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Music thumps, a slow, thready beat. Something Guinevere Haynes can feel in the middle of her chest. The area is dark and there’s multiple laser lights shining on the walls and ceiling. Many, many people surround her. Probably too many for this warehouse.

 

“Vera!”

 

This isn’t comfortable in the slightest. She knows her parents wouldn’t be able to deal with it. Her mother would have her face buried in her mobile, reading various articles about fire codes and what could go wrong in a place like this. Gwen thinks about picking up her hands to put over her ears. She’s starting to get a headache.

 

“Vera.” The man she has been fancying since meeting him a couple of weeks prior gently puts his hand on her arm. He grins a dazzling smile, his hair glowing in the UV blacklight, “didn’t you hear me?” 

 

“Uh, no. Sorry.” Gwen shakes her head, knowing full well she just hasn’t really gotten used to the nickname and didn’t realize he was using it for her. “I thought you said we were going to a friend’s house.”

 

George Westwood-Adkins sighs heavily, “we are. This is exactly Dallas’s home...right there.” Geo points up toward a podium far above everyone else where there’s a young woman holding the cup of her large headphones up to her ear as the other touches a turntable in front of her. “Dallas’s haven...her world. We’re just a couple of dolls.” He grins broadly, “want something to drink?”

 

This is a major sensory overload. All of it. Gwen isn’t even quite sure what he’s saying, “I uh...I don’t-”

 

“I’ll get you something.” Geo holds her hand, gently pulling her behind him as he walks through areas of people. He finally decides to keep her in one of the smaller rooms, the VIP area. He leans over the bar, saying something into the barkeep’s ear instead of yelling so she knows what to make, Geo motions to a round table with his friends. “Come, there’s people I want you to meet.”

 

A young person with a septum piercing and light blue hair sits oddly behind the table, their black lipstick causes their white smile to appear more pronounced, “Geography, you didn’t tell us you were bringing a friend.”

 

“Yes, this is Vera. Vera, this is Slush and Emerald.” Geo responds, sliding in the booth of the rounded table behind Guinevere, almost as if trapping her into the seated area.

 

Gwen nods slowly, “Uh, it’s actually Guinevere, but-”

 

“But, dearie, Vera sounds much more interesting.” Slush, the person she had instantly noticed before, leans forward, a knee pulled up against their chest. “Geography is doing you a favor. Just bask in it.” They lift their head, noticing the barkeep with four drinks on her serving tray, gently settling them in front of each of the people at the table. “This cursed swill again, Nance?”

 

“Fuck off, Slush.” The barkeep, Nancy, smirks a little at them before giving a quick glance around the table, “now, if anyone needs anything else, leave me the fuck alone.”

 

Guinevere basks in the glory of all of these interesting people. Completely different from what she’d usually gravitate toward or find friends with. When the friend of her friend’s brother had taken notice of her, he never asked any questions, just assumed she was at least in college. She looks at the drink in front of her, glowing neon pink in the UV blacklight. Her first drink. This was something she promised to do with her Nan, not here, not now. “Is this alcoholic?” The simple question causes the table to burst into guffaws, causing her to blush. Luckily, embarrassment isn’t something easily detected under blacklights.

 

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Slush furrows their brow.

 

“It’s something called Flamingo’s Destiny. Whatever the fuck that means.” Geo laughs a little to himself, shaking his head, “Nancy’s a bloody Einstein when it comes to the art of a cocktail. She could give me lighter fluid and I’d probably drink it.”

 

Slush knowingly smiles to himself, like he knows why Geo is so trusting of the woman, “You aren’t exactly making your case.”

 

Guinevere decides to ignore the drink for the moment, glancing over at the other young woman sitting at the table. She seems in a daze, unblinking, unmoving. “Is she okay?”

 

“She’s usually bezzie mates with Molly, but today she went with Uncle Sid.” Slush glances over toward the young woman, snapping their fingers a few times in front of her face only for her to be slightly responsive with a quick blink, but otherwise returning to her mellow state. Slush smiles gently toward Guinevere, “what about you? You seem...rather pink, if I’m being honest.”

 

The teenager furrows her brow, trying to decipher his words, but finding it difficult. “Pink?” Guinevere feels Geo wrap his arm around her shoulders, as if attempting to calm her.

 

Slush nods a little before looking over to Geo again, “Geography, why would you bring a bloody child in here?”

 

“She’s the same age as Em. She’s fine.” Geo shakes his head, turning his head to press a kiss near Guinevere’s ear. In all actuality, he had never asked Guinevere for her age, he only assumed that she was old enough to be here. “She’s perfect and you’re not making her feel very welcome.”

 

“Okay. Welcome wagon inbound.” Slush nods, reaching their hand over to gently guide Guinevere to look them in the eye. “What will it be, Pinky?” When the young woman peers at him with confusion, he sighs heavily, “what do you want to feel?”

 

“Oh, I’m fine.” Guinevere shakes her head, “thank you for asking.”

 

Slush begins to laugh again, “Well, allow me, then.” They begin to slip their hand into their pocket, thinking of what would be best to help the girl feel at one with the space around her. They pull out a small bag of white powder and a pocket mirror, setting them both onto the table with a razor blade.

 

Gwen’s eyes widen a little when she notices what Slush is doing, she quickly glances to Geo, “I’m sorry, but I’m not feeling very well. Could you please take me home?”

 

“I can, but we just got here.” Geo looks over to her, “and I think you’re only a tad anxious because this is a new, unfamiliar place. Which...is totally understandable, but just give it a try, Vera. Live a little.”

 

“I-I don’t do drugs.” Gwen shakes her head, looking at him as if searching his face for some sort of consolation, “this isn’t...”

 

“Darling, drugs are only what people who don’t truly understand call them.” Slush shakes their head, “derived from the coca leaf, cocaine was used as pain relief...akin to a paracetamol. It’s still used today as a topical analgesic.” Slush pours the contents of the small bag onto the mirror, using the razor to meticulously cut the white powder, forming it into very thin lines. “The only reason these substances aren’t still readily available, over the counter to the public, is because the government wanted to make it hard for troops to get a hold of them during the first World War. After the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920, one could still be prescribed marijuana, cocaine, and heroine by a doctor. In fact, that section of the law was never changed...since bloody 1920. Your doctor, today, could treat you with heroin if they believe it to be the best course of treatment for what ails you.”

 

She didn’t know that. Guinevere furrows her brow, “you’re joking...”

 

“Feel free to do a touch of investigation on your mobile. I thoroughly do my research before I put anything into my body...what do you take me for?” Slush gives a knowing smirk, “have you no trust for me, Vera?”

 

“Well...I just met you, so no.” Gwen lifts her head, watching them. When they offer her a rolled up £50 note, she’s hesitant to take it.

 

“Hold one side of your nose and don’t inhale too harshly...not too weak either. You’ll only learn the amount of inhalation you need when you do it.” Slush explains, “I’ll even give you first go. It’s a...privilege. I usually make the new ones go last.”

 

Guinevere doesn’t think, taking the note and doing as told. She sits up again, giving Slush back his money, noticing his smile in the process. “How was that?” She mutters, the immediate pang of guilt easily felt within her.

 

“Proud of you, Pinky.” Slush reaches a hand up, gently running the back of their fingers along the skin of her cheek, “like you’ve been doing this for years.”

 

Feeling her mobile vibrate in her pocket, Gwen reaches her hand down to obtain her mobile and look at the screen before she gives a quick glance to Slush, “sorry, I uh...I need to take this.” She gets up, awkwardly stepping over Geo’s lap and feeling as he gently takes hold of her wrist, “I’ll be right back.”

 

“Do you need me to come with you?” Geo watches her, noticing her eyes starting to dilate, he smirks.

 

“No, I’ll uh...I’ll j-just be right back.” Gwen nods, pulling away from him. She slips out of a side door not far from the room, an emergency exit. Touching Cole’s photo on the screen of her most recent contacts before bringing her mobile to her ear.

 

Cole leans back in his desk chair, “where the hell are you?” He hisses, getting up from the chair to pace in front of his bed. “Nan phoned like, twenty minutes ago because you told your Dad you would be there and you told the Grands that you would be here. I made a person out of pillows and an old pullover to pass off as you to Mum. That’s like...five people we’ve lied to thus far, Gwennie.”

 

“Then we’re fine. If Auntie Char thinks I’m asleep, we’re fine. Everything is fine.” Gwen swallows, feeling her heartbeat quicken. “We’re fine and I’m having a good time. Great time, even. Why are you pissy?” She pauses, “are you jealous?”

 

“What? Of course not.” Cole furrows his brow, “what are you on about?”

 

“You’re jealous because I’m with people you could only imagine being with, having experiences you could only dream of.” Gwen holds her mobile into the air for a moment, “hear that?” She brings it back to her ear, “hear that wondrous music? Bloody angelic, innit?” Gwen closes her eyes a moment, smiling, “beautiful.”

 

“Are you...” Cole tilts his head to the side, “are you on something?”

 

“Let me live, Wolfeboy. You’ll have your turn.” Gwen touches the screen of her mobile, ending the call before she returns to the rest of the party, feeling as if she’s on another plateau. Guinevere can understand why Auntie Elinor fancied the magical white powder. Maybe she does too.

Chapter Text

Kait Warne stands outside, taking a drag of her cigarette as she watches her dog walk around the back garden of the house she shares with her partner, Charlotte Wolfe. “Come on, Alfie. Just wee for Mam, won’t you?” She sighs softly to herself before glancing up toward the stars, at least it seems to be a lovely night. She turns a little when she hears the back garden door to the house open again, “can’t sleep?”

 

Cole nods a little, “something like that.” Guinevere had sent him a text message, letting him know that she was on her way home and to unlock the back garden door so that she could sneak in unnoticed. “Uh...dreams. I have dreams that keep me awake some nights.”

 

She’s all too aware of that. Kait nods knowingly as she takes another drag, “at some point, you’ll learn which are worrisome and which are harmless.” She starts to smile a little, motioning toward Alfie with a wave of her cigarette holding hand, “or, you get yourself a dog so that you can blame late night fags and needing a breather on them needing to wee...which he still hasn’t bloody done.”

 

“I mean...I doubt I’ll be able to get back to sleep. Feel free to leave him with me.” Cole takes a seat on a lounge chair within the garden, smirking to himself as Alfie excitedly trots over to him. Cole gently strokes his hand over the soft gray fur covering his head. Really, Alfie doesn’t really appear as if he’d be anything other than a rough and tumble sort of dog. In actuality, he was gentle and loving, playful. He’d usually be following Lavinia around, getting into trouble with her.

 

Kait gives the teen a quick look over, realizing he’s still in his pajamas, not even wearing slippers or socks. He wasn’t trying to sneak out, at least. Kait takes one final drag before stubbing the cigarette into the ashtray on the garden table, “thanks, Cole.”

 

“Course.” Cole gives her a smile, waiting for the door to close before he turns to make sure she’s gone upstairs via a sight to the front vestibule through the kitchen window. He exhales a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding, “alright, Gwennie.”

 

Walking into the back garden a bit more, Guinevere looks down at her cousin, “how did you know I was standing there?”

 

“Your shadow from the street lights.” He mumbles, looking over at her. Cole sees the mussed state of her hair and her ripped fishnet stockings. He isn’t really sure what to make of her appearance, honestly. “Well, did you have fun?”

 

“It was an experience that I’ll never forget.” Gwen beams, exhaling as she leans her head back. She does a quick, excited spin. “They invited me out tomorrow night...and the night after that and after that.”

 

“Quiet down.” Cole shakes his head, “or you’ll give yourself up, you muppet.” He exhales slowly, “do you really think it’s a good idea to go out tomorrow night? We have school the day after.”

 

“You only live once, Wolfeboy.” Guinevere shakes her head, “and you’re wasting it. You’re doing your...internet thing, making money from that, but...is that really what you want to do? Is that how you see your life?” She takes a seat next to him, “wouldn’t you rather have experiences than just...shuffle through day after day? Wouldn’t you rather experience music as you have never heard it or...meet the most interesting people you could ever lay eyes on with the most...bizarre names and clothing...”

 

“How do you know what was real and what was because you were blazed out of your mind?” Cole keeps a straight face, no smiling, no show of interest. “Vinnie hasn’t been feeling well, so she’s sleeping with Mum and Kait. I left your clothes on the bed in her room.” He’s glad when Alfie finally does his business.

 

“Cole, come on.” Gwen shakes her head when he stands, furrowing her brow, “what, do you think you’re better than me? You and your web show and money? You and-”

 

“Watch yourself.” Cole glares, “one word from me and all of your bullshit is over.” He gets up from the lounge chair, glad when Alfie seems to be at his side, “he’s too old for you...and you know that. My Mum’s girlfriend is a bloody detective, not to mention our Grands are-”

 

“Go ahead and snitch. We both know you wouldn’t.” Gwen starts to laugh a tad, “we both know you’ll stay silent because that means you wouldn’t have any friends.” She folds her arms, “you’d be alone and-”

 

“I’d rather be alone with no friends than have you dead.” Cole shakes his head, watching as she seems taken aback, “I’d rather you never speak to me again if it means you’re safe, you selfish fucking bitch.” He gives her one last look before finally going into the house.

 

Bernie Wolfe raises an eyebrow, watching her grandchildren when she was certain she heard yelling coming from the back garden. Loud enough for it to come through the glass of the windows. They seem angry at one another. Giving a quick glance to the bed, containing her wife.

 

Raising an eyebrow, Serena Wolfe watches her wife as the woman hovers near the windows, watching through the blinds. “Come to bed, Berenice,” she mumbles groggily, her voice deep with sleep, “you aren’t the neighborhood watch.”

 

“I could be.” Bernie replies cheekily, being unable to sleep herself. Her dreams consumed with finding her daughter in the bathtub and finding her daughter tied to a chair, both drenched in the young woman’s own blood. Both finding her too late. Always. This time, however, she knows she must have woken her wife a tad by climbing out of bed. “Sorry,” Bernie whispers, doing as told as she carefully climbs back under the covers on her side of the bed.

 

“Who was that shouting in the garden?” Serena instinctively wraps her arm around her wife, more than happy to become entangled in the blonde’s limbs. “They had better not be shouting at that sweet dog.”

 

Bernie knows exactly what she saw. She saw Guinevere looking as if she was returning from a bender and Cole giving her a verbal beating. “Nope, no shouting at the dog.” She begins to ponder whether or not telling Serena would be the best idea.

 

Her wife’s vague response only makes Serena more curious. She opens both eyes, gazing toward Bernie’s profile, lit perfectly in the pale moonlight, “well, if it wasn’t yelling at the dog, who then?”

 

“Seems Guinevere is following in her aunt’s footsteps by sneaking out of the house at night.” Bernie thinks of the story from her daughter’s book of when she had caught her attempting to sneak back into the house after her first shag, only slightly younger than Guinevere is right now. “Cole, though her usual partner in crime and I have no doubt she thought he would be tonight as well, let her have it.”

 

“And woke the neighbors in the process.” Serena sighs, rolling onto her back to look at the ceiling. “You know, I only ever caught Elinor once.” She smiles fondly at the memory, “I knew she was going out, but I couldn’t decipher her method. I’d search her room too early or too late.”

 

“How did you end up catching her?” Bernie actually really loves it when Serena brings up Elinor, little snippets of what would have been another member of the family they’ve created.

 

“Do you remember black salve?” When Serena says it, she notices a confused expression on Bernie’s face, “it’s used as a topical in order to draw out boils and...some pretended it was a treatment to skin cancer, but...it wore away their skin.” She explains, “my mother, when I was a child, used to swear by it...for everything. It was either that or iodine depending on the size of the wound or...whatever have you.” Serena begins to smirk, “I put it all over her window sill, that way I’d either hear her complaining or I’d hear the faucet in the toilet.”

 

“Brilliant.” Bernie turns to her side in order to face her wife, grinning with delight.

 

“I won’t deny having a good...cackle as she stood at the sink, scrubbing furiously.” Serena sighs softly, her mind falling back onto the grandchildren, “I don’t like that Cole lied to us for Guinevere.”

 

“Did you think he’d do otherwise?” Bernie licks her lips, “partners in crime, remember? He’d only tell us the truth if he needed to, I reckon. Such as if she was...in an unsafe situation.” She pauses, her hand tucked under her pillow, “and he wouldn’t tell us then, he’d tell Kait.”

 

“Kait?” Serena furrows her brow, glancing over to her wife, “you think so?”

 

“Impartial, familiar with situations such as...” Bernie pauses, knowing the thought might hurt her wife, “such as drug-addled teens...”

 

“Guinevere may remind me of Elinor a great deal, but her circumstances are different.” Serena shakes her head, “Jason and Greta are brilliant parents who are present for their daughter, not to mention how we’ve drilled into all of the grandchildren that drug use isn’t ever the answer.”

 

“Sometimes there isn’t a question to require an answer though, Campbell.” Bernie replies simply, sadly, “sometimes it’s genetics, sometimes it’s mental illness, sometimes it’s forced, sometimes...it’s just wanting to experience something different.” She licks her lips, “when Cameron was just starting medical school for the very first time, he made some stupid decisions, including drug use...though he may still deny it to this day, a mother knows.” Bernie smirks weakly to herself, “children, no matter how old they become and what lessons they were taught by others around them, need to learn from their own mistakes.”

 

“I know.” Serena whispers, turning back to her side to face Bernie, looking into her shadow veiled eyes, “doesn’t stop the worry.”

 

“No, it doesn’t.” Bernie leans in, pressing a soft kiss to Serena’s lips, “but it does give us time to prepare for the fallout...no matter when it might occur.”

 

“Guinevere is...” Serena moves closer to her wife, feeling when Bernie finally wraps her arms around her torso, “she’s so much like Elinor. So curious, so driven, so stubborn. I think that’s what worries me most.”

 

“I doubt we’ll achieve anything from it, but we can talk to her about it tomorrow.” Bernie pauses, “to Gwen and Cole both.” Feeling Serena’s nod against her chest, Bernie knows how hard this is for her to suspect, but her instincts are rarely ever wrong.

Chapter Text

“Okay, okay.” Charlie mumbles, her daughter nestled up against her. Lavinia starts to nurse from her mother’s breast, something she just didn’t really do anymore. Charlotte would usually pump her milk and give it to her daughter in a toddler cup with a sipping spout, especially as the girl grew. She didn’t want to be one of those helicopter mothers who was still breastfeeding an eight-year-old Lavinia who just needed a break from running around the playground and needed a drink.

 

However, with Lavinia feeling a bit poorly through the night and day previous, Charlotte was happy to oblige her. “I know you aren’t feeling well, Vin. I know. We’ll talk to the Grands about it later.” She runs her shortened nails through the wispy brunette hair on the girl’s head. Charlotte lifts her head when she notices her girlfriend entering the room once more, extra mug of coffee in her hand, “you’re a godsend.”

 

“Well, I would have skipped the milk if I knew you were supplying.” Kait places Charlotte’s mug onto her bedside table before moving back to her own side. “Did you manage any real sleep?”

 

“She was just clingy and whiny. Leaving the telly on, with the shapes and classical music thing that she likes, helped keep her calm enough that I was able to catch a few winks. Reckon she even got some sleep herself. She always falls asleep with that music.” Char smiles softly to her girlfriend, “and now she wants to feed and...how can I deny that?”

 

Kait smirks a little, “you’re a pushover.”

 

“When it comes to the kids...I suppose so.” Charlotte nods, glancing over to her girlfriend, “what about you? How did you sleep?”

 

“Same as usual.” Kait shrugs, not much. “Restless for the majority, but the books and DVDs are organized downstairs.” She pauses, “I put away the dishes and-”

 

“Christ, you do more at night than I do during the day.” Char mumbles, stroking Lavinia’s hair still.

 

“You make ridiculously delicious meals every night, teach Lane during the day, and chase after Vin as well. Not to mention all that you do with Owen. I’d say those things are way more important than organizing media and putting away the dishes.” Kait gently reaches over to softly run her knuckle against Lavinia’s chubby leg, almost absently. “If I could do more, I would.”

 

“Such as?” Charlotte looks down to her daughter’s face, an appearance of comfort washing over the baby, “I”ll need to pump the other to...even them out if she falls asleep.” She glances over to Kait, needing her to understand her point, “You’re a brilliant detective and a fantastic partner. What more can I ask of you?” Reaching to a small basket in the lower portion of her bedside table, she removes her electric breast pump, something she uses every morning just to keep her daughter satiated during the day.

 

“I want to help you more. I...” Kait shrugs to herself, “I love being a detective, but I don’t like that it sometimes comes with long hours.”

 

“Long hours and not dangerous circumstances?” Char raises an eyebrow with an amused smirk, “I’m not a fan of either, but less a fan of the danger than the hours.” She raises a hand, tucking the portion of hair fallen from the tie to behind her ear, “is your sister coming over this weekend?”

 

Shaking her head negatively, Kait absently watches Lavinia as she continues to feed, "Lily and her group are heading to France overnight. She’s promised to video conference with us while she’s there, but only when she’s safe...or else she’d try to do so on top of the Eiffel Tower and drop her mobile.”

 

“She has a protective case, doesn’t she?” Char teases, reaching over to her coffee and carefully taking a sip. When Lavinia reaches over in order to just place her hand on Kait’s arm, Charlotte smiles softly.

 

Kait reaches over, gently stroking the babe’s hair, the space between them falling comfortably quiet, “you know...I never saw myself as a maternal type.” Kait sees the baby smile from behind Charlotte’s breast, “and then...I met you and...I want nothing more than to play an active role in this sweet girl’s life.” She pauses, “and the boys...you’ve done an amazing job with them.”

 

“Thank you, but I feel like I’ve only ever just given them complexes to speak to their therapists about.” Char hums a soft sound of amusement then glances over to her girlfriend, “I think you’re mad, quite honestly.”

 

“Mad for you, maybe.” Kait raises an eyebrow, “you mean because of the kids?” When Char nods a little, Kait continues, “it’s really not as big of a deal as you think it is. Cole is autonomous. Lane is as well, for the most part. Might need the occasional hand, but he’s up on what he needs to do. Owen loves to give me tours of the house I’ve lived in for months now.”

 

Char smiles to herself, “he thinks you’re still a guest.” She gently covers herself up when Lavinia detaches from her breast, deciding to climb over to Kait, “you just have to learn to either give him something to do or redirect his energy.” Char nods, “you’ll learn if you let yourself.”

 

“You think so?” Kait asks honestly, truly wanting to make a good impression on all of her partner’s children. Though they’ve been together in a romantic sense for nearly a year, everything still seems new to her. “I just...I know I’m not a parent, but...I want to do right by them.” She pauses, “I want them to know that if they ever need anything, they’re more than welcome to come to me for it.” She holds Lavinia tenderly, the girl easily melting into her.

 

“So tell them that.” Charlotte shrugs a little, reaching down to the basket beside her bedside table, obtaining the breast pump and bag to capture the milk of her other breast. “Children are brilliant and annoying. They’re complicated and fascinating.” She exposes her other breast before placing the electric pump onto it and pressing the button, thankful that it's relatively quiet. Luckily, it isn’t terribly loud. “Thing I’ve learned after having a bunch of them is that they usually know more than we could ever imagine, completely aware of their surroundings.”

 

“I know it. Your eldest is shaping up to be a Hardy Boy.” Kait laughs a little to herself, then notices Charlotte’s confused expression, realizing she doesn’t understand the reference, “age gap. I forgot, sorry.”

 

Charlotte hums her approval, “you have a young thing for a girlfriend.” She raises a mischievous eyebrow, “by dating you, does that mean I’m-”

 

Kait continues to cuddle Lavinia, rubbing her back, “If you’re about to make a pensioner joke, I’m telling your parents.” 

 

“You’re only a few years younger than them, but it’s still bizarre how much the three of you get along.” Charlotte inhales and exhales slowly, “I bet you’d have gotten along well with my Dad if we had more time.” Since his death, she’s thought of the man constantly, especially since she was with him for his final breath.

 

Using her free arm, Kait gently wraps it around her partner’s upper back. “I probably would have...I have a dazzling personality.” When she hears her partner start to laugh to herself, Kait knows she’s done her job. She leans over, pressing a kiss to Char’s temple, “and an equally dazzling girlfriend.”

Chapter Text

Cole carries his laptop bag over to his grandmothers’ house, letting himself in through the back door, leading directly to the kitchen. He sees his grandmother sitting there, nursing a mug of coffee in one hand and a book with the other. “Hi, Nan.”

 

“Cole, good morning.” Serena offers him a smile, letting go of her mug to wrap an arm around him when he moves closer to kiss her cheek. “Did you sleep well?” She studies him a bit, seeing something behind his eyes, something stressing him. After the argument he had the night before, she knows it’s probably the culprit.

 

“Uh...not really.” Cole clears his throat, shaking his head to the side to sweep his hair from his eyes. His voice had begun to deepen over the summer and he’s still getting used to it, “is it okay if I stay here for a bit?” Think of a reason. “I just...I haven’t really been feeling like myself and I don’t exactly want to be over Mum’s if I have one of my headaches. Especially since I haven’t had one in a while and it would probably-”

 

“Of course, darling. You know you never need to ask.” Serena interrupts him before she gently reaches up, pushing hair from his eyes again, “you need a haircut.” She pauses, “unless you’re growing this out like Owen does with his. Entirely up to you, of course.” Her tone teases a bit, knowing full well that the only reason Owen’s hair is long is because of his sensory issues and inability to sit still long enough.

 

“I know. Kait was talking about going together, but then she got busy with work or something.” Cole shakes his head, “I’ll ask her again...unless, do you think you or Gran can take me?” He bites the corner of his mouth, not really keen on asking his grandmothers for anything since they always do so much for him, “or I can get a ride share instead, I don’t mind.”

 

“No, I’d love to take you.” Serena offers, “your Gran is usually the one to handle that, at least she used to be until Kait had taken you and Lane while everyone was sidetracked when Marcus was...” She doesn’t want to finish, not wanting to reference the boy’s grandfather, and certainly not during the man’s hospital stay. Serena clears her throat, “maybe you and I can...have lunch or something after.”

 

Cole smiles a little, “I’d like that, Nan.”

 

Bernie stands aside as her grandson walks past her, offering only a cordial smile. She watches as he retreats up the stairs, probably to his room in their house. She walks the rest of the way into the kitchen, seeing her wife at her normal morning post, on a stool at the kitchen island with a mug of coffee and a book. “What’s gotten into him?”

 

“Good morning to you as well.” Serena doesn’t need to glance over, receiving the kiss from the woman on top of her head once she walks closer, “and Cole...I couldn’t tell you. Something is definitely bothering him though.” She sighs, knowing she isn’t going to be able to read anything while being interrupted so often by her loved ones, she slides her bookmark between the pages. A bookmark she received from a toddler aged Cole for Grandparents’ Day, it’s tattered and worn. She’s attempted to repair it multiple times with tape, but not much remains.

 

“Why do you say that?” Bernie rounds the kitchen island, noticing a pot of coffee resting on the counter top near the stove. Her movements are something she does every single day.

 

“Why ask questions while you’re still half asleep?” Serena closes the book before folding her arms over top of the island counter, “it has something to do with Guinevere and that...ruckus we heard in the back garden last night. Guaranteed.”

 

Bernie nods a little, finishing filling her mug. She turns to look at her wife, leaning her back against the counter as she holds her mug to warm her hands, “leads one to think that someone had sneaked out under the cover of night and was coming home at the time.”

 

“Yes, but which one?” Serena raises her brow, taking a sip of her coffee as she watches her wife through the tops of her eyes, “I can’t see either of them doing anything like that.”

 

“Begs the question, does Cole believe he’ll be able to escape from here easier than he would be at home, or is he frustrated by Gwen taking advantage of the situation?” Bernie tilts her head to the side, “I mean, we were only truly told bits and pieces from her as to why she was moving in. Yes, it was easier for Jason and Greta to maintain the schedules they developed over the summer and even before that, but...I always felt there must have been something else there.”

 

Serena nods a little, agreeing that Bernie’s theory makes sense, “what’s on your mind?”

 

“Jason had issues last year and we know how much they hurt Guinevere emotionally, same with Greta, but don’t feel like Gwennie has ever truly forgiven him for it.” Bernie shakes her head, “at least it doesn’t seem that way.” She lifts her mug of coffee to her lips, taking a sip of the hot liquid. Just how she likes it. It allows Bernit to formulate her next words, “because of that, it wouldn’t be far out of the realm of possibility for her to be acting out.”

 

“But...how wouldn’t Charlotte or Kait see that?” Serena shakes her head negatively, furrowing her brow as her eyes focus more on her wife, “how wouldn’t they see Guinevere sneaking out at night or...acting a certain way in the morning?” She pauses, the idea finally dawning on her, “Cole is protecting her.”

 

Bernie taps the side of her nose with her index finger, signalling that Serena was completely correct. “We’re certainly aware of their ‘partners-in-crime’ mentality between the pair, exactly how things have been since they were small.”

 

“So...Guinevere is going out at night and Cole is covering for her, but...where is she going?” Serena sits up a bit straighter, biting her lip a moment before continuing, “is she...taking things that she shouldn’t? Is she drinking?” She shakes her head a little, “I had promised to take her to France to show her where my mother’s side of the family comes from, as well as her first drink, but I was waiting until she was on break from school for a few days.”

 

“I think we should prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.” Bernie nods slowly, lifting her mug to take another sip of coffee, “and not jump to any conclusions until we speak to her.”

 

“Last thing we would want is to push her away.” Serena replies quietly, exhaling slowly, “goodness, Bernie, what if-”

 

“We can’t think that way.” Bernie sets her mug onto the counter behind her before rounding the island, wrapping an arm around her wife as she leans in, pressing a kiss against Serena’s temple. She remains close as she continues speaking, “she was supposed to stay here and I think that was for a reason, but we showed her our trust. At the time, she gave us no reason to ever doubt her, but she’s also a teenager. We both know, very well, that teenagers are mad creatures.” 

 

Serena ruefully smiles to herself, “that we do.”

 

Bernie stands upright again, “I’ll go and speak with him, but you need to try to relax. We don’t know anything for certain yet and-”

 

“I’d love nothing more than to be wrong in this instance.” Serena mumbles softly, her eyes staring at the dark, swirling liquid in her mug. Lifting her mug to her mouth for another sip of her coffee, the only thing that fills her mind are worst case scenarios.

 

Sweeping her hand across her wife’s shoulders as she slowly leaves the kitchen again, Bernie sighs softly to herself as she reaches the hallway. She glances to the top of the stairs before starting to climb them. Bernie could feel herself starting to slow down. Something that terrified her and she promised herself she would never allow it to happen long ago. Probably the main reason why Bernie always traveled so often. Since that all ended, for the most part, with the birth of her grandson and realizing how much she was needed.

 

Why am I thinking about this now? Bernie climbs the stairs, deciding she needs to be more diligent in exorcising again. Remembering the jogs every morning she used to do with her daughter that tapered off after Charlotte’s recent hospital stays. Bernie licks her lips as she reaches her grandson’s bedroom, a room the boy has kept at their house since his birth, and knocks on the door frame. The door is open, but she still likes to ask for permission.

 

“Yeah, Gran, come in.” Cole responds, not needing to look over to know that it’s her. He lounges against the headboard of his bed, his laptop resting on the comforters as his fingers expertly glide across the touch pad.

 

Bernie smiles to herself a little as she takes a few steps inside, turning her head to look up at the teenager, “how did you know it was me?”

 

“You and Nan have different gaits...and different knocks. If she notices my door open, she’ll usually just walk in.” Cole offers his grandmother a smile, closing the lid of his laptop. He can tell she wants to talk to him. “I um...I think I’m...” He sighs a little, “I think I’m just going to stay here full time again. Like I used to do, remember?”

 

“Yes, darling, and you always know you’re welcome because this is your home just as much as your actual...home, but why?” Bernie takes a few steps closer, taking a seat at the foot of the bed, “is everything okay?”

 

“Do you honestly want to know the answer to that question?” Cole asks quietly, his red clay colored orbs meeting the inherited ones at the end of the bed, “Gran, I...” He swallows, “I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone. I can’t break that promise.” He draws his lower lip into his mouth, unable to convey just how difficult this was for him, especially keeping something from his grandmothers.

 

Bernie nods a little, understanding his desire to keep his promise, something she can respect, “if things become dangerous-”

 

Cole is well aware of his missteps in playing with dangerous situations over the years, “I know, Gran. I...I won’t let it get that far.” He swallows, his eyes turning glassy, “I just need to stay here.” He needs to stay away from Guinevere. That he knows. Cole crawls closer to his Gran, just needing to be closer to her in proximity. 

 

Reaching over and placing an affectionate hand on his knee, Bernie turns her head to look at the teen, “of course.” She continues to just look over his features, amused by how much he’s starting to look like Cameron at that age. “Do you have enough of your things here?”

 

“I need to fetch my kit for school, but...I think so. For right now, at least.” Cole nods, “um...do you mind if I stream our lives and stuff? Maybe...stories from when you and Nan were younger?” He pauses, “how you met and...and stuff like that?”

 

“I don’t think we’re that interesting, but...it’s fine with me, if that’s what you really want. You’ll need to speak with Nan though, obtain her permission.” Bernie hums a soft chuckle, “your mother said something about television producers contacting her again, so you may have some stiff competition.”

 

“It isn’t a competition if there is no contest.” Cole begins to give a cheeky smirk, only causing his Gran to laugh.

Chapter Text

Serena lets herself into the back garden door of Charlotte’s home, noticing the space relatively dark with exception for the morning light. It wasn’t much. Usually the space is bustling this time of the morning, even on days where the children didn’t have school. However, the space is only filled with the sound of the video of classical music and soothing pictures and video, Serena knows it quite well.

 

Moving in a bit more, she’s met with the family dog, which Serena gives a soft smile to, “is everyone still asleep, Alfie?” It’s almost as if the dog wants to lead her elsewhere, spinning in place and waiting to make sure she follows before walking to the vestibule. “Okay, yes. Show me.” Serena has never been very good with dogs, probably the reason she’s never given Bernie a straight answer about getting a dog. She probably wouldn’t mind a pet as long as it was a cat or a smaller dog, but knowing Bernie, she’d want something larger. Something she could jog with in the mornings and take with her on adventures. Serena smiles softly to herself, thinking of how happy her wife would be if she were surprised with their own dog instead of borrowing Alfie from time to time.

 

Seeing the dog spin just outside the gate in front of the living room, Serena knows he wants to go inside the room and gently opens the gate, the same one she has within her own home for when the younger grandchildren are over. She gingerly sets it against the wall as she moves into the room, noticing Lavinia tiredly chewing on a teething ring as she sits up on her mother’s abdomen, watching the classical music and swirling water videos on television. Earning a broad smile from the babe, Serena moves closer, gently lifting her into her arms, “were you keeping your Mummy up through the night?” Her voice is hushed, not wishing to wake her stepdaughter, “or maybe it was Kait and Mummy brought you down here.” She gently carries the babe from the room, noticing the dog following with curiosity, causing Lavinia to give the pup a broad smile. “You look tired as well, darling. If I’m being completely honest.”

 

There was a closeness between Lavinia and Serena, ever since the baby was born. Something Serena couldn’t pinpoint or give cause for, but something she was pleased as punch to give into. It’s funny to her, though, that Lavinia and Lane always come to her, while Charlotte’s other two always favor Bernie. Moving back into the vestibule and up the stairs with the girl in her arm, she notices Owen’s bedroom door open with the gate still in place, but Kait sitting inside, playing with his blocks with him. “Good morning, Ms. Warne.”

 

Kait, hearing the other woman’s voice, glances over and offers a smile, “same to you, Mrs. Wolfe.” She glances at Owen, then back to the woman, “I’d get up, but...I’d rather not anger someone.” Kait shrugs, “he uh...he had an accident this morning. Didn’t open the gate in time. Not his fault in the slightest.” She smiles a little, seeing how delicate Owen seems to be with the blocks. “How is Vinnie? She’s been unwell. Fussing, fever, occasional vomiting...”

 

“Seems perfectly fine thus far.” Serena glances over to her granddaughter in her arm, “is that why Charlotte was on the sofa in the lounge?”

 

“Probably. She’s been worried about waking me while the baby’s been ill. I told her it didn’t matter. I...I keep bizarre hours anyway. No reason to...push herself when I can take care of the baby.” Kait huffs a soft chuckle, “but you know how Charlie is. Needs to take care of everything herself or else she feels inadequate.”

 

“I know it very well. Apples don’t fall far.” Serena shakes her head, “I wanted to...have a quick chat with Guinevere and then I’ll give Lavinia a proper once over.”

 

“She went out last night. Charlie doesn’t know, but I could see her shadow in the street lamps when she was returning.” Kait offers, “I’m sure she’s a smart girl with a good head on her shoulders, but...no good ever comes from partying that late. Even on a weekend. We’ve all been there.”

 

“More than once.” Serena mutters before realizing she didn’t keep the thought internally, “I’ll leave you to it.” She doesn’t give Kait any time to respond before moving over to Lavinia’s room, carefully opening the door. Serena knew very well that Guinevere would sleep in the daybed located in the baby’s room, allowing her to have a bit of privacy as well as spending time with her cousin. She doesn’t knock on the door or anything, not believing she needs to since it wasn’t technically the teenager’s room. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Serena looks at the girl’s face, the way her thick mascara is crusted on her eyelashes and her magenta lipstick smudged. She inhales deeply, reaching over to stroke Guinevere’s cheek, the other securely holding Lavinia on her knee, the baby leaning against her.

 

Gwen groans, turning her face away from Serena’s hand and the sunlight illuminating the room. Her arm moving over her face to cover her own eyes. “It’s too early. Lane, can’t you just get a hobby or something?”

 

“He’s staying over to your Uncle Cameron’s for the weekend. Hadn’t stopped talking about it for over a week, but you’d probably remember that if you weren’t so hungover.” Serena notices the girl’s subtle startling flinch at the sound of her voice, causing her to smirk. “Good morning, darling.”

 

Removing her arm a bit, Guinevere looks to her Nan, “I’m not hungover. Just tired.” Maybe that would be believable enough. She hadn’t a drop to drink. Not that she remembers anyway. It wasn’t really a hangover. “I’m sure Cole told you all about it.”

 

“Not once, but we heard the pair of you from our bedroom window.” Serena reaches a hand up, stroking the teenager’s hair gently. She really does remind her so much of her Elinor, especially at this age. Elinor Campbell was her mother’s spitting image and Serena was the spitting image of her father, neither Guinevere or Jason were of any relation to George McKinnie. There shouldn’t really be any reason for Guinevere to look like Elinor. “Is there anything you need?” She knows there’s no use being angry with the teenager, but is also very aware that she shouldn’t encourage the behavior either. “Breakfast or...tea?”

 

“I’m just really tired, Nan.” Guinevere can see the disappointment in her grandmother’s eyes, absently reaching a hand over to stroke Lavinia’s leg. She wants to cry, she wants to apologize, but they wouldn’t be genuine. Gwen had an amazing time the night before with her new friends. She was able to feel everything. Every beat of the music, every ray of light as it swirled around the large warehouse, every emotion. It was amazing.

 

“Well, I hope you’ve got your fill. At least for a while.” Serena offers a closed mouth smile, “just promise me that you won’t do anything that would otherwise get you in trouble.”

 

“Nan-”

 

“Guinevere, promise me.”

 

Gwen exhales slowly, watching her grandmother, “like what?” She shrugs a little, “I’m not even in Uni, there’s hardly anything I’m able to do. Not able to get into good places or drink or anything else.” Gwen watches her Nan’s face, “you promised to take me to France for my sixteenth birthday, but that’s come and gone. Here we stay.” She shrugs dramatically, “Cole gets whatever he wants and it’s always broken promises with me.”

 

“Now, that isn’t fair.” Serena shakes her head, “you know of the events that were occurring during said birthday. Our family was in mourning.”

 

“There’s always something.” Guinevere scoffs, still stroking Lavinia’s leg, “like, Vin’s been sick for like...days or whatever and you haven’t even-”

 

“No one told me.” Serena watches the young woman, “what does that have to do with you?”

 

“Because I’m tired of you overreacting. I had fun, Nan. That’s it. I went with my friends and we danced. End of story.” Gwen shakes her head, “the real issue is Vin not feeling well. I don’t even care about France.” She did, she really did.

 

Serena exhales slowly, “You wouldn’t have brought it up.” When she’s met with silence, Serena thinks for a moment, speaking again, “so, plan us a holiday. Something short...long weekend, maybe. Just us, if you want. If you’d also like Gran to go as well, that’s your decision. I won’t be upset either way and I highly doubt she would either.”

 

“Are you just...leading me on?”

 

“Of course not.” Serena furrows her brow, “it’s just a matter of waiting until you have an extended weekend or something of the like. I’d rather savor our time and not need to...rush through things.” She licks her lips in thought, “the very last thing I wish to do is give you any inclination that I care less about you than any other of your cousins. I need you to know that.” Serena offers a weak smile, “we could sight see, visit places you wish...that sort of thing. It isn’t something we need to do over the course of a single weekend, of course, something that can be spread through. We can visit multiple times...or other places.” She offers, “I’d love to...to travel with you, if you wish.”

 

Guinevere continues to look at her pseudo grandmother with a distrusting gaze. She’d love to travel with her Nan, of course, it’s something she’s always wanted ever since she was a young girl after hearing of her grandparents' escapades. However, there was something that was holding the teenage Guinevere’s attention at the moment and she isn’t too sure if traveling will quite quench her thirst the way spending time with her new friends does. “I don’t know.” The words escape her lips quietly and it pains Gwen to even say them, but she feels as if she must and she doesn’t know the reason. Finally pulling her arm back, Guinevere continues, “I’m just...going to rest a bit more, if that’s alright. Maybe...get dressed and go for a walk or something once I feel ready.” She pauses again, her eyes shifting to glance to Lavinia, then Serena, “we can go together, if you want. Just...not yet.”

 

Serena nods, offering a soft smile. Disappointed slightly, but pleased to make the slightest bit of leeway. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Chapter Text

Coughing, Charlotte curls up on the sofa a bit, realizing she’s been covered in a soft knitted throw blanket. She shivers slightly, opening her eyes. Char feels like she is being watched and she is correct. Her eyes open slightly, seeing her son standing not far from her, “Owen...”

 

Owen groans a little in his generally non-verbal way, signing with his hands in order to communicate, “hungry. Yogurt, please.” He pauses, “and fruit. Yogurt and fruit, please.” He signs the words over and over again when she doesn’t immediately get up, starting to pace.

 

“Give me...” Charlotte closes her eyes a moment, headache striking her the moment she starts to push herself up. She realizes Lavinia isn’t lying with her and isn’t anywhere in sight. Everything just seems...hazy and heavy. “Owen, where’s Vin?” Char’s voice is more horse than she thought it would be, “why does my head hurt?”

 

“Owen, I thought I told you to leave your mother alone.” Kait sighs softly, entering the living room when she hears her partner say the boy’s name. She glances at her partner, giving a rueful smile, “Serena stole Lavinia...and we both think you might have whatever it was that Vin had.”

 

Char lies back down, putting her head on the throw pillow against the arm of the sofa, “what gave you that idea?”

 

“You were shivering...and moaning a little in your sleep.” Kait nods a little, touching Owen’s arm to garner his attention as she meets his eyes. “Head to the kitchen. I’ll be there in a moment to get you something to eat.” She watches as the teenager walks briskly in the direction of the other room before leaning down to press a kiss against Charlotte’s forehead. “You’re feverish.”

 

“No, no, no. I can’t be sick.” Char brings her arm up to cover her eyes, “I have to get lesson plans in order for when Laney returns home from Cam’s, help with Owen, and my publisher wants me to do some morning telly again. Which...I’m not terribly fond of, but I’ll do it...maybe if you’re able to go.”

 

“It wouldn’t be the first time you were on morning telly.” Kait shakes her head, “but you don’t need to worry about that right now. I imagine it isn’t going to be in the next few days or else you would have told me.” She stands, bending her arm to flex her bicep muscle, “nothing I can’t handle for you and I’ll let the Grands know, maybe they’ll be willing to keep Vin until you’re well. I reckon I got Owen.” Kait flashes a smile, a part of her wanting to show her partner that she’s prepared and able to tend to the boy.

 

“You aren’t able to have him every day. You have work.” Char lowers her arm, coughing into her elbow before placing it over her eyes again with a soft moan.

 

“I said I’ll take care of things, Charlie. Head up to bed.” Kait starts to walk toward the doorway, turning to look at her partner, “I promise. You’ve nothing to worry about.” Her tone is confident even though she doesn’t feel that way, “or, if you aren’t feeling well enough to do that, I can get Owen bundled up and we can head to the park or something.”

 

“It’s too cold and he’ll never let you leave.” Charlie slowly pushes herself up to sitting, groaning softly as she does so. She isn’t sure if the groan is instinctual because of age or because of illness. Charlotte always thought herself to be rather spry at her age, thirty-eight with four children. They keep her young, but maybe it’s actually the opposite. “I’m going, Kaitie. You don’t need to watch me.”

 

“I feel like I do.” Kait exhales softly, moving back over to her partner. When her girlfriend holds up a hand to stop her, Kait pauses, but continues to look at Charlotte, “Charlie...”

 

“I don’t...” She shakes her head a little, “I don’t like being sick.” Charlotte looks forward, toward the ground as she clears her throat before absently wincing, though is unsure if it’s because of the sound or the feeling. “I don’t like people waiting on me, I don’t like being coddled...” Her eyes are glassy, but it’s uncertain if it’s because of illness or just feeling genuine guilt over being sick. “I’m a mother. I need to tend to my children.”

 

“And you do.” Kait slowly takes a knee in front of her girlfriend, “but there comes a time where you need to tend to yourself...and let your partner take the reins.” She watches Charlotte’s face, “okay?”

 

Charlotte nods a little, knowing this isn’t an argument she’s going to win, nor does she have the energy to argue against. “I’ll phone Maman to see if they’d be willing to tend to Vin for a few days.” She focuses on her breathing, just trying to keep herself from getting upset, “and Gwen...will you make enough for her, whatever food you’re about to-”

 

“I’ll make you toast and I’ll take care of the rest of us.” Kait gives a single nod, “now, upstairs with you.”

 

Exhaling slowly, Char pushes up off of the sofa, keeping the throw blanket in her hands, she lifts it to wrap around her shoulders. “You’d better help Owen before he starts raiding the fridge.” She hears a soft laugh escape her girlfriend’s lips as she makes her way to the stairs, slowly ascending them.

 

Gwen stands in the hall, seeing her aunt’s pale form reaching the top of the stairs. A part of her wants to just race back into Lavinia’s room to hide, but her better angels win. “Are you unwell, Auntie Char?”

 

Humming softly when she hears her niece’s question, Char nods a little, “unfortunately, but if you need anything, Kait’s downstairs.” She yawns, pausing in her shuffling toward the master bedroom as she does so. “Are you okay, Gwen?”

 

“I’m...” Gwen nods, swallowing at the same time. “I’m fine. You’re the one that’s sick.” Her joint with her Nan, combined with seeing her aunt poorly, helping her understand that her actions were selfish. Especially given her aunt’s good natured offer to take her in and transport her to and from school. Guinevere’s Aunt Charlotte even showed disbelief with the explanation that she was out of control within her own home. Something Gwen was always thankful for.

 

“Vinnie’s still not feeling well, so...” Charlotte shrugs, flashing a weak smile, “your Nan kidnapped her and stole her away to the Grands. I need to phone them to see if they’d be willing to keep her for a few days and if there’s anything they need from here for her.”

 

“If they do, I can run them over.” Gwen gives a soft smile, moving closer to her aunt to wrap an arm around her, gilding her toward the master bedroom, knowing the woman would have continued conversing with her instead of taking care of herself. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you actually sick...other than when you were pregnant.”

 

“Well, I reckon it’s a safe bet that isn’t the case.” Charlotte smirks, amused, “no, I always try to keep hydrated and fit...all of that stuff.” She clears her throat, letting Gwen walk her along, “but sometimes it just happens. When Cole began school, it definitely happened then.” Char nods, finally taking a seat on the edge of the bed, “Children are little germ factories.”

 

“Why do you say that?” Gwen moves around the room, amused, trying to get the space to be comfortable enough for her aunt.

 

“They talk to other children. They share lollies and wipe their running mucus on their shirt sleeves...if you’re lucky. They share cups and they touch everything and think nothing of it, nor are they washing their hands as much as they should throughout the day.” Charlotte explains, “then they come home with all these other germs of the children in their class and do the same at home. As their parent, as their mother, you want to cuddle them and kiss their heads. You’re exposed to these same germs that the children have grown familiar with and built an immunity of, making you sick.”

 

Gwen nods, pulling the covers of the bed down before adjusting Charlotte’s pillows before helping her gently lie back, “Interesting theory.”

 

“Not just a theory. It’s a fact. Ask your Grands.” Charlotte moans softly when her head hits the pillow, closing her eyes a moment before opening them to look at Guinevere, “you know...I thought when you decided to stay here, I thought it would give us the opportunity to spend more time together, even if that meant taking Vin along while we went shopping or...whatever have you.” Charlotte can hardly keep her eyes open at this point, feeling the teenager slowly pulling the covers over top of her lower half. “I’m sorry that hasn’t seemed to be the case.”

 

“It’s only been like...a bit over a month, Aunt Char. Don’t you think you’re being hard on yourself?” Gwen smiles a little to herself, always regarding her pseudo-aunt highly. Sometimes even regarding her as an inspiration to her writing career, along with her Aunt Elinor, a woman who died before her birth.

 

“No, you all deserve better.” Replying through a yawn, Char pulls the throw blanket, still draped over her shoulders, around herself more. “All of my kids.”

 

Watching as her aunt slowly falls asleep, Guinevere realizes her aunt is including her with the comment about her children. She swallows, feeling she needs to take or do something to numb this feeling. Gwen doesn’t know if it’s disappointment for not actually being one of her aunt’s children or not wanting to be the child of her own parents. All Guinevere knows is that this feeling needs to go away...and fast.

Chapter Text

“Nan, did you want me to get the Christmas things out for you?” Cole offers with a smile, “I can start putting them up for you, if you want.” He pauses, having just returned home from school, “homework is finished and my project isn’t due until next week, but I have all of the paper and plans written out already-”

 

Serena lifts her head, carefully making the bed within the master bedroom. “Well, you’re awfully eager.” It does amuse her, reminding her of the person she used to be before Elinor died. How much she once loved Christmas and the lure of it all. “You aren’t usually.”

 

Cole shrugs, “I just think we need it. With Dad and Grandad both gone, it’s something we need to appreciate more.” His red clay brown eyes twinkle as he places his hands on his hips, “and I can stream us decorating. It would be great for my channel. People eat that sort of thing up...especially now since you and Gran have been looking after the little ones and they’re able to get them to have fun with it.” Cole offers, “that is, if you wouldn’t mind it.”

 

“You want to put me on your web channel?” Serena raises her brow, trying to keep herself from laughing, “why on earth would anyone want to watch some old woman putting up Christmas decor with a gaggle of toddlers?”

 

“And me...and Gran...and whoever else.” Cole nods, “and some Christmas music and...warm, silly sweaters and...” When he realizes she’s paused in her movements to watch him in an effort to understand his motives, Cole continues, “nostalgia. Many people don’t have their grandparents any longer, or their parents, and my viewers really love seeing you and Gran.”

 

“I suppose, but I don’t understand why though, aside from your ‘nostalgia’ excuse.” Serena tucks the fitted sheet under the corner of the mattress before moving to the next one, “I’m old. No young person enjoys-”

 

“With all due respect, Nan, this sort of thing is my bread and butter. My viewers continually ask for updates about my Grands, even going as far as to request more videos about my day to day life. They find you and Gran to be hilarious...and I like to give the people what they want. Stories of your youths and how you met...stories of medical school and...how perfect of a baby I was.” Cole tilts his head to the side, smirking softly, “I’ll even ask Aunt Morven about the other littles.”

 

Exhaling, Serena begins to nod slowly, “I don’t mind, but they won’t be by until the weekend.”

 

“Works out perfectly. I’ll contact her to gain permission as soon as possible.” Cole nods, “and I’ll just...float about here as the day goes on, recording myself and...you know, my usual bullocks.”

 

“Language.” Serena mumbles out of instinct, but keeps an amused smirk on her face.

 

“I could have gone for a jog with Gran and Kait, but I didn’t.” Cole shrugs, “I could have done a lot of things, but I wanted to stay and help you with...this or...whatever.” He fixes the sheets on the side of the bed he’s standing on, tucking the crisp white fitted sheet underneath the corners of the mattress. “It’s been difficult to...come up with content this time of year, especially with everyone still...grieving from Grandad...and even Dad still, you know?”

 

“Is that unusual for you?” She starts to pull up the duvet, seeing as her grandson joins her in the movements.

 

“I mean...” Cole gives it a moment of thought, “not particularly. I don’t want to bother anyone and I can’t film at school because of privacy restrictions with other students, so...I’m kind of stuck with doing stuff at home and there’s only so many times one could go for a walk or take Owen to the park or...” He shakes his head a little, “so I’ve been filling with gameplays, but people keep asking for what they call ‘life streams’. I think the...decoration angle could really go over well.”

