In the end, he decides to bunk off the last period. It's only French anyway. His mum texted earlier to say Vanessa was home so he could stop worrying. But until he sees her with his own eyes, and makes sure his mum's not trying to protect him from anything, he knows he won't be able to settle properly.

He plucks at the strap of his rucksack all the way home on the bus, fiddling with a bit that's fraying. He has to make himself stop bouncing his knee twice. When the bus drops him off, he takes off at a run down the street and doesn't stop till he gets through the door. He sees her immediately; sat on the sofa in her dressing gown watching telly like nothing's changed. Like she hasn't just been held hostage for two weeks by a raging psychopath.

"Ness!" He closes the door and kicks off his shoes.

"Noah? You're early." She takes a second to turn around, and it looks like she's wiping away tears. When she does turn, she's smiling, but she looks tired, and her wrist that's resting on the back of the couch is all red and bruised. "Tell me you're not bunking off school."

"Only one period," he says, rounding the couch. He sits down beside her, unsure of whether or not he should hug her. She looks like it might hurt her. She smiles and opens her arms.

"Come here."

He leans in and wraps his arms around her, burying his face in her shoulder. He doesn't realise he's crying until she's rubbing his back and saying soothing words in his ear. He pulls away, rubbing at his eyes.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to- sorry." He sniffs and looks at her. "I'm glad you're okay, that's all."

She smiles, but it's a little sad, and nods. Her hand comes to rest on the back of his neck. "Thank you."

"And I'm- I'm sorry that we didn't look for you sooner," he blurts. He hadn't planned to say that. "I knew you wouldn't have gone off on your own like that. Or, if you did, I knew you wouldn't ignore everyone. And I didn't- I just-"

"Hey," she says, rubbing his shoulders. "Like I said to your mum, and Tracy, and Rhona, nobody could have known what was going on, okay? It's nobody's fault but Pierce's."

"I hope they lock him up for good," Noah spits. "'Cause if I thought he was out and walking around I'd-"

"Oi." She shakes her head. "None of that. The police have got a ton of evidence on him. He's not walking away from this, yeah?"

"Yeah, okay." He swallows down his anger. That's the last thing she needs now. Some bloke ranting and raving at her. He sniffs and wipes his face again. "Where's mum? Upstairs?"

Her face changes before she can catch it and force it into a smile again. "She's, uh, she's had to go to work."

"Eh?" He frowns. "When you've just got home? She's left you on your own?"

"It wasn't-"

"And when is she ever bothered about work?" There's something not right about this. But he watches Vanessa sit back on the sofa, wrapping her arms around her stomach, and realises that him saying all this is only making her upset. Maybe they've argued again about whatever went on that day with Graham and Ryan that made his mum not turn up for the wedding.

"You know what your mum's like," Vanessa says, with a small smile. "There's only so much talk about feelings she can take. And she's been all over me since I woke up in that hospital. Saying all sorts." She lays a hand on his wrist. "We're okay, promise. She just needs-" She swallows. "She needs a bit of time to get her head round everything."

He nods. "Okay." Feeling a bit guilty for drawing her attention to his mother's absence, he tries to soften the blow. "She was climbing the walls the whole time you were away. She was checking her phone every two seconds, hoping you'd call or text."

Her smile grows a little warmer. "I know, love. She told me." She sighs. "And the police gave me back my phone, so I got to read her messages and listen to her voicemails." She clears her throat and sniffs. "I know how much she missed me." She nudges him. "Got a couple of voicemails from you an'all."

Flushing, he looks down at his knees. "Yeah, well, you'd said you'd be there for me and Sarah, even if you weren't talking to mum. So I thought- I thought I'd try-"

"I'd have picked up, Noah. I swear." She shakes her head. "I meant that when I said it, and I still mean it."

"Yeah." He blows out a breath. "That's why I should've known something was up. Why I should've done something."

"Right, we've been over this," Vanessa says, sounding more like herself than she has since he got in. "Nobody could have known. It's done. It's in the past. We just need to-" Her voice breaks up a bit and she swallows. "We just need to get on with our lives now, don't we? All of us, together."

"Yeah." He tries to smile. "You're really okay? Promise?"

Her eyes fill with tears and she reaches for him again, pulling him into a hug. He holds her tightly and is glad when she nods against his shoulder. "I'm just glad to be home," she whispers.

They part and he has to wipe his face again. He shakes his head and stands. "I'm gonna grab a sandwich. D'you want one?"

She lifts an eyebrow. "Wow. I should get kidnapped more often." When he goes to protest, she grasps his hand and squeezes. "Sorry. Terrible joke."

He nods. "Nowt's changed there, then."

She narrows her eyes, looking a bit more normal. "Oi, you." She lets go of his hand, wrapping her arms around her stomach again. "I'm not hungry, love. But I'll take a brew if there's one going."

"Okay. One cup of dishwater coming up." He heads to the kitchen and fills the kettle, watching her from the corner of his eye as he does so.

She groans as she pulls her legs up underneath herself on the couch. "You're listening to your mother far too much."

He laughs. "She says I listen to you too much."

"Well, maybe listening to both of us will even itself out." She sits in silence for a bit as he sorts himself a buttie. "D'you want to go over some of your geography flashcards?" She blinks a couple of times. "When- when I was-" She coughs and shakes her head. "At night, I'd find myself picturing your cards, trying to remember all the bits of information on them." She smiles. "Kept me sane, I think, at times."

He swallows, unable to even imagine how horrible it must have been for her. Tied up and left to sit on the floor for days and days, with no guarantee of ever getting out alive. He tries to return her smile. "Maybe I should test you, then?"

She wrinkles her nose. "Or maybe, instead of geography, we could just stick a film on instead?"

He grins. "Yeah, let's do that. Only not one of them ones with all the women in the big dresses."

Laughing, she shakes her head. "Still not converted you to a good period drama, I see." She nods. "Fine. I think we need a good laugh, yeah? So let's find a decent comedy."

"You can pick," he says, feeling generous.

He watches as she picks up the remote and starts flicking about, making the odd comment or suggestion out loud. He makes noises of agreement where it feels like she wants an answer, but he's barely listening. He's just so glad she's home. Yeah, they've maybe all still got to get their head around what happened a bit, but she's home, and Johnny's home and they're both safe.

Things can only get better from now on.