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gave up my cold world to keep you warmer

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There’s a lot of reasons Shona calls Charlotte, these days. What did you think about that pitch? Should we speak to this journalist, after what happened with Jim? What do you want Julie to get us for lunch today? How are we going to keep this business together if we’re going to be separated for more than two weeks? What do we do from here on out?

They’re only ten days into the lockdown. Charlotte hasn’t seen Shona in even longer than that, both of them having made the executive decision to temporarily close Trust Together earlier, send Julie home to safety, get their affairs in order. Everything’s kind of chaotic, and work is the last thing on her mind. She’s recounting how many cans of soup she has stored in her cupboard, wondering if she should be worried, and when Shona’s name lights up on her phone, the last thing Charlotte wants to do is talk about work.

She picks up anyway. 

“Charlotte,” she hears - Shona’s voice hoarse, exhausted, drained. “Help me. Charlotte. Please.”

 

 

Here’s a truth: they’d closed Trust Together earlier than most businesses did. 

Here’s the lie: they’d closed it to keep Julie safe, their clients safe, themselves safe, and that’s all. 

That was part of it. Charlotte knows that. The smaller part. The bigger part was because Shona walked into the office an hour before clock-in, two days after Jim’s stupid fucking article came out, looking like the bottom had fallen out of her world. Two days after she’d left Charlotte hanging on a call she hadn’t understood. Two days after she’d apparently sent a voicenote to Vish talking about their affair, about seeing Charlotte naked, a voicenote that’d ended with the damning three words I love you. Three words Charlotte still doesn’t understand.

It’s funny, almost. Shona collapses into a chair and cries about how she’d called Aine in desperate panic, how Aine had blown up on her when she’d told her the truth. How Vish had come home to Shona on the couch, sleepless and terrified, Aine in the kitchen stonily eating biscuits and ignoring them both. How he’d told them to get out, told Shona to never come back. She cries and folds in on herself and all Charlotte can think of is god, our messaging app doesn’t let you delete sent messages?

She doesn’t ask to hear the voicenote and Shona doesn’t play it. She keeps her office door closed all afternoon and calls Julie in thirty minutes before the end of the day and tells her to go home, to stock up, get ready for a long lockdown. She promises her salary will keep going into the bank every month on the 10th, whatever happens. She tells Charlotte she’s sorry when they lock up, and she walks away without looking back.

Charlotte stops by the Tesco’s near her place after heading out. The shelves aren’t empty yet. Not everyone is in a mask yet. She fills her cart and buys two boxes of disposable masks and goes home. Feeds her cat. Texts her mother. Lies in bed and thinks about a future she can’t make sense of, a world that’s turned upside down, all over again.

 

 

Help me, Shona says, and they’re ten days in and it feels like that again. An insensible future. A world gone topsy-turvy, beyond Charlotte’s comprehension. Wrong.

 

 

It’s probably not COVID, she surmises, from what she can hear of Shona’s slurred gasps over the line - although who fucking knows, certainly not the bloody government. Shona can taste and smell, and her throat isn’t sore; she’s coughing, but she’s hacking up so much phlegm it’s definitely not a dry cough. She can’t tell Charlotte what she thinks she might have, how she might have caught it; she can barely figure out today’s date. 

If this were any other time, Charlotte would call an ambulance and be done with it. It’s not, though. Cases are rising sharply, every single day. Hundreds. Thousands, soon, they’re saying. The hospitals, crammed full, medical staff overworked, overscheduled, without enough PPE. Shona’s not dying, Charlotte doesn’t think, but she could, in a cold, sterile building, surrounded by people on ventilators, people fighting for their lives. 

Two weeks ago Charlotte would have asked why Vish wasn’t keeping Shona in his bed, feeding her chicken soup, putting cold compresses on her forehead. Or why Aine wasn’t there to take care of her big sister where Shona’s always taken care of her. 

Just two fucking weeks ago.

Shona’s breathing is ragged over the line. She’s not speaking. Charlotte grips her phone tighter in her hand and starts calculating how long it’ll take to pack, hit the pharmacy, go to Shona’s. “I’m coming,” she says quietly, and hangs up.

 

 

About ten seconds after she enters Shona’s house, Charlotte’s really glad she came. Just, you know, as a decent human being. Shona’s in a bad way. Her breathing sounds all fucked up and her skin is warm to the touch, hot enough that Charlotte startles when she lays a careful hand against her forehead. She can barely open her eyes to look at Charlotte, wincing at the light. “Charlotte,” she whispers, still a little slurred. “You sh-shouldn’t be here.”

