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I won’t be afraid (just as long as you stand, stand by me)

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Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about child development even though I studied it at school and somewhat at uni so I apologise if there are things that are slightly off. Kym, please forgive me for not being a baby expert like you <3

Also, it starts in the early 90’s but seeing as I was born in 1996, it may be somewhat inaccurate. Suspend your disbelief.

 

 

Jay had said a million times over that they probably should have seen it coming from the beginning. While Anne quietly agreed with her, she also said that it was nice they didn’t. Because if they had known the kind of unshakeable bond that would be forged between their two sons, would they really have been able to stop themselves from interfering? Oh we did our fair share of interfering, Jay would remind her with a delighted laugh. We did, Anne would concede but then she also knew that neither of them could have orchestrated the entirety of it if they tried. The nursery, Jay would hum, looking over at Anne with a smile worth years of fond memories, we can blame it all on that damn nursery. The nursery, Anne would agree, reaching over to grab hold of her best friend’s hand, we can be forever grateful for that damn nursery

 

*

February 2nd 1991

 

Jay was singing to Louis in his cot when she saw her. The woman had been wheeled in about an hour ago, her lower half obviously still strained from giving birth. Jay was also quite sore but she refused to be wheeled around in a chair like some kind of invalid. Especially when she was perfectly capable of walking to see her son herself. The nurses had tutted at her quietly, shuffling out of the room with irritated looks on their faces. Jay, to her credit had remained silent but she felt like lifting up her night gown and simply showing them what was going on down there (it wasn’t pretty). Maybe then they’d have a valid reason for looking so personally insulted by her behaviour.

Although she saw the woman, Jay really hadn’t paid much attention to her when they wheeled her in. She was too busy recounting the story of the nasty nurses to her little boy, enchanted by the way he would pink up every time she touched him. It brought a few tears to her eyes when she thought about how it was just going to be the two of them for a long while, but she rarely let herself grieve anymore. It felt wrong to mourn the loss of the life she’d once lived when she’d been given the most miraculous chance at a new one. Instead she dried her tears on the pink hospital gown and started to sing a soft melody that she remembered from her own childhood. Louis seemed to like it if the way he slept peacefully throughout was anything to go by. Jay was considering going back to her room when she looked up and noticed the woman again.

She was standing this time but looking quite the worse for wear. Her arms were folded atop her baby’s cot and she looked positively exhausted, her eyelids drooping down halfway. Despite that, her lovely lilac dressing gown made her look dainty and soft. Jay’s dressing gown made her look like a pastel purple marshmallow. She envied the woman but pitied her in equal parts. This woman was clearly beautiful with her delicate, porcelain like features, plump limps and impossibly shiny hair. Still there was something hauntingly sad about her and almost fragile, as if a strong wind could blow her over at any moment. It was clear that it was more than physical exhaustion. It broke Jay’s heart to see this new mother looking so obviously hopeless. Jay waddled over to her with a friendly smile at the ready.

“Hello love, I’m Johannah but you can call me Jay.”

She spoke quietly as not to startle her but the woman startled anyway, teetering on her feet dangerously. She looked as though she may crash into her baby’s cot. Jay grabbed a hold of her arm and steadied her gently.

“Thank you,” the woman murmured, her cheeks steeped in pink.

Jay chuckled.

“No worries. Just please tell me you haven’t given birth in the last twenty four hours because you look absolutely flawless. I look like a bedraggled dragon.”

The woman laughed surprisingly loudly at that, her hand stretched across her belly like she’d forgotten her baby was no longer in there.

“I’m Anne, it’s so nice to meet you.” She had a smile that seemed more genuine than most. Jay didn’t doubt for a second that for Anne, it really was nice to meet her. “And if it makes you feel better, my obstetrician is a really, really cute doctor and he saw me push a baby and a whole lot of disgustingness out my vagina. So I don’t think he’d touch me with a ten foot pole.”

Jay cocked her head to the side.

