here this morning and said that your mode was both outdated and quote, ‘easy to be misread’, unquote. He and I handled her obvs this morning and wrote them down, including temperature, which was slightly elevated.”

 

“That cheeky little-”

 

“Cole also nicked Vinnie after obvs as well as your mobile so that you and Gran could have a proper lie in while we took care of ourselves.” A self satisfied smirk begins to spread across Guinevere’s face while her Nan just looks at her. “And now it’s lunchtime, and plenty leftover from our meal...which we really only finished about fifteen to twenty minutes ago.”

 

“What did you say it was?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, leaning against the doorway with her arms folded.

 

Serena jumps a little, spinning to look at her wife, “all these years and you still get me.”

 

“Every time, darling. Gwennie did a great job not looking at me.” 

 

“Least I could do.” Gwen grins more.

 

“I told you that the kids can tend to themselves.” Bernie shakes her head, moving over to the coffee maker, raising an eyebrow when she sees a pot percolating.

 

“That was me. I’ve already had two cups this morning.” Gwen notices the baby reaching a hand toward Serena, “Nan, do you want-”

 

“No, I need to assess the other one.” Serena shakes her head, opening the notebook on the island counter top. “The raised temperature does worry me, especially since she recently finished a regiment of antibiotics as a precautionary measure.”

 

Bernie turns away from the coffee maker, looking to her wife, “you’re not going to like what I’m about to suggest.”

 

“MRSA.” Serena sighs softly, “but we aren’t certain of that and her temperature is only just elevated. I’d rather she not be on another course of antibiotics if she doesn’t need to be. I just need to have a look at her wrists and-”

 

“Cole and I changed her bandages this morning, but you probably should. They looked a little red.” Guinevere nods, moving the baby away when she starts to pout and whimper from her Nan not paying attention to her. “Hey, it’s okay. Let’s go and watch one of those weird movie things you like.”

 

“Are you going to yell at her if you go up there?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, watching as the teenager carries the babe off to the other room, “because that wouldn’t help anyone.”

 

“She’s still hiding things.”

 

“Because she can tell how worried we are.” Bernie bites her lip, “how on edge we’re capable of being.” She motions to her wife, “look at you now, not holding Vinnie even though she did the pout and obviously misses you dearly. In fact, you outright dismissed her.”

 

Serena sighs heavily, “Bernie, if I’m to give into Lavinia every time she pouts-”

 

“You’d have another grandchild like Cole.” She raises an eyebrow, “and what a disappointment he’s been.” Her tone sarcastic, knowing it would make the woman double guess herself.

 

“You decide then. Do you want to eat or tend to Charlotte?” Serena watches her wife, “should I cuddle up to Lavinia or tend to Charlotte?”

 

“You aren’t going to relax until you go upstairs to have a look at her, so what I say doesn’t really matter because it’s what you’re going to do anyway.” Bernie raises her eyebrows in silent resignation, “even though the older two have everything under control and followed her care routine perfectly, even going out of their way to tend to her.” She opens the oven, glad when she sees the leftover roasted pumpkin, “Gwennie, come and show me what goes with that salad.” She calls out.

 

Serena hates it when her wife’s able to read her so well, but being married to a person for a decade and being in a relationship with them for even longer does that. She pulls the bar stool away from the island counter top, lowering herself onto it as she watches her wife instead. “Have her make mine as well.”

 

Bernie takes out the squash from the oven, setting it on the stove top. A soft smile begins to form on her lips as she glances over toward Serena. There doesn’t need to be anything said between them. Serena would do things to prove Bernie wrong and Bernie would tease Serena until she felt bad about her behavior. Bernie reaches over, gently taking hold of Serena’s hand. There were no winners in this argument.

Chapter Text

Cole lifts his head, looking up to the room number above the door. Room 1109. He bites his lip, wondering if this was all a stupid idea. Cole takes a deep breath, opening the door and stepping through. There wasn’t anyone else there yet, and he starts to wonder if he’s the only one at all. Seeing the older man sitting behind the desk, “Is this where Drama Club is located?”

 

The balding man with ginger peach fuzz hair lifts his head, starting to smile, “Certainly is. Welcome.” He motions to one of the student desks as he moves around his own desk, sitting on the ledge, “I’m Mr. MacGuiness, and you are?” Robert tilts his head to the side, this boy looks very familiar.

 

“Cole...Cole Wolfe.” The teenager nods, setting his backpack onto the floor next to one of the desks. He studies the older man in front of him, noticing the smudged remnants of multiple dry erase markers lining the man’s bare arms. “This is...” Cole pauses, “I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve...never joined a club or anything.”

 

“That’s fantastic!” MacGuiness claps his hands, a bright grin forming on his face. “Do you have any sort of...history? Have you ever acted before or...maybe a parent?” He tilts his head to the side, “or...maybe you like to do that as a hobby?”

 

“My Mum has always loved Shakespeare, but I’m not...not as much into it as she is. She’ll just ramble off some sonnet without a second thought all from memory.” Cole chuckles softly to himself, shrugging, “I do a bit of web content creation. I have a show called Wolfe Den.”

 

“That’s you?” He seems amazed, “some of my other students were speaking of it and I gave it a watch. The story with your younger brother about his bullying was...” MacGuiness places his hand over his heart, “absolutely heartbreaking to think something like that could occur here.”

 

Cole nods, “he’s homeschooled now because of the torment he received, not only from those same people, but from teachers as well.” He sighs softly, “honestly, it’s probably for the best. Things have been hard for him since the accident. Hard for all of us, but...worst I got was a broken leg.”

 

“I haven’t...seen since that one I mentioned, but I plan to catch up.” MacGuiness watches the young man, “you don’t need to go into it, though. I’m just happy to see that you’re here now.”

 

“Thank you, Sir.”

 

MacGuiness gives a look to his watch before folding his arms across his chest, “either people are late, or people don’t come at all to the first meeting. Happens every first semester.” He shrugs, “which is fine by me. Gives us more time to go over the plan for the year.”

 

Cole is amused by the man, furrowing his brow, “Why wouldn’t people come to a first meeting?”

 

He shrugs, “I’m the favorite of some, but I don’t allow people to get away with everything. For some students, that’s a deterrent.” MacGuiness moves around to the other side of the desk, “so, the fact that you’re here, means you’ve never had me as a teacher.”

 

“I have you next semester.”

 

“Oh, well good then. First impressions are always important.”

 

Cole smirks to himself, “or that I just don’t know any better.”

 

MacGuiness begins to chuckle, absently organizing his desk, “possibly.” He pauses looking over to the teen again, “you said your mother likes Shakespeare, did any of that rub off on you?” He lifts his arms when he realizes he has the remnants of dry erase marker on them again, it’s an everyday occurrence and he’s yet to learn any sort of lesson from it. “I know you said it wasn’t really your thing, but...”

 

“No, sir. She’s far more...prolific than I am.” Cole shrugs, “she’s an author. In fact, you used to teach her when she attended here.”

 

“Ah.” He folds his arms across his chest again, making eye contact with his student, “that’s probably why you’re familiar to me. Don’t tell me yet, let me guess. Do you look like your mother?” When the teenager nods, MacGuiness bites the corner of her lip in thought, “she likes Shakespeare and she’s an author now.” He continues to think about it, “do you have the same last name as she?”

 

“Yes, sir. However, when she was your student, she didn’t go by Wolfe.” Cole leans back in the seat, folding his arms over his chest.

 

“Your mother isn’t Charlie Dunn is it?” When the boy nods, MacGuiness grins broadly, “oh, that’s fantastic. Tell me, how is she?”

 

“Uh...” Cole swallows, not sure how into things he wants to get, “put out a new book, recently. It seems to be doing quite well.” He adjusts his posture, clearing his throat, “listen, Mr. MacGuiness, while this has been very entertaining, if no one else is coming today-”

 

“Hold on.” MacGuiness holds a hand up to stop him casually, walking back around the desk, “I didn’t ask about the book, I asked about Charlie.”

 

Cole licks his lips anxiously. He removes his mobile from his pocket, pulling up the news article he’s already read so many times over. Cole offers his mobile to the man, watching as he moves closer, taking the mobile in his hands. 

 

MacGuiness lowers the glasses that were setting atop his head to his eyes, quickly reading the article. He offers it back to the teen, a shocked hand over his chest, “Cole, I’m-”

 

“It’s fine.” Cole shakes his head, “she’s...she’s home and doing a bit better every day.”

 

“I can’t really do much for you in terms of your home life, but...is everything okay on the education front?” MacGuiness bites his lip, watching the teenager, “I’m in no way an expert at everything, by any means, and you don’t have maths this semester, but I’m not so bad at English either. Double majored at Uni. I know Smithers is an unhelpful bastard.”

 

Chuckling softly at the teacher’s candor, Cole shakes his head negatively, “I’m fine, sir, thank you.”

 

“Just know my door is always open. Haven’t had Charlie in some twenty years. The fact that I remember her clearly should say something about your mother. I adored her...still do.” MacGuiness nods, moving back over to his desk, “but you are correct about wrapping this up. How are you getting home, Mr. Wolfe?”

 

“Um...I can do a ride share with the app on my mobile. That way I don’t have to bother my Grands.” He pauses, “they’ve been tending to my siblings and I while Mum is on the mend. They...tend to Mum too.”

 

“Are you far?”

 

“No, Sir. Maybe...fifteen minutes by car at most.” Cole stands from the desk, lifting his backpack from the floor and slinging it over his shoulder. He explains where his house is, watching the man. There’s nothing about the older man that renders as unsafe to Cole. In fact, from his glowing words of respect from both his mother and Mr. MacGuiness to one another, he knows he’s more than safe.

 

“I’ll give you a ride.” MacGuiness begins packing his things in an old faded cloth knapsack on its last legs, “no need wasting money on a ride share. Besides, your place is on my way anyway.” He pauses, “if that’s okay with you. I wouldn’t want to...” MacGuiness sighs, “makes me sound like some sort of predator or...otherwise maligned figure.”

 

“You wouldn’t be a teacher for over twenty-five years if you were.” Cole smiles softly, “and you certainly wouldn’t have been my mother’s favorite.”

 

MacGuiness doesn’t hear that often. That he’s a student’s favorite or that a former student was speaking of him positively. Students were often afraid of him from horror stories siblings and friends may spread about the toughness of his class. He smiles softly to himself, nodding. “As long as you weren’t a little shit like Cameron was, I reckon we’ll get along just fine.” MacGuiness pauses, “so far, you’re doing splendidly.”

 

“Glad to hear it.” Cole follows the man after he locks up the classroom. Glad there’s at least one teacher in this school that he can actually tolerate, if not enjoy.

Chapter Text

Cameron glances over to Morven, squeezing her hand as they wait at a stoplight. “Well...we’re parents.”

 

Morven turns her head to face her partner next to her, tears in her eyes, “I never...thought I’d see the day, honestly.” They had gone through multiple classes and house visits, medical exams. So many things just to prove they were responsible enough to raise a child. She turns in her seat, looking to the backseat of the car, a one year old boy with tan skin, light eyes, and light brown hair, sits comfortably in his carseat. Honestly, it’s what she imagined a child between the two of them would possibly resemble with their genetics. She grins, “are you okay, Maxwell?”

 

Looking in his rear view mirror to the boy, Cam smirks. “Oh, of course he’s fine. More than fine. He’s going home. Isn’t that right, Max?”

 

“There’s so many things we still need to purchase.” She responds quietly, sitting back into her seat once the car starts to move again. “New clothing, a cot...we didn’t expect he’d be so small.” Morven folds her hands in her lap, “and food, they didn’t say if he was allergic to anything or-”

 

“Relax.” Cam hums a soft chuckle, “we have plenty of time. We bought him a travel cot for the meantime. Let’s take him home and let him check the place out.” He glances to his partner, “give us all a bit of time to figure one another out.”

 

Morven nods, “you’re right.”

 

“My parents are going to be over the moon. Bit of good news during all the stuff they’ve been...” Cameron’s voice trails, “Max, you’ve got so many cousins that are going to absolutely adore you.” He smiles to himself, “I’m the happiest man alive right now.”

 

She grins, “ditto.” Morven pauses, “should we stop over to your parents? I mean...it isn’t far from our house and...” Her eyes twinkle with a certain excitement, “and it wouldn’t really hurt anything to pop over and say hello since we’re all available.”

 

“Not to mention they’ll probably expect him over on the weekends with the other ones...or Dad and Sian.” He raises an eyebrow, “would you be okay with that?”

 

“We’ll speak with your mothers.” Morven knows how much is currently on the Wolfes’ plates, from what Cameron had told her, and doesn’t want to make anything more stressful. However, she doesn’t trust her partner’s father nearly as much as she does his mother and stepmother. She’s used to them, familiar. Using her mobile, she texts Bernie, asking if it would be a problem for them to stop by.

 

“Your mobile is buzzing.” Serena closes her eyes, her fingers through her wife’s hair as the woman trails her lips along her collarbone.

 

Bernie hums, “Lavinia is napping, as is Charlotte. The twins are with Evie...on an adventure, and Cole isn’t due home from school for another hour because of his after school activity...and maybe his teacher will bring him home again.” She lifts her head, looking her wife in the eye, “do you honestly think I care about who is messaging me?”

 

“It could be Cole. This is his first week without the boot and-”

 

Pressing her lips against her wife’s tenderly, Bernie quiets her. “You worry too much.”

 

“You don’t worry enough.” Serena mumbles against her wife’s lips, “please check.”

 

Sighing heavily, Bernie sits up. She reaches forward to the coffee table for her mobile, quickly unlocking it and seeing there’s a message from her son’s partner, “it’s Morven...asking if they can stop over.” Bernie looks disappointed, “we never get to see them.”

 

Serena begins to laugh to herself, “and you wanted to ignore it.”

 

Bernie sighs, standing as she responds to the text message, letting them know that they’re over Charlotte’s. “I’m ordering pizza for dinner tonight.” She grumbles a little, “reckon I should order now or closer to when Cole’s due home?”

 

“I’d hold off. Also, Lane may want to fix dinner. Cole’s been feeding into his cooking hobby...literally.” Serena watches her wife, “or did you not notice all of the new, fresh food that’s suddenly appeared in the fridge?” When her wife pouts to her, tilting her head slightly to display her best puppy dog eyes, Serena starts to shake her head negatively, “that’s where Lavinia gets that from...as did Cole before her.”

 

Grinning, Bernie hears Lavinia begin to whimper on the baby monitor from the floor above them. “I’ll get her.”

 

Serena watches as her wife moves to the stairs, making quick work of jogging up them. Hearing a soft knock at the front door, she gets up from the sofa and moves to the vestibule. Tugging the front door open, she sees the pair in front of her, but Cameron is slowly moving up the walk, holding the hand of someone she’s never met. “Oh, hello. Who might this be?” She watches for a moment, at how doting Cameron was being and the genuine smiles on their faces. “No...”

 

Cameron finally lifts the boy into his arms, “Max, say hello to your Nan.”

 

Bringing her hands up to cover her mouth, Serena doesn’t quite know what to make of all this.

 

Descending the stairs, Lavinia on hip, Bernie sees her wife standing there, “are you going to let them in or-” She pauses, seeing the boy. “Is that?”

 

“Yeah.” Morven takes a tender hug from Serena, letting the woman hold onto her as they move aside to let Cameron and their son into the house. She isn’t sure whether crying would be good, they’ve all cried so much over the past few months.

 

Bernie slowly descends the rest of the stairs, looking to her son with a proud smile covering her face. “You’re a father.”

 

“I am.” Cameron nods, glancing over to his son in his arm.

 

Max removes his pacifier, gently patting Cameron’s shoulder, then pointing to Lavinia when he earns the man’s attention, “b-b.”

 

It’s the first word he’s said since they retrieved him, “yeah. That’s your cousin, Lavinia.” Cameron answers, earning an amazed glance from his partner as he explains, “she’s smaller than you. Isn’t she?” When the boy nods, tilting his head to the side to have a better look. Cam is just bursting with emotion at this point. 

 

“Um.” Serena separates from Morven, glancing between them, “please, to the lounge. I can put on one of Lavinia’s videos...since it’s enough to keep both Lavinia and Bernie occupied, hopefully Max will enjoy it as well.” She lets Bernie lead, keeping her own arm around Morven, “He is absolutely beautiful. Congratulations to you both.”

 

“Thanks.” Cam lets the boy down on the floor, taking a seat there as well. “So, are the two of you pretty much living here for the moment?”

 

“Time being.” Bernie nods, taking a seat on the sofa and removing the posture seat from underneath the side table. She sets it onto the coffee table before putting Lavinia into it, letting her have a look around. It also allows Max to see the baby a bit closer as well. “Somewhat. We do some school work with Lane during the day, but that only lasts a few hours and it doesn’t take much to retain. Char does a bit of occupational therapy with a home physio. Cole runs himself, pretty much. We only really take care of Lavinia and she’s...ya know...still in her blobby phase.” Bernie shrugs, “it just works, surprisingly.”

 

“Not that we don’t miss being at home because we do.” Serena carefully changes the disks in the player, setting one on that plays music and shows different animals. “Max, are you hungry?” The boy doesn’t seem too sure about her just yet, not that she blames him. 

 

Max goes over to Morven, leaning against her legs as she sits on the sofa. He watches the two older women with caution, but offers them smiles. When Morven lifts the boy into her lap, she absently begins to stroke his hair. Smiling softly as he leans back against her. “Nappy okay?” Morven asks quietly, just surprised that the boy is being affectionate so quickly with her.

 

“Nappies!” Cameron calls out, “we forgot about nappies.”

 

Bernie starts to chuckle, “there’s going to be a lot more that you’re going to forget. Just get used to it now. Make the most out of internet shopping. Cole gets things within a few hours of ordering them.” She leans her head against the back of the sofa, noticing her wife sit in the overstuffed recliner, “much different than when you were small, that’s for sure.”

 

Charlotte stands in the doorway, earning glances from the other people in the room, “thought I heard people who weren’t my children.” She smiles softly, noticing the boy in Morven’s lap, “are you sitting for someone?”

 

“No, actually.” Cameron stands, rubbing his palms onto his jeans as he moves over to his sister, “I...I forgot I didn’t say anything to you.” He offers his younger sister a smile, “Char, this is your new nephew, Maxwell.”

 

She stands there, just staring at the boy, “you’re joking.”

 

“Absolutely not.” Cam bites his lip, grinning a bit more, “today is Max’s first official day as a part of our family. Well...we have the ten week wait, but otherwise-”

 

“That’s fantastic.” Charlotte wraps her arms around her brother, hugging him tenderly, “oh, Cammy, I can’t believe it.” She hasn’t smiled this much in a while, glancing back over to the boy again, “Max...Max Dunn. How Dunn are you? To the Max.” Char snorts at her own stupid joke. “Still, I like it.”

 

Morven watches the camaraderie between the siblings, “thought we would stop by here first before we let Marcus and Sian know.”

 

“I sent them a picture.” Cam nods, “so we can’t be accused of favoring one over the other.”

 

“Even though we do.” Morven smirks to Serena.

 

“It will be our secret.” Serena winks to the young woman, reaching over to gently pat her leg reassuringly.

 

“We still have cups with sipping lids from Owen not long ago, but he’s managed to...work on that quite well.” Charlotte nods, “Max, would you like some juice?” The boy nods, crawling off his mother’s lap to follow the new woman to the kitchen.

 

“Just waltzes in here and he goes right to her.” Serena motions to the space just vacated by her stepdaughter. She says it loud enough for the young woman to catch, hearing her laughing after.

 

“She’s looking much better.” Cameron speaks in a hushed whisper to his parents and partner, “so much better.”

 

“Three different antibiotics later, I’d hope so.” Serena leans back against the chair, smirking when Lavinia starts to talk to the animals on the screen, even going so far as to growl with the tiger.

 

Morven reaches over to her, gently stroking a hand over Lavinia’s hair, “she’s gotten so big.”

 

“You’re busy. Time goes on.” Bernie nods, watching her son’s partner, “even though you’re going to work every day and it seems like everything just stops while you’re there, it doesn’t.” She shakes her head slowly, “before you know it, they’re grown and making life changing decisions and having children of their own.” Bernie grins a bit, “and, if you’re lucky, you get a good one or two, who give you loads of grandchildren.”

 

“She’s going to finish her sentimental journey with a jab at me.” Cameron smirks.

 

“Nah.” Bernie glances over to him, “I’m incredibly proud of the man you’ve become...believe it or not.” She nods, “I like that I don’t have to worry about you so much.”

 

Cam’s smirk turns into a genuine smile, “thanks, Mum.”

 

“Don’t tell your sister. She’s still my favorite.” Bernie turns her attention back to the television, picking Lavinia up when the girl reaches over to her. She smirks when she hears her son snort, lifting her head when she sees her new grandson and her daughter return to the lounge.

 

“I also gave him a biscuit.” Char shrugs a little, “I’m his aunt, I have to...ya know...buy his love a bit.”

 

Morven lifts her son into her lap when he returns to her, offering her the biscuit. A handled-cup of juice in his other hand. “I’m good, thank you. Is it delicious?” When the boy nods, she gently rubs his back.

 

Max glances over at the older blonde woman, offering her his biscuit as well, “b-b?”

 

“Vinnie is still purely on milk, but thank you.” Bernie watches him as he grins, excitedly sucking on the sweet biscuit as he leans against his mother again.

 

“I do hope you all are staying for dinner.” Charlotte glances around the room, “we can order pizza.”

 

“Pizza sounds great, darling.” Serena nods to the young woman.

 

“Oh, so she can say she wants pizza for dinner and I can’t?” Bernie looks over to his wife, playfully acting offended. Honestly, Serena would probably give Charlotte the moon because of her recent past. Especially when it came to simple decisions. It causes her wife to laugh, then herself to smile softly.

 

“It’s like a sitcom over here, apparently.” Cameron makes eye contact with his partner, noticing her amused grin, which he reciprocates. He wouldn’t give this up for anything right now. “Never a dull moment.”

 

“We’d love to stay for pizza, if it isn’t too much trouble.” Morven answers for them, noticing how excited Charlotte seems by it. “Right, Max?” She can tell how comfortable the boy is starting to get. Max focuses on the DVD, taking a sip of his juice. He fits in perfectly.

Chapter Text

“Very good, Laney.” Charlotte lifts her head when she hears a knock at the door. She motions to the book in her son’s hands, “write down what you think the meaning is of the next two sonnets. Take your time.” She smiles a little to herself, calling out when she hears the knock again, “hold on.” She uses two hands on the door knob, still not physically articulate enough to handle things properly. “Oh...D.C.I. Warne,” Char smiles a tad to herself, moving aside to let the woman in, “please, come in.”

 

“Thought you forgot how to use the phone. Never returned my calls.” Kait Warne nods as she steps through the threshold of the front door, glancing around the vestibule of the moderately sized detached home. “You have a really beautiful house, Ms. Wolfe.”

 

Chuckling softly to herself, Char bows her head appreciatively, “Thank you, but I’m certain you didn’t come around to give me compliments.” She moves toward the kitchen, “please, make yourself comfortable. I just need to check on my son a moment.”

 

“Oh, I shouldn’t be staying long.” Kait follows the young woman, then glancing around the kitchen, “blimey, this house gets better and better.”

 

“So what does bring you by?” Char gently runs her nails through the hair in the back of her son’s head as reassurance, “you’re doing great.” She whispers in Lane’s ear, noticing his delighted smile.

 

“On second thought, I’ll be in your lounge.” Kait gives a nod to the pair, turning around and remembering where the young woman had motioned when she entered. She takes a quick look into the library, or what they call a library. She isn’t sure what she’d call it. There’s no dining table, just areas of comfortable seating and filled bookshelves. Moving into the lounge, it isn’t large, but incredibly comfortable, cozy. She notices a baby seat under the side table and a few toys in a basket under the other side table. Kait removes her overcoat, setting it on the seat next to her. She folds her hands together as he elbows rest on her knees, glad she wore trousers today.

 

“Would you like some tea, Ms. Warne?” Char calls out, carefully putting the electric kettle onto the base anyway after filling it.

 

“Please, that’d be great.”

 

Lane lifts his head, watching his mother for a moment. She has a difficult time holding onto the pot, he notices. “My hands are good today if you want me to do that.” He pauses, “and I bet you didn’t think about taking it to the other room.”

 

Char sighs softly, glancing down at her hands, “I did not think it through, honestly. Just a...question of habit.”

 

“Um.” He starts to think, “there’s the...” Lane waves his hand in the air, “I know what to do. I’ll take care of it when it’s finished.” Lane winks to his mother, watching as the woman leaves with a look of uncertainty.

 

She returns to the lounge, “water’s on.” Char nods, taking a seat in the recliner adjacent to her guest. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

 

“No, I...it’s totally fine.” Kait smiles at the younger woman, “can I ask you something?”

 

“Better than anyone I know.”

 

Kait laughs a little to herself, “everything in the book, was it true?”

 

Char raises an eyebrow, “you went out of your way, on a busy day, to come to my home...which, I’m betting violates a thing or twelve, and simply want to know more about the contents of my book?” She studies the other woman, “you said you enjoyed the book. What does it matter?”

 

“Because so much happened to you.” She tries to maintain a calm smile, thinking about everything she had read, “so much happened in, what appeared to be, a relatively short time span.” Kait leans back against the sofa, “your second book was...intense.”

 

“Yeah.” Charlotte swallows, getting up to pace a little, “imagine writing it.” She hears the clatter of the teacups before seeing her son push Lavinia’s jogging stroller into the lounge. He had laid the seat flat to set everything on top of it, “well...you did figure something out. Thank you, Laney.”

 

“No problem.” Lane answers, a smirk at the corner of his lip as he moves the cups, tray, and teapot onto the coffee table. “Do you want me to pour you-”

 

“No, it’s okay, sweetheart. Thank you.” Char flashes him a soft smile, “few more sonnets and you can take a break.” She snorts to herself when he gives her a lazy salute, pulling the now empty jogging stroller from the lounge to return it to its rightful spot.

 

Kait raises an eyebrow, “is that the younger of the twins?” She pauses, “the one that was-”

 

“It is.” 

 

It isn’t that Kait thought that story about the accident was false, in fact, she knew better. There were police reports and hospital records to back those up, same with the story about Cole wanting to meet his biological father’s side of the family and it not going well. “You’re an incredible woman, Ms. Wolfe.”

 

Char blushes, biting her lip, “so, you’re satisfied then?”

 

“I mean, it’s hard not to be.” Kait replies quietly, “I really came by to make sure you were okay. After the police reports and news reports.” She watches the younger woman, “when I...when I did a bit of following up with Holby City Hospital, and they told me you were no longer a patient, I...I thought you might have been successful.”

 

“I’m surprised they told you anything at all, honestly.” Seeing the woman’s smirk, Char nods her head slowly, “you’re police and you probably weren’t asking any sort of questions that would break any sort of doctor-patient confidentiality. Also, you could have waved your badge around a bit. Figuratively or literally.”

 

“I could have.” Kait leans forward again, pouring herself some tea.

 

“What makes you think I won’t phone your superior and tell them about your incredible abuse of power?”

 

“Because I don’t think you will.” Lifting her cup to her lips, Kait takes a slow sip, placing it back onto the tray again.

 

Char raises an eyebrow, “presumptuous.”

 

Kait smiles to herself, “Ms. Wolfe-”

 

“Please, just call me Charlotte.” She stops pacing, “my husband always called me Ms. Wolfe as a term of...endearment and it’s still rather...difficult for me to hear it regularly. Especially during a conversation...even though it’s part of my name.” Char looks down to the woman.

 

“Called...past tense?”

 

“He died in the car accident that we all...we all were in.”

 

Kait swallows, “you didn’t cover that much in the second book. I didn’t know, I’m sorry.”

 

“You didn’t kill him.” Char exhales with a smile, “just material for the third book, I guess.” She takes a seat again, “which sounds crass, but...my publisher says I’m the most popular author they have that just writes about their own life. Usually that’s saved for celebrities or...” Char shrugs, “people who have done far more interesting things than I have.”

 

“You saved a shit ton of people during a terrorist attack, I’d say that’s interesting.”

 

“Over a decade ago.”

 

“That doesn’t stop people from appreciating what you’ve done.” Kait shakes her head, “I mean, everything that’s occurred, I can understand the sort of...PTSD you suffer from. You’d have multiple reasons for it.” She takes another sip of her tea. “It did occur to me, though, that...throughout the whole two books, you never mentioned having a friend.”

 

“Never had time for one.” Char shakes her head, “I have my children, my parents, and my...my husband was my best friend...as well as my partner. So, when he died, it was like...losing double, or something.”

 

“Understandable. He seemed like a good guy.”

 

“He was the best.” Charlotte smiles to herself, then clears her throat, “was that the end game of your visit? To be my friend?” She laughs softly to herself, “you read a couple books, do a little stalking and misuse of information that was provided for the purposes of a case and nothing more, and you show up on my doorstep and...you just want to be friends.”

 

“Is that so crazy?” Kait raises an eyebrow.

 

“You put your job at risk, a job where you are incredibly high ranking and I’m sure you worked very hard to obtain said position, and you put it at risk to be friends with a mediocre author who can’t think of actual stories to write about so instead just writes about her own pathetic life.” Char raises an eyebrow, “why would you risk all that for friendship?”

 

“Why not?”

 

“You’re mad.” Charlotte starts laughing to herself, “I’m certifiable, but...doing all that for me?

 

“Sometimes a person meets another person and there’s something about them, more than just wanting to know every single thing there is to know about them. Wanting to be there for them, wanting to...make sure no other harm comes to them, and if it does...that they aren’t alone.”

 

“You sound like my husband.”

 

“Smart guy.” Kait smiles to herself.

 

“And how do I know you wouldn’t try to stab me if we were to go out for drinks?” Char raises an eyebrow.

 

“You don’t.” Kait shrugs, “that’s the beauty of being friends with someone. You just need to take their word for things. Learn to depend on them...and learn to let them depend on you.”

 

Honestly, there was something to the inspector’s words. Though she has acquaintances, and knows said acquaintances would do anything for her, there wasn’t a time where she’d go out for a drink or just hang out with them, watch a movie or go for a jog together. She knows it’s mostly a character trait on her own, “I don’t not have friends. I’m just selective about who I’m friendly with.”

 

Kait smirks, “okay.”

 

Sighing heavily, Char nods a little, “okay, what...do you suppose our first act, as friends, should be?”

 

“Dinner? When was the last time you’ve been out to a proper dinner at a beautiful restaurant?”

 

“My anniversary.”

 

“Okay...maybe not the best idea.” Kait runs a hand through her hair, “and I’m betting you might not be able to lift a fork or anything while we were out anyway.”

 

Char raises her eyebrows, “what gives you that-”

 

“You haven’t tried pouring tea...even though you know it’s quite good tea.” She motions with a casual wave of her hand, “you have also made no effort to grip anything. Whether it be your own arm when you folded your arms or your leg while you were sitting on the chair...” Kait shrugs, “just a general observation.” She reaches into the pocket of the jacket next to her, removing a business card. She places the card onto the coffee table. “I gather your parents have your youngest next door because you wouldn’t be able to lift her on your own.”

 

Swallowing, Charlotte looks away, “quite observant of you.”

 

“It’s my job.” Kait quickly finishes her tea, setting the teacup onto the tray again. She stands from her place on the sofa and begins to pull on her overcoat. “When you get comfortable enough to fly the coop, or...just want to speak to someone you aren’t related to, feel free to ring me.” She pauses, “I’m glad you weren’t necessarily ignoring my calls and just...weren’t able to take them.” She notices the soft smile forming on the younger woman’s face as she takes her leave, closing the door behind her.

 

Lane lifts his head when he notices the guest leave, rising from the bar stool and making his way to the lounge. He looks at his mother, “everything okay?”

 

“You were supposed to be going over sonnets...not eavesdropping.” Charlotte replies quietly, lifting her head to meet her son’s gaze, “working not only on reading comprehension, but also penmanship.”

 

“She said you were ignoring her calls. Who is she?”

 

Charlotte shakes her head, offering a smile to the boy, “doesn’t matter. How about we take a lunch break?” She raises an eyebrow, hoping he would drop it, “relax a bit, do a bit more English later? How does that sound?” Noticing the quizzical look on her son’s face before he nods, she exhales slowly, “good then.”

Chapter Text

Serena watches as her wife closes her eyes, sitting on the sofa, Lavinia having a bit of tummy time on the floor, looking at different things on a padded mat. It’s obvious Bernie isn’t sleeping or falling asleep, encouraging Serena to speak to her even more, “Berenice.”

 

Looking over toward her wife with squinting eyes, Bernie does her best to open them a bit more as for her not to ask any questions, “I didn’t hear you come up, I thought you were still in the cellar organizing the wine.” She smiles softly to her.

 

Slowly folding her arms over her chest, Serena takes a seat next to her wife, “I wasn’t terribly quiet about returning.”

 

“Quiet enough that I didn’t hear you.” She tries keeping her eyes open, but she can feel her head pounding with her heartbeat. Bernie brings a hand up, covering her eyes with her palm as her thumb and middle finger of the same hand begin to massage her temples.

 

Serena hums knowingly, having caught her wife a few times already. She gently takes hold of Bernie’s hand, “how can I help you?”

 

Bernie shakes her head a little, feeling tears forming in her eyes, glad that her partner isn’t able to see them. “It will pass.”

 

“Is it just the headache or are you dizzy as well?” Serena gently touches the back of her wife’s neck, “you’re burning up.”

 

“Of course I am.” Bernie smirks a little.

 

“I’m being serious.”

 

“Happens when I have migraines. Sometimes, it’s chills. Sometimes, it’s both.” Bernie groans softly, “I usually don’t tell you when I’m having one and I just...go have a sleep.” She grips her eyes closed, “they vary in how painful they are.” Bernie maintains her tone of voice, never wavering. 

 

Serena sighs, “have you told your neurologist?”

 

“Never saw the need. Headaches after TBI are incredibly common.”

 

“They could have given you a triptan.” She shakes her head, getting up again. “I’m phoning something in for you.”

 

“Campbell.” Bernie warns, it’s of no use though, Serena’s already out of the room. She lies down on the sofa, pulling a throw pillow over her head to shield her eyes.

 

“You’re lucky I don’t take you to hospital.” Serena calls back to her, obtaining her mobile. She makes quick work about calling in a favor or two. “Luckily they deliver.” She replies softly as she returns to the lounge. Glancing on the floor, she notices Lavinia is sleeping with her head on top of the mirror of her activity mat. “It’s like the two of you are on the same wavelength.” She mumbles, smirking to herself. Serena carefully leans down, lifting the baby to place her in the travel cot they had purchased to keep downstairs when she stays over during the day.

 

“I don’t want you making a fuss...and you’re making a fuss.” Bernie mutters, her eyes still covered. Luckily, things seem to be significantly better when the area is dark to her, only a slight discomfort instead of the massive one she was feeling before. These quick, sudden headaches scare her, but she’d never admit that.

 

“Get over it, darling.” Serena smirks, taking a seat at the other end of the sofa. She gently lifts Bernie’s feet to her lap, gently massaging them. Hearing her wife hum softly after a few moments, Serena jumps, “what’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing. That feels...really bloody good.” She smirks, knowing her wife could see the lower portion of her face.

 

Serena exhales with relief, “would it help if I turned off the classical?” There was soft music playing, something Lavinia seemed to respond to, as well as her wife. Her massaging fingers begin to innocently travel up to her wife’s ankles.

 

“No, it’s fine.” Bernie answers quietly, letting the quiet wash over them for a few moments more, “I’m sorry I frightened you.”

 

“Yeah, well...at least you’ll have something when they hit next.” Serena nods, keeping her voice low, calm. As to not wake the baby and to not exacerbate her wife’s migraine, both. “Just...stop hiding them from me.” She bites her lower lip for a moment, “you and I both know that a moderate TBI can progress to something much worse, very quickly. It’s imperative that we keep your symptoms at bay...to keep that from happening too fast.”

 

Bernie swallows, knowing her wife’s words to be true. “The very last thing I’d want is to be a burden to you...or the children. I’d...” She pauses, “I’d rather go to a care home or...elsewhere, so that you can continue on with life when I’m unable to.”

 

“But you are my life.” Serena answers softly, “when we married, I pledged to you that you would have all of me for the rest of our lives. That means when one of us is ill or...worse.” She inhales softly, “though I know it’s unlikely to happen, I fear turning into what my mother ended up being. I’ve been there before, I’ve tended to someone who...didn’t recognize them self. If that happened to you, I could handle that-”

 

“I don’t want you to though.” Bernie interrupts, “just give me my pistol and...I’ll go to the garden.”

 

Serena feels herself growing upset, her eyes tearing up, “I’d really rather not talk about this right now.”

 

“I’d rather not talk about it ever, but it’s something I think about constantly. Knowing what I know about how traumatic brain injuries work, what I know that you know about them.” Bernie feels her wife continue to trail her fingers up to her calves, “I think about Lane often as well. TBI patients usually take a turn after five years. Now, I’ll be pushing fifty by then,” She smiles softly as her wife snorts with amusement, “but Laney will only be sixteen.”

 

“Well, when you’re pushing fifty and Lane is sixteen, we’ll worry about it then.” Serena answers quietly, “No need to do that to ourselves now.” She exhales slowly, “am I understood, Major?”

 

“Loud and clear, Fraulein.” 

 

Serena ticks her tongue against her teeth, “I’m much more Frau than Fraulein these days.”

 

“Not to me.” Bernie reaches a hand out to her, glad when her wife takes it, “only as young as you feel.”

 

“Pushing ninety then.” She teases, hearing her wife doing her best to stifle a laugh.

 

“Our bed would say differently.”

 

“We haven’t really done anything...in months.” Serena shakes her head. Though it might have bothered her before, being with Bernie and holding her in her arms is just as good now, if not better. Just their closeness was good. She must admit, though, if something were to happen, she wouldn’t complain in the slightest. “So, our bed wouldn’t say much.”

 

“How about tonight, we give staying here a try?” Bernie offers, “it’s Friday night and Guinevere will probably go straight to Char’s to help with Vinnie. The older two have shown their abilities time and time again. Charlotte is doing great.” She smirks a little, “so how about we stay home, finally, and cater to us?”

 

“You make some...excellent points.” Serena leans back against the sofa a bit more, returning her hands to Bernie’s stocking feet.

 

“They’re getting older now, Campbell. Which...I don’t agree with.”

 

“Neither do I.” 

 

“We still have Vinnie to spoil though...and Max, now.” Bernie explains, the pillow still over her eyes.

 

Serena nods to herself, “very true.” She pauses, “they’ve agreed to come to Sunday dinner. Morven said Cameron never told her we did that. Never said anything to her about us inviting him every Sunday to pop over for something to eat. He’d just automatically make an excuse.”

 

“Sounds like Cam.”

 

“She mentioned wanting to make sure Max had a strong support system, one that didn’t only include her and Cameron.” Serena smiles softly, “which, I’m more than happy to oblige. We just need to make sure we buy a bit extra.” She pauses, “and purchase things that little Max will eat...as well as new cups and-”

 

“Maybe you should do a bit of shopping with Morven.” Bernie offers, “I’d bet she’s probably a bit lost as well.”

 

“You’re right.”

 

“Take Charlotte with you. Get her out of the house. You can work as a team or...something.”

 

Serena raises an amused eyebrow, “or something?”

 

“A band of...merry women.” Bernie smirks, hearing her wife begin to laugh, “a girl gang.” She waits until the woman settles a bit, “or, ya know...a family.”

 

“Correct.” Serena pats her wife on the leg before getting up from her spot on the sofa, hearing Lavinia babbling to herself in the travel cot. “It’s going to be difficult not waking up to that perfect little face in the morning though.”

 

“We’ll see her later in the day.” Though their daughter wasn’t living with them this time, they’ve grown incredibly attached to their grandchild again. Just like they did with Cole when he was a baby, and well into his childhood. “Just remember sleeping in our own bed tonight.”

 

“Sleeping?”

 

“There you go.” Bernie beams.

Chapter Text

“Honestly, I can’t thank you all enough for coming out with me.” Morven smiles at the other women, then down to her son, “Right, Max?” When the boy nods instinctively, she runs a hand through his hair. “We...Cam and I didn’t realize there were so many things we just...weren’t adequately prepared for.”

 

“Never do.” Char shakes her head, Lavinia secured to her chest in a carrier, “I’ve had four bloody kids and when this one came about, it was like I was starting fresh.” She places a reassuring hand on the baby’s belly as her daughter faces outward, “all the things I knew before had changed...for the most part.” Char feels her daughter holding onto her finger, it was the first time they had used the carrier this way, as Vinnie usually faced her.

 

“Well, don’t let me throw my two bits in about how different it was since Elinor was a baby.” Serena smiles warmly, “we’d be here all day.”

 

“We wouldn’t mind it.” Morven had always thought very fondly of Serena, even before she started dating Cameron the first time. Serena was there for her when her husband had died of cancer and almost became a maternal figure for her. “I can only imagine though.”

 

“Who would have thought things could change in thirty some odd years...” Charlotte mumbles, receiving a playful nudge from Serena. She looks over to Max, who seems to be reaching for her. “I’m not much for lifting anything just yet.” She motions for her and Morven to switch spots, glad when Morven understands. Looking down, she notices Max reach forward to gently take Lavinia’s hand as they continue to walk along.

 

Instinctively, Morven takes her mobile from her pocket, taking a few pictures. “That is the cutest thing I may have ever seen.”

 

“He does seem quite taken with her.” Serena raises an eyebrow.

 

“The older boys were so welcoming and loving toward him. Same with Guinevere.” Morven smiles softly, “I can’t thank you enough for-”

 

“I didn’t do anything.” Char shakes her head, “that’s all them. Luckily, I have great sons.” She grins, “I’m just surprised even Owen played along in the garden with them. I guess a bit of footy speaks to all ages.” Char motions to another, “Mum, can you grab that one for me?”

 

Serena follows her stepdaughter’s gaze, reaching up to pull down the toddler toy, “I remember the twins loving this one.”

 

“They did. Practically wore it out. Obviously, I don’t need to pick one up for Vinnie just yet, but...I probably will.” Char hums a soft chuckle to herself, “mostly for the laughs as I sip a glass of wine.”

