I realise that it has been an absolute age since I updated and I am really and truly sorry for that. I just hope you all keep on reading. We're back to the present again and while no questions have been answered as to why Neil & Grace split there are some hints dropped. I'm hoping to get a lot more writing done as it is now officially my summer holidays! Keep reading guys!
Jo Masters shivered involuntarily as she waited for the man on the top step to unlock the front door to the townhouse before them, partly from the freezing cold, partly from fear of the unknown. The sandstone building in a pretty tree lined street, in a rather affluent area of Sun Hill looked inconspicuous enough – but it was like a Pandora's Box. It was wear Grace and the secret daughter had lived for the years her so-called best friend had spent in hiding, who knew what secrets lurked behind the pillar box red front door, with the shiny brass number 12 flecked with snowflakes? Since the realisation of the little Lily Dasari's paternity had spread round the nick and Neil Manson had confined himself to his office, blinds closed until storming to the scene of the disappearance with a look of utmost displeasure on his face all anyone could talk about was where Grace had been for the past six years and why she had kept everything such a massive secret. From Neil Manson in particular. Jo herself couldn't help feeling a pang of hurt. She and Grace had been friends, had they not? Surely Grace would have realised that of all the people to tell, Jo would never have judged her on her pregnancy despite the child's paternity and her own feelings on the matter and, no matter what Grace decided to do, have been there for her. That's what friends did for one another.
They did not just leave work one day and disappear into thin air.
The lock opened with a loud click, breaking the heavy silence of the dark evening and, beckoning the sergeant with a slow smile and a slight of hand, Adil Dasari led the way inside. Under normal circumstances, Grace's father would have been an intimidating man. His height alone, even at seventy had him eye to eye with some of the taller, burlier police officers and, in some of the tenser moments of the day his low, severe tone reminded them all of what a powerful and highly revered ex-lawyer this man was. However, there were a greater number of times during the few hours since Jo Masters had met Adil that she had seen through the exterior to the father and grandfather that he was. She could see the anguish of losing his granddaughter in the cold, the deep fear that the outcome would not be a good one and most of all, the guilt he felt, the blame he apportioned himself for the escapade of the day.
"Thank you, DS Masters." Adil turned, turning the light on in the long front hall. "I really appreciate this you know and Lily," he petered off briefly, "our Lily would want to thank you. She really cannot be without this teddy while she sleeps." Reaching towards a sideboard which was an organised mess of abstract drawings and paintings in red, blue, yellow and green, the greying man took hold of a worn teddy bear. "I don't know where this little thing came from but from the day she was born it slept in her crib and when she was toddling it was always in her little hands, she only parts with it to go to school, can't sleep without it. It's been in Paris, Madrid, Delhi, New York, Orlando. Everywhere our Lily goes the bear goes too."
"It's not a problem sir, as family liaison this is my job." She laid a gentle hand on the man's arm. "Is there anything else you think you should take to the hospital for her?" He looked up in confusion. "Pyjamas, maybe, some joggers for her to wear when she's sitting up and getting out of bed again?"
"Grace would appreciate that I think." He nodded, still frowning. "You seem to know what you're doing, DS Masters. I wonder, could you help me?"
"Of course, lead the way."
Lily Dasari's room was not the explosion of pink and sparkles that Jo had expected of a six year old girl. Instead it was a pale shade of lilac, with butterflies stencilled neatly on the walls and blue butterflies pinned on the outside of the princess-type canopy that draped the top of the singled bed. It was the usual chaos of a child's room however. A doll's house lay open in the corner, carefully crafted wooden figures and assorted furniture spilling onto the carpet. A jigsaw lay half finished on a child's size table, tiny shoes and socks were strewn around the place, a baby doll was lying face down, abandoned, on top of a toy chest. Adil grabbed a pink rucksack from a hook on the back of the door and opened one of the white, butterfly stickered drawers before looking back to Jo.
"Two pairs of PJs." The officer decided. She picked out a pale blue butterfly patterned top and shorts set smiling brightly. "She sure loves butterflies."
"Oh, it's her little obsession." There was something of amusement laced in Adil's tone and Jo was glad she was able to draw some happiness from the brooding gentleman. "When they were in Florida Grace took her to a butterfly garden." He picked up a picture from the top of the cabinet. It had been by Adil himself; Lily was sitting on Grace's lap her small hands clasping her mother's where they linked around her waist. The little girl had a butterfly painted on her cheek and one was nestled in her hair, looking extremely like a fancy hair pin. Grace was beaming, pride in her gorgeous daughter evident. "They redecorated in here the minute they got back. Everything had to have a butterfly on ." Tears sprung to the old man's eyes but he determinedly wiped them away, placing the picture down. "I can't imagine what it will be like if she doesn't pull through." He sighed shakily. "You're not supposed to have favourites when it comes to your grandchildren, but I always had a soft spot for Lily, she's my youngest."
