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Serait-ce possible alors?

Chapter Text

On me dit que nos vies ne valent pas grand-chose
I’m told that our lives are not worth much

11 November 2019

It’s cold, when she finally returns to Jacob’s Fold. The November sun has dipped beneath the horizon in its hastiest departure yet, the shorter days of winter approaching like an oncoming train. The darkness feels fitting, for this gloom stuck like a weight in the center of her chest.

No, it’s not a literal cold that has overtaken her, but rather something more abstract. A world sucked dry of the sunshine she’s been thawing in, perhaps. The chill has settled so heavily in her bones that it makes her teeth ache, her body tightening like the coils of a snake.

The feeling echoes louder inside the cottage, ricocheting around her heart when she opens the door and looks down at the spot where their shoes pile up. Noah’s grass-stained trainers, Sarah’s fuzzy brown boots, Moses’ tiny sneakers – they’re all there, tossed atop each other as though they’ve been kicked from their feet. But not Johnny’s.

Not Vanessa’s.

Sarah’s stood in the kitchen when Charity looks up, watching her with a face etched into pity. She’s not arguing now, not a hint of all that teenaged contempt she’s been wearing so well in sight. It tilts the world on its axis a little more, the ground beneath her shifting until it feels as though she’s been strung up by her toes.

As though her throat’s been slit to drain the blood; nothing left of her but emptiness.

This is it, now – a life without Vanessa. A house that lacks the squealing laughter of Johnny and Moses huddled around the toybox, pitching cars across the sitting room floor. Where Vanessa isn’t leaned against the countertop, watching the chaos unfold with one of her soft smiles, a proper meal simmering away on the stove behind her.

Noah’s not got the same look on his face as Sarah, when she can finally muster the courage to glance his way. He’s sat on the edge of the sofa as if he’s poised to run at her, his phone untouched on the cushion beside him, storm clouds already churning just behind his eyes.

“What’s happened?” he asks, razor sharp edges forming on the ends of his words.

Except, it hurts to even breathe now. There’s been enough questions already: from Lydia, with all her quiet disposition and her broken heart. From Sam, with his anger and confusion and constant need to protect. And worse, still, somehow, from Rhona, with that ever-present look of judgement upon her face, as though Charity’s never once been good enough for Vanessa and she’s always known it.

There’s nothing left of her but this emptiness. “Please, Noah,” she manages, though it comes out choked, her lungs already curling around a sob she can’t bear to release.

Noah doesn’t listen. “Only, Vanessa’s just been here to collect a bag for her and Johnny.”

Sarah clears her throat.

“She seemed right upset, too, Mum.”

It twists, hard, this feeling in her chest. Like a knife, sticking in. Like petrol on a flame. “Enough, Noah,” bursts from her, harsh and angry and brittle with the ache. She feels like glass now; shattered.

“What have you done?” he presses as she rounds the staircase, weary feet carrying her away.

There isn’t a salve for the way this hurts, no slice of cake to ease the blow of absence that strikes like a fist when she crosses the threshold to their bedroom. The wardrobe door hangs open, half of Vanessa’s sweaters missing from the shelf. The tubes and jars she’d laid back out across the dresser the night before have disappeared, too, the spaces where they’d been like gaping holes.

It’s worse down the hall, where Moses snuffles and snorts in a restless sleep, his face hot with a fever she’s not thought to medicate. She’s not even sure when Cain brought him home, or whether he’s been fed anything for tea. He’s not one for sleeping, even sick as he is, but, somehow, he’s cuddled so tight beneath the covers he barely moves as he huffs.

She doesn’t need to wonder who’s done that, when Johnny’s bed is bare of his comfort toys. Vanessa, tucking in a poorly Moses before gathering clothes from Johnny’s dresser, still thinking of him even as she chiseled herself free from this spot where she fits.

Where she belongs, forever.

The sob breaks forth before she can even think to swallow it down, cracking the almost silence of the younger boys’ room. This is her future, now, without Vanessa in it: cold and empty and lacking.

Moses stirs, shifting, the wheeze of his lungs filling the room before he begins to cough. It rattles his chest and shakes his little head and springs his eyes open in terror. He looks at her, unseeing, gasping for a breath that arrives on the end of a wail. “Ness,” he howls, “Ness!”

This is her children without Vanessa; wanting for a love their mother cannot give.

Chapter Text

On me dit que le temps qui glisse est un salaud
I’m told that the passing of time is a bastard

12 November 2019

Vanessa doesn’t manage to sleep. Despite the warmth of this bed that used to be hers, within this room that she knew for so long, in this house where she spent more of her years than any other, it evades her.