 

Morven was worried about coming out with the pair, especially since what happened to Charlotte. It made her unsure. Not that she feared her partner’s sister, but she didn’t actually know her very well. Not as well as she wished she could have by now. It was their own fault though.

 

“You okay?” Serena places a hand on the middle of Morven’s back, “you seem distracted.”

 

“Just overwhelmed, I think.” Morven smiles softly, “I’m so...thrilled to have him. He’s beautiful and...he’s ours. I just...there’s so many emotions that come along with it all that I...wasn’t expecting, I suppose. Feelings I...I’m not used to.”

 

“Happiness? I know Cameron can be-”

 

“Charlotte.” Serena warns.

 

Char smirks a little, “it’s the same feelings as when you carry and birth a baby yourself.” She gives a quick glance to Morven as they continue to stroll, “like...you’ve been an arsehole all these years, throwing yourself at things, not taking any sort of...personal...” Char tilts her head from side to side to crack her neck, not knowing the words she’s looking for, but using her hand to emphasize what she’s saying, “and you haven’t protected yourself in a long time at that point.” She looks down, noticing Max holding Vinnie’s hand again, “and then this little person happens that depends on you. Sure, he may think his grandmothers are his actual parents, but that doesn’t change anything.”

 

Raising an eyebrow, Serena glances over to her stepdaughter, “I have no idea where you’re going with this.”

 

“That even though you think you’re going to royally fu-” Char censors herself quickly, “mess it up somehow, as long as you try and you do your best and...give them as much love and attention as you can, they don’t care about the mishaps. It’s just a part of the story to them.”

 

“My daughter, the author, ladies and gentlemen.” Serena smirks, casually folding her arms over her chest. “Max, would you like to get out? Show me what you like?” They’re in the toddler aisle still, luckily there were a few in this store, “give Mum and Auntie Char an opportunity to pick out things that...I haven’t the foggiest idea about?”

 

Max stares the silver haired woman with uncertainty, offering her a soft smile as she pulls him from the cart. He holds onto Serena’s hand, deciding to give her a chance. As he walks in front of the cart, Max turns suddenly to point toward his mother and aunt, “b-b too?”

 

“Lavinia’s fine.” Serena winks to him, “never you worry.” She lets him lead in their walk, knowing he was simply just getting a bit antsy being all cooped up in the child seat portion of the cart.

 

Charlotte sighs softly, waiting for Serena and Max to move a bit down the aisle, “Morven, would you mind taking her out for me?” She pauses, “I’m not quite...confident enough to do much in terms of lifting and...” Char trails a little, smiling to the other woman.

 

“Of course.” Morven gently removes Lavinia from the carrier over Charlotte’s chest, hearing the baby’s happy gurgles as she holds her against her hip. “Um...I wanted to ask you how you’ve been, but I didn’t want to make it awkward.” She replies softly, only to be met with silence, Morven bites her lip. “Which I...seem to have just done.”

 

“No, not at all.” Char shakes her head, lifting her head to meet the other woman’s eyes as she smiles to herself. “I could have never imagined how...how much a mindset changes the course of life.” She shrugs, “My...wrists still hurt like hell, but my head is screwed on right. I’m...content.”

 

“Better than nothing.” Morven raises her eyebrows, a hopeful expression painting her face.

 

“There’s more to life than just raising children or...being in love. I just...went too long without tending to myself. Mentally and physically.” Char shrugs, looking down to her daughter, biting her lip when the baby reaches for her. “I’m sorry, my love, I can’t.” 

 

Morven picks up a teething toy from the shelf, a small giraffe, showing it to the baby to shift her focus. “I’m glad you’re on a better path now.” She pauses, “you know, you can try holding her, if you want. If it hurts too much, I can take her right back. You just wouldn’t know unless you tried, right?”

 

“Not in the middle of a baby supply shop.” Char bites the corner of her lip, “when I... went for it , they said it was all incredibly violent looking. More than just a simple, single cut. I, apparently, hacked away as best I could. Damaged ligaments and tendons as well as the vascular damage I very obviously sustained.” She huffs a soft laugh to herself, “details like that make me glad I don’t remember.”

 

Her honesty and candor about the situation is surprising to Morven, who just tilts her head to the side. “I wanted to visit you in hospital, but...Cam said it was for the best that I didn’t.”

 

“Cam’s overprotective, but I appreciate the clothing you sent.” Char shrugs, “he’s still...overcompensating for when things went down with my ex.” She pauses, “not Ryan, the one before him.”

 

“I’ve read a bit of the books. I understand.” Morven exhales, glancing at the baby in her arm, then back at her partner’s sister, “you know, ever since I met you, there was something about you that...intimidated me.”

 

Her forehead pinching, Charlotte tilts her head to the side, “Why would I intimidate you?”

 

“Your success, I think.”

 

“But you’re a surgical consultant. You hold the lives of people in your hands, quite literally, every single day. You schooled and worked incredibly hard to get there. I haven’t even gone to uni and popped three kids out in quick succession because I sucked at using birth control.”

 

“Exactly.” A smile forms in the corner of Morven’s mouth. “I’ve...not had nearly as many life events as you have.” She pauses, “I helped my first husband with his cancer, then I was a widow. I’ve helped out at the homeless shelter from time to time. I’ve just become a mother like...a couple of weeks ago.” She shakes her head, “and all I think about is him now. I’m lucky I have maternity leave to bond, I do wish Cam had a bit more paternity leave, but it’s adorable to see how excited Max gets when he sees his father’s car pull in the drive.”

 

“After I had the twins there was this overwhelming sense of...uselessness that I felt.” She shrugs, “I was bored, I felt like a milk factory...there weren’t many exciting places that I was going anymore.” Char snorts a soft sound of amusement, “it’s okay to feel lonely and uncomfortable with yourself after becoming a parent...it’s called motherhood.” She paues, “still doesn’t explain why you’d find me intimidating.” When the other woman doesn’t respond, Char smiles a bit more, “is it because I look like my Mum?”

 

“Possibly.” Morven grins.

 

“So does Cam if you look for it.” Charlotte nods, “but, if you just try, you’ll fit in fine. Don’t depend on Cam to phone us. You come over. You’re always welcome, Morven, always.” She begins to push the cart again, “I’m always home, Laney is home with school, Vinnie heads over to the Grands during the day.” She pauses, “but if they go back to work-”

 

“You’ll be fine by then.” Morven shakes her head, “you just need to believe in yourself a little more.”

 

Looking at her daughter again, Char knows Morven is right. “You’ll take her back if it’s too much?” She starts to remove her carrier that she was previously holding the baby in.

 

“Of course.” Morven moves close to the blonde again, carefully placing Lavinia in the woman’s arm when she finishes taking the back off, “just use your arms more, I guess.” 

 

Charlotte looks down to her daughter, the baby rubbing her face against Char’s blouse. “I know, I’ve missed holding you too.” She mumbles in the girl’s ear, lowering her gaze when she sees Max run up to her, gently tapping her skinny jean clad leg. “Did you and Nan find something?”

 

“B-b, kay?” Max tilts his head to the side.

 

Serena pauses her walk, smiling lovingly toward her stepdaughter when she sees her holding Lavinia. She hadn’t been able to hold her in a month’s time now. Not really. Serena worried that Lavinia would get to a point where she didn’t want Charlotte to hold her, but there’s nothing like a mother’s love. She meets her stepdaughter’s gaze, absently placing a hand over her own heart. There doesn’t need to be a single word said to one another, a look is all it takes to convey Serena’s heartfelt sense of pride for the young woman.

Chapter Text

“You’re really going to help me?” Lane grins broadly, glancing up to his Gran as he ties his own apron around himself. “Like a sous chef?”

 

“Of course, Chef Anand. I am at your disposal.” Bernie reaches out, ruffling a hand through her young grandson’s hair. The others had gone off to the park with Evie Fletcher and Lane wasn’t quite up for the ride. She never gets to spend much time with Lane one on one, so she was more than happy to now.

 

“Cole agreed with me that I about making dinner for everyone tonight, so he bought me the produce and meats that I asked him to-”

 

Furrowing her brow as she listens to the boy, Bernie interrupts him, “he bought you produce and meats?”

 

“Well, for tonight and he bought stuff for Mum to make steak sandwiches for us tomorrow.” Lane offers, seeing his Gran’s pleased smirk, “I know that’s one of your favorites.” He pauses, “if Mum isn’t able to cook it, I’m going to have her explain it to me. We can tag team it.”

 

“Sounds like a great idea.” She watches him as he moves to the fridge, “what did you choose for tonight?”

 

“Pork tenderloin with a garlic and honey glaze. Roasted haricot vert, and baked cheesy pasta. The pasta needs to cook the longest, so we’ll get started on that first, as well as stabbing and shoving little bits of garlic into the pork.” Lane explains, glancing over to his Gran on occasion.

 

Bernie nods slowly, only catching part of what he was saying. “Sounds fantastic.” She can tell how excited he seems about all of this, even though he isn’t speaking quickly. 

 

“Gran, can you get the long glass dish? I’ll get the baking sheet.” When she doesn’t move, he gently touches her arm, “Gran?”

 

Bernie quickly looks in his direction, “what’s that?”

 

Lane furrows his brow before pointing to the upper cupboard, “I need the glass baking dish for the cheesy pasta, but I can’t reach it.” She follows his pointed finger and Lane relaxes a little, as she moves to get it for him, “I’ll put on the pasta to boil.” When he notices she’s just holding it, appearing slightly confused. “Just put it here, Gran.”

 

Clearing her throat, Bernie nods, following his guidance. “Yes, of course.” She looks to him, “need help with the pot of water?” His slight nod has her at the sink. “How did you manage while you and your mother were incapable?” 

 

“I would use cups...and carry using two hands.” Lane smiles to himself, “I mean, the sink isn’t too far from the stove, so...it would take a while, but I did it.” He pauses, “also, we’d try not to boil very often.” Lane shrugs, “we just...figured it out when we needed to.”

 

“And how has that been going for you?”

 

“I think I’m doing better.” Lane nods, “or I’m getting used to doing things differently. Either way, things feel like they’re getting easier for me.” He flashes a soft smile, “so I get to help Mum with things now, since she helped me so often with mine.”

 

“That’s very kind of you, Laney.” Bernie nods, setting the filled pot of water onto the stove for her grandson.

 

“It’s only payback for what she’s done for me.” Lane nods, “including helping me learn. Which you and Nan did while she was in hospital, so I’ll pay you all back at some point as well.”

 

“That isn’t necessary, darling.” 

 

“It is to me.” Lane nods, “when people do nice things for us, we should thank them for it as best we can.”

 

Bernie smiles softly, reaching a hand out to run through the boy’s hair. “Dinner for everyone is quite the undertaking though. Are you certain you’re up for it?” She pauses, “I’ll be here to help, but...it’s still a big task.”

 

Lane offers her a smile, “I’ve helped Mum plenty of times. It’s easier than it looks.” He pauses, “did you like to cook? Is that where Mum gets her love of it?” Lane smiles softly, “or Nan or Grandad...maybe?”

 

“Afraid not. Your mother is an anomaly.” She watches as he moves about the space. Though his methods are slow and calculated, he’s doing incredibly well. “My mother did love to cook and...be a housewife. Then she got this spark in her. A zest for life, if you will, whenever my father was away.” She nods, “taken out by cancer when I was a bit younger than you are now.”

 

“She would have been my Great Gran then?”

 

Bernie hums her approval, nodding slowly, “and I’m certain she’d have loved you.”

 

“What was she like?” Lane starts stirring flour and butter in a pan, beginning a rue. “Do you look like her?”

 

Laughing softly to herself, Bernie nods, “I do. Only thing I got from my father was my sense of duty to the Queen.” She smiles a little, edging against the counter top. “My mother was...energetic...loyal and loving.” She nods to herself, “brunette. Charlotte is the spitting image.” She grins a bit more, “older she became, the more I started to believe in reincarnation.” Bernie pauses, “I mean, I...I don’t, but...Char looks like her, sounds like her.”

 

Lane glances over to his Gran, “do you have any pictures?”

 

“I’m sure I do, somewhere in the attic.” Bernie nods, absently opening and closing her hand when she experiences an uncomfortable needle-like feeling in her hand. “I’ll pull them down at some point over the weekend. How does that sound?”

 

He nods, “I don’t remember ever seeing many pictures of our family from the olden days.” Lane quickly glances to her, still stirring his mixture, “I bet cosmetics and clothing then were fascinating.” He begins adding cheese to his mixture, gruyere, monterey, and sharp cheddar. “Gran, can you drain the pasta and get the heavy whipping cream from the fridge?” When she looks confused again, he points to the pot of boiling water, “just drain the pasta. I’ll get the rest.” He thinks about phoning his Nan about how odd his Gran is acting. Knowing it isn’t like her in the least. At least she understands this time, going through the motions of draining the pasta into the colander. He moves around to the fridge, getting the heavy whipping cream he asked for.

 

“T-there was another thing you said. What else did you need?”

 

“I have it. Don’t worry.” Lane continues watching her from the corner of his eye.

 

“Reckon I’ll probably be having another migraine later.” Bernie sighs softly, “I had a few when I was younger, but...makes me understand just what Cole used to go through them nearly every night for a while.”

 

“I never saw them. He usually went to yours.”

 

“Because of them.” Bernie watches him, “want me to pour this in the pot of your cheese mixture?” When her grandson nods again, she follows directions, “and I’m guessing you’ll want that to go into your baking dish in a moment.”

 

“Yep.” Lane bites his lip, adding a few seasonings as well, “and we’ll cover it with more cheese.”

 

“That’s very cheesy.”

 

“I know.” The corner of Lane’s mouth turns up a bit. He keeps mixing a bit longer before moving the baking dish closer, “can you pour for me?”

 

Bernie nods, “of course.” Her tongue suddenly feels foreign in her mouth and she feels herself rubbing it across her own teeth. After finishing the tasks the boy asked for, she takes a seat on one of the stools on the other side of the kitchen island. “I feel I’m...I’m n-not being of much help to you.”

 

It’s the way she says it. The way there’s an uncertainty to her voice, even a slight slur. He closes the oven before turning to look at her, “Gran?” Watching as her eyes start to roll back and she falls from the stool, convulsing. Lane swallows, quickly getting his mobile to phone the person closest who would know exactly what to do. He slowly kneels next to her, tears filling his eyes as his chin trembles, whispering, “help is coming.” Not sure if he should even touch her, “help is coming,” he repeats.

Chapter Text

Cole just leaves his bicycle in the front garden of the house, having been at the park with Guinevere, Evie, and Owen. His brother had sounded distraught when he phoned his mobile. “Lane?”

“In here.” Lane answers weakly from the kitchen, tears streaming down his face. When he notices his brother standing in the doorway, he lifts his gaze to look at him, kneeling next to his grandmother on the floor as she trembles gently, arching her back. “I don’t...I-I can’t-”

 

“Hey, it’s okay.” Cole says to his brother as he quickly removes his own jacket, tossing it to the floor. He kneels on the other side from his brother, “How long ago did it start?”

 

“I called you when she fell from the chair.” Lane bites his lip, watching as his  “I want to help.”

 

“Two minutes, tops. Get a throw pillow or two from the sofa?” Cole knows it will be a moment until his brother is successful. He gently holds his Gran’s hand. Seeing someone he looks up to so much in such a vulnerable position does cause his eyes to go a bit glassy. Cole feels he needs to be strong right now. He knows he needs to be strong.

 

“Should we phone Nan or an ambulance?” Lane returns with a couple of the throw pillows from the sofa, offering them to his brother.

 

“Not yet.” Cole shakes his head, taking the pillows and placing them next to his Gran’s head, “no need to worry Nan unless we need to phone an ambulance.” He looks at the clock on the stove, then back to his brother. “Were you cooking?”

 

Lane nods a little, “the pork tenderloin you had bought.”

 

“Go ahead back to it. Tell me more.” Cole tries to keep the room calm during a very stressful situation. “What kind of seasonings did you use?”

 

Nodding a little, Lane moves back to behind the kitchen island. “I made a honey and garlic glaze...and thew some herbs onto it. Salt and pepper.” He goes back to what he was doing, “with a side of baked cheesy pasta and roasted haricot vert with a little bit of garlic.” He swallows, “I was going to surprise the others when they returned home. Hopefully, Auntie Morven will bring Max inside instead of just going home.”

 

“Max would probably love your cheesy pasta, you make the best. Just don’t tell Mum I said that.” Cole offers, glancing absently at the clock again. When he notices his Gran stop her shaking, he leans his head down, listening to see if her airway is in any way compromised. Glad when things seem clear, he carefully turns her onto her side, facing him. Cole gently slides one of the pillows under her head for a bit of comfort. He gives her a moment before he begins to speak to her, “Gran, can you hear me?” When she hums an approval, he continues, “you fell out with convulsions.”

 

“Oh no.” Bernie’s voice cloudy as she grows more and more alert with her surroundings. “Shit,” she whispers, realizing she’s on the kitchen floor.

 

“I haven’t phoned Nan or anything. She’s still out with Mum and Aunt Morven...and the tiny ones.” Cole gently rubs his Gran’s upper arm, almost absently. “Just take your time waking. There’s no rush.”

 

“Should get up before they get back.”

 

“That doesn’t matter.” He shakes his head, “Lane’s making dinner...and it smells really good.” 

 

“Things are still marinating. There is no smell yet.” Lane carefully kneels behind his Gran’s back, “how are you feeling?”

 

Bernie exhales, blinking heavily, “tired.”

 

“I wouldn’t fall asleep just yet if I were you.” Cole warns, “I need you to keep waking up a bit more. At least enough for you to get to the sofa in the lounge.” He pauses, “your back will hurt if you stay here.”

 

Huffing a quick sound of amusement, Bernie rolls onto her back, better to see his face, “your Nan has rubbed off on you more than we ever give her credit for.”

 

“Grandad actually told me about when you were in the RAMC and your humvee hit an IED...and all the surgery you had from it. Nan said it still bothers you, especially when there’s bad weather or when you nap in a position or place you probably shouldn’t be.” Cole notices her charmed smirk, “also, it might freak Owen out a bit.”

 

“He would probably insist on laying down with you.” Lane chuckles to himself, as he pushes up to standing. He’s far more relaxed now that she seems okay.

 

Bernie begins to push herself up to sitting, feeling as her eldest grandson helps her. “Thank you.” She continues to grow more alert, but also more uncomfortable. Helplessness, an emotion she doesn’t have much experience with nor is comfortable feeling. She swallows, anxiously lifting her hand to run through her hair. “I’m fine now.”

 

Cole swallows, able to sense her unease. He leans forward, suddenly hugging onto her. “Everything’s going to be okay.” He whispers in her ear, feeling her hug onto him tightly in return. His eyes lift when he sees his Nan enter, the other two adults behind her with two sleepy babies in their arms. They were in view from the doorway after all.

 

Serena moves closer, looking down, “what happened?” She seems worried, but not shocked. Serena glances around, noticing the pillows and the toppled over bar stool that no one had picked up.

 

“Nothing for concern.” Cole tries to protect his Gran, as he often does. Her brain injury from the car accident months prior having taken quite a toll. Mostly on the little things, things he knew his Nan would expect as well. “Gran, try leaning against the wall. I’ll go speak with Nan.” The woman doesn’t answer, not even loosening her grip on the teenager. “I’ll be right back, promise.”

 

Tilting her head to the side, Serena notices that her wife continues to say nothing. Once Bernie releases Cole from her grasp, the boy pulls Serena by her hand, leading them to the library. She folds her arms once they enter the threshold of the room, staring at her grandson, “Cole-”

 

“Listen, she’s like...proper scared right now. Don’t yell at her.”

 

Serena sighs, “why would I yell at her?”

 

Cole swallows, “Lane was making dinner and she started to have a seizure. I was at the park when he...phoned me. Right when it happened. She was only convulsing for a few minutes. I checked her airway, turned her on her side, etcetera, etcetera.” The teen bites his lip, comfortably folding his arms over his chest, “I know it’s a...side effect of traumatic brain injuries. When she would...mix up words and stuff, I did research about it all. I wouldn’t let her suffer.”

 

“Yeah.” Serena takes a seat on the sofa within the room.

 

“She’s been trying to play it off since she started talking again.”

 

Nodding slowly, Serena huffs a chortle to herself, “sounds like her.” She inhales deeply, exhaling as she speaks again, “a seizure is a difficult thing to play off .”

 

“Agreed.” Cole smirks, taking a seat next to his Nan, “she said she didn’t hit her head, but I didn’t want to fuss over her and make her more uncomfortable by feeling for a bump on her head. That’s your job.”

 

“Thank’s a lot.” She offers him a reassuring smile, reaching over to wrap an arm around the teen’s upper back. “Are you alright though, Cole? I know that couldn’t have been easy to witness.”

 

“I don’t matter in the equation, Nan. I have a therapist for all of that...as does Laney.” Cole wraps an arm around her waist in return, “I just wanted you and Mum to have a good time...I know it’s been a really long time for you both. Did you?”

 

Serena nods slowly, “haven’t laughed that hard in a while.”

 

“Good.”

 

“However, if something like that were to ever happen again, I want you to phone me immediately. You did everything correctly. Absolutely everything, but...please just phone me. Your grandmother’s health and safety is far more important to me than a laugh.” Serena squeezes him to her, pressing a kiss to his temple. “Do I make myself clear?”

 

Cole nods, seeing Morven and his mother carefully walk his Gran past the doorway toward the lounge, “You need to talk to her.” He swallows, “she isn’t going to say or admit things to me, but she will to you. I can only offer her support, I can’t properly...help her with that aspect.”

 

“Of course I will.” Serena sighs softly, “I just need to figure out how to get her home tonight.”

 

“We’ll figure out a way. She needs proper rest and she isn’t going to get that with Owen trying to give her a tour of the house every half hour.” Cole smiles softly when he hears his Nan chuckle, “also she needs some proper cuddles from the one she loves most...but I guess you’d be fine too.”

 

“I wonder where you’d get a sense of humor like that.” Serena teases the boy, staying with him for a few more moments. “Smells like dinner is nearly finished...possibly.” She stands, “and I need to figure out how to assess your Gran without her complaining about it. So much to do, so little time.” Serena finally leaves the room, knowing it was something she would have to talk with Bernie about while they were home, alone.

Chapter Text

Serena watches her wife, resting in the bed they share together. Luckily, Morven, Cole, and Guinevere were there to help Bernie back to their house and up to their bedroom. Cole even brought over a couple of platters of food for them. Serena sits at the foot of the bed, slowly eating her dinner as she stares toward her wife.

 

“Look at me longer and you’ll burn holes right into me.” Bernie smiles softly toward her. “We haven’t had a chance to talk.”

 

“No, I suppose we haven’t.” Serena’s fork ticks against the ceramic dish before she lifts a roasted French bean to her mouth, “are you hungry?” She pauses, “I can feed you.”

 

“I can feed myself.” Bernie furrows her brow, “but I’m not hungry at the moment. I know Lane worked so hard, but managed to make it all look effortless. How is it?”

 

“Scrumptious.” Serena nods slowly, carefully moving toward the head of the bed. She stabs a small piece of pork onto her fork, “try a bite.”

 

Bernie knows better than to argue with her, taking the piece of pork into her mouth, “you’re right, it is delicious. I’m just...a bit nauseated.” She rolls onto her back, edging herself up in bed a little as she watches her wife, “and you’re hovering.” Bernie folds her hands over her lap.

 

“Well, darling, I came home from a lovely afternoon with the girls and our youngest grandchildren to see you on the floor with Cole...and you were relatively out of sorts. Couldn’t remember a damned thing and it seemed like you didn’t know where you were.” Serena swallows, poking a few pasta noodles and bringing it to her mouth. Her eyes water as she does her best not to look to her wife again.

 

Studying the beautiful, silver haired woman next to her, Bernie offers a soft smile, “I’m fine, Campbell.”

 

“You are now . You weren’t then. ” Serena sets the plate on the nightstand, a bit harder than she intended.

 

Bernie flinches, “Serena-”

 

“What if you were by yourself? What if you had hit your head?” Serena quickly wipes her cheek in an effort to hide the tear that managed to escape its enclosure. “What if you were alone with the younger ones and-”

 

“You act as if seizures aren’t common with TBIs.” Bernie gives a frustrated sigh, “you and I both know that they are. It’s why we watched over Cole and his migraines, we were afraid they’d develop into something much worse, and we didn’t want Char to have to deal with that on her own.” She reaches over, gently taking hold of her partner’s hand, “it’s a new thing and I’ll speak with the neurologist about it on the next business day, but...you can’t expect me to walk on eggshells all the time thinking about what-if.”

 

“I’ll phone tomorrow. Your specialist is at Holby. That means if I’m able to get you in for a proper appointment-”

 

“I just want to sleep, darling.”

 

“I don’t care.” Serena snaps, glaring slightly toward her wife. “I don’t care if all you want to do is sleep. I need to know that this isn’t the start of a bigger issue and I need to know how to properly tend to you if it is.” Her voice wavers ever so slightly toward the end of her statement, her eyes move away from the blonde. Serena calms her voice, inhaling and exhaling slowly, “I-I wasn’t here and your care was left to a teenager. I don’t know how long it lasted or anything else. Just what they’ve told me. I need to know, Bernie.”

 

“A very capable teenager.” Bernie swallows, watching her wife try her hardest to avert her eyes, “Campbell, look at me.” When she just doesn’t after a few moments, Bernie leans over, gently placing her hand on her wife’s cheek and making her face her, “I’ll do whatever you need me to do. I’ll do whatever puts you at ease, but we both know that you’re overreacting ever so slightly. It could just be a one off. We wouldn’t know if it’s anything to worry about unless I were to have another. We just don’t know.” She reaches up, placing her hand on Serena’s cheek, gently stroking along the cheekbone with her thumb.

 

Bernie blinks, her eyes ever so slightly more glassy than they were before, though she does her best to ignore it. “It’s hard justifying the ability of remembering things that happened some...fifty years ago and not remembering things from fifty minutes ago. It’s hard feeling numbness in my hands occasionally. It’s hard having headaches all the time. It’s hard being tired all the time. It’s hard coming to terms with not being able to return to my career, something I loved doing. It’s hard not feeling like me .” She lowers her hand, her eyes glistening more than they were previously, “I know you’re scared, Campbell. I know you are. I am too. Last thing I want is to be a burden to you.”

 

“You could never be a burden to me.” Serena whispers, her tears falling freely, but her face doesn’t contort with sadness. This isn’t a sob, it’s coming to terms with something she’s unable to control. It’s feeling as if she’s losing her partner right before her eyes. She leans over after a moment, collecting her wife into her arms as much as she possibly can. “You’re the calm and collected one. I’m...I’m the mess.”

 

“Yeah, but you’re my mess.” Bernie holds onto her wife, separating enough to capture her lips tenderly. “The mess I fell in love with the very first time I saw you...while I was still trying to masquerade as a straight, working mother.”

 

“That’s right, you were .” Serena smirks to herself. She lifts a hand, pushing a stray piece of hair from Bernie’s face, “an unlit fag to your lips and my car was out of commission. You sauntered over, as you do, and said-”

 

“Alternator’s cactus.”

 

A grin grows across Serena’s face, “first words you ever said to me.” She adjusts their position, allowing Bernie to lie back a bit as she hovers over her, “you haven’t forgotten that.”

 

“You’ll never let me.” Bernie lifts her head enough to kiss her wife again, a teasing smirk in the corner of her mouth, then thumps it back down onto the pillow. “Finish eating...then get back here. We can watch a film.” Really, there’s nothing more that Bernie wants for right now than to just continue holding onto her wife.

 

“It’s cold now.” Serena sighs, placing a soft kiss near Bernie’s ear, “I'm going to go and wrap it in cling film to put in the fridge next to yours.” She sits up more, “don’t feel as if you need to stay awake on my account. Get some rest, darling.”

 

“Just come back when you finish what you’re doing.” Bernie offers a subtle pout, watching as her wife rises to stand next to the bed.

 

“I will.” Serena gives her a light smile as she lifts her platter from the bedside table to carry downstairs. Her smile quickly fades once she’s out of view. Though her wife is usually brilliant at calming her fears, this is one of those times Bernie just isn’t able to. Not completely. Serena makes quick work at wrapping and putting her dish into the refrigerator, holding onto the door once she finishes. She brings her free hand to her mouth, biting down a bit on her arm to muffle her own sob.

 

Cole silently closes the front door behind him, hearing his grandmother loud and clear, but he can tell she’s trying to be quiet about her crying. He walks closer to the threshold of the kitchen, then wordlessly wraps his arms around her from behind, placing his head between her shoulders.

 

Serena sniffs, lifting her head up as she tries calming herself down a bit, still looking toward the fridge as she wipes her cheeks with the palm of her hand before he’s able to see her face. “I had a feeling you’d come round.”

 

“Yeah, well...I wanted to help.” Cole bites his lip, hugging his Nan better once she turns around to face him. His chin trembles and he hides his face over her shoulder. “I-I won’t bother you, I just-”

 

“I know.” Serena nods, her tears fall again, but she’s able to keep the rest of her worry from her face. “Your Gran will be asleep for a while, I reckon...we can watch a bit of telly once she’s out, if you’d like.” She knows the boy will check on them several times throughout the night, part of his own anxieties needing to be calmed. Pulling back enough to look into her grandson’s eyes, she gives him a rueful smile, “you did a fantastic job today. Do you understand that?”

 

“I just did what anyone would do.”

 

“No, darling, you didn’t.” Serena shakes her head slowly. “You’re an amazing young man.”


“I-I-I remembered what you taught me after Owen had one. I was...five or six.” Cole shrugs, “and you taught me what to do just in case he ever had another and Mum was busy.” He smiles a little, “you should be thanking yourself.”

 

“I forgot all about that.” Serena brings a hand up to run through his hair, smiling a bit more.

 

Cole nods, moving away from her a bit, “I’m going to...put on my pajamas.” He nods, “don’t worry about telly or anything. You should stay with Gran. I’m t-tired anyway.” He isn’t, he’ll continually check on them throughout the night. Far too anxious to actually fall asleep until morning. He’ll work on things on his laptop or play video games. Whatever it takes to be ready if he’s needed, even if he isn’t. He begins to walk toward the doorway again, only stopping when he hears his grandmother speak.

 

“Cole, take one of your pills. Gran nor myself want you far too tired to function in the morning, darling.” Serena shakes her head, “if I’m able to...call in a few favors, we may possibly be heading to Holby tomorrow for reassurance that everything is normal. If you plan to go with us, you’re going to need to be well rested.” She casually folds her arms over her chest, “am I understood?”

 

Cole finds himself smiling a little, “yes, ma’am.”

 

“If you aren’t well rested, we’ll leave you here so that you can. I mean that.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Cole repeats himself, turning on his heel to face her. He gives a quick salute with a hand above his brow, a clever smile filling out his face, glad he was able to get his way.

 

“Now, go on, you brat. I’m getting a glass of wine.” Serena watches as he jogs off, running a hand through her short hair. Honestly, Cole’s presence will be a great distraction from her own worries. She inhales and exhales slowly in an effort to calm herself further, closing her eyes as she focuses on her breathing. “Chin up, Serena. Get your shiraz and head back upstairs where your beautiful wife awaits...hopefully asleep. Allowing you to actually catch up on your reading or to watch whatever you please on telly.” She opens her eyes, optimistically raising her brow before moving to the cellar stairs.

Chapter Text

Cameron carefully leaves his sleeping son in his toddler bed, slowly sneaking from the room and pulling the door closed. He comes face to face with his partner, bringing a smile to his face, “thought I heard you lurking.” He wraps his arms around her waist, pulling her in for a kiss.

 

“I’ve realized we don’t have any Christmas decorations.” Morven sighs softly, “so, I’m hoping your sister would like a bit of...time away to go shopping again.”

 

“I could go with you.” He waves his eyebrow.

 

“No offence, Cam, but I remember the sofa you tried to put in our living room.” Morven smirks, leaning forward to kiss him. “Max will have the best Christmas he’s ever had.” She nods, “and you’ll come home and see this grand decor and...” She pauses, tilting her head from side to side, “we also need to think of gifts.”

 

“Morven, it’s fine. We’ll just order online and have them delivered.” Cameron grins broadly, “what are you going to do next year when there’s another?” He chuckles softly, “everyone is going to be so excited. Two in less than a year.”

 

“It’s his full blooded sibling. As perfect as he is, how could I possibly turn that down.” Morven shakes her head, “but um...there’s something-”

 

“We’re going to be exhausted in the best possible way.” The information is still new to them, fresh to them. They had only agreed a few days prior, without any hesitation. Not needing to go through all the processing they needed to go through for Max was certainly a plus, but they’d have done it anyway. “We don’t even know what she’s having. We’ll be finding out at the same time they’re born. We’ll...be able to raise them from birth and name them ourselves and-”

 

“I know.” Morven swallows, deciding this wasn’t the best time to say anything to him. Quickly offering him a smile in return, “we should buy a book of names.” She pauses, “your sister teases Max a bit with his. Not in any sort of bad way, but...he’ll probably, definitely hear something once he starts school.”

 

“That isn’t for a while yet. He’s also still young. There isn’t a reason we can’t change his name and make Max his middle name.” Cameron holds his wife’s hand as he walks back toward the stairs. There’s something else about his partner, something tickling the back of his mind, but he isn’t really able to decipher it. “Did you go round Char’s today?”

 

“Yeah, she’s been helping me with things.” Morven nods, “I wasn’t exactly...the most confident when it came to him, but she’s put me at ease. That...it’s okay to be silly and make mistakes here and there as long as he’s happy and healthy.” She descends the stairs with her partner, “like we’ll do with the next one.”

 

“I still can’t believe it.” Cam shakes his head slowly, “does make you curious though, doesn’t it?”

 

“What does?”

 

“Well, the agency was very clear that this baby would be Max’s full blood sibling. Meaning his mother is still with his father...or at least still having it off with him.” Cameron glances to her, “do we know anything about her?”

 

“No, and I prefer that we don’t.” Morven shakes her head, “Max will have access once he turns eighteen. I don’t want to know anything about her or...or why she’s chosen to give up two children, back to back.” She pauses, “what if she’s been forced to do so because of...financial strife or physical danger? I’d feel terrible.”

 

Cam nods, “mine is more...wanting to know where Max gets his looks, but yeah...I can see what you mean.”

 

“Or...what if, years from now, she decides she’s made a terrible mistake and-”

 

“Babe, that wouldn’t happen.” Cameron gently takes hold of her upper arms, “we’re his parents. We’ll always be Max’s parents. You are the one he calls Mum. Get it?”

 

Morven nods, swallowing, “it’s...it’s only just been over a month.”

 

“For us.” Cam shakes his head, “Max has been in the system since birth.” He carefully pulls her closer, wrapping his arms around her in an embrace, “I’m sorry I brought it up.” Cam pauses, “I didn’t think the idea would bother you so much.”

 

She knows she’s probably overreacting...and she knows why she might be. Morven leans her head against her partner’s shoulder, “and you’re...you’ll leave it alone, right?” She swallows, leaning back to look him in the eye, “I know how you get when you get your mind on something.”

 

“I promise.” Cameron shakes his head, “besides, he’s probably going to think he looks like us anyway.” He leans in, gently kissing her lips, “but that’s something we have plenty of time to think about. Whether or not we tell him he’s adopted or tell him later...or not at all.” Cameron shrugs, “there’s no reason he needs to know a single thing because he’s ours...and he’ll always be ours.”

 

“Yeah.” Morven swallows, “so...I’ll order a name book tomorrow?” She walks around him, taking a seat on the sofa.

 

“Why do we need a book when we have our imaginations...and the internet, for free?” Cam smirks, watching her. He notices she has an air of anxiety about her, “are you okay?”

 

“Yeah.” She offers him a warm smile, “I just want to...to pick the best name we can because...they’re going to be stuck with it their entire lives.” Morven folds her arms, “like yours is Gaelic for crooked nose or crooked river and mine is Scotish for big peak or big gap.

 

“You’ve already looked those up.” He hums a soft chortle, “and what does Maxwell mean?”

 

“Scottish for great stream.

 

“So, maybe we keep the whole...theme going. Scottish or Gaelic and...something about nature.” Cameron raises an eyebrow, “what do you think?”

 

“Depending on what we find, I think it could be interesting.” Morven nods, watching him as she leans her head to the back of the sofa. “Max is going to be so excited to have a sibling...you should see him with your niece. Char will put her in the walker and he’ll pull her around to show her things...in her own home.”

 

Cam laughs a bit harder this time, “at least he’s courteous.”

 

“He’s also in love with your mother and Ms. Campbell.”

 

“Haven’t heard her called that in a long time.” 

 

Morven rolls her eyes at herself, “I’m sorry, it’s just habit.”

 

Cam shakes his head, “no harm done.” He reaches over, gently taking her hand in his. Cameron looks over to his wife, “you look different...”

 

Furrowing her brow a little, Morven shakes her head negatively, “I don’t know why.”

 

Bringing her hand to his lips, he softly kisses her knuckles. “We need to think of what to do when you return to St. James.” Cameron pauses, “happens soon, doesn’t it? Would we be sending Max to nursery?”

 

“Your sister and parents have offered.” Morven smirks a little, “you truly need to talk to them more.”

 

“Well, it isn’t by choice and I’m trying to be better about it.” Cameron nods, “I mean, when we moved here, we had such...gran ideas, remember? Even before Max and training and...and everything. We thought about having the boys over, remember? I told you about the issues Laney was having with school and-”

 

“He doesn’t go to school anymore though, your sister home-schools him. I’m sure it wouldn’t be an issue for him to come over on the weekends if he wishes. Door is always open to any one of your nephews...or nieces.” Morven shrugs, still looking toward her husband, “and Evie Fletcher helps him and Owen with physical and occupational therapy. Max has come to love having dinner there when you’re working late.” She pauses, “and when we’re both working late...” Morven sighs absently.

 

“We’ll both speak to our own superiors about the situation. We’ve been in our positions for quite a while, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too much of an issue.” Cam scoots a bit closer to his partner, “especially with another on the way, we’re going to need time to get everything into place. More than what leave and holiday would give, I think.” He runs a hand through his hair, “we’ll map all that out soon enough though. No need to worry about it until after the Christmas holiday.”

 

“Of course.” Morven nods, knowing her secret can wait until after the Christmas holiday as well. No need to worry him now if she doesn’t need to. Leaning forward, she captures her partner’s lips, “reckon Max and I will go for a bit of shopping tomorrow. I’ll talk to Char and your parents about joining.”

 

Cameron nods, “Char always loved Christmas...I just hope she still does after everything that’s happened this past year.” He offers a rueful smile to his partner, wrapping his arms around her comfortably. “I can’t wait to see what you do with all this space though. If you want to wait until I get home to start, that’s fine too. Whatever you want, babe.” The space falls quiet, but comfortable between them before they decide to head upstairs for an early bedtime themselves.

Chapter Text

“Well, would you look at that...” Bernie takes a seat next to her wife in their lounge, properly decorated in an old fashioned Christmas style. This level of their house is decorated to the gills for the winter season, as it often is. “It looks fantastic.” She wraps an arm around Serena, pulling her close so the woman could lean against her.

 

“Charlotte often helps me along with the children, but...they’re rather preoccupied this year.” Serena smiles warmly, “and I needed the distraction. So, Guinevere and Cole brought the decor from the attic, I turned on some music, and I just...zoned out a bit.” She nods, “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

 

“You didn’t. I was wrapping gifts.” Bernie snorts when met with her wife’s impressed expression.

 

“And ruin your yearly tradition of giving them to Charlotte to wrap at the last minute?”

 

Her smile forming into a proud smirk, Bernie nods, “yours are the only ones I need to hide since you wrap the gifts to the children and grandchildren...as they’re from the both of us.”

 

“You’re rubbish at choosing gifts when they aren’t for me, darling, and even worse wrapping them.” Serena absently strokes Bernie’s arm, “are the lights bothering you? I can set them not to twinkle like they are.”

 

“They’re fine.”

 

Though Bernie’s neurologist had assured Serena that everything was clear and that the seizure was probably an isolated incident weeks prior, it didn’t put her mind at ease. Not completely. She’s gone out of her way in avoiding anything that was known to trigger seizures in most of the public, especially around the house. Whatever it takes. “If they start to bother you, just let me know. Cole said he’ll be over later to connect them in a way so they would be voice activated instead of climbing under the tree to turn them off.”

 

“I thought we had a button buried somewhere among the branches one year.” Bernie furrows her brow slightly.

 

“We did, then we couldn’t find it and you climbed under the tree to disconnect them.” Serena hums a chortle to herself, “I’ve decided we’ll skip the outdoor lights this year.”

 

“Only because you don’t want me scaling the house.” Bernie responds, “I truly feel much better. You don’t need to worry nearly as much as you have been.”

 

“Oh, shut it, Berenice.” Serena sighs heavily, “you’re fortunate I haven’t put you in an inflatable vinyl bubble.”


“I am very lucky you haven’t done that.” Bernie smirks again, “you know, maybe we shouldn’t fret as much this year. Maybe a simple gift bag for everyone attending, aside from the children and grandchildren, obviously. We could fill it with...I don’t know...you and Charlotte are far better with that sort of thing than I am.”

 

“That’s actually a really great idea. Maybe homemade biscuits in a tin, maybe a cheese cloth with the seasonings to your spiced cider inside.” Serena offers, noticing her wife grinning even more, “my brilliant, brilliant wife.” She turns, pecking Bernie’s lips before leaning her back against her again to just look at the tree. “Lavinia and Max are going to be absolutely fascinated with it all.”

 

“Owen usually is as well.” 

 

“He does love the lights.” 

 

“Laid underneath the tree for hours...essentially, the whole dinner party last year.” Bernie grins at the memory, “I spent so many Christmas holidays away and...when I had a proper Christmas, with people I adored, it was all a different thing. You made me learn to love it, you know.”

 

“I reckon you may have, secretly, loved it before then.” Serena smirks a little, “and I was such a sour puss for a while after Elinor died.”

