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Delia giggled and held up her wine glass for more.

Patsy upended the bottle, pulling a face. “Je m’excuse, mais il en reste plus.” Ma chérie, she added mentally.

A pout had initially formed on Delia’s face, but was quickly broken by a certain twinkle and tilt of the head that was reliably summoned every time Patsy pulled out her admittedly rather rusty French.

“You know how I like it when you speak French to me.”

Patsy couldn’t suppress her grin. “You don’t even know what I’m saying.”

Delia leaned across the table, placing a sweet kiss on her lover’s wine-stained lips. Emboldened by the wine, Patsy threaded a hand through Delia’s hair, pulling her closer and deepening the kiss.

A loud whistle and a laugh broke them apart.

Patsy hurriedly scrabbled for her purse, slapping some money down and pulling a startled Delia out of her chair and away from the little restaurant.

Dark hair bobbed in the moonlight, its owner trying to keep up with the long strides of the copper-headed woman ahead of her as they made their way down a narrow street.

“For goodness sake, slow down cariad!”

Her words had their desired effect and then some. Patsy whirled around as Delia caught up to her. “You can’t call me that in public.”

Delia suppressed a scoff, knowing that Playful Patsy had now firmly become Stern Pats. “We're hardly in public, and nobody here knows what it means. People don’t even know what it means back home!”

Patsy closed her eyes to the argument. “We were stupid and forgot ourselves. It was reckless.”

Well if Stern Pats was here for the evening, Stubborn Deels would have to come out to meet her.

“They only whistled, Pats. It’s not as if they were going to summon the police.”

Patsy’s face was stoney, but Delia could see the panic in her eyes. “Delia, they could have. Anyone could have if they’d seen us.”

“But they didn’t.” She implored, reaching out for her girlfriend’s hand. “I just want to do what every other couple does. I want to kiss you when I feel like it, and stroll down by the river with you, holding hands.”

Sadness softened the bold lines of Patsy’s face. “We can’t, Delia, you know that. We took enough of a risk earlier. I got carried away. No one else can see.” She dropped Delia’s hand and started off again.

Delia didn’t budge. Anger flared up in her. “it’s Paris, Pats, not Poplar! Here, people might whistle or stare, but we won’t lose our jobs or get arrested.”

Patsy hurried back, her voice low and tense. “Delia, keep your voice down. It’s another country, not another world.”

Voice still at normal speaking level and jaw tight, Delia’s anger shifted from society in general to Patsy. “I know that Pats. I’m not the globetrotter you are, but I do know some things.”

“Then you know there are laws against it here too. Recent ones, at that, so I’m sure they’re eager to give them a go.” Delia felt her anger fade abruptly, replaced by a familiar tiredness. 

Patsy clearly saw the change in her mood and stepped closer, brushing a discrete thumb over her girlfriend’s knuckles, prompting her hand to uncurl. “Deels, you know how much I wish we could be like any other couple. That I could kiss you anywhere and everywhere. But I’d also like us not to end up in musty, lonely cells, so we can’t.”

Gathering up her humour in response to Patsy’s, Delia took her arm - as though they were just friends - but murmured “well you could do that in the comfort of our hotel room.”

They made it back in record time.

Chapter Text

“Sweetie, you’re going from ten years as a nun to being a married woman! Are you nervous?” Trixie asked with concern. Nonnatus had been rather blindsided by the announcement that Sister Bernadette was leaving the Order, and then again when Sister Julienne quietly informed them that the newly restored Shelagh Mannion was soon to become Mrs. Shelagh Turner. Throughout her long absence from Nonnatus life, the midwives had been burning with questions.

They were all sat around Chummy and Constable Noakes’ new dwelling, Shelagh’s former colleagues and friends having eagerly volunteered to help with the wedding once she had reconciled with her old Sisters and invited Nonnatus to share in her and Patrick’s celebration. 

“Though I do suppose the pair of you have at least gotten to experience what it is to live together,” commented Chummy before Shelagh could answer, the tall nurse’s eyes trained on sewing the sleeve of the wedding gown. 

Three pairs of eyes immediately flew up from their work, and another pair determinedly looked away and went rather wide.

“Do explain, Chummy.” Jenny said eagerly.

Cynthia hastened to quell any upcoming embarrassment on Shelagh’s part, squeezing her hand reassuringly. “Neither you nor Chummy has to explain, if you’re comfortable with talking to us about it.”

“Oh no, you absolutely must Shelagh! We’re not judging you, I promise we’re not,” pleaded Trixie.

Shelagh considered keeping her silence, as she was so accustomed to where conversation addressing her own private life and emotions were concerned, but she relented, reminding herself that these were friends; that they were happy for her.

“I was over with Timothy and Doctor Turner as much as I could be.” She flushed. “Though of course I stayed in a boarding house at night.”

“Except during the bomb scare, of course.” Chummy commented matter-of-factly, earning her another alarmed stare from the others. 

Shelagh fixed her eyes on the table as though it were endlessly fascinating, but could not suppress a small smile. “When we were evacuated because of the bomb, I… had yet to know how I would be received.” She did not have to explain by whom. “So I made my way to Doctor Turner’s and asked, well, could I stay the night-” 

Trixie failed to stifle a laugh at that.

Not like that.” Shelagh clarified in a stern tone that she hoped would remind them that she was recently a nun; a reminder that tended to discourage conversations on more intimate matters. Though, if she were being honest with herself, being able to gossip a bit about her own love life was a tad thrilling. It was also refreshingly different from the gossip that peeked out of the curious and often judgmental eyes of the people of Poplar who knew her only as Sister Bernadette. 

“He was a perfect gentleman, and we were very proper.” 

“That sounds lovely.” Cynthia said earnestly.

“And miles better than the Leopold Institute!” Trixie agreed.

Trixie and Jenny shared a quick look they hoped a glasses-less Shelagh wouldn’t be able to see before resuming their work with the nail polish, but Chummy couldn’t resist pushing their friend a bit further.

“Doubtless you were but, well, one imagines that in the near future you both may want the good doctor to engage in some sort of behaviour outside the realms of what is considered gentlemanly conduct.”

Chummy's voice wavered at the end, unable to contain her mirth at how the tables had turned. Trixie immediately burst out laughing, setting off Jenny and Cynthia as well. Shelagh couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her own lips.

“Sorry, old thing,” Chummy grinned, “but I absolutely had to return the reminder.”

Though she was somewhat embarrassed knowing they were thinking about what she and Patrick would be getting up to in an admittedly excitingly short amount of time, Shelagh found herself enjoying their gentle teasing.

“Well I am a woman, and Doctor Turner is a man…” she replied cheekily, confirming that she did indeed remember that nighttime conversation over a year and a lifetime ago. 

The laughter resumed anew, and Shelagh was once again struck by how much she’d missed this companionship over the course of her self-enforced distance from Nonnatus. 

Letting herself be buoyed by their shared good spirits, she resolved to be bold tomorrow night with Patrick, just as she had been with her words on that night with the girls. Soon, she would walk down the aisle and into a new life, and she was more than eager to embrace everything it promised.  

Chapter Text

The warm light of the kitchen surrounded her, but didn’t seem to reach her. Her tears soaked the knees of her housecoat as she tried to contain her pain. 

Beyond the point of coherence, her thoughts were shards of feeling; old self-loathing playing over and over on a record she’d thought she’d managed to break years ago. How could she have ended up here? She knew this pattern,  the “only one to take the edge off a hard day,” the “just one more,” the “I’ll stop after this,” the “it’s fine, I’m in control.” She’d gone through the process of proving those thoughts wrong; had replayed that process even as she continued thinking and doing just the opposite. 

She should have called her sponsor when her longing for a drink returned with a vengeance after Annabel’s birth. She was a midwife for goodness sake, she knew about postpartum depression! But there it was, that diagnosis she’d been hiding from at the bottom of a bottle. It had been another label she didn’t want. Another weakness. Another failing. So she put on a bright smile and hid her self-diagnosis along with the bottles.

People fell off the wagon and recovered, but quitting once had been hard enough. There was no way she could recover again. Even if she did, she now knew it wasn’t permanent. She would just end up on the floor with another empty bottle again one day; a moth to a flame. 

That cold realization was confusingly contrasted by an enveloping warmth. Christopher.

She curled tighter into herself, irrationally trying to hide from him.

His voice was gentle, not the disappointment or anger she’d subconsciously been dreading. “Trixie, love.” 

With those simple words, the floodgates opened. “I’m so, so sorry Christopher. You shouldn’t have gambled on me. You deserve a steady, reliable wife and mother for the girls, and here I am, crying in the kitchen with a bottle of gin like some pathetic housewife.”

He rubbed her back in slow circles “Shhh now. You are absolutely not a pathetic housewife.”

Trixie turned her face away from his support. “No, I’m a pathetic nurse! Which is even worse, because not only am I hurting our family, I’m endangering my patients too.” The last word became a sob, and Christopher curled himself around her, resting his forehead against hers.