Not that she doesn’t try, of course: she counts the spots on the ceiling like she did when Johnny was first born and sleep seemed like a refuge that she just couldn’t grasp. She pulls the covers tighter around herself and buries her head just like she had for months after Kirin was gone, praying for a break from the hurt in her chest. Even finds herself yanking an old veterinary journal off the shelf in pursuit of sheer boredom, as she’d done when Rhona had filled her mind until it felt bursting.

This will be a hurt like that, she thinks. The Earth-shattering sort.

So, she does what she did each time before, too, and gives up on this façade of rest that she knows will never come. It’s easier, to accept and keep moving. Easier, too, to hold tight to this anger that’s still burning bright enough that it might never go out.

Because she is – angry, that is. So angry she could scream and cry and let it destroy herself.

But what good would that do?

It’s not a definite thought that guides her feet into trainers, but it solidifies with each tiptoeing step down the stairs and by the time she’s slipped out the door into the street it almost feels concrete.

She’ll be someone who runs, if she can’t sleep; will pound her feet against the road until she’s too exhausted to keep going. Even in the cold of November. Even if it takes everything she has left to burn herself out.

~~~

Noah knows only that everything is wrong, now.

It’s obvious, once Marlon’s opened his big gob. Been there all morning, really, in every pathetic attempt at a smile his mother had tried to muster.

Vanessa’s just got an early appointment, she’d said, like Vanessa always took Johnny on call outs and never rushed back for breakfast with them all before school. As if there weren’t a routine to their lives already, a dependableness to Vanessa that can be counted on.

Not like his mum, who lies through her teeth at every turn and can’t be trusted for owt.

About time, really, that Vanessa finally screw her head on right and leave the dumpster fire of their lives.

It sucks, though, to imagine going back to a place where she isn’t. ‘Cause she’s the best at making tea and rarely ever just gives up to order takeaway, which is nicer than he’ll readily admit. And she’s a lot kinder than Mum can be, when something’s gone wrong and everyone’s up in arms. Even does all those naff, nagging things his friends’ mums do, like reminding them to pick up their bags and tidy their rooms and not burp so loudly at the table. Always gets the washing done before a game, too, so he never has to play in a smelly kit.

It’s been kind of awful for weeks already, with her away.

Vanessa’s the first proper parent he’s ever had, and it only makes sense to nudge Sarah along to Tug Ghyll where she’s undoubtedly hiding. Even if he second guesses it the second they’re up the path.

“You do it,” he suggests, backing away from the door.

Sarah balks. “Me? This was your idea.”

“You’re the one who said she’s hopeless without her!”

Sarah rolls her eyes so hard it almost seems like they make noise. “She’s your mum,” she says in place of a better argument, as if they hadn’t both just suffered through a breakfast of burnt toast and too-strong tea while Moses whined for a screen to stare at.

“And she’s your Granny,” he bites back.

“Oi,” comes from the end of the path before Sarah can drudge up a rebuttal, Tracy closing ranks with a tilted brow. “Why aren’t you lot at school?” It’s the only thing grown ups ever seem to care about around here, as if they aren’t always skiving off work themselves.

Sarah shrugs. “We came to see Vanessa.”

It softens the look on Tracy’s face into one of those weird little smiles and she nods. “I’m not really sure she’s up to visitors just yet.”

Noah frowns, angry suddenly at the way that squeezes in his chest. “We’re not visitors, are we? We’re her family.”

Family, she’d said herself, more often than was even necessary: as she tried to corral them all for an evening on the couch, when they were complaining about having to sit around the table to eat their tea, when he was writing off Mum for being impossible. Everything has been about family and loving each other and supporting each other for months and months, Vanessa herself uttering it at every turn.

It’s not right, to suddenly be nowt.

“How is she?” Sarah asks.

Tracy’s shoulders lift, her eyes rising to the door. There’s a haunted sort of look in her gaze, like she doesn’t quite know what mess they’re about to find on the other side. But she tilts her head anyways, inviting them along behind her. “Come see for yourselves.”

Chapter Text

On dit que le destin se moque bien de nous
We say that fate does not care about us

13 November 2019

“What do you mean?” Sarah asks, sitting up straighter in her chair. There’re books spread out across the desk in front of her, as though she’s been studying, but Charity’s never been one for not noticing the smaller details. She can see the phone on Sarah’s lap, tucked beneath the desk like she might miss it. She knows she’s been listening; know she’s probably been texting whoever while Charity and Cain had it out downstairs.

“He’s not making good choices, Sarah,” she says, trying for gentle and understanding. She misses the mark – again – her voice coming out more defeated than anything else. “I don’t want you getting mixed up in all that.” Defeated and tired.