“I wouldn’t be if you hadn’t called me sounding like you were one fainting spell away from dying,” Charlotte retorts, pulling out some of the medications she bought. “When’s the last time you ate?” The pharmacist who’d sold her the DayQuil and other over-the-counter medications had told her it was fine to take it without food but Charlotte thinks she’d probably meant ‘haven’t eaten in a few hours’ rather than ‘haven’t been able to keep any meals down in 24 hours’. Shona mumbles something and Charlotte strains to hear. She sounds so hoarse. Charlotte opens up one of the bottles of water she bought and carefully holds it to Shona’s lips. “Here, drink. Shona, when’s the last time you ate? You have to tell me.” 

“Uh - yesterday,” she finally manages. “Dinner. A bit.” 

“Do you feel hungry? Can you eat?” Shona moans in response and Charlotte takes that as a no. Well, she’ll have to take the risk. “Can you sit up a little? I got you some medication. Might help with the fever and the pain.” 

Shona nods once, weakly, trying to push herself up on her arms. It takes a little effort and help on Charlotte’s part, and she sways a bit, but she doesn’t instantly collapse before leaning back against the headboard. A good sign. Charlotte keeps an eye on her while pouring some of the medication into a spoon and gently easing it between her lips. Shona swallows; it looks like it hurts. “Can you manage some tablets too?”

Another nod. Charlotte presses the water bottle into Shona’s hand and two ibuprofen tablets in the other. Shona’s hand is shaking when she drops them into her mouth. She coughs a little harder when she swallows, but the moment passes and she takes another sip of her water, then sags back against the headboard. Charlotte gently guides her back down onto her pillow. “Okay. Get some more sleep. Hopefully that helps a bit. I’ll wake you up for your next dose in a few hours.”

Shona doesn’t respond; Charlotte isn’t sure if she even hears. She sighs and puts the DayQuil and ibuprofen back into the plastic bag of medication. She pulls Shona’s blanket over her, leaves one light on, and heads back out to the living room.

 

 

Charlotte thinks it might just be the flu. It’s not just ‘the flu’, Charlotte, influenza is dangerous and nothing to be trifled with, she can practically hear her brother saying in her head, but it’s a damned sight better than COVID, if nothing else. It’s definitely more than a cold. Charlotte scrolls further down the webpage she’s reading, which helpfully informs her that severe cases of influenza might require hospitalisation. Yeah. That’s definitely not ideal. She wishes Shona were more lucid, could tell her what other symptoms she has right now; Charlotte’s no doctor and she doesn’t want to be in a situation where she ends up really needing to call an ambulance two days down the road and being told she was an idiot who should have called them from the beginning. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. 

She wonders if she should figure out a way to tell Vish, even if he’s dumped Shona and unequivocably ended things; he was her fiance and maybe this would be something he’d worry about. Or tell Aine, if nothing else. Is Aine even speaking to Shona right now? She knows how fucking codependent they are, even if Aine’s rightfully fucked off about Shona cheating on a person Aine’d loved like a brother. Charlotte does a cursory poke around the house to see if Shona wrote Aine’s number anywhere and comes up short. She thinks about getting into Shona’s phone and decides it can wait. No need to invade Shona’s privacy and be an arsehole. 

She busies herself with setting up for what she expects to be at least a few days in Shona’s apartment. She’d brought some of her canned food and meal prep from home, and Misha’s cat food and cage, and a sleeping bag she thinks she bought for that family camping trip a few years ago. Shona has food in her fridge and cupboards, and Charlotte thinks considering the circumstances she probably won’t mind if Charlotte takes her liberties with making meals for her. 

There’s a lot of butter pecan ice cream in the freezer. Charlotte thinks she can guess when that was bought and what for. Oh, Shona. Charlotte would feel more sympathetic but she did get her heart pretty cruelly broken, so she just sticks with arranging her own meal prep in the fridge and not thinking too hard about Shona stress-eating ice cream on her couch feeling miserable for herself after losing her fiance to her own folly. 

There’s three cans of chicken noodle soup in the cupboard. Charlotte grabs one and starts searching through what else she can cook for Shona in the days to come.

 

 

Shona wakes fairly easily to Charlotte shaking her shoulder in the evening, which Charlotte takes to be a good sign; she’ll start worrying a lot more when Shona can’t remain conscious. She groans faintly, not making any move to raise her head, and Charlotte determinedly grabs her shoulders and tries to ease her up. “It’s seven. You have to eat something. I made you some soup.” 