“We’ll get through this, I promise.” His words came out a harsh whisper, choked by tears of his own. 

The pronoun shocked her bright blue eyes up to his. “We? You don’t hate me?”

His own eyes held nothing back, reflecting only love, support, and sorrow for her pain. “Darling, of course I don’t hate you. I love you. Always.”

He gently took her face in his hands, pre-empting her questions based on past late-night conversations. “You told me there were others in your meetings who had started drinking again, sometimes several times after they’d joined AA, but managed to stop once more and are still sober; have been for years - decades!”

The fear bubbled up in her once more, but she didn’t hide it this time. “What if that’s not me? What if I can’t? And what will I say to the other Nonnatuns? They stood by me once, I can’t ask them to do it again.”

He held her fast, not letting her retreat into the darkness again. “You can ask for help, you can always ask. They love you, Trixie. They would understand better than almost anyone, and they could help with the depression.”

Another shock, but she didn’t have to ask a question.

This time it was Christopher who looked away, but only briefly. “It’s my turn to apologize. I could see the strain in your smile. I knew something wasn’t quite right after Anna’s birth. Everything was so chaotic that I just hoped I was only seeing my own stress. I should have asked you.” 

He pressed his forehead to hers once more. “I promise to ask in the future, if I ever notice something is off.”

The smile she gave in reply was small and tearful - almost more in the eyes than the mouth - but it was genuine, and some hope had returned to her eyes.

Trixie curled into Christopher’s arms and he held her tight to his chest. “Whatever happens, don’t hide from me. Promise? You’re not alone anymore. Anything we face, we face together.”

She took his hand in hers. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

Trixie had always been good at keeping her more painful emotions locked behind a smiling exterior when she chose to. However, she was now finding that she struggled to keep a firm, brave countenance when hiding her fears behind a smile would be inappropriate. No matter how much she talked up her confidence, the mirror revealed that she could not steel herself enough to hide the emotions that shone clearly in her eyes whenever she thought about the words she would have to speak and the likely reactions they would elicit.

She took a deep breath. She had stood up for herself before, and found herself to be braver than she would have guessed. Could she manage that again?

Christopher’s arm slipped supportively around her waist, momentarily pulling out of her reverie. 

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?” He asked, unwittingly confirming her decision by the mere asking of the question. She had been scared to tell him too; terrified that in spite of all she knew of him, he would leave when she told him. Yet shocked as he’d been, he’d stood by her side immediately and consistently.   

Her answering smile was tight, but honest. “No. I need to do this on my own.” 

The heavy wooden door stood open, but still she knocked before entering.

The inscrutable blue-grey eyes of her mentor, the head of the group of women she’d felt to be her family since her first year at Nonnatus, rose from the papers on the desk to meet hers. “Nurse Franklin! Do come in.”

Feeling her heart beating in her throat, Trixie sat across from the Sister, just as she had so often over the past seven years. Best get it over with quickly.

“Sister Julienne, I’m pregnant.”

Chapter Text

The darkness and silence lulled Patrick to the brink of sleep; a restless doze as he awaited Shelagh’s return from her night on-call. He’d seen that gentle frown draw sorrow to her eyes as she kissed him and the children (even the one who now balked at that title) goodnight and left for a calling she loved but now wished for other’s sakes that she did not have to fill. She’d said that of their marriage too, quietly, a month into their engagement. Patrick had explained his and Timothy’s ritual of remembering Marianne on her birthday, and Shelagh’s smile had held that same sorrow. She had apologized then, for filling a space that should never had existed, as though she was a bandage, a necessary but guilty reminder of the wound she healed.

But she was so much more than that, as he'd implored her to believe then and affirmed since in a myriad of ways both small and large, verbal and non-verbal. And they were joyfully alive and well; together against all of life’s odds. Those were things he celebrated every day and night they were able to spend together.

Patrick barely heard the soft creak of the bedroom door, and could not have heard the soft padding of her feet on the carpet if he’d tried. Both were experts at making as little noise as possible when they came in at night, but her diminutive size and years of silence enhanced her ability to mask her presence when she thought it appropriate. He allowed her to believe she had, until he felt the gentle dip of the mattress beside him.  

He nuzzled against her ear, knowing from the relaxation of her body that her case had gone well. The warm pressure of her leg sliding against his sent a shiver down his back.

“I can’t sleep without you here.”

“It seems you can’t sleep with me here,” she joked, smiling against his lips as their clever hands worked together to drive away the last remnants of the night’s chill.

Chapter Text

The air in Nonnatus felt too heavy to breathe that morning. Val wondered if that was why Phyllis had left the circle of support that had met her and Tom when they’d come home last night. Having to convey that news, even if it was on your face and not your tongue, was overwhelming when you were already trying not to let your own grief crush you. 

Valerie’s shoulders sagged under that weight now, even if the reality of it hadn’t sunk it yet. It wouldn’t, until she saw her friend’s face and recognized the truth of its terrible stillness. Was it any easier, having braced herself for the worst before Babs had woken up? No, the shock of having seen her looking far better had broken down all of Val’s defences - had broken down everyone’s defences. 

Yet it wasn’t herself she thought of now. They hadn’t even given Trixie the chance to put those defences up, whatever help they would have been. She wished they’d called her when Barbara first went in, but she couldn’t have seen her so far away, wouldn’t have made it back in time. Was she just excusing herself for the depth of the harm she knew one of them would have to cause their friend, who was so steadfastly trying to heal herself of another illness? They had reasoned that Trixie was too fragile, they would tell her once Babs was out of the woods, once she was strong enough to write or call Trixie herself. Knowing illness as they did, they’d been foolish to take that for granted.

Val unconsciously pulled on her uniform and went downstairs in search of tea, trying to calm herself with routine.

A lone figure stood in the kitchen, looking at the teapot as though it was a strange implement from a foreign land. Phyllis was dressed for work as well, not in her pink nightgown as Val had assumed she would be. She should have expected that; they all shared that impulse to work through their grief in this community.

“We have to tell Beatrix.” Phyllis’ firm, quiet voice startled Valerie as she rested a hand on the older woman’s arm.

How? She wanted to ask. Who? 

Phyllis answered the questions that neither spoke, but seemed to hang in the air between them. “We have to get a line though to her. It can’t be a letter. And you’re the only one I trust to do this,” she had kept her voice steady, but now it broke. “Because I can’t.”

Buck up, Dyer. You can do this. You need to do this.

“I will. I’ll do it now, before everyone else wakes.” She set the kettle aside. Much as she wanted something hot to ease the cold grief that rested in her breast, it wouldn’t do for it to whistle while she broke the news.

The line buzzed, and she remembered that Portofino was only an hour ahead. Trixie wasn’t an early riser by nature, she might not even be up yet.

“Ciao! Trixie Franklin speaking,” the bright greeting crackled over the line.  

Val sat herself down on one of the call room stools and hoped Trixie’s godmother was home. “Hello, Trix.” 

“Valerie Dyer! I ought to reprimand you, it’s been absolutely ages since you’ve called or written, since any of you have, for that matter. But I must say, I’m too happy to hear your voice to give you the dressing-down you deserve.”

We do deserve it, and I’m so, so sorry. 

Trixie must have heard her shaky breath, her tone shifting immediately from cheeky chiding to concern.

“Oh, sweetie, what’s wrong? Are you alright?”

Val took a deep breath, trying to be as strong as Phyllis. “It’s not me, it’s Barbara.” 

Chapter Text

Rain drummed steadily down on the old roof of Nonnatus House, its inhabitants’ prayers focussed this late afternoon on the silence of the phone. 

 

"I brought you your coffee." Valerie announced, shattering the silence of the sitting room as she carefully set the beverage beside Lucille. A large box of coffee from Lucille’s mother had arrived the other day and though all at Nonnatus had sampled and acknowledged it as superior, they silently agreed to leave it to Lucille in spite of her offer to share, as it so clearly soothed her homesickness and her palate.

 

“And the salt as well, Val added. “I’m not sure how much you’d like, and I didn’t want to guess in case I mucked it up.”

 

Lucille’s head shot up from her hand. She’d slipped into a doze while trying to finish up her patient notes, lulled by last night's lack of sleep and the patter of the rain. She laughed self-deprecatingly as she accepted the welcome offering. “Well there’s another reason I need it! Thank you for the salt, but I generally take it sugared unless it’s quite hot out.”

 

“MMph” She set the cup down quickly. “Perhaps it’s the coffee that’s a bit too hot!”

 

As she rose to doctor her beverage, Sister Winifred returned from her shift at the maternity home, red-faced and dripping, but grinning nonetheless. “Speaking of things that are, well, steamy, shall we say,” she wiggled her eyebrows, “and from Lucille’s homeland - a bit dubiously in this case…”

 

Biting her lip with the mischievous expression so particular to her, she whipped out a small, battered paperback from her sleeve.