Sarah frowns, crossing her arms over her chest. “Not like you, yeah?” she spits, always a battle on her tongue. She’s warring against the whole damn world, Charity knows, but it doesn’t make the blows sting any less. “Nickin’ all that cash and keeping it for yourself.”

Doesn’t make the fight in herself keep from rising to the surface. “Not all –” she starts before she can stop, trying to reel it back in. She’s just a kid, Vanessa used to remind her, she needs us to be calm. “Listen, babe,” she tries instead, “I just want to keep you safe.”

Where are you now, Vanessa? she thinks, When I need you most of all?

Sarah huffs. “He’s my granddad.”

There’s something rational in that argument, even if it comes out snippy and defensive when she says it. She’s lost a lot these last few months, Sarah has: Debbie and Jack and Faith, all of them elsewhere. Reachable, yeah, but not close. Not like she’s always known. It’s not fair, probably, to add Cain to the list.

But Charity’s lost, too, hasn’t she? Vanessa and Johnny. Moses, almost. Tracy. Chas and Lydia and Sam. Uncle Zak, surely, once he’s back. This concept of family she’s been clutching for months, that was morphing into something good and trusting and safe is… gone. All of it is gone.

And she can’t lose Sarah, too. Can’t even breathe in a reality where it might be her or Noah who gets taken, who ends up hurt in the crossfire. She’s barely let go of Moses since she got him back in her arms, turning away only to sob into her pillow.

“He’s not going to stop being your granddad,” she offers, lowering herself slowly to Sarah’s bed. “It’s just…” she lets out a shaky breath, pleading silently with Sarah to understand. “I’ve seen him on this path before, babe, and it doesn’t end well. You’re my responsibility.”

Sarah rolls her eyes, hackles rising visibly. There’s so much Debbie in her, Charity’s not even sure why it still comes as a shock when she doesn’t back down. She’s gotten the harshness from all of them, a proper Dingle in the way she lashes out. “That doesn’t mean you get to tell me what to do or who to see.”

Because it’s effortless, in’it, to argue? In their blood to hurt everyone around them. “Yeah, actually, it does,” she says, hoisting herself back to her feet with a hand raised in front of her, “That’s exactly what it means. And, as long as you are under my roof–”

Sarah cuts her off. “My mum’s roof.” She pinches up her face, pleased with the halt to the tirade still burning in Charity’s throat. “It’s my mum’s roof.”

It’s brittle and familiar, this fighting thing. It’s all she’s done for days now – scream and holler and bite back at the people she thought she could trust. Her cousins, her family, her children. But none of them are on her side, not one.

She wants for Vanessa now, wants for a hug that will make all this burden feel bearable.

“Well, I tried to change that, didn’t I?”

Sarah laughs, a flash of something in her eyes that Charity hates to see. It’d been in Chas’ eye, too, this morning: this almighty belief that they’re better. That Charity is somehow beneath them. “By buying a house with money you’d stolen?”

Only, it’s exhausting to keep this battle raging. It’s exhausting to even exist in this world, let alone keep banging her fists against it.

She drops her head to her chest, sighing.

“And don’t you think I’m going to regret that every day for the rest of my life?”

Chapter Text

Que de nos tristesses il s’en fait des manteaux
That it’s making coats from our grief

18 November 2019

He’s a sight by the time she gets to him, red faced and hiccupping like the whole world’s out to get him. He quivers something fierce even when she bends down to scoop him up, his fingers twisting into the lapels of her jacket as he sobs. “Mummy,” he wails, burying his snot-covered face in her neck.

It’s been like this for days now. He hollers when she leaves the room, cries when she lets go of his hand, wakes in the night with his pajamas soaked through and his cheeks covered with tears. Her littlest boy: damaged by this thing she can’t undo and needing her in ways she’s never known how to give.

But she bundles him into the car anyways, desperate to pry him from the pitying look of the other boy’s mum. She’d thought it would help – going to a mate’s – get his mind off things and maybe give her a bit of peace, too.

Only, she hadn’t been able to bear looking at her phone and it’d been ages from when the first call had come in before she’d heard it ringing and by then Moses had dissolved into an inconsolable mess.

Because she’s a rotten mum.

He’d been taken because of her needing peace, kidnapped and nearly killed and now he speaks of men he didn’t like. Now he wakes in the night afraid that they’ve come back to get him.

“Mummy,” Moses murmurs from the back seat, a finger disappeared into his mouth that muffles the word. It tugs at her heart when she catches his eye in the rearview mirror, that look of trust he still levels her with. As if he doesn’t know just yet, how terrible she is.

“Yeah, Moz?” she answers, soft as she can manage.

“Did the men take Johnny, too?”

She pulls off the road quickly, trying to breathe through the sudden racing of her heart without careening the car into the ditch. She twists in her seat, reaching out to touch one of his swinging legs. “What, babe?”