 

“If there’s one thing you’re marvelous with, it’s reading the feelings of your viewers...and others.” Serena nods, “reckon you got that honestly from Bernie...and your mother. They’re...fantastic with it.”

 

“As is Gwen...or was. She uh...she used to be good with it.” Cole slowly exhales, adjusting the pillows on the bed, but can feel his Nan’s gaze on him. “Look, I just...I miss my best friend, you know? I miss us...investigating and having fun, but...she has new friends and new...interests.” He shrugs, “which is fine, you know? It’s fine, but...I do miss it.”

 

“Yes, what can you tell me about these friends of hers?” Serena raises an eyebrow, “though, knowing the pair of you, there’s some sort of...code that you live by. Metaphorical code if it isn’t literal.” She shakes her head, securing the end of the duvet at the foot of the bed. “And before you say that you don’t know anything, I just...I want you to investigate them.”

 

“What?”

 

“I want to hire you to investigate Guinevere’s new friends.” Serena gives a quick, confident nod. “How is that for content?”

 

Exhaling slowly, Cole starts to shake his head, “Nan-”

 

“You asked for content ideas and I’m giving you content ideas.” Serena lifts up the basket of clean clothes from the floor, setting it at the foot of the bed, gingerly picking through the articles to match socks with one another, “I’m giving you a job. I’ll reward you handsomely, if you choose to accept it.”

 

“This isn’t an RPG mission in a video game, Nan.” Cole responds with a soft chuckle, sighing a little as he reaches into the basket to pull out a pair of pajama bottoms to fold, “wouldn’t it just be easier to dump this out?” He nods to the basket.

 

“You sound like your Gran. We each do our things differently.” Serena smiles a little, “I usually let her handle the folding and putting clothes away.” She begins to explain, setting things in delicate piles on the duvet, “it helps her with memory and...allows me to focus on other things.”

 

“I haven’t really noticed anything out of the ordinary with the TBI?” Cole furrows his brow with concern, shaking his head a little, “might be something to speak to her neurologist about if there-”

 

“Simple tasks help her retain her abilities. She doesn’t realize what I’m having her do and, usually, I give her something that’s mostly mindless to you or I.” Serena shakes her head a little, “but is incredibly helpful for her to maintain focus and mental dexterity.” She cheekily smiles, “another reason why she covers maths with Lane. One, I’m not terribly keen on it, and two...” Serena trails a little, attempting to think of a reason.

 

“Mental dexterity.” Cole repeats, earning his grandmother’s nod, “right.”

 

“Also, you’re changing the subject.” Serena tucks another set of socks together.

 

“Because it’s an invasion of privacy, for starters.” He begins to shake his head slowly, “and I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to put her into that position if-”

 

“What about your paternal grandmother?” Serena raises her brow, taking in the look of the teenager, “wouldn’t you consider all that you covered previously an invasion of her privacy?”

 

“I never revealed her name or her address...just...just that I found her. Also, that’s my privacy more than anything.” Cole replies quietly, “and it didn’t exactly have the best ending.” He absently takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly, “I keep in touch with her, but...I don’t think she’s doing well. She won’t admit it.” Cole bites his bottom lip, “I want to...properly reach out to my biological father’s sisters, but...she doesn’t want me to.”

 

“You said it yourself though, it’s your privacy as well. It’s your story.” Serena gently folds one of Bernie’s cashmere jumpers, “there, I’ve given you two ideas for content.” She starts to smirk to herself, amused as she playfully teases him, “maybe I should start my own web channel since my brilliant grandson doesn’t know good content when he hears of it.”

 

Cole knew his crafty Nan would turn things around, “okay...why do you want me to look into Guinevere’s new friends?”

 

“Because I think they’re trouble.” Serena responds simply, absently shaking her head before continuing, “they’re pulling her attention from her studies, and she now leaves while others are watching and present during all hours.” She folds one of her own tank tops, setting it aside, “and she’s...peaceful and kind about it, but...” Serena’s eyes go glassy without her realizing and she’s glad to be focusing on the next article of clothing in her hands, “I’m very familiar with the road she’s traveling down...and it doesn’t have a pleasant destination.”

 

He knows what she means, having heard stories from his Gran, “Gwennie isn’t Aunt Elinor, Nan.” Cole catches her eye when he mentions the name of the aunt he never had the opportunity to meet. “She isn’t. Gwen has her own...whatever, but...” He exhales slowly, seemingly at a loss for words, “I don’t know. I just...”

 

“You came here to get away from her.” Serena points out to him, “not because of a headache or a desire to be closer to your dear old Grands, no, it was to get away from her. So, I reckon you must have had a reason.” When her grandson appears ready to argue, she lifts a hand to preemptively stop him, “I’m not looking for an argument or a discussion. I’m only stating a fact.” Serena nods, folding a pair of Bernie’s favorite tight black jeans and placing it onto the duvet, “you’re an excellent judge of character, Cole. Use that gift.”

 

Cole nods a little, starting to put his grandmothers’ clothes into the various drawers within the bedroom. “I’ll...I’ll do my best while maintaining privacy.” He’s disappointed in himself, not wanting to upset Gwen or his grandparents, “but only because you asked me to. I’m not just...giving up information out of spite or...anything childish like that.”

 

“I don’t believe you have a childish bone in your body. You were born as a brilliant adult.” Serena smirks, giving her grandson a look of pride, “we have the same mission here, Cole...and I think you know that.”

 

“In the end, we must always do what we think is right.” Cole repeats the words he’s heard his Nan say many times throughout his childhood and nods, “of course. I’ll take care of it.”

Chapter Text

“The Pythagorean theorem. We need to find the answer for ‘C’...which is this section over here.” Bernie taps at the large white board in front of her that she and Serena would use for their lessons with Lane. “It might sound complicated now, but you’re going to start realizing that-”

 

“Can you think of an instance where I’m going to use this?” Lane tilts his head to the side, watching his grandmother draw with dry erase markers on the board sitting on an easel. It’s worked very well for them. “Unless I’m measuring for a telly or a picture or something...”

 

“GCSEs. That’s why you need to know this.” Bernie shakes her head, “so, Laney, the hypotenuse for a right angle is-”

 

“‘C’. It’s the line across from it.” He licks his lips a little, “I’m not really...” Lane swallows, shaking his head, “I’m not really up for this today. I’m sorry, Gran.”

 

“Not a problem.” Bernie places the cap back onto the marker and sets it onto the breakfast table, “I meant to ask you, how were things with Uncle Cameron?” She’d speak to her son on occasion, but couldn’t shake the feeling that he was hiding from her. Even when Cameron and Morven would bring the grandchildren by the house, or Bernie might see them when they’d take the children to Charlotte’s. “Did you have a good time?”

 

Lane shrugs, not meeting her eyes, “Aunt Morven like...I don’t know. They were fighting a lot. Even though Uncle Cam isn’t working at the hospital anymore, he was coming home late and...sometimes he didn’t look...” He exhales slowly, “I don’t want to say it was like he was...sloshed, but...I don’t know how else to describe it.” Lane’s speech was getting much better through his therapies, including his walking. He is still a tad nervous about his balance, but he is doing much better compared to when he was even a year prior. “I’ve just been thinking about it a lot and...even Max said it happens a lot and he’s like...he’s a wee lad. He shouldn’t have to deal with that.”

 

“You’re absolutely correct.” Bernie nods slowly, “however-”

 

“Why is there a ‘however’?” Lane watches his Gran, “why can’t you just go over there with Nan and tell them how upset it makes Max...and the girls, probably.” The boy falls silent, finally speaking again, “if I say anything, it might mean that Uncle Cam and Aunt Morven may not let me visit again and...I don’t want that.”

 

“And if I say anything, it could hurt my relationship with my son.” Bernie sighs, “I learned, a long time ago, that one should never get involved in someone else’s relationship unless there was abuse...or someone’s life was at risk.”

 

“But Max’s life is at risk. His mental health is at risk.” Lane clears his throat, his voice having been attempting to change since the beginning of the summer. “Even that young, it makes a difference. He could...have dreams when he’s older, repressed memories-”

 

“Since when are you a psychologist?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, leaning a hand against the kitchen island.

 

“Since I wanted to understand why it was taking my brain so long to heal.” Lane answers calmly, “and what I could do in my own time to...help myself.” He swallows, “imagine my...whatever when I realized that I’m, pretty much, a lost cause.”

 

“That’s not true.” Bernie shakes her head, “not at all.” When the young teenager seems confused or disbelieving of her words, she continues, “look, science is Nan’s thing, though it’s...something I’m a bit good at as well.” Bernie pauses, “and history, but...your mother likes to teach you that.” Another pause, “she would have been a fantastic teacher, if I’m being honest.” Bernie exhales slowly, “anyway, you aren’t a lost cause. The brain is an incredible organ.”

 

“You still have seizures. You still have your TBI...and that all happened a few years ago now.” Lane continues to watch her, “my speech has improved slightly, but my memory...” He exhales with a rueful smile, “I remember less and less about my father every single day. I still...” Lane swallows, “I still use a cane and...I still have issues with fine motor skills from time to time. Nothing is ever consistent. I usually know by breakfast how the rest of the day is going to go for me.”

 

“Only because you start to think of those things and you allow the small issues to grow into bigger issues. You allow something relatively insignificant to shape your day...to shape who you are as a person.” Bernie shakes her head, absently starting to clean up the things from the abandoned lesson, “and I’ve seen the young man you’re growing to be...and he is brilliant. Don’t pull yourself down because it’s something that...makes you uncomfortable.” She picks up a soft cloth from the kitchen island, wiping off the equation from the whiteboard, “I have had...some of the most interesting experiences...when I left my comfort zone... because I left my comfort zone.”

 

“You were fully able bodied at the time though, Gran. You were able to go to university. You were able to become a trauma surgeon. You were able to join the Army and become a front line medic.” Lane glances to his notes in front of him, then back up at her, “look at my handwriting. It’s all...shaky and...looks like something I would have done in reception or year one. I’m never going to be able to go to Uni...never going to be able to-”

 

“Why wouldn’t you?” Bernie shakes her head, “there are people who are far more...differently abled than you. People without limbs or without the use of various limbs. People who require things to be taken at a different pace. All sorts of accommodations can be made for you to receive the education you wish. If you want to go, which is entirely your decision and no one else’s even though I hope you do, you’ve still years to think about it...and years to refine your direction of study.”

 

Lane starts shaking his head, “Professional kitchens are fast paced. I could never-”

 

“So you open your own. You take your time, as you can do when you’re in charge, if that’s what you want to do.” Bernie continues, “I also know how you’ve remained interested in cosmetics...which can be interpreted as a form of art, couldn’t it?” She pauses in her movements to meet the dark brown eyes of her grandson again, “what I’m trying to say, Laney, is that a physical limitation is an aspect of yourself, it isn’t who you wholly are, nor does it define you...unless you let it.”

 

“I-I wanted to be helpful with Max and...” Lane swallows, “I thought Uncle Cam might...I thought we could have talked about Grandad.” He pauses, anxiously licking his lips, “because he told me that I could talk to him and...my therapist said it might be a good idea to take him up on his offer since...” His eyes grow glassy as he simply stares blankly toward the space in front of him.

 

Rounding the kitchen island after a moment, Bernie wraps an arm around the young teenager, surprised when he presses his face against her chest, just releasing his tears. It had only been a few months since Marcus’ death and everyone was fully aware that Lane was taking the loss the hardest. Bernie swallows, biting her bottom lip as she remains that way. Noticing her wife peering in the doorway, Bernie shrugs a shoulder, unsure what else she could possibly do at this point.

 

“Lane.” Serena says calmly, but only sees a subtle tilt of his head, indicating he’s listening. “Cole mentioned that he wanted to decorate tomorrow morning, probably. Given he receives approval to film Morven’s three. I thought it might be fun to also bake Christmas biscuits and...listen to festive music.” Met with silence, Serena takes a few steps closer, “I thought you might want to choose the biscuits we make...or the music we play?”

 

Lane slowly sits up after a moment, sniffing back his emotions as he lifts a hand to quickly wipe his cheeks. “I don’t know if I’ll be...fun to have around.”

 

Serena gently rubs her hand across his back as she leans around the side of Lane in order to get a better look at his face, “grief is...a dangerous thing.” She maintains a gentle tone, “because we lose a bit of ourselves when we lose the people we love.” Serena swallows, then offers him a kind, closed-mouth smile. “And if we allow it to happen, their death consumes us. They’re all we can think about in every aspect of our lives. Every meal, every song, every...piece of clothing. Silly things.” Serena continues, “when was the last time you spoke to Dr. Santos?”

 

“A...about a month ago. They...I was supposed to have an appointment with them a couple of weeks ago, but they had a family emergency and then...I just...I couldn’t.” Lane replies quietly, “Kait...she took me and...I couldn’t get out of the car.” He absently shakes his head, “and she...she went in and got my therapist to...to have our session in Kait’s car and...I just couldn’t talk.” Lane lifts a hand to wipe his cheeks again, “Dr. Santos came out and...I really liked their eye shadow, but...I couldn’t.”

 

“How about this...” Bernie comfortably folds her arms as she leans on the kitchen island, coming face to face with her grandson, “what do you think would help?” She tilts her head to the side, “because your Nan and I can speak about this from a clinical or medical standpoint, what we would tell patients. However, that isn’t you.” She watches as he attempts to think of an answer, “because you can take medication and go to therapy and practice meditation and visit Cameron and...” Bernie shrugs, “but I want to know what you feel would help.”

 

“And then we’ll tell you what worked for us.” Serena continues, “and what continues to work for us.”

 

Lane glances between his grandparents, slowly inhaling, “I just...I miss feeling happy. I miss...I miss Dad and his stories or Grandad taking me to get a hair trim.” His chin trembles, “and...and I thought Uncle Cam would...I don’t know, but...he always says he’s there for...when I need him.” His hot tears trickle from his eyes, but he doesn’t wipe them this time, “I see what he’s like now and...he isn’t like Dad and Grandad. He’s...” Lane shakes his head, “and Uncle Jason likes to stay focused on his schedule and I don’t want to bother him, but...”

 

“To put it simply, you’re looking for a male role model.” Serena answers simply, “something that, no matter how hard we try, your Gran and I are unable to give you. As are your mother and Kait.” 

 

“Wait, I-I might have an idea.” Bernie starts to smirk to herself, a clever idea filling her head, “but let me look into things before I...make any implications.” 

Chapter Text

“Hey, Laney.” Cole steps behind his brother as the younger teenager tries to shield his plants from the winter, checking on them and speaking to them as he often does, “I wanted to try out my new camera and...thought you and your plants would be a prime opportunity-”

 

“They’re...they’re not really...” Lane shakes his head, carefully standing from the padded gardening mat, “they’re not terribly photogenic at the moment. The winter months aren’t really...any sort of prime opportunity to capture anything...worthwhile. At least, not in terms of edible things.”

 

“Well...it smells like snow out here. Has to do with the air pressure and...” Cole shrugs, “human anatomy and physiology is more my speed, not so much anything else.” He smirks, sliding his hands into his pockets as his expensive camera hangs around his neck, “that was always more your thing, whether you realize it or not.”

 

“How do you figure?”

 

“Well, think about your cosmetics. You know how to make the perfect lip gloss and which colors to mix to create the perfect eyeshadow. Every single thing you do in regards to that...amazes me at every turn.” Cole shrugs, “and I thought you might want to...talk about things.”

 

Lane stares at his brother for a moment before starting to shake his head, “oh my stars, did Gran ask you to-”

 

“Now, wait a moment.” Cole lifts his hands up from his pockets, trying to display his innocence in the matter of it all, “I’ve been wanting to spend time with you, but...I don’t know. I always thought you’d think it would be daft...spending time with your big brother.”

 

“Famous big brother.” Lane mutters, swallowing, “I mean...we have Christmas and...you know...Easter and everything. The...the times where we’d be up in your room and...watching after the little ones.” He smiles to himself, “with Gwen and...we’d watch stupid films and...take turns sneaking downstairs during the Grands’ Christmas party to grab nibbly bits.” Lane watches as his brother nods, “and then it just...stopped.”

 

“I mean...it’s not really my scene, too many people and I didn’t want to bother Gran because...I knew I’d feel better if I were closer to her.” Cole nods, “but Gwen...she’s a brilliant social butterfly...I just play one on the internet.” He smirks, “and I’m trying to...vlog more. I think it’d be fun...giving me something to do.”

 

“And you think being around me could-”

 

“Continue to shape your detective abilities, if you want.” Cole continues, watching his brother, “and I want to do that with you...again, if you want.” He smirks, laughing a little when Lane appears excited for the first time in what Cole believes to be months. “I also want to help you start your own channel, if you want. You could show people how you make your eyeshadow palettes and mix the perfect lip gloss and...those lip balm things like you gave me.”

 

Lane’s eyes widen as he appears slightly alarmed, “I was just testing to see if I could. That lip balm could be the worst-”

 

“It could be, but I love it.” Cole shrugs, “and we could put a disclaimer before each video as well as listed under each video. I could help you run a website and you could share your palette selections on there. I just...you’re wasting your talents just sitting on them and giving various family members makeovers.” He continues, “especially with the connections that I have...you’ll be brilliant.”

 

“See? You were worried.” Bernie calls to her wife, watching her grandsons in the back garden between her and her daughter’s houses. She finally leaves her place by the window and moves to their living room, offering Serena a smile, “you were worried that Cole wouldn’t-”

 

“I’m never worried about Cole’s abilities.” Serena shakes her head, reading a thick book. Something she was getting back into slowly and catching up on the novels she had missed out over the years, “I was concerned that Lane may not be so accepting of the extended hand because they’re so close to one another in age.”

 

“Well, I know they’ll do great things together.” Bernie nods, “Magnificent things together. They’re brilliant boys in their own ways.” Taking a seat at the other end of the sofa, “have you realized something?”

 

“That we’re alone?” Serena raises her eyebrow, still reading, “that element has not been lost on me.” She slips the old, routinely mended bookmark between the pages of the novel before looking over at her wife as the blond slides her feet into her lap, stretching out on the sofa.

 

“We know Cole will be back to his quarters tonight, but...doesn’t mean we can’t...have an early night.” Bernie raises an eyebrow, earning a soft chuckle from her wife, “especially since we’ll have a full house of children tomorrow morning, eager to decorate a Christmas tree with their dear grandmothers.”

 

“Which Cole has plans to live stream over the internet.” Serena sighs softly, absently starting to rub Bernie’s feet in her lap after setting the book on the table next to the sofa, “that is, if he’s gotten approval from Morven. I don’t know.” She shakes her head, “I’m opening the offer for Owen as well, since all he does is lie under the tree and look up at the lights.”

 

Bernie nods, “I remember last year, seeing Marcus down there with him.” The upturned smirk in the corner of her mouth flattens at the missed memory, “I uh...I think we need to prepare ourselves that it’s going to be difficult this year for ours. First Christmas is never...ever easy.”

 

“Yes, I’m aware.” Serena mutters, knowing the loss of her daughter robbed her of the love she once held for the holiday. Though she’s come close to it over the years, especially with small children in the family. “We’ll keep a watchful eye.”

 

Slowly folding her arms behind her head, Bernie looks to her wife, “how about we not throw one of our large dos this year?” She offers, “keep everything just our nearest and dearest...and not do the large event later in the night.” Bernie focuses on her wife, “we always overwork ourselves, especially you, and we hardly get to actually spend quality time with everyone.”

 

Serena swallows, “do you know why it started?” She slowly looks over to Bernie, “I mean, more than spending Christmas with Fletch and his brood when they were small?” Seeing Bernie shake her head, Serena inhales slowly, “my mother had just died not long before and Elinor decided, at the last minute, that she wouldn’t be home for it and I had all of this food and...it would have gone to waste.” She shrugs a shoulder absently, “it started out of not wanting anyone to spend Christmas alone.”

 

“And they won’t.” Bernie shakes her head, “we always have a larger thing, but the people we invite are usually those we used to work with and...extended family. People fresh off of spending time with their own.”

 

“Bernie-”

 

“You are not responsible for the happiness of our family and friends. You aren’t even responsible for my happiness.” Bernie shakes her head, “I’m here to protect. You’re here to look beautiful.” The words earn her a soft chuckle from Serena, “we’ll make Christmas however we want, but if we haven’t spoken to someone for the rest of the year or they haven’t attended for the past two or three years, we’re not inviting them this year. Is that reasonable?”

 

Serena nods a little, “we don’t need to invite everyone that we often do. I can agree to that. I just...Sian and-”

 

“She’s family...as are Char’s Kait and her sister. First Christmas for Cameron’s girls.” Bernie shrugs, “there’s just...many firsts this year again.”

 

“And you want to focus on that instead of all the other things we... I tend to concentrate on during that time.” Serena offers her wife a knowing smile, “I understand.” She pauses, “you’re saying this all for my sake...not so much everyone else.” Serena continues to gaze into Bernie’s face, “but you know that if...you say it’s for other people, I’m more likely to agree with you.”

 

“We’ve been married for nearly fourteen years, darling, together for...even longer.” Bernie gives a cheeky smirk, “if I didn’t know you a bit, I think we’d have bigger problems.”

 

“Eighteen years.” Serena nods, laughing a little, “and I know you as I’d know my favorite book.”

 

Bernie hums her approval, “we’ve truly stood the test of time, haven’t we...” It was less a question as much as it was an observation, “and I’ve loved every second of my time with you.”

 

Serena carefully stands from the sofa, “I’m going upstairs. I’m running a hot bath.” She raises an eyebrow, looking down at her wife as she continues lounging on the sofa. “Lane happened to make me a bath fizz that, apparently, smells like sugar plum. I wouldn’t mind some...assistance.”

 

“How could I possibly turn down an offer such as that?” Bernie carefully pushes herself up, eager to follow her wife up the stairs.

Chapter Text

“Taste this.” Char offers her girlfriend a spoon of what appears to be cake, or something resembling cake, on a fork.

 

“What is-” When the food is shoved into her mouth, Kait takes a moment to chew before raising her eyebrows, impressed. “That’s delicious...what is it?”

 

“Cheesy pasta, but...I used other cheeses like a sweet farmer’s cheese...and made my own pasta and...it’s just a tad different. Not exactly what one would think of when making cheesy pasta.” Char shrugs, “I’m just...playing around a bit since I usually don’t have a moment to myself and everyone is over to my parents house-”

 

“We’re alone?” Kait raises an eyebrow, “like...really alone?”

 

Charlotte hums her approval with a nod, turning away from her girlfriend, only for the woman to take hold of her wrist and pull her into her lap. She starts to laugh a little, looking into Kait’s eyes, “I’ve been...exploring tastes and things.” Char shrugs, “I knew you had work things to catch up on and I didn’t want to bother you since there’s a moment of peace.” 

 

Wrapping her arms around Charlotte’s waist, Kait leans in, softly placing a kiss on her girlfriend’s list, “Where are the children?”

 

“Over my parents, decorating for Christmas.” Char nods, “Cole’s made plans to do ours in a few days with everyone, again leaving us to our own devices.” She smirks a little, “he has this whole idea of surprising us.”

 

“Surprising you -”

 

“No, he definitely said ‘us’ when he was explaining his plans.” Charlotte leans in, pressing a soft kiss to Kait’s lips, pulling back again to look into the other woman’s eyes, “happens to take place on the day of your department Christmas party.” 

 

Kait starts to smile, pleasantly surprised, “I didn’t think you were going to want to go.”

 

“I think it would be a good idea.” Char nods, exhaling slowly, “Dad, nor Ryan, would want me wallowing around the house and...being a miserable old sow.” She smiles a little, “and I have you...and you make me...know that I can do absolutely anything...as long as I’m with you.” Char leans in, pecking another gentle kiss against Kait’s lips.

 

“Were you able to find something to wear?” Kait absently rubs her thumb along Char’s hip, “it’s still early. We can go out.” She’s well aware of Charlotte’s aversion to doing much of anything this holiday season aside from jogging or cooking. Kait has been able to tell, by Charlotte’s actions, that her partner is trudging through depression. Understandably.

 

“I um-”

 

“Or not.” Kait shakes her head, “I don’t want you to feel like you have to do anything.” She smiles a little, looking up to Charlotte’s large brown eyes, “okay?”

 

“I need to try.” Charlotte swallows, her face filled with anxiety, “especially knowing there’s nothing to fear.”

 

“Is that what you’re feeling?” The blonde raises an eyebrow, “afraid?” Kait raises her brow, “I know you haven’t spoken to your therapist in a bit.”

 

“I don’t know.” Char answers quietly, “and I haven’t, no. I haven’t really...been wanting to go anywhere...or get out of bed much when I’m not exercising or cooking.” She shakes her head a little, “and there were a few days that I was sick and you...you took care of everything.”

 

“I told you that I would.”

 

“You did, I know.” Char nods, “and it isn’t as if I didn’t expect you to be able, but...I didn’t expect Owen to listen to you, if I’m honest.”

 

“I think you worry too much about Owen sometimes, if I’m honest.” Kait nods, “he was brilliant during our time together while you were in bed. He paced a bit and we went for a walk...or five, around the neighborhood.” She shrugs, smiling to herself, “I think your boy’s growing up. He didn’t try running away once...kept stopping when he realized he was too far ahead.”

 

“Or it might just be you.” Char laughs a little, “I think you remind him of my Mum. The two of you give off the same sort of...energy, sometimes.”

 

Kait raises an interested eyebrow, “what sort of energy is that?”

 

“Uh...” Char tilts her head to the side, thinking of the best way to explain things, “Sort of like...caring, but no nonsense at the same time. He gets excited when you laugh.” She shrugs, “I mean, so does Lauragh when she’s over. That baby adores you.” Char thinks for a moment, “all of Cam’s do, all of mine do as well. Not that I didn’t expect that, you’re incredibly easy to love, but...I remember the days of Laney’s pushback.”

 

“Yeah, but...we’ve all grown as people since then, wouldn’t you say?” Kait reaches up, pushing a piece of hair from Char’s face, “I know I have.”

 

Char raises her brow subtly, “You think so?”

 

“Absolutely.” Kait nods, “let’s continue using Lane, for instance. Last year, he was very happy go-lucky. This year, he’s matured. He’s been through a lot over the past year...past couple of years.” She continues to lovingly gaze up to her partner’s face, “as have you.”

 

“Yeah, but I’m used to it.” Charlotte exhales with a rueful smile, “and it gives me fodder for both my therapist and my books.” She swallows, maintaining her relaxed expression, “speaking of which, I know I haven’t...I haven’t mentioned it to you, but I was contacted by a television network that...wants to start the reality show again.” Char licks her lips, “but...I’m not entirely sure what I want to do.”

 

“Have you spoken to anyone else?” Kait maintains her gentle hold on Charlotte’s waist, her eyes still watching her partner’s face. “I don’t want you to do anything that you aren’t going to be happy doing.”

 

“That’s the thing. I...I don’t know what I want to do.” Char shrugs, “the kids are much older now and the television network is doing it because of the recent interest in Juniper Street with the movie and...the anniversary.” She glances away, thinking for a moment, “I’ve already agreed to their...retrospective with a few of the other people that were in it. Including Maman, which...I’m not sure if she even said anything to Mum. Then, they proposed starting the show again...because they’ve received many letters about what my family and I are up to now.”

 

“It was a popular show.” Kait nods, “and your family is incredibly interesting as well.”

 

“The kids don’t remember it.” Char smirks, “whenever I’d get stopped whilst we were out shopping or during a school function, whatever have you, they’d be so confused.” She exhales a soft chuckle, “and I’d explain it to them and they just...couldn’t be bothered. They totally didn’t believe me and thought it was because of the books more than some television program.”

 

“You’re an extraordinary woman. I understand their reluctance.” Kait smirks, raising a hand to gently guide Char’s chin, guiding her gaze back to her, “I think a great start would be to talk to your boys and Guinevere, possibly her parents and your parents. Vin doesn’t have much say in the matter. She mostly just does whatever.”

 

Char chuckles a little, settling slowly as she stares into Kait’s eyes, “what about you?”

 

“I’m not going anywhere.” Kait shakes her head, “and I support you in whatever it is you decide.”

 

“And if I decide to go through with it?” Charlotte raises her eyebrow, “you won’t shy away from a camera or...hide away at work?” A grin forms in the corner of her lips as she sees her partner’s slow head shake, causing Char to lean in and kiss her, holding her that way for a moment before releasing, “I love you.”

 

“I love you too, my sweet Charlie.”

Chapter Text

Cole knew the online tree decorating stream over to the Grands would go well. In fact, it was one of the most watched events he’s ever hosted on his channel and promised that the proceeds he raised would go to a cancer research organization. Which he was waiting for his payout to go through with donating. Again, he would do another, saying the proceeds would go to another organization.

 

The actions were getting him much buzz about the holiday season, especially when the website that Cole had commonly uploaded to had promised to donate money to his cause as well, making it so that everything he had raised would be the actual amounts and not taxed in any way. It was absolutely groundbreaking that he was doing multiple of them in a matter of a week. Nearly every single day, leading up to Christmas, would have something else, even if it was just some sort of relaxing by the fire and telling stories with Christmas music playing in the background.

 

“Cole, would you mind if I spoke to you for a moment?” Kait makes her way into the living room, seeing that there were decorations covered with a blanket in the center of the room. She smiles, giving a quick nod to the stack, “can’t wait to see what you do to the place.”

 

“I haven’t started streaming yet. So...” Cole nods, glancing over to his mother’s girlfriend, “look at you. You look fantastic.” He smiles, “burgundy and cream look fantastic together.”

 

Kait lifts her hand to the collar of her lapel, winking to him with a smile, “thank you very much.” She nods, glancing around, “is Lane in his room?”

 

“No, kitchen. He’s working on a Christmas pizza.” Cole shrugs, “I mean, that’s what he’s calling it. I think it’s just a simple margarita, but...you know my brother.” He leads the other woman to the room containing his brother as well, smiling a little when he sees Owen eating crackers, carefully applying jam and cheese onto them. “Did O help you make your Christmas pizza?”

 

“He supervised.” Lane smirks, raising his eyebrows, impressed when he catches sight of Kait, “suit, brows, eyeliner, and even lipstick...all on point.” He nods, “very good, Ms. Warne.”

 

Kait furrows her brow playfully, “So the hair-” She points up to the bleach blond feminine pompadour, “yay or nay?”

 

“Looks equally as lovely.” Lane nods, “I’ll make something for you and Mum when you all get home later. I know the pair of you end up raiding the kitchen late at night whenever there’s something you both go out to.” He shrugs, “just name it.”

 

“If you have enough Christmas pizza, I wouldn’t mind some of that.” Kait smirks, “I appreciate it.” She pauses, glancing to the three teenagers as she absently takes a deep breath, “that’s not really...what I wanted to speak with you all about.” Kait bites her lip.

 

“Is this about you proposing marriage?” Lane asks, when his elder brother seems impressed and Kait looks shocked, he continues, “saw you looking at your ring when you went out for a smoke last week from my bedroom window...and you looked rather anxious.”

 

Kait licks her lips again, “I-”

 

“It isn’t a bad thing.” Lane shakes his head, “I see how happy you make Mum and how much you try to...help us when we need it. It’s something we notice and...it’s appreciated.”

 

“I...I want to ask her tonight.” Kait glances at them each, “and if not tonight, then on Christmas.”

 

“You’ll both be all...decked out, looking gorgeous as ever. I think it’s a great opportunity for it.” Cole nods, “and you’ve already made Owen a fan. Big fan, actually.” When Kait appears curious, he continues, “O, who is this?” When his younger brother absently signs for Kait, Cole smirks.

 

“Right, that’s what...what he’s done when he needs to speak to me.” Kait nods, “done it that way since...I was here for about a month or two.” She pauses, “at least that I noticed.”

 

“Yeah, he’s signing ‘mother’, but he’s using a ‘K’ with it. Differentiating you and Mum.” Lane starts to smile, “that’s when I knew you were okay. Owen’s a...great judge of character.”

 

“So...” Kait glances at the teenagers again, her eyes settling on Lane, “the three of you are...okay with me asking your mother to marry me?” Seeing their nods, she starts to smile, “that’s a...relief.” Kait swallows, “I was going to ask your grandparents, but...I thought the three of you were the ones I should be receiving permission from.”

 

“Is permission the right word though?” Cole raises an eyebrow, then relaxes his face, “I hope everything goes well for you. Truly. I think we all hope it does.” He nods, “and even if it doesn’t, it isn’t going to change our opinion of you...because we know your feelings for Mum and...we know you’ve only ever wanted the best for us.”

 

Kait nods, doing her best not to get too teary eyed, “thank you.” She whispers as she hears the sound of heels coming from behind her. Turning, Kait spots Charlotte as she reaches the bottom step and turns, allowing her to catch a full glimpse of her girlfriend. “Blimey.”

 

Charlotte stands there, clad in a tea length, figure hugging, velvet, burgundy colored dress and nude heels. Her hair flows over her shoulders, appearing a little shorter because of curling. A single pearl on a rose gold chain hangs from her neck with matching pearl and rose gold earrings. “Well? Do I look presentable?”

 

“Puts it mildly.” Kait nods, walking closer to her, wearing heeled boots herself. She isn’t nearly as tall as her girlfriend, but it makes their heights closer to one another. “You’re breathtaking.” Kait beams, leaning in to kiss her girlfriend tenderly. 

 

“If the pair of you don’t leave soon, you’ll never be able to leave because of Vin.” Cole offers, watching the women, “so get out of here, you crazy kids.” He watches as the pair leave before he glances back to Lane, “proud of you.”

 

Lane swallows, knowing the reason his brother is saying that, “it’s uh...I won’t lie and ...and say that it isn’t hard to think of...Mum with anyone other than Dad, but...she deserves to be happy...and Kait makes her very happy.” He swallows, swill working on the sauce he plans to put on the pizzas that he’s about to make, “and...I see how patient she is with O and...and how much Lavinia loves her-”

 

“And you.” Cole points out, “she’d do anything for any of us, but...she tries harder with you, whether you notice that or not. Kait wants to make sure that you like her...that you know she’s...not your enemy.”

 

Nodding a little, Lane turns to stir the pot of marinara sauce on the stove. He decides that any further discussion on the matter would just upset him, “if I add Italian sausage, would that be...alright with you?” He pauses, turning to look at his twin brother, “what about you, O? Plain or sausage?”

 

“Lane, you can’t run from it forever.” Cole shakes his head, “we can talk about Dad and Grandad even though they aren’t here anymore...I know that’s what this all boils down to.”

 

“You don’t know any-”

 

“I’m in the same boat, Laney.” Cole exhales slowly, “however, I’ve taken a different path than you have.” When it seems like Lane isn’t listening to him, Cole moves closer, “instead of thinking about their death and seeing them sick, we have to appreciate what we do have. Appreciate Mum and the Grands and...Uncle Cam, Uncle Jason...” 

 

Lane smirks bitterly to himself, turning to stir the pot of sauce on the stove again, “You haven’t spent time with Uncle Cam lately.”

 

“He’s busy.” Cole shakes his head, “and I see Max and the girls when they’re over to the Grands.”

 

“I listened as he and Aunt Morven fought.” Lane shakes his head, “and I don’t mean a petty disagreement, I mean...Uncle Cam drinking too much and Aunt Morven crying...talking about divorce.” He exhales slowly, “waking Lauragh and Hazel...I guess Max is just...used to it by now. He shouldn’t be.”

 

“No, he definitely shouldn’t.” Cole replies softly, “it reminded you of Mum and Dad, didn’t it...” He knows his brothers well enough to understand Lane’s thought process and how Laney always relates current events to something else he’s witnessed or experienced. He rarely takes anything at face value.

 

There’s a few quiet moments before Lane nods, “Aunt Morven deserves better, honestly...as do Max and the girls. Uncle Cam is just...I don’t know. Something isn’t right.”

 

“Have you said something to the Grands?” Cole tilts his head to the side, “I know they would-”

 

“Yeah.” Lane shrugs, “so we’ll see what happens.”

 

“That’s all you can do, Laney.” Cole replies softly, able to see that it bothers his brother, “the Grands will know what to do...even if they’re waiting until after Christmas to do it.” He pauses, “which is probably the case if they haven’t done anything yet.” Seeing Lane’s nod, Cole sighs a little, seeing their grandparents through the window of the back garden door. “Chin up, old boy. Here comes the calvary.” 

Chapter Text

“Darling, please allow me to wrap something .” Bernie holds a mug of hot cocoa between her hands, watching as her wife sits in the middle of the floor with wrapping paper and scissors, a plastic device with pre-torn pieces of tape wrapped around her hand. “I know you’re in your element, but...at least let me wrap the thing we got Alfie.”

 

You got Alfie. I’m certain that dog thinks he’s on the same plateau as the grandchildren.” Serena mumbles, sliding her open scissors through the wrapping paper, “and you can feel free, but only if I have any paper left after-”

 

“Serena, you’ve been using this paper for the past three years and you have a few unopened wrappers in the cellar storage. There’s more than enough.” Bernie shakes her head, looking over at the colors splayed out on the floor.

 

“You know how I prefer to color-code things. Everyone has their own color or pattern. Makes things easier.” Serena shakes her head a little, “it would be best if you use the tissue paper. It would probably be easier for the little scamp to tear apart with his teeth.” She pauses, “and it’s safe for him to do so. I’ve purchased a safe type since everything goes to the little ones’ mouths.”

 

“Look at how much thought you’ve put into this.” Bernie smirks, setting her mug of cocoa onto the coffee table before getting up from the sofa. “I never realized.”

 

“Well, there’s always a need for more paper every year with the addition of family members.” Serena nods, “and we purchased Kait’s sister a lovely jumper and a few trinkets that I’ll give her in a bag. Lip balm and...a gift card. That’s what Charlotte said she enjoys. However, it also meant another wrapping paper.”

 

“Darling, don’t you think you might be focusing on it too much? The...different paper for each person?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, finding the few toys she chose for Alfie among the gifts for the smaller grandchildren. Luckily, the older grandchildren were happiest with gift cards and an object or two that they had been requesting over the course of the year. Bernie knows her wife keeps track, but she’s never been too sure about how. “You could just use the standard label on the gift, couldn’t you?”

 

Serena scowls a little, not angry, but frustrated by her wife’s line of questioning pulling her from her ‘zone’, “I suppose I could, but...we’ve done it this way for many years. What’s the point of changing now? Really, it’s something that Serena loves to do. Something she can focus on instead of thinking about Elinor and how she isn’t there, eighteen years later, or close to eighteen years later. Every single year, every single day, Elinor stays in her mind. Branded there.

 

Knowing she isn’t going to get anywhere with her wife on the subject, Bernie sighs softly, “Well, I’m taking care of Alfie’s gift...and maybe you’d let me handle everyone’s stocking stuffers, but-”

 

“Cole!”

 

Pausing in her talking, Bernie turns her head to the side, almost certain she can hear an attempt at hushed shouting, “do you hear that?”

 

“Wolfboy!”

 

Serena raises an eyebrow, “hear what?”

 

Bernie shakes his head, abandoning the dog gift and tissue paper on the coffee table to move to the entryway vestibule. She tugs open the front door of the house, seeing a partially disheveled Guinevere on the grass of the front garden and decides to just watch her for a moment, realizing the teenager doesn’t see her. Taking a few steps outside, Bernie stands next to the girl, looking up toward her grandson’s window, “you should try yelling louder, he probably can’t hear you.”

 

“Yeah, you’re-” Guinevere starts to mumble a response before slowly glancing at the woman next to her and jumping, “Gran, what are you doing here?”

 

Noticing the teenager’s dilated pupils and jittery movements, Bernie nods slowly, “I ask myself that same question often.” She offers a slight smile, “how about you come in? Your Nan is wrapping gifts, but I can prepare the guest room for you.” Bernie keeps an eye on the girl, “I thought you were over to your parents for the night...to wake up with them in the morning.”

 

Gwen looks confused, just peering at her pseudo-grandmother, “was I?”

 

Bernie nods slowly, “you were. They had retrieved you from Charlotte’s and seemed pleasantly optimistic to have you home. Your father spoke of making breakfast...and purchasing your favorite juice.” She exhales, “but if your parents were to look in on you in the middle of the night and you were here with them knowing-”

 

“I...what?” Gwen furrows her brow.

 

“Okay. Everything is...fine.” Bernie shakes her wrist to activate the screen of her smartwatch, lifting it a little to show her the time. Nearly two, but she and Serena always stayed up a bit late on Christmas Eve, well...the early morning of Christmas Day. This reminds her of when Cam was about the same age, maybe a few years older, and got mixed up with the wrong crowd. “Um...” Bernie thinks for a moment, “okay.” She swallows, giving a quick glance to the house. Serena cannot know about this. “Go and wait by my car-”

 

“You’re not supposed to drive.” Gwen shakes her head, “I thought, since you were hurt in the big accident, that you-”

 

“Guinevere, I’ve driven since then.” Bernie shakes her head a little, knowing full well the confusion that comes with drug use, depending on the substance, of course. “Just wait by the car. I only need to get the keys, okay?” When Guinevere tries to follow her, she puts a hand up, “stay here.” Finally, the teen listens and Bernie is quick to obtain her keys, “I’ll be back in a bit.” She calls out, knowing her wife would be interested.

 

Serena furrows her brow, watching as her partner pulls on her jacket, “have you any idea the time?”

 

“Certainly do.” Bernie nods, pausing in the doorway to the living room, “I’ll be back in a few moments.” She walks in more, grabbing the throw blanket on the back of the sofa.

 

“Berenice.” Serena warns, watching as she passes.

 

“Don’t wait up for me if you finish before I’m back. I shouldn’t be terribly long though.” Bernie shakes her head, leaning down to press a kiss to the top of Serena’s head as she passes, returning to the vestibule and through the door.

 

“Like that will happen.” Serena mumbles, exhaling slowly as she returns to focusing on her gift wrapping.

 

Gently placing the blanket around Gwen’s shoulders once she reaches her, Bernie guides towards the car, unlocking the doors with the push of a button on her key fob. “You’re going to get back into your house the same way you got in. We’ll speak about this another day that isn’t tomorrow. Am I understood?”

 

“Have you ever thought of coloring your hair?” Gwen asks absently, lowering herself to the passenger side seat. She keeps her gaze on Bernie as the blond reaches across her torso to buckle her seatbelt, “and you smell nice.”

 

“Well, thank you.” Bernie mumbles a response, not having the heart to give the confused girl the silent treatment.

 

“And your nose isn’t as boney as you think it is.”

 

“Okay then.” Standing up in preparation to close the passenger side door, Bernie feels Guinevere grab hold of her wrist, “Gwennie, you have to keep your hands in the car if-”

 

“I don’t know what happened, Gran.” Gwen shakes her head a little, her voice soft, scared. Her focus remains on Bernie as her head wobbles a little, her vision swimming. “I don’t...I don’t know.” There are tears in Gwen’s eyes, but it’s obvious she’s trying to hold herself together.

 

Bernie slowly crouches next to the car, watching the teenager, “okay.” She licks her lips, trying to think about what to do. “Besides a swimming head, are you feeling anything else?” Bernie studies the girl’s face, taking Gwen’s hand from holding her wrist. Gently touching the girl’s wrist in a way that doesn't cause Gwen to pay any attention to what she’s doing, Bernie assesses the teenager’s pulse and respirations, “shortness of breath, blurry vision?”

 

“I feel sick.” Gwen answers quietly.

 

“Okay.” Bernie flashes a closed mouth smile, realizing the pulse was a bit slow, but respirations were fine. “So, nauseous?”

 

Gwen nods, whispering as she continues to watch her Gran, “I’m so tired.”

 

“I know you are.” Bernie reaches a hand up, pushing the hair from the girl’s face to behind her ear, “now, Guinevere, I have to ask a question and I need you to be honest with me about it?” When the girl continues to look at her, Bernie continues, “were you assaulted?”

 

Swallowing, Guinevere shrugs, “I don’t know. I don’t remember anything.”

 

“Okay.” Bernie reaches up, rubbing the girl’s upper arm, “we...we need to take you to hospital.” She licks her lips, slowly standing by leaning against the car and taking a step to the side in the way she stands.

 

“I don’t want that.” Shaking her head, Gwen finally leans sideways outside the car, vomiting into the street in the spot where Bernie was just crouching.

 

“Okay.” Bernie exhales, placing a hand just behind the girl’s shoulder as a sign of support, knowing this is a good thing. “Everything is going to be okay.”

 

Guinevere groans, heaving again onto the pavement. She pauses, catching her breath, “doesn’t feel like it.”

 

“I know.”  She nods, smirking a bit, “but it means no need for a stomach pump or any sort of...counteragent from hospital. Win-win.” Bernie raises her brow when Guinevere slowly glances up at her, “Happy Christmas.”

Chapter Text

Serena lifts her mulled wine to her lips, watching as their children and grandchildren spend time together laughing and carrying on, talking about the gifts they’ve exchanged and just, generally filling the room with warmth. She smiles a little, noticing the way Guinevere is staying near Bernie. Not that she doesn’t appreciate it, but it isn’t their normal behavior. With Bernie’s quick dash from the house in the early morning hours, Serena’s been a bit more hypervigilant with her wife today.

 

“Up late again?”

 

Jumping at the sudden voice of her stepdaughter-in-law, Serena wraps an arm around her upper body, keeping a goblet of Bernie’s mulled wine in her other. “It’s tradition.” She smirks, giving her a hug against her side, “how are you fairing?”

 

“Fine.” Morven nods, looking out on the group, who seem to be having a pleasant time. “How about Charlotte’s engagement?” She starts smiling a bit, “and Kait, from what I’ve seen and...what Lane has spoken of, seems just about perfect for her.”

 

“Speaking of Lane, when he returned home from the...extended time he spent over to yours, he seemed quite concerned for you and the little ones.” It’s the way that Morven’s face doesn’t seem the slightest bit concerned or surprised that causes Serena to raise an eyebrow in interest, “are you...is everything okay?”

 

“Cameron’s just been stressed.” Morven sighs softly, shaking her head, “we’re trying to just...overlook everything for the holidays.” She swallows, nodding her head as she gives her best half smile. The most Morven can muster to reassure Serena, “it’s not a big deal. Did Lane think-”

 

“He was concerned about the disagreements the two of you were having...among other things.” Serena says gently, “I don’t mean to...cause discord or insinuate-”

 

“No, it’s fine, but...not today.” Morven swallows, glancing over to the woman, “I’m...We’re trying very hard for the children today since it’s the girls’ first Christmas and...” She falls silent for a moment, “and after the year we’ve all had...I imagine we deserve a bit of happiness. Don’t you?”

 

Serena recognizes a brush off when she hears it and nods, “of course. Just know that Bernie and I are always here for you as much as we are for Cameron. Am I understood?” Earning a quick nod from the younger woman before she walks off, Serena sighs softly, feeling a gentle pat against her pant leg that causes her to glance down to the source with a soft smile, “Lavinia, go and play with the others.”

 

Lavinia shakes her head, giving her usual cheeky grin before stretching her arms up, wanting to be held, “Na...pweee?” Her nose wrinkles as she tries using her best efforts in order to get her grandmother to do her bidding.

 

Sighing softly, Serena crouches down, scooping the girl into her arm, managing to keep her glass of mulled wine in the other without spillage. She doesn’t mind in the slightest, especially when the girl lays her head against Serena’s shoulder. “What’s wrong, darling?” Hearing a soft hum in her ear, Serena nods slowly, “too many people all at once?” She maintains a low tone, speaking only to the girl, and receiving a nod from the toddler. Serena smiles a little, “but it’s all people you love...and that love you. Uncle Jason and Auntie Greta, Uncle Cam and Aunt Moven...” 

 

Kait notices Serena’s familiar swaying with Lavinia and gets up from her place on the sofa for Serena to have a seat, “everything okay?”

 

“Not to worry.” Serena shakes her head, letting Kait take hold of her drink for a moment so she can actually sit before being handed it back, “bit overwhelming for her, I imagine.”

 

“Vin.” Kait crouches next to the sofa, gaining the toddler’s attention at the mere mention of her name, “would you like to go to the house with me to get Alfie?” She had been waiting for everyone to get a bit more settled before bringing the dog over for the excitement of everyone’s arrival.

 

“My puppa?” Lavinia lifts her head, looking at Kait, a smile starting to form in the corner of her mouth. Her gaze quickly snaps to Serena, “Na, my puppa.”

 

Serena feigns amazement as the toddler informs her of the information she had just heard first hand, “I heard.”

 

“I go, kay?” Lavinia tells Serena, as if she’s attempting to reassure her grandmother. It isn’t so much as a question as it is a reassurance of the girl toward her Nan, “kay?”

 

“Yes, I’ll be fine.” Serena winks to her granddaughter, watching as Kait stands back up and takes the girl from Serena’s lap. She can’t help but chuckle a bit as the girl gives her an eager wave over Kait’s shoulder, slowly turning her attention to the room in front of her.

 

“Are you happy with your gifts, Maxie?” Charlotte accepts a hug from her nephew as she sits on the floor, “the Grands bought you a bicycle-”

 

“And it’s green.” Max nods excitedly, “can I ride it here?”

 

“Absolutely, but wouldn’t you want to ride it over to yours?” Charlie gives him a squeeze, “and you can practice with your Mum and-”

 

“I’ll teach him to ride a bicycle.” Cameron responds, almost coldly, to his sister. “I’m his father. That’s my job.”

 

“Never said it wasn’t. I was going to say your name next.” Char exhales slowly, sensing Max drawing into himself as he leans against her a bit more. She absently strokes the boy’s soft, curly hair. “You can ride it here as well if-”

 

“The bicycle is staying at the house...my house.” Cam snaps again, his arms folded as he glances to where his daughters are in the room, hypervigilant as his eyes just continue to shoot from person to person. When Jason places Lauragh onto the floor, Cameron is quick to pick her up. “There are germs on the floor. She doesn’t need-”

 

“Cam-” Char warns, watching her brother, “she’s fine.”

 

“She’s my daughter, darling Charlotte.” Cameron glares at his little sister, “don’t you have bigger-”

 

“Okay.” Charlotte kisses her nephew’s forehead, “would you mind giving big cuddles to Gran and Gwennie for a moment while I speak to your Dad?” She offers the boy a smile as she slowly pushes herself up off the floor to stand, glad that the boy does as asked, “and I’m sure Lauragh wants to crawl about, as she does every day, which is the reason she wanted out of Uncle Jason’s grasp in the first place.” Char motions to Hazel, comfortably sitting on the floor in her foam seat, gumming a frozen ring to her heart’s content. “Hazel is perfectly happy. Let’s grab a breather.”

 

Cameron shakes his head, but putting Lauragh down anyway before his back straightens up, “It’s Christmas. I’m spending Christmas with my family, which is more-”

 

“Just a word.” Charlotte quickly takes his hand, pulling him toward the kitchen and away from the rest of the group.

 

Bernie watches her children closely, sighing softly as she mumbles, “that’s not about to end well.”

 

“Probably not.” Gwen sits up a bit, from having been leaning against her Gran, “do you want to attempt diffusing the situation?” Max tucks himself in the space between her and Bernie, only causing the teenager to smile.

 

“I’ll let them go at it for a bit.” Bernie mutters, feeling the heat of a scowl coming from her wife’s direction at the other end of the sofa, “they’re adults, capable of having a sensible conversation.”

 

“Capable of it, but will they?” Serena raises an eyebrow, taking a sip of her wine, “ that, I highly doubt. Neither are ever willing to concede the high ground regardless of stance and proven fact, that’s all you, Berenice.” She laughs a little as Max decides to lay across the laps of the women sitting on the sofa. “I think we may have tea soon. When things get closer, will you assist me with the treats, Max?”

 

“I will. I so good at that, Nan.” Max responds confidently, his head resting on Serena’s thigh. “Are there sumas?”

 

“Satsumas?” Gwen laughs a little, “there are. Nicked one this morning when I got here.” 

 

Raising his eyebrows, Max looks up at his older cousin, “Can I have one now?”

 

“Not just yet. You lot should check on Cole upstairs.” Serena suggests, not wanting the boy to go into the kitchen in case Cameron and Charlotte could be seen arguing from the kitchen window leading to the back garden, “Gran needs to check on Aunt Charlotte and-”

 

“Serena, they’re-” Bernie sighs softly, knowing this isn’t an argument she’s about to win. “Fine.” She gently lifts Max’s legs before standing, “I’ll be back.” Bernie looks her wife in the eye, “for the record, this isn’t how I wanted to spend Christmas. I was far more comfortable allowing them to hash this out on their own.”

 

“As would I, but you know how they are when cross at one another.” Serena nods, taking another drink and finishing the rest of the wine in her goblet and setting it on the table next to her. “Would you rather I go with you?” She watches her wife, noticing the uncertainty in the woman’s face, “I don’t believe those two will...listen to either of us, but...”

 

Shaking her head a little, Bernie takes her leave toward the kitchen, the back door overlooking the back garden.

 

“What do you think Dad would say if he saw how you’ve been acting?” Charlotte stands in front of her brother, the white sky illuminating the space around them, threatening snow, “do you think he’d be proud or embarrassed because you’re taking out your grief on your wife and children?”