 

Valerie burst into laughter, drawing Shelagh out of the clinical room where she’d been busy seeing to her instruments after an alarming rapid - though thankfully non-disastrous - premature delivery.

 

“Goodness, Sister! What are you doing with a book like that?” Lucille almost dropped her coffee, tiredness instantly banished as she noted the novel’s cover and title.

 

“I didn’t buy it!” Sister Winifred defended herself. “It belonged to a roommate of Sister Monica Joan’s at the hospital.”

Her face creased into confusion. “I’m not quite sure how it ended up at the maternity home.”

 

They all turned to look at Shelagh, whose eyes had gone suspiciously wide. “I’m sure I couldn’t say.”

 

“Or how it became so careworn?” Sister Winifred needled as Valerie flipped through the slightly damp novel.

 

“It’s folded in some very… specific places,” she added, joining in on the fun.

 

“That must have been due to the patients. Anyone for tea or cake?” Shelagh deflected, attempting to busy herself.

 

“Ooh maybe we should bring it to the sexual education classes!” Val turned her attention to Lucille, raising her eyebrows teasingly.

 

“I highly doubt that book is very informative either about scientifically accurate… mechanics of sexual activity or about the Caribbean.” Lucille argued primly, looking slightly worried Val might insist on this addition to the curriculum as well.

 

“Not entirely, but it is terribly diverting. Besides, there are shockingly few medical texts that explore female enjoyment, and those are hardly accessible to the public.” Shelagh noted unthinkingly. She froze, a slice of cake halfway to her plate.

 

Three startled pairs of eyes instantly turned on her. “Mrs. Turner!”

 

Shelagh’s eyes remained fixed on her afternoon snack, as though it might tell her why she had carelessly hinted at a rather different afternoon snack she had indulged in that week.

 

Valerie finally saved her. “That sounds like another good reason to take a little look at this.”

 

“Not to boast, but I’ve been told that I’m a rather good narrator.” Sister Winifred noted with false demureness, eyes downcast.

 

There was a brief pause before Lucille made the final call. “Since we’ve all finished our work early, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to examine what our ladies are reading.”

 

The remaining cake was rapidly portioned out, and the small group eagerly settled themselves around the sofas.

Chapter Text

The clamour of the ambulance faded around the bend, bearing away the distraught young woman who’d only just begun to call this place home before it reverted abruptly to foreignness and cast her into panicked isolation.

Shock gave way to familiar sorrow in Valerie and Shelagh as they watched the ambulance depart with their friend. Though they had been through similar scenarios before, they both found themselves shaken and unsteady. Shelagh sat on Nonnatus’ stone steps, her head bowed to her clasped hands and her eyes closed. Val guessed she must be praying. She sat down beside her, close enough to let the gentle pressure of her shoulder against Shelagh’s let the other woman know she wasn’t alone without interrupting her silent entreaties for Magda’s wellbeing.

“Just once, I wish we could avert a crisis instead of managing it.” Shelagh broke her silence to put words to Valerie’s thoughts.

Val closed her eyes, weary with the weight of the happier outcomes that could have been had she said something. “I thought I’d prevented it by telling her not to go down a back alley.”

“You turned her away from one dark path, you couldn’t have known she would seek another.” Shelagh took Val’s hand, seeking to impress her certainty of the younger woman’s probity even as she felt her own guilt rear up within her.

“I was the one who didn’t notice the signs in my own employee; who provided her with the information she used. If Sister Monica Joan hadn’t been at Nonnatus, or hadn’t seen Magda…”

Val squeezed Shelagh’s hand. “It doesn’t bear thinking about. We know the attitudes towards unmarried pregnant women. She’s not been here long but I’ll bet there was more behind her fear than we know.” Even as she said it, Val searched back in her own mind. Magda’s fiancée had been violent, she knew that. Perhaps that was part of it, that she didn’t want a child from that union. Perhaps she’d searched on her own before she talked to Val, and worry about becoming homeless and jobless had frightened her out of talking to Shelagh. It was impossible to know until this storm had passed.

Shelagh’s firm voice broke her out of her thoughts. “We do know that she was probably scared, like so many other girls we’ve seen.”

That was certainly true. Lucille had come to Val just the other day, in tears because she had a patient who was far too young to be a mother and was scared out of her wits. You didn’t have to be in this profession two seconds before you ran smack into the dark realities of England. It was true of other places as well, she knew, but coming back as a nurse she been brought face to face with sides of her home that she had previously known only in whispers and absent or altered faces at school.  

Anger bubbled up to match Val’s heartache as she watch a young girl skip by them, joyful and innocent. “I’ve seen so many girls distressed when they find out they’re pregnant, not wanting or being able to care for a child. So many who don’t even know their own bodies, who that think taking a bath or going for a wee after lying with a boy will stop you falling pregnant.” She shook her head. “The very first case we worked together, I held Arthur Pilsbury in my arms and knew he was dead because people higher up were more keen on saving pennies than making sure dockers were safe. And then I turn on the radio and hear people saying family planning is immoral, without a thought about how immoral it is to put a woman or girl in a position where she’s got no options. I don’t know whether it all makes me more angry or sad.”

Shelagh nodded, and Val noticed her jaw was also tense. “Some days we make progress. We can provide contraceptives or support or proper information. And then there are days like this, where you miss what’s right in front of you, or there’s nothing you can do that will change the outcome. On these days, the world feels so very dark.” She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. “We have to learn from days like this what we can do so they’re fewer, and hold on to the days where we make a positive difference, so we’re not overwhelmed.”

They let silence fall once more, holding tight to each other’s hands until Patrick came to drive Shelagh to St. Cuthbert’s and the rest of Nonnatus returned to come together as a family, regroup, and push forward.

Chapter Text

Barbara watched the sunlight filter through the reddish tube of urine, trying to decide whether the patient likely had glycosuria or whether the sugars had simply come from the jam jar in which she’d stored her weekly offering.

It was almost pretty, the bright brick-like tube, and Barbara momentarily forgot what it was she was meant to be doing, instead admiring the test tube as she would stained glass. She was used to working hard, had been for as long as she could remember. It was the effect of interruptions to her sleep that she found embarrassingly difficult to handle. The growing catalogue of her professional shortcomings reeled through Barbara's mind as she swayed gently in place: she’d gotten herself frightfully inebriated on her first night, then she’d been practically unable to cope with a stillbirth, and now she was sincerely worried she would fall asleep standing up after her first post-night-shift clinic! 

“I have a complaint to file with you,” the flinty tones she easily matched to her Northern colleague cut through her anxious self-evaluation.

Barbara practically flung the sample at the countertop in alarm, managed to burn herself on the spirit lamp she’d left on and, after a brief fumble, failed to recapture the tube before it shattered.

Instantly she felt a pair of firm hands on her shoulders, moving her away from the scene of her self-created disaster.

“As your colleague, I find you entirely over-diligent. You’ve delivered two babies today and made it through the better part of clinic after your first night shift. You’ve done far more than is expected of any new nurse.” Nurse Crane reprimanded her gently.

Barbara examined Nurse Crane’s eyes for a hint that she was potentially experiencing a sleeplessness-induced auditory hallucination. 

Yet the older nurse's expression was soft, reassuring. “It’s time for you to take a rest, lass.”

Scarcely thinking to notify Sister Julienne, let alone thank Nurse Crane for her kindness in offering to clean up her broken test tube, Barbara walked herself home to Nonnatus for a nap. 

She did, however, remember to stop by the sweet shop for a pack of barley sugars, carefully placing them on Phyllis’ side of the nightstand before she succumbed to her soft pillow.

Chapter Text

The gentle plume of smoke curled up into the cool night air. Trixie had become used to the climate in South Africa - as much as she would ever become used to such volume-destroying heat - and summer in Poplar now felt almost nippy. Though perhaps chill came from within.

Only a note on her desk had signalled her friend’s departure. Only a note after months apart; months where she’d returned from half a world away to find her friend had vanished, months where Trixie had tirelessly sought her fate only to run up against a nun with the personality of a saltine and a poker up her arse, and the frighteningly impersonal barriers of that dark, dank asylum Sister Monica Joan had found Sister Mary Cynthia in. 

She’d caught Cynthia just before Dr. Turner’s little green MG bore her away through the winding streets, off to “a place of healing,” as her note had said. A place of healing away from her family, with strangers once more. The musty smell of her old postulant’s gown mingled with the faint leather smell of the car and the plain soap the nuns used to wash their hair as Trixie held her close. 

She’d watched the little brown bob covered with a starched white shroud. She’d accepted that nighttime laughter now bent its knees in silent, distant conversation. Yet even then, when Cynthia had crossed into a different world, Trixie hadn’t lost her as she had now. When Trixie had expressed concern that she would not even know her by name, her friend had incorporated the old title into the new. When Trixie had felt the most alone, reaching out to strangers in the night, her friend had reached back out to her.

