"Hey. You didn't have to come over," Nicky greets them as she pulls open the front door to the flat, invites them inside. "I could have brought some things over for Chloe, I wouldn't have minded…"
Dom shrugs; numb, wordless, too tired and worried and guilt-ridden and jealous and rejected and all of the other copious emotions he can't seem to put into words to offer much in the way of conversation. "It's alright. It's alright, we… we needed to get out of the hospital for a bit, anyway. Or at least, I did. This is Peigi, she's…"
He trails off, awkward, all of a sudden, uncertain, freezes, almost a little panicked at the obstacle before him.
How is he supposed to introduce her?
He's hardly yet begun to make sense of how he fits into Ange's extended family, how those relationships might develop- how far Ange's extended family might be willing for those relationships to develop, come to that.
How should he...
"Peigi's Chloe's…" Dom begins, but Peigi cuts him off.
"I'm Dom and Chloe's grandmother," she tells Nicky firmly.
Except somehow, Dom has a feeling it's not just Nicky she's informing.
"Nicky. I'm one of Chloe's flatmates. I'm just so sorry," Nicky confesses, heartfelt, leads Dom and Peigi through into the hallway. "I honestly can't… I feel so responsible, I should have noticed, I mean, I spend all day with her at work and then we both come back here, I'm literally with her twenty-four/seven some weeks, if we're on the same shift pattern, and I still didn't…"
"You can't blame yourself. Not that you'd be the first, I think we've practically got a queue going for that," Peigi tells her gently. "The feeling guilty over Chloe queue. Believe me, I'm not far from the front of it myself. But that's not going to help any of us, is it? And it's certainly not going to help Chloe."
"How is she?" Nicky asks anxiously now. "Is she… Sorry. Sorry, you probably want to get straight back there, don't you, I'll just leave you to…"
"No, no, it's alright. You live with Chlo," Peigi surmises. "You must be just as worried as we are. She's…"
She glances to Dom now, clearly looking for him to step in on the basis that he understands the reality of the situation better than she does, that he'll be able to explain on Nicky's level- warn her, perhaps, he realises grimly.
They need to be prepared.
Both Nicky and Cam; they need to be prepared.
Chloe isn't going to be coming home any time soon.
He can hardly bring himself to say it.
"It's... bad," Dom finally manages to force out. "It's bad. It's more advanced than they thought- the septic shock and the source of the infection, I mean. They gave her a prosthetic graft in theatre what, a few hours ago, but she's already starting to show signs of rejection, so… Ms Campbell wanted to consider a donor graft to try and buy some time, but we're not… there's no one who… that's not an option," he settles on at last. "That's not an option. They rushed the bloodwork through, none of us… we're not compatible. But she's not tolerating the prosthetic and she's too unstable to risk an autologous graft, and she's… she's not responding to the antibiotics as well as she should be. They've got her on the maximum they can give her already, and she's barely responding to that, so it's just…"
"It's just a waiting game," Nicky finishes quietly. "How's… her heart…"
"Her… her heart function's just about the only thing Ms Campbell isn't worried about," Dom admits shakily. "Her heart looks okay- or it did when we left, anyway. But I don't think she's going to be coming off the ventilator any time soon, her lungs are… they're bad. They can't get her blood pressure up. And her kidneys have completely shut down now, she went pretty much straight onto the dialysis the ED admitted her, but it's only just starting to reduce the edema."
"And she's malnourished," Nicky points out, voice laced with guilt. 'I don't think she's been eating properly for weeks, not since…" She glances across to Dom now, can't quite meet his eyes, seems to think better of what she'd been about to say. "Since Evan and his wholefoods regime moved in," she settles on at last. "That's what Cam and I thought it was at first, anyway, and then after she ended it with him and the stalking started… I think that's when it got bad," she admits quietly. "We should have done something, why didn't we do something…"
"Because it's not that easy," Peigi tells her gently. "Believe me. I've been there too, I know. She hides it well. By the time you notice, it's been going on for so long that it's not so easy to claw her back subtly. But if you try to address it outright she'll just get all defensive and shut you out completely. And she's needed her friends lately, all things considered. What with…" she trails off abruptly, her turn to glance awkwardly at Dom now.
He's the elephant in the room, Dom realises.
Nicky and his birth grandmother both think he's a huge part of the reason Chloe's mental health has declined so rapidly, why physically she's in such bad shape now to fight off the sepsis.
They just don't want to spell it out in front of him.
"What with everything that's happened with Evan," Peigi finishes at last. "And she's spent the best part of the last year on bad terms with Angel, I don't think that's been helping, either. She needs her friends. I know you've been a huge support to her, these past few months, you and Cameron…"
"I don't know." Nicky glances down at the floor guiltily. "I don't know we've handled it all that well, really. No, we haven't, have we?" she decides. "We've let her down, we must have done. This wouldn't have happened, if we hadn't, if we'd supported her better. If… the self-harming… if only we'd realised Evan wasn't trying to stir shit when he told us she self-harmed, if only we'd noticed, got her help..."