 

“You protected yourself, it was understandable.” She pauses, “besides, spending Christmas with you, while it was just the two of us...was fantastic.” Bernie softly kisses her wife’s shoulder. “I still wouldn’t change this.”

 

“Nor would I.”

 

“You probably should have had the grandchildren help you though. You’re going to be sore tomorrow.” Bernie absently strokes Serena’s arm, “and I’m sure they probably are more than willing to help out. Maybe tap them for the other rooms.”

 

“I’m worried about-”

 

“For the first time.” Bernie mumbles sarcastically, earning an exaggerated eye roll from her wife. “Sorry, continue.”

 

“I’m worried about how the children and Charlotte will take the first Christmas without Ryan.” Serena sighs, “I know it’s incredibly premature and even...” She shakes her head a little, “we both know that it isn’t easy to lose a parent. Of course, we know they’ll probably go before we do, but...that doesn’t make it easier.” 

 

“The first holiday is always the hardest.”

 

“Yeah.” Serena bites her lip, “I don’t know. The boys are seeing therapists, as is their mother, and they’re all doing great.” She pauses, “so, I’m probably just overthinking things.”

 

“That’s your job.” Bernie smirks, teasing her wife a tad, “it’s what you’re best at. Forget all that training in vascular surgery and business management-”

 

“Shut it, you.” Serena tilts her head back, glad when her wife gets the unmentioned hint to kiss her. 

 

“Charlotte and I are heading for a walk in the morning.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, “so she and I can have a chat about it. See where her head is at.” She pauses, “I’ve missed our morning walks. It’s been a while.” 

 

“If you start to feel-”

 

“Campbell.” Bernie warns ever so weakly.

 

“I don’t want you pushing yourself and you always have a habit of doing so. Not to mention that it’s frigid outside. I haven’t the foggiest why the pair of you wouldn’t wait until things warmed a bit.” Serena licks her lips, settling her head in her wife’s lap. “I also know how you hate to be in the house for as long as you have been recently and I’m not about to...keep you from going out.”

 

“Correct.” Bernie looks down to Serena, lifting a hand to run her shortened nails through the woman’s silver hair. “I’m on proper medication and I’ve been taking it very easy, all things considered. I’d say I’ve been incredibly compliant with each of your demands.” It garners an amused eye roll from her wife, “and taking walks about the neighborhood isn’t going to down me.”

 

“You know I don’t like it when you speak like that.” Serena takes hold of Bernie’s other hand, “you’re only jinxing yourself, darling.”

 

Bernie shrugs, “I won’t stop my life out of fear and neither should you.” She offers her wife a warm smile, “let’s take day trips, even if that means taking Lavinia-”

 

“And Max. I offered.”

 

“Of course! We’ll take them out and about like we used to do with Cole and Gwen.” Bernie grins, “maybe not camping, I know you weren’t terribly fond of that when we went years ago, but other things. We could go to museums and...play the part of tourists once in a while with them.”

 

“You have big plans.” Serena’s eyes start to twinkle as she pushes herself to sit up again, “especially since we’ve submitted our resignations at Holby...it’s as if things have opened up to us. If that makes any sense.”

 

“Bittersweet, but...I don’t want anyone making a fuss. Cameron agreed to get our personal effects from the office on AAU and bring them by, unless you’d rather pop in. I’d...prefer not to.” Bernie looks away, “he was saying that Ange has taken over the unit in our joint absence, staying in the second office.”

 

“She’s more than capable.” Serena smiles a bit, “she’ll probably love to have the main office.”

 

“Probably.”

 

“Feels like an ending of sorts, doesn’t it?” Serena smiles a little to herself, then glances to her wife, “that’s how I felt when I did it the first time...when the twins were small in order to help Charlotte. Part of me was ready, I’d been prepared for quite a while at that point, but the other part of me...not so much. It was half the reason why I went back a few months ago...along with wanting to work with you again.”

 

“We were always quite the team.” Bernie glances over to Serena, taking the woman’s hand. “That’s why I conned you into marrying me all those years ago.”

 

“And here I thought I was the one who conned you.” Serena’s grin grows as she blushes. Leaning in, she softly presses her lips against that of her wife’s. “I’m incredibly thankful for you, you know.”

 

“Ditto.” They could sit like this all night, in one another's arms, trading sweet nothings and chaste kisses. In fact, they do. Only realizing the time when it’s two in the morning and that they would be far more comfortable and adventurous if they were in their own bed.

Chapter Text

Charlotte side steps within the confines of the kickboxing ring, the facility relatively empty this early in the morning with exception to her sparring partner. Her tongue rolls over the mouth guard protecting her top teeth as she focuses on the woman across from her, “I really wish you’d just hit me back instead of letting me be the one dishing out. Starting to think you have a fetish.”

 

Kait Warne starts to chuckle, red padded helmet protecting her head. “And if I did?” She doesn’t, it’s mostly spending time with this woman that is enough for her. Even if she doesn’t think Charlotte will ever fully reciprocate the admiration. “Not like I’d tell you anyway.”

 

“We could just...go out for coffee, you know.” All this work in the past month or so has earned her some results. She wasn’t actually trying for anything either. Just time out of the house before the kids wake and need to get ready for school, lets her leave Lavinia home as well if Cole’s there. “It’s fucking cold out.”

 

“No one tells you to get a shower at home. That’s your prerogative. Don’t see why you don’t just use them here.” Kait shakes her head, “you’ll catch your death going out like that with the temperature being what it is.”

 

“Warm for December.” Char teases, punching at the leather padded blockers when Kait holds them up on either hand. “I don’t know why you’re going to all this trouble for me.”

 

“That’s what friends do, Charlie.” 

 

“Stalkers too?”

 

Kait smirks, the banter between them having grown. It’s almost as if they’ve been friends for years instead of weeks. “So, are you all prepared for Christmas?”

 

“I...No, not really.” Char shakes her head a little, “it’s...it’s my first since my husband died and...” She swallows, stopping her movements and placing her hands on her hips out of resignation, “I have enough to do in terms of gifts and...I’ll probably just give the kids money or something.” She clears her throat, “on those card things so that they can spend them wherever. I’ll only go out to buy actual things for Lavinia...she’s far cheaper to buy for and please than a bunch of older boys.”

 

“Well, you have more than that to worry about. Siblings, parents, niece and nephew.” Kait lowers the guards, “did you need help with any of it? Just...helping to make a list or whatever have you.”

 

“Help?” Charlotte sucks her tongue against her cheek, “I can hardly even decorate. I’m...probably going to trick my niece into doing it for a tenner.” She swallows, then clears her throat with a shake of her head, “what about you? What do you do for Christmas?”

 

“I take care of my sister. Older sister, as she likes to remind me.” Kait smiles to herself, “we...lead a pretty uneventful Christmas each year...just the two of us.”

 

There’s something about the inflection of the woman’s voice that strikes Charlotte as odd, “Is she poorly?” 

 

“No, she has Downs Syndrome. Parents are gone, as is our older brother. So...it comes down to me.” She nods, removing the helmet and tossing it aside, “she stays in a group home for most the week. I bring her round mine for the weekends if I’m able or...occasionally during the week to have dinner together.”

 

“I didn’t know.” Char shakes her head a little, reaching up to remove her mouth guard, “why don’t the pair of you come round to my parents Christmas do? They have it every year...and I’d rather not be hounded with sympathetic looks and...whispers between party guests.”

 

Kait starts to shake her head negatively, “I’d be imposing and I wouldn’t be able to without bringing-”

 

“Of course you can bring her, Kaitie.” A warm smirk begins to form in the corner of Charlotte’s lips, “just...wear a Christmas jumper. The uglier the better. My Maman doesn’t quite understand that an incredibly festive Christmas jumper is not a thing of beauty and...it’s hilarious.” 

 

“Maman?” Kait raises an eyebrow, “I didn’t know you were French.”

 

“I’m not, but my stepmother is on her mother’s side. It’s a way to tell my parents apart from one another without just calling her Serena or my stepmother ...especially with everything she’s done for me and mine over the years.” Charlotte shrugs, “something I’ve been kicking about for the past few months and...trying to make stick. She gets a kick out of it every time she hears it.”

 

“I must have missed that part in the book.” Kait pauses, finding herself blushing for some reason.

 

“What part?”

 

“That you have two Mums.”

 

“Two Mums and a Dad and another step-mother.” Char nods, “when I say my parents, I’m usually referring to my Mum and Maman.” She pauses, her head lifting a bit, “does it bother you?”

 

“No, of course not.” Kait starts to laugh to herself, “no, Charlie, not at all.”

 

“Good.” Charlotte nods, “because then I’d try to hurt you.” She puts her mouth guard back into her mouth.

 

“Now who has the fetish?”

 

“You know, you’re the only one outside of my family, who doesn’t try to...say anything about my wrists...or what happened.” Char punches the leather covered blocker again when Kait holds it up, “I-I didn’t realize how much it bothered me.”

 

“Why would I?” Kait raises an eyebrow, “I’m just glad you’re here now.”

 

Charlotte bites her lower lip with the guard, doing a few more punches before they switch to kicks again. Char spins, accidentally misjudging the height of her trajectory and kicking Kait square in the cheek and face, causing her nose to instantly bleed a moment later. “Shit.” She hisses to herself, moving closer to the woman.

 

“Good one, Wolfe.” Kait tries to move her mouth and nose, only to groan slightly.

 

Char spits out her mouth guard and quickly removes her padded MMA gloves to place a hand on the woman’s cheek, “probably should have kept the helmet on.”

 

“Probably.” 

 

Biting her lip again, she takes a closer look, “reckon I’ve broken it. Um...we should head to hospital.”

 

“I don’t think it’s that bad.” Kait shakes her head negatively.

 

“I do. I’ve seen broken noses before. I’d like for them to get imaging done on your noggin. Just in case.” Char shakes her head, meeting the other woman’s eyes, “it’s not really up for discussion.”

 

“You need to get home to tend to your children for school.”

 

“I’ll phone my parents. Don’t worry about it.” Charlotte offers her a reassuring smile, “besides, I have friends at Holby. They’ll make sure you get the best care.”

 

“I need to shower.” Kait mumbles, the front of her shirt now becoming covered in blood.

 

Charlotte is quick to take her t-shirt off and rolling it up. She presses it to the underside of the woman’s nose. Glad her neon yellow nursing sports bra matches her neon yellow leggings. “You didn’t do anything this entire work out. You’ll be fine.”

 

“Why would you do that? Now you have even less clothing on than before.” Kait holds the shirt to her nose still as she carefully climbs from the ring, her friend closely following her. She does feel a bit lightheaded, but she isn’t about to say that now.

 

“Balmy negative eleven out.” A cheeky smirk plays at Char’s mouth again as she walks with her to the locker room, moving in front of them to open the door.

 

Kait can’t help except catch a quick glance at the younger woman’s body as she pushes the door to the locker room open. For four children, and in general, Charlie Wolfe’s body is quite fit. Anyone would be happy to have her as a partner. Her former husband was a very lucky man. “You’re mad.”

 

“Certifiably.”

 

She starts to laugh a little, amused by how the younger woman is doting on her. Kait catches quick glances when she knows Charlotte isn’t looking, knowing that admiring from afar was much better than not being able to admire at all. “You don’t need to participate in any self deprecating jokes on my behalf.”

 

“Don’t flatter yourself, I do them anyway.” Char smirks, switching out of the matching shoes she had decided to wear today, to some boots in case the walkways turn slippery.

 

“Do you have a pair of trainers to match everything you wear?” Kait raises an eyebrow.

 

“Why, do you want another pair or two?”

“I asked first.”

 

“If I did?” Char pulls on her own overcoat, a short, well worn black leather moto jacket.

 

“You’re going to freeze.” Kait sighs softly, “but you’re very fashionable.”

 

“You aren’t too bad yourself. I just...didn’t have any decent workout clothes and bought a few online.” Charlotte shrugs, “I mean, the occasional jog, but nothing too intense. Besides, I’m still breastfeeding, so this was the way to go.” She sighs softly as she grabs Kait’s purse from a locker, “you drove...and you’re in no state to do so now.”

 

“I’ll be fine.”

 

“You will not.” Char shakes her head, taking the keys in one hand and offering the other to her friend, “I’ll phone my parents when we get to hospital. Come on.”

Chapter Text

Standing to the side of the breakfast table while Cole and Owen eat before their modes of transportation are due to arrive, “All she said was that she kicked her friend in the face.” Bernie shrugs dramatically, “what am I supposed to make of that?”

 

“I mean, I’d take it as letting us stay home from school for the day.” Cole yawns, smirking after. He shoves a spoonful of cereal into his mouth, “or let Owen go to school because he actually really likes school, and let me stay home.”

 

“You have a club meeting today.” Bernie reminds him, lifting Lavinia from her bouncer as it rests on the kitchen island. “Is Mr. Mac bringing you home?”

 

Cole nods, actually having a great time during Drama club. Once other students began to fill out the ranks, there was much they were both learning and implementing about the craft. “I’ve got it covered. Don’t worry about me, Gran.” He offers a half salute, still mostly asleep.

 

“You say that now.” Bernie sighs, hearing Lavinia begin to whimper. “Would you like a bottle or cereal?” It isn’t that Bernie expects an answer from the baby, noticing Vinnie’s pathetic pout when she rubs her eye with her chubby fist, she knows the girl is probably still tired. “Bottle, I reckon.”

 

“Gran, go ahead and tend to her. Owen and I are all set to go.” Cole yawns again, “I’ll see to it that he finishes up and I’ll get him out the door.”

 

“Thank you.” Bernie warms one of the pre-made bottles of breast milk, probably set up especially for this early morning feed. She sighs with relief, sensing the baby growing more and more impatient. “You’re fine, Vinnie. Hold on.” Just like Charlotte was , she thinks. Testing the warmth of the milk on her inner wrist once the bottle finishes warming, she makes her way to the lounge, lowering herself to the sofa.

 

Honestly, she’s half asleep as well. Once Charlotte was able to take on more of her parental duties herself, she did so with gusto. Bernie had forgotten just how much hassle it was to ready children in the morning. Luckily, one stays home for his schooling, but getting his twin brother ready was a feat in and of itself. Watching as Cole and Owen file out to begin their school days, she exhales slowly, looking down at Lavinia, who holds her own bottle now. “Ms. Independent now, aren’t you...” Her foot absently bounces against the hardwood floor, “you’ve been for a bit, I’d bet. Your Nan usually just...takes over. Which is fine, I know she worries. I just...I miss just our time once in a while, Vinnie, if I’m honest.”

 

The door opens to the house not long after and causes Bernie to lift her head. With Lavinia still in the crook of her elbow, she lost track of time and fallen back asleep herself. The milk bottle toppled to the floor, mostly empty. Her daughter motions for another person to head upstairs as she bombards the entryway.

 

“There’s a daybed in Vinnie’s room, you can’t miss it.”

 

“I really am well enough just to go home.”

 

“You have a mild concussion. I’d feel terrible if something happened.” Char shakes her head, “I’ll be up in a few minutes to show you the shower, I’m sure you’ll want to take one with...with all the blood down the front of you. Go and hang about.” Watching Kait trudge up the stairs, Charlotte turns to the lounge, noticing her bleary eyed mother sitting there. “Thanks for taking care of things under such short notice.”

 

“Of course, darling.” Bernie nods, blinking a few times while she attempts to register what she saw, “who was that?”

 

“I told you I kicked my friend in the head by accident. That’s my friend.” Char motions with a lazy thumb over her shoulder.

 

“You look like a background dancer for a nineties hip hop music video.”

 

Charlotte looks down at her own clothing, black leather jacket unzipped with her midriff showing between her matching neon sports bra and leggings, “well, Fletch said it was very becoming.” 

 

“Fletch lies.” Bernie smirks a little, “I mean, it’s becoming, but...also an interesting choice of attire.”

 

“Thank you.” Charlotte offers a playful curtsy after removing her jacket. “I’ve...I’ve kind of taken up kickboxing. Two mornings a week...with my friend.” She absently motions toward the stairs, “which...I have. I have friends.”

 

“That you accidentally kick in the face.”

 

“Yes...and accidentally give concussions to.” Char curls her top lip, disappointed in herself, “so...maybe not a friend for much longer.” She turns around, “I’m going to go get her settled. Are you okay for the time being?”

 

“Well, I’m sure Serena has seen my note by now if she’s awake.” Bernie offers her daughter a soft smile.

 

“And she hasn’t rushed over here, demanding you take it easy?” It earns Charlotte a soft chuckle from her mother, “that sofa is comfortable, but will hurt your back if you aren’t careful. Feel free to head up to my room. I usually go back to sleep with her for a while after her bottle in the morning...until Serena fetches her to take her over to yours...then I sleep an hour more and Lane and I do some school work.”

 

“Quite the system you have, darling.” Bernie blinks slowly, carefully getting up with her sleeping granddaughter from the sofa. “I’ll follow you up. You take care of your friend.”

 

“Thanks, Mum.” Char flashes her a warm grin, walking past her own bedroom once they get to the top of the stairs. She moves to the daybed in Lavinia’s room, noticing her friend sitting on the bed, taking in the pale peach of the room’s accessories.

 

It takes Kait a moment to realize she’s being watched, finally noticing Charlotte with her peripheral vision, “You made this room...very warm...and comfortable.” She swallows, glancing over to her, “was that on purpose?”

 

“Well, it is a nursery.” Char waves her eyebrows a little, teasing the other woman, who realizes her silly question. “Vinnie was early, so...my parents helped a great deal. It was mostly together, but I hadn’t put any bedding down. I was on oxygen for a few weeks and Vinnie had to stay in hospital for a bit, same with Laney when he was born, but...she was a bit worse off. I remember it had taken me about...two hours just to put a fitted sheet on a baby mattress. I cried and cried.” She huffs how ridiculous she was then, “but I got it finished even though it had taken forever.” When Kait slowly looks over to her, she shrugs, “if I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”

 

“Commendable.”

 

“This isn’t about me though...or even Vinnie. This is about you.” Charlotte raises an eyebrow with a smirk, “take your shirt off, D.C.I. Warne.”

 

Kait raises an intrigued eyebrow, “quite forward of you, Ms. Wolfe.”

 

“Don’t-” Char stops herself. It’s her name. Though it sounds different when it isn’t from her husband’s lips, she can’t be angry with the other woman. “I’ll go and get you one of my extra t-shirts...and throw that one in the wash.” She holds her hand out, raising an eyebrow to soften the awkward air of the room. “You can use my master bath. It’s...far more comfortable for a soak.”

 

“Isn’t your mother resting?”

 

“Resting. Not taking a bath.” Char smirks, “I’ll lend you a pair of leggings.”

 

“That I’ll probably need to roll up. You’re all leg.” Kait snorts, carefully removing her long sleeve compression shirt, “I have a longer torso.”

 

“You’re perfectly proportioned for your height. Stop complaining.”

 

“I suppose there is an upside to this. I won’t be able to go out in the field and I’ll probably have a bit of time off. Between you and Lily, I’ll have a great Christmas holiday.” Kait smiles to herself, finally getting her shirt off, careful not to get any of the mess to rub against her face or anything else. She stands with just her pale baby blue sports bra on, looking at the woman in front of her, “haven’t had a good one in a while.”

 

Lane can hear the speaking through the wall to his room. He gently pushes the door open, squinting a bit from the sunlight coming through the windows. His mother stands there with only her workout clothing on, as well as a woman he isn’t too familiar with. “Mum?”

 

“Laney, good morning.” Char smiles to him, hearing the other woman squeak as she quickly folds her arms. “This is my friend Kait. Kait, this is my son, Lane. He’s one of my twins.”

 

“I’m the younger one, but...it’s okay because Owen doesn’t care.” Lane offers her a smile, his speech slow and languid, “or notice.” He nods a little, “it’s nice to meet you, Ms. Kait.”

 

“Excuse my...appearance.” Kait’s brow pinches in the middle, thinking the boy would probably try to oggle her a bit, but he doesn’t at all. Not at her chest or anywhere else. Maybe it’s because he seems a little off, a little slow. She isn’t sure. It isn’t as if she’s in any way ugly, that much she knows is true.

 

“The color goes well with your hair. I like it.” Lane offers her another kind smile, “are you staying for breakfast? I can make eggs benedict.”

 

“How about you get started on hollandaise and I’ll be there to help you shortly?” Char raises an eyebrow, seeing his pleased grin as he turns around and slowly shuffles from the room. “Think I may have him work with dough for his schooling for the day...fractions and whatnot for maths.” Charlotte shrugs, “he’ll be fine and I don’t have to do much.”

 

“Is he okay?” Kait asks after a beat.

 

“I don’t think you scared him too much.” Char looks back to her friend, “he’ll be fine. Are you okay?”

 

“Scare? I’m worried about scarring him for life.”

 

“He’s been through far too much for the body of a woman to scar him.” Charlotte laughs a little to herself, motioning with a tilt of her head, “Come, let me show you the bath.”

 

Kait really isn’t sure about all of this, remembering her first encounter with the boy finally. “Thanks, Charlie.”

 

“Friends help one another. Don’t mention it.”

Chapter Text

I was alone for long stretches of time when I was a child. My parents were both incredibly successful surgeons and my mother was often away with the RAMC. When she was, my father would shut down.

 

Guinevere edges herself against the headboard of her bed, her mobile dimmed and set to night mode as to not strain her eyes. 

 

I remember being about five years of age. My mother was away in Beirut or somewhere that I couldn’t even imagine, leaving me able to only visualize things via her phone calls and how she described her surroundings, if she described them at all. This was the time before video conferencing was popular and I was often left in the care of my paternal grandmother and various au pairs. Grandmother wasn’t fond of my mother, not by a long shot. Unfortunately for me, I looked exactly like my mother and my paternal grandmother didn’t let me forget it.

 

It was about a fortnight before Christmas, and there were still no decorations. I had fashioned a garland out of sugar paper, prepared to string it around a tree that my father made no effort to obtain. I, instead, decorated my own bedroom with it. As well as cutting out ‘Happy Christmas’ with the cardstock to stick to my wall with tape. I was thrilled with my own progress. My brother had said our father did the same thing the year prior, though I didn’t remember, and that I should probably get used to it.

 

The last day of school before Christmas holiday. I was the saddest child there. I even doubted Father Christmas would know where to go or place gifts when there wasn’t a tree. The thought consumed me completely. Only a few other pupils were sitting with me, but I did my best not to engage in conversation with them. I sat in the dinner hall, poking at leftovers from the night prior with a fork and I noticed a flurry of activity coming from the hall. I didn’t pay it much mind, I didn’t need to. No one was coming for me to make my day special.

 

Staring at the clear container in front of me, an adult sat next to me. I don’t know how long they were next to me before I realized, but after a few moments, the person leaned closer to me and asked me quietly, “doesn’t look very appetizing”. Something so incredibly simple, but...I knew that voice. My head turned quickly and I started to cry as I instantly began trying to climb into the person’s lap. It was my mother. Someone I didn’t expect home until well after Valentine’s Day.

 

“That is just the cutest.” Gwen mumbles to herself.

 

I constantly held onto her, or her hand, the entire time she was there at school with me. Granting me an early dismissal, my mother phoned a cab to take us home. Five year old Charlie Dunn was on cloud nine. Walking into the moderately sized stately home, a house that belonged to my paternal grandmother and where we had lived for many years, the first thing my mother noticed was the lack of Christmas decor. Not that she thought there would be anything grand, but something simple would have done, especially with Grandmother always up for impressive appearances.

 

Mum crouched to the floor, gathering me in her arms again. As if she instantly understood my melancholy disposition. “I decorated my room. Want to see?” I asked her, thrilled when she answered with an energetic nod. I dragged her up the staircase to my room toward the back of the hall. I’m certain Grandmother would have put me in the attic if she could.

 

I quickly pushed open the door to my bedroom to see all my hard work shred to pieces, scattered all over the hardwood floor. Every sugar paper loop ripped, every cardstock letter torn. Five year old Charlie Dunn was heartbroken for the first time in her life. I knew Mum felt it radiating off of me. I don’t even remember crying, I remember kneeling and slowly picking up the pieces of colorful paper.

 

“You made a mess.” Grandmother barked once she realized I was home from the sunlight radiating from my open bedroom door. Her voice trailed through the empty hallways, no au pairs at Christmastime. I could hear her angry heels clicking against the walnut floors, and it filled me with dread. However, little Charlie Dunn wasn’t about to let that bother her. 

 

When I think of my life then, I often think of the strong little girl who put up with that wretch of a woman. The little girl who was pushed to her breaking point. I separate her from myself now because I’m not the same person, not really, not entirely. Maybe a part of her still lives with me, but I do my best to protect her now. It may be a character trait, but I won’t allow that little girl to be pushed to her limits from anyone anymore.

 

“I told the staff to leave it for you to clean yourself. When will you learn?” Grandmother barked again, finally entering my room. Never asking why I was home early, I expect she lost track of time. She started to sneer toward my mother, not knowing she would be home for the Christmas holiday and expecting to spend it entirely with her son and grandson.

 

“She’s five years old. You have no right to speak to her like that.” My mother stood, she had been helping me carefully pick up the destroyed handmade decorations that now littered my room. “Was this your doing? This destruction?” 

 

“Of course it was.” I stood from my place on the floor, choosing to defiantly toss the torn paper at the old woman’s feet. “I didn’t make this mess, you did. You should be the one cleaning it.” I was filled with a confidence never before seen, probably brought on by my mother’s presence next to me. However, I didn’t expect the slap of a hand across my small face, which is what I received instead.

 

My mother quickly grabbed the woman by the collar, her voice seething, “if you ever touch my child again, I will end you.” It was the way she said it, and the quick movement I had never experienced her displaying. This wasn’t a threat, it was a promise. Charlie Dunn didn’t cry.

 

Guinevere adjusts her position in bed, smiling broadly to herself, “Go Gran.”

 

Grandmother left that night, telling my father she would be spending Christmas away while the ‘whore’ was home. That was always her lovely nickname for Mum, the woman who stole her son from her.

 

All these years later, I never understood why my father allowed her to say such horrible things to Mum and I. It was as if he turned a blind eye or was just completely oblivious to her behavior, constantly coming up with excuses and explanations of the old woman ‘not feeling well’. 

 

Truth be told, she wasn’t. She had breast cancer that spread to her lymph nodes and was nearing her final days. She stopped her treatments and just prepared to die. I suppose my father knew about it at the time, but never said anything to us. We were far too young to understand anyway. Grandmother’s final days lasted a couple years as the cancer grew and spread to other parts of her body.

 

I’d be lying if I said I missed her. Dad cried for days, but always tried to hide it from my brother and I. I think sometimes he needed his mother too, we all do in the end.

 

If my mother was away at Christmas, we simply didn’t have one. Dad would get us a small gift, but it wasn’t anything like what he did while my Mum was home. Mum was our Christmas. Mum’s sudden appearance for that Christmas holiday allowed her a window into what my brother and I were enduring in her absence, especially with everyone else she knew going over the top for their children.

 

During my relationship with my eldest son’s biological father, our first Christmas together was something I cherished. He knew of his friend’s way of just not celebrating holidays while my mother was gone. He could tell how much it hurt me, before he grew more angry and violent in our relationship. He asked me how I’d like to decorate the house, a beautiful detached house with three bedrooms, new to us at the time. 

 

I explained to him that I wished for it to be warm, with creams and golds. It was odd, thinking back, because I’d always been one for a colorful occasion. However, the next day, there were boxes upon boxes of just decorations. He brought home a fresh tree and we set it up in the living room. It smelled of wonderful pine. We decorated together that night and it was, by far, one of the happiest times of my life.

 

Obviously, things would quickly go downhill, but that small sample of a moment is something I’ve always adored about him, even now. My husband never understood my fascination with Christmas until I told him about my father. Now, he and I make a night of it the first week of December. We take our time decorating each room. Even our boys have their own individual trees to decorate in their rooms. I vowed to myself that I’d never let them go without an un-celebrated holiday, regardless of how large or small it might be.

 

Guinevere finds herself smiling into her mobile, lifting her head when she hears a knock against the closed door of her bedroom, “come in.”

 

Greta timidly pushes the door open to her daughter’s bedroom, “are you unable to sleep?” She pauses, “I noticed a light coming from underneath the door and I wasn’t sure if you just...couldn’t rest or had forgotten to turn off your bedside table lamp.” Greta walks closer to the bed, taking a seat on the side.

 

“No, um...I’m reading.” Gwen offers, “Auntie Char’s new book...it’s actually quite good. I finished the other one just before this one was released and...they’re both really interesting.” She sets her mobile aside before looking at her mother, “what about you? What are you doing awake?”

 

“Your father brought up the party again and...I don’t believe he understands that I just want to spend our Christmas with you and the rest of our family.” Greta replies quietly, folding her hands in her lap, “I haven’t been able to hold Lavinia much and...now there’s Cameron with Max...” She shakes her head, “Jason has been wanting to just...go out with friends all the time as of late, but I’m...that isn’t what I like to do.”

 

“Have you told him?” Gwen raises an eyebrow, honestly not believing her mother is coming to her about anything, much less this.

 

“Quite a few times.”

 

“So, let him go then. We’ll go to the Grands’ Christmas fling and he can go wherever he wants to go.” Guinevere explains, “it really isn’t any harder than that.”

 

Greta bites her lip, “It’s as if he’s a different person because of these new people. I hardly see him anymore.”

 

Gwen pushes herself up from her position, moving closer to her mother. She was one of the only people who could embrace Greta without an invitation or a request. Her father used to be the other person, but she’s not so sure about that anymore. “Are you okay, Mum?” She gently wraps her arms around her mother.

 

Shaking her head a little, Greta swallows. “Can we...watch telly or something together? You and I?”

 

“I’d like that.” Gwen smiles, “bit of Christmas telly is always a good thing. Maybe we can watch a movie.” She pauses, “and you don’t even need to over analyze it, just...take it for face value.” Guinevere remembers the time her mother had given a full verbal dissertation about how the actions of It’s a Wonderful Life weren’t feasible and the movie was unrealistic. “We can watch whatever you’d like though.”


Greta wraps her arms around her daughter in response, something she knows Gwen probably isn’t used to. She just holds onto her for a moment before speaking, “What about the documentary about Father Christmas throughout the world? I recorded it weeks ago.” She had been waiting to have a bit of quiet time with Jason, but his desire to go out with his friends kept her from doing so, as did his increasingly caustic attitude toward her.

 

“I’d love it, Mum.” Gwen answers in her mother’s ear, feeling like this is only the beginning of something much worse.

Chapter Text

Cole looks around the lounge of their home, newly decorated. His mother is asleep on the sofa. He had been staying over his grandmothers’ more often once school let out for Christmas break, but came over late the night before to help with his siblings a bit in the morning. Lavinia in her brother’s arms, wide awake. Having slept a bit longer than usual since she isn’t being awakened by the hustle and bustle of her mother attempting to prepare her siblings for school in the morning. He huffs a soft chuckle when his six-month-old sister lets out an excited squeal, causing his mother to open her eyes. “Tuckered yourself out?”

 

Char yawns, rolling to her back as she rubs her hands over her face, “suppose so.” She slowly pushes herself up to sitting, “I thought you were over the Grands.”

 

He shrugs, “I was, but...I thought I’d come and help you with...Christmas stuff.” Honestly, Cole worries about his mother. Both in regards to her actions in the past few months and knowing that it’s the first Christmas without his father. “You’ve beat me to it, though.”

 

She nods, “little bit. Haven’t put on any music though.” Char lifts her head to look at him, “don’t know if I can, to be honest. Rather listen to some old...pop music instead of Christmas music at the mo.”

 

“So then listen to pop music.” Cole shrugs, then glances to his sister in his arm who is smacking her lips. Something new she’s learned instead of sucking her fist as of late. “Reckon someone’s hungry.”

 

“Yeah, she’s starting to teethe.” Charlotte mumbles, taking the baby when she’s offered, “though, as a Christmas treat, I thought maybe we can give her some proper baby food for lunch and dinner, more than just cereal in her bottles.” She smirks a little, “She just drinks bottles constantly because she’s an independent woman who needs no one to feed herself that way and I’d like to switch it up, which...she probably isn’t going to enjoy.”

 

“That’s awesome, Mum.” Cole takes a seat at the opposite end of the sofa. “What do you think will be her first solid meal?”

 

“Cereal with a fruit and a vegetable. Just like you and your brothers.” Char explains, cautiously running her finger over the baby’s gums before preparing herself to feed her daughter. “I’ll let you choose. I purchased quite a few. I was ready at the beginning of the month, but the pediatrician thought it would be better for us to wait a bit longer since she was premature.” She shrugs, “if we try and she isn’t ready, then we’ll wait a bit longer. Not a big deal.”

 

“If she’s teething, wouldn’t it hurt for you to feed her like that?” Cole motions as his mother starts to breastfeed his sister. “Why allow her to injure you when she can just take a bottle?”

 

“As long as she doesn’t get bitey, she’s fine.” Char nods, “that’s why I check before I let her latch on. Just to prepare myself.” She smirks, gently stroking the baby’s cheek with her finger, “adorable little vampire.”

 

Cole giggles a little to himself, “she was a bat for Halloween.”

 

“Quite vicious.”

 

The teen falls quiet again as he glances around the living room. He notices the picture of his family taken from his Grandad’s wedding. The one of all of them together while his mother was pregnant with Lavinia. The one that ignited the flame of attempted suicide for his mother, hanging proudly on the mantle. Swallowing, his eyes lower back to his mother, knowing how much courage it had probably taken for her to hang it. Cole feels the warmth of tears begin to prickle his eyes as he moves his head to look over toward the tree. He feels his mother take hold of his hand, offering him a reassuring squeeze, which only serves to cause his chin to tremble.

 

“Everything’s going to be okay, sweet boy.” Charlotte finds herself saying quietly. “I find...focusing on you and your siblings, focusing on...literally anything else except the pink elephant in the room is...is the only way to get through this. At least for this year.” She sniffs, looking down to Lavinia, still suckling. “Because it’s your sister’s first, right?” She pauses, then looking straight in front of her, “shit.”

 

“What is it?”

 

“We’re going to need to go out today and I certainly didn’t want to.” Char shakes her head, “get her something to wear for tomorrow.” She bites her lip a little, glancing back to her son, “do you have-”

 

“I reckon we all forgot.” Cole shrugs, “I can order through my mobile, if you’d like...the shops will be mad with last minute shoppers.”

 

Nodding, Char offers him a gentle smile, “you’re right. Do you think it would be here in time? I mean, we’re obviously not the only ones that completely forget to buy things on Christmas Eve. Reason why the shops are probably insane.” She shakes her head, “reason why we’re ordering through an app in the first place.”

 

“I mean, if we go to a specialty department store, it may not be so bad.” Cole offers, then pauses, a clever grin growing across his face, “I have an idea.” He stands from his seat, beginning to excitedly pace to make his case, “and hear me out.”

 

“I’m listening.” Charlotte starts to switch Vinnie to her other breast.

 

“Charity shop.” 

 

“And you believe we’re going to find a charity shop open on Christmas Eve that has ugly Christmas jumpers?” She tilts her head to the side, “instead of the sure thing of actually ordering from a phone app or going to a physical department store.” 

 

“I mean...we could have those old run of the mill ugly jumpers like everyone else.” Cole playfully pouts, returning to his seat.

 

“You’re insufferable.” Charlotte exhales softly, “how do you expect me to take your brothers? I haven’t taken Owen to a shop in years and...there wouldn’t be a buggy for him to hold onto and push.”

 

“The last time I remember all of us heading out was when...I think I was like nine.” Cole shakes his head, “I think we’d be fine if we just take Owen’s tablet...might not even need it, but we can take it just in case.”

 

“Four children to a charity shop.”

 

“We can go to a bigger one. I thought I saw something recently about one that aids homeless veterans not too far from here.” Cole waves his eyebrow, “and I can help with Owen, he likes to hold hands, I can do that. Maybe take him over to the toy section or the music section.”

 

“It’s that large?” Char raises an eyebrow.

 

“Won’t know unless you agree to go.” Cole gives her a hopeful smirk, “let Laney and I help with O and you just focus on Vinnie. Depending on how things go, we can start to go more places together.”

 

“I’ll do it for you.” Charlotte snorts when he pulls a triumphant fist down next to him. “Don’t wake your brothers. We can go in a bit. Get take-away for lunch...if you behave.”

 

“Behaving is so boring.” Cole gets up again, “I’m getting a shower and I’ll bring you down something to put Vinnie in.”

 

“Going to need to buy her more clothes soon enough.”

 

“Well, the Grands always buy us a bunch of clothes-”

 

“She needs other things besides that. She’s hit a bit of a growth spurt.” Char nods, “doesn’t help that she was just a bit smaller this whole time.” She looks down at her daughter, who seems to be falling back asleep. “Come on, you.” Char strokes the baby’s cheek with her finger, “finish up so I can shower before the other two wake...and I can make us some breakfast.”

 

“We can have cereal.” Cole offers, “I can make sure Laney and O get that. You can take care of you and Vinnie.”

 

“I can’t put all that on you, Cole, but I appreciate the offer.”

 

“Mum, I’m almost fourteen. I can make sure my younger brothers get some cereal and milk. It isn’t like I’m making them a four course meal...that’s Lane’s thing.” Cole nods, beginning to walk toward the stairs, “Take the help, old woman.”

 

“The cheek.” Charlotte mumbles as he races off. She lifts her daughter to her shoulder, rubbing her back gently, “don’t you get like that.” She pauses, “oh, who am I kidding, you’re already bold as brass and you aren’t even a year old.” Maybe going out on Christmas Eve would take her mind off of Ryan’s absence, especially with needing to focus on the other children. At least she wouldn’t be here, staring at the decorations and crying, like she did the night previous.

Chapter Text

“There’s definitely more people here this year than there were last year.” Bernie mumbles to her wife as they sit on the sofa together.

 

“More grandchildren. Can you believe the news about Cameron’s new addition...and the marriage? They’ll have their hands full.” Serena beams, looking around to her guests, “and I feel like I’m being a terrible host.”

 

“You are.” Bernie smirks, teasing her wife, “I just need to sit a bit. You go ahead.”

 

“You okay?”

 

“Perfectly fine. Go on.” Bernie kisses her wife’s lips softly, watching as she gets up. The blonde examines the room, the elder grandchildren having retreated up to Cole’s bedroom with the younger two. She isn’t sure if the eldest two grandchildren did it in an effort to be out of the way, or because they found the setting relatively boring. Either way, she thought they were smart in doing so.

 

Noticing Morven’s alarmed expression once a new guest enters the door, Bernie glances over to where her eyes are fixed, Fleur Fanshawe. She watches as Morven rushes to her, quickly speaking into her ear as it seems Fleur reassures her about something before announcing that ‘It’s a party, darling’ and moving about the room, ready for a drink.

 

Leaning forward a bit, her elbows resting on her knees, she continues to study her daughter-in-law as the young woman turns, appearing lost with all these people. Most of them knew her first husband and she isn’t quite sure if that’s the reason she feels so uncomfortable this year or if it’s something else. Bernie picks up a wrapped sweet from the dish on the coffee table, tossing it to hit the younger woman.

 

Morven glances to her arm, then notices a piece of wrapped butterscotch on the floor. She lifts her gaze, seeing her mother-in-law offering a mischievous wave of her hand, signifying that she threw it in the first place. Lifting the candy from the floor, she tosses it back into the dish as she moves around to sit next to the woman, “You rang?” She smirks, “you look a bit out of place sitting here all by your lonesome.”

 

“I’m not lonely though, I have you now.” Bernie answers triumphantly, leaning against the back cushion of the sofa again, “can I ask you something?” She sees the younger woman’s subtle nod as she raises a glass of cool water to her lips before continuing, “does Cameron know you’re pregnant?”

 

Morven nearly spits her drink out, coughing a little as she sets the glass onto the table. “Uh...”

 

“You don’t need to answer.” Bernie looks out at the crowd again, “though it would explain why you haven’t had any mulled cider when you stated that it was your favorite last year.”

 

“I’m not drinking as a sign of solidarity with Cameron since he was warned-”

 

“Morven, you’re talking to me right now.” Bernie smirks to herself, “my son is a stubborn mule when it comes to obeying the advice from physicians and he is one.” She pauses, “also, you have a really bad poker face.”

 

Realizing she’s been bested, Morven leans to the back of the sofa as well, edging closer to Bernie a bit. “No, he doesn’t know. I...I was going to either tell him tonight or...soon. I...” She blinks, feeling Bernie surprisingly take her hand, though the older woman isn’t terribly outwardly affectionate, not that Morven remembers, this was a different side to Bernie Wolfe than she worked with all those years ago. “I don’t want to get his hopes up.”

 

“It’s your decision.” Bernie nods, “just know that, no matter what happens, I know. If you need to...vent or...whatever it is people do with information they haven’t told anyone else yet, I’m here. Not as if I’m going anywhere anytime soon with the warden at my heel.” She gives a quick glance toward Serena before looking back to Morven, who giggles. “Are you happy though, Morven?”

 

“I...” Morven exhales slowly, shrugging, “I am. I just never thought I’d ever have one child, much less three. I mean...we put in an application to foster months ago and were approved. We were vetted and they gave us all sorts of tests to check our fitness to be parents. While we were going through with it, Cameron asked if I ever wanted to be an actual parent and not just a foster parent.”

 

“I remember your training techniques back at Holby.”

 

Morven grins again, it was the time she actually fell for Cameron. “A part of me did. I just...I thought it would be with Arthur, you know? I thought...he’d get better and we’d have this family of two point five children in a perfect semi-detached and...just have the grandest life together.” Morven shakes her head slowly, “but that wasn’t meant to be. My...I thought my dream died with him. I thought that for years.”

 

“Why the change of heart?” It’s as if Bernie doesn’t realize she’s taken the younger woman’s hand, absently stroking the skin on the back of Morven’s hand with her thumb.

 

“I saw Cam with his nephews and...how gentle and loving he was with them. I thought that maybe I was being selfish in regards to...keeping him from being a father.”

 

Bernie hums her understanding, “he resigned himself to it as well, though. I remember him telling us not long after the two of you got back together. Children weren’t even on his radar. He only had Char’s boys at the time.”