 

Cameron begins to shake his head, “I’m not doing anything like-”

 

“That’s exactly what you’re doing.” Char shakes her head, “Dad died only a few months ago. He had his moments and his quirks, but...overall, he was a good man in the end. He saw to it that neither our children, nor we, would ever want for anything. Same with Sian. He made sure we were taken care of, despite not needing to.”

 

“You didn’t speak with Dad for years. You went out of your way to avoid him.” Cameron chuckles bitterly, “and, for some reason, he chose you to spend his final moments with. No one else. You.”

 

“It wasn’t by choice, Cammy. Once your time comes, that’s that.” Charlotte folds her arms over her chest, “wait a moment, is this why you’ve been such an arse? You’re jealous that Dad decided to die in front of me instead of you?”

 

“Why you?” Cameron shakes his head, “that’s the part I don’t understand. Why did he decide you over me?” He just watches his sister, tears forming in his eyes but whether they were from the cold or the subject matter, he isn’t terribly certain, “I never once betrayed him. I did everything he ever wanted. I went above and beyond...for him and Mum and it was never good enough.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Char furrows her brow, watching her brother, “do you know how often I see my father taking his final breath in my sleep? Every night, Cam. I have to take a pill every night just to knock me out. I didn’t want to wake Kaitie even though she-”

 

“And that’s a whole other thing. Ryan wasn’t even dead a year and you were already shacking up with your next victim.” Cam places his hands on his hips, “Lavinia isn’t going to remember either of them...her father or grandfather, because you decided to let Kait take that role over. That’s fucking terrible, Char.”

 

“Your kids aren’t going to remember Dad other than the stories you tell them, Cam.” Char shakes her head, “which will be sugar coated, because that’s what one does when they’re honoring the dead, but Dad was no saint. He put his job before us constantly. He knew that his mother treated me like shit and he never did a single thing about it. So, when it came to him giving me up to Anders way back, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest. It was just like him.”

 

“Poor, poor darling Charlotte.” Cameron sneers, “so eager to follow in Mum’s shoes.”

 

Charlotte gives it a moment, attempting to decipher the meaning of his words before shaking her head, “Cam, what the hell are you on about?”

 

“Lane...he’s afraid to say things to you. Doesn’t want to upset you. So, he comes to me in order to feel safe and heard.” Cameron shakes his head, “you set that boy aside constantly and-”

 

“Never once.” Char shakes her head, “I home school him every single day just so that he doesn't need to lose more of himself at school from the bullies. I encourage him to talk and open up, but I don’t force it because that’s not how one treats mental illness.”

 

“Mental illness? He’s only thirteen.”

 

“And you think that keeps someone from having issues?” Charlotte exhales slowly, “he sees a therapist in order to better help him find healthy coping mechanisms and to help him with the grief of losing his father and grandfather in a little over a year. Two men he idolized, same as you. Except, when he went round to yours, all he heard was you and Morven arguing. All he witnessed were your children being unable to sleep and terrified to do so.” She shakes her head, “he lost confidence in you, Cam. He needed a male role model and attempted to turn to one he’s had for many years now and was disappointed. Majorly disappointed.”

 

Cameron watches his sister, then glances toward the ground, not knowing what to say or even if he should say anything.

 

“Dad wouldn’t want this.” Char motions between the two of them, “and you know that.”

 

“H-how are you able to...” Cam swallows, still looking anywhere except his sister’s direction, “both of them...both of them have always loved you more.” He slowly nods, “how are you able to function?” Cameron pauses, finally lifting his gaze to his sister’s face, looking for any slight fracture in her disposition, anything to show a hint of emotion, “with the things you’ve seen and the things you’ve been through...how do you do it?”

 

Thinking for a moment, Charlotte licks her lips absently, “I open my eyes every morning and...I see a woman who is so in love with me that she’s...she’s taken my children under her wing and made it her mission just to get them to like her.” She smiles fondly to herself over the thought of Kait, “and I...I climb out of bed and I check on each of them. Cole isn’t always home, but...that doesn’t matter. I know he’s bright and quick. I look at my twins and...and Lavinia and...” Charlotte pauses in her movements, “and I think back to the lengths I attempted to take last year in order to join Ryan...wherever he is.” She swallows, inhaling slowly, “it hasn’t been easy, but...there’s also no other way.” Charlotte’s chin dimples a moment as her eyes grow glassy, but she manages to swallow back her emotions, “I see how brilliant my boys are and Vin...Gwennie and your three...and I couldn’t imagine missing a single second of their lives.”

 

“Don’t you ever feel unwanted?” The question comes a moment or two of them just standing there, calming their breaths to mellow their own emotions. Cameron watches his sister, “don’t you ever feel like...nothing has ever worked out for you and nothing ever will?” He starts to laugh bitterly, a tear escaping his eye, muttering under his breath, “of course you haven’t. Everything just...drops into your lap. Always did.”

 

“Cam...mental illness runs in our family. It’s hard to say which side, but...” Charlotte swallows, “please, this isn’t something you need to experience. This isn’t something you need to endure without relief.” She watches him, finally taking a step closer and placing an arm on his bicep, “I can help you find someone. All you need to do is let me help you.”

 

“I-I can’t provide for my family, Char. I can’t...” Cameron starts to shake his head, feeling a sudden embrace by his sister. He doesn’t remember the last time they’ve been so intimate in their feelings. Definitely not when their father died. Cameron couldn’t even look at her then, so jealous of the privilege his sister received of being with their father during his dying breath, that he refused to see the person that was directly in front of him. His grieving sister with the former steely disposition and face of their mother.

 

“Everything is going to be okay.” Charlotte holds her brother tightly, “you have to open up to people in order for the ones that love you to help.” She rubs his back a little, “also, you’ve got me...and I might not have been blown up like Mum has, but...I think I’ve done pretty well at being a hard arse.”

 

Cameron chuckles softly, hugging her in return, his chin resting on her shoulder, “thanks, darling Charlotte.”

 

“Look at that, only slightly sarcastic this time.” Char teases him, able to see her mother standing in the window of the back garden door. She lifts her head a little, glancing over to her and offering a wink. Charlotte is sure she can see her mother wiping a tear away, but the tender moment is interrupted by the yelling of her youngest child.

 

“Ma, my puppa!” Lavinia, clad in her simple castleton green woolen peacoat with brown resin buttons and brown knit hat and mittens to match as a gift from her Nan, waddles toward her mother and uncle, giving Cam a shy smile. Alfie trots proudly next to her, as if he’s got a job to do in protecting the babe, but also to have a bit of fun as well.

 

“She’s just like you were, you know.” Cam smirks, releasing the hold on his sister to reach down and pick his niece up, “and she’s lucky to have you and Kait raising her.”

 

“Don’t let Kaitie hear that.” Charlotte shakes her head, smirking to herself.

 

“Hear what?” Kait calls out, closing up the door behind her, having seen that her fiance and future brother-in-law were in the back garden, “are you talking about me again?” She pauses, a cheeky grin forming in the corner of her mouth, “simply can’t keep my name from your lips...”

 

“Don’t flatter yourself.” Char responds in jest, accepting a chaste kiss from the woman when she moves closer.

Chapter Text

“Berenice.” Serena purrs in a singsong voice, her knuckle gently tracing her wife’s features as the woman sleeps on the sofa, arms folded, with a cream chenille throw blanket covering her lower half, “if you’re tired, why don’t you head upstairs to rest?”

 

“I’m not sleeping.” Bernie opens a single eyelid, “I’m resting my eyes and enjoying the quiet.” Hearing her wife’s soft chortle, she reaches a hand out, taking hold of Serena’s hand, pulling her down onto the sofa, “today was actually lovely, don’t you think?”

 

Nodding, Serena lays against her wife, knowing the sofa is far too small for them both and they’re too old to be trying to both squeeze here. However, right now, it just feels right and comfortable between them. “I’m...” Serena shrugs, honestly surprised by it all, “when you came back, eyes red after spying on Charlotte and Cameron...I was certain something...disparaging had transpired.”

 

Bernie shakes her head, “I’m not about to ask, but...didn’t seem that way. Seemed more like a concerned sister and her brother.” She exhales a soft smile, one of relief. “I just...I don’t know if I’ve ever...witnessed them being that way towards one another before.” Bernie falls quiet a moment, “I know there could have been. I’m not...” She licks her lips, feeling like her thoughts are all jumbled together.

 

“I know, darling.” Serena responds gently, reaching a hand over to continue gently stroking Bernie’s face. “However, they’re adults and we should let them deal with things in their own way.”

 

“I want to help them as much as I possibly can though. They’re...still my cubs.” Bernie responds pathetically, earning a warm smile from her wife, “and I’m going to always do my best to tend to them when they need me as well.”

 

“Understandable.” Serena nods a little, almost sadly, “completely.”

 

Exhaling slowly, Bernie realizes her mustering might have upset Serena, “we do it together, Campbell. You’re the better mother in this-”

 

“No, no. Don’t do that. Don’t participate in self flagellation when it’s absolutely unnecessary...and unwarranted.” Serena shakes her head, watching a rueful smile form on Bernie’s face, “I know Elinor would have went right in line with them...and Jason. All of them.”

 

The space falling quiet between them, Bernie just watches Serena, “do you think about it often?”

 

After a moment, Serena exhales slowly, “doesn’t matter.” She does, constantly. Serena wonders what her daughter would look like now, if she’d get along with Bernie’s two, even if she would want her own child? Even if Serena, herself, would be as open and honest with Elinor as she often was with Charlotte? Questions Serena will simply never have answered. “You don’t know the kind of mother I was. Not really.”

 

Bernie starts to shake her head, “I’ve seen the love and adoration you-”

 

“Started out of guilt.” Serena finishes the thought process, “started out of guilt because I would always take care of your children...as you did mine.” She falls quiet again, “there’s a part of you in them that shows itself from time to time. More often in one than the other.” Serena smirks a little, watching her wife before adjusting how she’s sitting so that they could both fit comfortably on the sofa.

 

Nodding slowly, Bernie sits up from the sofa, comfortably sitting next to her wife, “and now?” When Serena seems confused, Bernie continues, “we’ve been married for a long time now, Campbell. I’m certain your opinion has changed a bit.”

 

“It has.” Smiling a little, Serena lifts a hand to her ear, softly playing with her earlobe donning a festive holly earring matching the one in her other ear. “Not to mention the little ones.” She feels Bernie take her free hand, the woman picking up on her anxious disposition, “speaking of which...” Serena turns her head to watch Bernie’s face, “what’s going on with Guinevere?” Knowing her wife would try to smooth things over and make the actual occurrence more enjoyable, she raises an eyebrow. An unsaid demand for the truth.

 

Exhaling softly, Bernie explains the situation in a way that she tries to protect her wife in the best way possible. Her words are gentle, caring, compassionate. Something she wouldn’t have if it were one of her children as opposed to Guinevere. Bernie finds herself careful in what she is saying.

 

“What did she take?” Serena asks softly, absently licking her lips after a moment. The silence between the couple is deafening. Serena’s voice is a bit more forceful when she asks a second time, “what did she take?”

 

“I don’t know.” Bernie shakes her head, “she regurgitated the contents of her stomach on the curb. Luckily, it was washed away during the rain early this morning.” When Serena still seems concerned, she continues, “I would have taken her to hospital if she exhibited any worrying symptoms, but I also have to respect her wishes.”

 

“Her wi-” Serena pauses, glancing over at her wife, “Bernie, she’s a teenager who has been exhibiting increasingly worrying behavior...and you were going to keep this a secret.”

 

“Only until tomorrow.” Bernie responds honestly, “I wanted us to...have a pleasant Christmas. I didn’t want you focusing on things regarding Guinevere being slipped something or...taking something, especially if they had to do with-”

 

“What I’m understanding, Berenice, is that you willfully listened to an intoxicated teenager and returned her to her unknowing parents and told her to sleep it off...where she could have had subsequently...” Serena does her best not to acknowledge the tears forming in her eyes, “you know what could have happened and you were more concerned about upsetting me then-”

 

“Serena, she was fine.” Bernie exhales slowly, knowing Serena was speaking from a place of hurt instead of actually being angry with her, “believe it or not, I took a CPR course once.”

 

Serena exhales softly, realizing Bernie would have the girl’s best interest at heart and only making a joke to calm the situation to the best of her abilities, “they seemingly took the news quite well...based on behavior from today.”

 

“I delivered her to the door, Greta answered, having heard us pull into the drive. She was aware that Gwen was out of the house at the time because she had checked on her a couple of hours prior.” Bernie explains calmly, “and I informed Greta that Guinevere wasn’t feeling well, which Greta asked no further questions concerning.” She feels Serena absently squeezing her hand, “and Gwen said Greta slept in bed with her throughout the rest of the night.”

 

“She didn’t want to know.” Serena responds softly, swallowing. A moment passes before she huffs a soft, bitter chuckle to herself, “I told you Guinevere was just like Elinor.”

 

Bernie isn’t sure what to say, or even if she should say anything at that point, “we’ve made it clear over the years, to all of the grandchildren, that they always have a fighter in their corner with us and that the channel of communication is always open for them, regardless of what they wish to discuss.” She moves her hand from being held to wrap around Serena’s upper back, pulling her closely, “we’ve done our jobs. We’ve educated from our personal experiences as best we can. It’s up to them to make their decisions.”

 

Serena nods, turning her head and leaning in to kiss Bernie’s lips tenderly, “I’m glad it’s been with you, darling.”

 

“Ditto.” Bernie leans in, capturing Serena’s lips again, a bit deeper this time, “Happy Christmas, Campbell.”

Chapter Text

“Morning.” Charlotte smiles as she sees her fiancé's sister sitting at the breakfast table, nose buried in her mobile phone as she plays a gem connecting and matching game that always seems so popular, “are you hungry, Lily? Would you like something to eat?”

 

Lily lifts her head, “Kaitie doesn’t usually make breakfast. I usually have porridge when I stay with her.” She watches as the younger woman moves around the kitchen, pressing the button on her mobile to stop her game, “but I didn’t find any when I searched in your larder.”

 

Humming, Char nods, “that’s because I don’t keep them in the larder. You just happen to be up earlier than the rest of the crew this morning.” She raises her eyebrows, “how did you sleep?”

 

“I couldn’t sleep.” Lily answers quietly, “so I played my game and thought maybe it would help, but it didn’t.” She shakes her head, “I didn’t know if there was anything else I could do instead that might help, but-”

 

“Lily, you’ve stayed with us on quite a few weekends. In fact, I’ve told Kaitie to bring you by more often, even when she has to work for the weekend.” Char informs her, “you were more than welcome to knock on our door and I would have helped you out. We could have tried some sort of white noise or...maybe something else. You’re set to be my sister-in-law. I’ve never had the opportunity to have a sister, only my brother who...has his own fair share of...” Char waves her hand in a circle to insinuate that it’s more than she can put into words, “I’m always here for you to search out. Okay?”

 

“But you’re not my mother. I don’t like being treated like a child.” Lily responds cautiously, “okay?”

 

“Of course I’m not. You just usually wake when the others do when you’re staying over. You don’t realize it, but that’s why you usually have a decent breakfast on the table instead of porridge like you’d have over to Kait’s old flat.” Charlotte nods, watching the woman and wanting her to feel welcome since she was staying a bit longer than just the weekend. “You know, Laney might enjoy getting you made up today, if you ask him...or I can ask him for you. No reason behind it, but it’s just something he really enjoys doing. He’s started to work his way up to hair recently. He’s grown brilliant at cosmetics though.”

 

A smirk grows in the corner of Lily’s mouth, “can we go to the park with little Lavinia today too?”

 

“Absolutely.” Char nods, “you know she loves it when you push her on the swings.” Seeing Lily’s nod, Charlotte moves toward the refrigerator, “so, what would you like for breakfast?” When the woman doesn’t answer and just appears shy, Charlotte continues, “is something the matter?”

 

“It isn’t that I make her eat porridge, it’s what she likes best for breakfast.” Kait responds from the doorway, having been watching the interaction between the two women that mean the most to her. “Lils usually makes it for herself when I leave a pack on the table, at least she did. Only reason she joined in with the brood here is because she thought she had to or you might be angry with her.”

 

“Angry?” Charlotte responds incredulously, watching Lily still, “impossible. You can have whatever you’d like, darling.”

 

“Can I?” Lily asks quietly, “really?” She pauses, “like porridge?”

 

“Especially porridge. Do you eat it plain or would you like some brown sugar or maple syrup on top?” Charlotte offers, tilting her head to the side, “Maybe some fruit or chocolate chips sprinkled throughout?”

 

“Brown sugar?” Lily starts to smile before giving a nod, “that sounds good. Can I have that?”

 

“Of course you can.” Char smirks, accepting a kiss from her girlfriend when Kait walks closer. “What about you? What will it be?” She raises an eyebrow, “best to get your order in before everyone else shows up.” Char pauses, “unless I surprise them all with breakfast in bed. Though I know Owen will want to sit at the table.”

 

“He’s been doing quite good without the gate, I must admit.” Kait nods, “and he hasn’t been doing his knocking thing as often. Just occasionally...and not on our door.” She waves her eyebrows, a soft laugh to her voice.

 

“Are you really getting married?” Lily watches her sister and the other woman in front of her, “together?” She pauses, “to one another?”

 

“So far, yes.” Kait teases her sister a little, seeing the other woman roll her eyes dramatically, “why do you ask?”

 

“I’ll be baby Lavinia’s Aunt for real then, right?” Lily watches her sister, not noticing when Charlotte begins to prepare her porridge, “and the other kids?”

 

“I think it would be best if you ask them first before you demand they call you ‘Aunt Lily’.” Kait smirks, knowing her sister quite well, “let the boys get to know you a bit more. I know they’ll love you, got it?” When Lily nods, she continues, “and the boys are incredibly loving. You don’t need to be shy with them either.”

 

“She can feel what she wants. This is all still new. So it’s completely understandable.” Char responds as she makes Lily’s bowl of porridge on the stove, mixing in the brown sugar slowly. “She’ll be fine.” She tilts her head up, hearing footsteps, “there’s Owen. He’ll be down in a moment.”

 

“He walks around a lot.” Lily sets her mobile onto the table in front of her.

 

“It’s a hobby of his.” Kait nods, “just like you like to play games on your mobile, he likes to walk around and give tours of the house.” She smiles softly, “I’ve gone on a few myself. Sometimes he just likes to hold hands, that’s fine too.”

 

“Has he started holding your hand?” Char smirks, hearing her partner speak so fondly of her autistic son. It isn’t as if she believes Kait wouldn’t, but she still finds it wholesome. 

 

“Oh, is that a sign of acceptance?” Kait chuckles a little to herself, “or does he believe me to still be a guest?”

 

“Well, Alfie has been sleeping at the foot of his bed as of late...since we stopped with the gate. He’s been doing so incredibly well.” A proud expression paints Charlotte’s face, “my boy is growing up.” She exhales slowly, “I’m just...the doctor still wants to try the suppression drugs-”

 

“Suppression?” Kait raises an eyebrow.

 

Char hums with a nod, finishing up the porridge before pouring a serving into one of the bowls and grabbing a spoon from the silverware drawer. She places the bowl in front of Lily, offering a smile before returning to the fridge just in time for Owen to enter the kitchen door, “yogurt parfait or eggs with toast?” 

 

Owen glances around at the scene in front of him before quickly signing, “ Toast.”

 

“Just take a seat next to Aunt Lily, Owen.” Charlotte smirks a little, not surprised when the teenager doesn’t put up a fight. She glances back to Kait who is still waiting for an answer, “hormone suppressants. It should keep him from growing taller and things of that nature. Making it so that, as I grow older, he doesn’t become too difficult to care for.” Char exhales slowly, “his doctor wanted to start it last year, but...I never decided and it seems he’s grown at least fifteen centimeters over the summer...if not more.”

 

“What’s made you hesitate?” Kait watches her girlfriend move around the kitchen, in her element. She tilts her head to the side, casually watching Owen interact with Lily from time to time.

 

Char shrugs, taking a moment as she prepares food before answering, “he’s a twin. It’s going to be hard to see Laney maturing and growing and Owen just...not.”

 

“Well...you wouldn’t be taking care of him alone anymore.” Kait offers, comfortably folding her arms over her chest, “not that you were alone before because of your parents, but...you have me now. Of course, it’s entirely up to you to weigh the benefits and the...non-benefits of the situation. I know it weighs on you.”

 

“It does.” Charlotte replies quietly, “because he progresses from time to time, just like he has with not using the gate and things like that. Like how he’s calming down overall and taking an interest in Alfie so much that they sleep together...and then Alfie goes into another room when O wakes.” She smiles softly, “it’s sweet how he’s taken to the kids.”

 

“Well, he was just a pup himself. He’ll grow up with them.” Kait nods, watching as Charlotte plates up the eggs and toast, placing it in front of Owen with a warning for him to take his time. “I can help you weigh these things out tonight, if you’d like.”

 

Charlotte glances back to her fiancé, “I would.” She leans in, kissing Kait tenderly, “thank you.” Smiling as she parts, Char looks into her partner’s eyes, “I love you.”

 

Kait blushes, pecking another quick kiss to Charlotte’s lips, “I love you too, Charlie.”

Chapter Text

“Did you want to watch the fireworks on the telly?” Serena tilts her head to the side, watching her wife as Bernie slowly sips a hot cocoa, “we can mute it and turn on music, if you’d like.” She’s fully aware, after being with her for so long, that her wife is not a fan of live fireworks.

 

Bernie swallows the sip of cocoa in her mouth, lifting her head, “I’d be willing to give it a go.” She’d do anything for her wife, even things she knows are a trigger to her. Even something as seemingly simple as watching fireworks, could be triggering to Bernie’s combat PTSD. Luckily, she was never quite as bad as other people in her unit, but she had moments. “You haven’t watched the festivities on telly in a long time.”

 

“I just thought it might be interesting.” Serena offers, looking through the old vinyl records she had accumulated over the years. “Do you have a preference?” When her wife looks at her, confused by her question, “which vinyl?” Seeing Bernie’s negative headshake, Serena hums her approval, “I don’t want to hear a single complaint then.”

 

Chuckling softly, Bernie brings her cocoa to her lips again. She allows the warm fluid to trickle into her throat, relaxing against the back of the sofa as Serena moves the arm to place the playing needle onto the vinyl disk spinning on the record player. Waiting a moment for the music to play, Bernie raises an eyebrow, “Cliff Richard?”

 

Serena furrows her brow, “Rod Stewart.” She laughs softly to herself, “you’d strike out during a musical trivia contest.”

 

“Cole once had me play a musical trivia game with him for his web show and later decided not to post it because he said, and I quote, it was just sad.” Bernie smirks, watching her wife warmly laugh, “I think I only got two questions correct and they were about UB40 and Blondie.”

 

“Well, that’s more than I thought you knew.” Serena nods, picking up her glass of wine from the end table as she walks past it, slowly taking a seat next to her wife and resting against her when she feels Bernie’s arm tenderly wrap around her shoulder. “This year has certainly been...something, hasn’t it?”

 

Bernie hums her approval as she nods slightly, “we’ve had worse, but...no one could ever say it was boring.” She exhales slowly, “how is Sian holding up? I know she didn’t want to come over for Christmas.”

 

“She’s doing as well as can be expected for the first Christmas after losing a loved one.” Serena replies quietly, “interesting thing is, this is the first husband that Sian has lost that she is seemingly mourning.” Feeling the need to explain things a bit further, Serena exhales slowly, “I’ve never seen her so...moved by emotion and appearing so lost.”

 

“Marcus would want us to keep an eye out.” Bernie responds simply, her hand absently stroking Serena’s shoulder.

 

“That’s what he told me for you and your children...the grandchildren.” Serena tilts her head back, looking up at the side of Bernie’s face, “the two of you were more alike than you ever realized...and I think that’s another reason Sian stays away.”

 

Bernie exhales slowly, “we were alike with some things.” She concedes with a nod, licking her lips a little, “but that’s enough of that.” Bernie leans her face in, pressing a kiss to Serena’s temple, “we’re still here though.”

 

Serena nods, “that we are, darling.”

 

“As we will be for a long time to come.” Bernie continues, trying to maintain Serena’s attention as she sees a car roll to a stop in front of her daughter’s home, knowing they’d be retrieving Guinevere from the house. “We need to promise one another that we’ll take better care of ourselves.” She swallows, “regular physicals, eye exams, therapy sessions. Both of us. Not just my morning walks.”

 

Snarling her upper lip, Serena sighs softly, “I mean...no reason not to. We aren’t getting any younger. I know I certainly-”

 

“Before you begin to self deprecate, let me remind you of the thirty-something young man that attempted to flirt with you while we were out to dinner a few months ago.” Bernie offers, smirking a bit to herself, “you’re far more beautiful than you ever give yourself credit for...and I love going to bed and waking up with you day in and day out.” She starts to smile to herself, “you take my breath away constantly.”

 

Serena blushes, “buttering me up...”

 

“And I want to continue to do that with you.” Bernie responds quietly, “for all time.”

 

Exhaling slowly, Serena lifts her head up, bringing the glass of wine to her own lips to take a long sip. “Is this our New Year’s resolution?” She turns around on the sofa, looking at her wife, “do I get to choose my physical activity?” Serena requests, raising an eyebrow, “or do you plan to-”

 

“I’ll do what you want to do, if you do what I want to do.” Bernie offers, a cheeky smirk forming in the corner of her mouth, “and we can have our own things, but...maybe we can start with late night walks? Just the two of us?” Bernie smiles a little, folding her hands in her lap, “I’ll still go in the morning with Char and Lavinia at times, but-”

 

“Two walks a day?” Serena raises an eyebrow, “not that it’s bad to walk and...do other things, but I don’t want you going overboard.”

 

“Two walks a day and the occasional activity isn’t too much.” Bernie shakes her head, “obviously, we’ll be sure to help out with Lane for our days that we give his lessons, but otherwise...there isn’t much-”

 

“Bernie, we help Cameron with his brood and we keep an eye on Lavinia when-” Serena pauses, watching her wife as she begins to hear the various illegally purchased fireworks in the neighborhood, seeing Bernie’s subtle flinch. “What’s this really about, darling?”

 

Bernie shakes her head a little, hardly able to hear her wife anymore as she sees the various flashes outside of the window and the loud popping sounds of people setting off the pyrotechnics in their back gardens, a few breaking the law by doing so in the street. “I um...” She can’t focus, her vision feels as if it’s blurring and she isn’t even sure if it actually is.

 

Serena continues, not realizing her wife is growing affected by the fireworks they usually worry about every New Year, “is this because Marcus didn’t realize he was sick until it was too late? Is this because he didn’t want to tell Sian or your children, again, until it was too late? Is this because you want to make sure nothing is missed or put off to the point of being inoperable or untreatable?”

 

“I-it’s...” Bernie swallows, her mouth dry and her hands growing clammy as she absently flexes her fingers into a fist.

 

Taking another swig of her shiraz, finishing the contents of the glass, Serena stands from her seat, “I can’t have you losing yourself. I can agree to walks and an occasional activity, but I won’t go out of my way to do so. I’d much rather we were there for the grandchildren. Create memories.”

 

Bernie begins to stare toward a nondescript corner of the room, her jaw tightening as her hands tremble.

 

“I don’t want to argue with you, Berenice. I don’t. I just don’t want you to think you’re being healthy by-” Serena finally notices that her wife isn’t moving, isn’t watching her movements. “Bernie.” No response. She places the wine glass onto the coffee table, taking a seat in front of her wife again, looking into her eyes as she gently takes Bernie’s hands, “I’m right here. I’m sorry. I...” Serena swallows, a nervous energy overtaking her, “I-I should have done what we do every year. Noise canceling earphones and...and shutting the blackout curtains.”

 

Eyes shifting from the corner of the room to her wife’s face, Bernie’s eyes are damp with fear that she’s unable to admit, or unwilling to admit. She’s doing her best to focus on her wife, unable to do much else.

 

“This isn’t an absence seizure. This is a panic attack.” Serena continues, her voice remaining firm yet understanding, “and I want you to breathe with me.” She starts to breathe in, being colorful with her movements. “Exhale...and again.” Serena continues to focus on her wife, the back door just off the kitchen opening and closing. “Inhale.” She decides to ignore the intrusion.

 

“Hope you aren’t having it off.” Cole says gently, hearing his Nan’s speaking from the living room. He comes to stand in the doorway, looking to his grandparents, “something I can help with?”

 

“Just usual fireworks.” Serena continues, dramatically inhaling and exhaling.

 

“Um...I’ve an idea, actually.” Cole walks closer, “not going to lie, I was worried about what I was walking into, but Kait’s sister is over there celebrating with the others and...everyone was being loud. I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer.” He carefully takes a seat on the arm of the sofa behind his Gran, wrapping his arms around her upper torso and hugging her tightly, but nothing too tight. “So...it’s like when Owen has one of his moments where we need him to calm down and...it works like a weighted blanket.”

 

“Quick thinking, Dr. Wolfe.” Serena smirks, speaking to her grandson, but keeping Bernie’s attention.

 

“When you know there’s going to be fireworks or...triggering situations, might be a good idea to throw on your jogging gear.” Cole continues, “the firm, squeezing sensation provides a sensory trigger that allows people to feel comforted.”

 

“Smart boy.” Bernie manages to mumble aloud, smiling a little.

 

“He gets it from me.” Serena teases, noticing as Bernie finally begins to relax. Slowly, but at least she’s speaking.

 

“Fireworks are never fun. Nice to look at from afar, but not up close at all.” Cole answers quietly, fully remembering what he went through at the hands of his paternal grandfather only a couple of years prior. “I’m going to keep holding onto you a bit longer, okay?”

 

“Tell her more about why the compression works.” Serena smirks a little to herself, knowing the boy probably knows the other scientific reasons as to why the practice would work.

 

“Suppresses the sympathetic nervous system resulting in decreased pulse rate, metabolic rate, and muscle tone.” Cole begins to explain, “The tactic is used when taking cows to the slaughter. They’re put in these like...super tight shoots.” He shrugs, “if that makes sense at all. It’s also why it works on Owen so well and Vin when she was a baby and Mum would swaddle her.”

 

Serena begins to grin, nodding, “Correct, Dr. Wolfe.”

 

“Always the teacher.” Bernie manages, proud of the teen and amused by her wife at the same time. She clears her throat, “I think I’m okay now if you want to-”

 

“That’s too bad.” Cole smirks, still holding onto his grandmother, but loosening the hold a bit. “Happy New Year, Gran and Nan.”

 

Bernie smirks warmly, bringing a hand up to gently place on his forearm wrapped around her still, “Same to you, cub.”

Chapter Text

Charlotte inhales and exhales slowly, trying to center herself. It isn’t that she is angry with her eldest niece, but she does have a storm of emotions occurring in her head. She types on the keyboard of her rose gold colored laptop as soft classical music plays from the device’s speakers. Really, late at night is when she finds she’s most productive. Hearing the usual sound of the key in the back door, Char pauses the classical playlist, listening.

 

Guinevere tries to be light on her feet, but she can hardly tell where one foot is moving in front of the other. The shadows look larger with the dim lights of the baseboards that illuminate the house. Something to make it easier for Owen since he’s been given more privileges, including the gate being removed from his door. Gwen pauses midway in the kitchen, contemplating if she should make herself something to eat or just wait for breakfast. She removes her mobile from her pocket, seeing that she would be expected to wake for school in only a few hours’ time. “Fuck,” Guinevere mutters, beginning her trudging again. She doesn’t realize just how heavy her footsteps are though.

 

“Gwennie.” Charlotte calls, her voice low. It isn’t loud, but it’s obvious just by the way she says the teenager’s nickname that she means business. “Come here.”

 

“I don’t want to.” Gwen comes to lean against the doorway, folding her arms as she looks at her aunt.

 

Char raises an eyebrow, not exactly expecting that, “too bad. Come and sit with me.”

 

Thinking about the request for a moment, Guinevere stands up, essentially plowing into the sofa in the most absurd way possible, then trying to find a comfortable position to sit. “I have school tomorrow and I still need-”

 

“If you say that you still need to do your homework, I’m going to be very cross, so I advise you not to finish that statement.” Char responds simply, her face remains neutral and she can see that it’s making her niece nervous, “when I brought you here, I wanted you to feel comfortable. Not that you don’t feel comfortable over to the Grands, quite the opposite, but with all of the other kids here and Vinnie adoring you, I thought...” Charlotte shrugs, “I thought you might have a bit more fun here.”

 

“I do. Lavinia and I share a room.” Gwen nods, “and she always smiles. Even when she was poorly, she smiled.” Her words are slow, languid. Her eyelids feel heavy, but she doesn’t quite know if she’s tired. She could run a marathon or fall flat on her face trying. “I love little Vinia...and spending time with her.”

 

Charlotte focuses on the teenager’s eyes, “yes, except...I don’t want her to be around someone who is taking drugs.” When the girl is about to argue, she lifts her hand to stop the teenager, “your pupils are dilated, speech is slurred, you’re perspiring.” Char shakes her head, “no, Gwen. You are not safe to be around Lavinia...and your actions as of late are questionable at best.”

 

Guinevere pushes herself to sit up a bit more on the sofa, her eyes glassy, “I am sa-”

 

“Right now?” Char shakes her head negatively, “not in the slightest.” She pauses, “if you were me, and the sitter showed and was on everything that you’re on right now and was feeling and acting how you are right now, would you trust the sitter enough to be around your child?” Another pause, “taking our status as family out of the equation, would you even want them around your child?”

 

Having not thought about that, Guinevere feels a tear trickle from her eye, only half understanding the point, “but...I’m not the sitter.”

 

“Exactly.” Char continues, “you aren’t the sitter. You’re someone Vin looks up to and gets excited to see every single day. With the way things are going for you currently, Gwennie, I don’t really have any other choice.” Managing to keep her face free of emotion, she stares at her niece, “I love you the same as I love my own, you know that, but I cannot permit you to jeopardize the safety of anyone because of your own actions.”

 

“You’re not my mother.” Gwen stands abruptly, her brow furrowing to a glare, “you’re not my mother and I’m an adult in the eyes of-”

 

“Just because you’re sixteen?” Charlotte starts to shake her head, an amused smirk beginning to form in the corner of her mouth, “that doesn’t-”

 

“It’s the age of consent, I’m allowed to get a driving license, I’m allowed to leave home and enter a housing contract, I can choose my own GP, I can work full time, I can join the military, I can change my name, and get my own passport and leave the country. All of that at sixteen.” Guinevere sneers, leaning closely to her aunt, “I’m not stupid. I’m not useless. I’m not-”

 

“I never said you were any of those things. I did insinuate, however, that you are acting stupid.” Char doesn’t flinch, not even slightly, “and, if you think you’re about to intimidate me, I reckon it would serve you well to remember some of the experiences I’ve had in my life...and know that you’re one of the brighter spots.”

 

Gwen shakes her head, standing upright again, “why do you always want to-”

 

“Hold you down? Hold you back?” Char shakes her head, “only one doing that is yourself. You have to be responsible for your own actions...and for changing your actions. Especially if you want people to take you seriously and regard you as an adult.” She exhales slowly, “though, as an adult, I’ll be the first one to tell you that it isn’t everything it seems to be cracked up to be.”

 

“I don’t want to change.” Gwen starts to smile, shaking her head with incredulousness, “not for you, not for anyone. I’m not...I’m not someone who just changes themself to fit in...or fit someone else’s precon-pre...” She pauses, her tongue not catching up with her thought process, “preconceptions.” Gwen says the word slowly, feeling a bit triumphant after.

 

Charlotte nods slowly, “I’m giving you an ultimatum and I’ll be sure to remind you in the morning when you aren’t stoned.” When the teenager appears ready to argue once more, Char lifts her hand again to stop her, “I’m not stupid either, you aren’t the first stoned teenager I’ve ever seen, and I certainly doubt you’ll be the last.”

 

“How do you know I didn’t get this from Cole?” Gwen starts to shake her head, “you’re so quick to point the finger, but-”

 

“Because I know my son. I know that he wouldn’t have run over to the Grands after your big row a few weeks ago and I know he’s been avoiding you as of late when the pair of you have been inseparable for most of your childhoods. There's a reason for that...and it isn’t because he gave you drugs.” Char laces her fingers together, draping them over her lap, “and you’ve always been brilliant...and capable of so much more.”

 

“I’m fine. I don’t know why you think-”

 

“You are not, Gwennie. Do you think Uni is going to give your application a look if you have a drug related charge against you?” Charlotte starts to shake her head, “they’d toss it aside. No second look, no second thought. Last thing they want is drugs in their halls.”

 

Guinevere starts to shake her head, “people have second chances.”

 

“Not everyone...not always.” Char tilts her head to the side, watching the girl, “answer me something, knowing the story of Elinor Campbell and her cause of death, why are you so set on repeating her path? Repeating her mistakes in her short life instead of learning from them?” 

 

Furrowing her brow again, Gwen watches her aunt, “I’m not-”

 

“You are. Every single one.” Charlotte continues with her gentle voice, smooth and calming. At least to the best of her abilities. ”Is there anything I can do to-”

 

“What is my ultimatum?” Guinevere places her hands on her hips, “because you’re going to act as if you know what my life is like at home with a mother that I adore and would do anything for and a father who tries to assert authority in the worst ways possible. I have to walk on eggshells around them sometimes...most times. Do you know what that’s like?” Gwen shakes her head, “I just want to hang with my friends, but I can’t because it might not be safe. My whole life. That’s how it’s been. That’s how Cole and I got...got to be close...because I couldn’t go with anyone else unless I snuck out.”

 

“I think you should talk to someone...someone that isn’t me and someone that is from a neutral party. We can...look for someone you like to talk to. Someone who would...help you with those emotions...give you better coping mechanisms that aren’t risky behaviors.” Char watches the teenager, “you’re a brilliant young woman with a bright future ahead of her and I want you to see that future...which won’t happen if you continue on the path that you’re currently on.” She exhales slowly, “because I love you so much, Guinevere Elinor Haynes...and I refuse to mourn you.” Char watches the teenager, “I refuse to let you break your parents’ and grandparents’ hearts...because I remember Elinor’s memorial.” She swallows, “I remember how your Nan was at the time. Cam and I had...attended the funeral out of...” Char shrugs a shoulder, “respect for your Nan...and even Gran a bit. It was just after the Christmas we all spent together, the only one that we would, and after the new year celebrations.”

 

“I’m aware of all of that. I’m not stupid like Elinor.” Gwen exhales slowly, folding her arms over her chest, “I like my friends...and I like dancing and I like how...” She stops, licking her lips slowly, “so your ultimatum is that I have to attend therapy or...what...you’ll throw me to the pavement?”

 

Char shakes her head, “won’t have to. I’ll just tell your Nan...and Gran.” She licks her lips slowly, the look in her eyes is that of familiarity, “and you’ll learn what a true lock down feels like if put into the hands of one Berenice Wolfe.”

 

Gwen rolls her eyes, remembering most of the events of Christmas Eve into Christmas day, “whatever.” 

 

Lifting her head as she watches the teenager takes her leave, Charlotte exhales slowly. She’ll do whatever she can to protect her niece.

Chapter Text

Charlotte opens the back garden door of her parents’ home, entering their kitchen space. The early morning hours make the streets still dark and the grass more dewy than she thought it would be. Pulling her cardigan tighter around herself, Char exhales, glancing between the older women in the room.

 

“Well, quite the surprise.” Serena lowers the mug that was up against her lips onto the kitchen island in front of her. The mornings were her time to just appreciate the silence of the house. Always like a sort of meditation for Serena, and almost always interrupted. “Good morning, darling.”

 

“Morning, Maman.” Charlotte gives the woman her best reassuring smile despite what runs through her head, “Is Mum still sleeping?”

 

“She does appreciate a good lie in after her walk when she’s able to.” Serena offers, “I’m assuming she didn’t go with you since you asked.”

 

“She went with Kaitie.” She nods a little, folding her arms over her chest, “Lavinia was miserable this morning, so I just kept her with me.” Char lifts a hand, running it through her own hair to tuck behind her ear, “she was woken up and never went back to sleep...and neither did I. She’s at home with Laney, trying her damndest not to nod off despite exhaustion.”

 

“Well, some may say she’s stubborn...much like her mother.” Serena smirks, bringing her mug to her lips for another sip of coffee. “Is something wrong?” She pauses, “possibly something I might be able to help you with?”

 

Charlotte considers the question before nodding a little, “well, it’s more like a situation and...I think you might actually be the best one to...” She shrugs, pausing a moment to close her eyes and take a deep breath, “Okay.” Charlotte moves on the other side of the kitchen island, leaning an elbow on the surface, “Gwen didn’t...come home last night.”

 

Serena nods slowly, attempting to formulate her thoughts, “have you attempted to get in touch with her?”

 

“Um...yes. Myself, yes.” Char draws her bottom lip into her mouth, biting at the skin, “she and I had...exchanged words earlier in the week. I told her that I wanted her to...speak to someone, professionally. I wanted her to get help for her issues...a neutral third party that would...take me, you and Mum, and her parents out of the equation. Let her speak her truth.”

 

“Do you...think something amiss happened to her?” Serena asks cautiously, not exactly wanting the answer.

 

Charlotte sighs softly, “I don’t think so. I believe it’s why Lavinia woke when she did.” She bites her lip, “she’s not responding to my texts or...phone calls.” Char watches Serena, “this is...this is all my fault. If I had just...kept my mouth shut and-”

 

“No.” Serena responds, familiar with the instance, “no matter who said anything to her, she wouldn’t have listened.” This is hitting far too close to home, far too close to Elinor’s behavior that she displayed around the same age. “I-I’ve an idea, but I don’t...I don’t know if it will work.” Serena reaches for her mobile, resting on the counter top not far from her, “but it doesn’t hurt to try.”

 

“What is it?” Char shifts from foot to foot, “if you don’t mind my asking.”

 

“Play dumb.” Serena nods, typing on the screen of her mobile. “Tell her to meet with me around lunch time, so that we could make our decisions regarding our trip to France.”

 

Raising an eyebrow, Charlotte watches her stepmother, “you’re...you’re going to take her on a trip even though she’s been-”

 

“If she comes home, sure.” Serena responds quietly, “it would allow us to have time together and...I might be able to get her to open up about...about what she’s been up to, ensure she understands that her behavior as of late, including sneaking out of the house, is unacceptable.”

 

“No offense, Maman, but I think you may just be...biting off more than you can chew with this.” Char shakes her head, “she’s angry, frustrated, and...lashing out. It started with her parents, but...it’s slowly developing to anyone who tries to stop her from being with her friends. I offered her help. I offered to set her up with a therapist to help her control her-”

 

“Doesn’t matter.” Serena shakes her head slowly, “the only thing...the only thing she wants is to feel heard and loved.” When her stepdaughter appears as if she’s about to argue, “I’m not saying you aren’t doing that, I’m saying she’s going to fight against anyone at any time if she feels it isn’t sufficient. Guinevere feels that her new friends understand her...even though she might be changing her own appearance and behavior to fit in with this group.”

 

“I just don’t understand one thing, Jason just did this last year. She was here and understood the toll that took not only on her father, but on us...on her.” Charlotte swallows, fidgeting slightly under the pressure of everything going on around her, “I um...I’m going to tell Kait to keep an eye out.”

 

“Good idea.” Serena nods, placing her mobile back onto the kitchen island, “most important thing to do at the moment...is to be patient.” It’s obvious Serena speaks from experience, “if I don’t hear back from her within the hour, Bernie and I will head out...see if we can...find anything-”

 

“Such as?” Charlotte replies with a chuckle, “footprints? Clues?” She shakes her head, “the pair of you are not...” Char pauses, almost as if something has dawned on her, “is Cole-”

 

“Upstairs.” Serena offers, bringing her coffee to her lips again as her stepdaughter rushes past her.

 

Cole sits in front of his computer set-up, having moved most of it over to his Grands, needing the solitude of the house he’s grown up in for the sake of his mental health. He tilts his head to the side, meticulously editing a video before uploading it to his channel. Cole hears the door to his room open, recognizing the gait, “you know, you walk similarly to Gran, but it’s ever so slightly different that it’s easy to know that it’s you, Mum.”

 

“Impressive.” Charlotte watches her son, “could I um...could I speak with you for a moment?” She moves in a bit more, taking a seat at the foot of his bed, as close as she can get to her son. “I have a favor to ask.”

 

“This family and their favors.” Cole mumbles, finally pausing in what he’s doing and turning in his computer chair to face his mother. He puts on his best New York accent, “ you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you ask me to do murder for money. ” Cole starts to smirk, “sorry, I watched The Godfather last night.”

 

“That was...interesting.” Char smiles at her son, then lets it fade slowly, “Guinevere didn’t come home last night, Cole...and I was curious if you might know...who she’s been spending time with?” She shakes her head a little, “or where. I just...I just need to know if she’s okay.”

 

Cole’s expression changes from its previously playful appearance to that of concern, if not anger. “Are you bloody kidding me?” He starts to laugh, “you know...I had promised her that I’d keep quiet for her, but...when she started being a proper knobhead, that all went out the window.” Cole sighs softly, “I can only tell you what I know, but...I really don’t think it’s the best idea to search her out. She’ll just run.”

 

“You seem certain of that.”

 

“Because, regardless of how much she changes, she’s still family and I still love her.” Cole nods, “no matter how many hurtful words she’s spat at me and...her many gaslighting attempts, she’s still my best friend...and I’ll always protect her, even if that’s from herself.”

 

“That’s very noble of you, Cole.” Charlotte watches her son closely, “especially on the day of your daughter’s wedding.” The words cause her son to laugh softly. “Regardless of what you find or stumble across, come to me first, please? I’m afraid your Grands may go charging in, guns ablaze.”

 

“I’m sure they would too.” Cole nods, then sighs softly, “I’m not going to make any promises, but...I’m going to try, Mum. Promise.”

 

“That’s all I can ask.” Charlotte reaches over to him, gently caressing his cheek and pushing a lock of hair from his eyes, “my sweet boy.”

 

Cole allows his mother to fawn over him a bit, an excited expression covering his face, “Gran’s promised to take me out driving when I turn sixteen.”

 

“She started me when I was fourteen.” Charlotte sticks her tongue out, finally getting up from the bed as the pair dissolve in even heavier laughter. She’s very aware that having a son old enough to drive will probably never be something she’ll ever be used to, “I see all of the fags and coffee I forced on you to stunt your growth didn’t work properly. All of my efforts were for naught.”

 

“No, it’s just made me really crave cigarettes and a proper dark roast.” Cole replies without a beat, causing his mother to lean a hand against the wall as she nears his doorway, attempting to compose herself before letting herself through. “Please, don’t wee on my floor.”

 

“Cole!” Charlotte calls over her shoulder, crossing her legs while still trying to stop herself from laughing, “you aren’t helping the situation...and you’ve been hanging about your Grands too much.”

 

“Well, they’re hilarious. I try whenever I can.” Cole folds his arms, leaning back in his office chair, “do you need-”

 

“No!” Taking a few extra moments, Charlotte slowly stands up, taking a deep breath before finally stepping through the doorway and closing the wooden door behind herself. Her little boy is certainly growing up very quickly and she couldn’t be more proud of him if she tried.

Chapter Text

“Chief, are you available for a moment?” D.I. Robbie Medcalf knocks on the door frame to his superior’s office, “we’re going over that waterfront warehouse raid for tonight and I thought you might-”

 

“I thought I told you lot to include me in all discussions concerning.” Kait replies nonchalantly, finishing typing something on her computer, hitting a few more keys on the laptop’s keyboard before moving her fingers to the touchpad to close the application out and closing her laptop lid. “In fact, I’m almost certain that I told you specifically, Medcalf.”

 

“Ma’am, you were out with the holiday and we didn’t want to take that from you...especially since you have a proper family now with a fiancé.” Robbie smirks, seeing Kait’s amused blush, “and a whole family with kids and your sister. You deserved it after the year you’ve all had. We’ve just been here gathering evidence. Nothing more than that. Wouldn’t let them without your go ahead.”

 

“Next time, I want you to interrupt. Keep me up to date.” Kait finally stands from her chair, casually rolling up the sleeves of her button-up blouse as she walks around her desk to step past Robbie, looking around her office. “Alright, what do we got?”

 

“The Waterfront Raves are hubs of recreational drug use, distribution of alcohol without permit, overcrowding despite fire laws for capacity, and noise pollution.” D.I. Pippa Dennis informs, waving her hand over the board they’ve magnetized various pieces of evidence and papers to, “they used to do these things every other weekend and they’d change locations constantly, but they’ve gotten lazy. It’s nearly every night. Our constables are called to the location constantly, but...they’ve some good security...and good attorneys.”

 

“So, we’re dealing with the rich.” Kait raises her eyebrows, the case sparking her interest, “someone with rich parents who will attempt to get their child off of murder if it means their reputation isn’t sullied. I know the type very well.” She folds her arms over her chest, “since we’re already aware of it, what’s been the delay?”

 

“We’ve had a few undercover individuals gain entry. It’s been incredibly hard to do so. They’re constantly changing their information in order to protect themselves, but...I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain.” D.I. Dennis explains, being one of the newest detectives to the office, and one of the youngest, she was constantly questioned. This is the department she’s wanted to work in for quite a while. “However, since we have solid evidence, indisputable evidence really, as well as a few people willing to testify to protect their own hides, I think there’s a solid chance this time of a proper raid, but...it needs to work differently in order for us to truly capture those attending.”

 

“Like?” Robbie continues leaning against the doorframe of his boss’ office door.

 

“After securing the bouncers outside, we get our people inside to detain those inside. We have more of our people by the windows and exits for those attempting to escape that way.” Pippa continues, “yes, it would require some manpower and precision, but I think it’s the only way.” She motions to the map area with the blueprints of the warehouse, “the surrounding towns have seen an uptake in drug paraphernalia at crime scenes as well as open drug usage on streets and by underage individuals, not to mention three overdosed corpses dumped in the streets of surrounding areas. Capturing patrons of this location, even if the main person responsible for procuring the substances isn’t there, is a large step in the correct direction. Not a single person leaves without processing and we sweep the location entirely with forensics.”

 

“So a remote processing unit might be a good option. Eliminates the need for mass transportation.” Kait starts to smile a little to herself, “Very good, Dennis.” She takes a few steps closer to the board, “we have to go big and hard at this place. Breathalyzers, field sobriety tests. We have medics and ambulances at the ready in case of...anything.” Kait slowly looks over each element of the board, “is this happening this weekend or...”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Pippa nods, “the busier, the better.”

 

“Good.” Kait nods a little, “very good.” She reaches over, patting Dennis on the arm, “put things into motion and if you need my assistance in getting what’s required, you just let me know.” Seeing the young detective’s nod, Kait turns away from her, walking back to her office, “I’m catching up on paperwork, but don’t let that stop anyone from coming to visit.” She waves her eyebrows to the room, then motions for Robbie to enter with her when she walks inside the office, “close the door, Medcalf.”

 

Robbie does as instructed, waiting for his superior to take a seat behind her desk again before sitting in one of the guest chairs, “don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re happier than you usually are.”

 

“It’s all fake, trust me.” Kait half teases, opening her laptop again, “so, my plan is to attend the raid, obviously. However, I need you to keep an eye out for this young woman.” She spins her laptop around for him to see the screen, “because I have a feeling that she’ll be there...just...a gut feeling.”

 

Robbie reaches up, removing his reading glasses from hanging on his shirt lapel, sliding them on his face to see the young woman, clad in a rose colored sweater with a white Christmas tree decorating it. Dark circles under her eyes. “Who is she?”

 

“Uh...Charlie’s niece, named Guinevere Haynes.” Kait nods, “technically, Serena’s great-niece, but she’s treated as a granddaughter.”

 

Pausing for a moment to think about it, Robbie furrows his brow, “Jason’s?”

 

Nodding again, Kait continues, “she’s been...swept up by some new ‘ friends ’, and I use that term very loosely. I’ve seen some of them in the car when they pick her up, but...I’m almost positive two of them have their pictures on the board out there.”

 

“You think she’s mixed up in this too?” Robbie tilts his head to the side, “the girl looks a bit like Serena’s daughter, if I remember correctly.” He exhales slowly, “it was a...very long time ago.”

 

“She’s about six to seven months older than Charlie’s son, Cole.” Kait exhales slowly, waiting for Robbie to lean back in his seat before turning the laptop back toward herself. “I just want to...I don’t want her to be there, but she’s...she hasn’t been home. She was staying with us because she started acting out with her parents. Gwen was doing really well with us for a while.”

 

Robbie nods slowly, “when was she...” He pauses, inhaling and exhales slowly, “I don’t know, Chief. I don’t know what to tell ya.”

 

“She’s been...occasionally communicating with Serena and Bernie. So...we know she’s in contact. Gwen just...tells them that she needs some time to herself...without people.” Kait clears her throat, “and Charlie blames herself and...it’s all just a bloody mess.” She closes her eyes a moment, taking a moment before opening them again. “I’ve been...keeping a lot of this from Charlie. I’m always worried that the next corpse is going to be...is going to be Gwen.”