Trixie needed that closeness, the love of the women she called her family around her. Cynthia, it seemed, did not. She would be miles away, perhaps even more closed off than she had been at the Mother House. Her name may have reverted to the one Trixie recognised best, but she no longer felt certain she knew the woman it addressed. 

She breathed in another soothingly smooth drag, held it, and released it to the stars. AA would say she was catastrophising. Cynthia would too. She would probably be right. 

Trixie watched the end of her cigarette glow brightly one final time before stubbing it out on the step beside her. She was giving Cynthia away for now, she could only hope she would one day get her back.

Chapter Text

The white car juddered over the uneven cobbles, its occupants bracing themselves for the uncomfortable - but blessedly short - journey.

“How did you start so smoothly, Shelagh?” Trixie asked in annoyance, braking with a huff.

Shelagh straightened herself. “I may have gotten in a wee bit of practice with Patrick.”

“He doesn’t mind?” Phyllis asked, suspicious of her pupil’s claim. “I would have thought he would be quite protective of that car.”

“He thinks it’s sensible, especially for my nights on-call.” Shelagh replied, her voice briefly increasing in pitch as Trixie made another attempt at starting the car. 

Trixie nodded in agreement. Not only would it save time, none of them had forgotten what happened to Cynthia, and she’d still been a Sister then. 

“Goodness, when did you become more modern than me?” Trixie instinctively reached for humour to lighten the mood. This did not seem to affect Phyllis, who was gripping the side of her seat and nervously checking that there were no obstacles - human or otherwise - in Trixie’s immediate path.

Shelagh let out of a breath of laughter. “I think that hemline of yours rather contradicts the premise of your question!”

Trixie exited the Nonnatus courtyard, awkwardly rounding the corner past the bridge. She and Shelagh waved happily to Lucille as she cycled past. Phyllis’ hands remained firmly affixed to her seat. 

“Shelagh! What was that supposed to mean?” Trixie asked good-naturedly. They’d long since reached the point of being able to tease each other gently, though Trixie felt is was ages after Sister Bernadette left to become Shelagh that the latter finally opened up again to companionable humour. 

Trixie jerked the car violently around a bend and Phyllis cut Shelagh off before she could reply that she was actually rather taken with the shorter skirt length. “Less about dresses and more about roads, thank you!”

With an eye to the busier streets up ahead, she added. “And seeing as Mrs. Turner has had practice, let’s she how she fares with merging.”

Though considerably gentler than Trixie’s efforts behind the wheel, Shelagh’s lack of speed had several other drivers mechanically voicing their disapproval.

Phyllis stared ahead at the jumble of traffic. “I’m beginning to question my wisdom in accepting dual driving lessons.” 

 

Chapter Text

 

Trixie studied herself and the gathering storm clouds - their reflections just visible - in the mirror, delicately tracing the outline of her immaculate updo. “It’s getting a bit blustery out there.”

Valerie, reclining on her bed, having finished her own preparations some time ago, grinned at her friend. “Well that’s alright. We can stay in an’ you can cook for us all!”

Trixie’s reflection shot her a sardonic look. Yet she liked Val’s teasing, it helped brighten most situations and was currently doing its intended job of dulling the ache of her last attempt at romance. She paused in her grooming, looking through her outward appearance. Phyllis had once told her that she wasn’t the sort who did well alone and she’d accepted that wisdom. Yet now, time blurring under a wave of déjà-vu, Trixie relinquished the comfort of another’s opinion. Would this truly be any different? She gave more and more of herself with each relationship. At the end, what would be left? Restlessness itched beneath her skin. All the friends she’d first met at Nonnatus had moved forward and here she was, performing the same show she’d been playing for years.

Valerie too was reflecting on her circumstances. Being here was a experience she’d desired for as long as she could remember, poorly as she could imagine it before she’d actually crossed Nonnatus' threshold. She’d barely hoped to dream she could work side by side with girls like Trixie, let alone be friends with them, and now here she was. She felt herself and her skills thriving under Nonnatus’ tutelage and workload, and against all odds she’d found a home within her old home where she could truly live up to her potential and serve her community. She even had a decent amount of nights free for a bit of fun with the girls. However, looking over at her glamorous friend, she could see her thoughts had taken a decidedly different path.

Standing, she rested her hands on Trixie’s shoulders, her voice equally firm. “Anyone would and should be blown away by you.”

And for now, that was enough. Trixie took a deep breath. This situation may have been similar to many past experiences, but it was not the same. She was not the same. And if there was one thing Trixie Franklin was good at, it was shining through the darkness.  

The old doorbell echoed through Nonnatus, and Trixie and Valerie permitted themselves a brief hand-squeeze and silent eyebrow-cheer of excitement before descending - one more elegantly than the other - towards their partners for the evening, and perhaps for life.

Chapter Text

A strange, soft neighing greeted Valerie as she carried little Connie Chowdhury back to the kitchen to fetch a warm compress for her ear. Poking her head around the corner, she found Dr. Turner happily entertaining his youngest with some little wooden animals. A lovely reddish horse was currently trotting its way up Teddy’s arm, much to his delight.

“Housekeeper’s day off?” Val asked, gathering the compress.

Patrick raised his eyes and smiled in greeting. “She’s ill today, Shelagh’s with a patient, and someone has had enough of napping for the afternoon. I assume if anyone needs me they’ll call?”

Val leaned back against the counter, trying to soothe her own charge. “Should do. If there’s any workplace well-suited to bringing in a littleun it’s ours!”  

Teddy made a successful grab for the horse and decided that it ought to have a conversation with the nearby boar, his father willingly providing the latter half of the dialogue when prompted.

He seemed perfectly as ease with his son’s care, and she wondered whether he was as helpful at home, and if he’d always been. Some of her male cousins had cooed over new babies with her and the other girls when they were little, but even most of those left the care of the small ones to their wives.

Now was as good a time as any for a chat, Val decided. “Have you always been good with babies?”   

Patrick - who, at Teddy’s behest, had added a smaller pig to the conversation - considered her question. “I’ve always liked babies, though I never had much to do with them until…” 

He paused. He knew Nurse Dyer too had been in the medical corps, and though, with Shelagh’s help, he had become more open about the darkness his own wartime experiences had left him with, he still preferred to keep the details of his coping mechanisms private unless it could be useful to someone else. His initial path out of the depths of his pain via baby care remained between himself, Shelagh, and the doctors at Northfield. 

“… some time into my medical training,” he answered vaguely. 

Sensing his discomfort, Val let the hesitation go, turning her eyes to Connie’s instead. 

“Then Timothy came along,” Patrick continued, pausing to oink at his youngest son, “though at the time I was so busy with the new NHS that I wonder whether I didn’t see more of my patient’s children than my own.” 

Val gave him a reassuring smile, noting the guilt that had etched itself into his craggy face. “Ah well. We do what we have to, hey?” 

“That we do.” He agreed, turning his thoughts back to the time his family had spent together last night, curled up watching The Avengers. Every since they’d brought Angela home, he’d been determined to be a more present father for her and Teddy’s childhoods, and to spend more time with Tim before he left for university. He still wasn’t home as often as he would have liked, but he was doing better.   

He turned her initial question back on her, to lighten the melancholy that lingered from his answer. 

“Well, I was the youngest, so my sisters got more of a training than me, but Auntie May had two younger than me, an’ Auntie Marj was the youngest, so I remember taking care of hers now an’ again.” 

She raised her eyebrows conspiratorially. “Auntie Marj says the first time someone passed me a baby to hold, I dropped him right on his little behind!”

Patrick chuckled, Teddy mimicking him for a moment before deciding that the barnyard conversation was actually of a more serious tone. 

“His head got a bit of a bump too,” Val continued. “Frankie seems alright though, so I don’t think I did him any harm. Mind you, he wasn’t so happy at the time!” 

“You’ve come a long ways since that!” Patrick noted.

“I certainly hope so. What do you reckon?” She asked the now-quiet babe in her arms. 

Connie merely continued her silent spit-bubble blowing. 

“That’s probably the most glowing recommendation you could ask for from that age bracket.” Patrick laughed, showing a parent’s appreciation of a silent infant.

“Cheers to that!” Val agreed. 

“I’m happy to quiet these ones down and patch ‘em up when they’re poorly, but I’m not so keen on having nippers of my own,” she added pensively. 

“No?” Patrick’s forehead crinkled in surprise. 

 Val shrugged, gently, so as to not jostle Connie. “Was never too keen on it. Used to assume I would because that’s just what you do, but now… I’m not so sure I want the life I assumed I wanted when I was little. Even if things are different now than they were for Mum and my aunties.” 

Patrick nodded. He’d wanted to be a doctor since he was young, but he couldn’t have dreamed he would end up in his current life, and his life was all the better for it. 