“We were in bed one night and I...I just asked him for his opinion on adopting. Just randomly. I don’t believe I was serious about it at the time. I have PCOS, I honestly thought a biological child wasn’t a possibility. I-I found that out while Arthur was alive. We were...” Morven shakes her head to stop herself, “doesn’t matter now.”

 

“Maybe it wasn’t supposed to happen with Arthur.” Bernie offers, “I’m not a religious person, quite the opposite, but maybe the universe had different plans.”

 

“That’s how I think of it as well.” Morven nods, leaning forward for her drink again, “thank you for...the ear. I should go and check on Max. Make sure he’s okay.”

 

“Last I heard, they were having a bit of a Christmas music dance marathon...with treats, to keep everyone occupied.” Bernie smirks, “Gwen and Cole are pretty good about that.” She nods, watching Morven stand, she realizes she was holding the younger woman’s hand and releases it quickly, “Sorry.” She pauses, “also, let them know Owen’s assumed his position.” Bernie nods toward the Christmas tree, where the boy lies underneath, looking up at the twinkling lights.

 

“You got it.” Morven nods, stepping away from her mother-in-law. She sees Guinevere carrying Max down the stairs, making a bee line to her, “what’s wrong?” She reaches a hand out, stroking the boy’s cheek.

 

“I think he’s getting tired and wanted to see you.” Gwen offers a smile, “I’d be happy to put him down for you once you’re finished.”

 

“That’d be lovely, Gwen. Thank you.” Morven collects her son into her arms when he reaches for her, gently rubbing his back, “are you quite tired, Maxie?” When he nods his head pathetically, she starts to glance around for her husband. Sighing when she’s unable to find him, “it would probably be best if we just head home soon, to be honest.” It had been a long day for them. All getting together to exchange gifts before guests began to arrive.

 

Guinevere watches them for a moment before returning to the stairs, retiring back to her cousin’s bedroom, Lane moving past her in the opposite direction, wanting to be a part of the party. Honestly, she’s glad. She wanted some alone time with her best friend. “There’s so many people down there.”

 

“Case and point why I’m staying here.” Cole smirks, watching her as she flops to lay down at the foot of the bed. “I meant to ask you, where’s Uncle Jason?”

 

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

 

“Try me.”

 

Gwen sighs heavily, rolling onto her side to face him, “he’s out with friends.”

 

“But...it’s Christmas.” Cole furrows his brow, “and he’s not sticking to his routine, among other things.”

 

She nods, “he’s been doing it for months, apparently.” Gwen swallows, “I uh...I think they might be getting a divorce soon, actually.

 

“That’s a leap.”

 

“My Mum is...not one to hold back, as you know.” She nods, smiling ruefully to herself, “she was so upset the other day. Completely downtrodden. Like she’s lost. Him not being here and abiding by his schedule, also screws with hers. Him not being in bed with her and coming home late, wanting to talk...quite loudly, might I add, is not her cup of tea.”

 

Cole nods slowly, understanding where his cousin is coming from, “Has she spoken to him about how it’s bothering her?”

 

“Many times.” Gwen bites the skin at her lower lip, “he just doesn’t seem to care. Blames her for not wanting him to have fun. I mean...when was the last time we had fish and chips night here or round yours?” When her cousin doesn’t answer, she nods, “it’s been even longer for us. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve eaten dinner with my Dad.”

 

“At least you still can.”

 

Gwen sighs a little, “I’m sorry.”

 

“It goes both ways though.” Cole offers, “my Dad was making a valiant effort to do better by us. Not the opposite.” He watches her, “has your Mum said anything to the Grands about it?”

 

“I don’t know, I don’t think so.” Gwen bites her lip, just staring to the ceiling. “I didn’t realize how much it was bothering her, but...living with someone for sixteen years and then suddenly not living with them is...a really big deal to anyone, much less someone who needs a structured schedule to function. I don’t know what’s going on with him...like...I don’t know where he even is. He wasn’t at home this morning.”

 

“Is he responding to texts or calls to his mobile?”

 

Gwen shakes her head, “he replied to one from Mum just saying to leave him alone. All she asked was where he was...because it’s fucking Christmas. She didn’t say that last part, but...still.”

 

Cole clears his throat, taking a moment to think about it. “Tomorrow...we need to tell them tomorrow. Try to convince your Mum to stay here tonight-”

 

“She won’t though.”

 

“She might if things aren’t...very good at home.” He pauses, his eyebrow raised, “she might if you ask her to stay here with you for the night. If she wants to go back home in the morning, that’s her choice, but...I don’t know. It’s just a thought.” Cole tilts his head to the side as he watches his cousin, “tell her that it would be in your combined best interest to talk to the Grands about this tomorrow. She might agree to that.”

 

A subtle smile begins to spread across Guinevere’s face, “you have good ideas sometimes, you know that?”

 

I think you mean all the time, but whatever.” Cole teases her, pushing to stand from the bed. “I’d better check on Vinnie in the nursery. You go and work on your mother.”

 

“Aye, aye, Lieutenant Wolfe.” Gwen smirks, pushing herself to standing again. She follows him out of the bedroom door.

Chapter Text

Kait walks up the path to the house in front of them, her sister walking hand in hand. “Many cars here. If it’s too much, let me know, Lily.”

 

Lily Warne smiles, nodding, “I like to meet new people. Do you think they’ll like me?”

 

“I think they’ll love you. You’ve worn your best jumper, and even put on a bit of lipstick.” Kait offers, giving the older woman’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Besides, new people are also always interesting, aren’t they?”

 

Puckering her lips before grinning, Lily nods, “I like it because it sparkles.” She pauses, thinking about her sister’s question for a moment, “will I get to meet your new friend?” She pauses, offering a cheeky smirk, “the one you have a crush on?”

 

“I don’t have a crush on her.” Kait mumbles as she shakes her head, blushing as she opens the front door to the house. It seems crowded, but relatively calm for the amount of people inside. Gentle acoustic music plays through the speakers, loud enough to hear from the front door, but not loud enough to cause people to talk over it. It’s quite a lovely setting. Noticing a familiar woman sitting on the stairs, a few up from the bottom. “Ms. Wolfe, Merry Christmas.”

 

Bernie grins to her, “Kait, it’s so good to see you. Merry Christmas.” She looks at the other woman with her, “and you must be Lily, Merry Christmas to you as well.”

 

Lily tilts her head to the side, sizing up the tallish blonde, “You’re older than I thought you’d be.” She pauses, “but you’re still very pretty. You have pretty eyes.”

 

“No, Lily.” Kait sighs, heavily, “this isn’t Charlie, this is her Mum, Ms. Wolfe.”

 

“Oh.” Lily nods, “then you’re as old as I thought you’d be.”

 

Bernie can’t help except break into her honking laugh, causing the pair in front of her to jump, but tries to do her best to keep it relatively stifled. “I’m sorry. I’ve never...received a compliment like that before.” She shakes her head, “no, Char’s around here somewhere. Let me take your coats?”

 

“Thanks.” Kait gently helps her sister to remove her jacket before Kait removes her own.

 

“Feel free to help yourselves. There is mulled wine on the stove in the kitchen, my specialty, and appetizers spread throughout the rooms, Serena’s specialty.” Bernie nods to the two women, watching them a moment after they walk away from her.

 

Following the familiar voice of her friend, it leads Kait to the kitchen. She doesn’t let go of her sister’s hand at all, both needing to know the other is close and not wanting Lily to wander off with people she otherwise doesn’t know. “You alright, Lills?”

 

Lily nods, “there’s a boy laying under the tree.”

 

“That would probably be one of Charlie’s sons. She said he does it for hours every year. Only time he’s ever really still besides when he sleeps.” Kait attempts to reassure her. She watches the kitchen area, a few smaller conversations going on.

 

Serena finishes the shot, lowering her shot glass back to the table as she makes a face of disgust, “what even was that?”

 

“I don’t know. Some sort of...Polish spirit.” Charlotte explains, a slight slur to her voice. She hasn’t had a drink in so very long. Honestly, the only way she’s getting through tonight is by having a bit of liquid courage going through her. “Man at the off license said it’s some sort of...cherry vodka thing, but...from Poland.” She lifts the bottle from in front of her, “I’ve tried pronouncing it, but I feel like I just sound insulting to them.”

 

“W’s sound like V’s, darling.” Serena holds the bottle at arm’s length, trying to make out what the letters are.

 

“Playing the trombone, are you?” Char snorts, “I’ve told you to see an optometrist.”

 

“Don’t need to.” The elder woman mumbles, though it’s obvious her eyesight has gone a bit over the years.

 

“You could have leopard print glasses. Think of the possibilities.” Charlotte picks up her glass of mulled wine before turning around, seeing her friend standing there in front of her. Her movements are ever so slightly dramatic, “Kaitie, how long have you been here?”

 

“Just got in.” Kait nods with a head tilt toward the entrance, “I brought-”

 

“Lily! Of course. It’s so great to finally meet you. Kaitie talks about you all the time.” Char nods, smiling toward the older woman, “and I love your lipstick...or is it lip gloss? It shimmers very nicely.”

 

“Thank you.” Lily smiles a bit more, “are you Charlie?”

 

“No one else wants to be.” Serena calls out from behind her stepdaughter, giving a throaty chuckle.

 

Char nods, a hint of amusement to her voice, “Last I checked.”

 

“Lily had the pleasure of meeting your mother first, to which she promptly insulted her...though accidentally, by thinking she was you.” Kait smirks to herself, sighing softly.

 

“Ah.” Charlotte nods dramatically, “well, no harm done. I heard her laughing from all the way in here so she probably wasn’t bothered by it. You’ve met my Mum, this is my Maman.”

 

“Been married to her mother for thirteen years and she’s only started calling me that recently.” Serena rounds the table, moving to stand next to her stepdaughter, “Serena Wolfe.” She offers a hand toward the women, not really caring who takes it first. She’s surprised when the elder of the two hugs onto her tightly.

 

“Lily’s a hugger.” Kait nods, still speaking to Serena, “pleasure to finally meet you as well, Mrs. Wolfe.”

 

“Ah.” Serena nods, finally looking to the woman once they separate, “likewise.”

 

“Are the two of you hungry? Would you like a drink?” Char glances between them, returning Lily’s hug when she moves her affections over to her.

 

“I’ll just get a soft drink, but Lily can have one alcoholic beverage if she wants.” Kait smirks, giggling a little when she earns a scowl from her sister, “I don’t need you legless if we’re spending the day together tomorrow. All you’ll want to do is sleep and that’s no fun for anyone.”

 

“I’m older than you. I can do what I want.” Lily looks up to Charlotte again, “do you really have four children? That’s a lot of children.”

 

“I do.” Char smirks, “at some point they just started walking out.” It earns a laugh from both Kait and Serena, but a confused look from Lily. “My husband and I were very active individuals in our youth.” Her smile grows a bit, keeping an arm around Lily.

 

“You’re married?” Lilly furrows her brow, glancing slowly to her sister, then back to Charlotte.

 

“Uh...well...” Char’s welcoming smile leaves her face and turns into a rueful one, “I used to be until very recently.” She answers gently, trying not to cause anyone to feel uneasy, “but it’s okay. I’m...rather intoxicated.” Char gives Lily a squeeze, “and I finally get to meet my new friend Lily, right?”

 

Lily nods, not really understanding what could have happened to the woman’s husband, she’ll think to ask her sister later. She finally stands upright, not hugging onto the other woman anymore, “were you really the one that kicked my sister in the face?” She pauses, “are you with the police as well?”

 

“Questions, Lills.” Kait warns, knowing how inquisitive her sister is liable to be, “also, I already told you that my injury was accidental.”

 

“It was.” Char nods a little, “promise. I’d never, ever purposely hurt your sister.” She glances over to her friend, “I’m shocked, you’re wearing makeup.”

 

“Couldn’t very well head out to a Christmas party with double shiners and a broken nose without attempting to cover something up.” Kait pauses, “the nose splint, I can deal with showing, but bruises never look good.”

 

Serena finishes her glass of cider before placing it onto the table, “if you all would excuse me, I need to mingle.” She offers the women a wink as she steps past them, seeing Guinevere and Greta hugging one another. Serena knows this is unusual behavior for her nephew’s wife, but not necessarily from Guinevere. She places a hand on the teenager’s shoulder, “everything okay?” Serena knows Jason’s absence has probably hurt them, hell, it’s hurt her. “Any word from-”

 

“No.” Guinevere quickly speaks up from her mother, “um...it’s okay if Mum stays here with me tonight, right?”

 

“Oh, absolutely.” Serena offers her a reassuring smile, “you’re always welcome here. That’s never changed since you became a part of our family Greta, and you’ll never not be a part of our family.” She’s cautious about touching the woman, knowing Greta isn’t very fond of it, “regardless if Jason wants to be a typical man.”

 

“He isn’t a typical man though, Auntie Serena.” Greta replies quietly, feeling uncomfortable, “and you know that.”

 

“This...this isn’t new. I was going to talk with you about it tomorrow because I’d rather tonight not be awful, but...” Guinevere shakes her head, keeping an arm around her mother, “this isn’t new. I’m sure I can speak for Mum and I when I say we need your help.” She pauses, “but not tonight. We can...deal with this in the morning.”

 

Serena nods, respectful of her pseudo-granddaughter’s wishes. “Of course.” She looks to Greta again, “is there anything I can do to help you now, though? I can see you aren’t very comfortable and I’d do anything to ensure that you are.”

 

When her mother begins to shake her head negatively, Gwen offers, “what about going to sit with Gran and...play a game on your mobile?” She knows a simple mobile phone with a touchscreen, just happens to be her mother’s greatest comfort object, regardless of how ridiculous it may seem. “Or we can both go outside for a few, get some fresh air.”

 

Greta had worked on her obsession with her comfort object for many years with her therapists, going from having her nose pressed against the screen of a mobile constantly, to only picking it up a couple times a day. She’s come a long way. “I-I won’t message Jason again. He-he d-doesn’t want to speak to me.”

 

“Mum, you don’t need to. Come on, let’s go and take a walk.” Guinevere offers her Nan a half smile, “we’ll be back in a bit.”

 

Serena watches them move away from her, but follows behind when she sees them grab their overcoats, and head outside. She stands in the doorway, then glances down to her wife, sitting comfortably on the stairs. Taking a moment before taking a seat next to her, “wish you were standing around with me.” She mutters, comfortably lacing her fingers between that of her wife.

 

“While that sounds incredibly exciting, I’ve been doing a very important job as the coat check.” Bernie smirks, turning her head to study her wife’s face, “you’re worried about Greta and Gwennie.” She looks forward again, exhaling slowly, “I am too.”

 

“It’s a can of worms. I can feel it.”

 

“I’m sure you can feel other things. You’re near...what’s the incredibly articulate word for your current state,” Bernie pauses for dramatic effect, obviously teasing her wife, “plastered.”

 

“Well, I reckon I deserve it.” Serena leans her head to rest on her wife’s shoulder.

 

Bernie wraps an arm around her wife, pulling her close to her side, “that you do.” She nods slowly, “reckon we all do.” Bernie exhales slowly, “Happy Christmas, darling.”

 

Lifting her head, Serena turns her face, lifting a hand and placing it on Bernie’s cheek, “Happy Christmas.” She leans in, kissing her wife tenderly. A small, quiet moment between them despite all the activity going on around them. In their world, it’s just the two of them, celebrating in their own way. 

Chapter Text

Cameron notices his pseudo step-brother pushing an occupied wheelchair, taking a patient to their assigned bed within the Keller ward. He remembers how upset his parents were with his absence during their Christmas festivities, as well as the man’s own family. “Hey, Jay. Have a minute?”

 

Jason lifts his head, shaking it negatively as he cautiously helps the patient into their assigned bed. “I have two patients waiting for transport and we’re short staffed.” His head tips up a bit, needing to make his point clear.

 

“It will only be a minute.” Cameron notices the younger man’s trepidation, “right in my office.” He motions toward the area, surprised when he obliges. Once they enter the office, Cameron closes the door behind himself, half tempted to lock it. “What’s going on?”

 

“Why would you assume something to be going on ?” 

 

“Because you didn’t visit for Christmas. Your wife and daughter were heartbroken, not to mention our parents.” Cameron watches him, comfortably folding his arms over his chest, “and Gwennie told us that you haven’t been home much either.”

 

“I don’t need to answer questions about my personal life.” Jason responds defiantly.

 

“You do when I see my niece in tears. You do when Serena gets so legless that Mum and the older kids have to work together in order to get her up to bed, while she cries about your absence.” Cameron sighs softly, “if you didn’t want to come, there’s no reason you couldn’t call. No reason you couldn’t have just phoned Serena to let her know you’re okay...or your daughter.”

 

“I invited Greta to a Christmas party with me, but she didn’t want to go. So, I went by myself. My friends said she and Guinevere are holding me back and I happen to agree with them.” Jason nods, “I shouldn’t associate with people who hold me back.”

 

“Holding you back?” Cam furrows his brow, shaking his head, “they are your wife and daughter. Your daughter , Jay.”

 

“I don’t need them anymore. I have my friends.”

 

“Who are these friends?”

 

“There are of no concern to you.” Jason starts to glare toward the other man, “you said this would only be a minute and you’ve taken four and a half so far.”

 

“If you think your friends are more important than your daughter, well...you don’t deserve her in the first place.” Cameron opens the office door, stepping through. He’s met with Dom Copeland, a worried expression on his face. “What’s up?”

 

“CEO just phoned, said she would appreciate it if you could escort Jason to her office.” Dom nods, watching the man. Knowing Jason isn’t able to hear him, he leans closer, “sounds serious...and she’s obviously watching his movements to know that he’s, ya know, on this ward.”

 

Lifting his head as the other man starts to walk past him, Cameron calls out with a smile, “Hey, Jason. We’ve been called to the headmistress’ office.”

 

“We don’t have a headmistress. We aren’t in a school.” Jason corrects the man, a very cross expression on his face still.

 

“It was a joke.” Cam sighs, nodding to Dom  before walking with his step-brother, who still appears unsure of the man’s actions, “I mean the CEO’s office.”

 

“The CEO has no jurisdiction over the porters.”

 

“The CEO has jurisdiction over everyone in this hospital. She works with the porter union to ensure that we’re adequately staffed as well as taking care of any grievances between patients and the porter service. So, yes, she does.” Cam shakes his head slowly, moving onto the elevator with him, “I don’t understand why you seem so angry.”

 

“My friends say you take advantage of me.” Jason folds his arms, “and I’m inclined to agree with them.”

 

“Who is taking advantage of you?”

 

Jason falls quiet for a moment, “I’m finished speaking to you.”

 

“Because no one is taking advantage of you. Expecting you to take care of your responsibilities? Is that what you’re referring to?” Cameron shakes his head a little, “deserting your family, including your own child, is childish in every sense of the word.”

 

“You don’t know. You aren’t a father.”

 

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Cam looks over to him, “Morven and I have a son now, but you’ve stayed away for so long that you don’t know. He loves Guinevere and Greta alike. I couldn’t ask for a better son.” He shakes his head, “and it doesn’t really matter if one is a father or not to know that a child should never cry because their parent has randomly up and left them without giving a single reason. No child should feel like they’re the reason why their parent left.”

 

“They don’t care about me.” Jason shakes his head, “no one in your family does. Auntie Serena is just the same. They only want my money.”

 

“A family of successful surgeons wants your money?”

 

“Greta and Guinevere.”

 

“You aren’t really making much sense, Jay. I must tell you.” Cameron looks over at him again, noticing how the younger man is sweating. “Looking a bit anxious.”

 

Jason ignores him as he steps off of the elevator car once the door opens, confidently striding toward the CEO’s office. He notices his immediate superior standing next to the woman behind the desk. “Good afternoon, Ms. Godard.” He stands with his hands at his sides, giving his superior a nod as well. 

 

“Take a seat, Jason.” Ange motions to the chair in front of her desk, “Mr. Dunn, if you could close the door behind you.” A laptop sits in front of her, waiting for the door to be closed before she continues. “Jason, you’ve worked here for a very long time.”

 

“I have.” Jason nods, “nearly seventeen years.”

 

“Has it been that long?” Cam raises an eyebrow.

 

Ange picks up on an air between the two, getting the feeling they had been arguing previously. “It has.” She nods, “I asked Cameron in with you because I noticed your discussion in the consultant’s office on Keller moments ago.”

 

“Why are you tracking my movements?” Jason asks loudly, starting to lose control of his tone of voice.

 

“Because your coworkers have brought to the attention of your superior that your behavior has been abnormal for the past few months. Alarmingly abnormal.” Ange begins, “so my security team thought it would be the best idea to look into these accusations.”

 

Cam stands near the door, his arms folded. “What sort of accusations?”

 

“Things such as Mr. Haynes venturing into portions of the hospital that he either doesn’t need to be in or that he shouldn’t be in. There’s also been accusations of Mr. Haynes...taking hospital property...and I’m not speaking of a biro, I mean...” Ange sighs softly, “chemicals and medications.”

 

“Are you...” Cameron’s eyes widen, then he glances back to Ange, “Ms. Godard, if this is a disciplinary meeting, I probably shouldn’t be here, seeing as we’re related.”

 

“Actually Mr. Dunn, though this may seem as I’m prying, I must ask about what your discussion in your office was just about.” Ange glances over to him, “if it was about a family thing, I understand, but...things are very serious right now and the last thing I would ever want would be to wrongfully implicate you in in any way if you’re-”

 

Cam shakes his head a little, “he missed Christmas. Jason...wasn’t home for Christmas. He’s...” Things slowly begin to click together in his head, “who are these friends, Jay?” He knows Ange or the other man in the room won’t know what he’s talking about. “Jason, you’re about to lose your job, if not be arrested, who are these friends you keep mentioning?”

 

Jason stares at a spot on the desk, “they told me real friends don’t-”

 

Cameron rounds the desk, grabbing Jason by his shirt collar, “they aren’t your friends. Real friends wouldn’t have you stealing drugs or chemicals, real friends wouldn’t have you put your job in jeopardy.”

 

Staring at the other man’s angry eyes not far from his own, “we met in an autism web forum. Then we met IRL over at Albie’s.” Jason admits, shaking his head a little, “they...they’re on the spectrum like me. I went to their flat. They...they don’t like going to their GP for their medication and asked me to help them feel better. Said they found recipes to make their own.”

 

Standing upright, letting his pseudo step-brother go, Cam runs his hands through his own hair. “Oh, my god.”

 

Ange watches her consultant for a moment, “Mr. Dunn-”

 

“If you must call police, Ms. Godard-”

 

Lifting her hand to stop him, the room falls silent for a moment. Ange leans back in her seat, looking at Jason though he doesn’t make eye contact with her, “I highly doubt that Mr. Haynes is lying, I must take these allegations and his own actions into consideration. He never denied his actions, in fact, he admitted to them.” She answers, her voice downcast, “it sounds that these people took advantage of you.” She motions between the two younger men, “whatever this is, this...anger, I’m betting comes from a place of concern from Mr. Dunn.” Ange nods, leaning forward again as she rests her elbows on the desk, “a place of concern for you, Mr. Haynes.”

 

Jason stands suddenly, “but they’re my friends. They wouldn’t do that.” His voice is raised, causing Ange to back away slightly. “They’re like me. They wouldn’t make me do things that were wrong. They couldn’t afford their medication. I helped them.”

 

“What medication?” Cameron continues to watch him. When he doesn’t answer, he asks again, “what medication could they not afford that they’d be able to make at home?” He pauses, “as if they work in a lab setting and-”

 

“I’ve seen their lab. It’s in their kitchen.” Jason argues.

 

“You are not stupid, Jason. They’re making drugs. Illegal drugs.” Cam scowls, “and when police find them and ask them where they got their raw materials, they’re going to instantly point the finger at you.” He raises his voice slightly, “do you understand?” He pauses, “you will go to prison for theft and domestic drug trafficking.”

 

Jason begins to shake his head negatively, “no-”

 

“These friends of yours have made you push away your family and those who truly care for you.” Cam flinches back when Jason suddenly pushes the heel of his hand to Cameron’s face in an effort to push him back before running from the room. The head of the porters, that was previously standing silently next to the CEO, follows behind him.

 

“Jason!” Ange stands suddenly, calling out. She decides not to take after the porter, instead turning her attention to her consultant, “Are you okay, Cameron?” She offers him a tissue on her desk when she notices his nose bleeding.

 

Nodding, brings the tissue to his nose. Cam swallows, glancing over to her, “please, don’t report him yet. Let me uh...let me try to-”

 

“I know Jason and I know this isn’t his usual behavior.” Ange explains, “but my hands are tied. He’s suspended until further notice, but I suggest you have him find legal council. I’m not contacting authorities just yet, but...everything he’s done thus far is not only against hospital policy, but against the law.” She swallows, watching the consultant for a moment still, “is he taking the drugs, Cameron?”

 

“I don’t know.” Cameron answers quietly, “I don’t know him anymore, but...I’m still going to protect him.” He gives her a nod before taking his exit from the office.

Chapter Text

“Because I didn’t want this to be a big deal.” Cameron sighs, keeping his eyes closed as his mother tends to his nose. “I don’t want Greta or Gwennie to know until I have more information.”

 

“You mean until you can say for certain he isn’t taking the drugs these friends used him to produce.” Bernie replies softly, understanding all too well of her son’s hesitation. Especially with how things fared for Elinor, “you work in a hospital, Cameron, why didn’t you have them fix you up there?” She pauses, “in fact, this happened at the hospital, but you chose to leave early and come here for me to mend you.”

 

“Nothing like a mother’s touch.” Cam teases, smirking a bit as he opens his eyes to look up at her. “Also, I know Morven is over to Char’s with Max.” He raises an eyebrow, “she loves spending time with someone who just...knows. Comes home and tells me about the things Char explains to her.” Cameron smirks proudly, “you know she’s never sat for anyone before? Loves children, but...doesn’t really know the first thing about them.”

 

“Neither did I.” Bernie smirks ruefully, “Trial and error. Though, I suppose I made more errors in my trials with you and your sister.”

 

“Water under the bridge, Madre, as it’s been for years. You know that.”

 

“It’s still a different...a different feeling when one’s own children become parents. When they become adults, really.” Bernie explains, “which is why Jason’s sudden turn of events...”

 

“I know it bothers you. It bothers me too.” Cam watches her, “which is why I knew I couldn’t exactly bring it to Serena.” His voice remains hushed though he knows his stepmother is over his sister’s house, “Ange is hesitating to terminate his employment. He doesn’t...realize that what he did was wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that.”

 

“He’s...had a few paramours in the past, before Greta. One especially threw him for a loop. Had him...nicking things in shops.” Bernie sighs softly, “a story Serena told me once.” She tilts her head to the side, “I feel sorry for him. He probably was only looking for someone to talk to.”

 

“It could have been me to do that for him, and I’ve even tried to do so in the past, but I was too busy to recognize it when he needed it this time.” Cameron answers, biting the corner of his lip.

 

“You can’t blame yourself for someone else’s mistakes.” Bernie replies carefully, finishing up with treatment of Cameron’s nose. She turns, cleaning up the papers from the various pieces, “and I know he’s in hot water, but...it’s a double edged sword. On one hand, you want to help him because you care for him, even if it implicates you. On the other hand, he needs to learn that he can’t blindly trust people, especially ones that are telling him to do illegal things.”

 

“I mean, my sword is mostly just that first part. I want to help him, but I also don’t want it to appear that I was in any way involved.” Cam sighs softly, watching as his mother moves around the kitchen, “I especially can’t do that with the new baby coming. I don’t need one blip in my background to put us in jeopardy.”

 

Bernie smirks to herself, “look at you, thinking about other people besides yourself.” A tinge of sarcasm in her voice, “it’s refreshing.”

 

“Ha, ha.” Cam replies dryly, “but really. Last thing I want is for Jason to feel alone, which is what these people have made him feel.” He pauses, “maybe I can find the forum he was talking about...see if there’s any sort of...information tied to these people.”

 

“That’s an idea.”

 

“Okay.” Cameron stares blankly in front of himself, “I don’t know where I’d even start.”

 

“While you may not, you have a niece and nephew that do this sort of thing as a hobby.” Bernie lifts her head, glancing back over toward her son, “and while I know you probably don’t wish to say anything to Guinevere, she’s too clever for her own good. If you don’t just tell her, she’s going to pick up on your awkwardness and run with far fetched schemes in her head. She’ll investigate on her own until she finds whatever it is you’re being hush-hush about. That’s the journalist in her.”

 

“Last thing I want is to upset her further.” Cam responds quietly, “I could tell she was trying to cover it up at Christmas, but Greta just...doesn’t really know how to.”

 

“Our immediate family portion of Christmas was uncomfortable...but we made the best of it, didn’t we?” Bernie offers a proud half smile, “Max’s first Christmas as a part of our family...along with Vinnie’s.”

 

“I never thought of how loving he’d be with her. I mean, Morven always tells me, but I still wasn’t expecting it.” He smiles softly to himself, “kept trying to give her his grapes.” Cam pauses, “I’ve never rescued and subsequently eaten so many grapes in my whole life.”

 

“Well it’s only going to get worse.”

 

“I know it.” 

 

At that moment, she realizes Morven hasn’t said anything to him about her pregnancy. It’s the way her son acts. Bernie isn’t about to be the one to ruin her surprise, but she is curious as to why her daughter-in-law hasn’t said anything. “Guinevere has been staying here since Christmas, Greta comes and goes. Poor girl just looks lost.”

 

“Well, I mean,” Cameron shrugs, “she probably is lost. I know I’d be if the same thing ever happened between Morven and I.”

 

“Well, hopefully it won’t.”

 

“Do you think about it?” He raises an eyebrow, watching his mother. When she gives him a confused look, Cameron continues, “if something were to happen and Serena wasn’t around anymore?”

 

Bernie’s face falls slightly as she averts her eyes, “I’d rather not.”

 

Cameron realizes how dumb it was for him to even consider given the events over the past year, “I’m sorry I asked.”

 

“She and I have had enough close encounters for one lifetime. We’d...I’d like for us to...relax one in a while.” Bernie finally turns to face him again, exhaling a soft laugh to herself, “When we were in France...it was heaven. We laughed, we dined, we...” She stops herself, just shaking her head slowly, “it seems so long ago now, but it isn’t. That’s the...absurd part. It wasn’t that long ago and so much has happened since we returned home.”

 

“It will get better, Mum. Things are beginning to settle out...especially when this is over.” Cameron reassures her, “let me try Gwen...and maybe Charlotte, she’s friends with a cop, if I’m remembering what Morven told me. Maybe...” He shrugs a little, “I mean, it wouldn’t hurt, right?”

 

“I don’t see why it would. Just be smart about it, Cam.” Bernie meets her son’s eyes once more before moving away from the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Charlotte carries a cloth bag through the atrium of the police station, knowing exactly where she needs to go. No one stops her or says anything to her, much to Charlotte’s surprise. At least she isn’t going through any doors that don’t require a badge or key card to enter. Nearing the main area of the unit, she offers a smile to everyone around, spotting her friend near the white board in the middle of the office space. She starts to smirk, watching the powerful woman lead her team.

 

Kait pokes the dry erase marker against the glass board, trying to emphasize her point. “I’m not dicking around with this.” She gives a throaty shout to the other officers in the space, “it needs to be on the mark and we need all our ducks in a row or he’ll get away with murder...again. Am I understood?” Mumbles of ‘ yes, ma’am’ are heard around the office before a staffer gently motions to Charlotte standing there. Kait starts to smile, “Charlie.” She caps the marker, setting it on the bottom metal ledge of the glass board. “My office?”

 

Offering a soft smile toward the other officers as she follows the shorter statured woman to her office, “I feel like I came at a bad time. You seem busy.” Charlotte notices the dirty looks she’s getting from a couple of the older detectives as Kait closes her office door with them within the room.

 

“Close the blinds.”

 

First setting her bag on the chair, Charlotte then moves around the private office, closing each blind before turning around to see her friend placing a bottle of scotch and two short glasses onto her desktop. “You seem stressed.”

 

Kait exhales slowly, “if you only knew.” She pours a bit of scotch into each glass and edges one toward the younger woman, “come, have a drink. Tell me what brought you in today.”

 

Char smirks to herself, returning to the chair and reaching inside the cloth bag, “I made you lunch.” She places a covered container in front of the woman, “and I thought...we could have lunch together...while I ask you for a favor.”

 

“I knew there would be a catch.” Kait begins to open the container of food still, raising an eyebrow when she spots the delicately placed food within, “what is this? Smells heavenly.”

 

“Roasted tomato chicken bake with wild rice.” She answers simply, taking her own portion out, glad it’s still hot. Charlotte places the cloth bag on the floor before taking a seat in the chair in front of the desk, “just something I threw together not long ago. That’s why it’s still warm.”

 

Kait cuts into the chicken breast, taking a bite and moaning a little at the pleasing taste. It causes her to blush. Sighing softly, she points to her friend with her fork, “go ahead, state your case...and then we’ll negotiate.”

 

Charlotte proceeds to inform her friend about the case that Jason is currently facing, about her pseudo niece, and pseudo sister-in-law. “We don’t know where to start or...how dangerous this could possibly be. I mean...Cole and Gwennie are on it, seeing if they can find an address or even the website Jason was on, but...they’re coming up empty. We think Jason gave them his laptop. He has a history of giving things away for perceived friendship in the past, but it’s been a very long time. It happened before I even knew him.”

 

“What do you mean Cole and Gwen are on it?”

 

“They like to...investigate things.” Char smirks a little, “gives them something to do. First it was about Cole’s biological father, then covering various sections of my first book, and...it’s just a hobby of sorts. Gives Cole fodder for his web show, win-win.”

 

Leaning forward, Kait starts to smirk, “and they haven’t found anything?”

 

“Cole’s inquisitive and...nifty with a computer when he gets curious about something.” Charlotte shrugs, “but no, nothing. That’s the odd part. They tried tracking the computer’s serial number with various pawnbrokers, nothing. They attempted to track the IP, but haven’t had any bites. It’s absolutely wild.”

 

“That’s just the laptop that’s gone missing though, right?” Seeing her friend’s nod, Kait continues, “do they know his current whereabouts?” She pauses, “I don’t remember seeing him at your Christmas party. I do remember seeing pictures on the mantle in your parents’ house though.” She tilts her head to the side, “he’s...the one with the glasses, right?”

 

“Yes. Jason’s daughter is Guinevere. She’s brilliant, wants to be a journalist.”

 

“The girl asking the questions.” Again, she sees her friend nod, Kain takes another bite of her chicken, “Okay. Let me...see what I can find out. See if the behavior matches the pattern of any other fraud cases or...drug related cases. I can do that for you.”

 

Charlotte starts to grin, “that’s all I want. We...we all feel like we’re pulling at straws and we’re worried sick. We don’t know if Jason’s using any of the drugs, but we do know he’s being heavily manipulated by these people. Seemed to happen right under our noses. His wife is confused and lost.” She exhales slowly, a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding, “thank you. I appreciate you looking into it.”

 

“Of course. That’s a simple...’two phone calls and I’ll have people on it’ sort of thing.” Kait nods, taking another bite of her chicken as the room falls quiet for a moment. She finally speaks up after swallowing what she’s chewed, “so, what’s in it for me?”

 

Shrugging, Char takes another bite of her food to give herself a moment to think before answering. Swallowing after a moment, she finally speaks, “whatever you want.” Charlotte tilts her head to the side, “did you have something in mind?”

 

“I might...regret this later, but...I’d really like to take you out...on a date.” Kait swallows, nervous suddenly, “not that you’ve given me any inclination that...you might swing for my team at all, but-”

 

“Kaitie.” Charlotte begins to smile, “why did you wait so long to ask me that?”

 

“I didn’t want to lose you as a friend.” The Chief Inspector answers quietly.

 

“With how hard you worked to get me as a friend in the first place, I think that’s impossible.” Char tilts her head to the side, watching her friend over the desk, “I lost my husband six months ago and-”

 

“You’re right, it was insensitive of me to-”

 

“I wasn’t finished.” When the other woman nods, Char continues, “my son asked me...a couple months after Ryan died, if I was ever going to be able to fall in love with another person. I didn’t...expect him to ask it. I didn’t really have an answer at the time, honestly. I certainly never had any sort of...timetable for myself.” She sets her container of food, few bites left, onto the desk. After falling silent for a moment, Charlotte lifts her head, “I’d love to go on a date with you, but I need you to understand that I might not be at my best.”

 

Kait begins to laugh to herself, “Charlie, you kicked me in the face and gave me a broken nose right before Christmas. If that was your best, then-”

 

“It was an accident!” Char grins, amused by her friend. “Also, just because my last two relationships were with men, both of whom got me pregnant, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate women. Doesn’t make me any less pansexual. I just...never really put a label on myself. I love who I love.”

 

“Well, that’s a relief. I’m...glad I didn’t assume incorrectly.” Kait begins to look relieved, “did you ever...tell your Mum?” She pauses, “I mean, in the book you...mention how you treated her poorly after you found out about her affair and how you...were going to be a perfect housewife, but...”

 

“No,” Char shakes her head, “I never thought about it, honestly. Sexuality isn’t something we...discuss in our family. People are who they are, people love who they love. As far as my mother goes, it’s all water under the bridge. I was cross with her, at the time, for not being true to herself and leading my father along. Leading...my brother and I along. We knew, for the most part, when she brought her friend around and they’d...give one another little looks. Things my father didn’t notice. It never had anything to do with her being a lesbian.” She pauses, “is that how it reads in the book?”

 

“Well, no...not exactly. I was just curious.” Kait finishes her lunch, setting it onto her desk, “that was absolutely delicious. You’ve missed your calling.”

 

“You should see my kids’ school lunches.” Charlotte smirks, “Speaking of which, why would you want to date a woman with as much baggage as I have? Teenager, two preteens, and an infant. Not to mention a wealth of my own issues...”

 

“You’re the most fascinating woman I’ve ever met.”

 

“Your sister said you were sweet on me.”

 

“That too.” Kait starts to blush, a grin spreading across her face, “that baggage is still a part of you and...I care deeply for all of it.”

 

“Just because you can’t find what you seek in the main text, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look between the lines.” Charlotte stands, leaning over the desk and gently presses a soft kiss against the woman’s forehead. “I should get going. You have a murderer to catch.” She starts reclosing the dirty containers of eaten food, placing them into the cloth bag to wash at home. “If you’re finished by dinner time, feel free to stop by. Reckon I’ll make a roast or something for dinner...with carrots and potatoes.” 

 

“Sounds delightful.” Kait doesn’t take her eyes off the other woman, still in shock from the intimate moment she had just experienced. “I’ll um...I'll make those calls that I need to.”

 

“Thank you and...be careful.” Char winks to her, collecting her things before opening the office door and stepping through.

Chapter Text

Gwen carefully moves down the concrete steps to the cellar of her grandparents’ house. Her Nan slowly spins a handle on the wooden wine-making contraption in the middle of the room, humming a soft sound to herself off key. Guinevere spots a near empty glass and a mostly empty bottle of wine next to the woman. “Need some help?”

 

“Ah, Guinevere.” Serena glances up, not having heard the young woman move down the stairs. “Thought I told you about sneaking around.”

 

“You didn’t.” Moving over to the padded folding chairs, Gwen grabs one as it leans against the wall, unfolding it near the woman. “Here, let me do that for a bit.” She places her hand over her Nan’s realizing the woman was almost in a zone as she hesitantly lets go. “Care to talk about it?”

 

Serena leans back in her chair, humming a low chuckle. “Not at all.”

 

“Fine, I’ll talk then.” Guinevere continues to turn the wooden handle, “Cole and I are still looking for...any trace of Dad. Uncle Cam said he still hasn’t tried coming to work and we know he hasn’t tried phoning. His phone isn’t...traceable, as far as we know.”

 

Sighing heavily, Serena takes a sip from her glass of wine, pouring more in. “What else is new...” The question rhetorical, her nose and cheeks beginning to turn pink because of her own intoxication.

 

“Auntie Char said her friend, Kait, is on it. The detective.” Gwen continues, “Mum seems optimistic about it...as does Auntie Char.” She lifts her head, looking at the older woman in front of her, “are you okay?” When Serena looks away, taking another sip of wine, Gwen sighs softly. “Neither am I, if it means anything.”

 

“I dropped the ball.” Serena responds softly, absently swirling her wine in her glass.

 

“Nan, you didn’t, though.” Gwen shakes her head, “Mum and I never said anything and he was still going to work so...Uncle Cam didn’t really know. If anyone dropped the ball, it was us. We thought...he’d just come back when he was ready, but...then he started upsetting Mum and...ignoring me.” She shrugs, “we should have told you sooner, but we didn’t and...that was stupid of us.”

 

“Yes, it was.” Serena answers quickly, unable to stop herself. She turns her gaze to that of her pseudo granddaughter. “It’s something we could have taken care of right away.”

 

“Well, we can’t go back now. I can’t go back now, Nan.” Gwen watches her still, “ In the end, you must do what you think is right. Do you remember those words? You’ve always said them as Cole and I were coming up.” She straightens her back, pausing from turning the crank, “Well, I did. I did what I thought was right at the time. Was it right long term? Maybe not, but...I can’t go back now.”

 

“I don’t blame you for anything, Guinevere.”

 

“You obviously do, you said so.” Gwen strengthens her voice a bit. Raising the tone before speaking again, “do you think I don’t fear coppers finding my Dad in a back alley somewhere? In a flophouse? Either addicted or dead?” She quiets herself, but doesn’t back down, “and you’re down off your arse and making even more wine while Cole and I are trying to work so bloody hard...for just for a crumb of information.”

 

“And you’ve come up empty.” Serena takes another sip from her wine glass. “I can’t lose another child.” She shakes her head a little, “I...I refuse.”

 

“You aren’t going to.” Guinevere exhales softly, turning the crank again, “you must remain optimistic. Very last thing any of us need is pessimism right now.” She turns her head when she hears the cellar door open again.

 

Charlotte bounces down the stairs, “I was wondering where you all were.” She shakes her head, “bloody freezing down here.” She senses the awkwardness between the other two in the room before holding up her mobile, “Kait phoned.” When Guinevere stops in her turning and all eyes are on her, Char continues, “we can stop looking. Jason’s in a cell, but...they’re going to transfer him to hospital. He has some wounds, but nothing too serious. Kait wants to get him a tox screen and a check over. She’s taking care of him.”