“Don’t… want to move…” Shona mumbles. Charlotte shrugs. “That’s fine.” Shona’s got this convenient little tray by the side of her bed, anyway. Charlotte assumes it’s for her laptop but it’ll work just fine for a bowl of soup too. She sets it up over Shona’s lap, nudging her pillow against her back so she can lean comfortably in her seated position. Shona reaches for the spoon and dips it into the bowl, but doesn’t make any move to raise it. Her hand is still shaking, and after a moment Charlotte decides she’d rather not risk Shona spilling hot soup all over herself. “Okay. Just lean back, Shona, I’ll help you.” 

Shona makes another soft groan of assent, her eyes lidded. Charlotte carefully scoops some of the soup and brings it to Shona’s mouth, making sure she drinks it down before bringing the spoon back to the bowl. Her lips are a little chapped. Charlotte passes her more water before continuing with the soup. She’s really pale, and sweating a little. Charlotte feels a muscle in her jaw twitch. “Drink more water,” she says firmly. “You need to stay hydrated.”

“‘Kay,” says Shona. It comes out phlegmy; she coughs thickly and Charlotte quickly hands her some tissues. “Stop talking. Lean back, I’ll give you another spoon.”

It takes thirty slow minutes to get through the bowl. Shona looks exhausted by the end of it. Charlotte quickly gets NyQuil and more ibuprofen into her before letting her go back to sleep. God, she really hopes Shona doesn’t throw everything back up in an hour. She goes to fetch a basin just in case. Better safe than sorry.

 

 

She stays in Shona’s room, because it’s the responsible thing to do. Knock on wood, but Charlotte doesn’t want to have broken lockdown to come all the way here and lounge in Shona’s living room for two hours and come back to find her blue in the face not breathing or something. She doesn’t wake again after eating, just lies in her bed, lungs still sounding like they’re overworked, breaths wet and heavy. Every so often she fidgets, a soft whimper passing her lips. Charlotte checks her temperature after an hour, which remains firmly in the 38-degree range. She does another quick search and finds yet another helpful webpage that informs her that Shona should definitely be brought to the hospital if it goes about 39.4 degrees. Charlotte glances at her and keeps her thermometer close at hand. 

After another series of whimpers pulls her attention away from her phone, Charlotte goes to the kitchen, finds a towel and runs it under cold water. She lays it on Shona’s forehead, wincing at how hot her skin feels. After a beat of hesitation she just settles in beside Shona on the bed, sitting up against the headboard with her legs folded under her. She’ll get another towel in twenty minutes. 

 

 

She lays her sleeping bag at the foot of Shona’s bed when it gets late enough that she starts to nod off. She doesn’t think sleeping in Shona’s bed is the best idea; she can’t sleep with a mask on and who knows how contagious Shona is. 

And, okay - be honest with yourself, Charlotte, her therapist’s always saying - it hurts, just the idea of it. To lie in there again after months of being in that bed for a whole other reason. One she thought would last, and instead fell apart spectacularly. A decision that had further reaching consequences than she expected. She just… can’t.

The sleeping bag’s not that bad, anyway.

 

 

With some help, Shona manages to stagger to the bathroom the next morning to wash up, which Charlotte thinks is a sign of improvement. Unfortunately she proceeds to barely ingest any of the breakfast Charlotte makes before throwing it all up, which is decidedly not. It turns out milk doesn’t really agree with her when she’s ill. 

“Sorry,” she mutters hoarsely after wiping her mouth.

“Don’t worry about it,” says Charlotte. “I’ll get you some water. Maybe some plain crackers.” 

Shona mumbles assent and sinks back into bed. Charlotte doesn’t dare give her more medication for fear she vomits it back up too. “Just sleep. You’ll be fine.”

She’s pretty sure Shona’s out like a light even before she says that. Charlotte sighs and goes to the kitchen to get her own breakfast, and Misha’s too. She wonders if it’ll be a good idea to make Shona some honey lemon. Her mum used to make that religiously whenever she or her siblings had colds or coughs. It always helped, at least a little. Shona doesn’t have honey nor lemons at home, though, and Charlotte decides it’s best not to leave the house right now. Maybe in a few days if she’s still in a bad way. Might be good to get some proper cold compresses too.