 

Watching his superior’s face, Robbie notices her eyes flooding with tears, but she’s doing her hardest to maintain her expression, “don’t worry, Kait. I’ll...I’ll uh...stake out a bit. See if I see someone matching her description and-”

 

“No.” Kait clears her throat, shaking her head slowly, “no, we’ll...we’ll have this all handled, I think. I do want a description, without a name or a picture, passed around to local hospitals. We haven’t...said anything to her parents yet since she’s remained in contact.” She exhales with a soft smile, “which...is a whole other...can of worms.”

 

“Why not?” Robbie shakes his head, “if it were my kid, I’d-”

 

“She asked that we didn’t.” Kait says simply, “she...doesn’t want her parents to worry and says she’s been in contact with them as well.” She absently licks her lip, “Gwen...regardless of whatever it is that she might be into, cares a great deal for her parents. She loves them far more than people her age usually do, that’s for certain.”

 

“Is her mother... like Jason?”

 

“Autistic?” She asks before nodding, “and they’re brilliant parents. They do the best they possibly can, but she’s gotten to a point where they’re unable to control her any longer and Gwen’s just been lashing out, as kids do at that age...I think. It’s all...just a bunch of things that are beyond all of our depths, you know?” Kait shrugs, glancing over to her laptop monitor.

 

Robbie nods, “I do.”

 

“We need to find her...and she needs to be okay, Medcalf. I...I can’t let it have any other ending.” Kait’s voice trails, slowly taking in the dark bags and pale tint to Guinevere’s skin in their family Christmas pictures. A part of Kait blames herself for the girl’s disappearance, especially when she’d hear or witness the girl leaving the house in the night. This is all my fault.

Chapter Text

“Take it slow. We’re in no rush.” Bernie says calmly, hands folded in her lap of the passenger seat as her grandson starts to accelerate the car, “hands stay on ten and two on the steering wheel. As you develop as a driver, that may change and you might find something more comfortable, but for training purposes and as you’re learning, your hands are to stay at ten and two.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Cole begins to smile, keeping his hands where his grandmother had just instructed, but glancing over at his grandmother before he begins to move the car or anything. “Mum said you used to take her driving when she was fourteen. Is that true?”

 

“No comment.” Bernie smirks, motioning to the road ahead with a nod of her head, “eyes forward, Mr. Wolfe.”

 

Laughing softly, Cole looks forward, slowly accelerating the vehicle. “I can’t imagine many people my age learn to drive in a coup.”

 

“I’ve had this car for many years. I love this car.” Smiling wistfully to herself, Bernie raises her brow, “if you injure her in any way, we’re going to have issues. Am I understood?”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” The teenager replies again, driving cautiously through the calm streets near the family home of her ex-husband. “Does Auntie Sian still live here?” Cole slows a bit, giving a quick glance to the large house, “or like...what’s happening with this?”

 

“Well, technically, your Uncle Cameron and your mother...this is theirs.” Bernie explains, “and, one day, it might even be yours...if you want it.” She shrugs, “though that’s many years from now and...things may change. I believe that’s how your grandfather wanted things.”

 

Curling his lip, Cole mumbles, “Looks haunted.”

 

Bernie hums, nodding slowly, “maybe not the way you’re imagining...or maybe that way as well, but...” She shrugs, “I’m sure if you ask your mother and your Uncle nicely, they’d let you do a bit of...ghost hunting.” She shrugs, “your Grandad would hate that it isn’t being used.”

 

“Did he hate it when he was in Italy getting treatment and not telling anyone?” Cole exhales slowly, “sorry.”

 

“No need to apologize. I feel the same way.” Bernie glances to the side window, just enjoying the gentle turns of the property road. “I was never...a fan of this house. It wasn’t our first house when Marcus and I...” She swallows, shaking her head a little, “we were still med students and...we lived in a tiny flat for a while.” Bernie smiles softly to herself, “when Marcus and I married and had your Uncle Cameron.”

 

“I can’t imagine you and Grandad ever living together, if I’m honest.” Cole focuses on the road ahead of him, finding this oddly relaxing, far more relaxing than he ever could have thought it would be, “especially in the close quarters that a small flat would warrant with the pair of you and a baby Uncle Cam.”

 

“It, actually, was the best part of it.” Bernie nods slowly, “I mean...when I returned home upon discovery that I was pregnant with your mother, Marcus decided the flat was too small. It was hardly enough for us with Cam, but...Marcus couldn’t handle it on his own anyway...understandably. He was still, technically, a student and Cameron was...a handful, even as a baby. So he would stay over to his mother’s...um...Marcus’ mother’s and she would help him care for Cameron.”

 

“Mum has always said she never liked the two of you.”

 

“Oh, she certainly didn’t.” Bernie chuckles softly, “it was, to put it simply, a complete mess.”

 

Cole hums, nodding slowly, “I’m sorry you had to experience that.”

 

“Me too.” Bernie nods a little, glancing over to Cole after a few moments of watching the trees through the passenger side window, “you’re doing incredibly well, by the way.”

 

“Thanks.” Cole replies sheepishly, then starts to laugh to himself after, “am I a better driver than Mum?”

 

“Certainly don’t enjoy speed the way she did...and still does.” Bernie begins to laugh to herself, “you’re far more cautious. Your mother loved to do spins in the back garden...whatever large patch of grass she had available to her.” There’s a cheeky sense of pride to her words, “she was always a bit of a...‘try anything once’ type of person.”

 

“Like you.” Cole nods, not even needing to glance over toward his gran to know that she’s probably smiling. “I um...” He inhales and exhales slowly, “listen, Mum told me to take this to her before...you and Nan, but...something obviously went down between them. I’ve spoken to her friends at school or...acquaintances, whatever, and they’ve...been pretty willing to speak up.”

 

Bernie glances over to her grandson again, then to the front window, “and?”

 

“When Gwennie started attending the same school as I do, Bijou Westwood-Adkins, and her traveling gossip brigade, had become fast friends. Gwen was always more about keeping her ear to the ground with everything. It was no secret that her brother was rather...intoxicating and Gwen was kinda...into both of them. Long story, it’s a thing though.”

 

Chuckling softly to herself, Bernie nods a little, “I’m sure I don’t want to know.”

 

“Probably not.” Cole smirks a little, “but Bijou Westwood-Adkins has an older brother that people call Geo. He’s apparently a bit in the club scene and their parents own a wharf or docks or whatever, proper nob. I don’t know, I’m no sort of mariner though.” 

 

“So...what does this have to do with-”

 

“They’ve been having huge parties at the docks. Used to be a couple of times a month, but now it’s almost every night. Anyone who is anyone is there, and since Geo has taken a liking to Gwennie, she’s included.” Cole answers, feeling clever about himself.

 

Bernie raises an eyebrow, “so...you know where she is located.”

 

“I know where she is.” Cole nods, “well, I know where they’re going every night, at least.”

 

“What is the age difference?” Bernie asks absently, “and would you happen to have information for their parents?”

 

“He’s nineteen. They live in a large stately home. Maids, chefs, drivers. The whole nine yards. I’m unsure if he’s still at home...and I’m betting his parents are probably unaware as well, one way or the other.” Cole sighs, still driving along the various paths of the estate, “but I know the women in my family and I know that you, Nan, and Mum are all liable to go searching for Gwennie yourselves. I just...suggest that you let me tell Mum, who then feeds the information to Kait.”

 

“Could we possibly...could you possibly inform your mother with Kait present?” Bernie glances at her grandson, “I wouldn’t want your mother trying to solve this herself, especially when she feels responsible for Gwen taking off in the first place.” She exhales slowly, “you know, when you were...when your mother told me the circumstances of her relationship with your biological father, I was ready to go after him. More than ready.” Bernie licks her lips, “I know thirteen ways to kill a man and I was ready, and willing, to use the most painful ones I knew. Luckily, your Nan and your mother talked me out of doing so.”

 

“Well, it’s probably for the best. Wouldn’t want you in prison.” Cole finally pulls over, putting the car in park before finally looking at his grandmother, “thank you for this, Gran. This has been a great birthday. I really do appreciate everything we’ve done so far.”

 

Bernie reaches a hand over, affectionately stroking Cole’s cheekbone with her thumb, “Anything for my cub.” She tilts her head to the side, still thinking about when her daughter had informed her of her pregnancy. Sitting at the small breakfast table in Serena’s kitchen and being handed a small black and white sonogram, then slowly glancing up to her daughter’s anxious and bruised face, just wanting her approval given her Marcus’ constant lack of care at the time. Contrary to popular belief, and what her husband would want others to believe, Bernie truly would do anything for her cubs.

Chapter Text

“Mum is running a tad late, said to order her a coronation chicken sandwich and bowl of vegetable soup. Apparently they’re good here.” Charlie reads the text from the woman on her wrist watch before glancing across the table to her brother, menus still in both of their hands. “Any idea what you’re getting?”

 

Cameron only realizes after a moment that his sister is looking at him, then shakes his head, realizing she asked a question, “I’m sorry I didn’t-”

 

“Do you know what you’re ordering yet?”

 

“Oh.” He shakes his head again, “no idea. Never been here before.” Cameron glances around to the other tables in the small cafe. “I um...” He bounces his foot against the floor on his toes, swallowing.

 

“Know what always calms me a bit?” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, patting the space next to her on the bench seat, “booth seats are helpful...and having a clear eye to the front door.” She offers a weak, understanding smile, “it’s called anxiety, big brother.” Char pauses, as if considering something, “though, I reckon it’s also a bit of PTSD as well. Mum does it too.”

 

Cam raises an eyebrow, “So...we’re all going to have to sit on the same side of-”

 

“You’re right.” Char exhales slowly, “let me-”

 

“No, it’s fine. I can deal.” Cameron nods, “as long as you can take the...tremble of ale in your glass.” He shrugs, looking through his menu, “think their ham and cheddar is any good?”

 

“I mean, this is a specialty sandwich shop. It’s what they do.” Char nods, looking through the pages, “which...I think I’ll get a jacket potato.”

 

“At a specialty sandwich shop?” Cam teases a little, a soft chuckle to his words.

 

Char shrugs, “it’s what I’m feeling...also, they can put coronation chicken on top, so it’s probably rather good.” She waves her brow a little, closing her menu and putting it on the side of the table, “so, how did your session with Dr. Stewart go?” When her brother doesn’t answer right away, Char sighs, “Cameron, you did go, didn’t you?”

 

“Chaz, I was busy.”

 

“And will you still be busy when your children start attending therapy because their father wasn’t around and constantly heard him arguing with their mother when he was?” Charlotte tilts her head to the side, as if the idea is clear to her as she glances at her brother, “makes sense.” She pauses, raising an eyebrow as she mumbles, "and don't call me Chaz."

 

Cameron leans back in his chair, sighing, doing everything just short of rolling his eyes, “darling Charlotte, some of us aren’t able to stay at home and-”

 

“No, you’re right, because that’s all I do.” Charlotte continues, “no income of my own, no. Just use all of Kaitie’s money and...panhandling on the streets.” Her tone is dry, amused though not about to say that to her brother, “no, I didn’t recently agree to do another reality television stint. No, you’re right. I just sit at home...getting fat and sassy.”

 

Exhaling slowly, Cameron goes quiet, still glancing around the eatery, “I um...I don’t want to draw attention to myself. I don’t...” He swallows, “I don’t have a problem. I just...it’s just stress.” Cameron hears his sister’s hum, indicating that she heard him, “truly.” He shrugs, repeating himself, “It’s just stress.”

 

“I’m sure it is.” Char nods, reaching a hand out and lifting her glass of red ale to her lips, “whatever you need to tell yourself in order to get through the day.”

 

“My resignation to Holby City was approved with immediate effect.” Cameron nods, “the...malpractice suit was settled, and...everything should be calming now.”

 

Charlotte watches her brother, knowing him far better than he believes her to, “But it isn’t.” When he doesn’t respond, she takes another sip of her ale, “it’s okay. Things rarely happen the way we want them to, but we’re built to...endure.” She smiles softly, “thought of getting a tattoo with that word on it, actually. I’m sure Maman will try to talk me-”

 

“I never understood why you started calling her that.” Cameron shakes his head, “she’s not our mother.”

 

“No, she’s our stepmother and she saved my life multiple times over.” Charlotte sighs soft, “and she’s been our stepmother for...bloody fifteen years now. Longer than that since she and Mum were together for years before they wed. Doesn’t matter. You call her what you want and I’ll call her what I want, it’s no concern of yours, but you need to stop being a pompous arse.”

 

Cameron furrows his brow, “I’m not being-”

 

“You are. You have been. It isn’t becoming.” Charlotte shakes her head, “it’s anxiety manifesting as anger and directed at the wrong people about the wrong thing. This isn’t new behavior for you, Cameron. That’s why you had the appointment with Dr. Stewart, or were supposed to have it. You told me you had it. Did you cancel or was there ever an appointment?” When he glances away, Char nods slowly, “okay, I’ll make your appointment then...and I’ll take you to said appointment.”

 

“I don’t have the-”

 

“Cameron.” Charlotte raises her voice a little, “at Christmas, I told you that I would help you. Did I not?” When he doesn’t reply, she continues, “unless you get the help you need, your wife will leave you. Do you understand that? Is that what you want?”

 

Cameron shakes his head slowly, “The time, Char, I don’t have the time.”

 

“You don't have a job at the moment, Cameron. I’d say you have all the time. In fact, now would be the perfect time to work on yourself.” Char folds her arms over her chest, “don’t you think Dad would-”

 

“You didn’t care about Dad. How long was it that you didn’t talk to him?” Cameron leans back in his seat, his knee still bouncing with nervousness.

 

“No, Cam, it’s how long he didn’t speak to me. A telephone call works both ways.” Charlotte sighs softly, “and you know full well there was more to that than you’re pretending there was. Just because Dad is dead doesn’t mean we’re going to pretend he was some sort of...bloody angelic figure. He wasn’t.”

 

“And neither was-” Cameron doesn’t finish his sentence, feeling a hand on his shoulder and realizing his mother had walked in without him noticing. He begins to scowl at his sister, knowing full well that she would have seen their mother approaching. 

 

“Quicker than I thought you’d be.” Charlotte offers her mother a soft smile, “haven’t even ordered yet.”

 

“Yes, I imagined the pair of you may have frightened the wait staff.” Bernie teases, removing her jacket before taking a seat next to her son, “well, we haven’t done this in far too long.” She offers them both an anxious smile, fully remembering the terms of their last meeting like this and how heated things were many, many years ago.

 

“Char was at Uni.” Cam smirks a little, “uh...as was I...I think.”

 

“No, you had just left to go traveling.” Char shakes her head, “um...can’t tell you where you were going at the time...can’t recall. I just remember you were...I remember you couldn’t stay very long.”

 

“Doesn’t matter.” Bernie interrupts her children, glad when the server comes over. She makes her order, then glances at each child as they give their orders as well. When they’re left to themselves again, Bernie glances between her children, “I think it would be a good idea if we did this more often. Maybe once a...a fortnight or...a month?”

 

“Mum, we see each other all the time.” Charlotte replies gently, “I mean, I have no problem with this at all, but...” She sighs a little, noticing her brother is remaining silent, “everything okay?”

 

Bernie nods, offering a kind smile, “Yes, yes, of course.” 

 

“Because Dad didn’t say anything either. He went to Italy and he hid from us.” Cameron responds, “just like you did with Alex. You hid from us.” He says quietly, reaching forward to take hold of his glass on the table, swirling the soft drink in the glass. “Just...a line of parents, hiding from their children.”

 

“Same could be said for you.” Char mutters, then realizes she said the words aloud when the other two look in her direction. She shrugs, “it’s true. Your children are still going to Mum’s before Morven heads to work. That leaves you to do...what, exactly?”

 

Cameron straightens his back, his eyes beginning to glare at his sister, “That’s none of your-”

 

“Okay, we are not doing this right now.” Bernie stops the siblings, lifting her hand between them. “I just wanted lunch with my children. A lunch out and away from someone’s home. I...I can count on a single hand the quality time we’ve had together that doesn’t include children or someone being ill.”

 

“Or dead.” Charlotte mumbles again, sighing as she lifts her glass of ale to her lips, taking a sip.

 

“The main thing your father continued to say while...during his final days, while he was in hospital, was what he wished he could have done or would have done with the pair of you.” Bernie responds quietly, “and I’m not going to allow myself to make that same mistake.”

 

“So...are we going camping or something?” Cameron raises a sarcastic eyebrow, “theme park? Day by the sea? Sand castles and the like?” He catches his sister’s soft chuckle from the corner of his eye, “family photographs?”

 

“A few candids, at least.” Char finishes her pint of ale, thankful and nodding when the server asks if she’d like a refill.

 

“There were hardly any photographs of your father with his children at the wake.” Bernie responds quietly, “I remember him saying how...how upset he was by it...and I know I would be as well if...the pair of you were left to assemble something like that-”

 

“We’d let Lane and Cole do it.” Cam smirks a little, but can tell his mother is starting to get emotional. “Mum, it’s okay. I was just...I was just having a laugh. We can do more things together. Just the three of us or...as a family. Whatever it is you want.”

 

“I um...I’ve been contemplating uh...a home by the sea. Something to spend holidays in the warmer months.” Bernie wears a thoughtful smile at her lips, “would the two of you...I don’t know...would you come, if...”

 

Charlotte leans a hand across the table, placing it over her mother’s, “Mum, we’d love to. You don’t even need to ask...we’d come anyway.”

 

“Exactly. Whether you asked us to or not.” Cameron watches her, taking a moment before reaching an arm around her back, near her shoulders. Keenly aware that the relationship between his parents had changed through the years, Cameron had no idea that it had affected his mother as much as it seems to have, this is something he never thought he’d ever seen. Bernie Wolfe is scared.

Chapter Text

Kait pulls her car up to the already unfolding scene, a large scale drug and underage alcohol distribution bust. A joint effort between many divisions. Opening the car door, clad in her business suit, Kait climbs from the car and absently runs a hand along the side of her hair and tucking it behind her ear. “Medcalf, where are we?”

 

Having noticed his superior’s vehicle approaching the crime scene, Robbie stands not far from her parking space to walk with her toward the commotion, “we already have several of the kids from more...affluent families lawyering up. We’ve been splitting them into age categories. Eighteen and over in one area, under that age in another. Further categories in each are intoxicated above the legal limit, high, both, and some requiring medical assistance. We’re waiting on more ambulances to take everyone.”

 

Nodding as she glances around, she’s pretty happy with the progression of things. Kait swallows, “any sign of-”

 

“Unknown. I gave a description without mentioning names, but that description could fit roughly thirty girls.” Robbie shrugs, “I’m sorry, Chief. I wish I could be more helpful. There’s just...so many kids.” He exhales slowly, shaking his head as he does, “do you want me-”

 

“I need you to look into the-” Kait thinks a moment about the discussion that was had the other night about Cole’s findings, where she found it difficult to contain her knowledge that there would be a raid on the exact location mentioned in Cole’s evidence. “Uh...Westwood-Adkins...did you find anyone with that surname on the premises?”

 

“You mean like the owner of the entire wharf?” Robbie starts to chuckle incredulously, finally glancing at his boss when she doesn’t laugh along with him, letting his chortle subside. “Uh...yes, actually. His...uh...”

 

“His son?” Kait maintains a neutral expression, seeing Robbie’s subtle nod, “fantastic. After arresting him, take him to the station. I want him in an interview room, regardless of what he tries to pull before you get there.”

 

“Ma’am-”

 

“I have it on good authority to suspect that he’s either solely responsible or participated in the disappearance of Charlie’s niece. I need to see what he knows and I need his charges to stick for as long as possible...regardless of him lawyering up.” Kate responds simply, “because we both know he’s going to lawyer up as soon as possible. Am I understood?” She pauses, then says something before he has the opportunity to speak, “as a matter of fact, I want to see him alone, in a tent, here on the premises.”

 

Robbie nods a little, glancing around at the busy scene as he speaks, “Ma’am, are you sure that’s-”

 

“I’m sure that I’m your department superior. I’m sure that I gave you an order that I expect you to follow through on. That’s what I expect.” Kait slides her hands into the trouser pockets at her hips, “So, I want that young man in the tent...on the double.” She watches as Robbie walks away as she still takes in the scene around her. Feeling her mobile vibrate from the belt clip on her hip, Kait removes a hand from her pocket, bringing the device to her ear, “Warne.”

 

“It’s your favorite soon-to-be stepson.” Cole makes a few clicks on his computer, a single wireless earbud in his ear to allow him to speak on his mobile while accessing the information in front of him.

 

Kait smirks a little, but bites her lip doing so, “something the matter, Cole? I’m a bit busy at the moment.”

 

“I’ve tracked her mobile signal.”

 

“What?”

 

“Gwennie’s mobile signal.” Cole replies confidently, “If there’s one thing she likes to do other than writing and asking too many questions, it’s photography. She has some...photo apps on her mobile that she loves to be rather...artsy with in posting. Not only that, some locations will also show up.”

 

“She posted a picture?” It’s as if Kait’s ear perks up, her brow raising in interest, “and-”

 

“No, no. I’m saying, there are various apps, not just that one, that tracks her location. As if checking-in to certain places-”

 

“I’m listening.”

 

“She’d gone quiet for a bit. Few days. Usually means one would be a location that wouldn’t have a ping . Private residences, private nightclubs, etcetera. Locations one wouldn’t want to be found or need to be interested in...whatever have you.” Cole nods, “however, ten minutes ago, her mobile just checked in at Holby City Hospital.”

 

Kait furrows her brow, “she’s taking photos at hospital?”

 

“No, just pinged.” Cole exhales slowly, “look, I’m telling you about this first. You take credit for it. Figure out what’s going on for the Wolfe Pack, please?”

 

“You call your mother and grandmothers the Wolfe Pack ?” Kait tries to keep a chuckle from leaving her lips, “or are you included in that as well?”

 

“We all are. We’re the Wolfe Pack.” Cole glances around, almost sure he can hear footsteps approaching, “you too. It’s our family.” He nods a little, “but when I use it in the initial connotation, yes, I mean the Grands and Mum.” He sighs softly, “alright, I need to go. Much luck...I’m sure you’ll need it.”

 

Kait hears the other end of the line click, placing her own mobile in her pocket. “Well, Cole...you’ve helped more than I think you know.” She smirks a little, moving over toward the tent.

Chapter Text

Guinevere feels the pounding of her head as she slowly begins to wake, bright lights overhead cause her to bring a hand up to shield her eyes. She’s sure the pounding is in tandem with her own heartbeat, she can hear it in her ears. Gwen reaches a shaky hand up, realizing there’s an oxygen cannula at her hose. Everything feels so surreal. 

 

“They pumped your stomach.”

 

Not having realized someone was in the room with her, Gwen glances over, seeing her aunt’s partner sitting in a chair next to the bed. She groans, responding weakly, “hello, Katherine.”

 

“It’s Kaitrin, actually.” Kait smirks a little, “and you look rather gothic with all that black charcoal around your mouth.” She reaches back from the seat, lowering the light behind the bed. “It’s nice to see you’re doing fine...well, as fine as someone who took enough drugs to overdose and subsequently have their stomach pumped could be.”

 

Guinevere swallows, blinking slowly as she stares toward the foot of the bed, “am I...are my...”

 

“Worse than I thought. Can’t even form a coherent sentence.” Kait teases a little, then noticing the tears forming in the teenagers eyes. “I’ve let your Aunt Charlotte and your grandparents know that you’re safe.” She nods a little, “and I’ve left it up to them to inform your parents. I recon things would-”

 

“No, you...you can’t tell them. They’ll never-” Gwen begins to shake her head.

 

“That’s the thing, Guinevere. Letting you stay with your grandparents and with your aunt, that was about maturity and trust. However, you’ve lost the plot.” Kait explains, “you’ve lost their trust completely.” She stands from the seat next to the bed, “what have you done recently that would make them think otherwise? Helped clean up your quarters? Helped with Lavinia? Gone to school?” She shakes her head, “all the things you would do without being asked previously...and it’s just...gone out the window with you.”

 

Gwen swallows, “you don’t even-”

 

“Guinevere, I figured you out from the start...especially when things began to head south with you.” Kait continues,  her arms folding over her chest, “someone hurt you...and all of this...has just been to get back in their good graces...because you think that’s the best decision.” She licks her lips, Guinevere’s chin trembling now, “I can tell you, first hand, that it isn’t. Whatever happened...isn’t your fault and it isn’t something you need to just get over.”

 

“You don’t-”

 

“I do.” Kait nods, “it’s what made me want to become an officer. There were...a few instances. One with me and a couple with Lily.” She exhales slowly, “and I’ve never...told anyone. Not even your mo-” Kait pauses, “your aunt.”

 

Falling silent for a few moments, Gwen runs her tongue along her split lip, “it...it feels like I’m on this...locomotive and...and it’s going too fast. So, so fast. I can’t get off. I can’t...I can’t do anything except keep going.” She swallows, “I don’t...I don’t know what to do.”

 

“You let people help you.” 

 

Kait turns, looking to the voice coming from the doorway and seeing her soon to be mother-in-law, “Serena...glad you could make it.”

 

“Three in the morning...cutting into my beauty rest.” Serena teases a little, offering Kait a soft smile.

 

“I don’t think it’s possible for you to get any more beautiful than you already are.” Kait smirks, winking to Guinevere,, who just glances away, “I’ll leave the two of you to it. I’ll just be in the hall.” 

 

Serena gives Kait a thankful nod as she moves into the room more, glad when the door closes behind. “I’ve spoken with your...attending staff...and...” She swallows, moving even closer to the bed, taking a seat in the chair Kait had been previously occupying. “Guinevere, I need you to understand just how close...just how close you came...how close we all came to losing you.”

 

Guinevere feels a tear trickle down her cheek, not knowing how serious things actually were when she was admitted, “I didn’t-”

 

“You weren’t thinking. You weren’t aware of how bad things were. You were unconscious.” Serena nods slowly, “I know...I’ve heard it all before. Every bit of it.” She swallows, feeling herself growing emotional, “and...I need you...I need you to understand how important you are to our family...and to me.”

 

“You should be angry with me.” Guinevere mumbles.

 

“I’ve never been angry with you. I’ve been frustrated with your actions because I know you’re capable of making better decisions...and you know what happened to...to your namesake...among others.” Serena glances over when she notices the girl’s open hand from the corner of her eye, “I can’t...” She gently takes Guinevere’s hand, “I can’t take another wake...another funeral. Especially not for you.”

 

“Um...Auntie Char said...she said she’d help me find someone to...to help me.” Gwen’s voice is timid, anxious. “I know...I know that what I’ve been doing isn’t...I know it isn’t a good thing. The people I’ve...I’ve met along the way...they’re...interesting, but...not in my best interest to converse with.”

 

“Why do you...keep going back?” 

 

“It’s...social suicide if I don’t.” Guinevere mutters, “I’m-”

 

“In five years from now, not a lick of this is going to matter. Popularity isn’t going to matter.” Serena continues, “do you know what people will remember? The girl that died. Is that what you’re trying to achieve?” She looks over at Guinevere, just staring at her face, “at Elinor’s funeral, hardly any of her friends came...and certainly none that were a part of the lifestyle which she held so dear.”

 

Gwen licks her split lip again, “I...I don’t know what to do, Nan.” She responds quietly, “I...I thought I could stay away, but...the draw was too strong. I wanted to learn more about them. I’ve...I’ve gotten to know them well in the short time we’ve spent together-”

 

“The real them or the them that they want you to believe that they are.” Serena responds quietly, “because you were doing the same thing, darling. You were out there...acting in a way you never have before to impress people you’ve never met before. That’s what you did.” The room falls quiet, her thumb absently stroking the back of Guinevere’s hand, near the intravenous line, “I love you so much, Guinevere. Of course, I love all of the grandchildren that Bernie and I share, but you’re...you’re a part of...” Serena swallows, “you’re different to me.”

 

“I know that was supposed to be...sentimental or something...” Guinevere glances over to the other woman, “you, gran, and...and everyone...you all...” She swallows, “you all make me feel like I’m-”

 

“Because you are. We made this family.” Serena slowly turns more toward Guinevere, reaching her other hand up to gently stroke the teenager’s hair, “Guinevere...”

 

“Are my parents coming?” Gwen asks quietly, knowing full well they would jump to conclusions and start pointing fingers at who to blame when, in actuality, it was herself.

 

Serena tilts her head to the side, “I wanted to see your condition for myself first before phoning them.” She considers a moment, “or even...see if it could wait until we’re back home.”

 

Guinevere is surprised the woman would still cover for her, “why would you-”

 

“Because I know how your parents react to things, in particular, your father.” Serena continues, “and, if you agree to attend treatment-”

 

“Always a caveat.” Gwen mutters, but not pulling her hand away from her Nan.

 

“Look at where you are right now, Guinevere.” Serena can see the look of defeat slowly forming on Guinevere’s face, “would you like for me to take you to the morgue? That’s the location you’re due to end up next unless you begin to turn things around for yourself.”

 

Guinevere mumbles again, “You’re being dramatic.”

 

“No, I’m not.” Serena replies sternly, a bit more forceful than she originally intended. “Do you think Elinor died from a drug overdose?” She shakes her head a little, “she was in a car accident. Hit her head on the steering wheel. She had...what would have been a slow brain bleed that could have been easily prevented and treated, but turned into...into something much worse after consuming cocaine.” Serena licks her lips, “one thing my Ellie never picked up on was the medical acumen from her father and I...because if she did, she’d know cocaine causes increased blood pressure,” she falls quiet for a moment, “which was the worst thing she could have taken during a headache and...the rest is history.”

 

“I’m not Auntie Elinor, Nan.” Guinevere responds, clearing her throat.

 

“No, but you certainly enjoy making the same mistakes.” Serena continues watching her pseudo-granddaughter, “mistakes that will cause the same outcome.” Her chin trembles, finally causing her to glance away, “please...please, don’t do that to your parents.” Serena swallows, “please don’t do that to-” She inhales quickly, trying to calm her emotions a bit as her chin trembles more and more, implying herself except she’s unable to say the words, “please.”

 

Gwen turns toward her pseudo-grandmother more, leaning over the edge of the bed to wrap her arms around her Nan. She buries her face in the crook of Serena’s neck, easier to hide her face. Fully aware of how things could have gone for her, but not knowing how to truly separate herself from her actions at this point.

Chapter Text

Charlotte sits within her therapist’s office, staring absently toward the floor as she bounces her knee with her toes against the linoleum flooring covered with a throw rug. 

 

“You’re dissociating and...appearing rather anxious today.” Annette Vickers tilts her head to the side, keeping her mug of coffee between her hands. She’s been overseeing Charlotte Wolfe’s treatment for over sixteen years, through her ups and downs, through her many births, deaths, and traumas. Annette has seen it all.

 

“I...” Charlotte finally glances away, “I can’t help except feel...responsible. I was supposed to watch over her. I was...I’m her aunt. I’m...I love that girl as if I carried her in my own womb.”

 

“Why would you be responsible for her actions?” Vickers lifts the mug to her lips, taking a slow sip.

 

“She was staying over to mine. In um...In Lavinia’s room. There’s a daybed and...and I stopped putting Vin in because she was...I don’t know, she would just be needy and I didn’t want to bother...I didn’t want Vin to bother Gwen.” Charlotte explains, “especially when it’s a school night or something...something like that.”

 

Annette shakes her head slowly, watching her patient, “That doesn’t answer the question.”

 

“I should have kept a closer eye on her...I should have included her more or taken the time to...to spend with her. I should have encouraged her to speak with her parents more often.” Charlotte shrugs, pushing her hand through her hair as she leans back against the sofa more. “And I failed her. I failed her and, therefore, that makes me responsible for her actions.”

 

“From the things you’ve said over the years, would I be correct in thinking that substance abuse may run in the family...as a whole?” Vickers asks the question gently, not wanting to insinuate since Serena was also a patient of hers. “At least, in your own opinion without confirming or denying anything.”

 

“To put it mildly.” Char nods, “Serena, Elinor, Jason...and now Guinevere.” She shrugs, “there’s definitely a pattern. Though, I’m unfamiliar with Jason’s mother or Serena’s mother, but...” Charlotte’s voice trails, “and I know what you’re...what you’re going to say, that it would have been virtually impossible to-” She doesn’t look over at the therapist, knowing it wouldn’t do her any good, “I’m not implying that Serena is an addict or...or anything like that, but she has her moments where...she drinks her day away. Even though she says she cuts back. It usually just means a dozen drinks becomes ten drinks. Which, yes, is cutting back, but it still isn’t...healthy.”

 

Annette nods slowly, “Seems like it bothers you.”

 

“I mean...it’s something I’ve grown used to. Serena isn’t a sloppy drunk. She just...has an appreciation of wine.” Charlotte responds with a slightly defensive tone, “and I’m not taking up for her or...excusing anything, but...I’m just stating the obvious, I suppose.” 

 

“It bothers you still.” Annette brings her mug to her lips, taking another sip.

 

Char shakes her head a little, “I-I wouldn’t say I’m bothered by it.”

 

“What would you say then?”

 

“I’d say...” Charlotte licks her lips in thought, “I’d say, if I had paid attention to family history, this wouldn’t have been a problem.” She exhales slowly, “and I was...I was in a position where I could have prevented it...and I just...I didn’t do that.” Char exhales slowly, her voice quieting after a moment goes by, “I didn’t do anything.”

 

“What would you have done differently?” Annette tilts her head to the side, watching her patient, “what was the position you were in that you could have prevented-”

 

“I would have made her stay at my parents’ house.” Charlotte bites her lip, “Mum would have...seen to it that she was on the straight and narrow. She...she was hard on Cam and I when she was home, but...it was for a reason.”

 

Vickers smiles wa, “For a reason, of course, but...you fought against it.”

 

“Um...” Char shrugs a shoulder, “only to a degree...and only as I grew older. I...I was good at playing with the rules.” A cheeky smile begins to form in the corner of her mouth, “Worked with the rules and put them into a sort of...perspective where they were in my favor at every turn.” She raises an eyebrow, “at least, I did my best at it.”

 

“Manipulation, Ms. Wolfe.” Annette nods a little, taking another sip from the mug and lowering it as she watches her patient, “something you’ve always been rather good with.”

 

“To a degree.” Char continues with her amused half smile, “but it was...in ways that impressed my parents. I worked very hard to...look like the golden child, even when I wasn’t.” She tilts her head to the side, “I...I figured out my...my limits with my parents, my limits with...many things, many people.” Char bites the skin of her lower lip, “and then I...I don’t know, I guess I gave up or...or something.” 

 

“And you speak about Guinevere acting as Elinor had, but in actuality, you’re more concerned that she’ll end up as you did with Cole’s biological father.” Annette points out, “because you fought so hard against what your parents wanted for you and expected of you-”

 

Tilting her head to the side as if the therapist’s words are painful, Charlotte swallows, “I...” 

 

“But what you went through as a teenager is not precursor knowledge to what Guinevere is currently going through.” Annette continues, speaking honestly, “they’re two different events that affected you both differently. I’m betting she understands what grooming is, but doesn’t understand that she’s going through it as well...and I think that bothers you most.”

 

“I didn’t know that having my father’s friend take an interest in me as a young teenager wasn’t a good thing.” Char licks her lips, “just like she doesn’t get that following around a twenty-nothing year old isn’t a good idea either.” She clears her throat, “and I knew my Mum hated the idea, but wouldn’t say anything for fear of rocking the boat, but I was just...awful then. A different kind of awful. I always adored my mother, but I didn’t want anyone...controlling me...even though that’s exactly what I ran to for comfort.” Char shrugs, “it’s...I don’t know what it is, but...”

 

“You just don’t want to point those things out to her.” Vickers brings her mug to her lips again, finishing the contents before placing it onto the coffee table between her and her patient, “why not?”

 

“She’s read my books cover to cover...and is able to reference portions at the drop of a hat. There isn’t much I’m-”

 

“You’re her hero.” Annette raises her brow, “she looks up to you for guidance in both her personal life and a possible writing career...you’ve mentioned that she’s interested in being a writer in previous sessions.”

 

“Yes, but...I wouldn’t go as far as to insinuate that I was anyone important to her.” Char shakes her head, “no, she’s...she’s far more-”

 

“Why does that concept bother you so much?”

 

“Because I’m...” Charlotte shakes her head still, “I’m not a hero. Even when...when things happened all those years ago with Juniper Street, I wasn’t a hero then either. I was doing what anyone would have done in that situation.”

 

“Far from it.” Annette leans forward, resting her elbows comfortably on her knees. “There are many things about you, Ms. Wolfe, that I find incredibly interesting. The fact that you remain humble through all of your...amazing feats...is astounding to me. Even now, your desire to protect Guinevere over anything, even if that means demonstrating some tough love, is...”

 

“What my mother did as well.” Char licks her lips, absently folding her arms over her middle. “I’m...I’m turning into my mother.” She uncrosses her arms and places her hands over her face, “the...the one thing I didn’t want.”

 

“I think you’re placed into a dynamic where you are just a couple years short from your mother’s age when Guinevere is about the age that you were.” When her patient glances at her, slightly confused, Annette smiles a little, “when you were sixteen, your mother was in her early forties. You’re just short of that age. The way you and your mother acted with one another then, is probably similar to how you and Guinevere regard one another...and interact with one another. Especially when it comes to tough love.”

 

“But I’m not her mother. She has a mother, a brilliant mother. A mother far more patient, far more caring, far more...far more able to-”

 

“You said previously in this very session that you think of her as your own, Charlotte.” Annette shakes her head, her gentle east coast American accent soothing to the ears, “what makes you think that she doesn’t think of you in the same way?” When her patient finally looks up at her, she continues, “in the same way that you love your mother as a mother, but you also care for Serena a great deal and consider her as another parent.”

 

“I never thought of that.” Charlotte answers quietly, exhaling slowly, “I just...don’t want her to feel unwelcome or...as if she can’t come to me with her problems or...” She shrugs, “and I told her that I didn’t want her around if she was going to...bring drugs or...behavior of ill repute...”

 

“Ill repute?” Annette raises an amused eyebrow, “quite the word choice.”

 

“You know what I mean. I will not have drug use around my kids.” Char shakes her head, “I simply won’t, even if it’s Guinevere.”

 

“What if it were, say, Lane with the issue? Would your opinion change then?”

 

Charlotte exhales slowly, “I understand that it’s a problem. I do, I get that. I understand she...has no real control over an inherited behavior, but-”

 

“ADHD, many mental health issues, diabetes, migraines, are all usually inherited behaviors.” Annette continues to watch her patients, “yes, it’s tough love and it’s probably what she needs right now in her life, but...it’s still an inherited problem. It’s still something she needs support and encouragement in fighting. So, tough love, in my opinion, is a good decision, but don’t cut her off. Don’t stop speaking with her or spending time with her if you can help it.”

 

“I don’t plan to.”

Chapter Text

“She became ill from school...” Jason attempts to reason with his aunt, “I know that may not be an entirely true fact because you stutter when you grow anxious...or when you lie.”

 

“Jason, it really doesn’t matter. She’s comfortable. We just wanted you to know because the two of you are her parents.” Bernie responds to both Jason and Greta as they sit on the sofa in their lounge, “there’s no reason for you to believe anything worse.”

 

“Stating that nothing worse happened implies that something awful happened and it had the possibility to be...worse.” Greta focuses on her mobile as she speaks, “and you’re trying to hide what truly happened because you believe we may not be able to handle the information. However-”

 

“No one is saying that.” Bernie exhales slowly.

 

“Guinevere wishes to seek the treatment of a mental health professional after some substance abuse issues that she acquired.” Serena tries to be as delicate with her explanation as possible, “she’s safe and she was able to...realize that she had an issue before it became a true problem.”

 

“She should have told us. Not you.” Jason shakes his head, “we’re her parents. Not you.”

 

“You’re like my glorified little brother.” Guinevere comes to stand in the doorway, having been listening in on the conversation from the stairs. “This is why I don’t want to live with you anymore, Dad. Because Mum just...does whatever you want to do and...” Gwen shakes her head, “you seem not to realize that she’s not your mother. You say you love her, but...occasional gifts and telling her that you love her isn’t enough. You don’t ever show her that you love her.”

 

“That isn’t true.” Jason stands from his seat.

 

“Even while you went on your...’adventure’ last year. You didn’t understand why she wouldn’t just...take you back without any sort of...time apart or time to consider your relationship. The only thing you understood was that Mum didn’t want to live with you for a spell. Not that what you did could hurt other people...could scar other people.” Guinevere has tears in her eyes, “myself included...and you still don’t understand that.”

 

“Guinevere.” Serena warns, quickly turning her head to look at the teenager.

 

“I’m tired of it, Nan. He’s my father, but I’ve never felt as if he’s fatherly.” Guinevere continues, “Nan, you have no idea. Mum walks on eggshells, even now.”

 

“And he’s still your father and you will respect him. Am I understood?” Bernie interrupts, looking at the teenager when she doesn’t answer, “I’m sorry, Guinevere, I couldn’t hear you. Am I understood?”

 

“Yes, Gran.” Guinevere mumbles, still watching the scene in front of her. “I’m sorry, I just...I want Dad to understand and...that doesn’t always happen...or ever happen.” She swallows, “and if I’m expected to treat him with respect, I’d like for him to treat Mum and I with respect as well. I don’t think that’s too much to...ask.” Guinevere glances between her grandparents, “this isn’t new. This is...his constant. That and demanding me to do things instead of...just asking me or...” She shrugs, “I know you probably wouldn’t-”

 

“Of course we do.” Serena nods slowly, “of course, but you need to understand that your parents, both of your parents, don’t exactly take social cues or pick up on emotions very well. They sometimes don’t notice or understand when someone might be feeling anger, regardless of how much training they’ve done over the years. It’s understandable that they may, occasionally, come across as-”

 

“You’re taking up for him.” Gwen starts to slowly shake her head.

 

“No, I’m stating a fact.” Serena exhales slowly, “truly, Guinevere.” She nods slowly, “autism-”

 

“I know what autism is.” Gwen sighs, lifting a hand to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear, “as I was growing up, I’d hear people tell my parents how good they were at being parents because I had a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I had a bed to sleep on and a mother who felt like a friend. Amazed that two autistic people could be successful parents.” She shakes her head, licking her lips before she continues, “but my Mum should have felt like a mother. Of course, I...I adore my parents and I’m thankful for...” Guinevere stops herself, closing her eyes as she absently glances toward the floor, “I love them very much, that isn’t ever going to change, but I’m not about to sugar coat anything anymore. They wouldn’t have ever done so with me.”

 

“I...I understand that what I did last year was not good. That what I did would have made others disappointed in me and upset with the situation.” Jason attempts, unable to look his daughter in the eye as he speaks, “it was never my intention to upset you. I would never do that on purpose, Guinevere.”

 

“I know, Dad.” Gwen answers quietly, biting her lip after licking them again, “but I need you to try being kinder to Mum. I need you to do things around the house, even if you don’t want to do them. I need you to offer to do more things. She’s not your servant or your maid...or housekeeper. Mum is your wife and she obviously cares for you deeply because she’s put up with things for as long as she has with you.”

 

“I think this conversation would be...better had in a controlled setting that is able to be moderated by a neutral party.” Serena watches the scene unfold in front of her, “in addition to what Guinevere has already decided to do in regards to her mental health, maybe it would be in your best interests to seek family counseling as a whole.” She offers an understanding smile, “and I’d be happy to look into that for you, if you’d like.”

 

“Guinevere, it was never our intention to cause you stress.” Greta mumbles quietly, noticing her daughter approaching from the corner of her eye.

 

“I...I know, Mum.” Gwen takes a seat on her mother’s opposite side, the side of her arm bumping gently against her mother’s as a gesture of endearment. She doesn’t want to alarm the woman by wrapping her arm around her, “but I think Nan’s idea of counseling for us all would be a good idea.”

 

“Are you cross?” Greta focuses on her mobile, glad when her husband returns to his seat on her other side.

 

“No...no, of course not.” Guinevere shakes her head, “but...you need to let me make my own decisions...even if they’re the wrong ones. That’s why I want to stay here.” She swallows, glancing over between her parents, “I’ll visit and...we can work on our relationship in therapy, but...I don’t want...” Gwen swallows, taking a moment to formulate her thoughts, “I don’t want to ruin our relationship further because of my own mental health. I don’t want to say or do something that I’ll later regret and have only said or done out of spite or...anger.”

 

“Why would you say things you would regret?” Jason tilts his head to the side, pursing his lips out of habit.

 

“Because that’s what happens when emotions boil over...or when one isn’t able to control them.” Serena answers for the teenager, “it’s what happens when one needs assistance with their mental health.”

 

Bernie continues after her wife, “mental health is just as important, if not more important at times, to physical health.” She takes Serena’s hand, catching the woman’s attention as she continues to speak with the others, “we’re very familiar with both and any stigma remaining is...unfounded and unnecessary.”

 

Jason nods a little, “and you think it would help?” He focuses on Bernie, needing to hear the truth from her, “I miss Guinevere living with us.”

 

“We both do.” Greta mumbles, still staring at her mobile.

 

Guinevere smiles a little, “And I miss my room...even though I want to redecorate and Dad didn’t want me to-”

 

“It’s a rental. We’re not able-” Jason shakes his head, interrupting his daughter.

 

“That we’ve had ever since I was born.” Gwen says quietly, “couldn’t we just...get a house or something?” She says quietly, “I’ll...get a job or...” Gwen swallows, bringing a hand up to push some hair behind her ear, “after we...sort things, that way it would give you both time to think.”

 

“And it doesn’t need to be right away or anything like that, but we’d be happy to help where we can.” Serena feels Bernie squeeze her hand in confirmation and support, “whatever you and Greta wish to do, we would support, but it is something to think about.”

 

“New beginnings all around.” Bernie nods, absently pulling her wife a bit closer.

Chapter Text

Kait wraps her arms around her fiance, standing next to her, “another one?”

 

“Well, it’s for my parents. Mum is going to serve this, with the prepared pork tenderloin medallions, and then offer the...spontaneous trip to Spain to Maman.” Charlotte nods, stirring the pot of soup, “she’s taking her to Spain. Trust me when I say it was incredibly hard not saying anything to her while offering to keep Guinevere and...a whole load of other things.”

 

“Do you think you’re taking on too much?” Kait presses a soft kiss to Charlotte’s upper arm, “I mean, it’s our first Valentine’s Day while-”

 

“I know.” Char nods, setting the wooden spoon on the top of the pot before turning to face her fiance, “and I am...absolutely thrilled to spend that time with you.” She leans in, pressing a tender kiss to the other woman’s lips, “but I’ve also promised my parents to tend to Gwen and-”

 

“She is sixteen and she’s been doing great with her therapy, among other things.” Kait nods, “not to mention, there’s a few mature, dependable young men who happen to be that same age, and around that same age, and may be bribed to watch their little sister for the night.”

 

“They watch their little sister any night that I ask them to.” Char shrugs, gently placing her wrists over Kait’s shoulders, “I just...don’t.” A smirk begins to form in the corner of her mouth, “I want my kids to have friends and...want to go out at night and...” Char shrugs, “I know it’s a bit...counterintuitive, especially where Gwen is concerned, but-”

 

“That was different. You want them to make good choices, I know.” Kait smiles softly, “you want them to want to hang about with friends instead of sitting at home with us and your parents...or invite some over.”

 

Char nods, “like, they’re all at the park at the moment...and I know they don’t want to be. I know they’d rather be-”

 

“If they didn’t want to go, they’d argue with you about it, but they didn’t.” Kait points out, just gazing up at Charlotte’s face, “they’re all growing up, Charlie, and you’ve done a great job with each and every one of them...even Alfie.” The mention of the dog causes her partner to laugh, Kait nods a little, “and maybe, just maybe, you might even consider a weekend holiday...just the two of us?”

 

Tilting her head to the side, Char shrugs a little, “where would you want to go?”

 

“Your parents are heading to Spain out of the blue because it’s Valentine’s day.” Kait laughs to herself, “it’s mad, but...it’s romantic. When was the last time you’ve been on a proper holiday?”

 

“I...well...” Charlotte thinks for a moment before shaking her head negatively, “before my children were born.”

 

Kait freezes, her eyes widening and her brow raising, “Are you...are you having me on?”

 

“No, um...my parents would take Cole and Gwen on occasion, but...” Char shakes her head again, “I always wanted to take them on a family holiday, but...I could never think of the right place or...or time to go that wouldn’t interfere with other things...like schooling and therapy.”

 

“Well, what if...” Kait pauses, thinking for a moment, “what if we plan something? Whole family?”

 

“With...Cam and-” Charlotte licks her lips, noticing her girlfriend’s nod, “I mean...it’s an idea, but I know my brother and I am aware that he and I are more likely to turn to fisticuffs if left in the same location for far too long...and I’d rather the experience be-”

 

“You don’t believe you’re thinking of the worst case scenario?” Kait raises an eyebrow, “that it might be a...healing and bonding sort of experience?”

 

“Because I couldn’t even go to lunch with my brother without an argument.” Char shakes her head, “he needs to go to therapy. It won’t only help him, it will help everyone else as well, and I’m not going to...” She sighs softly, “let’s just...I have enough of a headache and I don’t want to add the constant headache that is Cameron Dunn to it.”

 

Kait rolls her eyes, amused, “think of your nephew and nieces...and the pictures that would come out of it all, among other things.”

 

Charlotte exhales slowly, knowing Kait would be aware that it was one of the things that bothered her about her father’s memorial service, the lack of any sort of family photographs, especially with his grandchildren, “you always know how to get me to do something.”

 

Kait waves her eyebrows, “well, we’re all good at something.”

 

Blushing, Char glances away, a shocked grin forming on her face, “Kaitie-”

 

“Your mind went right into the gutter. I meant your cooking.” It’s obvious that Kait didn’t mean that and ducks away from her partner’s playful smack to the arm. She takes a few steps from her girlfriend, letting Charlotte return to the stove, “let’s just...mention it to the rest of your family. I can bring Lily for a few days. It’s been a while for her and I to do something as well...and I know she’d love being around your side. Lily adores your family.”

 

“Our family. When we get married, what’s mine is yours. Same with Lily.” Charlotte inhales deeply and exhales slowly, “it will be nice to be with someone whose family isn’t totally a bunch of...I don’t even know. I still stay in touch with Ryan’s father, but other than that...” She shrugs, glancing over to Kait, “sorry, I...I don’t mean to-”

 

“Charlie, you were married to him for over a decade. If you didn’t talk about him, I’d be worried.” Kait watches her partner, “but...I look forward to creating many more memories with you...and having many more stories with you...and the kids and...all of it.”

 

“You’re already quite aware of how Lavinia regards you.” Charlotte places the lid on the pot, glancing over to her, “wants to cuddle up to fall asleep every night with you...and you said you weren’t too familiar with parenting.”

 

“I’m not. Not as much as you are.”

 

“Well, you’re a natural.” Char nods slowly, “children are a large responsibility, of course, but really they don’t want for much. Same thing you or I would want.” She shrugs, tilting her head to the side, “warm bed, food in their belly, a hug when they’re sad, and surrounded by positivity.” Charlotte watches as Kait reaches for an apple from the bowl of fruit on the dining room table, “don’t fill yourself up on that or you’ll be full for dinner.”

 

“Is it soup?” Kait takes a bite of the golden skin of the Cameo apple, “because I’m not sure if-”

 

“Watch your next words, Detective.” Char replies, teasingly, in a sultry voice, “because unless you behave, you just might be getting bread and water for supper.”

 

A cheeky smirk forms in the corner of Kait’s mouth before she takes another bite of apple, “What about a few scraps of meat for the bread?” She chuckles softly when Charlotte rolls her eyes, the silence between them breaking by the crunching of her chewing of the apple, “please, Miss, just a few measly scraps for poor, poor me?”

 

Charlotte takes a few steps closer to Kait, waiting for her to finish with the apple in her mouth before capturing her lips in a kiss deeper than her last and holding it there. Only separating after a moment to look her in the eye, “how is that for measly scraps?”

 

Kait hums, watching her, “might I have that for dessert?”

Chapter Text

Serena shys away from the beam of sunlight through the windows of the Spanish resort. Bernie had surprised her with a trip to Menorca for a romantic extended weekend holiday. Lifting her head, she realizes her face is resting in the crook of Bernie’s neck. Serena smiles softly to herself, not necessarily wanting to move from the embrace of her wife, but knowing she needs to out of fear of a sore neck.

 

Sitting up slowly, Serena gingerly swings her legs around the side of the bed in order to sit on the edge. She tilts her head from side to side, stretching her arms in the air before feeling a hand on her nude lower back. “Our mattress is far more comfortable at home.”

 

“Didn’t notice.” Bernie responds, a smirk in the corner of her mouth, “you, on the other hand, seemed to sleep just fine.”

 

“It was nice not to...worry.” Serena answers honestly, smiling softly as she exhales, just looking to the window as she feels her wife continue to gently stroke her lower back. “I don’t actually...like to worry about every single thing...especially when it comes to the grandchildren.”

 

“Agreed.” Watching her wife’s form through the sunlight, Bernie raises an eyebrow, “you look like one of those beautiful marble Roman statues. The ones with an ethereal fluidity to them that have no business in being forged in stone. A work of art to behold.”