“Only, Johnny’s gone an’ all.”

Of course he is, in Moses’ eyes: he’s not been to nursery all week or played with Johnny on the sitting room floor or scrambled down the street to see Vanessa hiding out at Tug Ghyll. They’ve disappeared, as far as he can tell, and she hasn’t had the guts to tell him why.

She tries not to dwell too hard on the fact that her four-year-old now attributes leaving with being taken. She’ll murder Cain Dingle for that later.

“Johnny’s with Vanessa,” she offers, hoping desperately that the vaguest truth will suffice. A cuddle, too, if she can round the car to the back seat faster than he can start crying again.

Moses frowns. “Where’s Ness?”

She swallows, feeling it catch in her throat. “She’s been working,” she whispers, the lie tasting bitter as it leaves her mouth. You just say anything that comes into your head. This is different, though, she hopes; this is protecting Moses.

He shakes his head. “Me an’ Johnny don’t go to work with Ness.”

“Nursery!” she bursts out, as if speed might be what derails this line of questioning. He jumps at the spike of her voice, lower lip shaking for a moment before he pulls it between his teeth.

She sighs, dropping her chin against her chest. It’ll be better to rip the plaster off, she thinks, get this bit over with before Noah or Sarah or Marlon can do it instead. “Vanessa and Johnny are gonna stay at Tug Ghyll with Tracy for a bit.” She squeezes his leg again as she says it, trying to coax a smile onto her own face.

He nods, all-knowing like, as if she hasn’t just dropped the biggest bombshell in the world. “Because Tracy’s sad,” he whispers, secretive, lifting his little bear up to his face. He bites down on it, turning away to gaze out the window.

And just like that, it’s over. The questions cease and she’s told the truth and somehow, in spite of it all, the world is still turning. Moses, traumatised as he might be, isn’t broken beyond repair.

Believe it or not, this son of hers still has faith in the good of the world.

It’s a real shame, she thinks, that it’ll be his mother herself who’ll destroy it. Just as she always has.

Chapter Text

Paraît que le bonheur est à portée de main
Seems that happiness is at hand 

19 November 2019

She wonders when it happened, as she lies in bed that night.

It’s the first time in days she’s been alone in their bedroom – her bedroom – and everything feels massive, somehow, like it’s all too big for just one person. She stretches like a starfish in the middle, trying to make sense of how she used to sleep in a bed this size without feeling as though something, someone, were missing.

Moses cuddled up against her every night this week has helped, a bit. All the snuffling as he sleeps and the constant need to dodge his perpetually flailing limbs has been a proper distraction. But he’s with Ross this weekend, and they haven’t called once to say he wants to come home, so she supposes it’s about time she face facts.

Because this is normal, now: a big bed, just for her. A whole wardrobe and dresser, too, should she muster the courage to actually fill them. Half the vanity in the bathroom for her creams and jellies and whatever else she decides. An entire life, fit for two, all for her alone.

There must’ve been a moment, she thinks, like a switch turned off. Because Vanessa doesn’t call Jacob’s Fold their home anymore; she doesn’t call it anything theirs at all. There’s kids outside your house.

Like she’d never spent an entire week fussing over what pictures to print out for the spot above the table. As though she hadn’t bought the pillows that are on the couch or written the shopping list hanging on the fridge. Your house, like she’d never lived here at all.

But there’s remnants of Vanessa on every surface, still. The photo of her and Tracy and Frank has mocked Charity every day this week while she’s drank a morning brew, that obnoxiously yellow sweater grabbing her eye from the across the room as if to say hey, she’s gone.

Hey, she’s stopped loving you.

She wonders if it was quick, instantaneous like; or whether it happened slowly, little things bit by bit until it all got to be too much. When in the world did those last few pieces of Vanessa’s heart that saw her as good and worthy finally turn hard?

Because she does that: turns people off her. Has her whole life, like a sickness she can’t quite shake free of.

Only, Vanessa had been different for a time. Stable and dependable for longer than anyone else ever has. The type of loving she’d always imagined but never quite believed existed.

Until she’d gone and stuffed it up.

Charity shifts, rolling onto her side to face the bedside table that had been Vanessa’s. It looks bare, now, without the stack of books she’d been trying to find time to work through. There’s a faint ring visible on the wood at this angle, a memory of a brew brought upstairs and forgotten.

It’s all over, these traces of Vanessa, these thumbprints of their life together pressed into every surface.

The bathroom door closes across the hall, the sound of Sarah retching following quickly behind. Don’t be too hard on her, yeah? Vanessa had said. Sarah’s a teenager. This is what teenagers do.

Always sensible, that Ness. Even as she’s letting go.

Alors on tend la main et on se retrouve fou
So we reach out and find ourselves crazy