"We could all say that, though," Peigi soothes. "All of us, I'm sure, could go back through the last few months and come up with a whole list of things we should have done before it came to this. I know I could. But that's not going to achieve anything now, is it? We can learn from this, yes, we can try and do better by her once she's through this, but we can't go back. And anyway," she insists, reaching for Nicky's hand now, gentle, reassuring. "I know you've been a brilliant friend, because Chloe told me, when she was up in Aberdeen with me last week. She said she doesn't know what she would have done without you," Peigi tells her. "You and Cameron both, and I don't doubt her for a second. I know what she's like, when she gets like this. You can't blame yourself- you mustn't. Alright?"
"Whose fault is it, then?" Nicky protests weakly. "Because it's not Chloe's, is it? We can't exactly blame Chloe, can we? It's not her fault she was feeling so… so… I can't even imagine, so… unhappy, so anxious, so desperate, that she felt she had no choice but to hurt herself, that she either didn't notice she had infected wounds that needed treatment or she knew and she just didn't care, what does that say about her mental state right now? It's not Chloe's fault, it's ours. Cam and I, we should have helped her, we should have… I don't know. We should have done something. It's our fault, it has to be our fault…"
"No, it's not," Dom agrees quietly, ashamed, eyes fixed firmly on the floor. "It's not your fault. It's mine…"
"Dominic…" Peigi sighs gently.
"But it is, though." His voice is numbed, now, Dom realises, and he's trying so, so hard to hold himself together, because somehow numb, devoid of emotion, closed off, seems like a better option than allowing himself to break down over a half-sister he barely knows, a half-sister who has made it perfectly clear she isn't even the slightest bit interested in a relationship with him.
It doesn't seem fair to lose control now.
Not in front of Peigi, who raised Chloe at least at one point, Nicky, who lives with her, works with her, must see more of her than anyone else, now Cam has moved to AAU.
She's his half-sister.
Chloe's his half-sister, and he's known her barely six months, known they're half-siblings even less, and they've spent the entire time they've both known on pretty much the worst terms possible, thanks to Chloe and her sulk for Scotland routine.
He doesn't deserve to be as upset over all this as Peigi and Nicky are.
"It is my fault," Dom continues, utterly insistent now, convinced of it. "Of course it's my fault, how could it not be? She was fine until she found out about me, and after that…"
"We don't know that, Dominic," Peigi tries to point out. "We can't possibly know that. Chloe's… this isn't the first time Chloe's gone through something like this," she sighs. "It's never been this bad before, admittedly, but it's far from out of character for her, unfortunately. Ange and I have been here goodness only knows how many times before now. Every time we tell ourselves we'll spot it earlier if her anxiety flares up again, or if she starts back with the self-harming, and every single time we don't catch on until it's been going on for far, far too long. I think we do get better at noticing the signs; I'd like to think we do, anyway. The trouble is, Chlo gets better at hiding it, too. It's like being locked in some sort of horrendously high-stakes strategy game with her, half the time. You might think Chloe was fine mental-health wise until Angel told her about you, Dominic, but you can't possibly know that…"
"I do, though. Ange said so herself, she told me." His heart is racing faster and faster now out of nowhere, guilt spiralling out of control as he thinks back to that day in Pulses, his birth mother's confession regarding his little sister; brief, fleeting, hardly a glimpse into the last twenty-nine years at all, and yet at the same time perfectly enlightening enough. "Ange told me she was worried about her mental state, right after Chloe found out about me. She told me she was worried Chloe was going to go back to self-harming, she saw it then. Don't tell me that was a coincidence…"
"Maybe not," Peigi admits reluctantly. "You might be right. Maybe it's not a coincidence at all, maybe that's when it started. But we've got no way of knowing, Dominic. It could be that she was struggling for months before she knew about you and that… I don't know," she struggles, almost as though she's realised that this isn't going to be as perfect an alternative explanation as she'd thought it would be when she began, can't let Dom off the hook completely. "That could have sent her downhill a bit. I don't know. Or perhaps you're right, perhaps Chloe was fine before Angel told her, and that was what tipped her over the edge. But does it matter? We're not going know either way until Chlo comes round, and I… I think… I think we're a long way from that, aren't we?" she forces out at last. "A long way. So we don't know. We don't know, and either way, it's not your fault, Dominic. Youhaven't done anything wrong, alright? You didn't ask to be adopted, and you certainly didn't ask for Angel to not tell Chloe about you until it came to this. And… Chloe's mental health problems were well established long before all this," Peigi adds quietly, glances between Dom and Nicky now. "Believe me. None of this is a recent thing. You can't blame yourself, Dominic. None of you can. It's just one of those things, okay? It's an awful, awful situation, but it's no one's fault. Well, maybe we can pin some of it on the awful CAMHS counsellor Chloe saw first," Peigi ponders absentmindedly, and then she shakes herself, seems to realise that she might have said too much, unknowingly let them into a part of the past they know nothing about, a part that perhaps Chloe might not want them given a glimpse of, not like this. "But anyway. You get the point. I don't want you blaming yourself, alright? Either of you. This isn't your fault."