 

Glancing over her shoulder onto the mattress to the face of her groggy lover, Serena exhales a soft chuckle, “well, you’re in a mood this morning.”

 

“No hustle or bustle from wayward grandchildren. No shouting or playful sounds of children in the garden. Just...the warmth of the sunlight and the sound of the sea waves through the window.” Bernie’s face displays an expression of bliss, “and you...I can’t ask for anything more.”

 

Staring at Bernie’s face for a moment, Serena finally lowers herself to kiss her lover tenderly, “thank you.”

 

“The thanks is all mine.” Bernie nods a little, pecking another softer kiss to Serena’s lips after a moment, “especially seeing you like this...comfortable in your own skin and...” She keeps a hand on Serena’s arm, “you...you’re perfect.”

 

Serena feels the heat of a blush filling her face, “it’s only just morning and you’re...already buttering me up as you are.”

 

“Is it working?”

 

Humming an affirmation softly, Serena inhales deeply in thought before nodding a bit, “completely unnecessary though.” She raises her brow, “as was this holiday...not that I don’t appreciate it, of course, but...are there ulterior motives?”

 

“Ulterior mo-” Bernie pauses, “such as?”

 

“Don’t know. Thought you’d spring it on me while we were here.” Serena sits back up again, “do we have an itinerary? Or shall we venture around the city?” She pauses, “walk along the shore?”

 

“Whatever you want to do.” Bernie answers simply, “truly. I want this short holiday to be...relaxing and just...do whatever you’d like to do. Have amazing things to eat, feel Spanish sand between our toes, and interact with the people in my very broken-Spanish capabilities.” She pushes herself up to sitting against the headboard, “when we...first moved to Nairobi, when we made that plan and...” Bernie shrugs a shoulder, just watching the back of her wife, “do you remember what we said we wanted to do?”

 

“Besides travel?” Serena turns in her seat to better face Bernie, thinking as she takes a moment, “have experiences...and do things we otherwise wouldn’t do because we’d rather do them together.”

 

Bernie nods slowly, “all the things we just...haven’t done yet. I don’t want to lose those opportunities with you.”

 

“And you won’t.” Serena responds quietly, reaching a hand over to place against Bernie’s cheek, her thumb tracing along the cheekbone affectionately, “all those things that we’ve...wanted to do, we will. You don’t need to go to extravagant lengths either, darling, as you have with this. I know you love your surprises though.”

 

“I thought about a holiday property near the sea.” Bernie shrugs, “enough room for family to visit and-”

 

“Make memories.” Serena finishes her wife’s train of thought, nodding after, “I think it would be a lovely idea. However, we should also keep in mind what Jason may require.”

 

“I’ve actually got an idea for that.” Bernie replies cleverly, a cheeky smirk forming in the corner of her mouth, “actually, I believe it will only require a single bell, but I’d rather handle business in person and we’re currently on an extended weekend holiday.”

 

Serena furrows her brow, not believing her wife would have the answer that simply, especially when it has been an issue for Jason and Greta for many years. Though, Serena always suspected that it was more that Jason and Greta were comfortable at their flat than they were any properties they surveyed. “I trust you, but I am interested in your plans...as I often am.”

 

Bernie nods, lifting her hand to place on the back of Serena’s, resting on her cheek, “this holiday is all about us...and what we’d like to do while surrounded by...some of the most beautiful scenery known to humanity...with the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever met.”

 

“You know, you aren’t too bad yourself.” Serena blushes, “I think...we just have a lie in. We’re able to do what we want, when we want. Let’s have a lie in and head out later for dinner and...tomorrow we’ll visit the sea. How does that sound?” Serena lies back down, tucking herself under the bed quilt, holding onto her wife’s nude body with her own.

 

“Fantastic.” Bernie grins broadly, loving every bit of this trip already.

Chapter Text

“Have you given any thought about what you plan to do for your wedding?” Guinevere takes a sip from her paper coffee cup as she and her aunt walk along , “like...colors or location?” There’s a genuine smile to her lips as she grows increasingly interested, “honeymoon or...I don’t know...hen night?”

 

“I haven’t.” Charlotte shrugs, pushing the buggy containing Lavinia as they walk along the shopping mall. They weren’t necessarily there to do a big shop, mostly just some new clothing for Lavania, but to spend time together while her parents were in Spain. “I’m rather content, actually. I mean...I’d love to ramp things up and...” Char inhales slowly and exhales at the same pace, “when your Uncle Ryan and I were married, we eloped. We had submitted papers on a whim one afternoon and ended up going to a courthouse just before Cole’s first birthday. There was no pomp and circumstance or...any real celebration. We just wanted to get things done and over with.” Char swallows, licking her lips before biting the skin of them anxiously, “His mother never forgave us for it and I think it was the nail in the coffin of her relationship with her son.”

 

“Her loss.” Gwen shrugs, “that doesn’t have any bearing on what you and Auntie Kait will do though.”

 

“It does to me.” Char replies quietly, “I’m not...I’m not one for a big party, especially with how the last one turned out.” She clears her throat, unable to remember the events that occurred on the night of her father’s wedding except for random flashes and rarely anything meaningful. “Do you have any suggestions?”

 

“Well, maybe.” Guinevere smiles a bit, “um...where do you like to go?” When her aunt appears confused by the question, she clarifies, “I mean...has there ever been a time where you’ve gone on holiday and...” Gwen trails, knowing the answer to the question, “well, maybe that’s what you need before deciding anything. You need a holiday. A proper holiday with just the pair of you.”

 

“That isn’t so easy when one has four children...two with special needs and a toddler.” Charlotte shakes her head a little, “I don’t want to overwhelm the Grands or...or anyone else and...I just...it’s too much, you know?”

 

“What about you?” Gwen brings her paper cup to her mouth, taking another sip of her coffee, “don’t you need a break from four children at times yourself?” She places the warm cup into the cup-holder of the pushchair, continuing to speak, “I mean, they mostly just do their own thing, don’t they? Cole takes care of himself mostly, over the Grands. Laney does great with school and he’s getting better and better every day as he works on his social anxiety. Owen is just...Owen has been doing so incredibly well. He goes to school and, since Evie Fletcher works there, it just...all rolls into one. I think that’s why he’s been doing better lately.”

 

“You don’t think you’re keen on this because the Grands just went on holiday and you didn’t have a hand in it?” Char starts to smirk.

 

Gwen ignores her aunt a bit, “and Vinnie is just...well, I can help with her if you go on a weekend, right?” She shrugs, looking in the direction they’re walking, “even during the week since I’m staying with the Grands now...and working on things.”

 

“Not a single hand on location, events, impressive sights-”

 

“Fine, fine.” Guinevere sighs, “yes, I’d love to help you with that too.” She shrugs, “and...you know, make sure it’s something that you both would like to do in a location that you both would enjoy.”

 

“She and I never spoke of that before.” Char shakes her head, “lately she’s brought it up...I told Kaitie about Mum surprising Maman and she’s just been...you know...” She shrugs, “just bringing it up over and over. I don’t know what else to do.”

 

“Maybe...go on holiday?” Guinevere starts to smirk, “I mean, other than the needs of your children, which...I think you’re putting too much thought into, what is holding you back?”

 

“I...” Charlotte swallows, giving the question a moment of thought before answering, “nothing, I suppose.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

“Well now, hold on. That’s easier said than done, Gwennie. I have other commitments as well. To my publisher, among others. It isn’t just about the kids, even though that’s how it seems. Also, Kaitie would need to figure things out with work and I know they’re in the middle of a big case at the moment.” Char sighs softly, a slight smile in the corner of her lips, “I wish it were like the Grands and we could just go whenever and do whatever, but that isn’t...that isn’t what we’re able to do.”

 

Gwen nods slowly, “What ever happened to the telly thing?” 

 

“That’s...one of the things I’m...” Charlotte sighs softly, “I want to include Kaitie in discussions. She’s my girlfriend and she’ll obviously be a part of the show, but I’m not about to make her do anything she wouldn’t want to do.” She doesn’t want to talk about the negotiations with producers or how a network tried to tell her not to talk about her current relationship among other things.

 

“Putting it all on her isn’t exactly the best thing either. What do you want to do?” Guinevere tilts her head to the side, reaching over to the cup holder to retrieve her paper cup of coffee, taking a long sip before replacing it, “or the lads?”

 

“Haven’t really asked them, honestly.” Char shrugs, “I mean, it would probably wreck Owen’s schedule, something he holds dear, and Lane...well, I’m not sure how he’d feel.”

 

“Cole has his own thing and is successful with that-”

 

“I don’t really...I know he’s popular, but-”

 

“He’s...incredibly popular.” Gwen nods slowly, “he’s had some companies reach out to him regarding merchandise and figurines and things. It’s really surprising because usually you have mystery channels or gaming channels. They’re never the same thing, but he manages to post things exactly where he needs to and when he needs to for it to all work out. I don’t know if it’s art, instinct, or good business sense...possibly all three.” She smiles to herself, exhaling a soft laugh, “don’t tell him I’ve complimented him.”

 

“I wouldn’t dare.” Charlotte shakes her head, affectionately wrapping an arm around her niece’s shoulders as she continues to push the buggy with her other hand, “I am so incredibly proud of the progress you’ve made lately. I want you to know.” She presses a kiss to the teenager’s temple, while squeezing her shoulder, “and the purpose, the...grand scheme of my taking you on this trip was to spend time with you, yes, but to purchase you some new clothes because...well, I want my girls to express themselves to the best of their abilities, be as comfortable as they can possibly be, and to look their best while they’re feeling their best.” Char pauses, “also maybe have you fitted for a new brassiere...if you want, of course.”

 

“I went with Mum and Nan like...two years or so ago and it was just...awks-town, to say the least.” Guinevere sighs softly, then nods with a gentle chuckle, “but it’s probably a good idea.”

 

“Yeah, probably.” Charlotte nods, letting go of her hold, but offering the girl a broad smile.

Chapter Text

“This is the only time I’ve...” Serena exhales slowly, leaning back on her wooden chair in the sand, rented from a kiosk not far from their hotel. “The only time that I haven’t felt guilty taking a holiday.” When she’s met with silence from her wife in a chair next to her, Serena notices Bernie’s closed eyes behind her dark, mirrored green-tinted aviator sunglasses, causing her to sigh and mumble to herself, “of course she’s asleep.”

“I’m not.” Bernie smirks to herself, opening an eye so that she’s able to see the woman’s subtle jump, and she laughs audibly at the sight, “why would you feel guilty by taking a holiday?” She inhales deeply, slowly sitting up in the wooden chair, “do you feel you’re undeserving?” Bernie’s legs swing over the side of the wooden lounger, letting her face her wife, “because you are, if that’s what you’re referring to.”

 

“We don’t go often and the last we went, we came home to a...mess, to say the least.” Serena replies quietly, “but Charlotte is in a much better mindset now and I’m certain Kait would take care of her and the children if she wasn’t.”

 

“Agreed.” Bernie nods, “but...we can’t just sit on pins and needles anytime we want to live a little. I’m glad you aren’t guilty, truly, because you never had any reason to be in the first place.”

 

Serena tilts her head to the side, watching as her wife starts to lie back on the lounger again, “do you think I’m holding back?”

 

“Campbell-”

 

“It’s a simple question.” Serena continues, the space falling quiet between them as Bernie lifts her hands in innocence. However, Serena knows the notion as a signal that Bernie wasn’t looking for an argument, “fine, what do I need to do in order to prove-”

 

Bernie shakes her head slowly, “no, there’s nothing for you to prove to me or anyone else.” She stops her head shaking in Serena’s direction, watching as the woman reaches to the lower hem of her tankini top, lifting it slowly. Honestly, Bernie is both amused and pleased, “when in Spain?” She replaces the usual saying with the country in which they’re currently located.

 

Serena fully removes her top, accidentally knocking her large, floppy sun hat off in the process. If she was going to go topless, she would at least keep the hat on. Serena places the black hat back on her head before leaning her head back a little and inhaling deeply. Yes, she’s certainly out of her comfort zone, but it was a good feeling this time.

 

In a show of solidarity, Bernie lowers the olive green, halter bikini top. Her scars obtained over the years are far more visible than Serena’s and she feels a tad more self conscious about them than usual, especially here on this beach, but does her best not to display her unease. “How do you feel?”

 

Taking a moment before answering, Serena closes her eyes as she inhales and exhales slowly again, finally lowering her head and opening her eyes to see Bernie having bared her breasts as well, “Not sure, exactly.” The corner of her mouth turns up, “better than I was, I reckon.”

 

Bernie hums her approval, “as you should.”

 

“Well, if it isn’t the Wolfes.” A familiar voice says from behind Serena, obviously approaching as the voice grows louder, “my hearing hasn’t faded just yet and I’ve worked with the pair of you for far too long to-”

 

Quickly raising the halter top over her head, Bernie offers the man a smile, “Ric Griffin, what a coincidence.” She slowly pushes herself up off the lounger to stand, moving to the man to offer him a hug, allowing Serena a moment to save her blushes as she pulls her tankini top back on. “Look at you, sun cream on your nose, swim costume, sun specks. What is the staff used to call you? Hollywood Ric?”

 

Serena swallows, having hurriedly pulled her top back on and taking a deep breath. She slowly pushes herself up from her own lounger, quickly painting a cordial smile on her face as she turns around to face her old friend and colleague to give him her own hug. “Hollywood Ric? Well, that’s one I’m going to have to hear about at some point.”

 

“The pair of you haven’t aged a bit.” Ric beams as he glances between the women, “are you on holiday or business here in sunny Menorca?”

 

“Holiday. Bernie surprised me with an extended weekend trip as a grand gesture this year.” Serena offers her wife a proud smile, reaching a hand out to place against Bernie’s sunkissed cheek, “always the romantic, this one.” She lowers her hand after a moment, her eyes focusing on Ric again, “what about you? What brings you to beautiful Spain?”

 

“Life. Moved here about...oh, I don’t know, over six months or so ago.” Ric nods, a grin filling his face, “and, let me just say, the two of you are the very last people I thought I’d ever see on these shores and I’m both surprised and delighted that you are.”

 

“As are we.” Serena responds fondly.

 

“Are you in town for long?” Ric gives a subtle glance over his shoulder toward his partner, sunbathing herself on a towel on the sand, “I’m sure Bethany wouldn’t mind having you over for-”

 

Serena widens her eyes a little, “unfortunately, we’re scheduled to head home tomorrow morning, but-”

 

“We can extend.” Bernie nods, “of course we can.” She notices Serena’s face light up even further, “I’ll shift our tickets to a later boarding. Shouldn’t be a problem.” Bernie can see the excitement paint Serena’s features, “we’ll be delighted to join you and...Bethany?”

 

“Yes, very good.” Ric nods, meeting Serena’s eyes, “do you still have the same mobile number?” Seeing her affirmative tilt of her head, he smirks, “I’ll message you with the information.”

 

“We’ll see you tonight.” Serena gives him one more fond squeeze of a hug. Watching as the man gives them a nod before retreating back over to his partner, she takes hold of Bernie’s hand, “I hope you don’t mind.”

 

“Serena, he’s practically family.” Bernie squeezes Serena’s hand, “and I have no doubt that he’d visit more often if he lived close by.” Her definition of family has changed drastically over the years for the better, and most of the Holby City Hospital staff from their time working there were certainly family. “If he ever does come to visit, we’ll make dinner.” She pauses, “or we’ll have Charlotte do it instead.”

 

Serena nods slowly, chuckling through her words, “Probably a safer bet.”

Chapter Text

“Are you handy?”

 

Kait sits at a desk in the home library, working on some paperwork. She lifts her head when she hears a throat clear, realizing the teenager is actually speaking to her, “I’m sorry, were you speaking to me?”

 

Cole nods, taking a few steps closer, “I figure you don’t really have a hobby or anything and you might be proper bored.” He shrugs, “especially since Owen has essentially stolen your dog and has become Alfie’s favorite.” Cole starts to smirk, watching as the woman sets her pen down onto the desk, “and when you’re home, you’re supposed to be doing...home things. Things to help you relax and...whatever.”

 

“Cole...”

 

“Few things.” Cole starts, sliding his hands into his jeans’ pockets, “I need new content for my channel. Something that isn’t gaming or detective work. My job is done with detective work, at least for the time being. I just need to take a break from it so that I’m not-”

 

“Arrested.” Kait finishes his sentence for him, watching him more as she folds her arms across her chest, leaning back in the seat.

 

“And I’ve come across this old camper that someone wants to get rid of nearby from a local sales website, about...ten or so kilometres from here.” Cole nods, “and I thought that it might be a nice thing to fix up for the Grands. Filming everything as we go. Let Gwennie and Laney pick textiles and colors that the Grands would like and that would look nice inside. Purchase whatever tools we may need.” He shrugs, noticing her raised eyebrow of interest, “there’s only one problem.”

 

Kait starts to smirk, “You aren’t handy...at least, not in that way.”

 

Cole points to her, nodding slowly, “correct.”

 

“Um...” Kait thinks for a moment to think before shrugging, “I’m alright with a power drill and...I’ve used an electric hand saw to prune hedges a few times.” She takes a moment, “are you...asking me for help?” Kait notices his subtle nod, she chuckles to herself, “I don’t know how much help I’d actually be, but sure. You know I’m always here to lend a hand.”

 

A pleased grin starts to form on Cole’s face, “I mean, it would be a group effort, I think. We’d need to strip it, clean it, measure...all sorts of stuff and I know Mum isn’t much for...” He shrugs, “stuff like that...I don’t think. I don’t really know though. Haven’t actually asked her...and I’ll be...pulling it into the driveway or...” Cole sighs a little, thinking for a moment, “the Grands would see it, which may not be the best idea.”

 

“Is this like...you thinking out loud?” Kait leans forward, resting her elbows on the desk in front of her.

 

“I’ll...I’ll get a storage unit and-”

 

“Or, we can get a carport cover...it would hide the thing from prying eyes if a fan were to drive past, because I know that's been a thing in the past, and you could just tell your grandparents that it’s something you’re working on for your channel without any additional context.” Kait smiles a little, “I’ve gotten pretty good at talking around things, useful skill to have in my line of work.”

 

Cole nods slowly, “okay.” He exhales, “but I need help to retrieve this thing and...I reckon you might be able to help me with that as well.”

 

“Certainly, let me just finish up here and-”

 

“Now? You’re willing to go right away?” Cole raises his brow, surprised, “not that I don’t appreciate it, but I thought it might have taken some time or something.”

 

Kait shrugs, “well, we just need to get a car port cover first. Don’t want to spoil any surprises. Nor do you want to be setting it up with a large camper in the way.”

 

“It’s not too large, but...” Cole curls his lip at himself, knowing it doesn’t matter. Not really. “I really um...I really appreciate it, Stepmum. This is...this is important to me, for more reasons than one, as I’m sure you can tell.”

 

“Well, yeah, I doubt you’d be bouncing off the walls as much as you are now.” Kait relaxes her arms, leaning forward to pick her pen up again as she softly smiles to herself.

 

“It will uh...it will be a nice bonding experience as well, I guess.” Cole exhales with a smile again, “because I...I want you to feel-”

 

“Cole, you don’t need to-”

 

“Because marrying Mum means you are marrying us too...kind of.” Cole responds simply, his voice more quiet than usual, timid, “and I want to ensure you understand that we think of you as family too...at least I do...and Vin...Owen. Lane is uh...Lane is coming around to it.”

 

“I’m not upset.” Kait shakes her head, looking down at the papers on the desk, “the relationship between your mother and I is still new for us both, but you know that I care deeply for her...and, by proxy, for you as well. You and your siblings.” She lifts her gaze again at the teenager, “I want to spend time with you, of course, but I don’t want you to...to feel like you need to push yourself for me.”

 

“I’ve never pushed myself to do anything.” Cole shakes his head, “I only ever pushed myself to go to my Grandad’s wedding and that was...a while ago...and it wasn’t exactly the happiest day of...of anyone’s life in my family except maybe Grandad and Aunt Sian.”

 

Kait takes a moment, watching the teenager again, “you know, when my parents died, it was um...it was a sudden thing. It was a shock. They had always taken care of Lily and then they just suddenly...weren’t there.” She shrugs, “so I never had the opportunity to have one of my parents’ date after the other died, but I know that can’t be easy.”

 

“It isn’t about it being easy.” Cole tilts his head to the side as he speaks, “Dad loved us and wanted us to have the best of everything, but what we wanted most was his time...and he didn’t really understand that until not long before he died. Um...around the time he found out about Mum being pregnant with Vinnie.”

 

There isn’t anything she could possibly say. Nor does Kait know what she would say.

 

“And he um...he wasn’t my biological father, I know, but...he was my Dad. I’ve...I’ve tried finding more out about my biological father, apart from how awful he was to my mother, but my Oma isn’t really...doing well physically or mentally anymore. She’s...she’s quite old...and I wish I could spend a bit more time with her, but...I don’t even know what I’d...” Cole shrugs, “and then it’s...it’s a whole thing. I don’t want to put this all on you to listen to-”

 

“But I want you to.” Kait nods slightly, “I want you to understand that, even though I’m not your therapist or...any sort of professional in that department, you can always talk to me about what’s troubling you.” She offers him a kind smile, “I do wonder, though, why do you stay over at your grandmothers’ house so often?”

 

“I...I feel most comfortable there. I like the quiet. When Mum was focused on the twins or just Owen, I was with them. When Mum was having a tough time with herself...I was with them.” Cole explains, “when things happened with my biological grandfather, I spent time with them, and even before that because I’d have awful migraines and stuff.” He shrugs, “I still get them on occasion, but they’re mostly spurred on by like...stress and stuff...and if I spend too much time streaming or editing on the computer, but I haven’t had one in some time.”

 

“I remember doctors doing surgery on you for it years ago.” When Cole seems confused, Kait continues, “couldn’t do an investigative interview with you because you were groggy from surgery after the whole ordeal with your paternal grandparents. If you had said anything of note during that time, it would have been inadmissible in court.”

 

“What did you expect me to say?”

 

“I don’t expect anything unless people are obviously guilty. We could tell what happened because of evidence and interviews with Bernie and your paternal grandmother.” Kait nods, “I didn’t expect anything else said that wasn’t already said. I know Bernie tried to protect you because of how she spoke around the issue instead of simply stating it head on, but she didn’t want to lie either.” She leans forward a bit, “typical behavior of a parent or loved one who is protecting their child.”

 

Cole smiles a little to himself, nodding. “I’ve heard my Mum say that she gave birth to her own little brother...on many occasions because of...how I am with my Grands.”

 

That’s something about the way he says it. Something about how the smile on his face isn’t completely genuine. Kait can tell, causing her to lift her head, “and that bothers you.”

 

“I didn’t say-”

 

“You didn’t need to.” Kait sets the pen down, finally standing after a moment from the desk, “you should tell her. Knowing your mother, I highly doubt she realizes that she’s hurting your feelings. That’s the last thing she’d ever want. You know that, Cole.”

 

Cole swallows, waiting a moment before he nods, “doesn’t matter. I um...I have things to...to prepare and-”

 

“We’ll go together.” Kait nods, “let me put together what I’m working on here and we’ll go.”

 

“If you don’t want to, you don’t...you don’t need to.” Cole starts to shake his head, moving back toward the door again, leading toward the vestibule, “I don’t mean to...I don’t want you to feel like I’m pressuring you into helping me with this. That’s the last thing I want. I don’t want to guilt you into-”

 

“Cole, you didn’t.” Kait shakes her head, “I’d much rather be doing something else. Especially working on a project with you.” When the teenager doesn’t seem too sure, she offers him a smile, “go and get your camera. Wouldn’t want you to miss a single thing through all of this...as long as you promise to get my good side.”

 

Cole starts to smile again, “promise.”

Chapter Text

Ric holds his glass of wine as he speaks, gesturing toward his friends across the table as they relate their tales of old, “And Bernie had gone behind my back and had the patient agree to a different procedure entirely.”

 

“It was the man’s birthday!” Bernie grins, leaning back in her chair, genuinely amused by the man.

 

“I’ll give you that one.” Ric nods, taking a sip of his wine as things start to quiet down, “it was then that...I had realized one Berenice Wolfe is not one to be messed with. One hell of a woman, one hell of a surgeon.” He smirks toward the blond, “and can drink any one of us under the table. She just likes to remain...humble about that.”

 

Serena raises her brow in a laugh, holding Bernie’s hand beneath the table, “those days are long gone now.”

 

Bernie hums in agreement, exhaling with a smile, “an occasional...swig here and there, but...overall...” She shakes her head, “I keep it to the bare minimum, but there’s been a downturn still.”

 

“Yes, we’ve mostly been focused on the children and grandchildren.” Serena explains, glancing lovingly over toward her wife, “and we’re spending each day working to better ourselves for them and one another.”

 

“Rather philosophical of you.” Ric raises an eyebrow, “isn’t that what you’ve always done anyway?” He glances between the women, watching as Bethany, having been sitting relatively silent for the duration of the meal, gets up from the dining room table to fetch another bottle of wine from the kitchen.

 

“Strong silent type?” Serena raises an eyebrow, bringing her glass of wine to her lips.

 

“To be honest with you, she has this notion that I have feelings for you.” Ric nods, causing Serena to nearly choke on her wine. He stands out of instinct, glancing at Bernie as she pats her wife’s back, “she alright?”

 

Bernie continues to pat Serena’s back, “well, Griffin, reckon you’ve rendered my wife speechless.” She smirks, nodding when Serena lifts a hand up for her to stop, “do you need a paper bag or the like?”

 

“Where the hell would she get an idea like that?” Serena scowls, placing a hand on her own chest as she catches her breath. Her eyes shift to the silent, younger woman as she returns from the kitchen, “Bethany, it seems you’ve gotten the wrong idea about the past Ric and I share.”

 

Bethany glances between the women, then to her partner, “what did you say, Ricky?”

 

“Ricky?” Bernie and Serena reply in unison.

 

Ric glances between all the women in the room before settling back on his partner, “I simply told them what we discussed when we arrived home...and many times before that-”

 

“Oh my god.” Bethany closes her eyes as her cheeks turn a deep crimson, lifting a hand up to run through her hair, “p-please, don’t get-”

 

“Trust me when I say, I am very aware of Ric Griffin’s lack of tact.” Serena shakes her head, “he and I were never in a relationship. Nor have I ever wanted to be.” She exhales slowly, glancing at her old friend, “no offense.”

 

“Some taken.” Ric teases before glancing over to Bethany, “besides, Serena and Bernie have been together for what seems like forever...and I only have eyes for you anyway, Beth.” He leans in, kissing her gently, “swear to you. Serena and I are far too alike for us to have ever made it as a couple or even close to it and if we did, she would have been a lovely ex-wife.”

 

“Keep digging that hole...” Serena mumbles at Ric, exhaling as she looks at his partner, “look, Bethany, when I started work at Holby City, Ric and I butted heads more than anyone I’ve ever encountered. The stories we could tell of our escapades with one another would-”

 

“I’m betting he didn’t give Hanssen a wallop at the end of any of your encounters.” Bernie mumbles, an amused sound to her softened voice, “am I right, Rocky?”

 

Ric tries to keep a chuckle from escaping his lips, nearly failing miserably, but managing to maintain his composure, “completely unintentional.”

 

“Poor Henrik.” Serena exhales, not knowing how to handle the situation at this point, “please, don’t think too far into this, Bethany.”

 

Bethany glances between the people in the room, “I...I didn’t mean for anything to...” She shakes her head, looking over to her partner, “Ric, I told you that in confidence and I was only teasing you...and now our guests, who you’re incredibly familiar with and I’m not, believe I’m some sort of...jealous whatsit.”

 

Serena opens her mouth, shaking her head in a slow denial, “W-we don’t believe that you’re-”

 

“Doesn’t matter.” Bethany shakes her head, swallowing. She looks at the bottle of wine as she exhales slowly, looking over at their guests, “if you’ll excuse me. It was a pleasure to meet you both, but...I’m suddenly not feeling very well.” Bethany offers an embarrassed smile, “please, just enjoy your time together. I’m going to head to bed.”

 

Ric exhales slowly, watching as the woman walks away from them and toward the stairs. “I...apologize for-”

 

“Being a terrible boyfriend? We aren’t the ones that you should be apologizing to.” Serena lifts an eyebrow, bringing her glass of wine to her lips and taking a long sip, “and yet you haven’t gone after her.”

 

“No use.” Ric glances around the table, “let me collect your dishes and obtain us another bottle of wine-”

 

“Ric.” Bernie watches him, slowly sitting a bit straighter in preparation to stand, “I think we should head back to the hotel. I’m feeling rather tired and we still need to pack for our midday flight tomorrow.” She offers a weak smile, “and we have a...hot tub in our room.”

 

“El hidromasaje.” Ric nods slowly, offering a disappointed smile, “take advantage of it while you’re still able. I don’t blame you.” He exhales, “It’s just...been really good to see you both. Please, don’t be strangers.”

 

“Wouldn’t dare.” Serena winks at him, standing from the table and stepping around to him, giving the man a tender hug, “also, I’d have made an excellent ex-wife.”

 

“I have no doubt that you would have.” Ric chuckles, keeping a soft smile in the corner of his lip as he wraps an arm around his friend in response, “a formidable opponent for sure.”

 

“I would have taken you for broke.” Serena nods, speaking sweetly before taking a step back to let Bernie give the man her own farewell. There’s something about this that is far more depressing than she ever expected and she begins to feel the hot sting of tears filling her eyes, “our door is always open to you as well. Be sure to remember that.”

 

Once letting Bernie go, Ric places a hand over his chest as a sign of affection, “likewise to you both.”

Chapter Text

Charlotte stands at the large window of her living room with younger son, her hands wrapped around a mug of tea. She tilts her head to the side, watching the commotion of what is occurring outside. “When I agreed to the use of the driveway for a project , I didn’t think there would be a large...thing there.”

 

“Marquee.” Lane nods slowly, the top of his head already past her shoulder as he stands next to his mother, watching as his brother and his mother’s fiance set up the seemingly massive structure. “He’s purchased a camper, you know. Something he’s p-planning to fix up, but has no experience in doing so.” He snorts a soft laugh, “I...I know he’ll try very h-hard, but...my expectations are low.”

 

“Kaitie’s helping him, but...I’m not sure of her carpentry abilities either.” Charlotte exhales slowly, lifting the mug of tea to her lips to take a slow sip.

 

“She’s a detective. They aren’t known for c-carpentry abilities.” Lane draws his lower lip into his mouth to moisten, a bitter tone to his voice, “I doubt she’ll be able to do anything and h-have it hold together.”

 

Charlotte begins to nod slowly, a smirk beginning to form in the corner of her mouth, “Laney...” She sighs softly, “are you...” Charlotte turns her head to look at her son, “it’s been over a year. If you aren’t okay with Kait and I being together, I’d really like to-”

 

“Mum, she makes you happy.” The tone of Lane’s voice is just above a mumble, “she makes you really happy and I’ve...I know what you went through when you lost Dad. I know that was h-hard...it was for the rest of us too, but...you don’t think that you might be...” Lane shrugs, pausing for a moment before he continues to speak, “you don’t think that you might be reacting too quickly? Moving on too quickly?”

 

“All the time.” Charlotte responds honestly, “I worry about that all the time, but...then I see the lengths that Kait goes for my children, yourself included, and it warms me completely.” She motions to the on goings of what’s happening through the window, “just like this. Today is Kait’s day off, something she hasn’t had in a while with this bigger case that’s been going on, and what is she doing? Helping Cole with lord-knows-what in the front garden.” Charlotte starts to blush, watching the muscular woman tie down one of the corners of the structure, “she makes me feel safe and... absurdly happy.”

 

Lane swallows, knowing he’s been selfish about the whole thing, but he had a right to be. “Didn’t Dad make you-”

 

“Sometimes...most times.” Charlotte licks her lips as the teenager’s expression turns a bit downcast, causing her to nudge her shoulder against his, “but he gave me you and your siblings...and this house and...” She shakes her head, “and so many memories.”

 

“Are you going to move house too?” When Charlotte appears confused, Lane continues, “I mean, you might not want to still be here since Dad used to be here and-”

 

“I’m not attempting to erase your father.” Char shakes her head, “and the only reason your father even purchased this house was because it was next to the Grands, but-”

 

“So then it isn’t really yours.” Lane interrupts, tilting his head to the side, “and-”

 

“Excuse me. Of course it’s mine. Where is this coming from?” Charlotte furrows her brow, shaking her head a little as she keeps her voice hushed. When Lane doesn’t respond after a moment, Char continues, “Answer me.”

 

“I...” Lane swallows, finally averting his gaze, “I...I wanted to know more about Dad. He hardly talked about himself unless it included the hospital or how he grew up and you never do because you’re with Kait now.”

 

“What did you-”

 

“I found my Dad’s parents...just like Cole found his Dad’s parents...”

Charlotte’s eyes widen a bit, “they were two very different things...two very different situations-”

 

“So, it’s okay for C-Cole to contact his grandparents and not me?” Lane shakes his head, “that’s a double standard. Daddi said it isn’t a coincidence that Dad is dead and Cole’s father is dead too.”

 

“Your father didn’t want anything to do with her.” Char shakes her head, “there’s a reason for that. She was resentful and spoke ill of your brother and myself...not to mention the Grands.” She sighs softly, “and when your father and I eloped, you’d have thought someone stabbed her in the heart.” Charlotte pauses, looking through the window again, “your father told her he didn’t want anything to do to her, but we kept in touch with your grandfather. He was always...incredibly kind and loving.” She swallows, realizing she hasn’t heard from the older man, “did she mention anything about him?”

 

“She’s moved back here since her husband d-died...something about being closer to her daughters and um...” Lane shakes his head a little, “she’d...she said she would like to see me.”

Charlotte bites her bottom lip, bringing her mug of tea up to take a long sim, “did she?”

 

Lane nods, then starts to smile again, “said how m-much we looked like Dad...how much I looked like Dad.”

 

“So the talk about the house and me killing your father just casually came up in conversation?” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, glancing over to her son again, “and she didn’t mention wanting to see Owen or Lavinia?” When he doesn’t answer, Char continues, “you didn’t find that a bit odd?”

 

“Why would I?” Lane moves away from his mother slightly, a smarmy smile starting to fill his face, “she wants to see me and I want to see her.”

 

“Okay.” Char states simply.

 

Taken aback, Lane laughs a little to himself, not expecting her response in the slightest, “are you...” He pauses, “you aren’t going to tell me that I can’t?”

 

“Well, I mean, you see how well it all went for your brother when he went to see his biological paternal grandparents.” Charlotte responds, “so-”

 

“That’s not fair.”

 

“No?” Char shrugs, “how is it not?”

 

“There was a history of abuse.” Lane answers simply, “but there isn’t-”

 

“You’ve never met her for a reason. Your father didn’t want you to know her for a reason , Laney.” Charlotte says honestly, her voice remaining steady, “and you were there when your father died, though you probably don’t remember it...thankfully. We were in an auto collision...a um...a large one, which you’re...very aware.” She licks her lips, “I only remember bits and pieces because...I had lost a bit of blood and you...” Charlotte’s chin trembles and she shakes her head a little, but clears her throat, able to keep her emotions at bay, “I almost lost you too. Very, very close to it...you and Vin.”

 

Lane nods a little, sighing as she glances away, “yeah, you don’t let me forget it.”

 

“You can’t forget something that you don’t remember in the first place.” Char raises her brow, earning a soft huff of a laugh from her son as she finishes off her mug of tea, “Laney, you should always do what you think is right, but...I really, truly want you to think this through. If you decide that you still want to meet her, I don’t want you to go alone to do it...and I don’t mean taking one of your siblings, I mean...the Grands or...I don’t know.”

 

“Kait?” Lane offers, “bet you wouldn’t argue with that.”

 

“I wouldn’t, but I also don’t want you to be a proper prat to her...or, as others might call it, a teenager.” Charlotte reaches a hand up, pushing her hair back and tucking a piece behind her ear, “bloody headache. Every last one of you.”

 

“I know you didn’t kill Dad, Mum.” Lane shakes his head, “you...you’re not the type for it.”

 

“Thanks.” Char smirks a little, amused by her son’s musterings.

 

Lane starts to walk toward the doorway, “Gran on the other hand...”

 

“Dare you to accuse her.” Charlotte chuckles, turning a bit to look over to him, “they’re on their way home tonight, you know. At least they’re supposed to be, if they don’t extend it again.”

 

Swallowing, Lane slides his hands into his pockets, “do you...do you want me to go and see what they’re doing in the driveway?”

 

Char thinks for a moment before nodding, “report back, won’t you?” Noticing the teenager’s smirk and nod before stepping out of the room. She exhales once she hears the door opening, not knowing if she should say anything to anyone except her therapist. Charlotte clears her throat, not knowing how she feels about the whole thing. Possibly even worse than when she discovered Cole had gotten in contact with his biological father’s parents. Her former husband’s mother, however, was a different breed all those years ago. Venomous and petty, this wasn’t going to have a good outcome.

Chapter Text

“You look fantastically sunkissed.” Guinevere grins toward her Nan, entering through the backdoor of her grandparents home into the kitchen space with Lavinia in her arm. She’s glad the woman is standing there, filling an electric kettle before pushing the button to turn the device on. “Tell Nan how much you missed her, Vinia,” Gwen lets the girl down from her arms, watching as she rushes over to the stove area.

 

“Nan, you ‘ome!” Lavinia beams, hugging tightly onto Serena’s leg while tilting her head back to look up at the older woman.

 

“Well, that’s quite the welcome.” Serena chuckles softly, reaching down to pick the toddler up into her arms, Lavinia holding onto her tightly as to not accidentally let go. “We returned home an hour ago. You’re late.” She teases, a soft smile forming in the corner of her mouth, “and what the hell is that over in Charlotte’s drive?”

 

“Ah.” Gwen nods, “ that is Cole’s newest project for his channel content. They put a cover over it in case one of his fans were to drive by or something.” She shrugs, casually folding her arms over her chest, “you’ll have to ask him about more details, Laney and I have been tasked with interior design, which is more Laney’s thing than it is mine. I’m better at other things.”

 

“You both have different styles, I believe. He isn’t really afraid of color, despite his best efforts to encourage others to believe otherwise. Yours are more subdued and modest.” Serena shrugs, “working together, I bet the pair of you could create magnificent things.”

 

“Speaking of which, would you mind if I fixed the room I’ve been staying in here? I usually stay in Vinia’s room over to Aunt Charlotte’s and Gran said I could have some wiggle room here with that, but I wanted to ask you first...” Gwen tilts her head to the side, her words trailing as she keeps from mentioning that the room used to belong to her Auntie Elinor, “speaking of which, where is Gran?”

 

Serena motions toward the direction of Charlotte’s house with a tilt of her head, “she left through the front not ten minutes before you arrived.”

 

“Probably investigating the enclosure.” Guinevere smiles to herself, “so, tell me all about it. Was it romantic and beautiful and...everything one would imagine Spain being for an exotic interlude?” There’s a whimsical tone to her voice and she does everything not to just twirl in place, “I’m a bit of a romantic.”

 

Exhaling slowly, Serena maintains her hold on Lavinia since the girl doesn’t seem to be letting up on her embrace, “it was absolutely remarkable.” She blushes, swallowing as she glances away, “if things were different and...it was just she and I, I wouldn’t mind actually living there full time.”

 

“So, why don’t you?” Gwen tilts her head, shrugging when Serena glances over to her. The teen decides to rephrase the statement, “Other than us, why haven’t you?”

 

“Because when one has too much of a good thing, the splendor and beauty begins to subside the longer one is present in those circumstances.” Serena absently sways from foot to foot with Lavinia still in her arms, her expression thoughtful, “if that makes a molecule of sense.”

 

“It does.” Guinevere smiles softly, “so...Spain...”

 

“Yes.” Serena goes on, gently rubbing Lavinia’s back with her shortened nails, “our hotel room was absolutely...far too much for us. Vast, with a large whirlpool tub.” She blushes, biting her lip in a bashful smile, “ended up running into Ric Griffin and his partner, which was absolutely lovely. It was all just...marvelous.”

 

Gwen nods, “was that planned? I don’t remember you mentioning anything about it before you left.” 

 

“It was not.” Smiling softly, Serena watches her eldest granddaughter, “that’s what was so special about it. We just stumbled upon one another.” She nods, thinking back to the meeting, “he and his partner had Bernie and I over for dinner. It was nice to reminisce without any stress or pretense.” 

 

“Well, be sure to keep in contact. Video conference, visiting. Spain isn’t terribly far.” Gwen pauses, “well, far enough, but...still not awful. Not to mention, you and Gran should be setting aside more time for yourselves anyway.”

 

“We’ve realized that.” Serena nods, “though, our next project is working out a family holiday with everyone. Bernie’s mentioned it plenty of times.”

 

“I can help with that.” Gwen offers, her eyes growing with slight excitement, “location, events, whatever it is you need help with.” She shrugs, “if you want. I...I’m sure you’d like some time between to consider locations and...” Guinevere takes a moment, “you might want it to just be Auntie Char, Uncle Cam, and their...”

 

“What?” Serena furrows her brow, looking at the teenager, “your parents and you as well, Guinevere. Where is this coming from?” She isn’t surprised when the girl doesn’t answer, “not to mention, there's a trip to France that you and I are due to take.”

 

“I...I didn’t think you’d still want to go with me since...” Gwen responds meekly, her words trailing out of disappointment in herself.

 

“I’ve promised you ever since you were just a babe.” Serena shakes her head, “I think a change of scenery and some time away might be a good thing. Don’t you?” She hears the steady breathing of Lavinia on her shoulder, the girl having fallen asleep in the arms of her grandmother. “Since I’ve been many times before and you haven’t left the country, I want you to decide where you want to go while we’re there...or even where we’ll stay. Just run it by me and I’ll ensure the safety of the area, among other things.”

 

“But I’ve missed school and-”

 

“And you’ve the Easter holiday coming up, not to mention the summer.” Serena answers honestly, “even if it’s for a weekend at first and then we take more time later on.” She smiles softly, “it’s your history, regardless how your biological paternal grandmother felt, you should know where you’ve come from. I’ve offered it to Jason in the past, but he wasn’t interested at the time.”

 

“I’d love that, actually.” Guinevere gives a warm grin, “but I won’t...I don’t want...”

 

“Guinevere-”

 

“I don’t want you to feel like you need to take me simply because you’ve promised me all this time.” Gwen shakes her head, “I’ve done things in recent months that is less than worthy of reward and-”

 

“Guinevere.” Serena attempts again, reaching out with her free hand to turn on the electric kettle again, “everyone has rough patches in their life. Multiple.” She tilts her head, signaling for the teen to follow her toward the living room. Serena gingerly places Lavinia onto the sofa to continue her nap before turning and facing her eldest grandchild. She takes Guinevere by the hand to garner her attention, looking her in the eye, “this may have been an incredibly rough one, but it certainly isn’t the end of the world. You recognized that you have a problem and you’ve taken that problem by the horns and...made it your bitch.”

 

Guinevere raises an impressed eyebrow, doing her best not to break out into a giggle, “is that a compliment?”

 

Serena nods, wrapping her arms around the teenager and pulling her into a tender hug, pressing a kiss to her temple. “I won’t lie to you, I worried about you while we were away, but I also believed in you wholly. I couldn’t be more proud of you if I tried.”

 

“Thanks, Nan.” Gwen returns the embrace, inhaling the woman’s familiar smell. She’s thrilled to finally have her Grands home.

Chapter Text

“This is pretty awesome, I can’t lie to you.” Kait places her hands on her hips as she looks at the vintage camper from the fifties, at least, possibly older. “I do think it’s quite the undertaking. Nothing wrong with a little challenge, but...let’s not beat around the bush.”

 

“I know, but...I think we can do it. There isn’t anything one can’t learn by watching instructional videos on the internet.” Cole nods a little, standing beside the woman as they both take in the smallish camper, “I’ve...we’ve cleaned it top to bottom. I guess...measurements are next?”

 

Kait nods a little, “but we also need to...sketch out what your plans are. Have everything in place before we move on from there.” She offers her suggestion, “at least that’s what I’d do in this instance, but this is your circus. You do whatever you want.”

 

“No, I think that’s a good thing. Planning is a good thing.” Cole nods, “work with the others in deciding fabrics and textiles before really going crazy. I think gutting it and cleaning was a good first step, especially based on the tutorials I’ve watched online.”

 

“That’s been your source of information this whole time?”

 

Cole slowly turns his head to look at the other woman, “where else would I get it from?”

 

Kait shrugs, “I don’t know...reading a book or...” She exhales slowly, “which makes me sound older than my years, I suppose.”

 

“I read plenty, but I’d prefer the most updated information available...which I’m not going to get by reading texts from twenty years ago, if not longer.” Cole shakes his head, “not that you didn’t know what you were doing then, but things have changed greatly...probably.”

 

“Probably not as much as you’d think.” Kait folds her arms over her chest, “carpentry has been here long before us and it will be here long after us.”

 

Cole rolls his eyes, an amused smirk in the corner of his mouth, “I know, I know.” The rustling of the carport cover near them earns his attention as his grandmother pokes her head in, “Gran.” Cole begins to beam as she enters the space more, “you’re finally home.”

 

“That I am.” Bernie accepts an eager embrace from her eldest grandson, holding him closely though he’s now the same height as herself, “and I couldn’t help except notice this large...structure in your drive as Serena and I pulled up.”

 

Cole lets his grandmother go, turning to look at the camper with a nod, “something I’m working on.”

 

“Oh, I can help, if you’d like.” Bernie offers, smiling a bit.

 

“No, Gran.” Cole shakes his head, “I want you and Nan to...have some time to yourselves and-”

 

Bernie sighs, warning a bit, “Cole-”

 

“I thought it would be something nice to do with Kait as ah...as a bonding experience.” Cole replies sheepishly as he glances back at the camper, doing his best to maintain the illusion for his grandmother, “and it’s for the...the channel to get to know her as well. So...” He shrugs, licking his lips after a moment, “we could probably use a supervisor though, if you’d like...from time to time.”

 

There’s something about the teenager’s face, possibly the way he doesn’t look her in the eyes as he says his words, that alerts Bernie to the boy not telling the full truth. “Okay.” She answers simply, prepared to speak to her daughter after, “well, I’ll leave the pair of you to it then.”

 

“No, we’re about to call it a day.” Kait offers her a kind smile between both Cole and Bernie, “we’ve done a deep clean and removed a few things to refurbish. Actually, we’ve completed far more than I believe either of us expected to today.” She nods, looking back at the camper, “so, I reckon we can call it for the day. Wash up before dinner.”

 

“Good idea,” Cole nods, watching as Kait leaves the enclosure before looking at his Gran, “I um...I’ve been feeling really anxious lately and um...I thought this was a good idea, and it has been, but...it isn’t helping my-”

 

“It’s okay.” Bernie wraps an arm around his shoulders, knowing she’s one of the only people in the family he’s ever really willing to truly open up to given all of their experiences together. “How about you have a proper soak with some...nice, relaxing music? Possibly a book or...” Bernie shakes her head a little, “and I’ll be downstairs when you finish.” She pauses, “you’re still...over to ours, right?”

 

Cole nods, flashing a quick smile, “only place I could get any peace.”

 

“Understandable.” Bernie nods to him, feeling his subtle tremble as he takes hold of her hand. “Darling, you can’t work yourself into an anxious tizzy each time your Nan and I want to spend time together.”

 

“I-I don’t.” Cole shakes his head, “I try not to, b-but sometimes-” He swallows, “and m-my therapist had a family emergency this time and it’s-”

 

“I know.” Bernie offers him a soft smile, reaching her free hand up to push hair back that had fallen in his eyes. “We’re here now...and I can’t wait to hear more about your newest project.” She tilts her head toward the camper, “quite the undertaking.”

 

Cole hums his approval, “too much.”

 

“The only way to learn to walk is to put one foot in front of the other.” Bernie nods a little, “and even if you want this to be a bonding experience, there’s no reason you can’t accept help from others.” She motions in the direction of her house, “let’s get on home. I know your Nan wants to tell you all about how we saw Ric.”

 

“Uncle Ric?” Cole perks up a little, “in Spain?”

 

Bernie hums with an affirmative nod, “one in the same. Quite the story too.” She gently guides him from the enclosure, walking toward the house, anything to calm the boy back to where he was mentally before they left. “Chin up, shoulders back.”

 

Cole smirks to himself, “yes, ma’am.”

Chapter Text

“Maman.” Charlotte smiles broadly as her stepmother approaches, standing in the back garden of her own home. She accepts a welcome hug from the woman as they share a quick peck on the cheek to one another, “thought I heard Guinevere say you were home. I was on a business call.” She nods, turning her head to glance over to Alfie, who is happily chasing after a ball thrown by Owen. The activity built Owen’s motor skills without him realizing and much to the pup’s delight. “Welcome home.”

 

“Yes, thank you.” Serena nods, staying next to her stepdaughter as she turns her attention to where the young woman is looking, “he’s doing marvelously.”

 

“He’s been...spending more and more time with Alfie. They’re just...inseparable. It’s like night and day.” Char nods absently, “Kaitie and I were hesitant to let Alfie into Owen’s room, but since we’ve let them start sleeping together, we don’t even need to put the gate on Owen’s door or anything. I just...I’m thankful.” She swallows, shrugging while maintaining a subtle smile, “I keep thinking about how Ryan would hardly recognize him...with as far as he’s come...in such a...”

 

“You seem as if something is on your mind.” Serena keeps an arm around Charlotte’s back, absently running it over Char’s upper arm, “penny for them?”

 

Char shakes her head a little, “just the usual...angst that comes with Ryan’s anniversary and...” She exhales slowly, “and being with Kaitie and...things moving on for us. I...I love her immensely. I just...I want to move on...not think about...about Ryan so much.” Charlotte pauses, “that makes me sound heartless.”

 

“No, it sounds honest.” Serena smiles softly, “he was your partner. Ryan and I may have had our differences, but...I only ever wanted you both to be happy...together.” She tenderly holds Charlotte, “and it isn’t going to get easier. He’s always going to be with you, especially when you look at those twins and see...a couple of little clones.”

 

Exhaling a soft chuckle, Charlotte nods, “truer words have never been said.”

 

“And you need to make new memories with Kait...if that’s what you want to do. It isn’t covering the old memories, it’s appreciating them and creating new ones.” Serena moves her hand to the younger woman’s hair, pushing it behind her ear before leaning closer to press a kiss to Charlotte’s temple. “Maybe go on your own romantic weekend,” when Charlotte begins to slowly shake her head negatively, Serena tilts her head to the side, peering at the side of Char’s face with a cheeky smirk, “Bernie and I have a bit of experience in that field, apparently.”

 

“I’m...I’m not prepared to leave Lavinia and Owen for that long.” Char absently bites her lip, “no...no offense intended, I just...I’ve already left them so often over the past couple of-”

 

“Two or three days isn’t going to scar them for life, darling.” Serena shakes her head, “besides, it may actually do them a bit of good.”

 

“Family holiday. I’d...I’d rather do...something else, you know?” Charlotte pauses, glancing over to her stepmother, “is that...stupid?”

 

“No, but I do think an occasional dinner date or time to yourselves would be a good thing.” Serena shrugs a shoulder, “nothing too...mad, but...time for the pair of you to be together, alone. Even time for yourself...alone.”

 

“We’ll see, Maman.” Charlotte continues to watch her son absently, finally leaning down when Alfie races over to her with the toy and tossing it for him. “I’m guessing Cole raced over to yours?”

 

“No, he was in the enclosure located in your drive. Bernie went and fetched him...like a sock missing their shoe.” Serena exhales a soft smile, “per the usual.” She turns her head when she hears excited footsteps and the door of her own home closing, “all cleaned up?”

 

“She almost made it to toilet. Almost.” Gwen casually follows behind her cousin, “just need to be a tad quicker next time.”

 

“Good job trying, Lavinia.” Charlotte crouches when the girl reaches her, “were you so happy to see the Grands back?”

 

Lavinia nods slowly, meeting her mother’s eyes as she leans against her, “they gone long time, Mummy.” The girl mumbles quietly, shyly glancing up to her Nan, “no leab ‘gain?”

 

“Well, your Gran and I may still have a bit of quiet time to ourselves from time to time, but we’ll always come back, sweetheart. We did bring something back for you and the other small ones.” Serena nods, “but you’ll need to wait until after dinner, understood?” When the girl beams up at her, Serena reaches over to run a hand through her soft, honey colored curls.

 

“Gwennie, can I give you a project?” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, finally standing upright again as Lavinia runs after Alfie. When the teenager lifts her head, signifying her interest, Char continues, “family holiday, widespread. I just need location ideas. Nothing too intense and nothing terribly...busy, if you wouldn’t mind.”

 

“I can do that.” Guinevere starts to grin, nodding, “France for Nan and I as well.” She claps a little in excitement, actually loving the tasks at hand, “you two really do know how to show a girl a good time.”

 

“We are lesbians, darling.” Serena shrugs, earning a chortle from the others around her.