They enjoyed a brief moment of companionable semi-silence before Val returned her patient to her mother and Patrick was called back into the fray.

Chapter Text

The milky cocoa swirled around in her mug, the soft clinking of her spoon against its walls the only dent in the night’s silence. 

“It would seem that you have as much difficulty with the midnight hours as I do.” Valerie knew the speaker before she looked.

“Cocoa, Sister?” She offered. “I’m not sure it helps with the sleeping, but it is nice.”  

Surprisingly, Sister Monica Joan rejected the sweet beverage. “I am not fond of the texture, and I dislike the dreams it brings me.”

Valerie didn’t quite know how to how to answer that, so she just nodded and returned to her silent contemplation.

For a while, Sister Monica Joan busied herself with the kettle for tea, but the silence didn’t seem to sit well with her. “You are bright and lively, and have led but a slip of a life. What keeps you from your bed?”

Valerie sighed, unsure of how to explain her troubles to the Sister when she scarcely understood herself.

“I have seen that look before,” Sister Monica Joan commented. “What face divine contentment did wear turns to blank sadness when the sun hides its harsh stare.”

“You have quite a way with words,” Val deflected.

Sister Monica Joan’s face seemed to crumple in on itself and Valerie felt somehow thrown off balance, though this Sister was hardly one to hold to for stability.

“That is often said, yet I question its veracity.” 

The kettle began to whistle, but Sister Monica Joan did not seem to hear it. Valerie took it off the hob before it could wake the whole house and prepared the preferred nighttime beverage. 

Sister Monica Joan continued as she took a seat at the kitchen table, “I have lived by the words of others and I sometimes wonder whether I have squandered what the Lord has so generously bestowed.”

“You question your vocation?” Valerie was shocked. Sister Monica Joan came from circumstances much higher than Poplar, but she’d never truly imagined any of the nuns doubting their path. Perhaps it was because even considering such a role was unfathomable to her.

“I do not question that I was and am called by God to serve,” the elderly Sister replied. “It is whether I have served in all the ways of which I am capable that plagues me. Our Sisters with sweet voices gift their melodies to the heavens, as Hildegard von Bingen did before them. Those with inspired vision and skilled hands offer up their studies of form and nature.”  

The Sister spread her weathered hands out on the table in front of her, eyes turned down to study their translucent coverings. “The illustration through verse and prose of the universe, our place within it, and the myriad experiences and emotions that colour our brief journeys is perhaps the oldest art of all, yet I have kept my words locked within me. When I was young, I worried that creation would take away from my service; that I suffered a surfeit of hubris. And now... now when I attempt to record the words that flow through my mind, they slip between pen and paper as grains of sand through the neck of an hourglass.”

She looked so small and lost in the grip of her regrets, and Val wanted nothing more than to be able to offer her some comfort. But how? Sister Monica Joan always seemed to have one foot in another world, eyes to the stars. 

“Maybe if you write a bit everyday, the words will come,” Val said carefully. “Or maybe they never had to be written, your words. Maybe it was enough that they were there in your mind and you sometimes shared them with those around you; that you used others’ words to help people and improve their days, or their lives, even.”

Sister Monica Joan considered her words for a long moment before speaking. “You may not have the gift of words yourself, yet I feel you have the gift of wisdom.” 

She pushed her now-tepid tea across the table to Val. “You may have my portion.”

With that, she was gone, though whether she was off to write, to bed, or to chapel, Valerie didn’t know.  

Later, as Val washed the mugs and watched the soapy water slip down the drain, she wondered which of her own secrets she might one day come to regret keeping tied down inside her.

She did not have to think hard.

Chapter Text

Sister Julienne briskly made her way through the long corridor leading from the chapel. She had been in discussions with the Mother House all morning and was throughly looking forward to her tea, hasty though it would have to be.

“If we could at very least give them proper bed coverings-”  Dr. Turner’s voice was controlled, but just barely. It echoed down the corridor to Sister Julienne and she sped up her pace to reach what sounded like a brewing conflict.

Sister Evangelina’s voice cut him off. “Proper bed coverings, superior spirit lamps, new autoclaves, anything else on your West End shopping list Doctor Turner?”

“What is your probl-”  

Sister Julienne rounded the corner just in time to see Sister Evangelina ball her hands against her hips, likely to avoid prodding Dr. Turner forcefully in the chest.

“YOU. YOU ARE MY PROBLEM,” Sister Evangelina boomed. “You toffs waltz in here, look down your noses at our people and throw a fit when you’re not treated as though you’re in the Ritz.”

Dr. Turner wagged his finger at the Sister, barely an inch from her nose. “That is not fair and you know it. I am only asking for what is best for my pat-”

“YOUR patients?” Sister Evangelina exploded.

Sister Julienne decided she ought to intervene before someone was injured.

“They are all of our patients and I am certain we all want the best for them.” Her calm voice broke Dr. Turner’s focus, but Sister Evangelina was used to her Sister’s attempts to calm her and kept her fiery gaze firmly fixed on him.

One of them had to leave this altercation, and a conversation with their no-longer-terribly-new-GP about the realities of his partnership with Nonnatus was long overdue. “Sister Evangelina, I would be very grateful if you could update the day’s records.”

Though she was clearly loathe to do so, the nun tore herself away from her fight and stalked off to the clinical room.

Dr. Turner sighed, but he remained visibly tense and his eyes still sparked as he explained himself.

“I’m sorry Sister, I know I ought to have kept my head. It’s just that there is so much that could be done to improve care here. Not- not that your care is lacking, you are all doing incredible work with what you have, it’s just...” he stubbled over his words, realising how they sounded.

Sister Julienne spared him the embarrassment of allowing him to try to correct himself. “I understand. You feel, as we all do, that our patients deserve the best that modern medicine can provide them.”

He almost knocked her over with his enthusiasm. “Exactly!”

She cut off the speech he seemed about to embark on. “What Sister Evangelina was trying to explain is that while we are aware that our equipment could be improved, we do not have the means to acquire it. We are reliant on funding from the Order - which only has so much it can give, as it has to evenly distribute funds - and on private donations to Nonnatus, which are infrequent due to our patients’ means and lack of external interest in improving healthcare in Poplar.”

Rather than subduing him, this only seemed to further enflame the doctor, a grin lifting his craggy face. “You don’t have to depend on charity now! You can apply to the National Health Serv-”

Sister Julienne smiled tiredly. They were almost the same age, yet with all the chaos of the past year, she felt much older. “I am aware of the promise of socialize medicine, Dr. Turner, and am in the process of applying for resources. We are simply run off our feet.”

“Might I be able to help with that?” The gentle burr from behind her announced the arrival of the new postulant, Sister Bernadette.  

Dr. Turner brightened. “Absolutely! You two can work out a plan of what you need and I’ll help you put it to the NHS. How does that sound?”

Sister Julienne hesitated, unwilling to add more to her new Sister’s workload.

Sensing her superior's misgivings, Sister Bernadette added, “I can sort the tallies here on my own, and you were saying Nonnatus has greater needs than ever before given the sudden increase of bairns being born since the end of the war.”

The young woman had proved herself to be almost indefatigable, and they were both so keen... 

“As long as we’re not making too much work for you, Dr. Turner. I know you have a young one of your own at home.” Sister Julienne confirmed.

“Not at all, I would be more than happy to help,” the doctor replied, waving off her concern.

With that, the pair hurried off in opposite directions, eager to start their tasks. 

--

As Patrick drove home, his excitement about the new project gradually wore off. He parked by the door and sat a while. His car was always an ideal place for silent contemplation. Here, he was blocked off from the world and the walls he normally kept up - even for himself - could be lowered.

Why hadn’t he considered Sister Julienne’s comment more seriously? The chance to work, to truly help had been irresistible since… Well he just couldn’t seem to pass up a chance to do the best he could for this community. Hope had bloomed anew for him, and everyone else as well, it seemed. He saw it in the mirror every morning, in the nurses’ bright smiles, and in the eyes of that helpful little Scottish owl. He rubbed a hand down his face; he should really learn her name, all of their names for that matter. He should also get more sleep, and spend more time at home, get the autoclave at the surgery sorted for what felt like the hundredth time this year, not to mention getting on started on his endorsement for the new equipment for Nonnatus…

He rested his head against the back of his seat and took a deep breath, thinking about Timothy’s little smiling face as he felt stress curl the darkness up around the edges of his mind. He would go home now and have a nice dinner. He could write a letter to Poplar’s regional healthcare director that evening, and the rest could wait for tomorrow. 

Chapter Text

The mountain seemed to scrape the clouds, its summit untouched even by the soaring birds. Everest. Only a few brave mountaineers had scaled its summits and she was determined to be the first woman to join their ranks. 

“Val stop daydreaming and get up ‘ere!”

Sighing in frustration at having her fantasy so rudely disrupted, Val clambered up the pile of rubble after Edna.