"It was finding out about me that sent Chloe running back to Evan though," Dom confesses quietly. "You can't deny that. She'd just broken up with him, the day she found out about me, she'd come back from Iceland early because it wasn't working out with Evan. And then he turned up as YAU locum that day," he remembers, heart sinking, suddenly feels even more sick with responsibility than he did before. "Chloe was helping Ange out in the YAU that day, and then Evan turned up on a locum shift, and it totally through her, she was livid. Chloe didn't want him there, Ange made that perfectly clear. And then Chloe stopped speaking to Ange she was so upset when she found out about me, and she was back with Evan by the next day and that's… that's when it all started," he shudders. "We all know how it played out from there, don't we? There's no point going over all that again. But she'd broken up with Evan. She'd broken up with him and she was adamant it was over, and that changed all of a sudden once she knew about me…"
"But that's still not your fault, Dom," Nicky insists. "Of course it isn't. You didn't ask for any of this to happen, how Ange…" she trails off awkwardly, glancing at Peigi nervously now.
"Oh, by all means, go ahead," Peigi shrugs. "If it were down to me, I would have told Chlo a long time ago. I think even Angel would hold her hands up to that one at this point. It might be best not to bring it up, though. But I'm completely with you, Nicky. Completely with you. None of this is your fault, Dominic, and I don't want you to think for a moment that it is. Alright? You didn't cause this. We can blame Evan, though, I don't know why I didn't think of that before. We can absolutely blame Evan. But we aren't blaming ourselves. Okay? Chloe wouldn't want you to blame yourselves, would she?"
"I don't know," Dom confessed quietly. "I don't… I'm not sure I know her well enough to…"
"She wouldn't," Peigi tells him firmly. "She wouldn't. I promise you, Dominic. However bad things have been between the two of you since she found out, Chloe wouldn't want you to be holding yourself responsible for her mental state, alright? I know she wouldn't. She likes you."
"Did she say that?"
"Of course she did. How else would I know?"
"But before she knew I'm her brother?"
"No. No, after. She told me this week, when she was staying with me," Peigi tells him, smiles faintly. "I know she can be… oh, I don't know how to put this diplomatically. I know Chlo can…"
'Sulk for Scotland?" Dom offers up helpfully, though even as he makes the suggestion, he feels rather sick.
What if that wasn't what Peigi was getting at?
What if that wasn't what she meant in the slightest, what if he's insulted her granddaughter in her eyes, unforgivable offense, what if he's blown it…
Peigi smiles, rolls her eyes. "You've been talking to Angel?"
"I…" Dom stammers anxiously. "I… I didn't mean anything by it!" he protests quickly, startled. "I didn't mean… I just… Ange told me that once and I… I just…"
"I wasn't trying to catch you out!" Peigi insists, mildly alarmed now. "I've heard her use that one before too, that's all. It's not a bad description. You're allowed to repeat it, I know she isn't perfect. None of us are. We don't have to start pretending Chlo is just because she's in a coma…"
Dom decides now isn't the moment to point out that Ange clearly didn't get that memo.
"It's not quite a coma Chloe's in," he points out instead. "She's not… she's not totally unconscious. She's pretty much completely unresponsive, but she's got some degree of awareness- her medical team are working on the basis that she does, anyway. But it looks like she can probably hear, doesn't it? Based on how she's been today. And I keep being a total idiot and saying shit I really shouldn't have in front of her…"
"Well, you're her brother," Peigi muses. "I think that's allowed. I used to fight with my brother and sister all the time, but I've always loved them deep down. Angel wouldn't know anything about that, Chloe's been the only child of an only child her whole life until now, to all intents and purposes. You're both still getting used to each other, you and Chlo. Maybe you've got to get some of the sibling rivalry you would have had when you were younger out of your systems now. That's fine. It's obvious you care about her. And I know Chloe cares about you too, because she told me as much. She knew. When she was staying with me last week, she knew she'd treated you unfairly. I think… I don't know," Peigi sighs. "By the looks of things, her head was too much of a mess for her to tell you that today. But she does care. I know she does. We just need to get her through this and then you two can make up properly. Right, speaking of which. Do you want to come and help us, Nicky?" she offers. "Angel wants us to bring some things back to the hospital for Chloe- what use it's going to be to her, I really don't know, but Angel's adamant, and I think it's probably best we humour her, isn't it? Do you think you could come and help us work out what to pack?"
"Sure," Nicky smiles faintly. "Sure, I can… I can do that."
I am so, so sorry for the horrendous delay! It's not been the best couple of months but I promise I am back into the writing zone now and you will not have to wait so long next time!
I'm having to put this up really quickly and I will go back and reply to my DMs etc properly later, but thank you so, so much to everyone who took the time to review the last chapter, and my other stories recently. I was tearing my hair out a bit over this story last time I updated, and you've all made me feel so much better!
As ever, your thoughts/requests etc are always appreciated- please do review if you enjoyed (or if you didn't!). And you can also now follow me on instagram as chloeggodard if you would like!