 

Serena’s chin begins to wobble, “what hospital?” 

 

“Saint James. I’m going to have Dad check in on him as well.” Char smiles a bit, “Mum and Greta are en route from the grocery.” She glances between the pair, “oh, come on, smiles at least. This is a good thing. It’s a start.” Walking down the stairs more, she stands next to them before crouching to glance between them. “Honestly, I think we should let Mum scope things out. Let Jason have a moment with Greta and then go, but that’s just me. I would hate it if he acted poorly toward either of you.”

 

“I can agree with that. I just hope he’s kind to Mum. He wasn’t before.” Guinevere says quietly.

 

“Things change, Gwennie.” Charlotte gently moves the young woman’s hand from the crank and flips a switch on the base of the wooden bucket, the machine moving itself.

 

Serena sits up straighter, glancing over to her stepdaughter, “how did you do that?”

 

“I bought you this for Christmas ten years ago and you never realized that it was electric?” Charlotte smirks, glad she was able to get the woman’s attention.

 

Shaking her head a little, Serena watches as the machine turns on its own. “I just...turned it manually. Gave me something to take my frustrations out on. Meditative, in a way...a sort of mindless motion.” She exhales slowly, “I think Bernie scoping things out is a good idea before we go. She always had a way with Jason. He’d always listen to her before he listened to me.”

 

“Look, Dad can hate me all he wants, I’m just glad he’s safe.” Guinevere says quietly, getting up from her folding chair and quickly moving to the stairs, ascending them.

 

Closing her eyes, Serena inhales and exhales slowly, “she’s not going to talk with me anymore tonight, I reckon.”

 

“Well, sometimes you say stupid things when you’re legless.” Charlotte stands, reaching across her and picking up the empty bottle, “you tend to lose your filter, does that sound better?”

 

“No.”

 

“Well, it’s true.” Char cleans up a little, returning the folding chair to its place with the others, leaning against the wall. “Come upstairs. You should get some water in you if things turn up alright at hospital. Don’t need you spitting truths on your nephew while he’s fragile at the mo.” When the woman glances back to the wooden bucket, Charlotte continues, “I put it on a timer. It will keep going for another hour.”

 

“It has a timer as well?” Serena furrows her brow in surprise as she carefully rises from the chair, carrying her near empty glass of wine with her as she follows her stepdaughter to the stairs.

Chapter Text

Kait watches the young man in the bed, his hand and foot cuffed to the rails because of his unintentional outburst with arresting officers. “How are you feeling, Jason?”

 

“Stupid. It isn’t fair when people take advantage of others and...I’m certain now that was the case with me...like Cameron was saying all along.” Jason explains, glancing around the room, “St. James Hospital is only a bit different from Holby City Hospital. I wonder if the floor layout is different as well.”

 

“It is. Holby’s AAU is a bit more open.” She smiles softly, noticing his inquisitive nature. “You were a bit combative with my boys, Jason. That’s why you’re currently cuffed. When the tox screen comes back, maybe we can remove one or both.” Kait notices him moving his wrist around, “I know they must be bothering you.”

 

“Not as much as I thought they would.”

 

“Well, that’s good then.” Kait nods, “we phoned your wife and I let Charlie know so that she could alert your aunt and daughter that we have you in our custody.”

 

“I was very rude to Greta.” Jason says softly, “I hope she forgives me.”

 

“And if she doesn’t?”

 

“She must. We’re married.”

 

“She could seek divorce.” Kait tilts her head to the side, “when you treat others poorly, you must accept the consequences for your actions, regardless if you truly meant them at the time or not.” She shakes her head slowly, “my sister has a hard time understanding that too. She hit someone in her group home that was being rude to her, using her things without asking and even stealing things from her room and claiming them as their own. So, my sister was more frustrated than anything and didn’t know how to express herself properly.”

 

“Is your sister autistic as well?” Jason watches the detective, kind of just staring at her, interested in her perfectly quaffed white blonde hair. “I have Asperger syndrome as does my wife, Greta.”

 

“No, Lily has Down’s Syndrome. She lives in another, much better controlled, group home now.” Kait smiles at the thought of her older sister. “None of that truly matters though. The idea still stands.”

 

Bernie keeps her hand on Greta’s shoulder as they cautiously enter the room, having been guided by a member of the nursing staff. She can feel the subtle tremble coming from the young woman beneath her fingertips. Bernie notices Kait first, offering a nod to her before glancing over to her nephew. She expects Greta to say something, but isn’t surprised when the young woman just stares at him. “Jason.”

 

“Auntie Bernie.” Jason offers her a smile, a sense of relief about him. “Greta, I missed you.” He watches his wife, seeing her uncertainty. “Greta.” He begins to frown when Greta just shakes her head at him and moves to the hallway.

 

Sighing softly, Bernie moves closer to the bed, “I’m glad you’re safe, Jason.” She places a hand on the metal rail closest to the door, pulled up on either side of the younger man. “We were all very worried about you.”

 

“I was stupid.” Jason looks away from her. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” His head rocks back against his pillow with each word. He’d hit it against something harder if he could. “Stupid.”

 

Marcus knocks on the doorway, holding up some papers and a folder in his hand, “I come bearing results.” He’s glad to see someone other than the detective in the room. “Jason, would you be comfortable if I shared these with the room?” When he doesn’t get an answer, the young man still banging his head into the pillow, Marcus continues, “Okay then. Let me preface this with saying my staff and I checked points of self injection. Arms, legs, between fingers. Things of that nature. So then we went on to the usual marks for someone else injecting, or even an injection Jason may not have been aware of, and we found a few behind the ears and in the neck.”

 

Bernie begins to shake her head, “bastards.” She whispers to herself.

 

“That being said, the results show multiple sedatives being used as well as a newer drug we’ve been seeing quite a bit lately, and I’m sure will be familiar with DCI Warne, red dust. We believe this one to be an injected form. Something we haven’t seen yet, but there is nothing in Jason’s nose to warrant he snorted the substance, which is the usual point of entry.”

 

“We believe that’s what the people with Jason were working on, who better to test it on than him.” Kait interjects with a knowing nod. “At least we’ve caught them and confiscated any drug paraphernalia as well as their communicative devices, including what we believe to be Jason’s laptop and mobile.”

 

Marcus nods, “he’s currently coming down from this Red Dust, which is the cause for his elevated BP and heart rate, also the euphoric disposition. Once we believe it’s left his system, we’ll do another full workup.”

 

“Thanks for taking lead on this, Marcus.” Bernie offers him a soft, appreciative smile.

 

“Of course. Char phoned to tell me they’d be on their way. Also, Jason is a friend.” Marcus glances down at the young man who has calmed a bit. “I’m going to see about getting him a sedative if things...spike again.”

 

“I want to go home.” Jason mumbles a bit, “Greta!” He calls out, causing Bernie to flinch a little.

 

“I’ll check on her.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, keeping her voice calm, “I don’t want Guinevere seeing you until you’re in better shape, but I’ll phone Serena.” She exhales slowly, controlling her own breath to calm herself. Bernie takes one last look at the young man in the hospital bed, giving a quick half-smile before moving to the doorway. 

 

Greta stands next to the door in the hall, her mobile close to her face as she scrolls through a page, anything interesting enough to distract her. “I don’t want to see him. I’ve heard everything that was said. He’s taken drugs and that isn’t-”

 

“It isn’t that black and white, Greta. He didn’t take them by his own volition. They were forced upon him. You couldn’t possibly fault him for that.” Bernie attempts to explain, knowing the young woman wouldn’t want to hear it. “We can leave, if you’d like.”

 

“I would.” Greta gives a hesitant glance toward the hospital room before walking with Bernie toward the hospital exit.

Chapter Text

Serena takes a long drag of a cigarette in her portion of the back garden, a glass of wine sitting on the garden table, but she stands in the grassy area ahead of it, just looking toward the sky. Of course, she’s glad Jason is okay. However, on the anniversary of her daughter’s death, a drug related incident for her nephew was the last thing she wanted to experience.

 

Bernie closes the back door behind her, pale pink wool coat around her shoulders. She notices her wife, able to smell the cigarette smoke as it fills the air. Slowly, silently, Bernie steps behind the other woman, wrapping her arms around her waist. “Darling, it’s frigid out here. Come inside.”

 

She didn’t know her wife had returned home, much less hear the back door open. Serena leans her head back, resting it on Bernie’s shoulder. “How does he look?”

 

“Looks a bit worse for wear, but Marcus says he’ll be fine when things are out of his system.” Bernie answers, knowing how worried her wife probably was. “Everything is going to be okay. He wasn’t at fault. Charlotte said Kait promised to take care of things. We have no reason not to trust her.”

 

“We have no reason to trust her either.” Serena mumbles, sighing softly, “I know, I’m being a pessimist, I just wish this was another day. Literally, any other day.”

 

Bernie nods a little, “I understand.” She presses a kiss to Serena’s shoulder, “but he’s fine. Jason’s in good hands and he’ll get the help he requires.” She continues to hold onto her wife as the woman turns in her arms, her brown eyes meeting that of Serena’s. “We take care of one another. We always do.”

 

Serena nods a little, leaning in and capturing her wife’s lips deeply as she closes her own eyes. Red nose rubbing against red nose, Serena presses her forehead to Bernie’s. “We’ll visit tomorrow.” She mutters, her voice soft, almost lost. She feels Bernie take the cigarette from her hand, pulling her along to the garden table where the fag is stubbed out in the ashtray. Serena lifts the chilled glass of shiraz from the table, balancing it between her fingers. She’s already had so much tonight, she isn’t sure how she’s still walking.

 

“How much have you had to drink?” Bernie asks gently, not disappointed or surprised in her wife. In fact, she half expected this behavior today.

 

“Bottle or two...” Serena continues to let Bernie lead her into the house, through the kitchen and to the vestibule. “I lost count.”

 

Bernie gently unbuttons and removes her wife’s red wool jacket from her shoulders, then her own pale pink one, hanging them on the coat rack as well as their scarves. “Let’s get you up to bed then.”

 

“I’m not ready for bed. I’m not tired.” Serena shakes her head, just wanting to spend time with her wife. “If I sleep, I know what I’ll dream of and I’m not...ready for that just now.” She swallows, “I know I...I’ve been trying not to have as much. I’ve mostly stayed away from it-”

 

“Doesn’t seem like you’re feeling it just yet. I gather you’ve had those glasses in quick succession.” It isn’t a guess, it’s a conclusion. Bernie gently guides her to the lounge, “we can watch some telly. I’ll get you some water for you to guzzle so you aren’t too sick in the morning.”

 

“It’s supposed to snow tonight. Even if the snow is too great, I still want to visit Jason.”

 

“Let’s worry about that tomorrow.” Bernie walks her wife to their lounge, kissing Serena softly as she takes a seat. She makes quick work of getting her wife a glass of water, setting it on the coffee table. “Greta is upstairs, Guinevere is over Charlotte’s.”

 

“Guinevere goes wherever Lavinia goes.” Serena smirks a little, feeling herself beginning to squint her eyes.

 

“And Cole’s birthday is in a few days. Fourteen for the cub.”

 

“Not so much a cub anymore.” Serena moves her jaw, beginning to feel the effects of her wine. “None of Charlotte’s are...except for sweet Lavinia.” She brings her hand to her head, rubbing her palm over her eyes. “All day, I kept...thinking the worst for Jason. I even, stupidly, snapped at Guinevere. I immediately regretted my actions, obviously, but...it’s a habit I’ve never grown out of.”

 

“I’m sure Gwennie understands.” Bernie takes a seat next to her wife, wrapping a comfortable arm around her shoulders. She feels Serena comfortably lean against her, “she’s a smart girl.”

 

“She shouldn’t need to understand.” Serena answers with certainty, “I owe her.”

 

“Why do you owe her?” Bernie turns the television on as background noise. Some sort of nature program, mindless distraction for her.

 

“She was trying to make me feel better.” Serena swallows, “I-I was on my first or second bottle of wine and...I just wanted to be alone at the time, but I didn’t voice my...voice my wishes to her.” She shrugs nonchalantly, “maybe I didn’t know that’s what I wanted at the time, I don’t know. I still owe her.”

 

Bernie smiles to herself, “we’ll ask her what she wants...besides our love and ever unwavering devotion.”

 

“I’m not laughing.” Serena moves a bit lower, her head resting in Bernie’s lap, “I’m being serious, Berenice.”

 

“As am I.”

 

“No, you aren’t.” Serena yawns, her words starting to slur ever so slightly.

 

Bernie watches as Serena stares toward the television, “You and I will go and visit Jason tomorrow. We’ll see if Greta would like to go with us, but my expectations are low. She doesn’t really...seem to understand that drugs being forced and voluntarily taking drugs are two different things. I think she needs to mull over that for a bit, so it might be best if she stay here or stay with Char tomorrow.”

 

“They forced him to take them?” Serena wasn’t terribly certain of that herself. The information Kait fed to Charlotte was limited, and Char informing Serena was even more guarded.

 

“Marcus and DCI Warne believe the people Jason was with may have tested their concoctions on him based on the locations of the injection points.” Bernie swallows, cautiously bringing her hand up to stroke through Serena’s short hair. “He doesn’t seem to remember much and just seems confused, which...is probably a good thing.” She pauses, “I walked Greta to the car to wait and I went back for a few extra minutes with him.”

 

Falling silent for a moment, Serena finally answers, half asleep, “I’m glad you were there.”

 

“Me too.” Bernie glances down to get a look at her wife’s face, relieved when the woman finally closes her eyes peacefully. Today is always hard for Serena, and the stress with Jason wasn’t exactly something either of them needed. Bernie doesn’t know if she’ll head upstairs anytime soon or just sit here with her wife for a while.

Chapter Text

The cold January air was invigorating. My large, pregnant belly contracts and I feel a hand on my shoulder. My brother’s hand. He had come to scold me for being out of bed, as instructed to do so by my parents and obstetrician. I remember feeling so terrified when my labor started the night before, so scared that I kept quiet about the information from my mothers.

 

Almost immediately after my brother had ushered me inside the house, my waters broke and her nervously rushed me to the hospital. Holby City Hospital is incredibly important to our family in more ways than one. We’re familiar there, I met my husband there. It’s a place embraced by my family and worshiped by my eldest son.

 

I was rushed into theater when my breech facing son’s heart rate dropped with each contraction. Neither of which meant I’d experience natural childbirth with my first child.

 

Cole relaxes in bed, yawning a little as he reads the section of his mother’s second book that covered his birth fourteen years prior.

 

I awoke in a hospital room after my surgery, my mother holding my son proudly in her arms, staring at him with an adoration I had never seen before. She moved closer to my bedside and it was the first time I saw him, my sweet boy. Cole Berenike Wolfe. I never told her that I was naming him after her and she grew teary eyed when I said it.

 

Serena had run out of the room, overcome with emotion, I believe. My mother leaned closer, gently setting Cole on my chest. I asked her if he was okay and she nodded. This boy, who had survived my daily beatings, a car accident, and an attack on Boxing Day within the comfort of my womb, was finally here. He was safe and perfect.

 

Cole smiles to himself, thinking of how the Grands are with Lavinia, and how that’s probably how they were with him as well. “Big softies,” he mutters to himself. Hearing a soft knock at his bedroom door, he glances over in the direction, “come in.”

 

Charlotte turns the handle and slowly pushes her son’s bedroom door open, peeking into his room, “Happy Birthday, sweet boy.” Her daughter excitedly squeals from her position in her mother’s arm.

 

Grinning even more, Cole sets his mobile down to stretch while looking at her, “Thanks, Mum. Thanks, Vinnie.” He pushes himself up to sit as she enters more, “you’re both up early.”

 

“Well, someone wouldn’t go back to sleep, I won’t mention names. However, they did greet me in the morning with a grin on their face.” Char lets the baby down onto the bed next to Cole, “give brother birthday kisses, Vinnie.”

 

Cole giggles when Vinnie aggressively presses her face against his cheek, “thank you very much.” 

 

“Everyone is coming over for dinner, except for Uncle Jason, obviously, he’s still in hospital.” She explains, “but your Grandad and my friend Kait assure me he’s doing incredibly well and we can do a bit of a video conference with him later, if you want.”

 

“I’d like that.” He smiles warmly when his sister leans her head against him with a yawn.

 

Charlotte scowls playfully to Vinnie, “oh, no you don’t. You wouldn’t let me sleep, there’s no way you’re going back to bed now.” She pokes her in the belly, eliciting a hearty laugh from the babe. “What would you like for dinner? I want to put an order in now so I’ll have the food by the time I’ll need to start preparing it.”

 

Cole begins to think for a moment, “those pork chops that you make with the fruit? Either peaches or apples.” He pauses, “with roasted haricot vert or asparagus...maybe some potatoes and carrots. Seasoned rice or risotto. A salad.” He smirks, “you always say that people think more effort goes into them than what actually does. I don’t want you doing too much.”

 

“You’re right, but you don’t need to worry about me. That’s why I’m asking you. It’s your birthday and I want you to have whatever you want.”

 

“I just want to spend time together.” Cole responds, “I mean, last time was Christmas and the time before that...” He pauses, “but you won’t-”

 

“You’ve nothing to worry about.” Charlotte leans forward, pressing a kiss to his forehead, “I promise.” She gently lifts her daughter to her lap when the girl reaches for her, “that isn’t something you ever have to worry about. Alright?”

 

Cole nods a little, “I trust you.”

 

“Well...that’s good.” She smirks, standing up again, “I’ll be making breakfast in about an hour or so, but...feel free to come downstairs whenever. I’m taking Vinnie down so she doesn’t wake anyone else.” Char starts walking to the door.

 

Grabbing his mobile, Cole swings his legs over the edge of the bed, “I’ll come down too.” His first birthday without his father, who actually never missed a single one of his birthdays, usually waking the house with his best attempt at breakfast. Though it hurts that he isn’t around, Cole knows that his family is in a better mind space than they were for his brothers’ birthday months prior. He’s proud of his family as a whole and it’s only going to get better for them.

 

Though if you were to look at Cole’s initial birth certificate, there is an empty space where father is supposed to go, my husband fills that role diligently. He savors the role of father, especially at the time of our boys’ birthdays.

 

Breakfast is prepared and it’s a full celebration of each child on their associated special day. Of course, Cole is first of the year with his birthday in January. Jovial singing and a playlist of Cole’s favorite songs plays throughout the day on our home theater stereo. I’ve never seen someone dance to the ‘ABC’ song like my husband did when my eldest was a toddler. He’ll probably do the same with our daughter, even though we’re both much older now.

 

My husband and I have always been committed to honor each difference in our children, each smile, each hobby. I know my husband and I will continue far into our children's adulthoods. We owe it to them and to ourselves. Then, maybe, our grandchildren one day in the distant future. Let me emphasize that again, distant future. 

 

My husband and I, no matter what might come our way, will always put our children first. Celebrate our children. Maybe, if more people were just celebrated for being themselves, there would be a lot more happiness in the world. Unless they’re terrible children, which I simply don’t have. Stars, every last one of them, and I’m including this child that grows in my womb currently as I write this. They are the reasons Ryan and I live.

Chapter Text

“We need to talk.” Morven swallows, rolling on her back as she rests in bed with her partner, their son comfortably asleep between them. This is her new normal. Few months ago, she couldn’t have possibly imagined having a growing family.

 

Cameron groans, rubbing a hand over his face, then his eyes to get the sleepers out. “Can this wait until I make some coffee?”

 

She sighs, defeated, “yeah, that’s fine.”

 

He knows that tone, knows that she doesn’t mean it. “No, it’s okay. It can wait.” Cameron keeps his voice soft so as to not wake Max. When she doesn’t talk, he leans up on his elbow a bit, noticing the tears in her eyes, “Morven, what’s wrong?”

 

“I’ve...been trying to find the best way to tell you for weeks.” Morven quickly brings a hand up to her face as a tear trickles down her cheek. She trembles with anxiety, “and I just...don’t know how. I still don’t know how to tell you without it making our adoption process sound pointless-”

 

“Morven.” Cameron reaches over, gently taking her hand and lacing his fingers between hers. “You’re scaring me.”

 

“I’m pregnant.” Morven licks her lips, staring out in front of her. When she sees her partner roll onto his back out of the corner of her eye, she turns her head to look at him, finally seeing the grin starting to grow across his face. “I didn’t...I didn’t think I could, so...I’ve been speaking with Ms. Fanshawe and she’s keeping a close eye. I didn’t want to get your hopes up in case things didn’t work out.”

 

“In less than a year, we go from no children to three.” Cameron looks over to his partner, his eyes begin to glisten tears of pride. “Fascinating.”

 

“You aren’t disappointed?”

 

“Disappointed? How could I be disappointed?” He beams, “how far are you?”

 

“Roughly sixteen weeks.” Morven answers quietly, “I found out just after we were offered Max’s biological sibling and...I was too nervous to tell you sooner, I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s okay. We just have a lot to prepare for.” Cameron leans up, moving down the bed a little. He presses a kiss to her belly, able to feel that she’s starting to form one, however small. “Hello there. I’m Dad.” He huffs a soft chuckle when he sees her smile from the corner of his eye, “and your Mum is amazing, that’s who you’re in right now. We can’t wait to meet you, but we have much to get ready for out here, so you stay cozy in the meantime.” He kisses her belly again.

 

“You are so extra.” Morven watches her husband, reaching a hand down to affectionately run through his hair.

 

“Four months, Morven. I’d say we’re safe.” He sits up, watching her. “It explains why you haven’t let me see you naked in a while.” He pauses, thinking for a moment before speaking, “You should text the fam.”

 

“You do it.” She pushes herself up from the bed, “I’m going to shower.” Morven lifts her shirt enough for him to see her belly finally, but only for a moment before she backs away from him. “I report back to work today and I’ll need to inform my CEO once I get there.” She shrugs, “and I’ll probably be removed from my post for the duration of my pregnancy since it’s in quick succession from when we receive the other baby. They should only be a few months apart, so I’ll be out for at least six months by then, if not longer.” Morven pauses, “I could take an extended leave of absence.”

 

“You could.” Cameron watches her, “or I could.” He smirks, “you’ll be seven months pregnant by then and...I remember how my sister was at that point, you’ll probably be similar...and not having a very good time.”

 

Morven shrugs, “we’ll worry about it then. I plan to continue practicing until I can’t.” She finally leaves the room.

 

Cameron watches as she walks away, lifting his mobile from his bedside table charging pad. He quickly does a family group text, letting everyone find out at the same time over visiting one parent over another first.

 

Serena reaches over to her bedside table, when she hears her vibrating mobile, her eyes blurry with sleep. She had grown used to sleeping in more often since her official second retirement from the hospital, but was sure to let them know if they ever needed an extra hand, she was only a phone call away. She holds her mobile at arm’s length, reading the short message, trying to make out the text.

 

“It says Morven’s pregnant.” Bernie mumbles, her arm wrapped around her wife, but she’s able to see the print of the other woman’s mobile. “They wanted everyone to know at the same time and they love us.”

 

“I thought she couldn’t get pregnant. That was their whole reason for adopting. Wasn’t it?” Serena places her mobile back down, closing her eyes again as she gently strokes her wife’s arm around her with her short nails. “Not that adopting needs to have a reason...far from it. I’m happy for them. Max will be thrilled as well.” She hears her wife hum her approval against her back, “I’d think you’d be more excited than you are, Berenice.”

 

“I’ve known since Christmas.” Bernie mumbles.

 

Serena furrows her brow, rolling back to get a better look at the woman, “what do you mean you’ve known since Christmas ?” She mocks her wife’s low, sleepy voice with her last three words as she becomes increasingly more awake.

 

“Just what I said. I made an observation and she asked me to keep it a secret because she hadn’t told Cam yet, I honored her wishes.” Bernie answers gently, “it also wasn’t my news to tell anyone , even you.”

 

“You always complain when Charlotte does that with me and you turn around-”

 

“It really wasn’t as serious as you’re making it, darling.” Bernie opens her eyes again to look to her upset wife, “you must remember what that felt like. Finding out you were pregnant and trying to decide the best way to tell Edward. Marcus knew I was pregnant before I did with Cam.” She smirks a little.

 

Serena sighs softly, “I certainly do.” A bittersweet smile grows on her face, “oh to be young again.”

 

Bernie begins to laugh to herself, “it’d be a bit different for us, wouldn’t it?”

 

Nodding slowly, Serena turns a bit more to face her wife. She leans in, kissing her lips softly, “all around.” Serena nods, another peck, “seeing you in a uniform has always been a guilty pleasure of mine...what little you do of it.” 

 

Waving her eyebrows, Bernie smirks, “anytime you want, Campbell.” She thinks for a moment, knowing the only time Serena had seen her in her uniform was when she went to save Cole from his paternal grandfather. “I would have actually been happy to have been home then. Wouldn’t have stayed as long as I did, I reckon.” Bernie sighs softly, “though I know you probably would have moved about with me from base to base.”

 

“Instead of being stuck here, absolutely.” Serena nods, settling against her wife, “always by your side. You would have never been able to rid yourself of me.”

 

Bernie wraps her arm securely around her wife, pulling her close, “I wouldn’t have wanted to.”

Chapter Text

Kait waits in Charlotte’s lounge as her friend prepares for their dinner together, she can feel a set of eyes boring through her. Smirking to herself, she slowly turns her head to see her friend’s eldest son staring at her, “how was the rest of your birthday, Cole?” She pauses, “I didn’t get to have any cake, unfortunately.”

 

“Duty calls and all that. Honestly, I was surprised to see you.” Cole shrugs, “it was fine. My Grandad never knows what to get me and I thought it might get a bit better when he married my Auntie Sian, but...he still thinks I’m like...nine.” He smiles a little to himself, “you look really nice by the way.”

 

“Thank you.” Kait glances down to herself, brushing her hand over her jacket lapel. Her cobalt blue women’s pencil pant suit fits her frame perfectly, as well as the beige blouse underneath with nude heels to match. “It isn’t often your mother is able to go out for drinks...among friends, so...” Kait shrugs, “I thought we could go to an...upscale place for a change.”

 

“Nice cocktails and all that?”

 

“Yes, exactly.”

 

Cole smiles to himself, “It’s also a good idea when you’re trying to impress a date.”

 

“Yes, exac-” Kait stops and glances over to him, “Cole.”

 

“Look, my Dad’s dead. It isn’t like my Mum is cheating on him.”

 

She turns in her seat to face the boy more, “I think you have the wrong idea.”

 

“I don’t think I do.” Cole confidently folds his hands in his lap, still watching the other woman, “my entire birthday dinner, that you took time out of your already busy schedule to attend and left early because of how busy you are even though you’ve only just started being friends with my Mum a few months ago and only really know me from my whole...case last year, you just stared at my Mum. Stared at her with these...heart eyes...and I’m certain, a few times, I saw her look at you the same way.”

 

It isn’t often that Kait becomes intimidated and she isn’t sure why she feels that way with a fourteen year old boy, but she does. Just a little. “You know, I work really hard at my job. I interrogate sex offenders, murderers, robbers...all sorts of people. I see dead people on a daily basis. I’m the boss of professionals who are older than me and who have been there longer than I have, but I’m their superior because of my hard work. Sometimes, I just want to dress up and get drinks with a friend. Nothing more, nothing less.”

 

“I don’t doubt that.” He watches her, “and I wasn’t saying it as a bad thing. She’s putting on her own frock, curling her hair, Laney’s even helping her apply false eyelashes. She’s putting as much effort into her appearance for you as you did for her.” Cole nods slowly, “she’s had a smile on her face all day...and your drinks with her is what put it there.”

 

“She’s wearing a dress?”

 

“Yeah. Haven’t seen her look this nice since my Grandad’s wedding, which...probably isn’t the best thing to reference.” Cole tilts his head to the side, glancing over to the doorway when he hears heels on the wooden stairs. His mother comes to stand in the doorway, champagne colored, skin tight, pencil dress that hits just below her knees. Nude heels to match. Her loosely curled hair flows over her shoulders, “Mum...you look fine, I guess.” He teases her.

 

Kait stands, her eyes widening as she catches sight of the other woman. “Charlie, you look-” 

 

“Kaitie, my feet already hurt with these heels. Let’s get the hell out of here.” Charlotte watches the woman step around the coffee table before focusing on her eldest son, “Cole, Vinnie is asleep in her cot and if you need help with Owen, please phone the Grands. Gran’s really good at talking him down, you know that. If anyone gets sick,” She motions toward the house next door, “they’re fucking doctors, leave me alone.” She teases him in return. Seeing Kait pull on her overcoat from the corner of her eye.

 

“I’m going to warm the car.” Kait smirks toward her friend, then glances over to the teenager, “good luck with things, Cole.”

 

“You too.” Cole listens for the door to close behind Kait before he stands, going to the vestibule to help his mother pull on her overcoat, “have a great time tonight.” He holds the door for her, watching as she walks past, “oh, and Mum.” When she stops her stride, turning back to look at him again, “make sure she buys you dinner first.”

 

“Shut up.” Charlotte exhales softly, moving toward the car again, she notices that Kait has opened the passenger side door for her. She smiles toward the other woman, slowly climbing into the car, “thank you.”

 

Kait closes the door once the woman sits down, moving quickly around to the driver side, “the thanks are all mine. I honestly didn’t think you’d accept.”

 

“I don’t get to dress up often.” Char relaxes in the seat of the sports sedan, “and I like dressing up.” She nods slowly, “and you make me laugh, which...is always a plus.”

 

“I told Cole we were getting drinks.”

 

“I plan to have one during dinner, so it isn’t really a lie.” She glances down, noticing the other woman’s free hand draped at her side. Charlotte reaches over, gently taking Kait’s hand, lacing her fingers between the other woman’s. She doesn’t say anything. Her gaze instantly changed to straight ahead again. “I did a bit of research, this place is known for their chocolate martinis...which would make an excellent desert.”

 

“Depending on how things go tonight, I thought maybe I’d ask you to the police officers fundraising gala.” Kait swallows, fully aware of their subtle hand holding and how it makes her heart beat faster, “and since you said you like to dress up...” She smiles nervously to herself.

 

“I’d love to.” Char nods, “we can coordinate...like we accidentally did tonight.” She laughs a little to herself before pausing with a sigh, “I don’t understand why I feel so nervous.” She says softly, glancing through the passenger side window. “You’re over all the time and...we always have a great time together, even when we work out.”

 

“Maybe it’s because of how smart I look in this snappy suit.” Kait hears the other woman laugh quietly, “this is just a couple of friends going to dinner...a couple of friends who look amazing together.” She nods, “I mean, I look good, but you look...breathtaking.” 

 

“You’re making me blush.” Charlotte smiles, her cheeks going a bit crimson.

 

“Good, you’re cute when you blush.”

 

“You know, we don’t have to do all of this. We can just...go to yours and...buy takeaway.” Char looks over toward the other woman, “I um...” She swallows, “I don’t really do well with crowds.”

 

“I know.” Kait nods, “that’s why I reserved us a private room.”

 

“What?” Charlotte’s face softens.

 

“They have these small, private rooms. You said you did research.”

 

“Yes, but I didn’t think you’d do all that.” She smirks, “they’re...pricey.”

 

Kait shrugs, “if it’s something that makes you more comfortable, of course I’d do it.” She brings Charlotte’s hand to her mouth, gently kissing her knuckles. “Japanese food with a magnificent bar, private room, spending time with you...” Kait glances over to her when they stop at a red light, “sounds like a perfect night to me.”

 

Charlotte appreciates the extent Kait has gone just for her. She nods a little, “yeah...it does.”

Chapter Text

Serena quietly lets herself into her stepdaughter’s home, wanting all the details from the night before, a night her grandson had called ‘a date’. Checking her wristwatch, she wonders why the house is still relatively silent. Serena makes her way to the lounge, seeing Charlotte’s friend, Kait, asleep on the sofa with Lavinia sleeping on her chest. She smiles softly to herself, stepping into the room more. She notices Kait’s clothing, worn the night before, draped carefully over the high backed chair. “Bet that looked lovely.” Serena whispers to herself.

 

“Serena.”

 

Turning, Serena spots her wife standing in the vestibule. She motions to the sleeping Kait and Lavinia on the sofa. “She stayed the night.”

 

“I can see that.” Bernie nods, “let’s go. Leave them alone.”

 

“We’re here now, darling, may as well-” Serena sighs when Bernie takes her hand, pulling her through the house, back into the back garden. “Well, that was a tad excessive.”

 

“Do you think the first thing Kait wants to see when she wakes up is us gawking at her?” Bernie shakes her head negatively, “I highly doubt it.”

 

“Did you know that Charlotte liked women?”

 

“That isn’t the point.”

 

“You didn’t know.” Serena continues, “you thought she was straight as a rail. Then this woman, who isn’t too much younger than us, is suddenly her friend and it’s throwing you for quite the loop.” She starts to smile, “and she isn’t making a big deal of it because it may have truly started as a friendship, much like our own, but...Kait spent the night-”

 

“On the sofa...in a house full of children.” Bernie continues, “she wasn’t in bed with her, she was on the couch with Lavinia. Probably didn’t want to wake Char, which...is quite thoughtful of her.” She motions to the driveway as well as the street, “however, I don’t see Kait’s car, which is what Cole said they had taken to the restaurant. I’ve only ever seen her on a motorcycle, which is also nowhere to be found.”

 

“You’re as excited about this as I am.” Serena grins a bit more, “admit it.”

 

Bernie straightens her back and tilts her head from side to side, “I simply...find it intriguing and I...didn’t know she and I had that in common.” She pauses, “you skimmed through her first book, she never...mentioned...”

 

“Not that I remember, but it’s been quite some time since I read it.” Serena watches as her wife softens, she moves closer to her, wrapping her arms around Bernie.

 

“If the two of you are finished yelling at one another in my garden, why don’t you come inside for breakfast.” When both of the women glance up, Charlotte smiles toward them from her open bedroom window. “Also, don’t be weird.”

 

“When have we ever been weird?” Serena curls her lip, feeling her wife pull her by the hand back inside the house.

 

Charlotte closes her bedroom window before moving around her room to pull on her robe. She checks in Lavinia’s room first, seeing the cot empty. Then the twins’ rooms, still asleep. Then Cole, still asleep. She furrows her brow, not really understanding where her daughter had gotten off to. She silently descends the stairs, a pain forming in her head from all the drinking the night before. “There it is.” She mumbles to herself, bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of her nose. 

 

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Char looks into the lounge, spotting Kait and Lavinia, still asleep. She smiles to herself, thinking of the night before, turning in the other direction and going to her kitchen, where her stepmother is already putting on a pot of coffee. “Morning.” She keeps her voice relatively quiet, but the tone of it is low and still filled with sleep.

 

“Well, how did it go?” Serena watches the young woman, her eyes glistening with excitement.

 

“Dinner and drinks with a friend?” Char shrugs, “we had as good a time as one usually has with friends. I don’t know who is worse with their assumptions, you or Cole.” She pauses, “do people often jump to conclusions when you go to dinner with Sian or Fleur?”

 

“I don’t usually wear dresses or suits when I go to dinner with them.” Serena raises an eyebrow, “nor do they usually spend the night.”

 

“We didn’t sleep together, if that’s what you’re implying.” Charlotte shakes her head, “in fact, I wasn’t even aware she was still here until this morning.”

 

“Still here and cuddling your daughter.” Serena continues, “she’s a beautiful woman. I think it would be a great idea if the two of you were dating. She seems to have her life together.” She pauses, “bit older than what I’d expect you’d go after, but...”

 

Char rolls her eyes, sighing softly. Glancing over toward her mother, she raises an eyebrow, “you’re remaining suspiciously quiet.”

 

Bernie lifts her hands in innocence, “what is there to say? Your life is your life, darling.” She shakes her head a little, “Whether she’s a friend or more than that, I’m proud of you for getting out once in a while, regardless.”

 

“The picture Lane sent was striking.” Serena nods, noticing her wife’s confused face. She reaches into her pocket to pull it up and shows the woman.

 

“You looked beautiful.” Bernie smiles a little to herself, taking a look at the picture on her wife’s mobile.

 

Char blushes, shaking her head with a sheepish smirk forming on her face. “I appreciate the kind words, but...I don’t know what to tell you both. It...it is what it is. We’re comfortable with it, so far.” She lifts her head, hearing her daughter babbling. “Excuse me.” Char moves from the kitchen, glad to be out of the conversation with her parents.

 

“Good morning. Can’t say you’re the Wolfe I hoped to wake up with, but I’m not complaining. You’re cute enough.” Kait smiles a little to the baby, who simply stares at her, trying to figure her out.

 

“I’d say the both of you are.” Char stands in the doorway, watching the pair. When the baby excitedly reaches for her, she walks in a bit more, lifting the babe into her arms and kissing her chubby cheeks. “Go back to sleep. I’m making breakfast though. Up to you if you want some.”

 

“I’ll be there in a moment.” Kait nods, smiling to herself at how beautiful the other woman looks in the morning with just a pair of pajama pants and a form fitting t-shirt on. “I don’t know how you get anything completed during the day with her in your care.”

 

“She’s very squishy.” Charlotte grins, “also, super cuddly in the morning.”

 

“Charlie, yesterday was-”

 

“Shhh.” Char winks, whispering, “for us to enjoy, and not for my Maman to obsess over.” She continues to smile, moving toward the hallway. She gives the other woman one last look before returning to the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Jason quickly makes his way to his private room within the facility he had been staying, he was told he had a visitor. Guinevere would visit twice a week after school, without her mother knowing, but this isn’t Guinevere’s usual day to visit. Slowly walking through the threshold of his room, he notices his wife sitting there. “Greta.” Except for the first day he was hospitalized, she hadn’t been to see him and it’s been roughly a month at this point. “You’re here.”

 

“I am.” Greta focuses on her mobile, “Guinevere told me about her trips to see you.” She pauses, “I told her to stop.”

 

“Oh.” His tone downcast, swallowing as he takes a seat on the bed, “she only does her homework. It’s...it’s nice to see her.”

 

“She informed me that you’ve been able to leave for at least a fortnight.” Greta continues to focus on her mobile, “and you haven’t made any effort to come home.” She raises her gaze, “if you don’t want to come home, that’s fine, but...I’d appreciate it if you just told me that.” Greta glances back to her mobile, “if you don’t want to be with me anymore, just say so. We’ve been married for a long time and feelings change.”

 

“But I do want to still be married to you, I love you.” Jason answers quietly, watching her, “I did some bad things, but I thought I was doing them for good reasons...until I learned that I wasn’t. I was...mean to you, and I regret treating you that way.” He swallows again, “I regret missing our Christmas...and New Years celebrations. That was wrong. I was very, very wrong for months and I’m sorry.”

 

Greta falls quiet for a moment, typing something on her mobile. “Apology accepted.” She nods, “will you come home now?” She finally stands when he nods, “I’m glad.”

 

Guinevere receives her mother’s text message, “fucking finally.” She grins.

 

“Language.” Serena warns, carefully attempting to roll out dough. “I’m hoping this is finished in time for dinner.”

 

“What are you making, exactly?”

 

“Banoffee pie.” Serena responds, hopeful undertones to her voice. “I found one of my mother’s recipes, and it has chocolate and bananas and...it’s just heavenly.” She pauses, “what I remember of it.” She nods, “so, what was the reason for your outburst?”

 

“Dad’s coming home tonight.” Gwen nods, smiling still, “I’ve been visiting him, as you know, and I spoke to Mum yesterday evening about it...because she wasn’t aware that I was going to see him...and I felt guilty with keeping that information from her.” She pauses, “not really keeping it from her, just...neglecting to say anything.” Gwen shrugs, sighing softly. “I don’t know.”

 

“I’m pleased. He’s been pretty down about her radio silence.” Serena nods, laying her biscuit dough in the pie dish and weighing it down with a cheesecloth full of dried beans before sliding it into the oven. She then turns the timer on before returning to her granddaughter. “Are your parents coming to dinner? I know Cameron is due over to Charlotte’s with Morven and Max. Please extend it to your parents. Jason has yet to even meet Max.”

 

“Sure.” Gwen lifts her mobile again, “I’ll send Auntie Char a heads-”

 

“Her friend Kait is coming as well, so I believe she’ll be fine.” Serena smirks to herself.

 

“Stop.”

 

“What?” Serena asks innocently, “I’m just informing you about-”

 

“She’ll tell you if they’re really together when she’s ready.” Gwen absently runs her tongue along her teeth, “if she isn’t ready, you shouldn’t force her. No one should be forced out of the closet...if no closet exists. Auntie Char mentions it in her book, so...it isn’t really a secret.”

 

“First or the second?”

 

“Second. Hold on.” Guinevere scrolls around on her mobile, then clears her throat.

 

Younger than most of the other pupils, I was freshly eighteen and starting University. It was a liberating, eye opening time for me. I met a handsome man at a pub, not too far from campus. There was an instant connection, flirting. He bought me a drink and-

 

Serena interrupts her granddaughter’s dramatic reading, “I thought you said-”

 

“Be patient.” Guinevere mumbles, returning to the digitized book.

 

-and I went home with him. I thought he was a fellow pupil, he lived in an apartment not far from campus. Bit older, but it wasn’t unheard of for me and I didn’t perceive it as predatory behavior for him to be at a bar frequented by college pupils. He was blonde with eyes the color of the ocean and I was enamored.

 

I attended my first university course that morning, only to realize the man I had relations with the night previous, was my professor. He proudly mentioned a wife and a young child as if he was a faithful husband. I confronted him after class and we ended up having sex on his desk in his office. It was rough, passionate, and he left a hickey on my collar bone. Something I always considered as one of my best features. Even after all these years, my brother still harasses me about my six month fling with the man.

 

For my second year, I had moved into a four bedroom, specious flat, with a beautiful view from my bedroom window. It was comfortable and my roommates and I decorated it like something out of an Ikea catalog. We got along and, perhaps, I got on a bit too well with one of my roommates. Her name was Aya and she was absolutely brilliant. She was only 160cm with hair like a raven that was twisted in a messy bun on top of her head, and hazel eyes. Her skin tasted of cocoa and she smelled of amber. A smell still absolutely intoxicating to me to this day. I fell for her, hard.