Edna had only moved to Poplar that spring from the countryside where her family had been during the war, but she and Val had quickly become friends. Edna lived close by and always agreed to explore the bomb sites with her on their way back from school. Val’s mum would give her such a talking to if she found out about her daily escapades; it was unsafe, she would say, and there could be an unexploded bomb and the like, but Val figured she’d been doing this long enough to know how to explore safely. 

Val stooped to gather a dusty, decaying ship manual that was poking out of the rubble. “Hey Edna, fancy building ourselves a boat?” She waggled the book enticingly. Unfortunately her call caught the attention of the book’s resident spider as well as Edna’s, the latter’s laughter likely alarming passers by as Val dropped the book with a yelp and brushed the nasty little thing away. 

Up until the end of the war she’d done this with whole packs of friends, helping folk scavenge what they could from their ruined homes as well as climbing on and chasing each other through the twisted piles of debris and looking for forgotten treasure. Now, however, everyone her age except for Edna and a couple of others was saying it was unladylike. Hadn’t been unladylike a couple of years ago, so she didn’t see why it should be now. They were all looking to catch boys’ eyes while Val was looking to catch a boat out of Poplar. There was a whole world out there and now it was safe to explore it. If she could ever afford to, of course. 

A cry broke through her daydream and she saw Edna fall over a protruding board.

She reached her a second to late, Edna’s head making a sickening thump as it struck the ground. 

Quickly, Val turned her over, assessing the damage as best she could. There was blood everywhere. She couldn’t quite see where it was coming from, though it looked to be just above her eye. 

Without thinking, Val stripped off her jumper and pressed the inside to the wound.

“HELP!” She cried, grateful now more than ever for her impressive lung capacity. “I NEED SOMEONE! MY FRIEND’S HURT.”

“I’m a doctor, stay put and tell me where you are!” A man’s voice replied.

“There’s a telephone pole sticking up not far in front of us. We’re just past a half-wall. To your...” Val tried to guess where his voice had come from, “left?”

A dark-haired, disheveled man scrambled over to them, instantly dropping to his knees beside the unconscious girl as Val told him what had happened.

The doctor’s face was as white as Edna’s as he peeked under the jumper. That was strange. The only times she’d seen someone react like that to blood was when they were about to faint, and surely a doctor couldn’t faint at the sight of blood. 

Though he looked almost queasy, he did seem sure of what he was doing. He pulled up Edna’s eyelids, looking into her eyes.

“Do you know where to find the nearest telephone?” His voice was calmer than he looked as he placed his own hands over the makeshift bandage, and Val felt a tad less anxious. 

She nodded. “There’s a pie shop not far from ‘ere.” 

Val was on her feet and running almost too fast for the doctor to tell her to inform the ambulance service that there was a head wound but no suspected brain injury. 

~*~

“She needs a few stitches but nothing more, thank God.”

Val looked up as she heard the doctor’s voice. She was sat in a wooden chair in a busy corridor as she waited for news from the other side of the doors. The hospital had offered to telephone Edna’s parents but there wasn’t much chance her father would get a telephone call in the docks’ office and she didn’t think they had a phone at home. 

The urgency now past, other concerns crowded to the forefront of her mind. “Our mothers’ll tan us for this.”

He chuckled and took a seat beside her. “And rightly so! Those bomb sites are unsafe.”

Val sighed. “I suppose.” 

The doctor observed her as she contemplated what she would tell her and Edna’s parents. 

“You would make a good nurse, you know.”

Her head shot up again. She’d wanted to be a nurse for years, even though her mum said that was for the posh girls. She wasn’t sure how she would go about it but she’d found herself thinking about it more and more even as she thought up ways of travelling beyond Poplar.

“You think so?”

He didn’t seem to notice her surprise, explaining his reasoning almost clinically. “You were calm, you used the cleanest and quickest compress available for your friend’s wound, you applied pressure, and your assessment when I arrived was clear and concise.”

He smiled warmly at her evident joy and unlike when they were in the bomb site, his eyes actually seemed to focus on her; to see her.

The confidence that conversation gave her stayed with her even after the doctor’s face faded from her mind. Though, in time, she would draw on her own experience to remind herself that she was good at her job, the encouragement of someone already working in medicine - a doctor, no less - helped when she first set out on her path and others who had barely seen her work haughtily informed her that she would fail. 

~*~

During the first case he worked with Valerie Dyer, something stirred in Dr. Turner’s memory. Her cheerful efficiency reminded him of a girl he’d met once, soon after he’d first come to Poplar. It had been his first trauma case since Northfield and though much of it had been a blurr, he remembered he’d been impressed by the girl. The memory was gone by the time the new child’s first cries pierced the dawn but as he had gently flicked the air bubbles out of an injection of ergometrine, he had wondered for a moment where that girl had ended up.

Chapter Text

 

Valerie stood in front of her best blacks once again, far too soon.

The rare October sunlight illuminated the hallway as she walked over to Lucille’s door, incongruous with the pall that lay over Nonnatus.  

Birth and death went hand in hand, grim as that reality was, and in spite of the efforts of the inhabitants of this house to uncouple the two. People often tried to cushion the blow of a death by saying that God had called the person back to Him. Perhaps that would be a comfort to Shelagh. Valerie doubted it. How could there be any comfort in a time like this?

The small family seemed somehow separate from the others that stood around the grave, as though they now belonged to another world.

Valerie had assumed Patrick would be first. Not that she had ever truly thought about it; it was just logical. Nobody could say they were ready for it, but somewhere in the back of their minds, in the distant future, Val assumed that his loved ones were braced for it. Nobody was prepared for the youngest Turner to go first.

They cared for the grieving family as best they could, making funeral arrangements, preparing meals, finding a locum, initially offering to care for Angela. The latter had been vehemently rejected. She was already distressed by her little brother’s incomprehensible disappearance, being moved to a different home - even if it was a familiar one - was out of the question. Besides, neither her parents nor her older brother could stand to be separated from her just now. That was good, surely? Sister Winifred had commented at supper one evening. At least they were turning towards one another in their grief instead of splintering into solitudes.

Patrick had started smoking again. Valerie had unwisely commented on it when she’d brought them a cottage pie one rainy night.  

“It began when he died.” Shelagh had explained, in a voice hollowed of all light. There it was, that cold, blunt word. Shelagh avoided facing it at first, then she’d wielded it more and more against her uncomprehending mind, trying to force its jagged edges through the haze of her pain.

She held Patrick as he smoked, wondering if he was trying to hasten his reunion with their littlest son. Not consciously, he wouldn’t do that; wouldn’t willingly leave their other two children and her. That coffin nail, as he’d once called it, was simply a means to soothe the wounds left by lives that had burnt out too soon. She didn’t have to ask to know that it wasn’t working. There was no balm for this.

The memory of his soft snuffles at the foot of their bed haunted her. If she slept, she dreamt of her family as it had been and awakening tore the breath from her lungs all over again. So she did not sleep. The river offered no answers but there was a peacefulness to it; an odd calm in walking up it and watching its inky ripples lap gently towards her. Colder, northern rivers had brought her comfort when her mother had been taken from her, and then her father. And she had moved forward. Now, though she could breathe as she paced its length, she felt as though she was walking in place. Sleep was impossible for Patrick as well, though he chose to drown himself in paperwork to keep his head above water.

Valerie saw Shelagh sometimes, when she was on a night-time delivery. She did not interrupt her or tell her that it was unsafe to walk alone at night. The Turners were living the unimaginable, and how could you reconcile what people couldn’t stand to imagine with your reality? There was no answer. All Val could do, all anyone at Nonnatus could do, was support them until they could bear their own existence again.

Chapter Text

Patrick hurriedly downed the last of a pie as he dashed over to 24 Farrance. The call had caught him just as he was about to leave for the day, and he hoped it was a quick one. Angela has been rather fractious that morning and it had set Teddy off. The former’s mood may have improved at daycare but Shelagh had been run off her feet all day and he’d been sorry to inform her she’d have to handle the children alone that evening.

He was greeted at the door by a grumpy looking, weedy, blonde man in his vest who Patrick assumed was Mr. Harris.

“There you are doc! Can you hurry those bints up? It’s been nothing but moaning and howling for hours and I’ve got work early.”

Patrick clenched his jaw against an argument, simply nodding and heading past him and the assorted smaller Harrises in the front room to the more urgent problem in the back. 

Upon arriving, however, he was met with the regular red-faced, exhausted mother and a calm-looking Nurse Dyer.

“You rang for me?” He asked uncertainly.

She shook her head. “No. It’s running a bit long maybe, but nothing to get fussed over.”

“Pft! Easy for you to say Nurse!” joked Mrs. Harris. “Thought the later ones weren’t supposed take this long.”

Nurse Dyer patted her patient’s knee reassuringly. “He or she’s just on the large side Janie.”