 

“Touche.” Gwen nods, “I’ll see what I can put together on my mobile...make charts and...things like that.”

 

“Oh, well, you can use my laptop. It’s on my desk in the bedroom.” Charlotte offers, “password is MyKidsAreArseholes...all together.”

 

“It isn’t...” Serena does her best not to laugh, failing miserably when Charlotte doesn’t show any signs that the statement was made in jest, “Charlotte-”

 

Char shrugs, feeling the need to explain, “not a bad thing. They’re arseholes, but they’re my arseholes and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.” She nods, “blood, sweat, and tears for them...stretch marks and sore tits from them...and I’d do it time and time again.”

 

“I guess that’s...sweet?” Guinevere tilts her head to the side, not entirely certain of her statement, “okay, I’m...I’m going to go ahead and grab your laptop and-”

 

“Keep it. Reset it and stuff, but feel free to just keep it for yourself. Just see to it that you save any open documents to the cloud...even though I don’t believe any are actually open...and take the charger.” Charlotte nods, “I’ve been meaning to get a new laptop anyway and that one is only maybe a year old.” When the teenager seems surprised, she continues, “I mean...you’re welcome...”

 

Gwen takes a few steps closer, embracing her aunt tightly. The only laptops she’s ever had were all issued from school or one that her parents have purchased for themselves and she had used more than them, but they were never actually hers, “I swear I’ll take care of it.”

 

“I have no doubt that you will.” Charlotte hugs the teenager back in return, pressing a quick kiss to her temple before they let go of one another and Guinevere flounces toward the house, “she and I were able to have some quality time together as aunt and niece while you were away and the boys were...here, it was nice.”

 

“No reason it couldn’t happen more often.” Serena shakes her head, “in fact, I think it would be a great idea in the times that Greta is unable to, maybe one of us fills in.” When her step-daughter seems confused, she continues, “with girly things or situations Greta isn't as comfortable with because of her Asperger's.”

 

“If you’re referring to cosmetics, Lane knows far more than either of us combined, and as far as social situations, I’m not much of a fan of those either.” Charlotte sighs softly, “shopping malls, I can do...if it isn’t terribly busy, but otherwise...it’s a hit or miss.”

 

“Someone to confide in that has had the life experiences that we’ve had.” Serena explains, “is far more helpful, far better than cosmetics or shopping.” She motions with a nod toward Lavinia, “same as she’ll do in a decade’s time with Lavinia. The cycle will continue...therefore, we may as well help Guinevere as much as possible now so that she can help Lavinia in the future.”

 

“Make it sound like some sort of time traveler...situation.” Char smirks as Lavinia runs up to her Nan, wrapping her chubby arms around Serena’s leg in an effort to get the woman to pick her up. “We all want the best for our children. Physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s all more than three square meals, clothes that fit, and a roof over their head. It’s being present for them in every way one possibly can.” She licks her lips, watching as Serena lifts Lavinia into her arms, “and I won’t be the one to break a cycle of positivity...especially after all this family has gone through.”

Chapter Text

“I thought Nan would have been the one who would have wanted to c-come with me.” Lane’s words are slow as he does his best to stand with his grandmother, “I-I’m nervous, so...I’m...I’m uh...” He holds his hands out, being honest with her, more honest than he usually is with his Gran. “I just...I d-don’t want my Daddi thinking I’m s-some sort of...freak.”

 

“Why would she think you’re a freak?” Bernie watches her grandson, knowing how his symptoms flare when his emotions are heightened. “You aren’t even close. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

 

“I-I’m...m...my words are...” Lane’s chin trembles a little as he looks away, not only from his grandmother, but also the rest of the eatery. “I th-think I should...text her and...and say another d-day would-”

 

“You could, if that’s what you want. No one is forcing you to do this.” Bernie exhales slowly, watching the teen, “however, if you’ve promised someone something, keep in mind how you feel when a promise is broken on you by someone else.”

 

“I-I-I know.” Lane answers quietly, clearing his throat as he pulls his mobile from his pocket, his hands trembling.

 

“Lane?”

 

Lifting his head slowly, Lane turns, spotting the woman who was speaking his name. Shorter than his mother and grandmother, possibly even shorter than himself, skin color a shade close to his own, shoulder length black hair, cut into a bob. Beautiful. He isn’t sure if he should smile, but feels the corner of his mouth turn up, “um...Mrs. Anand-”

 

Bernie watches her grandson’s behavior, knowing he’d been referring to this woman as his grandmother all of this time, she isn’t sure why he’d change tactics now, nor does she want to interrupt unnecessarily. Remembering her former son-in-law, Bernie is able to see the eyes they share, same as with Lane.

 

“Solomon.” The woman corrects, nodding a little, “Qudrah Solomon.” The woman lifts a hand, bringing it to Lane’s cheek as tears fill her eyes, her chin trembles, “you look exactly as your father did when he was your age.” Qudrah swallows, lowering her hand quickly as she attempts to compose herself, “I apologize.”

 

Lane nods a little before motioning to the woman standing not far behind him, “this is my Gran. Gran, this is-”

 

“I heard.” Bernie nods, taking a few steps closer as she offers her hand to shake with a nod toward the woman, “Mrs. Solomon, I’m sorry for your loss.”

 

Qudrah doesn’t really respond, simply looking up at the taller woman, “his mother’s mother. The one who birthed her.” She gives a glance to Bernie, “I see nothing wrong with your kind. I have no issues, but...your daughter stole my son from me. Do you understand my animosity?”

 

“To be perfectly honest, your son was a brilliant young man who never truly belonged to anyone. He loved my daughter and my daughter loved him just the same. To insinuate that he was stolen from you, even in the metaphoric sense, is an insult to his wishes and to the legacy he’s left behind.” Bernie responds, maintaining a respectful smile, something that was last used when needing to put a superior officer in their place.

 

“He was my son.” Qudrah glares, falling quiet for a moment as she focuses on the blonde, “have you ever lost a child?”

 

“Doesn’t matter. I still would never disrespect their wishes, whether I agreed with those wishes or not.” Bernie shakes her head a little, “whether I liked the people they involved themselves with...or not.”

 

Staring the taller woman down, she exhales slowly, “that’s easy for you to say.” Qudrah glances back to her grandson, “you’re handsome...and healthy?”

 

Lane swallows, sliding his hands into his pockets, his mother was right, though he’d never dare admit that. At least, not now. He nods, “a-as can be.”

 

“You’ve a stutter.” Qudrah sighs, “your father had that when he was much younger. Took many years of training for him to get rid of it.” She doesn’t smile, doesn’t really show much affection or facial movement in the slightest. “You’re thin. Does your mother not feed you?” Qudrah spots the cane not far from him, “and you’re crippled?”

 

Bernie, ever protective, prepares to step in between the woman and Lane, “No, he was-”

 

“Gran.” Lane shakes his head a little, exhaling as he looks back at Qudrah, “I don’t n-need to be analyzed or in-interrogated. I j-just...want to know m-more about my father’s side of the family.” He states simply, biting his lip after, “I was in the same collision as Dad...and Mum and Owen and Gran and...” Lane shakes his head a little, “s-some of us were injured more than others, but...that means nothing...and it’s n-no comparison, of course. You l-lost a son...and I lost a f-father.”

 

Qudrah clears her throat, doing her best not to grow upset, “Your mother didn’t even have the sheer decency to phone me herself to inform me of his death.”

 

“She was in h-hospital with us...and she j-just had my sister.” Lane bites his lip again, trying to keep himself calm so that his stutter doesn’t come out much more, “D-Dad never wanted to talk about you and I-”

 

“Because your mother didn’t want him to.” Qudrah nearly hisses her words, her teeth gritting.

 

“He said you w-were an angry woman. That’s what D-Dad said. He said you were angry with Mum be-because of their wedding...or lack of one.” Lane swallows, “I-I-I thought he m-might be over-overreacting.”

 

“Laney, how about we have a seat?” Bernie offers, taking a step to stand next to the boy. She lifts her head after a moment before speaking again, “Mrs. Solomon, would you like a cup of tea or...small morsel?”

 

The boy has no reason to lie. Qudrah swallows, knowing she’s probably caused Lane’s upset, “I’m sorry...you look so much like my Ryan that...” She licks her lips, lifting a hand to her chest, “that I’m finding it difficult to be near you right now.” Her chin trembles as she slowly nods her head to herself, “to-to...just to look at you is...” A tear finally escapes Qudrah’s eye, trickling down her cheek as her hand lifts to quickly wipe it away. 

 

“Oh.” Lane bites his lip, his hand trembling though he does his best to hide it by gripping harder onto his cuffed walking stick. “O-okay, I didn’t mean-”

 

“No, I...I want to get to know you. I do.” Qudrah nods slowly, “but this was more difficult than I thought it would be and...and I’ve been...I’ve been wanting to speak with my son again. I wanted to...” She inhales slowly, taking a moment before exhaling, “but then my husband grew ill and it wasn’t safe for us to travel away from home or...onto planes.” Qudrah clears her throat, glancing back to the small tearoom they were supposed to be having a nice meeting within. It was across from a small creek, a beautiful setting for an eatery such as this, “and it was too late...for both of them.”

 

“I lost my G-Grandad in the autumn.” Lane nods a little, “my-my mother’s father.” He attempts to do his best at connecting with the woman, wanting to share something with her to put her at ease despite her initial anger. “I-it isn’t just me, you know. Th-there’s Owen and Cole and...and Lavinia...and I think-”

 

“One at a time is more than enough.” Qudrah mutters, shaking her head, “but I wouldn’t mind seeing photographs if you have them.” She remembers the argument with Ryan regarding his behavior with Cole being one of the causes of his abandoning their relationship.

 

Lane swallows, looking at her, “okay, but you need to r-respect my Mum as w-well.” Really, it’s even surprising to him that he’d request such a thing, “I didn’t s-say that you n-need to like her, I-I-I said r-respect. I know you aren’t f-fond of her. You’ve m-made that obvious, b-but she’s been th-through a lot b-because of Dad and b-because of us.”

 

Bernie raises an eyebrow as a smirk grows in the corner of her mouth, proud of the teenager for standing his ground.

 

“And if y-you plan to be r-rude to her f-for the sake of n-not liking h-her, th-then we don’t n-need to know one another.” Lane continues, taking his time with his words, knowing that if he tries to speak any faster, he’s not going to be understood. “Sh-she may not be the best m-mother, but she’s m-my mother and she tr-tries her ha-hardest.”

 

Qudrah swallows before nodding a little, “I’ll attempt to...contain myself.”

 

“Pr-promise.” Lane demands quietly, leaning on his cuffed walking stick a bit more, “promise me.”

 

“I do.” Qudrah finds herself smiling softly. Regardless of his physical ailments, stutter, or possible mental shortcomings, Lane truly does remind her so much of her Ryan. The way he speaks to her, standing up for himself and abiding by his own principles. “I want to hear all about you and...your hobbies, schooling...” Qudrah nods, “I assume you wish to be a doctor like your father.”

 

“No, th-that’s Cole. Cole wants t-to do that.” Lane nods, “m-maybe, he’s n-not sure.” The teen pauses, shifting from one foot to the other, “we ha-have many doc-doctors in our fa-family.”

 

“How about tea?” Bernie offers, nodding in the direction of the front door as she gently places a hand on the boy’s upper back, “I know I could use a seat.” She winks to Qudrah when the woman glances up at her, glad the woman understands what she’s trying to do.

 

“Yes, yes. Myself as well.” Qudrah nods, clearing her throat, “I am very old.” She’s actually relieved this woman seems to want to encourage a relationship between them, even though she might be the mother of the woman who caused the separation between herself and her own son, this woman was different. Hopefully, this woman wouldn’t interfere.

Chapter Text

Serena opens her eyes, the rays of sunlight seeping through the window shades next to the bed. She’s usually the first one up in the house. Usually the one holding onto a cup of coffee as she lovingly peers down to her wife’s beautiful outline through the bed quilt. However, today is different. Serena smooths her hand over the space next to her in the bed, knowing she isn’t going to find her wife, but still hoping her eyes are playing tricks on her.

 

“Gran’s made impressive bacon buttys.” Cole waves his eyebrows, “without the help of Mum or Laney.” He smiles a little, “Gwennie’s already had two.”

 

“Two?” Serena starts to stretch, not realizing just how tired she actually was. Though, she knows she’s been pushing herself a bit. Pushing herself through tidying the house, through thinking over the dinner menu for Easter, as well as possibly redoing the lounge since it hasn’t been changed in...decades. Her mind was plagued with various events throughout her life that were spent on them, making the whole ordeal exhausting. Serena clears her throat as she slowly pushes herself to sit up, “what’s so impressive about a bacon butty?”

 

“Gran’s added fresh spinach and roasted tomato, bacon, and an egg with the yolk all...” Cole tries to explain the texture of the egg, wiggling his hands to symbolize the egg was cooked to an over-medium consistency. “Quite good, actually. Want me to bring you breakfast up here? Let you relax for the day with a cup of coffee?”

 

Serena rubs a hand over her eyes, exhaling slowly, “I should...I need to get up.”

 

“You look tired.” Cole tells her honestly, “and you’ve been a bit...um...frazzled.”

 

“I look tired? Cole, you really need to work on how you communicate with women.” Serena smiles to herself, groggily glancing over to him. “Thanks a lot.”

 

“They don’t call me Cassanova Wolfe for nothing.” Cole shrugs, taking a few more steps into the room before taking a seat on the side of the bed. He smiles as his grandmother gives a soft chuckle, “but like...I’m worried about you...and Gran is...abnormally cheery this morning. Not that she’s normally miserable or anything like that, but...and I don’t mean to offend. I just-”

 

“I know.” Serena nods, reaching a hand out to touch the side of his face,“I’ve um...just a bit run down lately. Age is a monster we can never outrun. Remember that.” Her hand lingers a bit longer, thumb stroking along his cheekbone before she lowers it, “the taller you grow, the deeper that voice becomes, the closer to old crone status I become ...and feel that way.”

 

“I’ve been trying my very best to get younger.” Cole nods, joking with his grandmother to brighten her spirits, “steady diet of coffee and fags since the age of two, but-” He shakes his head slowly, causing her to smile again, “Age is a monster we can never outrun, Nan...I heard that from a great woman once.”

 

“When did you get so funny?” Serena is laughing a bit harder now, before allowing the chuckle to slowly taper off. “Don’t answer that. I know exactly where you inherited that sense of humor from.”

 

Cole turns his head when he hears his grandmother shout from the floor below, “we’d better head down there before the Major sends reinforcements.”

 

“Too late.” Guinevere smirks, her arms folded as she stands in the doorway, “you alright? Gran seems-”

 

“Abnormally cheery?” Serena asks with a raise of her eyebrow, remembering her grandson’s prior confusion.

 

“Yes, exactly!” Guinevere continues, as if it was a secret or an aspect she was attempting to decipher herself. “I mean...if the two of you had it off last night, good for you. I’m happy that-” Noticing her cousin’s sudden cringed facial expression, “Cole, old people have sex all the time. It’s a way of life. Honestly, when I get to be as old as they are, I hope I love someone so much that their wrinkles seem well fit.”

 

Cole lifts his hands in innocence, quickly rising off the bed and making a break for the door, “don’t want to hear this.” He calls out, walking past Guinevere in a retreat back to his Gran.

 

“He’s such a prude sometimes.” Gwen sighs, laughing a little to herself. “He is right though, you kinda look...not great.”

 

“Could all of you stop with that already? Never a good start to the day when someone tells you how awful one looks, first thing.” Serena sighs, slowly pushing herself up off the bed, “I’m allowed to be tired once in a while. I don’t need permission from anyone. You lot usually lie in until well after noon when you haven’t any school.” She pauses, “of course you’re awake all hours of the night, but my point still stands.”

 

Guinevere casually loops her arm in her grandmother’s as they make their way to the hall, “not anymore. Not like I used to, at least.” Her voice is quiet, but she isn’t hurt by the thought. “Only if I’m reading a good book or...watching something on telly.”

 

“And I’m proud of you for it, darling.”

 

“Thank you.” Gwen smiles sheepishly to herself, “I just have to keep reminding myself this isn’t an attempt of control. That’s...that’s what always happens in the back of my head.” She shrugs, “doesn’t matter. Gran made a proper breaky and it’s quite good-”

 

Serena raises an eyebrow, “Cole did say you had two sandwiches already.”

 

“I did. You might too. You’ll see.” Gwen waves her eyebrows, arm going slack to walk ahead of her grandmother down the stairs.

 

Bernie lifts her head once Serena enters the kitchen area, smiling weakly toward her, “Good morning.” She shoots a glance at Guinevere and Cole, “good work, troops.”

 

“Have we graduated from cubs ?” Cole teases, taking a sip of coffee from his violet mug.

 

“I rather miss the term.” Gwen pouts playfully before smirking after a moment, “come along, Wolfeboy. You promised me that you’d show me a thing or two with this new laptop.”

 

Cole sighs a little, starting to smirk as he sets his empty mug in the sink, “I still can’t believe Mum just up and gave you that laptop.”

 

“Look, I can’t help that she loves me more than she does you-” Gwen teases, getting the feeling that her Gran needed to speak to her Nan about something. It’s the way she’s been acting all morning. As if Bernie Wolfe is merely holding herself together by strings and a prayer. 

 

Waiting for the grandchildren to leave, Serena offers her wife a smile, “the grandchildren said you were abnormally cheery this morning.” She looks down as Bernie sets a plate with the expertly crafted bacon butty in front of her, “and the Berenice Wolfe I know only acts that way when one of two things are in effect. One, it’s a part of your post coitus glow...and that’s often you just blushing all the time-”

 

Bernie’s eyes widen, doing her best not to blush at that exact moment, “I don’t!”

 

“-and the other is when you have bad news.” This comment instantly makes her wife turn quiet, causing Serena to give a knowing smile. “So, Berenice, what’s the damage?”

 

Looking at the counter-top, it’s as if this is one of the hardest things Bernie can force herself to say. Not actually wanting to say a single thing in this instance. Who would? “While we...” She pauses, taking a deep breath as she forces herself to continue, “while we were in the midst of heavy petting-”

 

“So prude.” Serena mutters amusingly.

 

“I...I’m almost certain I found a lump in your breast.” Bernie swallows, only then looking up to meet her eye, “and with the way you’ve been behaving lately and...the symptoms you’ve been displaying...” She shakes her head a little, her own eyes glassy as Serena just seems to stare at her, “when was your last mammogram?”

 

Serena shakes her head, not quite knowing the answer to the question, “few years ago. Um...before Marcus’ wedding.”

 

Bernie nods a little, afraid she was going to say that. She sighs softly, a rueful smile filling her face, “how about I get us both appointments? It will all go toward our...healthier outlook.” Bernie does her best to reassure her wife, “and it’s probably a simple...lipoma or something along the lines. Nothing to worry about, but...I’d rather just be safe.”

 

“Of course.” Serena nods, swallowing as her wife reaches a hand to hold hers. “I...I don’t want you saying anything to the children about this. Especially during Easter.”

 

“I wouldn’t, Campbell. You know that.” Bernie’s thumb gently strokes Serena’s hand, “we’ve both been lax regarding all of this anyhow. Can’t tell you when I last had my routine physical or gynecological exam. Maybe it might be best to get everything accomplished on the same day...and then we’ll head from there.”

 

Serena exhales, “make the appointments for us both. Maybe you were right all along about this health kick of yours.”

 

“We are doctors, darling. We have the years and scars to prove it.” Bernie offers a wider smirk, moving around the kitchen island to steal a quick kiss from her wife. “Let’s practice what we preach for a change.”

Chapter Text

Serena had taken the time to decorate their home with pastel colors and small figurines of bunnies and lambs. The thought of the lump in her breast was something that was slowly eating away her thought process, as it has since Bernie had brought it up the day previous. Of course, she plans to do her best to don a brave face. She was good with brave faces and making people think she was in charge of her emotions, all while various scenarios played out in her head.

 

Reaching the bottom step of the stairs, Guinevere smooths her hands over the pale blue, tea length, seersucker dress she had decided to wear. Something to display not only to her parents, but everyone else, that she was on the right path now. That she is doing so much better and that she actually feels better than she did. Finishing her way into the lounge, she notices her Nan fidgeting with various figurines in the room. “How do I look?”

 

Nearly jumping, not expecting the intrusion, Serena looks over to the teenager, a soft smile filling her face. “Oh, Guinevere. You look absolutely lovely.”

 

“Truly?”

 

“Yes.” Serena lowers her hands, walking over to the girl and placing her hands on Guinevere’s upper arms, “and you’ve chosen the perfect amount of cosmetics and...your hair.” She shakes her head, a gentle smirk on her face, “simply breathtaking.”

 

Guinevere bites her lower lip in a smile, “thank you, Nan.” She nods, watching the woman go back to her random dusting of the room, “is there anything I can help with?”

 

“No, no. Today is...not for you to concern yourself with. The roast and sides are slowly roasting in the oven, Lane is making the desserts.” Serena shrugs, “Bernie went over to Charlotte’s to assist with Owen and Lavinia while Charlotte and Kait prepare for the day, so they should probably be here soon. Lane is in our very own kitchen putting the finishing touches on some...meringue dessert. I’m unsure of what it is and I don’t want to bother.”

 

“Probably for the best.” Gwen nods, turning to make her way back to the hall, “I’m going to make a pot of coffee. Care for a cuppa?”

 

“Actually, that would be lovely. Thank you.” Serena nods, waiting as the teen is out of sight to let her lightened facade fade, her shoulders dropping a bit.

 

“Saw that.” Cole smirks, watching as his Nan’s head raises again.

 

Serena exhales, “take heavier steps, won’t you?”

 

“Sorry.” Cole shrugs, keeping things casual with a pair of blue jeans and a lavender polo shirt, “would you mind if I do a bit of filming for the channel today? I won’t be too intrusive or...bothersome. Promise.” A camera in his hands, nothing too large, but something to obtain excellent quality for him to edit later.

 

It takes her a moment to realize what he’s even asking before giving a quick nod, “yes, darling. Just...receive permission from others before...” Serena waves a quick hand in the air, “you know...” A huff of a soft chuckle escapes from her lips as he gives a playful salute before making his way toward the kitchen.

 

Maybe today is just too much. Maybe the thought looming of a lump in her breast is just...too much. Serena isn’t sure she’s even going to be able to make it through the day. Noticing movement through the corner of her eye, she witnesses Cameron and his brood pull up, parking near the driveway. Everyone donning pastels and creams. It’s actually quite beautiful.

 

“Reckon we can get a family picture this year, what do you think?” Bernie stands not far from her wife, the woman not hearing her come in.

 

“Blimey.” Serena brings a hand to her chest, “I don’t know who is worse, you or Cole...”

 

“Taught him everything I know.” Bernie gives a clever wink, gently brushing her knuckles on the back of Serena’s hand. “You alright?”

 

“Yes, I’m fine.” Serena does her best to keep a strong disposition, but feels as if she’s teetering on the brink of pure panic and depression.

 

“If you need to just...excuse yourself for a lie down, I know everyone would understand.”

 

“No, they wouldn’t.” She licks her lips, turning her gaze to meet Bernie’s large mud colored eyes, “not without a lengthy explanation and drawn out reassurances. All of which I’m not up for giving today.”

 

“I know.” Bernie finally feels her wife take her hand, “but don’t push yourself...whether it’s a full blown kip or just a breather. Agreed?”

 

Of course, Serena isn’t about to agree to that. How could she possibly? The sound of the door opening again and excited footsteps of a toddler permeate the space, signaling Serena to start to smile again, “Happy Easter, Max.”

 

Large grin on his face, Max glances at his grandparents, instantly sticking his foot out, “Daddy and I have the same shoes!”

 

Bernie crouches, accepting a hug from her grandson, “and a bow tie?” She lifts a hand, pointing to the accessory with a soft touch of her index finger.

 

“I picked it myself.” Max nods proudly, “Mummy and me went to the shop and picked it. It has eggs all over it.”

 

“I see that.” Bernie chuckles softly, standing upright again, “don’t forget to leave your shoes in the basket, per the usual. You can put them right next to your father’s.”

 

Really, most of the day goes off without a hitch. Though there were many of them now, most of Charlotte’s brood nearly grown, or old enough to act excited for the smaller ones. Time together, as a family, was something none of them ever thought they’d be doing. Especially Bernie and Serena, who thought they’d live in France or somewhere else just as beautiful.

 

Kait walks up behind her partner, wrapping her arms around her waist before placing a soft kiss to the back of her shoulder, “must admit, today has been really nice.”

 

Charlotte hums her approval, having spent most of her day watching the members of her family. “Even Lily seems to be having a good time.” It’s as if there’s a small bubble around the two of them, something intimate and calm about the space even though she was no further away from her family than any other time.

 

“She was so excited to contribute. Even if it was some simple biscuits that she made with her group.” Kait nods, moving from behind her fiance to stand next to her, arm staying wrapped around Charlotte’s waist. When Char takes a moment to respond further, or start another conversation, Kait nods slowly, “what’s on your mind, Charlie?”

 

“My Mum.” Char licks her lips, tilting her head to the side, “she’s been watching my Maman like a hawk all day. Going above and beyond to insure her comfort.” Her words are just above a whisper, intended only for her partner. When Serena rises from her seat, Char starts to smirk, “just watch.”

 

Bernie, noticing her wife make her way back to the stove, tries to follow her once more only for Serena to lift a hand to reassure her.

 

“See?” Charlotte raises an eyebrow.

 

“Maybe she isn’t feeling well and Bernie is worried.” Kait offers, but knows her fiance all too well, “maybe you should corner her...give her the ninth degree.” She pauses, “really torture her for information, you know? I have a few techniques I was told never to try...”

 

“Very funny.” She exhales slowly, finally taking a few steps forward and tilting to her stepmother as she nears the back kitchen door, “Maman, could you help me with-”

 

Bernie shakes her head, looking toward her daughter, “Let me. Serena was about to-”

 

“No, has to be her. Can’t very well hear a secret about your own gift.” Charlotte gives her mother a knowing smirk. A smirk that, truly, could speak a million words. A smirk that says she knows something is going on that they haven’t mentioned. A smirk that says she isn’t as stupid as they’d like to think.

 

Serena knows that smirk well. “Of course, darling.” She waves Bernie off, following Charlotte into the back garden, far enough away for anyone to see them in a mirror or make out what their lips are saying.

 

“So, are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Charlotte tilts her head to the side, “or am I to discover things on my own?” When Serena prepares to argue, Char continues, “and don’t bullshit me by saying everything is fine. Mum is afraid you’re going to fall out at any given moment. Wouldn’t doubt it if she’s watching from the window at this very moment.”

 

“Yes, she’s...” Serena sighs softly, “look, if it’s something to worry about, I’ll tell you then. At this moment, I don’t want anyone worrying about something that may not even be an issue.”

 

Char nods a little, able to see the fear behind her eyes, “just know that, regardless of what it might be or...what’s going on, I’m...I’m still your daughter and you’re still my mother.” She studies her stepmother’s face, “and I’m going to worry regardless of you telling me otherwise.”

 

“I know.” Serena nods a little, “trust me. You’ll be my first call.”

 

She glances around, actually looking to see if her mother was watching them, trying to make out their conversation. Satisfied when she doesn’t see Bernie’s large brown eyes through a window, Charlotte leans in, wrapping Serena in a tender embrace. “I love you, Maman.”

 

Serena swallows, returning the hug, while attempting to keep wetness from her eyes, “I love you too, darling.”

Chapter Text

“Easter. A holiday taken over by the Christians and originated by the Saxons to celebrate Spring.” Cole shrugs, “I mean, I enjoy pastels as much as the next person, but...it’s a bit...of an odd thing, isn’t it?”

 

Video shifts to footage of the food made by his Nan, and then everyone sitting around the dining room table. Lane having a moment with Serena. Guinevere and Lane in the back garden. Kait holding onto Charlotte. Cameron with Lavinia in his arms, looking at the assortment of photographs on the wall. Owen quietly reads a book in the corner. Greta and Morven speak about raising girls in the modern day.

 

“Now, my family isn’t inherently religious.” Cole laughs a little on the screen, shaking his head, “at all. At...at bloody all.” He calms himself, “this is the first Easter without my Granddad. He was the only one who was a bit of a religious sort. So...that was a tad difficult, honestly.”

 

“However, we persevered. We smiled. We shared stories. We celebrated new experiences and shared experiences. We promised one another that we’d be doing this more often.” Cole nods a little, his face containing a soft smile, “I truly hope we do, actually.”

 

There’s more footage of Cole showing Jason his computer setup, Charlotte on the floor with her nieces, Bernie holding Max’s hand while walking through the hallway. “Many people, especially my age, are frustrated by their family. They’re angry and feel like they have better things to do than spend time with their grandparents or aunts and uncles. That their little cousins or siblings might be a pain.”

 

The camera returns to Cole, slowly shaking his head, “that’s just...silly. I mean, I understand when there’s some sort of...reason for animosity, trauma or whatever have you, but...everyone deserves a chance. Everyone deserves good memories. Especially when they’re small and have no say in their environment or...associations.”

 

Cole exhales with a soft laugh, “sorry, I’m rambling.” He nods, pictures begin to slideshow as he continues to speak, “this Easter, I realized that...every moment is...precious. No matter how you look at it.” A video of the smaller kids during an egg hunt, “Max isn’t going to tell me about his egg-cellent bowtie or how thrilled he is that his shoes match that of his father’s for much longer. Vinnie’s not going to be excited that her dress balloons when she twirls for much longer.”

 

The video pans back to Cole as he shakes his head slowly, “my Granddad misses all of this. Every first for Vin and Max, even my smaller cousins Lauragh and Hazel, was their last for and with my Granddad.” He shrugs, “morbid, I know.” 

 

“I just realized I talk about my Grands in my videos often. Mostly because I adore them and live with them, but I never really talk much about the rest of my family. I don’t talk about how proud I am of my Mum and soon-to-be Stepmum or how Mum’s in negotiations to bring back her reality show, while writing another book, and tending to my siblings all at the same time. My Stepmum is a brilliant detective who is actively learning how to build things just so we have a project that we’re working on together...to strengthen our bond. I don’t talk about my brother Owen much or how he’s found a new love of reading. Sometimes he reads while he paces or does his walk about the house, but...he’s a multi-talented bloke. I don’t talk enough about Laney, who is a brilliant beautician and chef.”

 

“I don’t talk enough about my baby sister Lavinia and how she never fails to make me laugh. Ever. The girl has the comedic timing of some of the best comidiannes in the world.” There’s a video of Lavinia that begins to play with her carefully unwrapping the shell from a hard boiled egg with her tiny fingers and feeding it to Alfie, the family dog, as Cole speaks. “My Uncle Cameron who is a great doctor, but has decided to give things up to be a stay-at-home father. So far...he’s thinking of opening his own practice soon though. Aunt Morven who gives credit to my Grands for everything she knows, and is one of the most loving mothers I’ve ever seen. Uncle Jason and his ability to notice minute details you or I would probably ignore. Aunt Greta, who is able to do maths in her head so quickly, I sometimes believe she’s just a human calculator. I told my teacher about her before he died, Mr. MacGuiness...the one who taught my Mum when she was my age, and he was absolutely floored when I showed him a video of her doing it. Aunt Lily, who is a new, welcome edition to the Wolfe pack, and has a smile that can light up a room.”

 

“My cousin Max, who, I’m convinced, may end up being a great footy player when he grows up.” Cole shrugs, a video of Max starts to play with him kicking a ball, “has his celebratory dance prepared at least.” The video continues to show the various family members as Cole starts to talk about them, “there’s Lauragh and Hazel, who are twins at heart and rarely ever want to leave the other’s side.” The video goes back to Cole, tilting his head to the side, “last, but certainly not least, there’s my Girl Friday, my cousin Guinevere. A woman who...has had a really rough year, but...I’m incredibly proud of her for overcoming the odds in order to better herself.”

 

Cole nods a little, shrugging, “and I’m sure you all have seen them throughout my videos and...maybe you just don’t really know who they are or where they fall with their place in my family, but there’s something I want you all to remember. Every holiday that you spend with a person, may be the last holiday you spend with them. Every time you go to the park with your sibling may be the last time. Every walk around the neighborhood may be the last one.” He stares into the camera, his large brown eyes burrowing onto the viewer’s soul. “Don’t ever take it for granted. Don’t ever think you’re too good for your family. Don’t ever think there’s more important things to do than spending time with them. Just don’t. Cherish every...every bloody second.” 

 

There’s a moment of quiet as a picture of Cole with his siblings and grandfather comes on the screen from the year prior before returning to one of this year, then back to Cole. “Alright, Wolfe Pack. Until we meet again, later days.”

 

Bernie smiles to herself, closing the application on her mobile as Serena finishes with her mammogram screening. “Did they let you know when-”

 

“Soon.” Serena nods, swallowing, “let’s just...let’s get out of here before-”

 

“Hello there, beautiful...and Werewolf.” 

 

Serena turns, seeing Fleur Fanshawe moving closer to them, “Fleur. How nice to see you.” She offers a smile, receiving a kiss on the cheek from the short statured woman, “what brings you to Radiology from Otter?”

 

Fleur gives a tilt of her head toward the door not far behind her, “Pregnant mother RTC getting an MRI. Stable enough to move so I didn’t want to take any chances with the portable imaging being off.” She exhales softly, “what of you two? Don’t tell me, one of the grandchildren has a broken arm...”

 

“Quite the opposite. We’re in for our yearly scans.” Bernie offers a closed half-smile as she helps Serena with her lightweight jacket, “just caught us while we’re on our way out, actually.”

 

“Fair enough.” Fleur offers them both a smile, able to see the circles under Serena’s eyes and the slight pallor of her skin, “due for mine as well, you’ve reminded me.”

 

“I think we neglect our own health when worrying about the health of others.” Bernie continues to speak so that her wife doesn’t need to, “as medical professionals, regardless of how long we’ve been out of the game.”

 

Fleur nods, “very true.” Her focus on Serena shifts to Bernie. Their eyes meet and that single glance informs the other person that they know there’s more to the story. “Well, I’d better check on my patient. We must do lunch soon...both of you.” Fleur doesn’t wait for a response, walking past the duo and giving Bernie a gentle pat on her shoulder.

 

“I’m going to have a difficult time with the wait.” Serena sighs, her voice just above a mumble as she feels Bernie take hold of her hand.

 

“Well, it isn’t much of a wait. Just a couple of days.” Bernie gives Serena’s hand a reassuring squeeze, “and we can spend the time in our room...watching movies on telly.” They walk together toward the elevators, something they had done many times before, many years before, “I’m sure there are plenty of brilliant new mysteries for us to catch up on.”

 

“I’d like that.” Serena waits until they’re on the elevator before leaning her head against the side of Bernie’s shoulder. The doors close and she’s thankful it’s only the two of them within the space, “I’m...I’m scared, Bernie.”

 

“As am I, but...let’s not think too far ahead.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, letting it rest on top of Serena’s, “just worry about today...and all the Agatha Christie mystery remakes we haven’t seen yet.” Truth be told, Bernie could only think of how she’d carry on or if she’d be able to continue with life if she were to lose her wife. Doubtful.

Chapter Text

Kait leans her head back as she sits on top of the counter in the kitchen quarters, Charlotte spreading kisses along her neck. “I’m covered in sweat and...wood shavings.” She stares at the ceiling as the kisses spread down to her cleavage, “we should go upstairs...”

 

Charlotte shakes her head a little, humming softly with approval. She stands between Kait’s knees, reaching up to tilt her head back down with a gentle thumb to her chin, looking into Kait’s bright blue eyes. “If that’s what you want, but...you’re on my counter, Kaitie and...this is a brilliant angle...”

 

“I do appreciate this.” A cheeky smirk forms in the corner of Kait’s mouth, “but I would rather the children not get to know me at that level of intimacy anytime soon...or ever.” She leans in, capturing Charlotte’s lips softly. “So, upstairs...there’s a bed or a bathtub...I may need some help scrubbing my back.”

 

“Bloody hell, Mum. It’s the kitchen!” Cole shouts, standing in the doorway, “imagine the extra therapy Lane would have needed if I were him and not...myself.” He shakes his head, himself sweaty and covered in dust and dirt. Cole holds up a pair of glasses, “you left these outside, Stepmum. I’m going over the Grands to bathe. Don’t want to wreck your ambitious sexual pursuits.”

 

“Being passive aggressive doesn’t suit you, darling.” Charlotte slowly tilts her head back to glance over at her son, “though I do appreciate that you think my sexual pursuits are ambitious.”

 

“This is the nerdiest argument I’ve ever heard.” Kait gently moves her fiancé from her position as she slides off the counter herself, a bright blush spreading across her cheeks, “I’m going upstairs. The two of you should...I don’t know, talk for five minutes.”

 

“The one thing we don’t know how to do. My Kryptonite.” Cole mumbles as the woman steps around him, retreating to the stairs and the floor above. It’s obvious he’s simply joking, but swallows, suddenly becoming nervous anyway, “it’s nice to see you and Kait being affectionate.” He slowly folds his arms across his chest, “and to see you happy...even if it isn’t exactly in a way that I’ve ever wanted to see you both.”

 

Charlotte sighs softly, a slight smile in the corner of her mouth as she nears her eldest son. “Kaitie was saying how impressed she was at all the progress you’ve made on the interior while she’s been working.” She reaches a hand out, smoothing her nails through the hair at his temple, “I’m proud of you.” 

 

“No need to go all soft because I found you in a compromising position.” Cole sighs softly, “I won’t lie though, it’s still...weird that you’re with someone who isn’t Dad...and will never be with Dad ever again. So...” He shakes his head, “please, don’t get me wrong, I really like Kait. I mean... really like her.” Cole starts to smile, “you know that. It’s just...still mad when I see it. Makes things real...final and all that.”

 

“Understandable.” Charlotte leans in, kissing him on the forehead even though he’s nearly the same height as herself. She smiles a little, “I’m going to-”

 

“Go, go.” Cole chuckles a little to himself, “I’m going to the Grands...though, knowing them, I’m liable to walk in on the same over there.” He hears his mother soft chortle as he turns away from her, slowly making his way back over to the house next door. Turning the door, he glances around before stepping in fully, careful to take his shoes off just inside the door and tossing them into the basket that sits beside it. Cole steps away from the basket, glancing around through the various doorways, “If you’re having it off, speak now!”

 

Bernie smirks as she descends the stairs, having been at the top when the teen entered, about to head down, “no, but your Nan is fast asleep, so-”

 

“I’ll keep it down, sorry.” Cole nods, “how did things go with the scan?” When Bernie looks surprised by his words, the teenager continues, “you still have your visitor sticker on.”

 

Bernie glances down to her chest with a sigh, reaching up and pulling the sticker off. “Um...I still don’t understand how-”

 

Cole shrugs, “just a guess. As far as I’m aware, no one in our family, nor any of your friends are poorly. Not that you’ve mentioned, anyway. So...there’d be no other reason for you to go unless you were a patient.” He nods a little, “it was either that or your yearly physical. However, you and Nan have been acting a bit odd since before Easter and Nan has been tired lately. So, one might surmise that there would be a more serious reason for your trip.”

 

“You know, ever since you were small, I thought you’d be a brilliant surgeon, but over the years-”

 

“I still can. Kind of.” Cole shrugs, “I can do autopsies for detectives or whatever.” He smirks a little, slight teasing in his voice, “I don’t know, Gran. I probably should have had some idea by now, but-”

“No, you don’t, and I don’t want you to think you should either. Don’t let anyone tell you who you should be, who or what you should like, or...what you should do in life.” Bernie nods a little, “I speak from experience. Your grandfather and I weren’t always on the good terms we were as you were growing up.”

 

Cole wasn’t expecting to hear all of that and finds himself giving a simple nod in response, “how is Nan feeling?”

 

“Tired.” Bernie nods a little, “I was going to stay up there with her to watch a movie or something, but I think I’m a tad too...high energy to stay still while she rests at the mo.”

 

I can tell. Cole nods a little, exhaling a soft laugh, “probably for the best. Wouldn’t want her to give you a shout.” He nods, lifting his hands up to look at his nails, “I’m going to bathe. Think you might want to take Alfie for a walk together or something?” He raises an eyebrow, “Nan has her mobile and we wouldn’t be long or too far from her at any time, but it might do you some good to burn off some of this...anxious energy you’ve got going on.”

 

“I never said I was-” Bernie sighs, stopping herself when her grandson meets her eyes. “Fine.”

 

“Good, now, I’m not planning on getting drenched in sweat again, so-”

 

“How about I just go with Alfie?” Bernie offers, “you stay here with Serena.” When she notices the teen looking at her hands, she holds up her wrist with her smartwatch, “it’s on.”

 

“Good. It tells me if you fall and you’re able to...” Cole shakes his head, knowing his excitement for the gadget is falling on deaf ears. “Alfie’s been in the back garden with Owen most of the day. So...good luck wrestling him away.” He watches as his grandmother retreats back up the stairs to dress in her athletic wear, leaving him alone for a moment. The air in the house is different, tense. Cole slowly starts to climb the stairs, knowing the tides have changed.

Chapter Text

Serena opens her eyes slightly, noticing a figure at the foot of her bed. The sun shining through the blinds causes her to hardly be able to squint while managing to keep a headache from forming. “Do you always gaze disapprovingly at the sleeping forms of your family members?”

 

“No, I also do it while they’re awake.” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, her arms folded across her chest. She adjusts her position so she can stand between the bed and the beam of sun, saving her stepmother’s eyes. “I live directly next door to you and I haven’t seen you in roughly a fortnight when I usually couldn’t go a day without seeing you through a window at least.” 

 

“Do you normally watch my house?”

 

“I do when I don’t see you for two weeks.” Charlotte nods, taking a seat at the edge of the bed, still staying in the way of the sun for Serena. “Maman, what’s going on? Even Mum’s been quiet and...you’re both making me nervous, honestly.”

 

Serena exhales slowly, “I don’t want you to-”

 

“With all due respect, shut up.” Char continues, swallowing, “you’ve always been there for me...regardless if you agreed with the situation or my decisions.” She absently bites her lip, reaching a hand out to push astray hair from Serena’s forehead with her nails, “the tables have turned. Let me help you.”

 

“You have four children, including a very opinionated toddler...and I’m just tired. If things were truly as awful as you believe them to be, the hospital would have phoned us back long ago in regards to our test results.” Serena blinks slowly, watching Charlotte’s face as something slowly becomes apparent to her, “Bernie said Cole figured things out...but he never said anything to you, did he...” Her statement was an observation, not a question.

 

“Afraid you’ve opened the tin of worms, darling.”

 

Serena falls quiet for a moment, having been relatively unable to bring herself to say the words, “well...a...a lump was found...in my breast.” Her eyes are glassy, but not because of pain, but because of fear. “So, your mother and I went and had our yearly mammograms, which we should have been doing anyway, but have...neglected to do over the course of the past few years.”

 

“I’ve never had one, so...” Char shrugs, offering an understanding smile, “apparently it’s unnecessary for women my age, unless there is a family history, which doesn’t get proven unless more women my age also weren’t able to receive the care they so rightly deserved at the time and later are met with the words ‘she died so young’.” She shakes her head a little, taking a deep breath, “sorry, rambled a bit there.”

 

“Rather listen to you talk anyway.” Serena smiles softly.

 

“Well, that’s too bad.” Charlotte shakes her head, “so...you were saying you haven’t heard anything yet and...no news is good news currently?”

 

“Thus far.”

 

“Okay, what about phoning to see if-”

 

Serena sighs softly, “Charlotte.”

 

“I just lost one parent last year. I’m not about to risk losing another because we weren’t proactive enough.” Charlotte responds, a sense of finality to her voice. There is no arguing with her about this. A tone of voice she uses with her children when they attempt to make their case with her regarding unimportant issues. “I don’t mean to guilt trip you, but...if that’s what it takes, Maman, I’ll do it time and time again.”

 

“The only one to mention anything concerning death has been you.” Serena shakes her head, slowly pushing herself up in bed to a sitting position. “I’m just tired. That’s all. I’ve been resting because of it.” She licks her lips, “the lump is not a concern for me and I’m not going to give it any more mind than what is required.”

 

“That isn’t true and you know it.” Char shakes her head, “you’ve been a doctor for no less than four-hundred years.” She smirks slightly when Serena playfully rolls her eyes, “and I can see it written all over your face just how worried you are.”

 

Serena takes a moment, collecting her thoughts before she speaks again, “my biological sister, Jason’s mother, died of breast cancer. It could have very well come from her biological father, but I’m unable to do any research concerning the subject and any links on my mother’s side.”

 

“I’ll study necromancy to speak to your mother if you want.” Charlotte maintains a straight face, her tone serious.

 

Furrowing her brow, Serena can only look at the young woman before her, “study what?”

 

“Necromancy, communicating with the dead, usually to find out the future. Which...doesn’t really make sense because they wouldn’t know the future if they were dead, but It was a joke.” Char shrugs, “okay, so, that’s something we can’t do, but what can we do?”

 

“Not much.” Serena sighs softly, “I’m not entirely certain what-”

 

“A patient comes into your AAU displaying the same symptoms as yourself.” Charlotte tilts her head to the side, “fatigue...what else?”

 

“Vertigo, occasional shortness of breath, occasional chest pain, general weakness-”

 

“And you’re pale.” Charlotte nods, “so let’s think about this objectively. Vertigo, shortness of breath, chest pain, weakness, pallor...what is your first step?”

 

Serena swallows, taking a moment to think about it, “I’d listen to the heartbeat and breath sounds.” She licks her lips with a somewhat dry tongue, “possibly order a CBC or EKG, depending on what I heard occurring with the heartbeat.”

 

“Exactly.” Char offers a smile, “so, why don’t I take you to do just that instead of waiting on a test result that may not be back for another few days?”

 

She makes sense. Serena smiles slightly, proud of the young woman for making her actually think about what was going on with her. “Where’s your mother?”

 

“Well, she came round mine for Alfie and is taking him for a run about. Fourth time this week.” Charlotte nods a little, “so, when I ask what you’re up to, and I receive the answer that you’re taking a nap for the fourth time this week, I thought it would be my duty as a daughter to get to the bottom of things.”

 

“Bernie should be privy-”

 

“And I’ll have Cole tell her where you’ve gone. I’ll even leave a note and send her a text.” Char nods, “so, let’s get you dressed and we’ll go to whatever hospital you wish. Whether that be Holby City or elsewhere, that’s entirely up to you, but it’s silly just feeling rubbish and waiting around.” When her stepmother appears hesitant, Charlotte continues, “it serves no purpose and it could force them to-”

 

Serena swallows, shaking her head a little out of embarrassment, “No, I...I’ve needed a little...assistance in-”

 

“Then I’ll assist you, nutter.” Charlotte smirks a little, leaning forward and placing a soft kiss on Serena’s forehead, between her eyes, “I’m glad you’re finally thinking about this as a doctor instead of like a stubborn patient.” She takes hold of the woman’s hand as she sits back up, noticing just how cold it is, “I’ll fetch you something comfortable from the walk-in. No need for flashy when you’re poorly.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Serena smirks, watching the young woman rise from the bed after a moment.

 

“Also, I’m buying you more athleisure wear.” Charlotte calls from the closet, “I mean, surely you have more cotton trousers than this.”

 

“The only other cotton trousers I own are the ones I wear to bed at night.” Truly, Serena is highly amused by the display from the young woman, but also very touched.

 

“Absolutely tragic.” After a few more moments, Charlotte finally appears in the closet doorway, looking to her stepmother, “if I haven’t said it already, I love you...and I’m not leaving your side until we obtain some answers. Am I clear?”

 

“Crystal.” Serena gives a single nod, watching as the woman disappears into the closet once more. The warmth in her chest swells as her eyes become glassy once more, wondering how she’s gotten so lucky to be welcomed into a family such as this. Of course, Serena married Bernie many years ago, but she has always been plagued with thoughts of inadequacy on her part. Even moments where she’d compare the actions of Charlotte to what Elinor may have done in the same situation. Would she have cared? Would she force her mother’s hand in this instance as Charlotte is right now? Serena is well aware she’ll truly never know the answer to that question, nor should she infer one. 

 

However, there were some questions to be answered today if her stepdaughter had anything to say on the matter. 

Chapter Text

Morven Dunn takes a deep breath, looking at herself in the mirror within the ladies’ toilets. Her first day as an Acute Admissions Unit Consultant within a hospital she vowed to herself never to return, Holby City Hospital. Smiling at various staffers, she had managed to keep her existence and capabilities separate from the tragedies of her husband even though they shared a last name now. Of course, there were tragedies with Arthur as well, her first husband, but they were completely different in nature.

 

Donna Jackson steps up behind her new boss, placing her hands on the other woman’s shoulders, giving a gentle squeeze. “Welcome back.” She beams, glad to have someone she knows as her coworker. “There's been a string of one locum after the other keeping AAU afloat by only a single water wing. So, I’m glad to see a friendly face again taking the wheel.”

 

Smiling to the woman’s reflection in the mirror, Morven nods a little, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Knowing how long and unpredictable the nights are. Especially with three little ones at home, but...it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

 

“You’ll have the opportunity to change things in this department for the better. Things just seem...disorganized and the staffers appear lost.” Donna sighs softly, “but, having someone back from the Campbell-Wolfe glory days will return things to how they should be.” She feels the other woman give a soft chuckle underneath her hands, “and since they’re your in-laws...”

 

“I was a registrar for...years.” Morven smiles softly to herself, “so...being a consultant is going to be a bit of a change, but...it’s something I’ve been working toward for a long time.”

 

Donna nods slowly, “a husband, a family, and a job that you’ve always wanted.” 

 

“Yeah.” Morven blushes a bit, “so, let’s get to it then. I should see my office.” She laughs to herself, “Imagine, I’ve my own office now with my own desk and the...ability to personalize it with photographs and...whatever.” Morven takes a deep breath, “it’s...still in the same spot as it used to be, right?”

 

“They didn’t take you on a tour of the unit before your first day?” Donna lowers her hands, “well, that’s a sin. Grab your bag. Let’s go.” Leading the way from the women’s toilets, Donna attempts to remember the things that have changed in the past decade since Morven had been there. Well, more than a decade.

 

Following the nurse to the AAU, Morven is glad to be led to her office. Same as it always was for the most part. She unloads her things, planning on using her lunch period to start brainstorming about personalizing the space.

 

Hearing a knock against the office door frame, snapping her from her thoughts, Morven lifts her head, smiling to the young man standing there, “yes?”

 

“Ms. Dunn, right?” The young man, not looking much older than a teenager, nears her, a tablet computer in his hand, “Corey...Corey Hill. I um...I’m not really important, not like the other star F1s around here, but um...” 

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Corey, and there’s not many people in the world that I met who weren’t important. Don’t sell yourself short.” Morven smiles at him, taking the tablet when he offers it to her, “what’s this?”

 

“Female, mid-sixties. Presenting signs of exhaustion and dehydration. Her daughter said she had a mammogram earlier in the week, but hasn’t heard anything back yet.” Corey shakes his head, “they aren’t really giving me the time of day in radiology and I just want to know if-”

 

Morven continues to look over the file, raising an eyebrow, “let me guess, the others around aren’t taking the case.” When the young doctor doesn’t respond, she nods slowly, “thought so. I mean...I’ll help out with this one until I can’t.”

 

“Until you can’t, ma’am?” Corey follows behind her as she walks toward the bed. He notices there’s a familiarity about her in regards to the layout of the department. He’s seen so many locums come through here that, with two of them, his own assignment was to be their assistant and show them around while they were here. “I’m not trying to pass it off to you, but I just need a signature in order to-”

 

Seeing the gaggle of various staffers around the newest patient, staffers that Morven knows have been here since she was a student doctor in these halls. “Excuse me, everyone, back to your posts, please.” Morven calls over the crowd, noticing that no one is actually paying her mind, “now.” She says again, smiling softly to herself when the staffers actually listen. Morven notices Corey attempt to leave as well, only to take hold of the cloth of his scrub near his abdomen. “Except for you. This is your patient.”

 

“Right, of course.” Really, Corey was nervous. Especially since it was painfully obvious that his patient was either famous and he’d never heard of her, or was fairly well known about the hospital. Probably both. “Ms. Wolfe,” garnering the attention of both of the women, Corey continues, “I brought you our department lead to aid in our...course to wellness.”

 

“Course to wellness?” Morven raises her eyebrow, slowly turning her head to look at the young doctor, smirking with delight from the awkwardness of the student doctor. Was I like this as an F1? Her attention returns to the two women in front of her, “Dr. Hill, I’d like you to meet Holby City legend, Serena Wolfe. The other is her daughter, and well-known author, Charlotte Wolfe.”

 

Corey can’t say he’s ever heard of Serena Wolfe, but he’s definitely heard of Charlotte Wolfe, but knows better than to mention such. “I apologize. I didn’t put two and two together. It’s an honor, truly.”

 

 “Well, aren’t you fresh faced and terrified.” Serena’s voice croaks, causing Charlotte to chuckle softly. “Don’t think much about it. Honestly. You were more confident before Morven said any of that. Go back to that.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Corey responds softly.