 

She left bruises on my inner thighs after our first night together and left me unable to walk. She coddled me in bed and told me I did well. Aya and I kissed, often. She would stalk the halls and capture me when I’d be walking between classes and just hold onto me. I’ve never had a lover such as her and I doubt I ever will again. She died in a car accident after our first month together. I felt guilty when I tried to be with another woman, as if I was degrading her memory and what she meant to me.

 

Maybe, one day, I might be able to let that aspect of myself go. I might be able to finally lay Aya to rest. Her death only pushed me into the arms of Anders even faster. He was kind then. He held me and reassured me things would be fine. When it was revealed that my mother had cheated on my father with a woman during her time in the Army, I hurt. I hurt not for my mother being with a woman, but knowing that she left us constantly to be with her lover. I met the woman. We were friendly. I knew who she was.

 

Anders began to harass me about my past being similar to my mother’s and I did things that I’m not proud of. My brother and I wrote letters about my mother being unfit during my parents’ divorce, but they weren’t completely true. She was an excellent mother, all things considered. I still question my own motives during that time. I was in pain. I was disappointed. I wanted to be as far away from anything that was similar to my mother’s behavior as I could. I wanted to be a housewife in a straight relationship. I identify as pansexual, meaning I don’t limit my sexual tastes to biological sex or expressed gender. Forcing myself to conform, when I had been so free previously, was painful. Of course, I’ve obviously fallen for men, but I never told anyone about Aya. That was something for me to remember.

 

“So her love life resembles Bernie’s more than I thought.” Serena says to herself, folding her arms over her chest.

 

“I’m more stuck on the last three of Auntie Char’s relationships ending in death, but okay.” Guinevere raises her eyebrows a moment, then shifts her eyes from her mobile over to her Nan.

 

“She was no longer with Anders when he died.” Serena clarifies, then pauses, thinking about her granddaughter’s words, “but yes, you’re right.”

 

“Listen, I like Kait, she seems nice. She also carries a gun for a living. Bad guys do too. Just saying.”

 

“Well, don’t say anything. She’s happy and that’s what counts.”

 

Gwen nods, “I remember when Mum had taken me to visit Cole while he was in hospital last year and Kait was there to question him in an official capacity, but...obviously, we didn’t really care about who she was. Just that she was the one covering Cole’s case.”

 

Serena furrows her brow only slightly, “I didn’t know she was on Cole’s case.”

 

“Neither did Cole, but he was traumatized, so I’d imagine he wouldn’t remember much.” Guinevere shrugs, “a lot of things were going on then. I get that no one remembers.” She pauses, “maybe Auntie Char does...and that’s what brought them together again.”

 

“Maybe.” Serena nods a little, “very interesting.”

 

“I’m happy when my family is happy.” Guinevere smiles to herself, “and I’ll be thrilled to eat this pie you’re putting together...regardless of how it might taste.”

 

“Very funny.” She smirks, “but I reckon you’ll love it...” Serena pauses, “your great grandmother was a brilliant baker. Even when she had gotten sick, that’s one thing she never forgot how to do.”

 

“What was she like?” Gwen tilts her head to the side, “you often talk of Aunt Elinor, and I love those stories, but I’d like to hear about my great-grandmother too sometimes.” She sets her mobile onto the counter, “when she was older or...when you were a girl. I’m not too picky.”

 

“It’s the portion of your history that...for some reason, I always forget and she’s the thing that links our lineages.” Serena exhales with a smile, “maybe another day, okay?”

 

“I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

“Your pie was delicious, darling.” Bernie ties the drawstring of her pajama pants, glancing over to her wife, who is already lying in bed. “Gwennie said you made it by hand while I was over Char’s to help her with Owen.”

 

“I did.” Serena nods, smiling proudly to herself, “my mother’s recipe. The best things she made were sweets.”

 

“Well, you should do so more often.” She steps over to the side of the bed, pulling down her side of the covers. “I didn’t expect Jason and Greta to come. It was so good to see him back home again.” Bernie takes a seat on her side, “and Max seemed quite interested in him.”

 

“First time they got to meet.” Serena nods, “it’s good to see Cameron seeming to take more of an interest than he usually does. Morven said he constantly mentions how often he speaks of wanting to be a close knit family, especially with his children, and...I’m all for it. I know Morven wants to be as well.”

 

“Agreed.” Bernie nods, “however, Cameron has a hard time asking for help-”

 

“Sounds familiar.”

 

“Asking us to watch Max is a start, but...it was something even I didn’t expect from my son.” She shifts her body around, lying back in bed. Bernie glances over to her wife as she pulls the covers over her lower half. “It was really good to see everyone together.”

 

“And getting along.” Serena watches her wife’s movements, falling silent for a moment, “is it your head or your back?”

 

“I’m fine.” Bernie shakes her head a little. When she notices Serena’s unbelieving scowl from next to her, she sighs, “I’m just tired.”

 

Serena hums her approval softly, her eyebrow raised. The room goes quiet again, “would you like a back rub?”

 

“I’ll take any excuse for you to put your hands on me.” Bernie smirks playfully.

 

“Well, you know I’d gladly put my hands on you whenever you wish, just say the word.” Serena sits up, motioning her wife to roll over to her stomach. “I still don’t believe you, you know. I think something else is bothering you as well.” Serena begins to massage the woman’s lower back, slowly moving her hands up.

 

Bernie draws her lower lip into her mouth, resting her head on her folded arms, taking in the attention her wife is giving her back. She isn’t sure if she should even respond to her wife’s prodding. “Charlotte seems...conflicted about her feelings for her friend. She’s holding herself back and...I’m not sure why.” Bernie explains, “and I can’t help except...believe she’s stringing the woman along for companionship.”

 

Serena leans down, softly kissing the back of Bernie’s neck, “why would you believe she’s stringing her along? Why not just playing hard to get?”

 

“I remember the letter she wrote during the divorce. I remember the things she accused me of.” Bernie swallows, “playing with Marcus’ affections out of spite, using my husband as a source of-”

 

“Berenice.” Serena sighs softly, stopping her wife’s train of thought, “this isn’t her first girlfriend...though it’s been a very long time since she’s had one.” She shakes her head, “same could be said for myself. I was with Edward then a few other men before I met you...and you swept me off my feet. I was attracted to other women, but I thought I was simply being a feminist and impressed with their capabilities. I didn’t think it was in a romantic way...until I met you.”

 

Bernie rolls over, looking up at her wife, “well, I hope to be your first and your last.”

 

“You are.” Serena leans down again, softly pressing a kiss to Bernie’s lips before relaxing against her pillows, “if you want to know about it, why not just ask Charlotte herself?” She shakes her head, “we keep getting excited with the prospect of Charlotte moving on after such a rough few months, but-”

 

You keep getting excited. I’m just happy when she’s happy.” Bernie clarifies, “also, I’m not prying into my daughter’s love life. One thing I don’t need, want, or care to think about are the romantic conquests of my children. That’s for them to mull over on their own.”

 

“You’re allowed to be a bit pleased that Charlotte’s joined the sisterhood again.”

 

“I just hope she doesn’t face the things that I did.” Bernie shrugs, glancing away from her wife again. She exhales softly as she pushes herself up in the bed against her pillows. “It was a different world in the military when I was with Alex, but...at home it’s a different story.”

 

“I hear Charlotte has a very open and loving family. It’s a different world for her now than when you came out at home.” Serena shakes her head a little, “the two instances aren’t comparable.”

 

“To you they aren’t comparable.” Bernie glances over to her wife after a moment, “the very last thing she needs is for Marcus to say something negative...for anyone to say something negative.”

 

“I don’t think she cares about any of it. Marcus has had a long standing position of being on thin ice with her since before Cole was born. I doubt he’d wreck that at this point.” Serena points out, “and that doesn’t matter. We’re here for her. Cole and Guinevere seem intrigued and encouraging. I don’t believe Lane, nor Owen, have noticed at this point. That doesn’t matter. The pain she experienced after Ryan’s death...left her inconsolable for months.” She shakes her head, “I love to see her smile...because it’s your smile. She’s fully content at the moment...I can’t think of anything else we would want her to be.”

 

Licking her lip in thought, Bernie starts to smirk, “you’re right. I’m...overthinking things.”

 

“You just don’t want her to experience the pain that you did. No one could fault you for that.” Serena reaches over to her, tucking Bernie’s messy blonde hair behind her ear. “The plight of being a parent.”

 

Bernie huffs a soft sound of amusement, “I’ve only gotten better because of you.”

 

“I don’t think so. I think you’ve always been a wonderful mother, but you were hindered...or you restrained yourself.” She moves over to her wife a little more, “you were a victim of society.” Serena keeps her hand on Bernie’s cheek, her thumb gently gliding along Bernie’s perfect cheekbone, “and you deserved better. You deserved to be yourself.”

 

Raising her hand to gently place on the back of her wife’s hand, Bernie just gazes into Serena’s eyes. She doesn’t say anything, just slowly moves in to cautiously capture Serena’s lips with her own. Their kissing doesn’t cease when Serena moves to straddle her wife. They need one another. “It’s been too long,” Bernie whispers, her hands slowly sliding down Serena’s form to rest on the woman’s hips.

 

Serena hums her approval, “well, let’s fix that.”

Chapter Text

“Owen, get the post, please.” Charlotte calls out absently after hearing the drop of the daily post delivery within the cage of the mail slot. “Ready, Vinnie?” Char makes plane noises as she swirls the spoonful of apricots and cereal toward the baby’s mouth. She smiles when the baby excitedly kicks her legs at one of her favorite tastes other than her mother’s milk.

 

Lane notices his brother staring at the cage from the post, but not actually getting it. He moves over, helping Owen. Handing his brother the bills and other things in the stack. However, one letter seems odd. Handwritten, addressed to his mother, but in a crude way. He swallows, following Owen to the kitchen.

 

“Thank you, great job, O.” She smiles at her son, “Evie should be coming soon, okay?” Their address was usually among the postman’s first delivery stops and she made sure to take care of Evie Fletcher financially on the weekends. She watches as the boy continues his pacing and patrol of the house as her other son steps in with another letter, “I think the apricots might be her favorite. Just like they were yours, Laney.”

 

“Still are.” Lane moves toward her more, “Mum, you got this too...it was left in the basket.” He hands her the letter with Dyke Wolfe written on it.

 

She doesn’t react to the word once she notices it, just looks to Lane, “thank you for bringing this to me. I’ll read it in a bit.”

 

“But why would someone send it to you?” He pauses, “it isn’t nice.”

 

“Because people are mad sometimes, Laney.” Char tilts her head from side to side, still feeding her daughter between sentences, “some certifiably. You can’t take everything they write to heart.” She pauses, “I know this may sound silly to you, but there are some people who read my books or refuse to read my books and would rather just harass me. It’s happened before. For as many good people that there are, there are as many bad people, unfortunately.”

 

Lane swallows, “but they called you a-”

 

“They’ve called me a lot of things over the years.” Char smirks to herself, “this is nothing.” She scoops up a bit more cereal to give her daughter, “when people call you names, you shouldn’t give them credence by letting the names hurt you or affect you in any way.”

 

“But you wouldn’t let anyone call the Grands that.”

 

“No, I wouldn’t.”

 

“So, why do you let them say it to you?” Lane continues to watch his mother.

 

“Why should I let the words of someone I don’t know or don’t care about bother me?” Charlotte tries to explain, “and you shouldn’t let them bother you either.” She switches to the pureed peas with some cereal, giving it to her unsuspecting daughter, who promptly makes a face of displeasure. “Listen, Vinnie, you gotta have fruit and vegetables with your meals.”

 

Lane watches his mother with his sister for a moment, “Mum, are you a lesbian?”

 

Char starts to smirk again, “how would you feel if I were?”

 

He swallows, “didn’t you love Dad?”

 

“I loved him very much.” She nods, “more than you could ever imagine.”

 

“So...would you be bisexual then?” Lane seems confused, “you...you knew what was happening to me at school and you...” He shakes his head, “you could have told me that I wasn’t alone.”

 

“Of course you aren’t alone in the way you feel. You have a set of grandmothers right next door.” Char sighs, “why is everyone suddenly so interested in my love life?” She chuckles bitterly to herself, “research LGBTQIA+ culture, Lane. Learn more about the things people can identify with if they so choose. One’s worth should be based on their character and their kindness towards others, not who they fancy. I’ve taught you better than that.”

 

Lane swallows, speaking after falling silent for a moment, “if Dad was here, you wouldn’t have gotten that letter.”

 

“If your father was here, a lot of things would be different, but he isn’t, Laney.” Char answers quickly, closing her eyes as she immediately regrets how harsh it probably sounded, “he and I...we had our hiccups, but there was never a time where we didn’t love one another. Never.”

 

“So how can you move on so quickly if you loved him so much?” Lane has tears in his eyes, “Cole thinks you’re dating your friend, Kait...or that you’re at least interested in her.”

 

“Lane-”

 

“It hasn’t even been a year!” His voice raises a little, slurring slightly when he gets excited or upset about something, as it usually does, “have you kissed her?”

 

“No,” Char answers simply, “and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you because it’s no one’s business except my own.” She remains calm, looking over to him after wiping Lavinia’s mouth with the edge of the spoon. “Kait is my friend. She’s a good person who finds bad guys and arrests them. She investigated Cole’s case last year.”

 

“Have you been seeing her since then?” Lane swallows, “did you cheat on-”

 

“I was pregnant then, if you remember, and happily married. I don’t cheat...it’s not my style.” Charlotte shakes her head, knowing the paint that cheating causes as a whole, “I honestly forgot about it until she mentioned it.” She exhales slowly, “Kait and I aren’t even dating. We just spend time together. She makes me laugh and she’s kind.” Char pauses, “Kait just...gets me.”

 

“Did Dad know that you liked women too?”

 

Charlotte nods slowly, continuing to entertain her son’s questions just to ease his anxiety about the subject, “yeah.” She sets down the sectioned bowl and spoon onto the table before getting up. Char carefully takes hold of her son, softly kissing the top of his hair, “you’ve never been alone in what you feel...and you’ll never be alone. Not while I’m around.” She keeps holding him. “I’ve never lied about who I was to you or anyone else...only myself for a while, but that’s...a long story, okay?”

 

Lane swallows, leaning against his mother a little as he nods, “I’m sorry, Mum.”

 

“Hush.” Char shakes her head, “how about we go shopping when Evie comes to help with Owen?” She offers, “we’ll take them along with us since he needs to work on his skills in public.” Char smirks, “how does that sound?”

 

Starting to smile, Lane looks up at his mother with a nod, “can I get a new notebook? My therapist thinks it’s a good idea if I write things down.”

 

“Of course. Writing has always worked for me too.” Charlotte winks to him, “go on up and get out of your pajamas. I have to get Vinnie cleaned up and changed, same with myself. I’ll wait for Evie to get Owen situated, but we’ll all have a day of it, okay?” Watching as her son nods excitedly before slowly walking away from her, Char exhales slowly, glancing to her daughter who kicks her chubby little legs once she realizes she’s being paid attention to. “You, little Miss, are going to be on your best behavior today.” The baby squeals excitedly, causing Charlotte to grin.

Chapter Text

Cole gently lays his cousin in his cot for his afternoon nap, hearing the front door open and close quickly downstairs. At least, someone was attempting to be quiet in their entry. His first job sitting for someone who wasn’t his own sibling, though he wouldn’t accept any sort of money, he actually liked the idea of getting to know his cousin, Max, a bit more. Effortlessly and silently descending the stairs, a talent he picked up from his Gran over the years, Cole moves from room to room in search of the visitor’s location. Upon hearing the familiar sounds of retching from the downstairs toilet, Cole quickly makes his way to the kitchen, wetting a kitchen towel under the sink and folding it a bit before taking it to his aunt. He gently pushes the cracked door open a bit more, crouching next to her and placing the cool towel on the back of her neck, causing her to jump instinctively. “Everything is going to be okay, Aunt Morven.”

 

Morven closes her eyes once she hears him, “you don’t need to-”

 

“Maxie’s down for his afternoon nap and Uncle Cam is still at work.” He offers her a soft smile when she glances over to him, “so, I’m at your disposal.”

 

She spits one more time in the toilet before reaching up and flushing it as she moves to lean against the wall. “You called me Aunt Morven.” Morven gives a subtle smirk, looking at him.

 

“Well, yeah. You’re my uncle’s wife. That’s how it goes.” Cole nods, smiling softly toward her, “and you’re Max’s Mum...and the next two of my cousins. So, at least to me, you’d be my Aunt anyway.” He shrugs, “We’re family at this point. We take care of one another. That’s what I’ve always been taught.”

 

“You have great parents. I wouldn’t doubt that they’d-”

 

Cole hums, shaking his head, “not by Mum or Dad, by the Grands.” He smiles again toward her, “my parents and my Grands all kind of...raised me together.” He shrugs, “the Grands were always the ones who taught the good lessons.”

 

“I can attest to that.” Morven nods slowly, “many times while I worked at Holby, they...looked out for me. I wouldn’t be a surgeon today if it weren’t for them, honestly.” She pauses, looking to the boy, “you’re very lucky to have them.”

 

“I know.” He watches her, “would you like to get up? Maybe take a rest on the sofa instead?” Cole tilts his head to the side, “not that I doubt the cleanliness of your water closet, but I don’t think you’re very comfortable at the moment.” He offers her a reassuring smile, “I can set you up with a small bin instead of you running back and forth...and I’ll keep tending to Max so you can have a bit of rest...put your feet up.”

 

“You should give your Uncle Cam a few pointers.” Morven tries to push herself up, only for the young man to instantly get up and stand in front of her, offering his hands to help. “How do you know exactly what to do?” She takes a moment before taking his hands and letting him help her.

 

“Before my Mum realized she was pregnant with Vinnie, or...had to admit that she was pregnant, she’d be sick a lot.” Cole nods, “and I’d watch my Dad take care of her sometimes...and other times, I just did what my Dad did.” He nods sadly, “but I got really good at realizing what it was Mum needed before she knew she needed it. I’d research the things that could help her. Whatever I could do.”

 

“You’re a good egg, Cole.”

 

“It didn’t last too long. I...was kind of out of commission for a bit come January and...I could have done better.” He nods a little, walking slowly with her to the lounge. Cole helps her remove her overcoat, hanging it alongside his in the small closet next to the entry door. “I still have moments, but...things are better when I spend time with Vinnie, believe it or not.” He shrugs, “or the Grands. They’re usually my...anchors.”

 

Morven watches him move about, “have you always been close with them?”

 

Cole nods, obtaining the small bin that was next to the toilet. He empties it and fills it with a new bag before setting it next to her. “My Mum always had a hard time mentally as I was growing up, understandably because of everything she went through. My Dad worked a lot. Like, he’d be there sometimes for birthdays and stuff, but it wasn’t often. So a lot of pressure was put on Mum. I’d go over the Grands and stay there. Alleviate some of the pressure. Also, I got in the habit of sleeping between them until I was like...five or something. That’s why I still have my own room there.”

 

“I always wondered why you had your own room and Guinevere didn’t.”

 

“Mum lived with the Grands while she was pregnant with me, before she met my Dad. Sometimes even when she was with my Dad. So...it was always home. It will probably always be home” Cole shrugs, “even the smell of Gran’s perfume can calm me in an instant. I don’t know what it is.” He huffs a soft laugh, “it’s nice to have a bunch of Mums to take care of you though.”

 

“I’d say. You’ve grown into a true gentleman, Cole. You’ll make someone very happy someday.” Morven watches him, letting the teenager gently lift her feet and place them on a pillow.

 

“Nah. Not really my thing. I’d rather not have any entanglements.” Cole shakes his head, “I plan to go into the military. Follow in my Gran’s path of the RAMC.” He smirks, “and if I’m not cut out for the military, I’ll just study to be a surgeon. It’s what I’ve always wanted to be.”

 

“Even with your web show and your love of investigation?” Morven smiles to herself, “I’ve watched even before Cam and I got back together. I didn’t realize exactly who you were until Cam brought me round to have dinner with the family. You’re very good at what you do.”

 

“Yeah, but...something about the medical field just calls to me. Always has.” He takes a seat on the floor next to her, leaning his back against the front of the sofa, his knees comfortably pulled up. “When I was little, Uncle Cam gave me his old medical books. I...I would read them voraciously. Anytime someone was sick, anytime someone was formally diagnosed, I had to know what it meant. The Grands are both featured in them. Gran in trauma techniques and Nan in vascular techniques.” He pauses, “do you know how cool that is to have one’s Grands in a textbook that only features the best of the best?”

 

“I didn’t realize.”

 

Cole nods, “I remember being little and taking them to school for show-and-tell...and people didn’t believe me. So I’d come home and tell my grandmothers.” He starts to laugh a little at the memory, “and Nan came and sat with me during school dinner and some of the other kids were asking her questions, fully just not believing she’d be in this book. Without getting into juicy details or anything, she’d tell them about some of her favorite patients.” He glances back when he hears the soft, steady breathing of the woman, smiling to himself that she’s fallen asleep. Cole gets up, retrieving the throw blanket from the back of the sofa, and gently drapes it over her before silently moving upstairs to check on his cousin. Hopefully, they’ll ask him to sit for Max again.

Chapter Text

“Are you staying snowed in with us?” Char sits on the sofa, feeding Lavinia from her breast. She smiles toward her friend, her sons outside playing in the growing piles of snow, leaving them alone to drink tea in peace. “It will probably get a bit noisy, but you know you’re always welcome.”

 

“My laptop is in the car with a few sets of clothes that I keep just in case, but I feel like I’d be imposing.” Kait glances over to her friend, doing her best not to look at Charlotte’s exposed breast accidentally, “tomorrow is Valentine’s Day though.”

 

“It is.” Charlotte nods, glancing down at her daughter who is just gazing up at her as she suckles. She looks back over toward the other woman, “I can make a nice dinner for everyone...some desert.” Char offers, “we can just relax...have a good time.”

 

Kait nods a little. She doesn’t know what she was expecting, honestly. I’d rather be with her than alone at home. “Okay.” She smiles softly, “I have a little work I need to do while staying here though.”

 

“Any break in the case?”

 

She shrugs, “I mean, to a degree. However, he’s just playing with us now. Sending us letters, threatening our significant others, just...teasing us.” Kait shakes her head, “I have an idea, but...if it’s who we believe it is, he’s got powerful friends in high places so it’s easier said than done to get a warrant...to even search his house.” 

 

Charlotte lifts Vinnie to her shoulder, covering herself up, “have you gotten a letter?” When the woman doesn’t answer and instead focuses on the television in front of them, Char knows the answer. The room falls quiet between them, other than the noise coming from the television, “How much danger are you in?”

 

“I’m not afraid of him, if that’s what you’re asking.” Kait shakes her head.

 

“You know that isn’t what I’m asking.”

 

Kait shrugs, “I um...I listed you as my emergency contact. So...you’ll be the first to know.” She answers quietly, “I don’t feel like he’d try anything with an officer, but...I don’t truly know.”

 

Char’s eyes widen a little, unsure if she even heard the woman correctly, “ I’m your emergency contact?”

 

She nods, “I can’t exactly put Lily down. She’d be too nervous to make decisions if they need to be made.”

 

“Why would you think I’d be any better at making them?” Charlotte pauses, “why would you think I want that pressure?”

 

“Because I can talk to you and tell you what I want.” Kait raises an eyebrow, “also, I don’t exactly have anyone else.” She goes quiet, “just Lily and you...” Kait swallows, “I can change it and put in place a living will if you’d rather-”

 

“It’s okay.” Char shakes her head, “it means a lot to me that you would. Thank you.” She puts Lavinia on the sofa, watching as she cautiously crawls over to the other woman to look at her necklace. “Careful, she’ll try to eat it. Like everything else around here.” It does warm her that her daughter is so comfortable with the other woman. 

 

“She’s crawling? When did I miss that?” Kait lets the baby climb up onto her, investigating her simple ruby necklace. “Hello, beautiful.”

 

“Vinnie, give Aunt Katie a kiss.” Charlotte laughs softly to herself when the baby places her whole mouth on the woman’s cheek. Hearing someone come in the back door, she yells out, “leave your boots and jackets at the door. Anything wet leave-” When the person walks in a bit more, she smiles, “Hi, Mum.”

 

“Just wanted to let you know that the boys are over ours and you weren’t answering your mobile. Serena’s made cocoa.” Bernie offers a nod to the other woman after smiling at her daughter. When her granddaughter reaches up to her, she moves in and lifts her up, cuddling the baby against her. “I do have a question.” She looks back at her daughter.

 

Char smirks, laughing a little to herself when Lavinia tries to bite her mother’s nose. “What is it?”

 

“Do you know how to properly cook lobster?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, hopeful. “I-I wanted to make dinner for Serena and I tomorrow and...so I bought some raw lobster tails not long ago.”

 

“Just the tails? You didn’t want to keep a couple of lobsters alive in the cellar for a day?” Char hears Kait laugh, “of course I’ll help you tomorrow, Mum. That’s not a problem. What time do you plan to eat?”

 

Bernie shrugs, “around six.”

 

“I’ll be over around four or half past.” Charlotte nods, “stuff here just needs to roast. Won’t be long and Lane can keep an eye on things. I’ll be happy to help you, Mum.”

 

“Thank you, darling. I truly appreciate it.” Bernie begins to walk the baby back over toward the sofa.

 

“Just put her down.” Char smirks, “see her new trick.”

 

“She’s crawling?” Bernie gently places the baby on the floor, watching the girl slowly crawl to some of her toys on the floor, then back over to her Gran’s stocking feet. “Look at you, Vinnie! Good show!” She crouches to the floor, letting the baby crawl up to her.

 

“Do you want to take your jacket off, Mum?”

 

“No, I’m not staying, but she’s just so...small.”

 

Kait laughs a little at the otherwise intimidating former Major, letting herself melt over her tiny granddaughter. “She’s incredibly sweet.”

 

“Growing far too quickly.” Bernie nuzzles her face against the baby’s neck, causing Vinnie to give a belly laugh, “though we tried all those cigarettes and cups of coffee with Cole and nothing. He’s only a dash shorter than we are and hasn’t yet hit his growth spurt.” She listens to the baby babble to her, “she tried the cigarettes with you too?” Bernie nods, as if understanding the babe, “and coffee in your bottles instead of baby milk?”

 

“You’re going to get her going and then she’s going to cry when you try to leave.” Char leans forward, lifting her mug of tea from the coffee table and taking a sip. “Leaving me with a miserable baby that just wants her Gran.”

 

“I know what you’re doing.” Bernie glances over to her daughter, still cuddling Lavinia. Looking down to the baby as she speaks, “okay, love, I need to go.” The baby begins to pout and her eyes widen a little, “just like your Mum and your eldest brother. The manipulation runs deep.”

 

“Or that Wolfe irresistibility. I mean...we had to have gotten it somewhere.” Char watches as her mother gives her a look of disbelief. “Like you’re Miss Innocent.”

 

Kait watches the three generations of Wolfe women, a laugh at her lips. “Are you all always like this?”

 

“Mum always liked to play the straight man when I had my show.” Charlotte then smirks, thinking of her words, “no pun intended. She received quite a bit of fan mail in the post commending her service to country and remarking about how funny she was...without even realizing it.” When Bernie rolls her eyes, Char continues, “I say we take our act on the road as a mother-daughter comedy duo.”

 

Chuckling even harder, Kait grins, “I’d pay to watch your show.”

 

“Don’t get any ideas.” Bernie shakes her head, starting to gather Lavinia in her own jacket and bundling her with her scarf as she zips the jacket around them both. “Okay, we’ll be back in a bit.” She continues to hold the baby against her, hearing the babbling from the infant. She returns to the back door, effortlessly slipping on her boots before leaving.

 

Char runs her hand through her own hair before tucking it behind her ear, “I’ve never seen her put on Vinnie’s snow suit once. She does it that way every time.”

 

“It’s endearing.” Kait leans her head back, watching the woman next to her. “You’re lucky your parents are still pretty young and active.”

 

“They’re in their sixties. Usual grandparent age, I reckon.” Charlotte shrugs, then lies down on her side to put her head on the other woman’s lap. “I know you aren’t too much younger than them. Does that bother you?” She gazes up at the other woman, “the age difference...”

 

Kait shakes her head, “not unless it bothers you.”

 

“Of course not.” Charlotte watches the woman, having not even kissed her yet. Not that she hasn’t wanted to. “I just...feel like I’m taking advantage of you somehow.” She swallows, “and you deserve someone who doesn’t-”

 

“You keep going over this as if it’s going to bother me.” Kait raises her eyebrow, “Vinnie actually likes me and your boys will warm up. Cole seems not to be bothered, even did a bit of interrogation the night you and I went to dinner, but I’m not sure about your other two just yet.” She shakes her head, “I’ll keep trying, that’s all.”

 

Char wraps her arms around the woman’s waist, pulling her close, holding onto her. “Locked in for Valentine’s day.”

 

“Sounds like a dream to me.” Kait waves her eyebrows a little, her fingers stroking through Charlotte’s hair. When the younger woman blushes, Kait starts to smile, “think I might take the bed in Vinnie’s room instead of the sofa this time though.”

 

“Or you can sleep next to me.” Charlotte offers quietly, “Ryan was always big on his comfortable, expensive beds. We’d get a new one every few years, donate the old ones. It was ridiculous.” She smiles to herself, “I’ll probably keep it up out of habit, but...he just got a new one while I was pregnant, so...I’ll have this one for a few years yet.” Clearing her throat as she sits up, “it’s up to you. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”

 

“I just don’t want the kids to feel some sort of way.” Kait shakes her head, “maybe if we leave the door open?”

 

Char’s smile grows a bit more, “yeah, okay.” It’s sweet that the other woman is thinking of those things, not that Charlotte is comfortable enough for anything to happen between them except conversation and a bit of holding just yet, but it will be nice to have her close, and to share a bed with someone again.

Chapter Text

Bernie walks behind her wife, her hands covering Serena’s eyes. “I don’t know if you’re going to like this, but-”

 

“Smells amazing, whatever you’ve done.” Serena wears a long, black velvet dress. Something she had worn to a fundraising gala once with Ric many moons ago. She thought she’d go the extra mile while Bernie had taken her time in the kitchen, and asked her to stay upstairs.

 

Wearing a black dress shirt, with sleeves rolled up to her elbow, and a pair of black, pencil-fit trousers. Her feet bare, as they often are while at home. Her hair twisted and up in a clip. Bernie grins, “thank you.” She removes her hands from the woman’s eyes once they cross the dining room threshold. A bouquet of roses serving as a centerpiece and a room full of candles brings a romantic ambiance to the space.

 

“Oh, darling.” Serena feels a soft prickle of tears filling her eyes, “this is beautiful.” She turns, abruptly pulling Bernie close and kissing her tenderly. “I love it.”

 

“Well, I love you and...I always feel as if I’m not romantic enough through the year.” Bernie shrugs, “so, I hope to make up for it.”

 

“You are, you usually don’t realize it.” Serena answers quietly, kissing her again before turning around and taking a seat. “What have you prepared?”

 

“We’ll start with a cream of cauliflower soup. Then move onto broiled seasoned lobster tails with glazed baby carrots and asparagus with hollandaise sauce for our main course. For dessert, we have chocolate molten lava cake.” Bernie explains proudly, “our wine for this evening will be a Chilean Chardonnay from twenty-eighteen.”

 

“From the year we were married?” Serena grins, watching her wife as she carries in the soup. “You’ve truly thought of everything.”

 

“Charlotte helped me figure out side dishes, so if they aren’t good, you can take it up with her.” Bernie smirks, “and if they are good, they were my idea all along.” She sets the bowl of cream of cauliflower soup with sprinkled shredded cheddar on top, in front of her wife before taking a seat on the other side of the table with her own bowl.

 

Dinner goes incredibly well between the women, leaving them to wash dishes together in the kitchen since Bernie used the good dishes that weren’t meant for the dishwasher. “Berenice, that was absolutely amazing...and that cake...” She shakes her head, “you should make dinner more often.”

 

“I’m just glad you liked it. That’s what matters the most.” Bernie dries the dish, setting it on top of the others. “This dress, on you, is quite the gift as well.” She smirks, “like a work of art.”

 

Serena smiles to herself as a blush spreads across her cheeks, “no, I...” She laughs to herself, finishing the last dish. She dries her hands off on a nearby kitchen towel and waits for Bernie to finish before taking her hand and leading her to the lounge. “Now, I know I don’t...usually do much and we usually spend most of our Valentine’s day in our bedroom-”

 

“-which is never a bad thing-”

 

“I did...something a little different. A bit more...adventurous.” Serena motions for Bernie to sit on the sofa before going to the closet near the entry door and getting her a small box, usually used for clothing at Christmas, wrapped in gold paper. She offers it to her wife, taking a seat next to her when Bernie takes it from her.

 

“You know you didn’t have to get me anything.” Bernie pauses, “but if this is a new toy-”

 

“Just open it.”

 

Bernie smirks, seeing the photo book inside. Hiding it a little, “pictures of Sian?” She teases, noticing her wife’s horrified expression as she scrambles to pry it from her hands, only for the other woman to finally see the contents of the book were nothing to worry over and hit her on the arm. “Marcus messaged me earlier about it.”

 

“You’re the worst.” Serena scowls playfully before her face softens, “Sian and I went and had these...boudoir photographs taken. She and I had a few drinks and...she managed to talk me into it.” Serena watches her wife’s face, truly curious about what the woman would think of them. “I know they’re...crass and-”

 

“No, they aren’t.” Bernie shakes her head slowly, turning the pages gingerly, “can we have a few of these framed to put in our room?”

 

“Of course not.” Serena’s eyes widen, “this is just for you and if any of the children or grandchildren were to see them, I’d simply...I’d faint from embarrassment.” 

 

“I think you’re being a bit dramatic, darling.” She turns another page, “you aren’t even close to being nude in this one. Look at how powerful you appear.” Bernie raises an eyebrow, a pleased expression on her face, “it’s quite sexy of you, honestly. Taking charge like that.”

 

“Really?” She pauses, watching her wife’s face as the blonde continues to turn the pages of the book, “do you truly like it or are you putting me on?”

 

“Like it? I bloody love it, Campbell.” Taking a look at a couple more pictures, Bernie carefully closes the book and places it on the coffee table before leaning over toward her wife, “thank you for going out of your comfort zone just to give me this. I’ll treasure it always.” She doesn’t kiss her, keeping her face just in front of her. She’s never, in all the years they’ve been together and in all the years they’ve been married, pushed a physical display of affection that wasn’t instigated by her wife. Bernie would always make small movements as if to ask for affection, but never forced Serena in any way. She thinks it’s why their relationship has worked so well for them.

 

Serena begins to grin, “I’d...love to show you what I have on under this dress, if you’d like to see. Maybe...recreate some of those photos.” She offers, raising a propositional eyebrow. Serena leans in, kissing her wife on the lips, “I don’t often wear thigh-high stockings, but I did today, darling.”

 

Bernie exhales, her neck and chest beginning to go a bit red, the heat of excitement rising within her, “I’ll uh...turn off these lights later.” She stands, feeling her wife holding her hand still, holding her back.

 

“Just close the blinds. It’s been a while since I’ve had my way with you on the sofa.” Serena smirks, her crimson lipstick making her wife even hotter around the collar.

 

Sighing happily, Bernie returns to her seat with an enlivened grin spreading across her face, “how could I possibly refuse a request like that?”

Chapter Text

“I’ve never been very good at chess, so I reckon you’re going to beat me, Owen.” Kait moves her knight, then watches as the boy makes a move and effortlessly takes it.

 

“Miss Kait.” 

 

She’s almost certain she’s heard her name. Kait begins to glance around, knowing Owen doesn’t speak like that. She notices Lane’s head peeking into the library area. “Your Mum is sleeping upstairs with Lavinia if you’re looking for her. What’s up?”

 

“Good.” Lane nods, walking into the room and closing the doors behind himself, a stack of envelopes in his hand. “Over the past week or...more than that because I’m bad with time, my Mum has been getting these letters. All addressed the same way, all with threatening messages inside. She says they’re just from some fan that shouldn’t be taken seriously, but...I think they’re more than that. I was wondering if you could have a look.”

 

“Letters addressed to your Mum?” Kait raises an eyebrow, “I don’t know if I feel right-”

 

“They’re addressed to Dyke Wolfe, Muff Diver Wolfe, Bean Flicker Wolfe, and so on. So...not my Mum, technically.” A clever smirk growing across his face, mumbling, “distant relatives, maybe?”

 

She thinks for a moment before taking the stack and scooting over a chair, “keep playing with your brother and I’ll look at these.”

 

“Thank you.” Lane seems a little relieved as he takes a seat, “she hasn’t been opening them or ripping them up. She just tosses them in the bin, so I’ve been fishing them out, which...I know I shouldn’t do, but...something told me there was more to it.” His words are low and slow, as they usually are. Even his speech therapist has said how far he’s come though, compared to where he was after his injury.

 

Kait notices the handwriting first, knowing it all too well. “Are these all of the letters?”

 

Lane nods, “I don't know how long she's been receiving them, but she gets one every day, all addressed with slurs. All talking about how she'll be strung up and cut open like a freshly hunted deer, even stating what would be done with her corpse. There’s no sort of blackmail involved. No wager for this not to happen. Just a promise that it would.”

 

“Okay.” She sets the letters down and runs her hands over her face, “I need to speak with her about these.”

 

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Lane notices the slightly alarmed expression on the woman’s face, “these are more serious than she thinks they are.”

 

“Let’s not jump to conclusions.” Kait shakes her head, “thank you for bringing these to my attention. You and I both know that your Mum never would.”

 

Lane smiles a little, “I’m...I’m glad you’re here...and I’m happy I’ve gotten to know you better.”

 

“Me too.” She reaches a hand up, giving his shoulder a squeeze. “I want you to do me a favor though. Keep collecting them. You don’t need to open the letters or anything so that I can see if there’s any fingerprints left on them...maybe some saliva from the glue of the envelope. One truly never knows what the lab can uncover-”

 

Lane nods, “I knew you’d take care of it.”

 

“Of course I would. Your Mum means a lot to me.”

 

“I think you mean a lot to her too.” Lane smiles a little to himself, “and Owen even likes you which...actually isn’t all that hard to do, but he’s an excellent judge of character. Tries to make friends with everyone. Right, O?” He doesn’t expect his brother to answer him and isn’t surprised when he doesn’t.

 

“I remember your Dad, you know. He seemed like a good guy.” Kait nods, “I just...don’t want you to think I’m trying to take his place in any way. Either with your mother or with you and your siblings. I’m just someone else.”

 

“I like your clothes. You always have really nice jumpers and everything seems to have been tailored to fit you perfectly.” Lane offers, “I also like that we could probably go to the same barber to get a haircut.”

 

She offers him a comforting smile, “we have a very similar haircut now.”

 

“It’s a good cut.” He shrugs dramatically, causing the woman to laugh a little to herself. “Owen doesn’t like his hair to be cut, I think something with the sound of the scissors or clippers is overwhelming to him, possibly even the feeling of the hair falling.” Lane shrugs, “I don’t know, but Mum has to tranquilize him a bit just for him to get a trim.”

 

“My barber specializes in autistic clients. My sister has issues with sensory processing as well, so I take her there and the barber takes care of her also, though she likes her hair a bit longer than ours. So, maybe not the same bloke.” Kait smiles a little to herself, “I can take you there to give it a try sometime, if you’d like.”

 

Lane can tell she’s trying to make a connection with him. He moves another piece, giving it a little thought before nodding. “There’s other things you need to know too. Sometimes my brother might try to hurt you, but he doesn’t mean it. He only does it, usually, when we aren’t understanding what he’s trying to say. If he gets anxious, he might bite himself.” He pauses, “just, please, don’t think he’s angry with you or...a bad-”

 

“I’d never think that, Lane.” Kait shakes her head, “I may have never seen your brother having a difficult time, but...I’m sure I’ll quickly learn how to help him when he does.”

 

“I believe you.” Lane replies quietly, turning his head when he hears the post drop into the basket, as it does nearly every day. He gets up, hearing his brother’s stim of honking into the back of his hand. “One second, O.” He shuffles through the pieces of mail, seeing another envelope to match the others he had given his mother’s friend. He moves back to the library, offering it to her.

 

Kait looks to the letter, following her gaze up his arm to look into his eyes. “I’ll take care of it, Lane.” She takes the letter cautiously, “I promise.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you’ve brought her along.” Bernie smirks, watching as her daughter pulls a sledge with Lavinia comfortably bundled up and nestled in the built-in seat of the red plastic device.

 

“She was awake and has a habit of waking the rest of the house now with her yelling.” Char nods, “though I anticipate she’ll figure out how to climb out of her cot soon. She’s pretty clever.” Charlotte glances back to the baby, who isn’t really able to move much in her full body snowsuit. “Laney said she resembles a starfish when she wears that.”

 

“She does.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, then turns to begin walking alongside her daughter again, “how has your household been holding up with all this?” The roads are still covered, the boys had shoveled the pathways for quite a few houses on their street, but otherwise there was no real movement outside just yet. Far too much snow.

 

“I mean...as well as one could expect. I’m glad Kait has been able to stay over...to help out.” Char nods, “Cole asked her to talk a bit on his show. Owen has given her the tour at least four times. Lane is even...talking to her, which...” She smiles warmly to herself, “even I’m surprised about.”

 

“That’s good.” She’s pleased her daughter is actually confiding in her about this when she usually wouldn’t.

 

“I feel like...I’m a fraud when it comes to her though.” Char says softly, “I haven’t even...” She shakes her head, taking a quick glance to her daughter in the sledge as she continues walking forward. “She’s gentle and caring...worried about how the kids perceive her. I haven’t even kissed her.” Charlotte swallows, “I don’t know if I can just yet.”

 

Bernie nods a little, “I understand.”

 

“And I feel really bad about that, so...” Char shrugs.

 

They walk for a bit in silence before Bernie finally asks, “do you want to kiss her?”