Patrick sighed. He would defend the NHS to his dying breath, but some patients and their families felt that as they didn’t have to pay them directly, he and the Nonnatuns should be at their beck and call even for minor complaints or nothing at all.   

“Things are progressing as expected then?” He asked, seeking confirmation even as he placed his hat back on his head.

After another contraction rolled through Janie, Nurse Dyer quickly checked her once more. “Absolutely, we’re nipping along nicely as can be expected for this littleun. You can pop back home to your family.” 

Patrick happily gathered his bag back up and attempted to make his way out.

“Oi! Why're you leaving?” Mr. Harris’s voice stopped Patrick before he’d made it two steps out the bedroom door. 

Patrick sighed. He had a feeling the call may not have come at the patient’s request. “Your wife’s labour is progressing normally. There’s nothing for me to do here.”

“Rubbish! I told you I’ve got work tomorrow! I’ll never sleep with that racket. I called you in to do your damn job.”

Harris was getting quite heated and Patrick had to stop himself from dealing him a sharp slap to the face. 

This was what he’d been called in for? Because nature wasn’t moving fast enough for this man?

"Oi!” Nurse Dyer poked her head out, fixing Mr. Harris with a sharp gaze and commanding tone. “Pipe down out here, you’re distressing your wife.” 

I’m distressing her!” Mr. Harris roared. “Tell that bitch I’m the reason she’s got a roof over her head and food on the table!”

Nurse Dyer looked decidedly unimpressed. In fact, Patrick was quite certain she shared his desire to deck the man. 

She beat him to the punch. “And she’s the reason you’ve got these lovely children so stuff it!”

Mr. Harris snorted and gestured angrily at the little ones who had been entertaining themselves but now sat silently, watching their father’s building rage. 

“She’s only given me girls! This’ll be another. She has one bleeding job and she can’t even get it right.”

Patrick shared a look with Nurse Dyer, trying to silently communicate that he would handle this piece of work. Perhaps it was a good thing he’d come after all, though patients like this always made him want to rush home and remind his wife and daughter that he knew exactly how incredible they were.

“You need to take. a. seat.” Patrick refrained from shouting for Mrs. Harris’s and the girls’ sakes, but he kept his tone firm enough to suggest that the other man had best not argue with him. “That nurse has been working for hours to ensure that your child - whatever the sex - arrives safely in this world, and your wife is going through agony that you couldn’t even imagine to deliver it, not to mention the nine months she spent enduring great discomfort to harbour and nurture it before this and all her work to care for the children you already have.”

He shook a finger at Harris, backing him down into the chair he’d refused to occupy previously. “You should have been doing everything in your limited power to help her this whole time and you can’t even sit quietly and be grateful! And you have the gall to look down on women? It’s absolutely pathetic, and for your wife’s and daughters’ sakes it’s about time you shape yourself up, pitch in and support them like a proper husband and father.”  

Anger and alarm battled in Harris’s eyes but whatever resistance was brewing was quickly cut off as Nurse Dyer popped her head out again. 

“Moving faster now. Time for you lads to be helpful and put some water on for the towels.”

Shame won out in Harris and Patrick’s stern glare pushed the other man over to the stove.

~*~

 

The sky was dark as the medical duo exited the house a little over an hour later.

“I’m going to hug you now,” Valerie announced abruptly. 

Patrick’s forehead wrinkled in alarm. “What for?”

“I missed a bit of your speech with our work back there, but from what I heard, I might just start calling you in to give the less helpful fathers a talking to from now on!” She grinned. 

He huffed out a laugh. “If I get a hug just for that, then the bar is so low for my sex that I don’t think I deserve one.”

Val laughed as she secured her bag to the basket. “You’re not half wrong about that!”

She hopped on her bicycle. “Give my best to Shelagh!” 

He certainly would. Best and more. 

Chapter Text

“At least there’s no chance of ski injuries in Poplar.” Barbara parked her bicycle next to Trixie’s as the pair returned from a relatively straightforward birth.

Before Trixie could reply, a snowball hit her squarely in the face.

“Sorry, that was meant for Lucille!” Val called cheerfully across the courtyard.  

Barbara’s eyebrows disappeared under the bottom of her tuque. “That’s some way to greet our new midwife, Valerie!”

“Please don’t worry yourself, Valerie was only introducing me to your winter games.” Lucille rushed to defend her new friend, gently turning her own snowball over in her mittened hands. 

Trixie was not amused. “Honestly, how old are you two, nine?”

“I think a snowball fight sounds like great fun!” Barbara announced, breaking the tension. “It only ever rained up in Liverpool. A bit harder to make a game of that.”

Val brightened. “That’s settled then. You two against the pair of us.”

“It’s more fun than you might expect.” Lucille encouraged a still peeved Trixie.

Trixie sighed dramatically. “All right. I suppose we’re all done our work for the day.”

Lucille happily took the opportunity to wallop Barbara, who laughed and stooped to fashion a hasty snowball.  

Barbara clumsily launched a retaliatory shot at Valerie, the snowball missing by a wide margin and splattering across the windshield of Phyllis’s incoming car.

The older woman took her time exiting her car and wiping off every speck of snow before turning to her colleagues. “Is this a place of business or a recreation yard?”

“Well, both really. You often lead the cubs here.” Barbara reasoned, her eyes glittering with childish excitement and her cheeks already rosy from the cold and exertion. 

“That is an educational group meant to help lead young lads to become sensible men, if such a thing is at all possible, which I sometimes doubt.”

In spite of her words, it had been clear over the past week that Phyllis was enjoying the winter wonderland, and she could rarely resist a joyful Barbara. Only Lucille was surprised by the stern-faced nurse’s sudden impish smile. The game was back on.

~*~

They had hardly been at it for more than ten minutes when another pair of Nonnatuns arrived to a chillier-than-expected welcome.

“Goodness, you’ve all turned into hooligans.” Patsy commented, wiping snow off her cheek.

Delia grinned as the pair were enveloped in hugs. “Obviously it’s a good thing we’ve come back to set you straight again.”

“I think that’s the very last thing the pair of you would do!” Trixie laughed.

Once introductions had been made, the nurses helped the weary travelers indoors with their suitcases and presents and were greeted by the warm smell of spices mingling with the crisp scent of the pine tree Fred had set up earlier that day. 

“That smells heavenly!” Trixie announced, voicing the thoughts of the whole group.

Shelagh stood at the stove - Teddy sleeping in his moses basket on the table - clearly tending to what the chilly group hoped was intended for them. 

“I’m certainly glad you think so! It’s only proper to have a hot whisky to thaw you out on an afternoon like this.” She indicated the whisky bottle to the side of the simmering pot. “In its current form it’s suitable for everyone, you may add to it according to your taste and tolerance.” 

She paused in her brewing to greet Patsy and Delia as the others found themselves mugs. 

“We’ve brought quite a few photographs of our safari if you’d all like to escape winter for a little bit.” Delia announced as she collected her warm beverage.

The chorus of approval roused the nuns from their rooms and after a bit of faffing about and early present-giving - kicked off by Patsy and Delia - the Nonnatuns settled in on the couches for a cozy winter evening.

Chapter Text

Was she quite out of her mind, deciding to work in a convent in Poplar? Of course, the need of the community was great, but could she stand to work in such wretched conditions? Why had she agreed to this? 

Though she happily accepted the praise directed at her for such a selfless choice, if Trixie Franklin was being honest, it was not only a desire to help that drew her to Nonnatus. The warmth, support, and love that bonded those she met when she first joined them for dinner uncovered a deep yearning that she’d tried to bury for years. When she was with them, she instantly felt as though she was part of a family. A stable family where she learned she could set down the shield of her smile. She was dedicated to her patients and quickly grew to admire their strength and stamina and to get to know them as part of what she felt was now her community, but it was her fellow Nonnatuns she loved above all. When she fell, they caught her, and when she triumphed, they celebrated with her. 

Watching the brusque new redheaded midwife surrounded by the Nonnatuns’ relief when she reappeared from her uncharted errand, Trixie saw her own past realisations reflected in the other woman’s eyes. Patsy hid her pain differently, Trixie soon discovered, her walls - built of efficiency and professionalism - were stronger and more evident that Trixie’s. She knew simply telling her this family would embrace her, that she didn’t need walls, would elicit little more than a placating smile. Trixie was confident that that would change quickly. 

She herself had found that she’d fairly rapidly become more comfortable telling other Nonnatuns about her past and accepting their help, and she had assumed Patsy would follow a similar path. She was therefore frustrated to find that although she and Patsy had become fast friends, Patsy disclosed little of the darkness she so clearly held within her. She seemed strangely touchy about things sometimes, though Trixie could see no link between the things that seemed to set her off. Yet as the months passed she also caught moments where she felt she’d helped Patsy. She wanted to ask Cynthia what she thought, being such a perceptive soul, but by the time she’d resolved to do so, her closest friend had unexpectedly turned towards religion. Was Trixie so poor at reading those she saw as her sisters - if not in Christ, then surely God-given? 

