Why do I end all my titles with questions these days?
Anyway, this is set in the same AU as the last fic bit was. For future reference, it’ll be called the Withernsea Universe, as that’s where Sarah and Andrew have settled.
The last bit makes mention of their child, a little girl named Sophie. I’ve written about her in my first O’Lang fic, but she doesn’t do much except cry and wriggle as she’s a newborn there. I’ll post the link at the end if for some reason you want to look at it and see what I’m talking about.
“Mrs. Lang, Mrs. Lang!”
A small pack of children galloped into the shop, startling Sarah so badly that her hand slipped and drove her needle into the pad of her thumb. She swore, very quietly, and turned on the intruders with the air of an offended god. The brats quailed under her stare, and Sarah recognized Jimmy Fallock and Lily Mallard among them.
“An’ what brings you lot here?” she asked coldly, eying the fidgeting youngsters. They were clearly upset and, judging by the shifty looks, clearly guilty about something. She knew the look; she’d worn it often enough as a girl.
“There’s trouble up at the cemetery, Mrs. Lang!” Lily bleated, wringing her grubby hands and fairly hopping up and down.
“The cemetery? What were you doin’ up there, I wonder?”
More nervous looks were exchanged. One of the bigger ones, the butcher’s youngest boy, piped up.
“We was playin’ chase, Mrs. Lang, only it didn’t stay that way for long-“
“There’s this big ol’ oak, see, and we thought-“
“The bigger boys was sayin’ how nobody could climb it and…”
“And?” Sarah prompted.
“Sophie’s stuck up in the tree!” Lily cried, unable to bear it any more. Sarah’s heart froze in her chest and dropped quite suddenly into her stomach as she thought of her girl, all of seven years old, trapped in some mouldering old oak. She knew the tree, knew it’s height and how weak a child’s arms could get if they were scared enough, how terrible the fall would be…
Sarah was one her feet though she could not remember standing and within a heartbeat she had waded through the crowd of informers and was out the door and on the street. She broke into a run, not giving a damn about the queer looks the others shot her. Sheer bloody panic gave her feet wings and kept her from feeling the ache in her side as she ran, and soon she passed through the gates of Withernsea’s boneyard. Up the gently sloping hill, with the oak towering overhead like a giant’s club set upright, a handful of women and children clustered at its foot. There, high among the gnarled branches Sarah could make out a black form against the autumn sky.
Pale as chalk and tight-lipped, Sarah joined the others in the tree’s shadow, her eyes fixed intently on one woman in particular.
“Oh, Mrs. Lang! Thank God, the children found you!”
Mrs. Anne Graysen broke away from the rest of the women and gave Sarah a smile she likely thought was comforting, the stupid bitch, and reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder. Sarah caught the other woman’s wrist and squeezed, hard enough to wipe the smile from her snub-nosed face, hard enough to make her gasp and try to step away.
“You were supposed to be watching her.”
“I was!” the taller woman said, eye wide and wary. “She and Susie wanted to take a walk, and then they saw the other children playing up here-I didn’t see any harm in it.”
“No,” said Sarah. “I suppose you couldn’t see much of anything, gossipin’ as you were.”
She let go of Mrs. Grayson’s wrist and turned away, prowling around the foot of the tree until she could see her daughter (she’s too small god please please she’s too small); the wind stilled and she thought she heard her girl crying, and the sound tied Sarah’s guts into knots.
“We told the children to fetch Mr. Lang and a few of the other men, and they’ll be able to get her down soon, surely.”
The postmistress was prattling on behind her; Sarah paid no mind. She bent down and wrestled off one shoe, then the other, cursing the bastards who made the laces and the bastards who made the shoes and the bastards who thought it would be a good idea to make footwear so complex in the first place. The stockings went next, Sarah’s bare legs startlingly pale in the light of day. She heard a scattering of scandalized sounds from the womenfolk when she hitched her skirt up about her waist, and did not so much as turn her head to glare at them. Sarah fixed her eyes on Sophie, who clung to the tree trunk so high above her, and lunged for the lowest hanging branch, the bark scraping at her palms as she hauled herself up.