“I kinda expected you to call it your flower or your hoo-ha.”

“Call what a hoo-ha?”

Jay grinned.

“Your vagina.”

Anne doubled over laughing but was interrupted by a sudden burst of pain. Jay looked on in sympathy.

“I’m not that posh. I mean c’mon…I’m wearing slippers with cat ears.”

Jay looked down and sure enough, Anne’s feet were cloaked in brown wool with soft, little pointy ears on either side. It was terribly endearing.

“I may have to adopt you,” Jay quietly informed her.

Anne choked on her laughter, looking quite startled by the revelation of her own amusement. Her eyes went from watery amusement to achingly sad in a heartbeat. Jay reached out to her, feeling troubled.

“Are you alright Anne? C’mon love, you can tell me.”

Anne reached up to wipe at her eyes, sniffling quietly. She shuffled her feet along the cold hospital floor and Jay knew even then that she’d never forget those soft brown slippers and Anne’s quiet melted teardrops.

“I’m sorry,” she said, between sniffles, “this is so embarrassing. I’m not usually like this.”

“It’s not embarrassing at all. You’ve just given birth, you’ve got every excuse to shed a few welcome tears.”

Jay held Anne’s hand as she spoke, willing away the demons in this woman’s beautiful green-grey eyes.

“It’s not my baby…I cried when I held Harry for the first time. He’s so so beautiful and I’m so happy. I’m not—I don’t regret him.”

“No, Anne!” Jay squeezed her hand, confused by the overwhelming fear on her new friend’s face, “I wasn’t suggesting that at all.”

“I’m just scared.” Jay could see that very clearly. Anne’s fingers hadn’t stopping shaking inside hers. “Because I—I think I might have to do this all alone.”

“What do you mean you think you might have to?”

Anne’s eyes welled up again and she lurched forward, scooping Jay up into a hug and burying her face in her shoulder. Jay held her until she was ready to speak again.

“I should have gone home by now. My husband was supposed to take me home yesterday afternoon but he never came. I--I don’t think he’s coming back.”

Jay’s response was automatic and immediate. She could only think of her own husband who loved herself and their little baby so very dearly.

“Of course he’s coming, love. You’ve just given birth to his son who, may I just say has to be the most angelic looking infant in the world.”

They both looked down at the cot. Anne’s tears were streaming down her face while Jay held tightly to her hand. Harry was sleeping soundly, his snowy white cheeks blowing out with each whistled breath. He had large everything, a contrast to Jay’s little Louis. His lips were plump and cherry toned just like Anne’s, his nose and ears far surpassing the size of most infant’s. He also had these chubby legs and big, long feet like a swimmer. Despite all that, he looked as infinitely tiny as all babies should, curled up inside his cot with a fist beneath his cheek. He looked precious and Jay had a strong feeling that he’d break a lot of hearts when he was older.

“Isn’t he?” Anne’s voice was saturated with love. “I can’t believe he’s all mine.”

She turned to Jay, tears still shining in her eyes but with a look of brave determination settling over her features.

“He’s not coming.” Jay opened her mouth to protest but Anne smiled and squeezed her hand. “He’s not coming because he never wanted a baby to begin with. He wanted to travel first and to establish himself more securely at the firm. I don’t blame him really because it’s what I wanted too. I wanted us to make a proper life for ourselves before we introduced anyone new in to it.”

“But these things happen…things that you don’t foresee?” Jay prompted, thinking of her own husband.

“These things happen,” Anne agreed, “and when you least suspect them too. I thought a baby would be the worst thing for us at this point in our lives and I didn’t think I was even nearly ready. I’m twenty three years old. I didn’t want to have my first until I was thirty.”

Jay couldn’t imagine waiting that long. She was twenty five and even that had felt like a sacrifice. She’d been ready to have a child since the day she turned twenty. It was just a pity really, what with Patrick’s job…they never really had much time to conceive. It wouldn’t have been right though anyway because Patrick was away so often for his work. Jay knew it was useless but she couldn’t help wondering what could have been and what would have been if she’d just gotten pregnant a few years earlier.