When Sister Mary Cynthia held her as she wept by the phone on that dark night when she’d realized her alcohol consumption was drowning her, she realised she had lacked the very thing her roommate was named for. It took time for people to reach out, to adjust the old relationships to fit with the new.  Accepting a new family when coming from a broken one was hard work. Loving and being loved did not mean old wounds were instantly healed, nor did it stop new ones from occurring. She just had to be there for them as they were for her. She had to have patience.

 


 

 

Family had always been a trial. Loved, yet borne with difficulty. Would sisterhood be different? Likely not. Best to hold back, to focus on the numerous tasks at hand. God was the only one with whom it was possible to be vulnerable.

To hold oneself apart whilst still a novice was one thing, but at Nonnatus, the regular kindness and love of familiar Sisters gently wore down those walls. Yet pride and past injury were formidable forces, and could rebuild in an instant what had so carefully been allowed crumble. 

Her snobbery and arrogance, weaving glimmering nets of poetry and obscure instruction that she knew those below her class would struggle to disentangle. Her bullishness and small-mindedness, plodding through life with her eyes to the ground and refusing to see what beauty she missed with each heavy step. 
Other Sisters positioned themselves strategically between the perpetually feuding pair and reasoned that even in a family bound by divine love, they were all human, and sometimes tolerance was the best one could hope for.

In the beginning it was only on the dark days where pride hid its shameful face that they saw one another in a different light. Comfort was not so hard in the face of familiar sorrow. 

And neither was blind, their walls were not so impenetrable as to block out all they did not want to acknowledge. 
She saw how her Sister looked her patients in the eye; how she administered enemas without complaint; how her elegant nose did not wrinkle when the had to bring a patient to the sanitation stations. 
She saw how gently her Sister held the blooming daffodil; how her strong voice rang out in harmony with their other Sisters; heard the rhythm of her improper rhyming language and saw how her eyes sparked with interest when their younger Sister mentioned the Ploughman Poet.

It was not easy, but neither was it a continuation of the patterns of their birth families. The breach was not so great, the effort equal, and the work of love was worth it.

Chapter Text

“Can you manage another step? Oh, and two more? Well done, sweetheart.” Shelagh kissed a triumphant-looking Angela as Tim led her into her mother’s arms. Angela had just started exploring her world upright two weeks ago and Tim had proved a fantastic assistant in encouraging her mobility.

Tim swore he could feel the soreness of Angela's legs as she plopped heavily down into Shelagh’s lap. The fierce determination, the longing for the freedom, the aches of a body developing to match the mind, these things were all close to him in a way they weren’t for most people with a fairly developed long-term memory. A familiar weight pressed around him, a heavy blanket that had softened somewhat into the comforting warmth of memory. His mummy must have done this with him when he was Angela’s age, gently guiding and motivating him forward, beaming when he succeeded and lifting him up when he fell. And once she’d set him firmly on his own feet, he'd run past where she could follow. He was so determined to walk on his own that he fell right into an iron trap, and she couldn’t help him back up. But someone had.

Mum had set herself as a goalpost then, just as she was with Angela now, usually hitting on just the right distance; far enough to pose a challenge though not so far that he would injure himself trying to reach her. 

Sometimes she set too easy a task and he would gripe about her coddling. He wasn’t a baby after all, even if he was as weak and uncoordinated as one at the beginning. He had done this before, his muscles just needed to realise that they already knew the patterns. Somehow that seemed almost more difficult than not having known. He had to think about things, had to accept that he needed to learn what toddlers seemed to pick up instinctively. Mum variously accepted or cracked down on his stroppiness. Lingering frustration often crackled in the flat when their ideas of Tim’s capabilities and exercises diverged, especially when she put an abrupt stop to complaints that had subdued her the previous day. 

There was none of that with Angela. There were definitely times when her grievances made their ears ring and Mum would look like a wreck by the end of the day, but it never seemed to seep into the air the way it did when he was learning. Probably some of that was because babies are babies and can’t yet say “sharp words,” as Mum would call them. 

He asked her about it that night, once Angela was asleep and he and Dad had finished all the comics in The Beano. She looked at him for a while before she spoke, even though she seemed to have known the answer as soon as he asked.
“It’s harder to figure out how to teach someone to walk when they’ve already known, especially when it's your first time teaching. You both are and aren’t teaching them something new, and all the while you're learning something completely new. That’s its own balancing act.” That was all she said in the end.
“Different, in a way, but no less rewarding.” She kissed his forehead and left him to his thoughts.

He hadn’t really considered that it might be difficult for her too, but once she said it, it seemed obvious. Comparing how she was with him and Angela now to how she was then, Tim realised that Shelagh had been finding her feet too. She hadn't officially become his stepmother yet, and he hadn’t even properly worked out what to call her. He wondered if she’d known what to call him. 

Funnily enough, it was in one of those tense moments that he’d first called her “Mum.” He’d wanted to walk up the stairs to the flat unaided, and she’d insisted that he shouldn’t. And he’d fallen at the first step, his knee buckling as his thigh spasmed. Frustrated tears smudged the blood beading on his scraped shin, and he’d shrugged off the gentle hands that reached to stabilise him.
“I don’t need your help, Mum!” She froze for the briefest of moments as he backpedalled, “I didn’t... I mean I don’t...” He trailed off, unsure of what he felt he should apologise for. She offered a hand to help him up, and he accepted it, even though he couldn’t bring himself to look at her face.
“You don’t always have to push, it’s just as necessary to recognise your limits” She’d said it so quietly he wondered if he’d been meant to hear. It wasn’t until a whole week later that he used the term again when she was massaging his legs one night. That time he didn’t take his words back, and she’d held him tightly, not saying anything at all for a very long time.

He thought how she felt with him then must be a bit like what he felt with Angela. He had thought he knew what it would be like to have a little brother or sister when Mum and Dad talked to him about it. Almost all of his friends did, and they didn’t seem fussed. Annoyed, sometimes, but never like they had to think about how to be a big brother. Maybe it was because he was older than most of them when he got his first little sibling. Things weren’t so obvious when you were older. Or maybe they were, but now you had to think about them because you knew how and you couldn’t just turn that off. 

He cared about Angela right away, because you couldn’t not care about a small baby, especially when you were around it all the time, and even more especially when it was put in your arms and was relying on you to protect it against gravity. But it was when he decided to carry her about, to show her things and help her walk that he felt he was properly her big brother. It wasn't just those times though, like he thought it would be. Sometimes he held her wrong and she got upset. And sometimes she didn't seem to want to do what he wanted to show her. Sometimes she wanted to hold onto the table or sofa instead of his fingers. And when he did things differently and she smiled or reached out for him, he felt even prouder. It was about doing all that thinking and trying, he decided as he drifted off. Deciding you loved someone was easy, actually loving them required learning and working with them. 

Chapter Text

She was not often caught off guard by the need to pause. She carefully maintained an organised rhythm of busyness and silence, balancing the unpredictability that framed her life. Yet the tang of the water - a sharp cleanness with a muddy after-scent of fish - caught at her, drawing her off her path to its burling current. As she approached the shore, the multitude of concerns pressing against her forehead ebbed and an unsettling calm settled over her. She closed her eyes at the biting wind, allowing herself to be swept hundreds of kilometres away and years back to the rivers that cradled the rolling hills of her home town. From the start of her life, she had walked along them, learning early that she could not stand still and hope everything around her would follow suit. So she stepped forward, following one softly curving silvery path or the other to the future winds and junctions she could only trust it would lead her to. She had long since accepted that moving along one would bring her away from the other, but now she felt the distance she had gone catch at her breath.  

The warm smell of starch and wool announced that she was no longer alone.

”Is it much like home?” The Sister asked quietly, not needed an explanation to note the internal discord.

”This is my home.” The response was automatic but so was the near-longing melancholy with which she said it.  

”They can both be.”

She considered her struggle, trying to match it to words. “I closed that door and moved on. I can’t go back. I don’t want to.”

The Sister considered the light rippling in the water, gathering her own thoughts. ”I don’t believe our journeys are so discrete, nor so isolated from where they take place. We are changed and shaped by our situation; it will naturally be a part of one’s self. Perhaps that is especially true of the source of one’s journey.”

Her answer came easier this time. ”But it doesn’t have to be. It isn’t for us. We chose to become someone else completely, to not truly have an origin.”

”Not entirely,” the Sister replied slowly. “We create a separation, that is true, but we aren’t obliged to maintain a distance.” 

She had no word to dislodge the thoughts that wrapped themselves around her throat. She felt a gentle hand on her own and realised her distress must be visible.

“You can return without regressing. It may be difficult, but it is not necessarily harmful.”     

Perhaps she had come to the point where she needed to see if that was true.