 

 

Shona drinks more soup for lunch and thankfully doesn’t throw it up like she did breakfast. Charlotte makes some oatmeal for her dinner because she doubts it’s good for her sodium levels to be having chicken soup three meals in a row. Shona almost chokes swallowing the ibuprofen and gives Charlotte a bit of a scare from how hard she coughs after spitting it back up. The phlegm in her tissues is… not a pleasant sight. Charlotte makes her drink more water and lays another towel on her forehead and tells her to sleep. 

“I’m so tired,” Shona mumbles. “Even though all I’m doing is sleep.”

“Yeah, I think that’s how it works when your body’s fighting a virus.”

Shona blinks up at her. Her eyes are a little unfocused. “Don’t get sick,” she slurs. “I’ll - I’ll be really - guilty if you fall sick.”

“Why do you think I’ve got a mask on?” Charlotte murmurs. “Stop talking, Shona. Go to sleep.”

With a sigh, Shona does.

 

 

The next afternoon, after Shona’s cough sounds like it’s not getting any better and Charlotte’s getting a little grossed out by the perpetually damp towels she’s laying on Shona’s forehead, Charlotte decides it’s worth the risk to pop out for twenty minutes to get honey, lemons, and proper cold compresses; maybe some more food for herself, she’s running low on meal prep. There’s a grocery store just down the road from Shona’s and it won’t take long. She should be fine. She tucks Shona in after clearing her lunch off the tray and tells her to sleep some more. “I’m just going to go get more supplies. I’ll be right back. Sleep.”

She doesn’t expect Shona’s eyes to fly open, pupils blown. She grabs Charlotte’s wrist, squeezing tight enough to hurt; god, how is she that strong when she’s this sick? “Don’t go,” she wheezes. “Charlotte, don’t go, don’t leave me, don’t leave me too, please, don’t go, Charlotte please - “

“Shona, I’m just going to get more food. And cold compresses.” She gently pries Shona’s fingers from her wrist, startled to see Shona’s eyes shining with tears. Okay, the fever is definitely messing with her head. “No, don’t leave me again. Charlotte. Charlotte don’t leave me, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, don’t leave me.” 

Don’t go. Shona, I’m sorry - 

Charlotte is struck, momentarily, by the - massiveness, almost, of the wave of bitterness that washes over her. She feels frozen to the spot, her own words, months ago, so closely mirrored to Shona’s, echoing in her head. I asked you not to leave me, she wants to spit. I told you I was falling in love with you and you looked between me and your fiance and you chose him anyway, and she feels like the worst person in the world, because Shona is sick, so sick, and she doesn’t know what she’s saying, she’s scared, and after a breath, Charlotte firmly, carefully peels her fingers away and sets her hand down under her blanket. “Shona, sleep. I’m just going to the grocery store and I’ll be back in half an hour. You’ll be fine. Promise.”

She turns the light off and leaves before Shona can say anything else that makes her heart break like it did, months ago, all over again. She can’t be angry with Shona right now even though she wants to be, and she wants to make sure it doesn’t happen. 

 

 

Shona is thankfully sleeping when Charlotte gets back with supplies. She sticks the cold compresses into the freezer to chill and gets to work mixing up some warm honey lemon. And then there’s her dinner and Shona’s and Misha’s too. “At least you’re easy to feed,” she tells Misha as she puts more cat food in his bowl. He purrs up at her, kneading Shona’s carpet, tucking happily into his food. “Good cat.”

She takes a chance on giving Shona a side of yogurt with dinner; Shona eats about half before pushing it away. Charlotte sets it aside and helps her lie back down, wiping her brow before laying a proper cold compress on her forehead. Shona blinks and exhales softly. “Oh, that feels better than a towel.”

“That’s why I ran out to get it,” Charlotte says mildly. “I mixed you some honey lemon too. It’s in the bottle beside your water, on the nightstand. Drink it slowly. Let me know if it’s too sweet.”

“Okay,” Shona murmurs. “Thanks, Charlotte.” She reaches for the honey lemon and sips it slowly, drinking it down. “That’s really good.”

Charlotte smiles a little; Shona sounds a bit clearer, stronger, and that’s good too. “Drink up,” she says softly, and takes the dishes to the kitchen to wash.

 

 

Charlotte’s been monitoring Shona’s temperature every few hours, consistently, the past few days. It hasn’t really gone down very much but at least it’s not in the danger zone. 