“But then I got pregnant with Harry and it was like it was always meant to happen that way.” Anne continued. “There wasn’t one moment of indecision for me. I knew I was going to have the baby and I knew I would still have an amazing life whether it was the one I planned for or not. Because I felt him in there and loved him instantly. My little angel.” Anne reached down and stroked the back of her finger across Harry’s puffy cheek who turned his little head toward her, eyes still firmly closed. “I love him even more now that he’s here. I knew I couldn’t give him up. It didn’t make sense to me that Irwin wanted to. There was no indecision for him either but it was because he was firm on the fact that we weren’t keeping him. As if Harry was just a stray that I’d picked up and brought home.”

“Oh love,” Jay murmured, keeping her hold on Anne’s hand.

It was all she could think to say. Jay simply couldn’t imagine anything worse than being with someone who wasn’t capable of the same amount of love as she was. In at least one way, Jay had been very lucky to have lead the life she did.

“Forgive me,” Anne said with mournful eyes. Jay thought it would be hard for anyone not to forgive her with a puppy dog look like that. “I believe in women having a choice, I do. But we’re not too fresh out of luck teenagers without a hope of giving him a good life. I’m not a victim of sexual violence or an addict of any sort. We were in love, we are in love and if the last nine months has taught me anything, it’s that we can endure. Irwin tried for me. He came to all the ultrasounds, the birthing classes…he read all the books. He took care of me like I always thought he would. He even decorated Harry’s room and started setting up the cot. I thought—“ Anne swallowed, her eyes welling up again. “I thought he was getting excited to meet him.”

Jay felt her own eyes misting up.

“And you haven’t heard from him? Was he here when Harry was born?”

“Yes! He held Harry and kissed him and he—he looked so happy,” Anne broke down into a breathless sob then. “He said he was just going outside to call his parents but he never came back and he’s not answering any of my calls. At first I thought something might have happened to him, like…something terrible. It’s not like him not to answer my calls on the first ring, let alone not to answer any of them at all. But then I thought about it, I thought about the way he looked at me before he left, the way he kissed me and—“

Anne cut off then, unable to continue. She turned and rested her elbows on Harry’s cot, burying her head in her hands. Jay massaged the back of her shoulder.

“You think he was saying goodbye.”

Anne lifted her head. She was as pale as a ghost, except for her cheeks which were generously decorated with patchy pink.

“I know he was. He’s not coming back and I’ve been waiting here for him like an absolute idiot. They’re going to kick me out soon, I know it. And you know the worst thing? The worst thing is that when I realised he’d left me, I wished something terrible had happened to him because at least then I’d know he didn’t leave us by choice. Isn’t that awful?”

Jay nodded her head to one side.

“Yes…and no. Let me tell you a bit about myself. My husband was a soldier stationed over in Iraq. He was a hero to millions of people yet at the end of the day, he was just my hero. My husband. When I told him I was pregnant with Louis, he cried. I stood there and made fun of him, mind you but I wish now I had told him how grateful I was to have somebody like that by my side. Somebody so loving and warm.

“It was such a meaningless way to die…caught in enemy crossfire. Those are the words you hear in the news report, they’re the ones you read in the paper. They’re supposed to be inspirational… to make you feel proud of the men who died to serve our country. They’re just not the words you expect to hear when you pick up the phone and someone informs you that your husband is gone. It meant nothing to me, the way he died. Because he died without me there to hold his hand and kiss him goodbye. He died without his family beside him. But I know it would have meant the world to him. Those men were his family, almost as much as we were and if I know anything about Patrick, it’s that he truly believed in the saying, ‘live for what you believe in, or die fighting for it.”

Anne had gone much paler. She reached out and gripped Jay by the forearms.

“I am so sorry. I should never have said what I did.”