 

“I want to...not feel guilty about being with her, in general.” Charlotte bites her lip, “she’s beautiful and brilliant and...came to me. Begged me just to be her friend.” She laughs a little to herself, “and things just...I don’t know when they changed, but they did. I think...a part of me always knew they would and wanted them to.”

 

“Are you spending time with her because she makes you happy or because you just don’t want to be alone?” Bernie notices her pause, gently taking the lead for the sledge from her daughter’s hand.

 

Char follows alongside her mother, “I...I don’t know.” She licks her lips in thought, “I don’t know what I feel...which I’ve told her. That I’m...kind of damaged goods at the moment, but-”

 

“You aren’t damaged goods.” Bernie shakes her head, “you’ve never been damaged goods. You’re in mourning...and you probably won’t know when that pain will stop, but it will.” She swallows, “when...before your father and I finally...decided to divorce and I was with Alex, she actually came to Holby once...when I first started working there.”

 

“I didn’t know that.”

 

Bernie nods, “because, when I was injured, I told her it was over...what we had...over the phone. That I was...going back with Marcus and was set on trying to make it work. Which she obviously, and rightfully, wasn’t satisfied with” She starts to smile a little to herself, “she showed up and I...just realized that I couldn’t hide myself away anymore. We decided to just...put our relationship to rest and it felt like...I was losing a part of myself. Freedom? Independence? I don’t know.” She gives a quick glance back to the babe on the sledge as she continues walking forward, “then I met Serena and...your father and I properly divorced and things got ugly for a time after he discovered my indiscretions while we were together.” Bernie smirks a little, noticing her daughter’s soft smile. “I didn’t know if I could pursue anything with Serena. I just...was fascinated by her. She was brilliant, beautiful, funny...without realizing it.” She pauses, “most importantly, she accepted me for me. Regardless of how things occurred with Marcus.”

 

“So, what you’re saying, is that you understand Kait’s plight of falling for an outwardly presenting straight woman.” Char offers, her smile growing when her mother tilts her head to the side, as if considering her statement. “You don’t think it’s...insulting to Ryan’s memory for me to move on less than a year after his death?”

 

“In your opinion, what do you believe would be an ample amount of time where you would no longer feel as if you were insulting Ryan’s memory in any way?”

 

It actually gives Charlotte something to think about, “I don’t know.”

 

“Exactly.” Bernie glances back to the baby again, “there’s no good time after losing someone you loved very much. Never.” She shakes her head, “things just...happen. Life continues.” She hands the lead to her daughter before walking to the actual sledge portion and picking up the baby since they weren’t too far from home at this point. “You need to decide, though, if she’s the right one or a right now . You owe it to Kait...and to yourself.”

 

“I’m not that shallow, Mum. I told you I haven’t even kissed her.” Charlotte sighs, watching her mother cuddle her daughter. “I think it’s...also difficult because she’s...she was in charge of the case with Anders’ father...and then I was picked up by her department after things happened at the boys’ school. We keep being brought together.”

 

Bernie hums approvingly, “fate it is then.” She reaches her free hand over to affectionately squeeze her daughter’s shoulder, “take the hints as they’re given, darling.”

 

Char nods a little, turning toward her mother once they reach the portion of pavement in front of their houses. “It’s been a while since we walked together.” She smiles softly, “and I’m glad you were up to do so in the snow.”

 

“We used to jog together. Trudging through the snow with a sledge isn’t...quite the same, but it was nice, nonetheless.” Bernie shrugs a little, glancing at her granddaughter in her arm. “I’m taking her with me.” She turns, beginning to walk toward her own home.

 

“Of course you are.” Char rolls her eyes, smirking as she picks up the sledge and walks to the back door to get into her own home. She removes her boots, leaving them in a tray near the door. Noticing coffee percolating and hearing the soft speaking voice coming from the television in the lounge, she walks in more in her stocking feet. “Hey, I didn’t think you’d be awake.”

 

“Bed isn’t as warm when you aren’t in it.” Kait smiles softly, “I thought it would be a good time to talk as well.”

 

“Agreed.” Charlotte begins to remove her winter jacket and scarf, putting them up in the hallway closet. She returns to the lounge, “Mum has Vinnie. I imagine she’ll surprise Serena with her.” She chuckles a little to herself, “they’re a couple of big teddy bears when it comes to babies. I know Serena’s been going over my brother’s more often because of Max. Mum too, but...both of them take their turns.”

 

“Little Max is adorable as well. A family chock full of beautiful babies.” Kait watches her, her smile only slight.

 

“Anyway, Mum brought up some...good points to me. Things I just...haven’t put together.” Char grins broadly, “and..” She pauses, noticing that the other woman isn’t meeting her expression, “is something wrong?”

 

Kait’s smile fades, tears springing to her eyes, “I...I can’t see you anymore. I can’t...pursue this.”

 

“Wh-Why?” Charlotte shakes her head, “no, I want to be with you. I want us to be together.”

 

“The letters, Charlie.” She swallows, leaning forward in her seat as she looks toward the floor. “I can’t put you at risk.”

 

“You aren’t putting me at risk.” Char shakes her head, gently touching the other woman’s arm, “Kaitie, please.”

 

“You have four amazing children who have already lost a father. I can’t put you at risk simply because I like you.” Kait finally looks over to the younger woman, “and I really, really like you. I just can’t tempt-”

 

Charlotte leans forward, capturing Kait’s lips with her own. She kisses her deeply, bringing her hand over to rest on Kait’s cheek before trailing it to the back of her head, running her shortened nails through the woman’s white-blonde hair. She feels the other woman respond to her, only breaking it to look into the older woman’s eyes. “Just stay here...I can’t...I couldn’t bear it if you weren’t with me.”

 

Kait’s eyes glisten, looking over Charlotte’s face. Her lips then her eyes. “I’ve wanted to do that since I first laid eyes on you.” She whispers, swallowing, “I can’t risk you getting injured.”

 

“Well then...we’re at an impasse.” Char’s thumb glides over the other woman’s cheekbone. 

 

“No, Charlie, we aren’t.” Kait shakes her head, “I’m sorry, but I...I can’t.” She gets up off the sofa, pausing after she makes her way toward the doorway and hears Charlotte begin to speak.

 

“What happens if Lily’s getting the letters too?” Char stands from her place on the sofa, “are you going to leave her alone as well?” The hurt in her eyes prevalent as she looks toward the other woman, “just going to run away when the going gets tough?”

 

“If that’s what it takes to protect her...just like with you.” Kait answers softly, “I’m...I’m going to get changed and head out.” She can’t look at the other woman again, knowing that if she does, she’ll change her mind. “Thanks for everything, Charlie. I’m uh...I’m sorry this couldn’t have been different.”

 

Charlotte slowly sits on the sofa again, heavily, as the other woman begins to ascend the stairs. This is her own fault. How stupid could I have been to even consider being with someone so soon after losing my husband? Her eyes begin to well with tears, but she doesn’t shed them. She doesn’t do anything, she can’t. Gazing up toward the large family portrait above her mantle, she looks into her deceased husband’s smile. “Fuck you, Ry.” She whispers to herself, rubbing her hands over her face. Maybe this part is fate too.

Chapter Text

Bernie pads up the stairs, her granddaughter on her hip. “Let’s wake Nan, Vinnie.” She whispers to the babe, “she’s getting quite spoiled with her lie-in habits.” Bernie silently enters her bedroom, moving around to her own side. She takes a seat on the edge of the bed, putting the baby down. Instead of Lavinia crawling all over Serena, she merely lays next to her, just gazing adoringly to her Nan’s face. It warms Bernie quite a bit, causing a soft smirk to grow.

 

Serena can hear heavy breathing not far from her face, able to smell cereal as well, “Bernie, love, back up. You smell of porridge and...apricots?” She opens her eyes, seeing her smiling granddaughter in front of her. “Hello, my love.” She wraps an arm around the girl, seeing her smiling wife sitting on the edge of the bed. Serena sprinkles soft kisses over the baby’s face as she gives a belly laugh. “Stole her away from her mother, did you?”

 

“Don’t I always?” Bernie nods, “we went for a walk outside. She had her first time on a sledge.”

 

“Did you like the sledge, darling?” Not that Serena expects the baby to respond, she kisses the infant’s soft hair. Serena pushes herself up a bit, letting Lavinia climb on top of her to put her head on her chest. “How is the snow outside?” She gently rubs the infant’s back.

 

“The boys shoveled our pavements a bit, but it’s still high in the streets. I wouldn’t trust going anywhere, even with a sports utility.” Bernie shakes her head a little, “I feel like I should try going to help Morven a bit with Max. Cameron’s stuck at hospital. Been there for days.”

 

“You could walk there if you really want to try it.” Serena nods, “be sure to phone first.”

 

“Where’s the fun in that?”

 

“I mean so that you can ensure that they’re at home, for a start. Might be playing in the snow just like you were.” Serena smirks amusingly, “I’d offer myself to go, but I’m afraid I’d probably slip and fall on my arse out there.” She nods when the baby looks up at her to babble, “I would. I know I’ve plenty of padding, but I don’t want to tempt breaking a hip at my age.”

 

“And I do?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, “we’re the same age, darling.”

 

“You stay in shape.” Serena smirks, “and I reap the benefits.”

 

Bernie smiles mischievously toward her wife, “you certainly showed me how the other night.”

 

“I’m thankful you aren’t quite able to talk just yet, Lavinia.” Serena nods, the baby babbling back, “I know it. Your mother would have our heads.” She pauses, “maybe not that strongly, but she probably wouldn’t be thrilled either.” When the baby smiles at her, Serena nuzzles her nose against the baby’s cheek, “no, she wouldn’t.”

 

“She actually asked me for relationship advice while we were on our walk.”

 

Serena pauses, looking to her wife, “she asked you for relationship advice?”

 

Bernie nods a little, a small smirk growing on her face. “I think it’s the first time in...ever.”

 

“I assume you believe you gave her good advice then?”

 

“I told her that if fate keeps bringing she and Kait together, then who is she to deny fate?” Bernie leans back on the bed, against her pillows. “Sort of like us in a way, I think.” She nods, “brought together over and over...and we finally just gave in.”

 

“That we did.” Serena reaches over, gently taking Bernie’s hand in her own. Lavinia rolls off of her Nan to lay between her grandmothers, dramatically stretching out. “Are you quite finished?” She hears Bernie’s soft chortle from the girl’s actions.

 

“You’re an absolute mess, Vin.” Bernie takes her free hand, reaching over to tickle the baby’s belly, eliciting a deep, throaty laugh from the girl. “We should have taken a holiday before the storm.” She smirks, “staying in a room overlooking the sea.”

 

Serena hums her approval, “eating on a terrace, glasses of wine in our hands, the fresh sea breeze blowing gently in our faces...”

 

Bernie nods, “the smell of fish piercing our noses-”

 

“That isn’t what-”

 

“The honking of tugboats bringing in the morning catch.”

 

“Berenice.” Serena scowls amusingly toward her.

 

“The screeching of gulls, attacking people for their freshly purchased chips.” Bernie smirks, earning a playful hit to her upper arm, “a distinct aroma of sweat and fag smoke wafting through-”

 

“You’re making this hypothetical holiday more and more off putting.” Serena curls her lip in disgust ever so slightly, “can we be on a mountain instead?”

 

“I go outside for a fag and end up falling out, unable to breathe because of the altitude-”

 

“Bernie!”

 

Bernie begins to do her honking laugh, causing the baby’s eyes to go wide, just staring at her in amazement. It only causes Bernie’s laughter to increase, “Vinnie, stop.” The girl moves closer, putting her hand over her Gran’s mouth.

 

“I’ve tried that. Never works.” Serena grins broadly, watching as the baby removes her hand and tries to look in Bernie’s mouth, “Probably half expecting to see a goose.”

 

When the baby stops her exploration, giving a perplexed look, Bernie raises an eyebrow, “What did you find, Ms. Marple?” 

 

“You used to call Guinevere that as well, remember?” Serena’s large grin lessens to a warm, genuine smile.

 

“And Charlotte when she was young as well. All women who were a bit too curious for their own good when they were girls.” Bernie nods, “but they get the job done.” She runs her hand through Lavinia’s hair, falling quiet. “She looks so much like Charlotte when she was a babe...acts like her as well.” She pauses, “even has the same belly laugh.”

 

“Certain things you just...don’t forget, no matter how old they become.” Serena answers quietly, leaning her head against her wife’s shoulder after a moment.

 

“Well, we’ve plenty of time before this one grows up, Campbell.” Bernie smiles gently, knowing Serena was probably thinking about Elinor, “and we’re much closer to regular grandparent age-”

 

“-we were always of grandparent age-”

 

“-we’ll be able to get pensioner discounts with meals and she’d get a discount well because she’s a child.” Bernie hears her wife start to snicker on her shoulder, glad she’s made her feel better, if only just a little bit. “Neither of us are working while this one grows older, which just gives us more freedom to spoil her and Cameron’s brood. Different from the older ones. It’s as if they came in waves.”

 

“Cameron and Morven...who would have thought they would wait until their forties to have their first. Well, near forties, as Morven is shy by a year...” Serena raises an eyebrow, “I suppose, they both like to travel. Both love to explore. They got all of that out of their systems.” She tilts her head to look into the baby’s face, seeing that she’s nearly asleep again. “Your voice puts her to sleep every time.”

 

“Sometimes it’s you. Depends on who she’s laying on.”

 

“Always you, Berenice.” Serena smirks this time, “as do I. My wife has the voice of a goddess.”

 

“I wouldn’t go that far.” Bernie is silenced when her wife adjusts her posture, gently kissing her. “Maybe I would go that far.”

 

Serena hums a soft chuckle, wrapping an arm around her wife and granddaughter, “maybe you should.”

Chapter Text

Cameron races to AAU using the fire escape, he had been informed that his wife was brought in via the ambulance entrance. He notices Fletch standing next to the bed, holding Max, knowing that’s probably where Morven was as well. He exhales, seeing the boy reach for him when he moves closer. “Hey.” He gently takes his son when Fletch offers him over to his father. “What happened?” He leans down, placing a soft kiss to his wife’s brow.

 

“I was outside playing with Max and I slipped on a...spot of black ice.” Morven answers embarrassingly, “I...started feeling a bit of...” She looks down, almost as if she’s ashamed.

 

“Hey, it’s alright.” Fletch shakes his head, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. “Things happen and you’re right in the timeframe for Braxton-Hicks contractions anyway. It’s better to be safe rather than sorry, but don’t work yourself up into a tizzy.” He offers her a gentle, reassuring smile. When he notices that she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, “she also wasn’t sure if she hit her head, but she definitely did a number on her ankle and possibly tailbone. Ms. Fanshawe should be on her way for a consult shortly.”

 

“Thanks for taking care of them before I could get down here, Fletch.” Cam offers his friend a thankful smile.

 

“Well, she’ll be laid up for a bit and will need some help.” Fletch sighs softly, giving one last look to her, “make sure he takes care of you, love. I’ll visit you again before you’re discharged.” He gently pats her lower leg before walking away.

 

Morven picks a hand up, wiping a tear as it slowly makes its way down her cheek, “I’m sorry.”

 

“You did absolutely nothing wrong.” Cam shakes his head, sitting where Fletch had just gotten up from. He gives a quick glance to his son in his arm, noticing how nervous he seems about the place before looking back to his wife, “things happen.”

 

“I have one...two jobs. I have to take care of Max and I have to take care of myself right now. I...I was helpless. I couldn’t move without being in so much pain, I just...” Morven’s chest heaves again as her tears increase, “I phoned an ambulance and...and now I brought Max here while you’re working.”

 

“Please, stop.” Cam leans in, softly kissing her lips. “Everything is fine.”

 

“Mumma cwy.” Max whispers in his father’s ear loudly.

 

“She is. She feels poorly.” Cameron attempts to explain, “do you want to give her cuddles to help her feel better?” He smirks a little when the boy nods again, carefully climbing from his father over to lay next to his mother and hold onto her. Cam can tell that Max is tired as well. 

 

Morven wraps one arm around her son and the other she lifts to wipe away her tears again, “I’m so worried that I messed up. What if the baby is-”

 

“We’ll take the punches as they roll.” Cam gently takes the hand that keeps wiping away tears and holds it tenderly, “besides, you’re worrying over nothing. Fleur will be down before you know it.” He sighs softly, “I don’t think you’re going to calm down until she does though.”

 

“N-no, probably not.”

 

“I...” Cam turns his head in thought, “I would call one of my parents to collect Max, but I’d rather they weren’t out in this weather.”

 

“Your parents don’t need to know how stupid I am.” Morven replies softly, trying not to move much as to not feel more pain. “I’m sitting on a donut pillow and I feel like a proper dolt.”

 

“Lucky for you, the blanket covers that.” Cam smirks, getting up and pulling up the side rail to secure the pair in bed. He moves away a little, lifting his mobile and touching a name. Any name under his Parentals contact list. He lifts it to his ear.

 

“Cameron, you never phone.” Serena smirks a little to herself, taking a sip from her mug of tea. “Everything okay?”

 

“Uh, well...” Cameron sighs a little, “listen, I haven’t been outside today-”

 

“Well, it’s snowing...again.” Serena tilts her head from side to side as she looks through the large window, “I don’t know what else there’s-”

 

“I’m still at hospital. Morven was brought in. She’s fine, but...she took a spill.”

 

“Oh, no.” Serena sits up a little, “are she and the baby okay?”

 

“As far as we know. We’re waiting on Ms. Fanshawe. Morven did have Max with her though. He’s with me...us now, but I’d rather he weren’t. Hospital is no place for a toddler if they aren’t feeling well.” Cam absently brings a hand to the back of his head in thought, “would you or Mum be interested in coming to retrieve him?” He pauses, “I know the roads are probably not the best and the pair of you drive sports cars...and you’re the first ones I’ve phoned. I can call Dad and Sian if you-”

 

“Let me rouse your mother from her nap and we’ll be on our way.” Serena stands from the sofa, carrying her mug to the kitchen, “do either of you need anything?”

 

“I don’t want to inconvenience either of you. If you need to wake Mum-”

 

“Cameron, she’s been asleep for three hours in the middle of the day. I was going to wake her for lunch soon anyhow.” Serena finishes off her tea before putting her mug in the sink, “may even borrow your sister’s vehicle. I bet it would handle the roads a bit better than our cars.”

 

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot about that.” Cam nods a little, “I should have probably phoned her.”

 

“I’ll tend to things. One of us will be there, don’t worry.”

 

“Thanks, Stepmum.” Cam replies affectionately, “I owe you.”

 

Serena ends the call, pausing a moment to think about her plan of action. She sends a message to Bernie’s mobile before moving to the vestibule to pull on her outdoor wear. She takes the back door to head over to her stepdaughter’s house. “Sorry to barge in.” She notices Cole feeding his sister a bottle as they stand in the kitchen, “where’s your mother?”

 

Cole sighs, “Uh...upstairs in her room. Where she’s been for the past few days.” When his Nan appears confused, he quietly continues, “she and Kait broke up...if they were ever really together.” He bites his lip, “she comes down for dinner, but the...sparkle is gone from her eyes.”

 

She exhales slowly, “has she said-”

 

“Just that she needed a few days. Laney varnished her nails yesterday, so...she let him do that.” Cole offers a soft smile, “it’s not as serious as it was when Dad died, if that’s what you’re worried about. Really, go and speak with her. I’m sure she’ll snap out of the funk she’s in once you do.”

 

Serena considers it for a moment before nodding, “are you...are you okay?”

 

“Vinnie and I are bezzie mates. Evie’s coming over a bit later to stay for a few days for Owen while the snow gets higher, which...will probably be really good so Mum can relax.” Cole offers his Nan a reassuring smile, “really, I’ve got things covered. Don’t worry.”

 

She squeezes his arm as she passes him, removing her gloves and loosening the scarf around her neck in the warm house as she ascends the stairs. Knocking on her stepdaughter’s bedroom door before pushing it open despite hearing an approval of entrance, Serena smiles at the young woman typing on her laptop in bed. “Hello, my darling Charlotte.”

 

Char raises an eyebrow as she finishes a sentence before glancing over toward the woman, “what can I do for you?”

 

“Well, I thought you and I could go on an excursion.” Serena offers, noticing the ‘just be truthful’ look that the younger woman is giving her, “Morven had a fall and Cameron asked that someone come and get Max while she’s in hospital.” She pauses, “and probably after. I should tell him just to bring her to ours when she’s released.”

 

“I’ll do it if you buy me a coffee from Pulses.” She closes the lid of her laptop, placing it next to herself on the bed. Of course, she’s teasing, but Charlotte climbs from the bed, disappearing into her walk-in closet to pull on something that isn’t pajamas. “Are Morven and the baby okay?”

 

“From what Cameron says, yes, but...you know your brother.”

 

“And his ability to downplay the severity of a situation. Of course.” Char responds, pulling on a tight pair of blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a cardigan. “You’re just lucky I just had a shower yesterday.”

 

“No, I think the world is thankful for that, darling.” Serena pauses, “listen, Charlotte, I’m sorry to hear about-”

 

“No, it’s okay. Everything has its time and everything ends.” She shrugs, feeling the need to change the subject as quickly as possible, “I assume you sought me out because of my four-wheel drive compared to your...fancy chicken nugget.” Char nods, twisting her hair up and putting a clip behind it before emerging from the closet. “We’ve got an adventure to go on, Maman.”

Chapter Text

“I think I’m going to talk to Cole about getting a camera in the car. I feel like I have the most interesting conversations with others there.” Char smirks, “even if it is mostly...always my own family.” She links her arm with the older woman as they slowly make their way up the ambulance ramp of the employee entrance. “I don’t know why we couldn’t have just gone through the main entrance.”

 

“Because we don’t need to. AAU is just one floor up once we get into the door, and Pulses is right through here as well. You requested a coffee, remember?” Serena cautiously shuffles next to the younger woman, worried about finding black ice and breaking her hip. Really, it’s all she can think about.

 

“You can take actual steps, you know.” Char answers, amused. Her boots aren’t high or anything, simply just past her ankles, but with a rubber traction. “They’ve obviously treated the ramp...as you know they do whenever there’s inclement weather.” She starts laughing a little to herself, causing the other woman to laugh.

 

“Just the two beautiful women I was hoping I’d find out here.”

 

Serena lifts her gaze, “Nurse Fletcher, are you a grandfather yet?”

 

“Evie tell you about that?” Fletch smirks, “turns out the baby wasn’t his. Boy didn’t know what hit him.” He walks closer to the pair, standing on Serena’s other side to carefully help her up the rest of the way. “I had them move Morven to the separate room on AAU so she can be a bit more comfortable.”

 

“Well...it may not be, that’s where-” Serena trails a little, glancing over to him once they reach the top of the ramp.

 

“Shit.” Fletch brings a hand to his forehead, “I didn’t even think about that.”

 

“Feel as if I’m a little in the dark here.” Char speaks up, listening to the pair.

 

“That’s where her first husband passed.” Fletch answers quietly, “I’ll-I’ll lead you.” He uses his badge on the lift, then the door leading into the AAU, glad no one attempts to stop them to ‘catch up’ with Serena or anything similar. He motions with a tilt of his head, “I think you’ll be able to find your way.” Fletch offers his old friend a wink.

 

Serena smiles warmly toward him, removing her gloves as they pass. She glances around, taking note of how things have changed since Ange Godard had taken over the ward. “Not bad. Not bad at all.” She murmurs to herself, moving to the nurses’ station when she sees Donna Jackson holding onto her grandson. “Well, I see not much has changed.”

 

“Maxie.” Char quietly calls as she crouches next to the desk, peeking around and hearing her nephew giggle when he sees her.

 

Donna grins to her former boss, letting the toddler down from her lap. “Ms. Fanshawe just arrived about fifteen or twenty minutes ago. She’s checking on Morven now.” She chuckles at how the toddler holds onto his aunt, “it’s odd not seeing you with an entourage of children.”

 

“It feels even more bizarre than it looks.” Charlotte nods, lifting Max from the floor. She looks at the boy, “I bet you’ve been so good while you’ve waited here with Mum and Dad, haven’t you...”

 

Max nods emphatically, “Mumma cwy.” He explains softly, “faw down.”

 

Serena subtly pouts when she hears the boy’s concerned words. “Poor thing. Would you like to go and see the boys and Lavinia? Maybe stay the night?”

 

“Mumma too?” Max looks to his Nan. Though it had taken him a bit longer to warm up to her over the others, he was coming around rather strong, “Da too?”

 

“If they’d like. We’ll see what the doctors say.” Serena reaches over, rubbing his back with her hand. She lifts her head when the door to the sectioned off room opens again, her friend emerging.

 

“Delectable Serena Campbell...I’m sorry, Wolfe. I always seem to mess that one up, don’t I?” Fleur smirks, “could have been Serena Fanshawe, but you wouldn’t have me.” She teases the woman, hugging her in the process. “Where’s the Werewolf?”

 

“Home...asleep.” Serena nods, “Charlotte came with instead.”

 

“Ah, yes, my favorite Wolfe.” Fleur leans in toward Char, sharing a cheek kiss with her. “How have you been, darling?”

 

“Right as rain.” Char offers her a wink, “if you’ll excuse us, we just want a quick peek in with the Dunns. Maybe...help them out a bit.” She nods, Serena already walking past them into the room. Charlotte follows behind her.

 

Serena gives Cameron a hug and Morven a kiss on the cheek, “you poor thing.” She gently takes hold of her hand, “mind if I take a peek at your chart instead of asking what all is wrong with you, which I’m sure you’re tired of answering at this point...” When the woman gives her permission with a nod, Serena reaches down with her free hand.

 

Charlotte looks between her brother and his partner, “Max and I think he should come and stay with the boys for a few days. Right, Maxie?” The boy only giggles, “and that his Mum and Dad should stay over the Grands for a bit...until his Mumma is back on her feet. Right, Maxie?” She asks again, seeing the boy nod quickly.

 

“That’s actually not a bad idea.” The look of worry on Cameron’s face is prevalent as he sits at his partner’s bedside. He looks to Morven, who still just looks guilty and scared. “Especially with the weather being what it has been. It gives Max a chance to play with his cousins and you a chance to get some proper rest.”

 

“I’m just...the other baby is supposed to be here in about a month and...I’m going to be off of this foot for six weeks at the very least.” Morven sighs softly, “and my tailbone is even longer.” Tears go to her eyes again and she slowly shakes her head, “I’m supposed to be the one tending to them and I’m not-”

 

“Hey.” Char says a little strongly over her, causing Morven to quiet herself, “shit happens. That’s what family is for.” She pauses, “also, I want to come and cuddle your babies every single day, which will be much easier if you’re just next door.”

 

“Just give it some thought, darling.” Serena nods, placing the chart back into the basket at the end of the bed, “you and Cameron will have plenty of time to talk it over when we take Max to lighten your load.”

 

“I’m here for a couple of days, Ms. Fanshawe says, for observation.” Morven swallows, “because there was a...a little bleeding during her exam. She wants to...ensure that it isn’t anything more serious.”

 

“Of course.” Serena smiles warmly to her, “better to be safe than sorry.”

 

“When all that is finished, I’ll come back to retrieve you so that you aren’t slipping and sliding in Cameron’s potato crunchy car.” Charlotte offers, earning an amused smirk from her brother’s partner. “I don’t know what it is about surgeons, you all think you need ridiculously small cars once you’re remotely successful.”

 

“We’re about ready to trade mine in so that we can get something similar to yours.” Morven nods, “we need the space of an extra back seat to transport everyone safely.” She explains, “oh, I meant to tell you, Cole did an amazing job when he sat for Max. He’s an incredibly kind and caring young man.”

 

“He’s his Grands’ boy.” Charlotte nods, a proud smile on her face, “but I thank you.”

 

“She always says that.” Serena sighs, shaking her head negatively. “Hates taking a compliment.” 

 

“I’ll take a compliment when it’s warranted.” Char shrugs, glancing to Max, “would you like a biscuit or...a chocolate chip cookie?” The boy nods excitedly, causing her to smile again. “Maman, I want to head out soon. I don’t want to risk the snow getting much higher before we head home.”

 

“No, you’re right.” Serena nods.

 

“I’m going to head to Pulses and get the coffee I was promised...but also maybe a juice and a biscuit for Maxie.” Char nods, “I’ll ask Donna where his coat and everything is, don’t worry.” She looks between the other two, “everything is going to be alright.” She moves closer to the head of the bed, letting the parents say goodbye to the toddler with hugs and kisses. “Auntie Char got this covered.”

 

“I know you think that’s reassuring...” Cam teases his sister.

 

“Shut up.” Char gives him a kiss on the cheek. “Morven, please, think about heading over the Mothership when you finish here. They were...incredibly helpful...though, now, they’re mostly a pain in the-”

 

“Charlotte.” Serena warns playfully, knowing the young woman is joking.

 

“You also receive the comedy stylings of Loup Femmes during your stay, free of charge.” Charlotte smirks, taking her nephew into her arms again. “Maman, I’m going to get him settled into the car. When I see you at the entry of the ramp, I’ll come and help you down.” She offers, finally taking her leave with a wave of her free hand.

 

“She’s trying to make you feel better.” Serena smiles softly, looking down at the woman in the bed, “all you need to do here is relax...and let Cameron pamper you.” She smirks, “and make sure that you put him through his paces.” Her voice more hushed, seeing the young woman offering a slight nod with a soft smile. “We’ll video conference later to check up on you both.”

 

Morven nods again, “thank you for rushing over.”

 

“Of course.” Serena presses a soft kiss to Morven’s hairline before standing up again, “I’d better not keep them waiting. Don’t want the snow to get much worse.” She begins to pull her gloves on again, accepting a hug from her stepson. “Love you both...so much.”

 

“Love you too, Stepmum.” Cameron nods, releasing her and taking hold of his wife’s hand again. He exhales slowly once his stepmother leaves, raising an eyebrow when he looks down to his wife.

Chapter Text

“He hasn’t done this in a while.” Cole shakes his head, his sister following behind him from room to room as he carries a first aid kit to the lounge to patch himself up. He hisses as the blood drips down his arm. “Are you okay, Aunt Evie?”

 

“Yes. What of Lavinia?” Evie holds Owen with her arms as he struggles against her, in what is called a basket hold. Something to calm him down. She had been holding Lavinia when Owen grew jealous and attacked with a bite, only for Cole to put his arm in the way to protect them. Honestly, Evie is left a little shaken from the incident.

 

“Lane went to get Gran for help.” Cole looks down to his sister, who is pouting up at him, as he takes a seat on the sofa. He lifts his sister to be next to him with his uninjured arm, letting her lean against his back as he fishes through the aid bag to get some antibiotic spray, then gauze over top of that. He exhales slowly, “Mum should be on her way back as well.”

 

“Was he like this when you were alone?” 

 

“No, but he was getting a bit anxious since Mum nor the Grands were here.” Cole pauses, “or you. He feels more calm when there’s an older woman around, I think.”

 

Evie nods a little, “I get it.” The boy continues to do his stimming yell as he struggles. “Come on, Owen.” She says gently, “everything is okay.” She hears the back door of the house, the one just off the kitchen, close.

 

“Whisper.” Bernie reminds Evie, glancing at Cole who is gently wrapping his arm in another bandage. “How deep?” She runs her hand over her face then tucks a portion of her hair behind her ear, having been napping.

 

“It’s fine.” Cole shakes his head.

 

“I’m checking it in a bit.” Bernie warns, carefully taking hold of Owen from Evie, guiding him down to the floor so she can use her legs to hold him as well. He responds better this way. She begins to whisper into his ear while remaining completely aware of her surroundings. “Where’s your mother and Serena?” She glances over to see Lane finally enter, using his cane through the snow.

 

“Auntie Morven’s in hospital from taking a fall outside. Mum and Nan went to get Max so Uncle Cam could focus on her.” Cole explains, surprised when Lane takes a seat next to him to help him contain their little sister. “That’s all I know. They’re, hopefully, on their way back now.”

 

“Here, let me help.” Evie stands, moving over to Cole to make sure his bandage is secure. “You actually did a good job even though you were one-handed.”

 

“Practicing for field work.” Bernie smirks, feeling Owen trying to rock in order to self soothe, which she moves with him, still holding him securely. “Good job, O.” She whispers in his ear. “How did this start?” Bernie asks the room.

 

“He was jealous that Aunt Evie was holding Vinnie.” Lane explains slowly, “and he tried to make her drop Vinnie, and went to do a big bite, but Cole grabbed her and O bit him instead.” He swallows, having been scared by the incident as well. Lane hasn’t seen his twin brother so angry in months. Especially since his brother’s doctor had changed some of Owen’s medications to help keep him calmer.

 

“Yeah, but it’s fine.” Cole nods, closing up the first aid before turning around to pull Lavinia onto his lap. He absently checks her over to make sure the only small bit of blood on her is his own, either from dripping on her or from her crawling through drops on the floor. “I should take her to get changed.”

 

“Home.” Char calls out, letting Max down to run to her lounge, where he knew toys were stored. She and Serena had done their best to keep him awake on the ride home, and were successful. She stands in the doorway, noticing where everyone is seated, “I was gone for, what, not even an hour? What happened?”

 

Cole quickly explains to her exactly what he had just explained to his Gran, “everything is fine. Gran rushed over and he’s calming.”

 

“It isn’t. He hurt you and Vinnie looks like a zombie baby.” She shakes her head, moving over to her eldest son to retrieve her daughter. Charlotte bites her lip, carefully checking the baby over, exhaling when she doesn’t find any scratches or anything on Lavinia. “Owen.” When the boy makes quick eye contact with her before looking away, doing so a few times, she crouches before continuing, “you hurt Cole and that’s not acceptable behavior. Do you understand?” When Owen offers a subtle nod, still rocking with his Gran holding onto him, Char stands back up. “Mum, are you okay?”

 

“Rocking out? Of course.” Bernie smirks, glancing over to her youngest grandson. “Hello, Max.” She shakes her head when he couldn’t care less, “like all my other grandchildren.” She teases.

 

Max carries a small block toy over to his aunt, offering it to Lavinia as the girl rests in the older woman’s arms. “B-b?”

 

“I have to take Vinnie upstairs to get changed before we make pizza for dinner. Would you like to come with us?” Charlotte offers, reaching down for him to take hold of her fingers before walking to the stairs.

 

“Well, such excitement while we were out.” Serena folds her arms, looking around the room as she leans against the wall after removing her overcoat, accessories, and snow boots. She motions to the kitchen, meeting Cole’s eyes. Serena doesn’t need to say anything for the boy to follow her orders.

 

Cole sighs, walking past his Nan into the kitchen, carrying the first aid set. “I’ve taken care of it.” He mumbles, taking a seat on one of the bar stools at the kitchen island.

 

“I’m sure you have. Just humor me.” Serena places her hands on either side of his face, forcing him to look at her. “Are you okay?”

 

His eyes go a bit glassy, “I um...” Cole keeps his voice quiet, “I haven’t seen him so angry in a while.”

 

She nods, leaning in and kissing his forehead, “you protected Lavinia and Evie. You did a very good job.” Serena offers him a soft smile as she gently takes his arm, carefully unwrapping the wrap bandage to use it again on his arm even though she could see the blood on it. “To make sure it doesn’t bleed through again, or as badly, you just need to exert some pressure to the wound a bit longer before applying any sort of dressing to the area.”

 

“I just didn’t want to bleed onto the furniture.” Cole bites the corner of his lip, “I still haven’t wiped the floor...though I think Vinnie did a bit when she followed after me.”

 

“Well, you still did a great job.” She carefully removes the piece of gauze after finishing with the large wrap bandage, looking at his wound. “Well, Owen certainly did a number.” Serena inspects the wound, “and though there’s skin breakage, and it bled more than one would imagine, I don’t believe you need sutures or anything.”

 

“He clamped and didn’t want to let go.” Cole shakes his head, “I didn’t clean it, which I should have, with a bit of rubbing alcohol.” When she gives him an impressed look, he continues, “I know it will hurt, but...I also don’t know where Owen’s mouth has been...since he has Pica, not because of...me having a laugh. I don’t think he’s tried to bite or chew anything crazy lately, but...I don’t actually know.”

 

“There’s a few squares with alcohol in-”

 

“No, I’d rather just pour some from the bottle onto it. Get it over with.”

 

“You sound like your Gran.” Serena sighs softly, “I’ll do it with the squares. We aren’t in the middle of a battlefield. No need to...do all of that. Stop reading those military medical journals.”

 

Cole smirks a little, “rather be prepared for the future before it gets here.” He watches as his Nan opens what she was referencing previously. “I’m only a few years off anyway.”

 

“Don’t grow up before you need to.” Serena warns, gently cleaning around the wound before gently dabbing the bite itself, “at least don’t let me hear about it.” Her voice is halfway between serious and playful, wanting Cole to stay close at all times. Knowing how he feels, she’s surprised her wife hadn’t tried talking him out of the decision.

 

“Nan, I’m only fourteen. Relax.”

 

Only fourteen?” She shakes her head.

 

“I still have a few years before I’m able to even apply.” Cole watches her, “and there’s plenty I still have to do before I get to that point. I have a bit of growing to do and schooling...” He studies her face, “I promise, I’ll try not to grow up too quickly.”

 

“Yes, well, you already have.” Serena grumbles with a sigh.

 

Cole starts to smirk, “sorry.” 

 

“You’d better be.” Serena smiles to herself, noticing how closely he’s studying her actions in treating him, as he’s always done since he was an infant. Some things never truly change.

Chapter Text

“What’s so special about this author?” D.I. Robbie Medcalf folds his arms, looking down to his superior. “Round the clock protection with as little intrusion to her life as possible...I mean, that’s fine at all, but...” He shakes his head, “why put me in charge of the daytime protection? Feels like a slap in the face, ma’am.”

 

Allowing the space between them to fall silent, Kait lifts her head from looking through the stack of papers on her desk. “Are you finished bellowing from the doorway?” She leans back a little, folding her arms. “Do you want to close the door, take a seat, and speak like a professional adult?”

 

He sighs a little, realizing that he’s being ridiculous. Closing the door to the decently sized office, Robbie follows her orders. A gruff, unimpressed expression still adorning his face. “I apologize for my outburst, ma’am.”

 

“It’s okay. From all angles, it looks like a punishment.” Kait nods slowly, standing from her own office chair to move around the office to close the blinds. “I’m about to say something that is going to sound unbelievable to you.” Once all the blinds are drawn, she returns to her office chair. “Out of everyone in our department, I trust you the most.” 

 

“Sounds like something you’d say to someone so they don’t feel so bad.”

 

“I’m serious.” Kait nods, “Charlotte Wolfe is an author, also known for her heroic achievements during the Juniper Street attacks.”

 

“I’m not much of a reader.” Robbie raises an eyebrow, “And, from what I’ve overheard from you at the pub, she’s your latest conquest.”

 

“I’ve stated that she’s a brilliant, beautiful woman many times...because she is.” She nods a little, pulling up a picture on her mobile of the two of them from their first proper date and sliding the mobile over to him to have a better look. “I recently ended my relationship, both romantic and friendly, with her in order to properly protect her.”

 

He leans forward a little, studying the picture. His boss was correct, the woman was a goddess. Robbie notices the telltale self harm scars under the black light environment the picture was taken in. He decides against mentioning them. Robbie lifts his gaze finally, “something has you spooked.” He pauses, “letters?”

 

Kait nods, motioning to the stack of papers with a tilt of her head. “Charlie’s received thirteen of them so far. I thought my being quite...vocal about our estrangement would take the eye off of her, but it hasn’t.” She motions for him to take a look at the stack of letters. “I’ve been alerted not long ago of the continued letters.” Kait won’t mention how terrified Lane Anand seemed in his email.

 

“How has Miss...Wolfe, was it?” Seeing her nod, Robbie continues, “how has she regarded the messages?”

 

“Paying them no mind. It’s believed she had been getting these letters for some time before they were brought to my attention.” Kait sighs a little, “and I happen to think they started not long after she and I became friendly.”

 

Watching the woman for a moment, Robbie finally continues, “you think this is an inside job.” He doesn’t wait for her to respond, already knowing he’s correct. “Shit.”

 

“You’ve thought about it too. Only thing that truly makes sense. Only reason our lovers are dying. No other department.” Kait continues, keeping her voice relatively hushed, “all lesbian relationships...except for Smith.” She sighs softly, “so there goes that theory. Two same sex couples, one hetero. All tied to this department.”

 

“We’ve looked for connections in the personal files, ma’am. There’s nothing.” 

 

“I’m aware.” Kait responds quietly. Considering her predicament, “Charlie is still getting letters...and I’ve made it clear while at the pub, that...that she and I weren’t together. At least, I thought I did.”

 

Robbie watches the slightly younger woman, “did you only stop your relationship because of the letters?” His voice is quiet and really, she doesn’t need to answer, he just knows he’s right. “I don’t blame you. I uh...I had a love like that once. Didn’t work out in the end, but...I’d have walked through fire for her. Still would.” He offers a soft, reminiscent smile, “never got with anyone else because no one ever stacked up for me.” 

 

Kait listens to him, nodding a little, “yeah, it’s like that.”

 

"So...you broke things off for nothing then." Robbie raises an eyebrow, "at least, in hindsight, you did."

 

Swallowing, Kait peers toward the letters. "If anything were to happen to her...I'd never forgive myself. Ever." She inhales and exhales slowly. “There’s...there’s children involved with this one who also lost a father less than a year ago. I don’t...I won’t tempt fate. I won’t endanger her or those kids. I won’t allow them to lose another parent.”

 

“We’ll take care of it, ma’am.”

 

“We’ve tried and we’ve failed, D.I. Medcalf.”

 

Robbie shakes his head slowly, “I don’t believe so. I can...allow myself a bit more time to this. I mean...I haven’t much else going for me. Thursday night snooker, that’s about it.” He pauses, “police league cricket.”

 

Kait raises an eyebrow, falling quiet for a moment. “Are you that lonely?”

 

“It isn’t lonely to me. Besides, I have Chica...best bloody golden retriever in all the British Isles.” He smiles a little to himself, “and she’s a brilliant old girl.” Robbie tilts his head to the side, “I just...I can’t stand seeing my department miserable...and afraid to love other people.”