It still isn’t on day four, but 38.8 degrees is the highest she’s seen it. Shona’s sinuses and throat sound clearer but that also means Charlotte can hear her whines of pain, not muffled by phlegm. She’s panting a little when Charlotte comes in to check in on her and for the first time in four days Charlotte wonders if maybe the hospital really is the best calculated risk. It’s fucking scary, seeing Shona so fucked up. She hasn’t been taking her ibuprofen at every meal, throat not always feeling well enough to swallow, and Charlotte’s kicking herself for not making her do it now. She gets two more pills and forces Shona to sit up enough to drink them down with some water. Fuck, she’s burning up. Charlotte swaps out the cold compress on her forehead and Shona moans in pain. “Charlotte,” she whimpers. She says Charlotte’s name, again and again, any meaning of it lost in her fevered state, and - 

Why the fuck does she do it? Charlotte doesn’t know. From a purely practical standpoint it’s complete idiocy because it’ll probably render her mask-wearing and hand-washing completely null and give her whatever virus Shona’s got running through her system. From every other standpoint it’s stupid, stupid, stupid, but - 

But Charlotte’s therapist keeps telling her be honest with yourself and Charlotte is trying so hard to be, and to be okay, and she still - she still loves Shona, okay? She still loves her, loves her enough to break lockdown and come here and take care of her and cook her food and feed her medication and lay cold towels on her fucking fevered forehead. She loves Shona and seeing her sick and in pain makes her heart hurt so fucking bad under her ribs. It makes her so scared. She wants Shona to be okay, to be her stupid cruel cowardly idiotic heartbreaking we-can’t-have-feelings self again. Charlotte loves her enough to want that. 

“You’ll be fine,” she whispers. Her arms find their way around Shona before she can think it through. It feels familiar, and right, even though it shouldn’t, and Charlotte tries not to think about it. She strokes Shona’s sweaty hair back with one hand, adjusts the compress to make sure it spans her forehead. “Shh, just sleep. You’ll be fine, Shona. Sleep.” 

Shona’s eyes are barely open, staring into Charlotte’s, lips parted and drawing ragged breaths. She mumbles something unintelligible and Charlotte doesn’t bother to understand it. “Stop talking. Sleep.”

“No,” Shona says, more forcefully this time, clear enough to hear. “No,” she repeats, more of a sigh, voice wavering. “Nnh… Charlotte… missed this…” Another sigh, long and reedy. “Missed being in your arms.”

“You’re delirious,” Charlotte says firmly. “Shona, stop talking and go to sl - “

“I love you,” Shona says, like Charlotte hasn’t said anything at all. “I love you, I always, I was falling for… for you too, I was scared. So… fucking scared. Wanted - wanted to leave Vish but I was so scared… thought I could just… push it away. Forget about it… but I couldn’t… I can’t. Know you hate me now. It’s okay, I - I, I deserve, I deserve it. But I love you. Charlotte, Charlotte - Charlotte…”

Charlotte thinks Shona hazily mumbles her name a couple more times before finally, blessedly drifting off, but she doesn’t really hear. It’s all just roaring in her brain, freezing her, just - screaming inside her. All these words she’s wanted to hear from Shona, always, for so, so fucking long. All she wanted to hear back then when she’d found the courage to be truthful with Shona and tell her what Shona meant to her, beyond the sex, beyond the affair. It’s not fucking fair she’s hearing all of it while Shona is drugged up and sick and delirious and she’s so fucking angry and god, she wishes she could hate Shona like Shona thinks she does. She really fucking wishes she could.

She holds Shona for hours, until she needs to wake her up for dinner, and doesn’t say anything more.

 

 

Apparently the 38.8 degree fever is the flu getting worse before it gets better. Roughly thirteen hours later the fever breaks; Shona’s temperature goes down to 37.3 degrees and her breathing eases and she stops making pained noises in her sleep. Charlotte puts one last cold compress on her forehead and lets her sleep the rest of it off. She lies in her sleeping bag and thinks about how she’s spent five fucking days being goddamn nursemaid to Shona and heard words she doesn’t think Shona really means that have basically broken her heart all over again. She’s a real fucking idiot. 

She doesn’t sleep much, pretty much gives up on it when it hits 7AM and goes to make herself coffee in Shona’s kitchen. When she prepares breakfast and brings it to Shona’s room, for the first time in days Shona is awake, eyes actually open, and she manages to sit up without Charlotte’s prompting. “Hi,” she says, still a little creaky, but sounding more human. 

“Hi,” Charlotte replies. She sets Shona’s breakfast on the tray. “I guess you’re feeling better.” 