“It’s okay. It’s not your fault Patrick died and it’s certainly not your fault your husband left you. All I’m saying is, I was seven months pregnant when I got that call. I honestly didn’t know if I could still do this but I had wanted a baby for so long. Patrick’s baby. We met when I was seventeen and he got deployed the following year. We bided our time, we waited and when we did start trying, it was because Patrick decided he was going to leave the army in order to start a family with me. It wasn’t a sacrifice for him because it was a blessing. He loved his boys but I know he loved our little boy even more.” Jay’s throat constricted around her words but she bravely blinked back her tears. “When I got that call, I thought…how can I do this alone, how can I do this without Patrick? This is our baby and Patrick should be here to see him, to meet him like we planned.”

“How did you do it? Your family must have rallied around you.”

Jay fluttered her eyelashes down and softly shook her head.

“My family and I fell out years ago. I married Patrick before he was deployed and they didn’t approve. As the cliché goes, they thought I was too young to know what I wanted. I proved them wrong every day of the eight years we got to spend together and I have no doubts that I would have spent the rest of my life with him. I’m too strong minded to let a man like that fall out of love with me.”

Anne chuckled wetly and squeezed Jay’s arm.

“My family and I aren’t close either.” She admitted.

Jay smiled gratefully at the woman who seemed to share none of her personality traits but all of her struggles.

“It took less than a week for the dust to settle,” Jay murmured, encouraged by Anne’s support. “For me to realise that the baby was coming one way or another and I had to be prepared. I knew it wasn’t going to be the life I thought I’d lead. It wasn’t going to be happiness in the same way I used to define happiness to myself…but my baby was coming and I loved him. I knew that if my son was never going to have a daddy, I’d have to love him twice as much to make up for it. So I did. I have. I’ll never stop. I am lucky…I’m lucky my husband was such an incredible man. He would never have abandoned me and I can take some small comfort in that but he never got a chance to meet his son. He wept at the news of Louis but he never even got the chance to hold him. Worse than that, my baby boy never got to grasp his daddy’s finger and he never will. Your husband could still come back, Anne. He could still decide he wants something to do with Harry.”

Anne looks troubled by the notion.

“I don’t think I could forgive him, I—“

“I’m not saying you should. But one day Harry might want the chance to get to know him and he still has that chance, however remote. Louis doesn’t. So I don’t blame you for wishing your husband didn’t abandon you. I just think, loving Louis as much as I do… I’d rather have Patrick alive and still connected to Louis than for Louis to never know him at all.”

Anne shook her head disbelievingly.

“I could never be as strong as you.”

Jay tangled their fingers together.

“You already are. Because you’re here with your little boy, fighting for your son the same way I’m fighting for mine.”

They stood there like that for a moment, smiling softly at each other. Then Jay threw her arm around Anne’s shoulders and gently knocked their heads together.

“Did we really just confess our life stories in the middle of the nursery?”

Anne chortled.

“I believe we did. Now are you going to let me see your Louis or what?”

Jay’s expression lit up at that, ever so eager to show off her beautiful newborn. She led Anne over to the other side of the nursery and the cot that had Louis William Tomlinson scribed on the side. Anne peered into the cot, her expression melting into awe almost as soon as her gaze settled on the tiny infant inside.

“He’s lovely,” she sighed, “but so small! Is that why you’re still here?”

Jay nodded her head, a slight frown worrying her features.

“They said everything’s working well. He’s breathing on his own, his heartbeat is strong…he wasn’t born preterm. They just wanted to keep him a little longer to make sure he was still going strong.”

Anne squeezed her shoulder.

“Don’t worry too much. I’m sure your gorgeous boy will grow into a chubby little man like mine soon enough. Who knows, maybe he’ll even outgrow Harry?”

Jay’s smile was wistful as she leaned down into the cot and brushed a kiss over Louis’ forehead.

“His dad was very tall.”

Anne none too subtly looked her up and down.

“We’ll just have to pray the kid didn’t get your genetics then.”