Sarah had spent more years of her life off her family’s farm than on it, living what her Da had been pleased to call the ‘soft life’ of a servant and, more recently, a dressmaker, yet the farming strength had not left her. Her muscles did not protest, did not tremble as she pulled herself up the oak; there was too much at stake. Her jaw set, Sarah kept her eyes on Sophie and climbed, trying not to think of what would happen if the wind picked up, if her girl’s arms should tire before she got there, if her girl should slip…
I brought you into this world and by Christ you’re not leaving it while I’m still breathing.
If Sarah had looked down at this point she would have noted that the faces of her audience were no longer distinguishable, and they were all growing smaller by the second. She did not look down; as she left the fools behind, she began to see her daughter in greater detail- the now-filthy blue frock that was a tad too small, the tattered white stockings that covered feet now dangling nauseatingly over nothing, copper-bright curls fluttering in the treacherous breeze. Sophie’s sweet face, with the enormous blue eyes so like her mother’s and the ears that stuck out a bit like her father’s, was hidden against the trunk of the tree.
Sarah swallowed hard and, for some stupid reason, harked back to the night she’d given birth to Sophie, and what Andrew had murmured so happily to her as soon as he saw their fine little babe.
She looks like you.
“Sophie.” she called.
Faintly, she heard a hiccup and saw her daughter turn her tear stained face towards her.
“Stay there, bobbin, I’ll get you in a mo’.”
Far from being comforted Sophie began sobbing anew, her little body heaving alarmingly.
“I got scared-it’s too high, Mama, an’ I can’t, can’t-“
Sarah wished she was there, wished she could snap her fingers and have them both safe on the ground. Gritting her teeth she found another branch and climbed up. She was now close enough to touch Sophie’s knee, if she stretched a bit, but it was not enough. Higher still, the hairs at the back of her neck standing on end as long sleeping instincts screamed, downdowndown not safe too high get downdowndown.
At last, at long bleeding last Sarah drew even with Sophie, who mewled like a kitten and reached for her mother with little hands scratched and scraped raw. Catlike, Sarah balanced on her branch, got one arm about her child and clamped her tight against her chest, her face pressing into Sophie’s tangled curls for a moment. She wanted to weep and say, I’ve got you, I’m not letting go, not ever.
What she said was,
“You stupid little thing, what were you thinkin’?”
Sophie merely snuffled and hid her sticky face in her shoulder, her arms winding tight about her mother’s neck. Sarah nuzzled at her, nearly going weak at the knees with the animal happiness of having her cub cuddled tight against her again.
“Shush, bobbin, s’alright. We’ll be down soon.”
Sarah didn’t have the heart to be angry at her, at least not now. Perhaps later, when they were on the ground and she’d washed the girl’s scraped knees and hands.
She began the climb down, now forced to look to see where her feet might find a safe foothold, and the height nearly made her retch. Swallowing hard and shoving back the sudden wave of dizziness she kept at it, and soon the dolts on the ground became more than featureless figures against the grass. Sarah noted, rather bitterly, that at least a half dozen others had joined to watch the show.
After what felt like another hour but was in fact more like ten minutes, Sarah dropped from the tree with far more grace than she thought herself capable of, and she raised her numb arms to wrap securely around Sophie. The other women stared at her, rather bewildered, and she glared at all of them as she snatched up her shoes.
“Come on, bobbin. We’ll be havin’ words with your Da just as soon as we get you home.”
Not pictured: Sarah flipping all the other moms the double bird and snarling ‘THAT’S HOW YOU FUCKIN’ DO IT’ as she marches off.
Note: ‘Bobbin’ is the pet name Sarah’s grandma had for her; it’s actually a bastardized version of baibin (pronounced, I think, as baw-been), which is the Irish Gaelic word for ‘baby’. Also, SEWING METAPHORZ LOLZ.
Sophie’s debut. I’ll put up the slightly better edited version I have up on Archive of Our Own once it stops with its fuckery.