“Loads,” says Shona, with a small smile. “Guess that’s thanks to you.”

“Yeah,” says Charlotte, and tries really, really hard not to be bitter about it. “I guess it is.”

 

 

Shona is steady on her feet by afternoon, alert and lucid, and despite everything else Charlotte’s relieved she’s fine, and obviously recovering. They manage to have lunch at Shona’s dining table, together, and Charlotte’s pretty sure that means her work is done. She can clear her shit out of Shona’s fridge and take Misha’s cage and head back home.

Which makes it really weird when Shona helps bring the dishes to the kitchen, Charlotte still doing the washing just one last time because Shona did just recover, and she goes - “I can make dinner tonight instead?”

“Um,” says Charlotte. “Yeah? I hope so? If not I can cook you something before I leave.”

Shona looks startled. “Leave? What? Where?”

“Home,” Charlotte says slowly. “To lock back down, because that’s what we’re in, you know. Lockdown.” 

Shona looks at her like she’s the crazy one. Charlotte wonders if maybe she hasn’t fully recovered from the fever after all. “You’re not going to lock down here? With me?”

“Why the fuck would I do that, Shona,” and that comes out harsher than Charlotte intended, but - fuck, okay, she can’t do this. She can’t fucking do this, again. Charlotte’s bared her entire fucking heart to Shona once and gotten nothing for it but four shit months at therapy knowing her therapist was internally bemoaning the regression in her mental health. For all the work she’s put in, all the time she’s spent trying to move on, to do better by herself, she’s still irrevocably in love with this - awful, cruel, total fucking idiot in front of her, who - who’s so driven, and brilliant, and smart, and made Charlotte fall so fucking easy, who in her fevered delirium said I love you, who said it before, in bed, in a stupid fucking voicenote that ruined her life. 

She’d hoped, once. She can’t survive it again. “Why the fuck would I do that,” she repeats, softer this time. “After everything that’s happened between us. Why, Shona, why would I - “

“I wasn’t delirious when I said all that,” Shona says quietly. “I mean, maybe I was. But I meant it and I remember it.”

“Wow, good for you,” Charlotte bites out. “Good for you, telling me all that bullshit about being scared and wanting to leave Vish while you were delirious - “

“I love you,” Shona says, brokenly. “I know that doesn’t fix anything. I know I fucked up and hurt you and I’m not - I don’t deserve anything from you. Not forgiveness or reciprocation. I know that, Charlotte. But I - please. Just give me a chance. One chance, to fix things. To try.” She inhales, still a little shaky on her feet. “When I woke up five days ago with my head exploding and my lungs fucked up I really thought for a minute I might die. And the thing I regretted most, it was hurting you, Charlotte. You deserved better. I should have given you better. And I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. I really am.”

The silence stretches. Shona isn’t crying and Charlotte’s really fucking glad for that because if she’d did she’s pretty sure she’d walk away. 

“I don’t forgive you,” she finally says. Shona inhales and nods, eyes closed. Charlotte studies her face a little longer before continuing. “You’ll have to earn it.” 

“Okay.”

“I love you,” Charlotte says softly. “But that doesn’t make any of this just go away or magically fix itself. I can’t be with you just because we love each other. It has to be more than that.”

Shona smiles a little; it looked tired, but genuine. “I know.” 

Charlotte takes a step closer. She rests a hand on top of Shona’s, fingertips lingering against the back of her hand; her skin is cool for the first time in days. Shona breathes in deeply and opens her eyes, looks deep into Charlotte’s. “I want to be better,” she says. “I want to try. Together?” She asks, tentatively. “Will you help me? When I need it? Will you give me a chance?”

Charlotte. Help me. Please, she’d said, and Charlotte had replied I’m coming, because she couldn’t do anything else. Could never imagine doing anything else. 

Lockdown. The thought alone is scary. God knows how long this pandemic will last. What’s going to happen from here on out. Giving Shona another chance is scary too. But she thinks that if she was angry at Shona for being afraid, back then, it’ll probably be a bit shit to say no now because of that and expect anything less.

I want to try, and be honest with yourself, Charlotte, and - shit, Charlotte really wants to, too.

“One chance,” she says. “Together.”

“Together,” Shona echoes. She turns her hand over, so their fingers brush. One hesitant smile directed at Charlotte. Tired, soft, beautiful. The same smile Charlotte fell in love with and still loves, despite everything. Real. Shona smiles at her, and Charlotte finds it in herself to smile back.