Jay turned to her with a mildly horrified gasp. Secretly, she was quite pleased.

“How very dare you! I’m 5’9, I’ll have you know and a perfectly respectable height! You should just hope that your son doesn’t inherit that froggy mouth of yours.”

Jay immediately wondered if she’d gone too far. The woman had been through hell in the last twenty four hours. It was quite the pleasant surprise when Anne shrugged happily, grinning from ear to ear.

“There is no hope. He’s definitely inherited it.”

They burst into laughter together, clutching at each other for support until one of the babies started to cry (thankfully not one of theirs) and a disapproving nurse came bustling in to give them a stern reprimand. Jay walked Anne back to her room, arms linked between them. Nurses smiled at them from across the ward, many of them having been a part of one of the births. When they got to Anne’s room, Jay helped her into bed and reclined on the visitor’s lounge beside her.

“What happens when I leave here?” Anne spoke, reaching out for Jay who took her hand instantly. “I’ll be all alone. I don’t even live around here. We came to Doncaster for a weekend away and now Harry’s here and I have to go back to Holmes Chapel on my own.”

Jay looked up at her with a quizzical expression.

“Where on god’s earth is Holmes Chapel?”

“It’s a small town in Cheshire, about two hours away.”

“Two hours,” Jay hummed, her features fell slightly as she realised what that meant. It was likely the two women would never see each other again. “Well that seriously blows.”

Anne lowered the head of her bed and closed her eyes. Jay watched her closely, noticing how she breathed much too shallowly for someone who was properly calm.

“You know I won’t accept distance as an excuse for your lack of visits.” She added, purposefully high and mighty. “With the look of that dressing gown, you’ve probably got a hired car back home.”

Anne’s features turned up in a brilliant smile which quieted only as she turned on her side and stared at Jay with watery eyes.

“I know you’re trying to take care of me but I want you to know something, Johannah Tomlinson…I’m going to take care of you too. For Patrick. I think he’d be happy you’ve got someone like me on your side.”

Jay laughed, ever so fond of the woman beside her.

“Oh would he now? You didn’t tell me you could convene with the spirits, love.”

“Oh yeah, I’m a total pro. Actually he’s whispering in my ear right now.”

Jay rested her chin beside Anne’s hip, her whole face glowing.

“Really? What’s he saying?”

“That for a bedraggled dragon, you really know how to rock a hospital gown.”

Jay shrieked with laughter, playfully batting at Anne’s side. The other woman caught her hand and squeezed, something that was so very quickly become a normal gesture for them.

“And….he says he’s so proud of you for having his baby. He thinks you’re mad for talking to the crazy lady in the nursery but he adores you for it, because it’s exactly the woman he fell in love with.”

Anne was grinning at her from ear to ear but all Jay could do was drop her head slightly and wait for the teardrops to stop falling. It was incredible how that faux message from Patrick actually sounded like something he would say. What had he said when they moved into their first flat together? It was after Jay made friends with the strangely depressed hippie on the next floor.

I worry about your sanity baby but I do admire your empathy. You always pick the ones with the broken wings.

As if what he did for a living was so far removed from that. But then looking at Anne’s skinny form and her dampened eyelids, maybe Jay finally got it. She liked to fix what everybody else deemed irreversibly broken.

Anne’s eyelashes fluttered open, her smile hazy and quietly contented.

“Do you think they’ll celebrate them together?”

“Celebrate what?” Jay asked.

“Their birthdays.”

“Hmm,” Jay drummed her fingers on Anne’s body, “do you believe in fate?”

“Yes, why?”

Jay shook her head, impossibly fond. Of course this woman believed in fate. She was like a fairy princess herself.

“Because I don’t. I believe in making sure our kids grow up together.”

Anne’s mouth pulled up in a reluctant turned up grin.

“Now Jay, we’re not to interfere. The boys don’t have to like each other just because we do.”

“You’re right,” Jay reassured her, patting Anne’s hand. Her eyes glimmered. “But something tells me they just might.”