 

“Oh, please, don’t give her too much power in this situation. She doesn’t work her anymore and she should be treated as just another patient. That’s what she truly needs.” Charlotte swallows, giving a strained half smile to the young doctor.

 

When the young man is about to answer the same way, Morven reaches an arm out in front of him, stopping him. “Given your initial intake findings, what do you reckon is the next logical course of action, Dr. Hill?”

 

“CBC including...LFT and a metabolic panel?” When the two obvious surgeons look at him, Corey swallows, “am I wrong?”

 

“Are you asking the first part of your statement or are you sure that’s what Ms. Cam...Mrs. Wolfe requires?” It was common that Morven would still refer to Serena as Ms. Campbell playfully, as a callback to their history together. Seeing Corey’s nod, Morven nods, “order them and I’ll sign off. If you think of anything else, let me know.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Corey gives the group a quick nod before scurrying away from the group of women.

 

“Cam never mentioned anything about you working here.” Charlotte stands, moving to the new consultant and giving her a tender hug before holding her at arms’ length.

 

“Today is my first day, actually.” Morven nods a little, “never thought I’d...walk through those halls as an employee again, but...it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

 

“You came here as a student and now you’re in charge.” Serena responds proudly, “very good, Ms. Shreve.”

 

Morven blushes at the mention of her maiden name, glancing around the department, “alright. I can’t appear too partial.” She offers a smile as her sister-in-law returns to her seat. They’re pulling the results for the mammogram and a nurse will be over shortly to draw bloods. Is there anything else I can grab for you before I go to the desk?” Seeing Serena’s negative headshake, Morven exhales as she walks back to the nurses’ station, noticing her F1 sitting behind the desk. “All tests ordered, Dr. Hill?”

 

“Yes, ma’am. Just waiting for your signature.” Corey slides a clipboard in front of her with a pen before glancing to a group of seemingly excited nurses on the side of the desk, “so...you have history with the patient in bed three?” When he’s met with initial silence from his new superior, hie eyes widen, realizing he may have overstepped his bounds, “I’m sorry, if-”

 

“She taught me everything I know.” Morven nods, reading over the requested services on the document, “well, anything worthwhile anyway.” She smiles a little, “I was a bit of a...project for her. Myself and my mate, Jasmine, but...that was ancient history and she’s long gone now.” Smile fading slightly, Morven hands the clipboard back to the young doctor. “Don’t worry. I know Serena prefers as little fanfare as possible when she is unwell.”

 

Corey nods, inserting the information into the computer as he speaks to the consultant again, “wanting to contain her modesty and draw less attention, would it be a better idea if we moved her to a secluded area?” He motions to the room behind him, behind the nurses’ station, with a tilt of his head. “That way we can ensure staff isn’t bothering her and she wouldn’t be...having all sorts of unwanted attention thrust upon her...that she obviously doesn’t want...if I’m right about the look on her face.”

 

Morven gives a quick glance over her shoulder, nodding. “As long as it doesn’t inconvenience anyone else. Isn’t that room usually used as an ITU?” She sticks the pen into her curly hair, loosely braided at her temples and pulled back, “used to be when I was here.”

 

“Well, you’re the consultant, Ms. Dunn. You’re able to make things how you want them to be for the most part, aren’t you?” Corey asks as he types on the keyboard, occasionally glancing up at the woman when she falls quiet.

 

Watching as Donna joins Serena and Charlotte, Morven nods slowly, “I suppose you’re right.”

Chapter Text

After a proper search through her own house and seeing the general quiet and stillness between her own home and that of her daughter, Bernie twists the knob and pushes the door open to her grandson’s room in her house. Out of breath, fear in her eyes as she looks at the young man, her hand leaning against the wall next to the door, “Where did your Nan go?”

 

“Mum took her to hospital.” Cole responds absently, the space quiet other than the sounds of keystrokes on his laptop keyboard as he lounges in his bed, sitting up against the headboard. When the blonde doesn’t respond, even appearing more panicked than before, he closes the lid of the device, setting it on the space of the bed next to him, “no, nothing bad. She just talked her into being seen in hospital instead of just sitting around and waiting. I didn’t know Mum wasn’t aware that Nan wasn’t feeling well.”

 

Bernie sighs softly, “and you know how your mother is.”

 

“That’s why I live here.” Cole teases, smirking as he adjusts his posture, “she just took her to hospital. Said she left a note on the fridge and she would call you when they had any answers...unless you call her first.”

 

“Did she say what hospital?” Bernie sighs softly, her hands falling awkwardly at her sides as she absently picks the skin around her thumb nail on her right hand. Noticing the boy’s raised eyebrow, she nods slowly, “Holby City.”

 

“Of course. Only one Mum trusts...and Nan probably. Or not. I don’t know.” Cole shrugs, “I mean, it wouldn’t be the same place it was when you were there, I’m sure, but...same level of care, hopefully.”

 

Bernie swallows, “I um...I thought it would be best if I had just...monitored her condition. Waited for the results of...of her scan.” She shakes her head slightly before tilting it to the side, “I should have just...put my foot down.”

 

“Gran, we don’t even know what’s going on.” Cole slowly moves to the edge of the bed, standing and moving over to her. He places his hand on her bicep, “and Nan would have argued back. You know how she is.” He starts to smile, “something Mum must have said to her...put her in her place, if that makes sense.”

 

Put her in her place ...” Bernie repeats her grandson’s words, “no one has ever put Serena Campbell in her place.”

 

“Maybe not, but Serena Campbell never had a Charlotte Wolfe until she did...whereas Serena Wolfe always has.” Cole offers, giving a cheeky smirk as his grandmother nods, understanding his words. “So I wouldn’t look too much into it. If you want to go to hospital, I can go with you, if you’d like.” He pauses, “I know how Mum is when she’s worried and on a warpath...especially when it comes to you and Nan.”

 

“Why Nan and I?” Bernie furrows her brow a little, letting the teenager guide her to take a seat on his bed before he sits next to her.

 

“Well...I mean...you’re her parents.” Cole answers, as if not believing that she even asked. “Everything with Grandad and...him not telling her and Uncle Cam...I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist. I just...observe...and I know that it kind of...didn’t sit well with her. Not that one would expect it to, but...” He shrugs, not really knowing what else to say about his thought process. “She also always feels as if she doesn’t do enough for you both. At least, she’s always mumbling it under her breath when she makes dinner on Sundays...and any other day she ensures there’s extra for you and Nan.”

 

Bernie exhales softly, having a feeling that was the case. However, the concept seems more real now that she’s aware that she isn’t the only one to feel that way. “My daughter is very giving.”

 

“Anyway, I think today was Auntie Morven’s first day, so Nan’s in safe hands.” Cole shrugs, moving away from his Gran in order to remove his mobile from the charging pad. Turning around, he spots his Gran’s confused expression, “no one told you.” Cole sighs, “Auntie Morven is Holby City’s newest AAU Consultant. Apparently, it was a pay rise and whatever else was offered that she just couldn’t pass up.”

 

“I uh...I suppose I’m not privy to much anymore.” There’s a slight, rueful smile in the corner of Bernie’s mouth.

 

“Oh, don’t think that way, Gran.” Cole sighs, moving over to her again, “the only reason I know anything about it was because I was sitting for the kids while Uncle Cam did...whatever it was that Uncle Cam was doing. She told me about it.” He shrugs, “I think she wanted to keep it a bit under wraps until she decided if it was a good fit for her. Didn’t want to disappoint anyone if it wasn’t.”

 

Bernie nods slowly, “I should um...I should phone to see if there’s been any-”

 

“Gran, you know she would want you there. Nan would want you there.”

 

Tilting her head to the side, Bernie looks at her grandson’s face with a knowing glance, “if she wanted me there, she would have waited for me.”

 

“Not if Mum was pushing her along.” Cole shakes his head, “which is exactly what happened.” He crouches, getting his grandmother to meet his eyes again, “we do love a good surprise though. So, let’s do exactly that.”

 

Morven feels her smartwatch vibrate, causing her to lift her wrist up to view the message from her nephew, lowering it with a sigh before taking the tablet computer from Donna, “thank you.”

 

“It’s from the lab. Anything about...” Donna gives a nod in the general direction of the secluded room in the AAU, a room usually used for intensive treatment, but used to protect their patient’s privacy in this instance.

 

“Yes, but...it’s just a fallen pebble on the side of a mountain.” Morven sighs softly, lifting her head to meet Donna’s confused gaze. “Um...rockslide. Leads to a rockslide. What we thought was the cause is probably just a symptom of a bigger issue...which...is not what I wanted to see.” She shakes her head, “and it means I’m going to have to pass this case to someone else or get her up to Keller, which...again, I didn’t want to do.”

 

“I mean, Dom is up there. She’ll be in safe hands.” Donna smiles softly, “do you want me to call up there to see if he could come and talk to her?”

 

“I’m going to go on until I can’t.” Morven shakes her head, “I owe it to her.”

 

Donna pauses, listening to the consultant for a moment before nodding, “okay.” She clears her throat, “but if any sort of...serious theater work is needed, I’m phoning for backup, regardless of how much you may complain. Agreed?” Watching as Morven reaches a hand out, Donna meets with hers in a shake. 

 

“Agreed.”

Chapter Text

Sitting in the bench not far from the ambulance entrance of Holby City, Charlotte sips her coffee. Her toes on the ground, absently bouncing as she watches the various people coming and going around the area. She pulls her cardigan around herself a bit, the sky a light gray with a soft wind. Probably going to rain soon.

 

“Mum?”

 

Char lifts her head, smiling a little when she sees her son and mother walking in her direction. “Hey.” She slowly stands from the bench, “took the pair of you long enough.”

 

“Right. Could have just waited for Gran to get back from her run, couldn’t you?” Cole leans his head to the side, looking at his mother with widened eyes, attempting to convey to her that it was something that his grandmother is upset about.

 

“Ah, well, yes. I suppose I could have.” Charlotte nods, looking over at her mother after a moment, “I apologize, but I had her agreeing that she would go. I helped her dress and we had been taking our time. There was a momentum that I didn’t want her to lose by Maman second guessing my actions as well as her own actions.” She offers a light smile, “I truly had no ulterior motive or...anything of the sort, but...I knew I needed to act fast at the time.” Char pauses, “well, as fast as we were able to act.”

 

Bernie nods with a still hurt half smile, “I can understand your actions. I just...” She exhales softly, “a text message would have been nice.”

 

“I didn’t want you rushing home on our account.” Charlotte shakes her head slowly, “everything worked out in a way that she’s receiving the care she should have, or could have, had weeks ago.” She ends her thought, then blurts, as if in an afterthought, “I did intend to text you once she was settled, but I forgot.” Another pauses before speaking again, another afterthought, “did you have any idea that Morven was going to be working here?”

 

“Not a one...until today.” That makes Bernie feel a little better, “any word about Serena?”

 

“Um...Something about the CBC showing severe anemia, but...Morven started pressing on her belly and instantly orders an abdominal MRI and a few other blood tests.” Charlotte shrugs, “Donna still works here too. That was another relief. Morven and Donna are working closely together on this it seems.”

 

“Until Morven can’t, I’d bet.” Bernie nods, “conflict of interest, especially if she shows any sort of preferential treatment. You forget, we go much further back with Morven than just her marriage to your brother.”

 

“I do sometimes, but I’ve observed how Morven and Maman are towards one another and...it's pretty obvious.” Charlotte motions toward the ambulance entrance, “anyway, I’m sure if you spoke with Morven directly or had a look at Maman’s chart, it would explain more than anything I’m spreading forth.”

 

“Not to mention, it’s probably going to rain any second.” Cole mumbles with a sigh, “so Nan’s on AAU then?” Seeing his mother’s nod, the teen walks toward the building, imagining it as a home away from home at this point, leaving his mother and grandmother in the car park.

 

“He knows half the staff, so I’m not too worried.” Charlotte smirks to herself, amused. “Do you want a coffee or something before we head in?”

 

“N-no, I’m fine. Thank you for the offer.” Bernie looks toward the building, but doesn’t move, “tell me the truth, Char, did she get worse because I didn’t put my foot down?”

 

“Don’t know.” Char shakes her head, “but we can’t think that way. She’s receiving the treatment she needs to receive now and that’s all that matters.” Turning her head to look at the profile of her mother’s face, “Mum, everything is going to be alright.” Charlotte reaches over after a moment, cautiously taking her mother’s hand into her own, “we’ve got this all under control...and there’s no reason for you to try to bear it all on your own.”

 

Bernie nods slightly, giving Charlotte’s hand a squeeze. She doesn’t look over at her daughter, not knowing if she would be able to maintain her composure if she did. “As long as she’s receiving care...that’s all that matters.”

 

“You know, you might be able to assist Morven as well. I’m sure there’s something we’ve forgotten to mention that only you would notice...or deem as odd.” Charlotte states simply, “you’re both stubborn, Mum. Regardless of your backgrounds, regardless of your intentions, regardless of the outcome, you both did what you thought was right...and that’s all that matters.”

 

“I might have gotten my wife-”

 

“Mum.” Charlotte stops her mother’s thought process, “Dwelling on what could have been, would have been, or should have been...is just wasting time. It’s...ignoring what is happening now.”

 

Bernie swallows, listening to her daughter’s words, giving a subtle nod in response. “I don’t...I don’t like things sugar coated, Char.”

 

“I know, but...I trust Morven. She’s not going to give up...especially on Serena.” Char gently shakes the cup of coffee in her other hand, “care for a sip? Still warm.”

 

A smirk forms in the corner of Bernie’s mouth, reaching over and taking the cup from her daughter. She takes a sip, scrunching her face up in mock disgust after, “I don’t know how on Earth you can drink that. Practically dirty sugar water.” She finally looks in Charlotte’s direction, “I thought you liked your coffee black.”

 

“Usually, but...thought I’d try something different. Also, I thought I could use an energy burst from the sugar.” Char nods, taking the coffee cup back from her mother, only to realize that it’s empty, “I thought you didn’t like it!”

 

“Nothing wrong with a bit of sugar water from time to time.” Bernie mumbles playfully, walking ahead of her daughter toward the hospital, only for the younger woman to follow closely behind.

 

“Riding solo?” Donna smiles softly to Cole as he nears the nurses’ desk, accepting a hug from the teenager. “Blimey, you’ve gotten so tall.”

 

“I tried to stay short, but...you know...genetics.” Cole chuckles softly, giving her a tender squeeze before letting her go. He begins to glance around, noticing various staffers attempting to garner a peek into the sectioned off room. “I’m guessing Nan is in there?” Cole gives a subtle nod toward the room, “how is she?”

 

“Well, you know how your Nan is. Always the trooper that one.” Donna nods, returning her focus to paperwork behind the desk, “your Auntie Morven is in with her now, doing a more intense workup.”

 

“Which means she knows something is wrong, but doesn’t know exactly what it is.” Cole tilts his head to the side a little, watching Donna’s face. The woman doesn’t need to say anything, he already knows the answer. Giving a subtle nod, he chuckles a little, “at least she’s being thorough.”

Chapter Text

“You’re doing great, Ms. Campbell.”

 

Serena smiles softly to herself, amused by the term of endearment used by her daughter-in-law. She sits at the edge of the bed, letting Morven give her an in depth physical exam. “This can’t be comfortable for you...I know it isn’t for me.” She stares absently at the space in front of her, letting the younger woman go on.

 

“We’re doctors. We do what needs doing, regardless of comfort. Right?” Morven smirks, “besides, you’ve nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re in excellent shape for your age...besides this thing.”

 

“And what age is that?” Serena raises an eyebrow.

 

“A hair over forty?”

 

“Good girl.” Serena moans softly when she tries to move a bit, “I just...feel stiff. It hurts to move my head, if I’m being honest.” She clears her throat, her eyes drifting to watch Morven, “Charlotte told me to be the patient I wish I was given.”

 

Morven chuckles softly, nodding, “well, compliance, patience, and kindness go a long way, as you well know.”

 

“Not to mention the challenge.” Serena waves her eyebrows, “I always did like a good challenge.” She pauses, “not so much when I am the challenge, but-”

 

“I understand.” Morven nods, sighing softly after a couple more minutes, “so, your spleen is massively enlarged. Have you had any trauma to the area lately? Maybe hitting it against the kitchen counter or...a fall?” Noticing her patient’s negative head shake, she continues to watch the woman, “okay, well, your blood work shows that you’re severely anemic.” Morven motions to the IV line, “reason for that, and when I say severely...I mean it was...really not good.”

 

Serena exhales slowly, “what did my CBC say? WBC?”

 

“Elevated.” Morven nods, motioning to the IV line again, “antibiotics in that as well, but we need to find the source.”

 

“Did you have any findings from your once over?” Serena carefully lies back on the bed with the help of Morven, glad the young woman was careful to keep her covered with her gown at all times.

 

“Enlarged spleen, which I anticipated before even having a feel.” Morven gently raises the covers over the other woman, “okay, let’s sort through things. Have you taken any penicillin or Paracetamol in excess lately?” Seeing the negative head shake, she continues, “have you noticed any growths, other than the lump found in your breast?” Morven pauses, “which I’d like to get a biopsy on while you’re here, by the way.” Another negative head shake, “do you have any autoimmune disorders that you’re aware of such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or ulcerative colitis?”

 

“Again, no.” Serena watches Morven as the doctor moves back to the foot of the bed to look over the patient chart once more, “and, before you ask, I don’t have a mechanical heart valve either.”

 

“Okay.” Morven looks over the various patient history listed on the chart, “so this is either tied to a condition you weren’t aware of, or...” She shakes her head a little, “okay, here’s an odd one, what of the color of your urine?”

 

Serena furrows her brow, “can’t say I’ve checked recently.”

 

Morven nods again, sliding the chart back into the basket at the foot of the bed. “Let me have another listen.” Unlooping the lavender colored stethoscope from around her neck, placing the earpieces into her ears. Moven closes her eyes to focus completely on her patient’s heartbeat after placing the doppler against her chest, “did you know that you have a heart murmur?” Her voice is soft, as if speaking her thought process aloud. Hearing Serena beginning to respond, Morven shushes her softly, “tachycardic...heart murmur...” 

 

“Mono? Hemolytic anemia?” Serena raises an eyebrow, speaking anyway.

 

“Possibly, but...” Morven nods, looping the stethoscope back around her neck after removing the earpieces from her ears. “Acquired hemolytic anemia is rare, so I’d like to run some more tests and obtain biopsies not only on the mass in your breast, but also of your bone marrow...which...probably isn’t the most comfortable experience.” She shrugs, “I also want to obtain a urine sample and vitals every fifteen minutes as well as getting you on a monitor.” Morven slides her hands to her hips, “we’re going to figure out what this is, alright?”

 

“Not like I have anywhere to be, Dr. Shreve.” Serena smirks a little, “and if I did, I wouldn't have the energy to go.”

 

Morven offers a warm smile, “someone will be in shortly with monitors and, if you’re unable to urinate, we can get that going as well with a catheter.” She chuckles softly at Serena’s disgusted facial snarl, “I know, but...we’ll do what needs doing. Right, perfect patient?” Morven moves to the door, not expecting an answer from the woman as she opens it, noticing Charlotte standing with Bernie at the nurses’ station. “Well, looks like a few other guests have shown for you as well.”

 

Cole, having been standing next to the door, slides past his aunt first, smiling a little at his grandmother as he nears the bed, “Hey, Nan.”

 

“Hello, darling.” Serena watches, squeezing his hand after he takes her hand between his own. “I’m guessing you came with your grandmother.”

 

“Well...she was feeling a tad left out, so...”

 

“I had a feeling she might. I wasn’t about to win an argument with your mother when she’s worried.” Serena shakes her head, falling silent for a moment when she senses someone nearing the door, “thank you for taking care of her.”

 

“Always.” Cole gives his Nan a wink, lifting his gaze to see Donna with a small plastic basket of supplies hanging from her fingers. “Looks like your labs have arrived.”

 

“Well, I’m certainly about to steal some blood. Make what you will of that.” Donna offers a grin to them both, “Ms. Wolfe and Charlotte and speaking with Morven regarding what’s going on. You doing okay so far?”

 

“I promised I wouldn’t complain.” Serena shakes her head, offering up her arm to give the nurse better access to the line that was put into it. “For fear of elder abuse by my daughter,” she mumbles playfully, fully knowing that she doesn’t use the term enough for Charlotte as she should or could. 

 

“Seeing as you were also pretty dehydrated, I doubt we’ll get much output until you’ve had a couple of bags at least.” Donna motions to the bag of saline hanging from the IV pole, “so we’ll hold off on that one for a bit. Do you feel strong enough to go to toilet or raise your hips for a bedpan...anything like that?” When she feels the older woman looking at her from the top of her eye, unamused, Donna nods a little, “point taken. I’ll see what I can do.”

 

“I’m appreciative.” Serena mumbles, glancing over to Cole, noticing the teen intently watching what Donna is doing. It causes Serena to smile to herself, he’s always been the inquisitive one. “Am I heading down for scans?”


“Yes, but Ms. Dunn wants me to connect your leads first before we go on a stroll.” Donna nods, “but I’ll keep the noise low as to not bother you.”

 

“Can I come with you?” Cole lifts his gaze, wanting to help as much as possible. “I can push the-”

 

“No, I can take care of it, but thank you for the offer.” Donna smiles softly at the teenager, having set up leads many times before, it’s second nature to her, enabling her to multitask, “still thinking of going into the family business?”

 

“Um...I don’t know.” Cole answers honestly, “I want to help people, of course, but...right now I’m doing other things.”

 

“Just do what makes you happy.” Serena lazily glances over at her grandson, “promise me.”

 

He doesn’t like the way his grandmother is talking, doesn’t like the finality of it. However, Cole nods anyway, not wanting to upset her, “of course, Nan. Just for you.”

Chapter Text

Charlotte glances over at her son, the teenager pacing back and forth within the consultants’ office. Morven had told them to just wait in there as to not worry about other people asking too many questions, especially if they’re recognized by the general public. “Cole, why don’t you take a seat?” Her knee bounces from the focal point of her toes on the linoleum flooring. 

 

“Because I feel like there’s something I should be doing, Mum, something I could be doing.” Cole shakes his head, clearing his throat, “whether it be helping with other patients or...just keeping Nan company or...something.”

 

“Waiting is always the hardest part. Especially when you know what the outcomes of the possibilities are.” Bernie responds almost absently, her arms comfortably folded across her chest as she leans back against the sofa within the small room, “the good outcomes and the...unfavorable outcomes.”

 

“When Auntie Morven said...said they were rushing her to theater...” Cole swallows, stopping in his pacing to just stare out the window leading to the car park. He isn’t looking for anyone or anything in particular, just staring absently, “they wouldn’t say anything otherwise to me.”

 

“Splenic rupture.” Bernie nods, “and the problem with that is that she suffered no trauma to the area for it to occur.” She just watches the shadow of her grandson, the room remaining dark and calming, lit with only the sunlight through the window. “There were no falls or...anything of the sort.”

 

“That you know of.” Charlotte glides her hand through her own hair, tucking a few loose strands behind her ear. She clears her throat, her head turning to her mother’s direction, “let’s think this through, shall we?”

 

“Think it through?” An amused smirk threatens the corner of Bernie’s lips as she responds sarcastically, “with your vast medical knowledge?”

 

“No, with Cole’s.” Char slowly turns her head toward her son, “let’s think this through, shall we?”

 

“Mum, I’m not-”

 

“Doesn’t matter.” Charlotte tilts her head to the side, “I’ve seen you look over those books time and time again. I’ve heard you speak. You’re...you’re more knowledgeable in this subject or-or field than you think you are.”

 

Cole starts to shake his head negatively, “Mum, I’m really not-”

 

“Let’s entertain your mother, shall we?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, garnering the teenager’s attention. She motions to the wheeled desk chair behind the desk, not far from her.

 

“Good, you’re all finally learning. It’s only taken you nearly forty years.” Char chuckles softly to herself, causing her mother to smile a bit more, shaking her head.

 

Bernie stops her soft chuckle, slowly glancing over at her daughter, “bloody hell, I didn’t realize you were nearly forty.” She exhales slowly, amused, “I certainly don’t approve of that.”

 

“If it makes you feel any better, neither do I.” Charlotte folds her arms over her chest, watching as her son takes a seat in the office chair that his grandmother had told him to. “The two of you, talk amongst yourselves.” She removes her mobile from her pocket, sending out a descriptive text to the rest of the family.

 

Guinevere bites her lip, reading over the message. Her eyes begin to water before she sets her mobile down on her lap, face down. She can’t look at it right now. Can’t think about it. Noticing her aunt’s partner in the doorway after a moment, Gwen knows the woman is staring, “I should be there.”

 

“It would be useless.” Kait shakes her head, “Char asked me to retrieve Cole in a bit. I can take you with and we can pop in to say hello, if you’d like.”

 

“What about Vin and Owen?” Gwen shakes her head, “and Laney will-”

 

“Cameron said he’s coming by with his two. We’re set to order a pizza or a curry or something.” Kait offers, “received a call from him just after the text.” She licks her lips, just studying the heartbroken teenager for another moment before finally speaking, “Gwen, if you learn anything from me in your life, it’s that you can’t please everyone, nor should you try...because, if you do, you’ll run yourself ragged.” 

 

“When you muck about like I did, all you can do is try to please others.” Gwen swallows, her voice soft, “it’s the only way they’ll forgive you, but...they still look at you with untrustworthy eyes no matter what you do.” Her chin begins to tremble as she stares toward a nondescript section of her aunt’s mantle, “my parents say they can’t handle me, so I go to live with the Grands, but...then I fuck that up and...”

 

“Guinevere, this isn’t time for self introspection and a pity party.” Kait shakes her head, “break it down to basics. Lane and Owen are at the park, probably on their way back. I know that Lane doesn’t like hospitals. I mean...understandably with all he’s been through, and Owen would rather have music and a book...or a walk.”

 

“He’s...grown up quite a bit in the past couple of years.” Guinevere nods, “but you’re right, I’ve just been...” She shrugs, “I don’t know.”

 

“It’s alright. I know this is probably pretty...scary...” Kait exhales slowly, “scary, but...Serena Wolfe is a tough old bird. You haven’t anything to worry about.”

 

“That’s what we thought about Uncle Marcus.” Gwen swallows, “he was...he only ate healthy food and was really into fitness. We all...Cole especially, thought the cancer diagnosis was a joke or...or something, but...he died. A man, otherwise healthy, died. It felt sudden, but...Auntie Sian said it was something that was going on for some time so...”

 

“Pessimism never helped anyone, Guinevere.” Kait watches the teen, folding her arms across her chest, “the greatest speeches in all of history were to inspire hope...and the ones that didn’t were lost for eternity. So...are you going to be a champion for your grandmother...or are your words going to fall on deaf ears?” Hearing a nearly inaudible mumble from the teen, Kait tilts her head to the side, ear first in an effort to hear her better in a playful manner, “I’m sorry, what was that?”

 

Gwen finally stands from the sofa, gliding her mobile into her jeans’ pocket, “I said you’re right. I’ll...I’m going to try my best.”

 

“That’s all you can do.” Kait nods, “now, think about what you’d like for supper. We need to wait for Cameron anyway before we can head out.”

 

“Okay.” Gwen nods, giving a quick smile before the woman turns around and leaves the doorway. Her smile fades quickly, having a bad feeling about all of this.

Chapter Text

Bernie paces in front of the foot of her wife’s hospital bed as Morven and Donna remove Serena’s breathing tube, watching intently. This was hard. Harder than she thought it would be. Knowing that you have the ability to help, but knowing that you’re unable to. Bernie folds her arms over her chest, coming to a stop from her pacing.

 

“Alright, Serena. Just take some deep breaths.” Morven nods, setting the tubing aside to Donna to dismantle. She holds a mask over the woman’s face, smiling softly, “you’re doing great.”

 

Moving up to the newly empty side of the bed, next to the windows, Bernie reaches down to take her wife’s hand. Her thumb glides over Serena’s knuckles as she feels a squeeze, “welcome back.”

 

Serena moans softly, still reeling from the anesthesia. She moves her hand up, covering Morven’s in order to move the mask aside for a moment, “was I elsewhere?” Serena doesn’t dare let go of Bernie’s hand, doesn’t know if she actually could.

 

Donna listens to the exchange, coming to stand behind Morven, looking over her shoulder, “what’s the last thing you remember?”

 

“Speaking with Eli-” Serena stops herself, knowing that couldn’t possibly be the case, “Guinevere. She k-kept apologizing and....crying. I didn’t understand why she was crying. Still don’t.”

 

“Stuck to you like glue. Only reason she finally agreed to leave with Char was because she was falling asleep in the chair and you needed to go to imaging.” Bernie smiles softly, “but uh...much happened after that.”

 

“And it happened quickly.” Morven agrees, nodding, “your spleen was pushing against your other organs because of how...enlarged it was. Causing you to have shortness of breath that only grew worse the longer you were here. We had you on a basic nasal cannula, but I soon realized that it was a whole chain of events.” Licking her lips, she formulates her thoughts, “you weren’t getting enough oxygen to the brain, causing you to be so tired.”

 

“The spleen doesn’t usually just swell for no reason.” Serena watches her daughter-in-law intently, “there is almost always an underlying cause...and I’m not counting trauma.”

 

“Cole messaged me a list of your medications. One of which was for high blood pressure, and he said you were taking NSAIDs because your joints have been a bit stiff and you were worried about arthritis setting in.” Morven smiles a little, only slightly able to see Bernie’s confused expression from the corner of her eye, “both of which may cause-”

 

“Hemolytic anemia.” Bernie finishes the statement before shaking her head a little, “Serena, you know you could have told me that you were-”

 

Serena looks over at her wife, concerned, “Darling, you’ve been on a health kick since Marcus’ passing and the last thing I want to tell you is that I was feeling...off.” Her attention returns to Morven and Donna, “looking back, I know it was stupid and there are other things I’m able to do, more natural methods to decrease inflammation.”

 

“It’s okay.” Morven shakes her head, “nothing to worry about. You’re here and we’re fixing things now.” She lifts her smartwatch, looking at the time, “and you’ve given me one hell of a first day back in this place.” Morven offers her mother-in-law a genuine smile, “back in these halls with Ms. Campbell and Ms. Wolfe...” Hearing the other women give soft chuckles, Morven nods, standing upright with an exhale, “I’d better give Cam and the kids a bell.”

 

“He’s over to Charlotte’s.” Bernie lifts her gaze to the younger woman, “whole crowd without us, all worried about this one here.” She gives a subtle nod in Serena’s direction, her thumb still gliding over Serena’s knuckles, wanting to keep her as calm and relaxed as possible.

 

“They’ve never done that before.” Serena responds quietly, garnering her wife’s attention.

 

“That we know of.” Bernie teases, realizing it isn’t helping the situation or easing her wife’s worry, “they’re fine. Just want to be together when they hear news about you.” She raises her brow, “and they’re...showing more care toward one another than I thought capable. Jason and Greta visited for dinner and stayed for dessert.”

 

“At least we know they’ll be fine when we die.” Serena smirks, amused by her statement as she inhales the oxygen still pressed against her face.

 

Bernie lifts her head, looking to both Morven and Donna, “my wife has the cheeriest of dispositions.”

Donna laughs, giving Serena’s lower leg a squeeze before moving to the door, “night shift should be in soon, but I’ll stop by before I go if you’re still awake, Serena.”

 

“Thank you, Donna.” Serena gives the woman a wink as she leaves, turning her attention to Morven again, “thank you for all your hard work thus far.”

 

“Just doing my job.” Morven smirks, reaching into the drawer for a nasal cannula, knowing it would probably be more comfortable for the woman. She hooks everything up before gently looping it around Serena’s ears. “I’m just going to take a seat in my office for a bit. Order a curry or something. I forgot to prepare myself dinner.” Morven looks between the women, “Serena, we’re watching your intake at the moment, but Bernie, could I interest you in-”

 

Bernie begins to shake her head, “No, no, I couldn’t possibly-”

 

“Please, she loves a good Vindaloo. She has a pension for spicy things.” Serena smiles softly, “just has a difficult time accepting gifts of any sort without feeling guilty, even if it’s just some simple curry. She’s a nightmare at Christmas.”

 

“Oh, she’s perfectly fine at Christmas.” Morven chuckles to herself, finally moving from the room.

 

“I know that...memory loss and confusion are common after general anesthesia, but...I hate it.” Serena whispers once it’s just she and her wife, after Bernie lowers herself to the seat next to the bed. Her eyes are glassy, “like...I’m in a fog or under water.”

 

“Right, but you also know those side effects will subside soon enough.” Bernie doesn’t release Serena’s hand, couldn’t possibly right now. “So, though it’s uncomfortable for the time being, there’s nothing to worry about.” Leaning in, Bernie presses a soft kiss to Serena’s brow, “no more secrets though, especially when it comes to health. Promise me.”

 

“Bernie-”

 

“Promise me.” Bernie wets her lips with a quick tongue darting across them, “even if it might seem insignificant, I want to know.”

 

Serena sighs softly, “you’re overreacting.”

 

“I didn’t know the medications you were taking. Not the NSAIDs. Not the ones that matter.” Bernie leans back in her seat, still not letting go of Serena’s hand, “I-I missed it. Thankfully, Cole is, apparently, more observant than myself when it comes to you. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t-”

 

“I’m fine.” Serena raises her voice a bit, still hoarse from being fully intubated, just to stop her wife’s rattling. “I’m fine. Everything worked out.”

 

“Now it did.” Bernie mumbles, her eyes focusing on Serena’s hand, “I-I can’t slip up again.”

 

“So don’t.” Serena’s voice calms, her gaze watching her wife’s face, able to see the fear and the disappointment, “but you can’t beat yourself up over this. You have your own issues to worry about. Issues that are far worse than some arthritis.” Letting go of Bernie’s hand, she reaches it up to place on the blonde’s cheek, “we can’t lose ourselves in worrying about the other.” Her hand returns to Bernie’s as it remains on the bed, giving a delicate tug, “come here.”

 

Bernie leans forward, placing her head on the pillow, next to Serena’s. She does it in a way so that Serena is unable to see her face, allowing a tear to escape the corner of her eye. This was too close for comfort for her. Sure, her wife was fine this time, but...what about next time? No. Bernie couldn’t let a ‘next time’ happen. She swallows, then clears her throat, “I love you, Campbell.”

 

“And I you, darling. Now, please calm down. We’ll work on this together.” Serena lifts her other hand to stroke Bernie’s hair, “it’s what we promised one another all those years ago, isn’t it?”

 

Smiling softly, Bernie nods against her wife’s shoulder, “suppose so.”

 

Morven watches her mothers-in-law through the small window leading to the nurses’ station. Their love truly has always been one for the ages.

Chapter Text

“So...no offense, but I’ve never seen you as the type to enjoy carpentry in the slightest.” Cameron looks in on the camper parked under an enclosure in his sister’s drive. “Not to mention, this is pretty sweet. Your own place that you’re able to move about with you. Travel the world and...not need to worry about a hotel or...anything like that.” He starts to smile, “this really looks great so far, Cole.”

 

“Thanks, Uncle Cam.” Cole nods, smiling a little, “not for me though, I’m giving it to the Grands.”

 

“The Grands.” Cameron replies incredulously, “they’re old and sickly...and you think they’d want a camper?”

 

“I think they’d like to travel more.” Cole smiles a little, “I think they’d like to see the world and...go on adventures like they were never able to because of Mum and I.” He draws his lower lip in his mouth, “I know how...how much of a good time they have when they go on holiday, even if it’s just for a weekend or...something like that. I want them to have something that’s just theirs and...will let them a bit of...comfortable freedom.”

 

Cam exhales with a soft laugh, “they got a house all to themselves and they’re home every single day, retired-”

 

“I kind of live there...as does Gwennie usually since things are...a bit crowded over to Mum’s.” Cole nods, noticing his uncle’s confused face from the corner of his eye, “if it weren’t for the Grands...I don’t know if Mum would be here...much less myself.”

 

“You mean because of the...” Cameron doesn’t finish the sentence, knowing he means when Charlotte attempted to take her own life. Seeing his nephew’s slight nod, Cam furrows his brow, “you tried too?”

 

“I’ve thought about it.” Cole says quietly, “but I have a great therapist and...I’m working through my issues, but...I wouldn’t have been strong enough to do it if it weren’t for the Grands.” Everything was mostly tied to the events with his biological paternal grandparents and how his Gran saved his life, despite it being himself that made the mistake.

 

“Why do you live with them though? I’ve seen your room at your Mum’s and it’s something I’d be jealous of at your age.” Cam shakes his head a little, “I lived with the Major for many years. I wouldn’t exactly choose it if there were other options.”

 

“You might have lived with the Major, but I lived with my Gran. Both of my Grands.” Cole nods, “I don’t ever need to try with them. Not that I ever needed to with Mum, but...she has a lot on her plate. Successful writer, single mother to four children, one of which is special needs.” He shrugs, tilting his head to the side again, “the least I could do was give her a break by not being there.”

 

“That doesn’t seem too...”

 

“Healthy?” Cole raises an eyebrow, exhaling a soft laugh, “no, it doesn’t, but...I think it works for us. Mum knows I’m always there when she needs me, but...three kids are easier than four. Usually when Mum needs me, it’s to help with Vinnie or Owen, but...now she has Kait and Owen has...changed significantly. He’s doing really well.” Cole smiles proudly to himself, “It’s obvious he’s grown up a bit.”

 

Cameron listens to the teenager, “you act like...you’re older than me. Don’t you ever just want to be a kid?” He laughs a little to himself, shaking his head, “Mum has...molded you into exactly what she...” Cameron exhales slowly, his laugh calming, “you’re the son she wished she had.”

 

Cole furrows his brow, shaking his head, “I was a kid. I did dumb things. They made me grow up faster than I should have, but I never missed out on anything. I never...wanted for anything.” He smiles a little to himself, “I’m able to buy what I want, donate to various trusts and organizations helping the poor, spread a message of hope and positivity.” Cole shrugs, “all the Grands did was support me...every step of the way. When I was still building my channel, they’d help me come up with content or...if there was a device or a peripheral, they made sure I had what I needed. They didn’t really know what I was doing at the time, but...they never discouraged me or...told me to focus on something else. They just accepted me for me.”

 

Looking over at his nephew, a gentle hum of jealousy wells within Cameron. Growing up, his mother always expected the best from her children. “What um...what grades do you get in school?”

 

Weird question. “Uh...” Cole shrugs, “A’s mostly. My favorite teacher died not too long ago, so...that was disappointing, but...A’s.” He glances over to his uncle, “I don’t mind it too much. I go, do what I need to do, then come home. I don’t try to make friends or anything like that.”

 

“Seems rather...boring.” Cam laughs a little to himself, “don’t you worry that you’re missing out on-”

 

“No.” Cole shakes his head, “people try to be friends with me, and I let them in, and then they ask me to buy them something. I’m not popular at school. I don’t pretend that I am, nor do I want to be, really.” He shrugs, “I just go, do what I need to do, then leave. I’m not there for drama or...anything else.”

 

“With as popular as you are online, you’d think-”

 

“You’d think.” Cole nods slowly, “but people think too much sometimes, that’s the problem. Think too much, don’t listen enough. Don’t consider others enough. Don’t support one another enough. Aren’t positive enough.” He sighs softly, “I’m just...happy with what I do. I’m happy with what I’ve built...and I don’t just mean the interior of this camper, that Kait helps with when she’s able to. I’m happy with how much I’ve been able to help others.”

 

“You wanted to be a doctor though, didn’t you?” Cam folds his arms over his chest, “or has that changed?”

 

“I like being a creator. I like being able to help the less fortunate.” Cole shrugs, “I’ll stop when I grow tired of everything, but right now...I have a platform to do good things...and I’m going to milk that platform for everything it's worth if it means others receive aid.”

 

Cam starts to smile, “I can respect that.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“And I think your Dad would be really proud of you for it.” Cameron tilts his head to the side, looking forward again at the camper, “truly. Incredibly proud of you.”

 

“You saw more of him than I did.” Cole smiles to himself, “but thank you. I appreciate the sentiment.”

 

“I mean...I am too. I just...I just wish I was more open about stuff, I guess.” Cam shrugs, “I try with my kids, but...it’s hard to display something that never-”

 

“I know your issues with Gran, but...sometimes people are products of the situations they were forced into.” Cole nods, “I mean, Grandad was great, but...to be forced into a marriage where you just...aren’t happy? That’s even worse.”

 

“No one forced-”

 

“Uncle Cam, think about it.” Cole shakes his head, “think about when you were born, think about how old Gran and Grandad were at the time, think about what Gran wanted to do with her life or...had plans to do since birth, think about what she accomplished after the fact.”

 

Cameron sighs to himself, knowing he wasn’t about to change his nephew’s mind, especially when the boy was close to one Berenice Wolfe. “I’m just...glad your experience with my Mum is different from my experience with my mum. That’s what I’m trying to say.”

 

“Because inside you’re just a little boy, wishing that his Mum were there to tuck him in at night instead of in another country that she isn’t able to tell you about.” Cole shakes his head a little, tilting his head in response, “be honest.”

“What?”

 

“You’re letting stuff that happened some...thirty-plus years ago shape the relationship you’re able to have with your mother today.” Cole sighs a little, “and you’ve been promising Mum and...Aunt Morven, and even Gran, that you’ve been seeing a therapist and taking-”

 

Cameron nods a little, “I-I started to, but-”

 

“But you stopped.” Cole listens to his uncle, knowing what the next words would be, “you were doing well just after the winter holidays. It isn’t too late to go back to that. It’s never too late.”

 

Falling silent for a few minutes, Cam starts to shake his head, “You’re a teenager. I’m an adult with much more life experience than you. I don’t need a kid telling me what’s good for me.” He swallows, giving Cole one last glance before walking back up toward the house.

 

“I might be a kid, but at least I don’t act like one.” Cole calls after his uncle, watching as the man opens the door to go back into the house. He sighs softly, wanting to help, but not knowing how to anymore. He’s done all he can.

Chapter Text

“Everything is improving. Your blood counts are looking good, you’re no longer anemic, your color is coming back.” Morven nods, a smile on her face, “it seems you were right after all regarding the hemolytic anemia. All of our tests are coming back and they’re...fantastic. How do you feel?”

 

“Honestly,” Serena starts to nod slowly, “much better. I’m still sore, but...nothing I can’t manage on my own or with the help of Bernie.”

 

Morven slides her hands into the pockets of her trousers, “you know, you and Bernie are what I can only hope Cam and I can be.” Her voice is soft, but it’s obvious she’s speaking from the heart, “so, knowing you have that love and support from her, makes me comfortable releasing you today.”

 

“Truly?” Raising an eyebrow, Serena looks at her daughter-in-law, “I didn’t think you’d let me go for at least another-”

 

“I wasn’t going to, but-” Hearing the gentle knock against the doorframe, Morven smiles softly to her sister-in-law, “well, good morning. Surprised to see you around.”

 

“Yeah, Mum was a tad...under the weather this morning, unfortunately, but Cole and Cam are tending to her, so-”

 

“Cameron?” Serena furrows her brow, “Charlotte.” She doesn’t need to say anything other than the younger woman’s name in order to demand more information.

 

“Nothing to worry over, promise.” Char shakes her head a little, offering her best reassuring smile. “If it was bad, I wouldn’t be here. Promise.” She pauses, “besides, might do she and Cam a bit of good to be able to spend some...quality time together.”

 

Morven raises an eyebrow, “I’m certainly interested in the outcome.”

 

“I trust Cole to... handle Cameron.” Char folds her arms over her chest, “pretty disappointing when a teenager has more maturity than a man in his forties...with children...and a spouse.”

 

“Cam’s been through a lot with his father and then the stuff with the hospital and the lawsuit...your father...” Morven shakes her head a little, softly exhaling, “he only succeeded by the skin of his teeth.” She sighs softly, “not that I’m excusing his behavior in any way, but he’s-” She tilts her head to the side a little, a look of slight defeat washing over her face when her sister-in-law looks over to her. “I’m sorry.”

 

“You have no reason to apologize to me for yourself or my brother.” Charlotte shakes her head slowly, “Cameron always wanted a Helicopter Mother , but was not blessed with one and blamed my adventure loving, self sacrificing mother for his churlish behavior ever since. I’ve heard it all my life.”

 

“If I remember correctly, you weren’t terribly keen on her for a spell either.” Serena lifts an eyebrow, looking over at her stepdaughter.

 

“I was angry and it was, generally, false pretenses.” Char retorts with a slight pout, “Marcus Dunn wasn’t exactly known for his good decisions.”

 

“Well, horrid gay-detection abilities at least.” Serena mumbles, exhaling softly after. “It doesn’t matter. Morven was just informing me that I’ll be released to-”

 

Morven lifts her head, interrupting her patient, “Well, I was going to release you into the care of Bernie, but if she’s unable to even care for herself at the moment, so-”

 

“Whatever she needs, I’ll take care of.” Charlotte nods, “unless it’s something intense where you believe it would be better that she be in the care of hospital staff.” She notices her sister-in-law look uncertain, “Morven...” Char shakes her head a little, “she’s my Mum. I’m going to take care of her no matter what. Whether it be now or when I’m changing her diapers in a couple of years.”

 

“Here we go...” Serena mumbles again.

 

“I mean it.” Charlotte nods, a slight smirk on her face from the jest she had made before, “they’re my parents and I’m going to take care of them because they took care of me. That’s just the way it is.” She pauses, “whether they want me to or not, they’re not going to be able to rid themselves of me.”

 

“Lucky us.” Serena nods slowly, amused by her stepdaughter’s display, but also warmed that she still includes her in the thought of being a parent.

 

Morven watches the pair, keeping herself from laughing. “Okay, fine, you won me over.” There really wasn’t much of a fight. It was time for Serena to leave hospital anyway, but Morven was going to give her a hard time regardless. “Serena, we still need to keep an eye on your CBC for a spell. So I ask that you stop in to the lab each week for a check on your levels and if you’re feeling poorly-”

 

“I’ll race back to you.” Serena leans back against her pillows a bit.

 

“And I’ll make her when she argues.” Char nods, “promise.”

 

“Okay then. I’ll have Donna start writing up post care instructions.” Morven nods, moving back to the door leading to the rest of the AAU after her sister-in-law steps in more. Once she stands at the nurses’ station, she retrieves her mobile from her pocket, shooting a quick text to her nephew that Serena was in the process of being released and asking what was up with Bernie.

 

Cole smirks a little, glad his scheme was working and that his mother fell for everything. Unless she was in on things as well.

 

Bernie notices her grandson’s cheeky smirk from the corner of her eye, moving her bishop chess piece, “I think this is all an overreaction. I stare for a moment too long and Cole believes me to be an invalid.”

 

“No one said you’re an invalid. You’re prone to seizures, especially absence seizures. I saw the same thing that Cole did. He made the right call.” Cameron nods, moving his pawn, “as he did with this. It would probably be a good idea to take up crossword puzzles or...something similar, if you haven’t already.”

 

“Trivia.” Cole offers, giving a non-committed shrug of his shoulder. 

 

“I love trivia, just never good at any of the music stuff.” Cam shakes his head, leaning back in the chair, folding his arms casually as he waits for his mother to make her move. “I mean, I love to listen, but...can’t identify an artist to save my life.”

 

“I’m not good at it either.” Bernie shakes her head, a soft chuckle at her lips, “I try...and I can carry a tune, but I’m rubbish at...remembering the words. Especially now.” She moves one of her pieces, taking Cameron’s pawn with little effort. 

 

“Any contralto is automatically Dusty Springfield to her.” Cole smirks, moving to the counter top to fill the electric kettle, “who wasn’t even a contralto. She was a mezzo-soprano for most of her life, until the fags hit.” He shakes his head, glancing over when he feels eyes on him. “It’s true.”

 

“Since when did you become a music aficionado?” Bernie furrows her brow, “you’re more about tech...though, I’ve seen your carpentry, you’re a young man of many talents.”

 

“Just bored one day and I went down a rabbit hole.” Cole replies, nonchalantly, “mostly looking for something to make content about for the channel when I was...having a dry spell of ideas.”

 

“You know, I’m glad you’re finally talking about it openly.” Cam nods, “I’d be at work and a patient would recognize me, usually around the winter holidays. I’m guessing, now, that it’s because you’d share family experiences with your channel, but...it was weird when we didn’t know then.”

 

“No, I never really...showed anyone’s face unless they knew what I was doing. The Grands knew that I had a ‘silly little internet show’ that I’d contribute to from time to time, but...they didn’t know what it had become.” Cole shakes his head, “was there ever a time when you realized how popular the channel was?”

 

“Probably when you asked me to help you start a PO Box.” Bernie looks over at her grandson, smiling softly from the memory, “and I didn’t understand why you needed it or...why you’d want it. You explained that companies wanted to send you things to review. I-I think those were your words.”

 

Cole nods slowly, “they were. I thought you’d take it the wrong way if I said that random people on the internet know that I exist and want to send me things because they like me.” He exhales a soft chortle, “but it was a bunch of things. They’d send things for you and Nan as well.” When his grandmother appears confused, Cole continues, “there’s quite a few mugs that have appeared. Multiple varieties of coffee and tea. I’d usually post our random morning chats. People enjoyed that and wanted it to continue as much as possible.”

 

“I hadn’t realized that Cole was, virtually, living here until yesterday.” Cameron moves another chess piece, focusing on the board, “can Darling Charlotte not-”

 

“It’s my choice. I’ve already told you that.” Cole shakes his head, “I know you might not understand it, but...it works for us. Always has.”

 

“Just seems Mum might be making up for lost opportunities, is all.” Cam mutters, tilting his head to the side a little.

 

“She’s not well. Last thing she needs is the stress of you digging up ancient history.” Cole sighs, hearing the electric kettle click as it turns off, “would you both like some tea?”

 

“Why am I here?” Cameron looks over at his nephew, “why did you think it would be a good idea for me to stay?”

 

“Because you’re a doctor. I handle Gran’s care with her seizures all the time, but...this one was longer than usual and you saw it yourself.” It really wasn’t. It was just his grandmother lost in thought. Something that happens from time to time. Bernie usually has a different look and Cole is lucky enough to be able to tell the difference. 

 

“When did you stop speaking with a therapist?” Bernie’s voice is soft, ashamed. She hurt her children and Cameron acted more affected by it all through the years than Charlotte ever did, “even more, you’ve stopped taking your medication.”

 

“It made me feel like a zombie.” Cam dismisses her, “I’m not taking something that just...turns me into a husk. I won’t. There comes a time when you need to take responsibility for your actions, mother.”

 

“And the alternative is better?” Cole raises his voice a little, not about to let his Uncle Cam go after his Gran, “right this second, your children are with Gwennie and Kait, a woman who has no experience with children, but does her best to be a second parent for Lavinia when she doesn’t need to...and Vin loves her intensely in return.” He licks his lips, “because even when Dad was alive, he wasn’t around much. Work was his passion and he was able to help many, many children over the years as a consultant on Otter. I’m...glad. I’m happy that his absence from us meant that someone was benefiting, but you...you’re just angry.”

 

“Cole-” Bernie warns quietly, knowing she deserves everything coming from her son.

 

“Gran has healed thousands over the years, sometimes while under threat of gunfire. She’s trained just as many, meaning she’s had a hand in aiding everyone that they help. It all continues to spread like a spider’s web, but all you can do is think about yourself.” Cole shakes his head, “not even your children. Not even moving on because you’ve already lost one parent.”

 

Standing slowly, Bernie leans a hand onto the table. Her head turns in the direction of the teenager, but she’s unable to meet his eye, “That’s enough.”

 

“I’d do anything to have my Dad back. Absolutely anything and he was rarely around. Probably even less than Gran was around for you. Gran had an excuse, she was serving Queen and Country in various parts of the world. My father? He just...couldn’t be bothered.” Cole pours the hot water into his mug with a tea bag, “I am so incredibly thankful for my mother. I’d give her the world if I could, same as I’d do for the Grands, all because they’ve never once given up on taking care of my siblings and I.”

 

Cameron lays his king chess piece down onto the board, standing from his seat, “I’d better-”

 

“I’d look at my Mum’s pill bottles, trying to do the math in my head, via the information from my pharmacology books, of how many pills I’d need to take in order to end myself while still allowing my mother to have pills that she needed for her own care.” Cole shakes his head, falling silent for a moment as he takes another sip of tea, “and I realized that the story was never about me. My end wouldn’t be the end of the story. In fact, it would just cause others more pain...and I couldn’t do that. I’d deal with the headaches as long as I needed to if it meant that I didn’t upset anyone else.” He swallows, licking his lips before continuing, “you need to start appreciating what you have now...or you’re liable to lose it all.”

 

Bernie watches as her son gives a subtle nod before walking past her, leaving the room, “Cole-”

 

“Nah.” Cole shakes his head slowly, not wanting to talk about it anymore, “ancient history needs to stay buried sometimes, Gran.” There really isn’t anything else he could say to his uncle. The man would constantly cause whatever closeness was established between he and his mother, and start digging up the past.

Chapter Text

“I just had Cole in here insisting you were fine and had just popped round to Charlotte’s to see the younger grandchildren.” Serena furrows her brow, sitting in the lounge of the home she shares with her wife, “what is going on, Berenice?” 