 

Her eyes focus on him for a moment, “I...I don’t want you to push yourself too much. We find the link between DuPont and someone within our unit and...we know our leak. Whether that leak be...malicious or accidental, we need to squash it.”

 

“If someone in our department is feeding DuPont information, I’d say it would definitely be a malicious act. Any sort of...contact with him would be...treasonous to our department.” Robbie exhales slowly, “we need to think about who hasn’t been with someone romantically in a while, and I feel we should focus on lesbian couples. I think you have something there with that.”

 

“I’m going to check Smith’s file...there’s something...something off. I’m going to see if there’s any other link.”

 

“Good idea.”

 

Kait nods a little, “okay...okay, I think we’re getting somewhere. I’ll...I may have someone else that...can help a bit. Keep giving me letters if Charlie keeps receiving them. We can forward them along for forensic analysis. He’s going to slip up. I know it. He’s too cocky about everything.” She stops speaking for a moment, raising an eyebrow a little, “I...also think I may have a big of something else. Extra set of eyes that aren’t...” She bites her lip in a grin, “I know what I’m going to do. I just need you to maintain the protection, but don’t give as much information as you often do. Take...”

 

“Delgato.” Robbie offers, “I think she’d be a good fit for this. Young, spry, eager.”

 

“Okay. If...you notice absolutely anything shifty, you send for me. Am I understood?”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Robbie nods a little, a smirk starting to form on his face. “You’ve something up your sleeve.”

 

“Because the other victims were bothered by their letters. They complained to their partners, who subsequently complained to the rest of the department. Charlie...couldn’t care less.” Kait begins to chuckle a little to herself, “not a care in the world because this isn’t new to her. This doesn’t bother her because she’s experienced it before. I think, since no one has said anything, that DuPont, or our rat, aren’t going to take any action except for the letters. They want the attention. If no one seems to care...it isn’t as fun for them.”

 

“Good point.” Robbie folds his arms over his chest, “that’s when they’ll slip up.”

 

“Hitting the nail on the head, D.I. Medcalf.” There’s a sudden shift in the air around Kait. She realizes she might be further ahead than she originally thought.

Chapter Text

“You’re doing such a great job.” Charlotte holds her son’s hand as they walk along the sidewalk. “Warm out today, isn’t it, O?” She doesn’t expect him to answer at all, but wants him to feel included in the walk. Char smiles a little, her parents ahead of her walking ahead of her with the other boys and the younger ones toward the park. “How is the front of the train?” She had been keeping Owen home for a couple of days because of his aggressive and jealous behavior and not wanting his fellow pupils to be on the receiving end. She knows it isn’t the best idea because of his schedule, but he’d get back to it soon enough.

 

“Everyone is doing great.” Serena smirks back toward the young woman, “Lavinia is getting a bit tired though. I imagine she’s going to fall asleep before we arrive.”

 

Bernie can’t help except hear the slow moving vehicle not far behind them. Definitely a large sedan. Far enough that it isn’t possibly a threat, but still bizarre that it’s been following for as long as it has. Their house isn’t terribly far from the park, but far enough with a few twists and turns before reaching the area. Same car. Same purr from the engine. She feels Serena take hold of her hand, jarring her attention from focusing on the car. She offers a soft smile, “sorry, did you say something?”

 

Serena furrows her brow a little, “you alright?”

 

“Yeah, yeah. Perfect.” Bernie gives a gentle smile, but there’s something about her quick answer that she knows her wife is going to pick up on. “Just noticing how engaged Max is with everything around him.” Bernie nods her head toward the boy in the pushchair she’s in control of, the boy sitting upright against his lap bar. “Raring to go like Cameron used to as a boy.” She huffs a soft sound of amusement to herself, “causes one to think of the whole...nature versus nurture question.”

 

“Well, there’s aspects of Cameron that I know have come from you, but also parts that I question. I still don’t quite know Marcus well enough to know his full personality or behaviors. I only know the stories you and your children have told me over the years...as well as his own actions since I have known him.” Serena answers simply, “Cameron has quite a bit of you in him from what I’ve witnessed over the past sixteen or so years, darling.”

 

Bernie continues to smile to herself, still hearing the vehicle in the distance. She tries to catch a glimpse through reflections on the other cars that they pass of the vehicle in the distance to no avail. Bernie turns, acting as if she’s giving a glance to her daughter and Owen, trying to take a look that way. Able to see the colored lights behind the front grill of the recent model car, she instantly knows this is an unmarked police vehicle. Why would a police vehicle follow us? Bernie begins to wrack her brain for possible ideas as she turns around to walk forward again.

 

Charlotte knows her mother can hear what she’s hearing as well with the way she looked behind them. However, if her mother is walking again, then everything must be safe. When Owen brings his hand to his mouth to yell into the back of it, Char sighs a little, “we’re nearly there. Are you going on the swings first?” Even though there was a two seat swing set at home, it was the first thing Owen would gravitate toward. When he tries to run into the street, she keeps hold of his hand, “just a bit further, O.”

 

“Want to switch?” Bernie calls out.

 

“No, it’s okay. I do worry about when we arrive.” Char runs her free hand through her hair, “this...this was a bad idea.”

 

“He’s twelve, Charlotte. Do you remember Cole at twelve? What of yourself?” Serena offers, “inquisitive, but impulsive. Ready to explore.”

 

“How do you know how I was at twelve?” Charlotte raises her eyebrow, a smirk in the corner of her mouth.

 

“I remember how you were at twelve. I was here.” Bernie offers, “and you’re all alike.”

 

Char smiles a little to herself, “sure, but I don’t really want him biting others because someone he considers his person is holding his sister or showing affection toward someone else. He lashed out at Lane not long ago as well. Reason why he asked if he could stay home for some personal time. Which...I don’t blame him one single bit, honestly.”

 

“I wonder if Jason and Greta might have some suggestions from their times living in group homes and being around other people like themselves.” Serena offers, “I can drop them a bell about it, if you’d like.”

 

“That’d be great, but please make it clear I’m not only asking them because-”

 

“Give them some credit, darling.” Serena smiles softly to herself, knowing her step-daughter might be worried about the implications of the question, “take the advice and help from people who have experience.”

 

“Easy for you to say.” Charlotte mumbles to herself, glad when they finally reach the park. She stays close to Owen, relieved when he goes straight for the swing set like she thought he might.

 

Bernie stands a bit straighter, finally able to get a better look at the unmarked police vehicle slowly rolling toward them and attempting to stealthily park not far from the park, but at a decent distance so as to not draw too much attention to themselves. She folds her arms, trying to decide whether or not to approach them. Bernie clears her throat a little, glancing down to Lavinia, smiling a little to herself when she notices the baby has fallen asleep in the comfortable pushchair.

 

Serena notices her wife acting ever so slightly odd as she lets her youngest grandson out from his pushchair. When he takes hold of her finger, leading her over to the swingset as well, she helps him into the younger children’s seat. “There you go.” She nods to him a little, standing next to her stepdaughter, “is...does your mother seem a bit...off to you?”

 

“No more than usual.” Charlotte teases a little, knowing what her mother was up to and knowing she’s actively on her guard. “You okay, Maman?”

 

“Me?” She seems to be taken back by the question, surprised she’d ask it, “yes, of course.” Serena begins to push Max on the swing, glancing back to him with a smile. “Is that too high?”

 

“Higher!” Max cheers, holding onto his seat as he beams.

 

“Then we’re all okay.” Char smirks a little to herself, hearing her stepmother release a sound of amusement.

 

Bernie folds her arms, looking to the car in the distance. Man in the drivers’ and a woman in the passenger. Both unfamiliar. Why would police be following us? She turns around in her seat to look toward her daughter and wife, as well as the grandchildren. Taking stock of the park area and for any people within it. Noticing her daughter give a quick glance toward the area where the car had parked alongside the road, Bernie quickly understands that her daughter knows more than she’s letting on. Sighing softly, Bernie looks down to her granddaughter in the pushchair, realizing the baby is now adoringly gazing up toward her. “Well, Vinnie.” She crouches down in front of the stroller, reaching in to gently run her short nails alongside the side of the baby’s head. “At least one of us is cool, calm, and collected.”

 

Robbie Medcalf leans forward from his position behind the wheel of the sedan, leaning against the steering wheel, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

“Look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Lauren Delgato glances over to her superior, lifting her take-away cup of coffee to her lips. A smirk forms at the corner of her lips, “what of it?”

 

“I uh...yeah. Close to it.” He huffs a chuckle to himself, staring at Serena, the only woman he ever truly loved. “Difficult to explain.” Robbie clears his throat, reaching down for his own take-away coffee cup and taking a sip. Honestly, he’s glad to see Serena doing well. She seems happy. Happier than himself at least. “I...I think I might need to have a chat with D.S.I. Warne. I might not be the best person for this job.”

Chapter Text

Charlotte’s foot bounces on her toes as she sits on the sofa of her therapist’s office, her hands folded in her lap as she glances toward the floor, “and I could hear them...and I know Mum could as well. I just...don’t know why they are following me.”

 

“You believe people are following you?” Annette Vickers leans back in her chair opposite her patient, her mug of tea in her hands.

 

“Not people, the police. It isn’t a belief, it’s a fact.” Char swallows, “I know it probably makes me sound delusional, but I’m not. Not by a longshot. Not this time.” A soft huff of amusement comes from her nose as she smirks a little to herself, “I-I noticed them. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with Kait or not. I don’t see why she’d want to follow me. She broke up with me. Not the other way around. Also, it wasn’t her behind the wheel. At least, not that I could see. Figure looked masculine...with broad shoulders. The other had dark hair. Neither of which were Kaitie.”

 

Annette falls quiet for a moment, watching her patient for a few more moments. “You seem anxious.”

 

“No, not really. Just a habit.”

 

“Nervous habit.”

 

Charlotte lifts her head to look toward the woman, “I keep wracking my brain over why the police would want to follow me. I can spot them sitting in their cars when I’m in my house. I’m...tempted to call Kaitie, see if she knows anything about it, see if she can look into it, see if she’s sanctioned it.” Char bites her lip after rattling off her thought process, glancing away again, “I do miss her. I’m...I’m sure that...” Charlotte brings her hands up, rubbing them over her face, “that seems ridiculous.”

 

“I don’t think it does.” Annette shakes her head slowly, “you had developed feelings for her and her departure was sudden and didn’t give you time to...mourn another relationship. Mourn in a different way than what you did with your husband.”

 

“Morven says I gave up too easily.” A bitter, sad smile still adorns her face, “and maybe I did. Last thing I’d want is for her to be unhappy.”

 

“What about your happiness though, Char?”

 

“I...I can’t worry about myself anymore. Not that I ever really...” Charlotte lifts a hand to run through her dark blonde hair, “my children come first for me...as they need to and always will. Even when I...when I attempted, I did it because I thought they’d be better off with my parents. Which...they would be. I’m a shit mother. I don’t want them to...ever want for anything. They don’t, but...I think I neglect them at times.”

 

Annette raises her eyebrow, “in what way?”

 

“I tend to focus on Owen and Vinnie, which-”

 

“Except you're homeschooling Lane. You see him every single day and-”

 

“I see him most days. Maman does science and Mum does history on Tuesday and Thursday, respectfully. If he needs a break or whatever, we take a break. Him taking his time and learning at his own pace is what’s important though. He does really well. Focusing on a single subject a day works much better for him with his issues.” Charlotte explains, then realizes she’s probably over- explained. “He...he seems to like it.”

 

“Lane has always been a bright boy. Even before the accident.” Annette tilts her head to the side, watching her patient, “you know that. Things aren’t going to change just because the way he learns has changed. If anything, he’s in a comfortable environment, he should do better than when he was attending a brick and mortar school.”

 

“Doesn’t help how I feel.”

 

“Doesn’t make how you perceive your situation correct either.” Annette offers a subtle smirk, “you’re a better mother than you give yourself credit for.”

 

“How can I protect my children if I can hardly protect myself?” Charlotte shakes her head, “I can’t explain the cops. I need to be able to and I can’t make heads or tails of it.”

 

“Have you broken the law?” Seeing her patient shake her head negatively, Annette continues, “exactly. You’re a successful writer and the mother of a successful web creator. Has Cole told you about that?”

 

“Somewhat.” Char smirks softly to herself, “I just know he always seems to have his own money.”

 

“Well, I do like to keep tabs on promising young people, as one would want to. Cole is a very promising young man, always has been. I knew that when he pushed through the migraines to talk about his life and finding his paternal heritage.” Annette smiles a little to herself, reaching back on her desk for her mobile. She pulls up an article about his contributions to various charities through gaming marathons and how he reached out to people in need. Offering the mobile to her patient, she watches the younger woman’s face.

 

Charlotte scrolls with her thumb, “I-I had no idea.” Her voice quiet, she notices a portion where he speaks fondly of her with the article mentioning her status as an author and hero. Saying that she was a big influence in his life, Char bites her lip. “I...I just never know what that boy will do. He’s...he surprises me at every turn.” She pauses, “doesn’t change things though. Doesn’t take my mind off of things or-”

 

“No, but it does disprove your thought of being a poor influence on your children or that you’re a bad mother.” Annette shakes her head, reaching over when Charlotte gives her back her mobile. “Have you attempted approaching the police vehicle to ask them why or even if they’re following you?” She raises an eyebrow, “you might be mistaken.”

 

“I’m not mistaken. I told you my Mum’s noticed it too.”

 

“Well, what does she believe?”

 

“She hasn’t mentioned it to me, but I notice her watching. I haven’t told her that I know that she knows.” Charlotte begins to yawn, bringing a hand up to cover her mouth. She takes a moment before continuing, “I apologize, Vinnie’s been teething and...decides she’s going to complain most about it at night. I just co-sleep with her now since she’ll wake the whole bloody house.”

 

“My mother always told me to rub whiskey on my boys’ gums.” Annette smiles a little to herself, “and it actually worked quite well...also helped them sleep.” She lets out a throaty chortle, “and, by proxy, helped me sleep as well.”

 

“Last thing I need is a pissed Lavinia.” Char smirks at the thought, rubbing her hands over her face in an attempt to make herself more alert.

 

“I’ll give you some homework, because our time is nearly up, I want you to speak to your mother about what you believe you’ve both noticed. Get her opinion on it...and we’ll talk about it next week here. Deal?” Annette offers, turning off the alarm on her mobile when it begins to chime.

 

Charlotte nods, “I can agree to that. Hopefully, I was right about her noticing something as well and this isn’t just in my head.” She sighs softly, running her hand through her hair again and tucking it behind her ear, “that’s the last thing I need.”

Chapter Text

Bernie gazes through the very slim sliver of the closed blinds leading through the bay windows in the front of her home that she shares with her wife. She gently sways with a tired Lavinia in her arms, rubbing the babe’s back with her free hand. That car hasn’t moved for hours. Neither have the people within it. She knows the people outside aren’t able to see her standing there, luckily.

 

Serena steps through the doorway to the lounge, noticing her wife still standing near the window with the baby. “The neighbors are going to think you’ve gone potty if you just stare that way.”

 

“They aren’t watching me. They’ve just been parked in front of the house.” Bernie responds quietly, “they’re watching Charlotte.”

 

“Why would they be watching either of you?” Serena furrows her brows, finding the whole train of thought to be a bit odd. “She’s never broken the law or has even left the house long enough to be a person of question.” She sighs a little, “maybe it has something to do with her old friend?”

 

“Kait isn’t there. I haven’t seen her around with Char...or watching the house. It’s always this older man and a younger woman. That’s definitely an undercover traffic car. I can see patrol lights behind the front grill and I’m betting there’s some near the top of the front windshield.” Bernie swallows, “I...I feel a bit guilty about that, must admit. I advised Char to follow her heart and...it was probably the wrong decision.”

 

Serena lifts her head with Bernie’s last bit, “why the wrong decision?”

 

Bernie isn’t sure if she should answer the question. Knowing all the times she’s admitted feelings for women she’s gotten close to, only to lose friends in the process. Her feelings may not have been love , per say, but they were certainly deep. They were something Bernie couldn’t pinpoint at the time. Something she regretted, certainly, but wished she had held her tongue. “They just were. Char doesn’t deserve to be alone.”

 

“Berenice, the very last thing that girl is, is lonely.”

 

She decides not to go into her thought process with her wife. Knowing she has her reasons for saying and thinking the way she does and that Serena probably wouldn’t understand, especially with her own journey of self discovery. “Was there something in her newest book that...that could get her in trouble?”

 

“You know I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.” Serena shakes her head, “I was, in solidarity with you, not reading it just yet.”

 

“Guinevere fills us in on the bits she deems important for us to know.” Bernie smirks a little to herself, “maybe phone her?” Honestly, it worries Bernie that her daughter could be the subject of a police investigation, on top of everything else the younger woman has had to deal with in the past year. “I believe she may know our daughter more than we do.”

 

“She knows many things, but more than us about Charlotte?” Serena furrows her brow, smirking. “Give yourself a bit of credit, darling.” She glances at her mobile on the coffee table, “shall I use speaker?”

 

“Vinnie shouldn’t wake if I put her on our bed-”

 

“I placed her travel cot in the dining room, darling. Max is on our bed. Cameron and Morven are due over later when she’s released.” Serena folds her arms, “I must admit, I’m looking forward to having them close.”

 

“Her stay was longer at hospital than I’m sure either of them would have liked.” Bernie raises an eyebrow, slowly taking the baby across the hall to the dining room and gingerly placing the babe into the travel cot before returning to her wife, “go on, give Gwennie a bell.”

 

Serena takes a seat on the sofa, leaning back, her mobile in her hand. It buzzes softly as it connects. “I probably should have sent a text. She’d be more likely to respond.”

 

“Oh, shut it,” the teenager’s voice fills the room from the speaker of the mobile. Guinevere rolls her eyes, listening to her Nan with a smirk. “You don’t often phone during the week though. To what do I owe the pleasure?” 

 

“Gran is here as well and you’re on speaker. We were curious, how far are you in your Aunt Charlotte’s new book?” Serena raises an eyebrow, watching as her wife returns to her previous position, near the window. She notices the woman take a fold her arms, her eyes filling with curiosity.

 

“Just over half way. I’m trying to take my time with it, but it’s quite good. Better than the last one, surely.” Gwen wraps a strand of her hair around her finger absently, “why do you ask?”

 

“Well, your Gran was curious if there could be anything within the pages of the new book, or the first one, that could be deemed...legally questionable in the eyes of law enforcement.” Serena attempts to word her request in a way that doesn’t worry her granddaughter. “I only skimmed a small bit of the first book and haven’t touched the second, so I don’t quite recall-”

 

“Am I the Char Wolfe expert of the family?” Guinevere smirks to herself, amused greatly. “I mean, I’ll gladly take the title even though I thought that was the two of you.”

 

“Yes, well, we’d prefer to let your aunt maintain a sense of privacy by not reading about her deepest thoughts and memories.”

 

“No, Gran’s worried she’s written something horrid about her that would just be depressing, which she doesn’t.” Gwen shakes her head, knowing her grandparents all too well. “Uh...the answer to your question...if that was a question, is a ‘no’ though. Except for a touch of underage drinking and recreational drug use in her Uni days, I haven’t seen anything that could get Auntie Char busted. She’s not that type of person...which I’m sure you’re aware.”

 

“I didn’t think so.” Bernie mutters absently, making her way back to the sofa, sitting on the edge of the cushion.

 

“I will say, though, Laney’s told me about some letters she’s been getting in the post. Enough to worry him and for him to get in touch with Ms. Warne...even though she’s no longer around much, unfortunately.” Gwen shrugs, running a hand through her own hair to adjust it from her face, “I actually found her fascinating.” She pauses, “you didn’t hear that from me, but I thought it was some information you both should know for safety’s sake.”

 

The words cause Bernie to glance over toward the mobile finally, “what sort of letters?”

 

“Threatening ones it seems.” Guinevere answers simply with a soft sigh, “I just...I think it’s why Ms. Warne left. Cole’s fairly certain of it and...he’s rarely ever wrong about this stuff.”

 

“But we haven’t seen Kait for...quite a while when she was a daily occurrence previously.” Serena points out, “why would Lane contact her directly?”

 

“Your guess is as good as mine.” Gwen shrugs, noticing her father trying to get her attention. “I need to go. Dad wants me to light some candles-”

 

“How is he?” Serena asks quietly, out of instinct.

 

“Golden, Nan. No worries.” Guinevere smiles softly to herself, hearing the genuine concern in her Nan’s voice. “Love you both. Chat later.”

 

When the teenager ends the call, Serena glances over at her wife, “so...does that answer any questions for you?”

 

Bernie nods quickly, “as much as I don’t like the answer, yes, I believe so.” She sighs softly, leaning against the back of the sofa, “should I ask her or the boys about it?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, “she knows she’s being watched. I noticed her looking in the same-” When Serena gives her an unsure look, Bernie continues, “I just...I just know, okay?” Her tone is defeated, last thing she wants to do is explain her instincts.

 

Serena gently places her hand on Bernie’s thigh, giving a gentle, reassuring squeeze. “I believe you, but that doesn’t help answer what the police are doing here. How they’re acting upon receipt of said letters...or even what’s in the letters-”

 

“That’s the thing though, they aren’t just a couple of bobbies in patrol cars. Those are detectives, nearly undercover, in an unmarked car. Those are far higher ranked than patrol goons.” Bernie replies quietly, “I worry...not only for Charlotte’s safety, if that much manpower is needed, but for the children’s safety as well.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“I fear this being far more...” Bernie takes a deep breath before continuing, “dangerous than anyone perceives...or is willing to admit.” She draws her lower lip into her mouth, “I think I need to speak with the boys...and see exactly what we’re dealing with here.”

 

“Promise you won’t scare them too much, darling.” Serena mumbles a little, feeling like she’s able to see the gears turning in her wife’s head. She reaches over, taking hold of Bernie’s hand. “Everything will be okay.” She pauses, “I’m not just blowing smoke up your arse, I mean it.”

 

Bernie smiles subtly to herself, glancing over to her wife finally. She leans in, pressing a kiss against her wife’s lips. “I know. I believe you...and I trust you.” She shrugs a little, “if it comes down to it, we’ll just keep everyone here. Not enough rooms, but...we’ll be able to stay safe and...together.”

 

“Two old biddies, few other adults, and a bunch of children.” Serena adjusts her arm to wrap around Bernie’s shoulders in order to pull her close, “never another moment of peace.” She presses a kiss to Bernie’s hairline, “not that we ever had one to begin with.”

 

“Cole ruined all of that around here.”

 

“Oh, I’m aware, darling.” 

 

Bernie smiles a bit more to herself, leaning her head against Serena’s shoulder. She lets the space grow quiet for a few moments until finally speaking up, “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Chapter Text

“You beckoned?” Cole smiles at his Gran softly, finding her in the back garden with a book in her hands and cup of tea on the metal table next to her. Watching as the woman places a homemade bookmark that he’s certain he gave her when he was very small, and holds the thick book up to show him the cover. “Finally getting around to Mum’s first book?”

 

“I am, yes.” Bernie sets the book down in front of her, “didn’t realize how guarded she was in this one.” She doesn’t really go into it more than that before gently lifting up the porcelain teacup and taking a sip of the contents.

 

“Gwen thinks it’s because she didn’t really know how to write a book, one, and two, she had so much attention thrust upon her so quickly that she didn’t feel comfortable giving out too much information.” Cole shrugs, “years go by, I guess she realized she didn’t need to worry so much.”

 

“Possibly.” She sets the cup back down, comfortably placing her hands on the armrests of the chair as her grandson takes a seat across from her. She fixes her eyes on him, almost as if she’s staring him down, but not in an aggressive way.

 

Cole raises an eyebrow, “did you just invite me over to gaze into my eyes?” He blinks a few times, trying to be dramatic about it.

 

“I can do that whenever I want.” Bernie smiles a little to herself, “I’ve...been made aware of...letters in the post that have been addressed to your mother about-”

 

“They aren’t addressed to my mother.” He begins to shake his head, when his grandmother seems confused, Cole continues, “they’re addressed to Dyke Wolfe or Whore Wolfe. I figured they might be other family members and Laney and I collect them for that person.” Cole notices an amused expression forming on his Gran’s face, “they might be torn open, obviously accidental.”

 

“Cole-” The woman begins to warn. 

 

“They might even be passed along to the police because of how threatening they can be at times. Especially since they’ve been showing up each day.” Cole answers simply, “I got this, Gran. I can handle this without getting Mum involved.”

 

Bernie raises an eyebrow, “What of Charlotte though? Is she not aware-”

 

“I don’t know how long they were coming before Laney found out. He didn’t tell me at first...until I noticed the cops. So...I’m thinking he phoned the police...if not Ms. Warne directly.” Cole nods, watching his grandmother still. “They don’t go into too much specifics. Just about her and what can be found in the books. Essentially, just the fact that she exists. There’s nothing more to the threats. So, I don’t think there’s any stalking or anything like that.”

 

“Why would Lane phone Ms. Warne when she and your mother aren’t...friendly any longer?” Bernie asks quietly, “it isn’t exactly fair to her that either of you would expect her to take care of anything.”

 

“She did though.” Cole answers simply, “I know you’ve seen the same unmarked car as I have with the two detectives inside. The man is usually constant, except at night, but the other cop changes from day to day...sometimes a few times a day.”

 

Bernie nods slowly, reaching up for her tea cup to give herself a moment of pause to think as she takes a sip. “I’ve noticed.”

 

“So you’re watching too...”

 

“How could I not?” Bernie shakes her head a little, “I had no idea what was going on and I was worried about my daughter.” She exhales slowly, “after the year she’s had...I’m not about to take any chances in regards to her safety. Not that I was ever...not that I ever wanted to.”

 

Cole looks away, able to feel his grandmother speaking from the heart, more than what she usually does. “Ditto. She might have been your daughter first, but she’s been my Mum for my whole life.” He notices his Gran begin to subtly smirk from the corner of his eye. “So, I guess we can be partners on this. You take good cop, I’ll take bad cop.”

 

“On what?”

 

“On grilling Mum for information. This is more than just a crazed person that’s sending her letters. It’s in some way tied to Ms. Warne. I’m almost sure of it. When Lane phoned her, he said she sounded surprised that it was still occurring. I reckon Ms. Warne cut off contact-”

 

“Because she assumed it would end the threats.” Bernie finishes his thought, returning her tea cup to its matching saucer. “Blimey, you’re good.”

 

“If the whole field surgeon thing doesn’t work out, at least I can be a detective.” Cole cheekily grins, “besides, if it weren’t for Laney, I wouldn’t have known about it all anyway. He’s been on top of this from the start...or near the start.” He smiles, “believe it or not, he picked up on things very quickly. Like a fish to water.”

 

“Maybe he’ll be the detective.”

 

“The real Pirot.”

 

Bernie smiles a little, folding her arms and leaning back in her seat. “Why do you believe your mother would even know anything about what’s happening?”

 

“I don’t.” Cole reaches a hand up, pushing his fingers through his longer hair.

 

“But because she wasn’t forthcoming about anything, it makes everything a bit suspicious.” Bernie easily reads his thought process, nodding slowly after. “I agree with that...to a degree. I don’t believe we need to hound your mother about it though. We just do what we always do, protect her as best as we can. I reckon she didn’t want to scare you or your siblings after everything that went on this past year.”

 

“Okay.” The teenager shrugs, “so, what do you suppose we do?”

 

“Step away.” Bernie answers honestly, “let the police handle things and tread lightly. Observe, but do not obstruct.”

 

“That sounds boring.” Cole pouts playfully. “I could, however, figure out who could actually be the perpetrator and let the police know."

 

"You've already gotten in the trouble in the past for accessing information from their servers."

 

"They were pretty unsecured for a police station."

 

A proud, mischievous grin begins to form in the corner of Bernie's mouth as she playfully scowls at her grandson, "Cole."

 

“I’d be doing them a favor.” Cole shrugs, "we can see if they've amended their protocols to sufficient levels."

 

"Or, you could just not do it."  Bernie sighs softly, knowing her warnings are futile, "or if you do decide to do something, don't get caught." She stands, collecting the empty teacup and saucer on the table. Bernie gives her grandson’s shoulder a gentle squeeze as she walks past, making her way to the house.

 

A grin breaks out on Cole’s face, glad his Gran supports him, even though she isn’t able to say so. He stays seated until he hears the door of his grandmothers’ house close behind her, then makes his way toward his own. He has work to do.

Chapter Text

“Do you miss her being around?” Morven glances over to her sister-in-law as they sit on the bed within the Wolfe household, binging on some old television show. Being on bedrest has been the most boring experience ever, but worth it to protect the fetus thriving within her. When Charlotte appears confused, Morven continues, “your friend Kait. You seemed quite taken with her, even if you didn’t want to admit it and then suddenly she wasn’t around.”

 

“We uh...she decided to cut her losses in both our friendship and any sort of...romantic pursuits.” Charlotte shrugs a little, “which is unfortunate indeed because I truly did enjoy her company.”

 

“Did she ever give you a reason?”

 

“It’s been a few weeks, and...” Char begins to slowly shake her head negatively, “that’s the bad thing. It just...feels like there’s no closure.” She shrugs, “but what can ya do? Things have their time and things end. Nothing anyone can do about them.” Char hums a soft chortle to herself, “but none of that matters. I’m sure you’re going mad up here.”

 

“Well...only a bit.” Morven smiles a little, “I’m not one to just sit around and do nothing.”

 

“Ditto.”

 

“And it hurts when I move, it hurts when I don’t. I want to tend to my son, but I just...physically can’t. It’s an awful feeling.” Morven bites her lip, staring toward the television for a moment before continuing, “and he has a great time with his Grands and...you with your children, but...that’s my son.”

 

Charlotte nods, “I understand.” She offers her sister-in-law a reassuring smile, “while I was pregnant with Cole, this thing happened...on Boxing day...”

 

“Did you mention it in your book?”

 

“A little.” Char nods a little, “but not really this part.” When the other woman seems interested, she continues, “after all that happened and I was just...laid up, I couldn’t do anything because Fleur told my parents that I was high risk, which was the worst thing she could have told Serena.” She hears Morven laugh a little, “she and Mum would scold me anytime I was out of bed to do anything other than use the toilet. I couldn’t make my own food when cooking was my outlet. If one of them couldn’t be here to watch over me, it was Jason or Cam.”

 

Morven raises an eyebrow, “and you listened to Cam?”

 

“No, only real time I actually got out of bed.” Char snorts, “in fact, he was the one here when I went into labor with Cole. Poor thing was terrified of the wrath he’d incur from our parents that I went into labor while on his watch.” She grins, “Serena didn’t hold Cole until he was...about two weeks old. When she did, she and Mum were just...they just took over. Which, seems like it would be a bad thing, and for some it would be, but they devoted everything to them. They made sure I saw him. Made sure I was present in his life when I was having a hard time with myself and other things that were going on at the time.” Char reaches over, gently taking her sister’s-in-law hand just to hold it reassuringly, “might seem...pointless and...whatever now, like they might be trying to take over, but...far from it.”

 

Nodding tearfully, Morven bites the corner of her own lip. “I know you’re right.”

 

“I’ll make sure the boys bring him around more often...and I’ll see to it that my mothers ensure that he falls asleep between you and Cam...because there’s nothing better in the morning than baby smell or the smack of a tiny hand to the face to wake you.” Charlotte offers, “but resting and staying off that ankle will make it so that you can walk on it quicker...so that you can be a bit more ready when my niece or nephew gets here...then my other niece or nephew a few months later.”

 

“I remind myself how mad I am constantly.”

 

“Yeah, but...one needs to be a little mad to have a child in the first place.” Char smirks a little, “not a bad thing. I wouldn’t trade a single one of them for the world, but...sometimes we need to pick our battles for the betterment of our own children. As the great Kenny Rogers once said, know when to hold them, know when to fold them. Know when to walk away, know when to run .”

 

“Who?” Morven furrows her brow.

 

“Doesn’t matter.” Char smirks to herself, “all I’m saying is that...it’s going to be no time before you can be up and about, no time until the babies are born. Maxie isn’t even going to remember it. It’s going to be a single spot on your whole time as a mother. Trust me.”

 

“I do. That’s what everyone keeps saying, but it doesn’t change how I feel...or how I’ve been feeling. Thank you though.” Morven nods a little, placing a hand on the side of her belly, smiling a little to herself as she feels the fetus within her flutter slightly. Really, she isn’t sure that’s what it is exactly. 

 

“See? They agree with their favorite Aunt as well.” Charlotte knows that face, knows that feeling all too well.

 

Morven huffs a soft sound of amusement, looking forward as her eyes grow glassy, “I thought for sure I...I royally cocked things up when I fell. Thought I’d never feel them, that for sure I’d have...” She swallows, not finishing her statement, hoping her sister-in-law will understand her thought process.

 

“That’s a Wolfe cub. We’re a resilient bunch.” Char smirks, then clears her throat, “I know I’m not the most...I’m not the best parent in the world, but know that my parents aren’t the only ones here for you. If you want to try going to the first floor, I’m here to help with that. If you’re having a craving and Cam isn’t available, I’m here. If you want to laugh at Vinnie being ridiculous, because that’s what she does best, I’m here for that too.” She shakes her head a little, “just know that you’re never alone...and I’m more than happy to handle my mothers because I know you’re a bit intimidated to do so.”

 

“Is it that obvious?” Laughing a little to herself, Morven nods, “if they were your bosses at one time or another, you’d be intimidated too.”

 

“Cole is worse than I am with them. Had them wrapped around his finger since he was a babe.” Charlotte laughs a little to herself, “Maxie will be the same...in fact, he already is. Cole told me about finding he and my Mum eating ice cream from the carton on top of the kitchen counter a few nights ago.”

 

Morven starts to smile, “I could have never imagined her being so soft until I saw it with my own eyes.”

 

“Babies love her, but she only really lets that side out when no one is watching...or when she’s with her grandchildren.” Char nods, smiling to herself. She feel her mobile begin to vibrate against her leg as well as a knock against the door frame of the bedroom. “What is it, Laney?”

 

“Know how the police have been outside, watching us?” It isn’t as if the rest of the family didn’t notice them. They’re all rather observant. Lane seems out of breath, his cane cuff hangs from his wrist as he lifts his hand to run through his hair. “The two that have been in the car.”

 

“What of it?” Char raises an eyebrow.

 

Lane nods, “Some other ones showed up in a proper car while we were at the park with Aunt Evie and O. Gwen went with the Grands and the two little ones shopping. So it was just us at the park with O and Aunt Evie.” He starts to repeat himself, not really realizing that he is.

 

“I’m aware. The Grands borrowed my car to get there.” Charlotte sits up, patting the foot area of Morven’s bed, encouraging him to sit. “Come on, come calm down. Get your thoughts in order.” She maintains a peaceful attitude, not wanting to alarm her son, nor her sister-in-law.

 

“No, Mum, the police took Cole.” Lane shakes his head, watching her.

 

“What?” Char furrows her brow, “why would they take Cole?”

 

“I don’t know. They put cuffs on him and everything. Evie brought O and I back home and I came over here to tell you.” Lane swallows, motioning to his mother’s mobile as it continues to buzz, “That’s probably them. You should answer.”

 

Charlotte quickly touches the screen of her mobile, bringing it up to her ear without ever seeing who was actually on the other line, “Wolfe.”

 

“Charlie, it’s Kait.” Kait Warne says into her mobile, “we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Serena Wolfe cases the halls of the police station, giving her name and who she was there to see. When she and Bernie had gone on their short shopping trip with the youngest two grandchildren and Guinevere, they had forgotten to leave their keys behind to their own vehicles. When Charlotte phoned her in a panic, Serena and Bernie were quick to come up with a plan of handling this themselves. Serena is escorted to the department which brought her grandson in for questioning, a division which sees the most heinous murders and other serious cases in the area. She sighs softly, following the young constable to her destination. She watches as he knocks on Kait Warne’s office door.

 

“Come in.” Kait stands from behind her desk, not expecting to see Serena, but hoping to see Charlotte. “Mrs. Wolfe, thank you for coming.” She nods to the constable to close the door behind himself.

 

“I hear you’ve arrested my grandson.” Serena responds dryly, “under what charges?”

 

“Conspiracy and impeding an active investigation.” Kait sighs softly, then motions to her coworker who was leaning against a wall in the corner of the office, “Mrs. Wolfe, I’d like you to meet my second in command. This is-”

 

Serena follows her hand before she stands quickly, not having noticed the man before, her back straightening, “Robbie?”

 

Kait furrows her brow, glancing between the others in the room, “you two know one another?”

 

“Something like that.” A smile begins to grow on Robbie’s face as he looks at the woman in front of him. “You look fantastic. Exactly the same as I saw you last.” He pauses, “except your hair. That’s definitely changed...for both of us.” He rubs his hand over his peach fuzz dome, still smiling.

 

“That was well over fifteen years ago, but thank you.” Serena nods, moving close to him, she offers him a tender hug. “It’s really good to see you.”

 

Robbie continues, “You have a new last name...and a grandson. I can’t imagine Elinor being a mother, but with you next to her, I bet-”

 

“No, Ellie died...not terribly long after I last saw you.” Serena clears her throat, smiling ruefully as she looks away.

 

“Shit, Serena, I’m-”

 

“I’m sorry to interrupt this reunion of sorts, but how the hell do you know one another?” Kait glances between them.

 

“Serena was...the one that got away.” Robbie nods, “Wolfe, was it? I can only hope this bloke you married appreciates you properly.” Robbie continues, watching as the silver haired woman returns to her seat, “if not...”

 

“Woman...I married a woman, Major Berenice Wolfe, or Bernie as she prefers. Bernie’s a newly retired trauma surgeon. We’ve...been together for quite some time now.” Serena nods, “her children are my children, her grandchildren are my grandchildren. She treats Jason and his daughter the same.” She explains, turning back to face Kait, “that does bring us to the matter at hand.”

 

“Medcalf, you’re off the one we spoke about before. Only the...round the clock. I still want you handling the investigation though.” Kait glances to him, knowing that if it were between Charlotte and Serena being injured, he’d immediately protect Serena first out of habit.

 

“All of this is well and good, but it doesn’t explain what your plans are for Cole.” Serena leans back in the chair, “he suffers from PTSD, as you’re quite aware from the incident with his paternal grandfather, enclosed spaces that he’s unable to free himself from are a trigger for him. Not to mention-”

 

“No, Serena, I’ve taken care of that. He’s in a room with a window.” Kait lifts her hand to stop the woman, “he’s fine thus far. Just a bit of pacing. However, he’s a minor. I need a parent or guardian here in order to speak with him.”

 

“What of a solicitor?” Serena doesn’t seem phased, honestly just focusing on Kait.

 

“I’ve taken care of things, but he doesn’t know that.” Kait shakes her head, “neither does the rest of my department. Just the people in this room.” When the older woman still looks confused, she continues, “he knows quite a few things about the case we’re working on. More than what he’s been willing to discuss.” She licks her lips in thought, “but I believe it to be his nerves and no ulterior motive. Cole is an impressive young man, wise beyond his years.”

 

“Why not tell him something in order to calm him?” Serena asks quietly.

 

“I think he’ll be able to explain that to you.” Kait rises from her desk chair, motioning for the others to follow her as she moves around her desk and opens the office door, ignoring the rest of her department. “Serena, you go into the room and help him understand the severity of the situation. We’re going to watch on the other side of the two way mirror.”

 

“Certainly.” Serena nods.

 

“If there’s one thing Serena is good at, it’s sweet talking for information.” Robbie smirks to himself when Serena blushes as Kait pushes him into the observation room, “what? I’m just having a bit of fun.” He snorts before taking a seat.

 

“Just can’t help yourself.” Kait rolls her eyes, “you pretended like this was the first time you’ve seen her in forever when we both know you noticed her while watching Charlie Wolfe.” When he remains silent, she slowly nods, “that’s what I thought.”

 

Serena composes herself before opening the door to the small room. Luckily, Kait gave him one with a window. Her grandson paces back and forth in the decently sized room, a certain nervousness about him. She sighs softly, having a feeling this would adversely affect him.

 

“I need to protect my Mum.” Cole mumbles over and over, not noticing who the person was to enter the room, just that someone was there.

 

“Cole, darling.” Serena carefully takes hold of his arm when he nears her with his pacing again, holding him close. “Everything’s okay.”

 

Cole closes his eyes for a moment, inhaling his Nan’s perfume as he leans against her. “I knew they’d find me. I used a varying VPN and everything to try to mask my trail, but they still...they had a trojan. They were able to watch every single thing I did on my computer.” He clears his throat, “I should have used the ones at school like last time.”

 

“Or you could have never done it at all.” Serena offers, gently stroking his hair at the temple.

 

He shakes his head a little, “I’ll do what needs to be done.”

 

“Your sense of duty and honor is astounding, darling, but let’s not get carried away. You’re only fourteen and a felony isn’t going to look very good to your university prospects.” Serena motions to the two chairs in the room. “Have they told you what you’re charged with?”

 

“Conspiracy and impeding an active investigation.” Cole answers, standing upright and cautiously making his way to the glass. “Careful, they’re watching us.” He points to the security camera first, then the mirrored surface in the room. “Wouldn’t doubt if they’re recording my voice on top of it.”

 

“Quite paranoid of you.”

 

Cole shakes his head a little, “there’s no space.”

 

“What?” Serena raises an eyebrow, watching him as she sits down.

 

“When you touch a mirror, there should be a small gap between your finger and your reflection’s finger. When there’s no gap, there’s nothing the surface is bouncing off of, meaning it works as a window for the other side.” Cole answers simply, “I’m guessing it’s Warne and Medcalf.” He doesn’t refer to their titles, only catching the man’s name when he was brought in, having already known the woman’s.

 

Serena smirks a bit, he’s far too clever for his own good. “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I haven’t the foggiest. They just let me in to check on you. Calm you a bit.” She casually folds her arms over her chest, sitting back in her seat, “I can phone your Gran to bring your medication for you since it looks like you’ll be staying a few days at least.”

 

“That doesn’t really scare me. Not the first time I’ve been in the company of the police.”

 

“Well, I think they believe it will make you talk about the things you know.” Serena explains cautiously, trying to stick with Kait Warne’s request.