 

“I am fine.” Bernie nods, taking a seat next to her wife after returning home. She licks her lips, “Cole and Cameron had a...disagreement and...” She shrugs, “this became very uncomfortable very quickly and...Cameron chased pavements. Said he needed a few minutes, but...it’s been longer than that. Just over an hour thus far.”

 

“That’s...very unlike Cole.”

 

“Yes.” Exhaling softly, Bernie nods, taking hold of Serena’s hand as they sit there. The things the teenager revealed during a heated discussion with Cameron still weigh on her. Not anything she wants to worry Serena over though. “I’m glad you’re back. How are you-”

 

“Feeling?” Serena finishes the thought with a subtle shrug, “better than I was. I’m hoping everything stays...the way they are currently. Another pill to the daily load and...weekly laboratory visits for a bit.” She smiles softly, “got off easy really.” She absently strokes the side of her wife’s hand with her thumb as it rests in hers, “I reckon the pair of us should just...have a lie in. Meals in bed...among other things.”

 

“No, no funny business. You’re recuperating...both of you are.” Charlotte carries out a handful of pills with a glass of water, offering them to her stepmother, “Morven wanted you to take these when you got settled. So...here.”

 

Serena does her best not to jump, but furrows her brow still, “can’t you take louder footsteps? I hadn’t even realized you were still here.” She reaches out, letting go of Bernie’s hand to take the pills from her stepdaughter, grumbling under her breath in the process.

 

Bernie smiles to herself, amused by the exchange, “has your brother turned back up?”

 

“Haven’t the foggiest, Mum. I was getting things ready in a tablet container in the kitchen. Hospital chemist was kind enough to give us one.” Charlotte watches her, glad when Serena takes the water so she doesn’t have to hold it any longer. “Cam left his three over to mine?” She folds her arms casually over her chest, “he’s been popping over while Maman has been in hospital. Even stayed over the first night when she had her surgery.” Char sighs softly with disappointment, “I thought he was turning a new leaf.”

 

“Would he leave during the day or would he-”

 

“Not while we weren’t sure of Serena’s condition.” Charlotte shakes her head, “even allowed Lane to put makeup on him. I have pictures. He actually looked fantastic.”

 

“He has the cheekbones for it.” Serena nods before tilting her head to the side to motion to her wife, “gets them from his mother.”

 

Charlotte smirks when she notices a blush begin to form across her mother’s features. “Anyway, he’s been fine over the past few days. Actually wanting to be around everyone, at least it felt that way.”

 

“Okay.” Bernie nods slowly, “good.”

 

“What’s...brought this all on, if you don’t mind my asking?” Char tilts her head quizzically to the side, “I heard you mention a disagreement with Cole while I was in the other room. How bad was it?”

 

“Nothing to worry over.” Bernie glances between both of the women, sitting forward on the sofa, but not yet getting up, “I’m feeling a tad sleepy and I know Serena should probably be in bed as well, resting as much as possible.” She raises her brow, “isn’t that right, Campbell?”

 

“No rigorous activity.” Charlotte shakes her head, scowling playfully.

 

“Who said anything about that? We’ll probably just watch telly if we aren’t, in fact, sleeping.” Serena smiles a bit to herself, “I do want to see everyone though. Maybe I should pop over-”

 

“I don’t think that’s the best idea. You’re still susceptible to things. I’d rather you didn’t go around the little germ factories just yet.” Charlotte exhales softly, “especially Lauragh and Hazel, reckon they’re both teething. At least, I hope it’s teething. Constant runny noses, both of them.” She tilts her head to the side, “I know it’s a constant worry now after losing a spleen, I did a web search, but...I’d rather you were safe rather than sorry at the moment.”

 

“I understand, but I’ve had all my vaccinations brought up to date before leaving hospital as well as being on a stream of preventative antibiotics currently.” Serena offers her a soft smile, “I appreciate the concern, Charlotte, truly I do, but I did attend medical school for a bit. I wouldn’t put myself at any undue risk.”

 

Charlotte still looks worried. Losing a parent does that. It makes one want to protect the other parent, or in this case parents, as much as humanly possible. Probably as much as she protects her own children, she thinks. “If you think you can handle it, but don’t push yourself, please.”

 

“I wouldn’t let her.” Bernie gives a slow head shake with a half wink.

 

“You’re not firing on all cylinders at the moment either, Mum. No offense.” Charlotte lowers her arms from being crossed over her chest to placing her hands on her hips. “I’m here to take care of you. That’s what children do for their parents when they’re old or sick...or both. Jason is busy with work, but Cameron is...” She shakes her head a little, “I don’t expect much from my older brother, but...I’d at least hope he’d be willing to assist since the kids...” Char shrugs, shaking her head a little, “doesn’t matter. I love having his three, especially since we haven’t really seen them much since Easter, but...Morven obviously doesn’t know much.”

 

“Cole seems to think Cameron has stopped attending therapy.” Bernie finally says, shrugging a little, “among other things. It isn’t my...my space to talk. Cameron is a grown man, capable of making his own decisions, even if they’re poor ones.”

 

“It’s taken you a long time to admit that.” Char smirks a little, raising an eyebrow, “especially with Cameron. You’ve always seemed to...have a cloud of guilt over your head. When we were children and...even now.” She slowly shakes her head to herself, noticing her mother averting her gaze, “whatever. That’s for you to sort out, but I’m glad you’re finally...coming to terms with things.”

 

“We can only help those who want to help themselves.” Serena takes hold of her wife’s hand again, smiling softly when Bernie looks over at her. “Come with me back to Charlotte’s to see everyone?” She pauses, “we won’t stay terribly long. We’ve various meals to consume in bed while we catch up on mysteries on telly.”

 

“I’ll recruit Cole as a runner...or, you know, one of the other various children that linger around mine.” Charlotte hears the chuckle of her parents before looking toward the door, “you must take things easy though, Maman. I mean it.”

 

It’s the way Charlotte’s eyes hit hers, the tone of her voice. Serena knows this holds a whole different meaning to her than something that would elicit a teasing response. She gives a solid nod, making sure to meet the young woman’s large brown eyes with her own, “you have my word.”

Chapter Text

“You know, when I was resting in hospital and...rather intoxicated after surgery,” Serena raises a brow when she hears a huff of a laugh from her wife, leaning against her upper arm, “all I could think about was when we were in Spain...by the sea.”

 

“Before or after we saw Ric?” Bernie nearly snorts, sitting up a bit, still holding her wife’s hand comfortably. They’ve needed this closeness. Bernie’s worry over Serena was greater than she’s comfortable with or that she would admit, especially not being as observant as she could have been with what her wife was taking.

 

“Don’t remind me.” Serena mumbles with a sigh, “but...being in Spain, in general. How delightfully relaxing it was, being that close to the sea.” She glances over at her wife, “that’s what helped me when you weren’t there. It was lying beside you in Spain, on the beautiful sands, listening to the rash of the waves against the shore.”

 

Bernie hums with delight, settling her head back against the stack of pillows behind her, looking up at the ceiling, “it was rather relaxing.”

 

“Maybe we should think about...getting a Summer home near the shore. Something we’d be able to have visitors and...enjoy to the fullest.” Serena leans her head back as well, also looking up at the ceiling as if imagining the seaside herself. “What do you think of that?”

 

“I think it’s a marvelous idea, Campbell.” Bernie smiles softly to herself, “possibly your greatest, but where?”

 

“Something...not terribly far. Wouldn’t want to be too far away for long.” Serena begins to think aloud.

 

“What about Cornwall?”

 

Furrowing her brow, Serena turns her head to the side, looking over at the side of her wife’s face again, “Cornwall?” Her tone is incredulous, amused, “why on earth Cornwall?”

 

Bernie smirks, turning her head to meet Serena’s eyes, “I gave a speech at the Medical College there once, many years ago, and I just...it was so incredibly relaxing. I was only able to stay for the afternoon, but I always wanted to go back. Never had the opportunity.” She pauses, looking up at the ceiling again, “peaceful with...private areas, from what I understand. Went round the home of one of my fellow speakers for tea before the talk and I was just...completely enthralled.”

 

There’s something about the way Bernie says the words, the absolute wonder on her face that causes Serena to develop a smile, “why don’t we go for a weekend, get our bearings, see if there are any properties available in a space you enjoy.”

 

“Maybe speak with an estate agent?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, “depending on what you think of the area. Guinevere is very good at what she does, but I’d like for this to be a surprise for everyone.” She pauses, “that way we can have the proper family holiday that we’ve all wanted.”

 

“Three bedrooms?” Serena asks quietly, let the statement settle between them. Sure, Serena would love to have the younger children visit, but she wanted something just for them. Not terribly beyond their means. “Something with our own private section of sand?”

 

“Absolutely.” Bernie nods a little, blushing slightly at the thought. “I know it seems so...tame compared to the locations I’ve traveled throughout my life, and continue to love to travel, but...I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I know you’d much rather go to France or...back to Spain...Germany...wherever.”

 

“Bernie, I don’t care where we go as long as I’m with you.” Serena smiles softly to herself, her voice is gentle, just above a whisper. Soothing, but honest, “I’ll go to the ends of the Earth with you.”

 

Bringing the hand she’s holding up to her lips, Bernie places a soft kiss on Serena's knuckles, “even if it’s in Cornwall?” She’s teasing mostly, “small town and...hopefully not too many bothersome neighbors, but-”

 

“Bernie, anywhere.” Serena smiles a little to herself, still watching her wife, “and we’ll fill it with...pictures and...all sorts of things. Just...a place for us...to decompress, most of all.” She exhales slowly, still thinking of the location, “a view from the lounge?”

 

“From the bedroom too.” Bernie smiles a bit to herself, “our bedroom. Wake to the sight of the sunrise against the meridian.”

 

“Then race to shut the curtains because the bloody sun is in our eyes.” Serena mutters, earning a soft chuckle from the woman next to her. “That all still sounds remarkably romantic. We’ll need to take our sunspecs to bed if that’s the case.”

 

“Then we’ll take sunspecs to bed.” Bernie nods, “we can start doing our own research, coming up with what we need to have in a house and...what we wouldn’t like to have.” She nods, “what’s one of yours?” Bernie pauses, feeling the need to clarify, “something you want to have in a holiday home.”

 

“Clear view of the water. No other houses or trees in the way.” Serena smiles to herself, “with a porch or...some sort of outdoor area for us to relax and watch the sunset together.”

 

“Sounds heavenly.” Bernie turns to her side, leaning in slowly to press a kiss to her wife’s lips, “hopefully not in a spot where many tourists venture.”

 

“I think we’ll manage to find something.” Serena nods, reaching a hand over to place on Bernie’s cheek, just staring into her eyes, “I’m sorry I disappointed you by not telling you how I was feeling. That was...completely my gaffe and I apologize for not saying anything.”

 

“I should have been more observant, truly.” Bernie responds softly, “and that is entirely my fault, Serena.”

 

“Well, we can agree to disagree...and move on.” Serena’s thumb glides along Bernie’s cheekbone, “because we have things to look forward to. Holiday home and...oh, I need to speak with Guinevere about France.”

 

“I’m certain she’ll love the distraction.” Bernie slowly pushes herself up to sit, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth as she looks at her wife, “though I’ll miss you desperately while you’re away...even for a weekend.” She leans down, pressing another kiss to Serena’s lips, “we might need to go back after.”


“Do you remember that villa in the vineyard?” Serena references the small villa she stayed in after Elinor had died and she required a break. Bernie surprised her then, rushing in from Holby City on a whim just to be by her side. Though the grieving process was incredibly difficult for her, the time she spent there with Bernie, acting as a couple without a single worry, was one of the happiest times of her life.

 

“I do. We made blueberry scones and they lasted only a few hours.” Hearing Serena’s quick laugh only causes Bernie to grin, “and we lounged on a blanket on an open patch of grass, sipping some of the most magnificent wine I’ve ever tasted in my entire life.”

 

“So much that we were...tipsy and becoming quickly sunkissed, falling asleep on that blanket.” Serena nods a little, falling silent for a moment as she thinks about the time, “it was delightful.”

 

“Well, we’ll be able to do it again...except on the beach this time.” Bernie waves her eyebrows, feeling Serena remove her palm from her cheek to tenderly take hold of her hand again, giving it a gentle squeeze, “and back in the French countryside soon enough.”

 

“I look forward to the day.”

Chapter Text

Charlotte pulls up to the semi-detached that her son had given Kait the address of when the woman had dropped him off earlier in the day. Lane had been spending more and more time with his biological paternal grandmother, but has also turned to be more argumentative and angry in the process. At least, that’s how Lane’s behavior has been coming across to Charlotte.

 

Slowly climbing from the car after successfully parallel parking, Char keeps her sunglasses on as she takes in the sight of the house. Anxiety builds within her with the prospect of seeing the woman again after all these years. Charlotte clears her throat, taking one more cautionary look down at her clothes before walking up the pathway.

 

Black and white striped shirt with skinny jeans, a pair of canvas flats, and one of Ryan’s old cardigans from when they attended a charity 90s themed party at the hospital. Her cognac colored, ethically sourced leather purse dangles from her shoulder. Charlotte hates that she feels this way.

 

Char lifts her hand to the knocker at the center of the door, giving it a few taps against the wooden barrier. She inhales deeply and exhales slowly.

 

Qudrah Solomon answers the door of her house, doing her best not to gasp when she sees the former wife of her son standing there. The woman she’s held such animosity for since laying eyes on her over a decade ago. The woman that stole her son from her. She doesn’t say anything, just looking at her.

 

“Mrs. Solomon, it’s good to see you.” Charlotte gives a single nod, “and I’m glad to see you back in town.” When the woman continues to remain silent, she starts again, “and, hopefully, you’ll be a positive figure for their father’s side of their family.”

 

“No thanks to you.” Qudrah finally mutters, “you sheltered them.”

 

“I pushed for you, Qudrah. Even if you didn’t like me, I pushed for you. All you had to do was respect Ryan. All you had to do was respect Cole and I. Neither of which you could do.” Charlotte shakes her head slowly, glancing away from her, “even now. The children are nearly grown. All you were ever asked to do was to respect and you couldn’t do that.”

 

“Why are you here?”

 

“To see why my son is becoming so negative. To see you and talk things through.” Charlotte nods, “because he was fine until he started talking to you. He was happy, he was creative, he was thriving. Now, he’s...depressed and self conscious...angry.” 

 

“That sounds like your issue. Not mine.” Qudrah begins to close the door.

 

“Then Lane is coming home now.” Char nods, “and if you’re to continue meeting him, you’ll be coming to ours, or Laney will be accompanied by someone else. I don’t trust you enough to entrust my child to you. Never did trust you, but I thought I’d give you the benefit of the doubt.” She tilts her head to the side a bit, “and that’s if you can learn how to respect others. Including your son’s three other children.”

 

“Two other. The one is yours.” Qudrah answers back, “and the youngest is in the air. From what Lane has told me, it sounds like there could be a question over if she is my son’s.”

 

“Being that you’re solely relying on the words of a fourteen year old and know nothing of what was going on at the time or the relationship between your son and I,” Charlotte starts to laugh to herself, “how would you come to that conclusion?”

 

“Your husband was rarely home when she was conceived, was he not?” There’s a scheming appearance forming across Qudrah’s features, “Lane tells me the one you’re with now acts like the girl’s parent. It’s probably him.”

 

“Well, Kait’s a woman. We met while she was a detective on the case with Cole’s biological paternal grandparents, while I was already pregnant. We didn’t become friends until months after Ryan died.” Charlotte shrugs, taking a moment before continuing, “there was never a time where I strayed. Never wanted to. I was too busy with my boys...and too in love with him.” She slowly exhales, “so try again.” When the Qudrah starts to open her mouth to say something else, Charlotte speaks again, “really, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to make my case to you or anyone else. I’m here to retrieve Lane.”

 

“If he wants to go with you-”

 

“He doesn’t have a choice in the matter.” Charlotte tilts her head to the side, noticing the other woman’s angry features, “oh, that does make you cross, doesn’t it?”

 

Qudrah continues to scowl, “you shouldn’t use the children against-”

 

“You started it.” Char interjects, using her hands slightly to emphasize her points, “you’re the one who only wants to see one of the three biological children from your son and has made absolutely no effort to see the other two. Why is that?” She pauses, “because he was the easiest to manipulate?” Char pauses again, “because I know Owen is an excellent judge of character despite not saying much and Lavinia is brilliant. Laney is creative and beautiful, but can also be naïve at times.”

 

“I'm not naïve.” Lane replies, standing not terribly far behind his grandmother.

 

Seeing her son over the woman’s head, Charlotte shakes her head a little, “Not usually, but you are with this.” She licks her lips, “please, get your things. I’ll meet you in the car.”

 

“I want to stay here.” Lane continues, “I want to-”

 

“Get in the bloody car, Lane Serene Anand. This isn’t up for negotiation.” Watching her son stomp off to retrieve his things, Charlotte returns her attention to the shorter woman standing there, “and you need to decide your next action. You can change your behavior, or we can do what Ryan wanted to do from the start and cut off all contact with you, but it’s all on your next move.” She watches as her son grumpily moves past the women, a book bag slung over his shoulder and his walking stick cuffed to his wrist, tapping against the pavement with each step. Waiting to hear the car door close, indicating that he was inside the vehicle, Charlotte offers a business card with her information. Something she has on her because of her line of business, but doesn’t give out often. “I want to make this work, whether you believe me or not. My children deserve to know where they came from and not just my side of it. However, negativity of any sort, baseless accusations, disrespect...they will not be tolerated under any circumstances.” Char begins to slowly shake her head, “my family, my children, have been through far more than they should at their ages.” She sighs softly as the woman takes the card, “please, don’t contact Lane until you’ve spoken to me first. I look forward to hearing from you.”

 

Qudrah watches as the woman makes her way back to her car, waiting for her to drive away before looking down at the business card. She feels tears stinging her eyes, desperately missing her son and wondering what’s led her to this point.

Chapter Text

“So, have you devised a travel plan for our French Sojourn?” Serena smiles to herself, carrying a mug of tea between her hands, taking a seat next to her elder granddaughter on the sofa within her own lounge. “Other than the places I already have in mind that hold significance with our family, of course.”

 

Gwen, surprised, raises her eyebrows as she watches her grandmother move about the room to the place next to her, “w-well, with you being poorly, I didn’t think you’d still want to go.” She pauses, “or be able to go, if I’m being honest.”

 

“Oh, come now. I got out of hospital nearly a month ago.” Serena brings her mug of tea to her lips, taking a long sip, “you aren’t going to hold that over my head forever, are you?”

 

“Nan, you were...you were really sick.” Gwen swallows, looking away from the woman, “I um...” She shakes her head, “I had lots of...” Guinevere’s voice turns soft, trailing off. “You aren’t even allowed to drive on your own yet and you think it’d be a good idea to fly?” She starts laughing to herself, “Gran still has to help you shower and change dressings.”

 

“Well...” Serena raises an eyebrow, a cheeky smirk forming in the corner of her mouth, “she’s very good at changing bandages.”

 

“Proper grody.”

 

Serena laughs softly to herself, “life goes on, Guinevere.” She leans forward, placing the mug on the coffee table before sitting back and wrapping her arm around her pseudo-granddaughter. “We can’t hold our breaths and be cautious every single day. We need to explore everything the world has to offer. France included.” Serena squeezes the teenager to her side gently, “besides, I wouldn’t be flying the plane myself. I’m certain they can find someone else to do that who is far more qualified than I.”

 

Gwen smiles to herself, huffing a chuckle under her breath, “you know what I mean, Nan.”

 

“And you know what I mean.” Serena winks, giving a subtle nod of certainty. “I’m not some fragile little thing. I’m able to handle far more than you give me credit for.

 

“Can I...” Gwen swallows, “can I show you what I have so far?” She motions to the laptop her aunt had given her, “I’ve...probably done more work on this than for any school thing ever.” An excited grin spreads across the teenager’s face as time passes, “spreadsheets, digital location scouting. I’ve even phoned various hotels in the area to ask for other amenities that aren’t listed on their websites.”

 

“Well, if not a hotel, we can always do one of those...holiday house rental things.” Serena offers, “you know, when I went for an extended amount of time, after Elinor died, I stayed in this lovely cottage near a vineyard. It was like a daydream seeing Bernie walk along the pathway to my chateau, dressed in her signature skinnies.”

 

Furrowing her brow with confusion, Guinevere leans forward, retrieving her laptop and placing it onto her lap before opening the clamshell lid. She starts to open all of the files to everything she’s compiled about the trip. “I thought maybe a hotel might be better since we’ll have room service and a possible spa.” She offers, “swimming pool or...one of those Jacuzzis with the hot water and the pulsing jets...” 

 

Serena nods slowly, “that does sound heavenly.”

 

“I know.” Gwen nods, showing her the location she’s really leaning toward, “full blown hotel with a spa, indoor swimming pool, hot tub, and mere minutes to walk to various historical attractions.”

 

Raising an eyebrow, Serena is impressed, “so, you think we’ll be able to do all of that in an extended weekend?” 

 

“I mean, possibly.” Guinevere nods, “if I move things about and...try to make up an itinerary that...that would allow for it.”

 

“Or, we do spa stuff here at home and do other things while there.” Serena offers, then pauses to clarify, “well, not here , but here. As in not France .” She smiles softly, “we do all the other things and then come home and save the spa stuff for another extended weekend. Possibly even invite the others.”

 

“Girls weekend?” Gwen raises her eyebrow, “like...with Gran, Auntie Char, and Mum?”

 

“And Auntie Morven, yes.” Serena continues, noticing the teenager becoming more and more excited.

 

“Maybe Lane? The other little girls probably can’t go and he’s-”

 

“With the way he’s been behaving lately, that will be entirely up to him.” Serena interrupts, noticing Guinevere glance away.

 

“There has to be something that other woman is telling him,” Guinevere mumbles, “something that would make him-”

 

“The desire to know and understand one’s history and background is immense. He misses his father greatly.” Serena does her best to explain, “I still do and my father has been dead for decades.”

 

Guinevere nods a little, “do you think he would have liked Dad and I?” When it’s obvious Serena doesn’t really know what she’s talking about, Gwen continues, “your father wasn’t my biological grandfather. I know that, but...he probably still would have been a part of our lives since he and your mother were still together and-”

 

“That’s some thought process you’ve got going on.”

 

“Well,” Gwen shrugs, “Dad doesn’t really know, or care, outside that of his own mother, who only ever told him about her adoptive parents.” She explains simply, closing the laptop and placing it on the coffee table before leaning back against the sofa, “and Mum’s parents...well...” Gwen shrugs, who knows where they could be at this point. Exploring the world, as usual, “they’re kind of like voices on a phone. We get a picture occasionally of some far away place, rarely even their faces. I don’t really know what they look like anymore.”

 

Serena nods slowly, knowing that could have been she and Bernie had things been a tad different for them. Constantly traveling, leaving the past, and the people, behind. “I’m sorry you aren’t able to know them better.”

 

“As am I.” Gwen licks her lips, sighing softly, “but it just means I get to spend more time with you , right?” She gives a clever smile, glancing over at her Nan, “and we are able to do more together instead of my worrying about spending time with them...since they don’t really care.”

 

“How fortunate.” Serena leans in, pressing a soft kiss to Guinevere’s forehead.

Chapter Text

“You’re joking.” Charlotte glances around, her mobile pressed to her ear as she stands in the kitchen, aware that her son is doing an English assignment at the kitchen table. “Have we released a statement yet?” Listening to her mobile for a few moments more, she starts to laugh softly, “good enough. A non-answer, answer.” There isn’t much more talking after that before Charlotte touches the screen of her mobile, slipping the device into the back pocket of her jeans. She decides to ignore things as she moves back over to her son, looking down at his work, “that’s looking great, Laney.”

 

“Like you care.” Lane mutters under his breath, writing a few other things.

 

“More than you know.” Char walks by him, casually running her fingers through his thick hair, only for him to pull away when he realizes that he’s supposed to be angry with her. She sighs, “you know, if you told me what was bothering you, or had some questions, I might be able to help you.”

 

“Doesn’t matter. You’ll probably lie to me.” Lane continues, “you think I’m stupid. I heard you say that.”

 

“Incorrect. You heard me say that you’re naïve. That has nothing to do with your intelligence. It just means you’re kind and loving, willing to trust. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s also dangerous at times, especially with the wrong people.” Char raises her brow, “just because you’re lacking the life experiences, ones that would cause you to feel the need to guard yourself, doesn’t mean that you’re stupid in any way.”

 

Lane listens to his mother and notices her take a seat not far from him in another chair at the breakfast table. He does his best not to look up at her.

 

“Also, I’ve never once lied to you or your siblings. I’ve had no reason to.” Char shakes her head, tilting it to the side, “so, whatever it is that’s-”

 

“When we left Daddi’s house, I saw you give her something.” Lane continues, “be honest with me, was it a note telling her to leave us alone?” He pauses, “she said I could visit the following week, but-”

 

“On the contrary. It was my contact information. I asked that she please not contact you without my knowledge and I even invited her over to visit and meet your siblings, but only on the condition that she be respectful and kind.” Charlotte nods, meeting his brown eyes, “that’s all your father and I ever asked from her. Your grandfather, paternal grandfather, he was...fantastic. It was never something we had to ask of him. He was just loving and welcoming from the start.”

 

“But you made it so that-”

 

“No, we kept in contact with your grandfather for many years after. Just before he died, he actually still sent a bottle of scotch for our anniversary, as he had done every single year.” Charlotte nods, “we’d send him pictures of all of you through the years and he’d send us letters in the post. He had his own post box that your paternal grandmother didn’t know about.”

 

Lane finally lifts his head, looking over at his mother, “why?”

 

Charlotte raises her eyebrows, “why to what?”

 

“Why did he have a post box that-”

 

“Because she wanted nothing to do with your father when he told her to respect Cole and I as his family.” Char folds her arms comfortably, leaning back in the wooden chair, “and she would rip up anything that came from us when we’d send it in the regular post without a second thought. That was before they moved away, but...your grandfather was the one that kept things together. He was the level headed one there. He was the link if she ever decided to act like a decent, compassionate, human being.”

 

Lane swallows, sitting up a bit, “how do I know-”

 

“I’ll show you the unopened scotch in the cellar that your father and I never got to that was from your grandfather. We’d...work on them slowly, but...they’re just sitting there, ready to be cracked open.” Char explains, “he’d write on each one. They’re all, technically, from the year we married, different brands and whatnot, but he’d also write the years he sent them.”

 

Really, Lane is more confused than before. He slowly licks his lips, “he...he knew about me and-”

 

“About all of you, but it was her behavior that kept us apart. Also, it’s what your father wanted.” Charlotte nods, “I tried to reason with him, looking for another way that we could all agree on, but he refused. Said we were an all or nothing package deal.”

 

The space surrounding them falls quiet once more as he scribbles answers with his pencil onto the paper in front of him, “Cole’s offered to help me find Dad’s sisters.”

 

“I think that’s a great idea.”

 

“Because Daddi never...” Lane shakes his head a little, “never mentions them, but I remember Dad mentioning them in his stories of when he was young.”

 

Char nods, “there’s a reason for everything. I need you to remember that.” She runs her tongue along her teeth, “and, if that information doesn’t add up with what you were told in the past, that doesn’t mean it’s an outright lie. It just means it’s something you’ll need to investigate from every angle.”

 

“B-because I need to understand why she’s angry.” Lane says quietly, “I need to understand why Dad didn’t want us to be near her.”


“I understand.” Charlotte sighs, running a hand through her hair and tucking a portion behind her ear, “I know you want to understand her, but that doesn’t mean becoming her. You aren’t a method actor, darling.” The comment causes an amused smirk to appear in the corner of her son’s mouth, “just know that I’m always here for you to talk to, regardless of how insignificant you might think the subject matter.”

 

Lane nods a little, drawing his lower lip into his mouth for a moment, “who was that who called?”

 

“My agent, believe it or not.” Char starts to laugh to herself, “Qudrah has gone to the press and accused me of child neglect as well as .”

 

Furrowing his brow, Lane stares at his mother, “are you sure it was her?”

 

“There were pictures taken during her interview. They’ve phoned my agent for comment on the matter.” Char tilts her head to the side, “I don’t wish to speak ill of...someone in our family that we may one day have a relationship with, but...I’ve given her ample opportunities to make peace with the past and move on, both when your father was alive and recently. I’ve given her chances to be a grandmother, both when you were small and now.”

 

“I think I should take Cole up on searching out Dad’s sisters.” Lane sets his pencil down, leaning back in the wooden chair to look over at his mother, “do um...d-do you think Dad would have been okay with that?”

 

Charlotte nods slowly, “I reckon he’d have loved that. Probably even helped you.”

 

Lane swallows, glancing away from his mother, “I’ve...I-I’ve really been m-missing him lately.” A moment passes before he lifts his hands to his face, rubbing his fingers over his eyes to relieve them of the tears forming. Lane didn’t notice his mother stand, much less move over to him to wrap her arms tenderly around him until he felt her.

 

“I know.” Char presses a soft kiss to his fluffy, brown-black hair, “me too, sweetheart.” When he looks up at her, she continues, “what, you think just because I have Kaitie that I would think of your father less?” Char shakes her head negatively, lowering her brow with a playful scowl, “I spent over a decade of my life with him, I bore his children, I slept next to him most nights until he started to focus more on the hospital.” She licks her lips, “there were good times and bad, of course. There are in every single relationship, but...there isn’t a single day that goes by where I don’t think about him...and I doubt there ever will be.”

 

“Even after you and Kait-”

 

“It’s different. It’s a different love, a different understanding of one another.” Charlotte swallows, “I love Kaitie as much as I love your father, but they aren’t comparable. Your father and I had been through a lot, as have Kaitie and I in the time that we’ve known one another. They’re two different people, two different lives. Loving one does not mean loving the other any less.”

 

Really, that answer is better than anything Lane could have guessed or wanted. He nods a little, “is it like how you feel with my siblings and me?”

 

“No, you’re my favorite. Just don’t tell the others.” Charlotte gives him a wink, finally letting him go as she moves back over toward the stove area. The smile the words created on his face was enough to eliminate any doubt she had at getting her happy-go-lucky son back.

Chapter Text

“You know, I didn’t think she’d be up for it, but Charlotte’s decided to do the show again.” Bernie holds Alfie in her arm as they sit on the sofa, gently rubbing the tips of her fingers over his belly as he leans his head back, quite content. “I meant to tell you if I haven’t already.”

 

“You haven’t.” Serena raises an eyebrow, watches her wife with their daughter’s dog. He was spending more and more time with them when the others were unavailable or too busy to watch over him. “What does that mean for us?” She pauses, “or Cole, for that matter.”

 

“I’m sure she’ll visit if she wants us included.” Bernie continues, smiling softly when the dog adjusts his position against her, simply wanting all of her attention, “and, if not, I’m not about to be upset.”

 

“Exactly.” Serena answers softly, “I have noticed Lane in good spirits lately.” She swallows, her eyes focusing on the television in front of them, serving as background noise, “and I reckon it has something to do with that article that was released from the children’s paternal grandmother.”

 

“It uh...wasn’t kind.” Bernie shakes her head a little, thinking back to the time she had met the woman when Lane had come into contact with her for the first time. “I...I was wrongfully optimistic about her.”

 

“Some tigers don’t change their stripes, darling.” Serena sighs, glancing over to her wife and smiling to herself when the dog looks up at Bernie adoringly, “do you think he knows he doesn’t live here?”

 

“Of course. I tell him to go home and he happily trots back to Char’s without any sort of argument.” A grin begins to form in the corner of Bernie’s features, “honestly, between any and all of the grandchildren, he might be my favorite.” She hears a chuckle escape her wife’s lips, “doesn’t complain, only wants affection, eats whatever is given to him. Model grandchild if you ask me.”

 

“Idolizes you while he shits in the garden-”

 

“It’s outside. That’s where he usually goes. Can’t possibly be cross with that.” Bernie nods, looking down at the dog, “isn’t that right, Alfie?”

 

Serena playfully rolls her eyes, watching as her grandson comes to stand in the doorway, “finished tinkering in your little...enclosure?” 

 

Cole shrugs, “would you mind coming outside to show you?” He raises an eyebrow, “and...would it be okay to film you?” Cole pauses, feeling the need to ask, “for my...my channel. I’ve been getting everyone’s reactions to this.”

 

“Well, you worked hard on it. Occasionally with Kait, but mostly on your own. I’m certain it will be amazing.” Bernie nods, rising from the sofa, knowing Alfie will be sticking close with her. She offers Serena a hand to help her stand as well.

 

Serena smiles softly, continually holding her wife’s hand after the aid as she follows closely behind her. Asked to close her eyes as Cole guides them both to the drive, Serena is tempted to peek, for the sheer reason that she’s afraid Cole may lead them on a path with uneven footing or something even more serious. She pauses, shaking her head at her own thought process. He’d never do that to either of them. Serena has always been very aware that if she and Bernie had ever decided to parent a child together from babe to adult, they’d hopefully turn out something like Cole. In fact, he was probably the closest they’d ever come to that being a reality. Serena can safely admit, she trusts the teen with her life.

 

“So, I always had an outcome in mind...ever since I bought this thing. I wanted to know if I could do it...was only one reason.” Cole smiles a little to himself, “I asked for input from Gwen and Laney with everything, especially on textiles and colors...paint.” He shrugs, smiling a little, finally standing them next to one another and adjusting the camera to ensure they were all in the shot, “another reason, was to give you a gift. A thanks for everything you’ve ever done for me and continue to do for me.” Cole nods, “we had chosen everything that we believed you would enjoy. Colors, fabrics, a wine chiller.” He smiles a bit, “you can go ahead and open your eyes.”

 

Met with a cream and olive colored camper from, what Bernie believes, is the mid 1950s. Bernie takes a few steps forward, her eyes glassy, “um...why did you think to give this to us?” She actually loves this, loves the look from the outside, she tilts her head to peer into the open door.

 

“Because the pair of you are always talking about traveling more. Now, of course, this isn’t something as nice as a hotel or...whatever, but it’s nice for a night or something like that.” Cole shrugs a little, “it could mean more adventures for all of us. A jaunt here, a tryst there.” He teases a bit as his Nan wraps a loving arm around his upper torso, “and I know you loved camping, Gran, but Nan wasn’t too keen on the adventure...or the sleeping arrangements.”

 

“That was forever ago, but...you’re right.” Serena nods, a soft smile on her face, “not a fan of sleeping where I can be woken with rain on my face.”

 

“Well, now you can go again...and as many times as you want.” Cole nods, “and you don’t need to worry about setting up a tent or any of the other things we did. You can just go and enjoy the sights and the general air of relaxation that should happen.”

 

Bernie turns her head, grinning to her wife, “you need to look in here.” She reaches out a hand of encouragement, but carefully climbs into the camper, followed excitedly by Alfie. Outfitted in the comforts of home in a very small space, including solar powered interior, fridge, water tank, hotplate, plenty of storage. Bernie relaxes on the bench seating, far too excited for words.

 

“Well,” Serena bites her lip for a moment, peering into the camper, “looks as if we have many more adventures ahead of us, Berenice.”

 

“That we do, Campbell.” Bernie nods slowly, biting the inside of her cheek, “that we do.”

 

“There’s a few other things this place has going for it as well, including an attachment that creates some privacy during toilet and showers.” Cole continues, watching as both of his grandmother disappear into the camper. He turns to the camera, “well...I think they like it.” He beams, “make sure to like, comment, and subscribe for more adventures of the Wolfe Pack.” Cole salutes with a couple of fingers above his brow, “until then, later days.” He turns away from the camera, walking back toward the camper.

Chapter Text

Char yawns, a clingy Lavinia on her hip, as she enters the kitchen. A pot of coffee already percolating and the blinds open, leading to the back garden. Charlotte furrows her brow, glancing at the clock on the wall, just after nine. For her, this is having a lie in. Peering back toward the window, she moves closer to allow herself a better look.

 

Kait rests with Owen and Lane in the swimming pool she had set up in the early hours of the morning when she had arrived home from work. The weather was supposed to be incredibly hot, and though Charlotte’s house was one of the only ones in the neighborhood with an aircon, Kait knew the kids would appreciate something so simple that would allow them to be outside.

 

Opening the door to the back garden, Charlotte begins to grin, “Well, looks as if you’ve been busy.” She lets Lavinia down when the girl begins to squirm, not only excited about the pool, but excited to see Kait also. Char moves closer to the pool, reaching a hand in to feel the temperature of the water, “it’s warm.”

 

“Of course it’s warm. Couldn’t very well have cold water.” Kait tilts her head to the side, “few pots of boiling water in between water from the garden hose.” She nods, “and I picked up a splash thing for Vin.” Kait nods toward the mat of very shallow water, currently turned off to conserve, “also maybe for Alfie a bit. Trimmed his nails this morning so he should be...very excited when he gets back.”

 

“Gets back?” Char raises an eyebrow, lifting her hand to her brow in order to shield her brow from the bright sun.

 

“He went over when he saw your parents’ kitchen light on, demanding affection from your Mum.” Kait smirks, amused by the whole thing, “go get your costume on, gorgeous.”

 

“Don’t you think it’s a bit early in the day?”

 

Lane watches the exchange, actually making an effort to give Kait a chance, especially with his mother, “come on, Mum.” He smiles at his mother, something that hasn’t been a regular occurrence as of late, “get your coffee and have it in here...after changing and putting on your sunspecs, of course.”

 

Char starts to laugh, shaking her head a little in disbelief, “wouldn’t you all rather come in for a proper breakfast?” She strokes her hand through Owen’s longish hair, glad he doesn’t pull away from her. Not that Charlotte had expected him to, but it was nice that he didn’t regardless. “Eggs, pancakes, sausage...coffee...”

 

“Wait, let me?” Lane stands, “breakfast burritos.” He motions to the table and chairs not far from the back door of the house, “we can have something grand over the weekend.”

 

“Can’t say I’ve ever had one.” Kait shrugs, “but I’m always up for trying new things and I can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed in a single one of your dishes, Lane.”

 

“Thanks.” Lane offers the woman a quick nod, then glances around to everyone, “everyone likes spinach, right?” He pauses, “among other things.”

 

“I don’t think anyone has any strong feelings on it...except maybe Owen.” Charlotte glances to the other of her twins, “O, do you want a parfait or eggs?” When the teenager signs that he wants a parfait, she offers him a soft smile, “we can double team it, Laney. I’ll-”

 

“Get your swim costume on and come back out here. I can make Owen’s parfait. It isn’t difficult and it isn’t as if I haven’t made it before.” Lane smirks, wanting to do something nice for his mother for a change, knowing that he was the cause of some of her frustration as of late. Especially with his actions regarding his paternal grandmother.

 

Char watches the teenager for a moment more before resigning herself with a nod, walking back to the house after picking up Lavinia. Though it takes time for Charlotte to gather their swim costumes, she manages to dress both herself and her daughter, applying sun cream on the baby before venturing downstairs again. Lifting her nose up, she smiles to herself, “that is smelling heavenly so far, Laney.”

 

“Nearly finished, actually.” Lane nods, “it’s kind of like making an omelet and then wrapping things up.” He shrugs, “not hard. Besides, today has been a good day. Haven’t needed the cane once.”

 

“That’s awesome. Walking about in water is pretty therapeutic for your condition.” Char nods, giving him a wink. Her attention is drawn back to her daughter as the girl stands at the back garden door, scowling at her mother for not moving fast enough. “If you’ll excuse me, someone is-”

 

“Now, pee.” Lavinia calls to her mother again, giving her best pout.

 

“I know you want to go out now, Vin, and I appreciate your manners, but you need to be patient.” Char sighs a little, glad she decided to pull her hair up into a clip behind her head while she was upstairs. Her fringe, however, would always have a mind of its own. She pushes the section of hair behind her ear, “okay?”

 

“No, tank.” Lavinia shakes her head negatively.

 

Charlotte shakes her head a little as she looks back at Lane, “I swear, your sister is the bossiest child I’ve ever met. You and your brothers were perfect angels compared to her.” She folds her arms across her chest, “Also, I...I really appreciate the effort you’ve put forth in regards to Kait.”

 

Lane nods absently, biting his lip for a moment before speaking, “I...I realize there’s no reason to not like her.” He admits, still assembling his breakfast burritos, “she’s done nothing except g-good since she got here and even before that, she brought Alfie along, she goes out of her way in order to help us, and...she really loves you.” He lifts his head to look at his mother finally, “also, I know Dad is never coming back to life so...”

 

“Yeah.” Char nods, “so when the camera crews arrive and start filming for the show-”

 

“I have a suspicion that you on-only agreed to that because of the stuff Daddi has started with the press.” Lane notices his mother’s subtle smile, nodding a little, “well, if there’s any way to quiet her, that’s it.”

 

“You were really small with the last one and you probably don’t remember much about it.” Charlotte tilts her head to the side, “but, if you’re ever uncomfortable, I’ll negate the contract and make them leave. I signed the contract, not you or your siblings...except Cole had his go over to his agent which...I didn’t even know he hired.”

 

“Mum, he’s really popular online. Like...more than you can imagine, and he spreads as much positivity as he can.” Lane shrugs, “like...he’s m-my dumb older brother, but...he does good things in the world...believe it or not.”

 

Charlotte nods slowly, “maybe show me sometime?” She pauses, “I’ve seen a few of his things here and there, but...something the pair of you have done. Maybe your search for your aunts?”

 

“We did find that one lives in South Africa, but I haven’t heard anything back from her yet and two are unaccounted for.” Lane nods, “and, the way her blog reads, it sounds like they may have cut off contact with their mother as well.” He licks his lips, “which...sounds really bad, but-”

 

“You still feel bad for Qudrah.” Char offers him a knowing smirk, “here’s the thing though, Laney, one of those life lessons. You shouldn’t pity someone who has put themselves in their own poor predicament. Especially when it has to do with their own stubborn, negative behavior...and they’ve had plenty of opportunity to change their ways.”

 

“If she does end up changing, do you think-”

 

“If Hell receives their ice creams and she manages to pull her own head from her rectum, then we’ll take it day by day.” Char offers, “it isn’t off the table completely. Qudrah still has my information. She just doesn’t want to play by my rules...especially when it comes to my children. Rules that I’m not going to budge on because they’re completely reasonable.”

 

Lane watches his mother as he wraps another burrito in aluminum foil, “which are?”

 

“Contact me before contacting the kids. I want to know who they’re speaking to.” Char holds up one finger, then a second, “bring no negativity around my children. None whatsoever.” A third finger comes out from her fist, “and spreading hurtful falsehoods isn’t going to fly with me either. It isn’t going to fly with anyone. Last thing I need are the Grands in a shouting match with her.”

 

Nodding a little, Lane offers a soft smile. Those were all good reasons, reasons he couldn’t possibly argue with, “do you think p-people will like me on the show?”

 

“I think they’ll positively love you.” Charlotte offers him a proud smile and a wink, moving closer to the kitchen island, “want some help carrying everything outside?”

 

“Mumma!” Lavinia shouts before giving her mother a pout, “pee?” She pats her hand against the door leading to the back garden.

 

“Thank you for using your manners, can you tell everyone breakfast is ready?” Charlotte isn’t expecting anything, “and please leave your hat on unless you’re under the umbrella.” She steps over to the door, letting the toddler run outside before closing the door behind her, knowing that her partner would keep an eye on the girl. Charlotte watches the girl through the door’s window as Lavinia immediately takes her sun hat off, tossing it to the ground as she attempts to gain Kait’s attention. “I don’t know what I expected.” Char shakes her head a little as she mumbles to herself.

 

“I’m loving the costume, Vin.” Kait reaches out of the enclosure of the pool to hold onto the girl in the cool water, making sure to wet her hair. She grins broadly to herself when Lavinia holds onto her more in return, pressing a soft kiss to Lavinia’s temple. Kait loves this far more than she originally anticipated. 

Chapter Text

“Do you remember during Charlotte’s last show when we’d be recognized at the hospital?” Serena swirls her homemade sangria in her glass, “by patients and coworkers alike.”

 

“Fletch would play crowd control, warning people left and right not to bombard us with requests for signatures.” Bernie smiles to herself before laughing a little, “and Evie would take as many photos with us and the kids as possible whenever she’d mind them so Char could get a bit of work done.”

 

Serena nods slowly, “her contract was pretty nice as well. Charlotte named Evie as her assistant so that she’d be paid more than what they were offering. Bit of extra pocket change for the summer months.”

 

Bernie begins to chuckle, “Blimey, if that’s pocket change-”

 

“Six episodes with an opportunity for ten and Evie gets paid whether she’s featured in the episode or not...because she’s an assistant.” Serena shrugs a neutral shoulder of mild interest, “not that she’s hurting for the cash, but I’d say she made out pretty well on the whole deal. Certainly allows her a bit more financial freedom.”

 

“Puts it mildly.” Bernie nods slowly, watching the small of a camera crew set things up, “Cole said there’s moments of internal monologue. They’re framing it like telling stories. There’s a few weeks of events they have lined up and then they’ll make episodes from that. There isn’t much filming and they’ll have access to royalties after, but also need to do a bit of marketing.” She shrugs a little, “Charlotte has agreed to do a couple of morning shows and her agent has written contracts for the appearances. Much better than what it was previously.”

 

“New agent this time?”

 

“Someone in the same office. Old one retired.”

“You’re quite a wealth of knowledge with this.” Serena raises an eyebrow, taking a sip of her drink. “Is Cole the little birdy on your shoulder?”

 

Bernie nods slowly, lifting her acrylic cup to suck through the straw, consuming an iced chai that Lane had researched and prepared a few glasses worth in a pitcher for her, hoping that she’d like it. Thankfully, she had, even asking the teen to make her a fresh supply every few days. “I’m also a very good observer.” Bernie smirks to herself, hearing her wife chuckle softly.

 

“Well, you lot certainly picked a good time for this.” Char smirks, glancing around to the camera crew, then motions to one of them, “Keith, right? You were on the crew when I had the last show, weren’t you?”

 

“You’ve a great memory, ma’am.” Keith nods, “as was Davis.” He motions to the woman with electric pink hair standing not far from him.

 

Davis nods, “I was David then though.” She chuckles a little, “but yes, it’s really nice to get back. I can’t believe how much the children have grown since we were last here. Nearly adults now.” Davis pauses, her smile fading a little, “I am sorry about the loss of your husband though. He was great. I heard he passed.”

 

“Couple of years ago.” Char nods, shrugging a little, “however, I’m grateful for the time I did have with him and...if the series of events were any different, I wouldn’t have developed the relationship that I did with Kaitie.”

 

Smiling again, Davis listens to Charlotte’s story, “can you tell us about her?”

 

Charlotte nods slowly, “of course. About her, in general, or about us?”

 

Davis shrugs, being a producer of the program allows her to do exactly that, produce. Making conversation is making content, even if it’s simple small talk. “Both. Just...bring things up to speed.”

 

Cole watches his mother from the window, having a camera crew following him around as well as the other well known person for the crew to be interested in. Though his mother suffers from some social anxiety, she looks in her element.

 

“So, is this where you film your webcast and channel content?” A young man wearing a headset asks, walkie-talkie radio in his hand before clipping it to his waistband. “It doesn’t look familiar to the background of your other videos.”

 

“Maybe not my more recent ones.” Cole shrugs, glancing around the room, “but a great many of them.” He offers a soft smile, “most of them are done in my room over at my Grands’ house. Um...next door. My grandmothers’ house.” Cole absently gives a pointed nod in the general direction of the house. When the few crew members seem confused, he continues, “I prefer quiet, less chaotic spaces. Especially if I’m going to film. Living in a house with two brothers, a sister, and occasionally a cousin or pseudo-aunt, doesn’t exactly sound like the definition of calm...nor does it create a positive work environment.”

 

The young man, Miguel, nods again, “Pseudo-aunt?”

 

“Yeah, Kait’s sister.” Lane smiles softly, “she comes over on weekends if she doesn’t have other things planned with her group. Gwen, my cousin, she stays over to the Grands now as well. Most of the time, not all of the time. They’ve more room than what was here. Weekends with her parents.”

 

“So, would you say your family dynamic has changed much since your father died?” Miguel continues, “step-dad. Sorry.”

 

“No, he was my Dad. No ‘step’ about it. Only one I ever knew and he treated me the same as he did my siblings. So...yeah.” Cole nods slowly, formulating his thought process a moment before speaking again, “it wasn’t...it isn’t that it’s changed, it’s just evolved. I feature Gwennie a lot in my videos and she was having a tough time of things, so her parents and my grandparents thought it would be in her best interest if she stay with them.” Cole nods again, “and it’s worked out much better. She’s in a much better head space and taking better care of herself.”

 

“But Kait is certainly a new addition, right?”

 

“Kind of.” Cole lets out a chuckle, “she was the detective on the case when stuff happened with my paternal grandparents. Who...I have a great relationship with now. I thought things would get weird between my Yaya and I, but she’s just...a super cool lady once she lightened up and...finally went out into the real world.”

 

Miguel smiles softly, listening as they continue to casually film, “I’m guessing that was a result of you being around her?”

 

“The stuff with my Yaya?” Cole asks, noticing a subtle nod from the man before continuing, “I mean, I guess. She hasn’t really enjoyed life because of everything with her husband for all those years-”

 

“The one you killed?”

 

“In self defense. It isn’t something I wanted to do. In fact, it’s the last thing I wanted to do.” Cole says quietly, “it’s um...it was an incredibly traumatic thing that happened and if it wasn’t for my Gran pulling a Rambo, I don’t know if I ever would have gotten home.”

 

“Pulling a Rambo?” Miguel chuckles softly, “what do you mean by that?”

 

“The action movie, you know? Like um...Gran didn’t have to come and get me. She didn’t need to put on her old uniform. She didn’t need to devise a plan just to get them to open the door. She didn’t need to risk a trespassing violation that would sully her reputation and get her fired from hospital at the time. She didn’t need to risk her own safety or life for me.” Cole pauses, shrugging, “but she did.”

 

“You care a lot about your grandmother, eh?”

 

“I owe her my life, in more ways than one.” Cole nods slowly, “her and my Nan. I’d...I’d move mountains for them if it made them happy.” He smiles a little, “my Mum too. She...she’s been through a lot, but she’s made the most of that pain and trauma.” Cole sighs a little, laughing to himself, “but you didn’t ask about them, you asked about Kait.”

 

Miguel chuckles softly, “yeah, I did.”

 

“Kait has been...” Cole shakes his head a little, “I’ve never seen my Mum smile that much.” He takes a seat on his bed, “after my Dad died, my Mum was uh...lost. Like...she was just...alive, but she wasn’t living. She was just tending to my siblings and I and...there was no substance. There was no...hobbies or...anything to look forward to. After Dad died, there was...a lot still going on. Lavinia had just been born, early. She was in the NICU for a bit. Lane was...not well in the slightest. He was touch and go for quite a while after the RTC, in ITU for...” Cole licks his lips, “and after things had settled, or we thought they settled, they were...far from it.”

 

“Your Mum was in hospital for a bit, wasn’t she?” Miguel casually leans against the dressing table, “was Kait-”

 

“Oh, Kait was just a relatively unknown detective to us at the time.” Cole answers simply, “but I’m not really...I’m not sure how they got back in touch. I know it was after Mum was out of hospital. Kait would visit and then Mum took up kickboxing which...brought them together even more because she accidentally broke Kait’s nose once.”

 

“She hit her?”

 

“During kickboxing practice. It was accidental. Mum took her to hospital and saw to it that she was tended to.” Cole nods, “I think it...really meant a lot to Kait that Mum didn’t just leave once they reached hospital.” He shrugs, “but Mum isn’t like that anyway. She would have never done that.”

 

Miguel nods slowly, “I know you’re like...you probably have an opinion regarding the things Qudrah-”

 

“Look, my Dad’s biological mother is a virtual stranger to us. Dad didn’t want her around.” Cole shakes his head a little, “and I’m betting there’s a reason for that. Laney wanted to know more about Dad’s side of the family and his culture...stuff like that. He wanted to know where Dad came from. I know that feeling well. However, all Dad’s mother did was insult us, especially Mum, and make baseless accusations. I get that she’s probably hurting from losing her son, I know my Yaya still is, but...using one’s grandchildren just to stick it to the other parent because you don’t like her? That’s just childish.”

 

“So, she hasn’t tried to-”

 

“Not that I know of. It’s been weeks. Lane has, only recently, stopped being angry from the things she filled his head with.” Cole pauses a moment, “you get a lot further in life, and with people, by being positive...by giving and being grateful. That’s what I’ve always been taught and have experienced in my day to day life, doing what I do.”

 

Miguel smiles a little, “is that why you do so many charity streams?”

 

“Partially. I just...really like the idea that a group of people, who don’t know one another personally, all coming together and contributing to make the world a better place. Hospitals, organizations doing good things for others, sometimes individuals who are down on their luck. All it takes is one drop of water in the ocean to start the wave.” Cole nods, standing from his bed again, “so, if you want, I can take you over to my Grands so you can see my room there.”

 

“I think that’d be cool.” Miguel nods, glad his first assignment as a Producer has been to work with Cole Wolfe.