They continued on in silence, Jo wary that the man was on the brink of tears and Adil in attempt to hold back. They gathered together another pair of pyjamas, two tiny pink hooded zippers, soft jogging trousers that matched one of the jumpers, toothbrush, hairbrush and assorted ribbons and ties as well as an assortment of other necessities which they managed to cram into the rucksack. At the front door, just as they were about to leave Adil dashed into the living area and began rummaging in a cupboard. Following him in Jo was suddenly assaulted by the pictures on the mantelpiece which captured Lily over the last six years. Whether she was blowing out birthday candles, or wearing a Santa hat, posing with an ice cream cone or smiling against the old style blue background of school photos Jo couldn't help but notice that – once you looked by the ebony hair and skin tone passed on by her mother – there was no denying the child's parentage. She hadn't noticed it in the picture used in the search or the first time she'd gotten a good look at the girl just as she was hurried off in the back of an ambulance but now, faced with an assortment of photos Jo could only conclude that this little girl was the female version of her father. Lily's were the chocolate brown eyes of Neil Manson, she had the slope to her nose and the same cheeky smile (not that it was a smile often seen on the sombre DI) of the man who had never been aware of her existence until mere hours ago.
"Okay, I think we can go now." Adil was on his feet again, a photo album in his hands. "Lily made it with Grace, all the best pictures go in here."
As the car snuck onto the dual carriageway which was the fastest route to St Hughes' Hospital Adil spoke to Jo for the first time since they had left the townhouse. "Don't judge Grace for the decisions she made six years ago. She had her reasons and I'm sure, in time, she will come to tell you and Neil both. You were her best friend, if I remember correctly and she has to talk to Neil again. For Lily's sake."
And in that brief comment Adil Dasari had confirmed that Neil Manson was Lily Dasari's father.
There was lots of doctors speaking very quickly and in a tongue she couldn't even distinguish as English. All she managed to catch was hypothermia, dangerously low core temperature and, most scarily, dropping heart rate. Grace could see her daughter, swathed in a cocoon of tin foil, wires criss-crossing everywhere, surrounded by harried looking medical professionals, completely still and perfect, just like the day she was born.
No. Grace steeled herself against the painful memories, she survived then – she can survive now.
"Miss Dasari?" Grace jumped as a hand came to rest on her shoulder. "I'm Dr Logan, paediatrics consultant – I'm taking care of Lily." She allowed herself to be steered away from the room full of people and massive machines and into a smaller, quieter side room. "You daughter was exposed to the elements for a long period of time. It's hard to pin point exactly how long she's been in her unconscious state so it's difficult to judge before we get back test results what stage of hypothermia she is in." Grace allowed herself a few tears, wiping them with the back of her hand.
"Will she be okay?"
The doctor sighed. "It's very hard to say at the moment but we are doing all we can." A nurse appeared with a clip board and handed it over. "At the moment our main concern is for Lily's core temperature. She's suffering from severe hypothermia and the fastest way to raise her temperature is by a process called extracorporeal rewarming."
"I'm sorry, what?" Grace rubbed her eyes. "What does that mean?"
"We will put lines into the femoral artery on Lily's right leg and the femoral vein on the left. This way blood will be filtered out of the body, warmed by a machine and will flow back in through the tube into her femoral vein. The heated blood will be taken to the heart where it will be pumped around her body, raising her core temperature. It's is invasive however it is very successful. We'll move Lily to the PICU for the procedure where she'll remain on her ventilator which is supporting her at the moment. We should know the extent of the damage done by the hypothermia in the morning and we can move from there – hopefully by weaning her off the ventilator as soon as possible." Grace just nodded, terrified for her baby's life. "We need you to sign to acknowledge your permission to carry out the procedure."
"Okay," she mumbled, shakily picking up the pen offered to her and signing the sheet on the clipboard.
"Miss Dasari," the consultant turned in the doorway, "your daughter has survived this far. I'm hopeful she will pull through."
And for now, that was reassurance enough.
"Jo –" A hand grasped the sergeant's arm and she jumped, scared for a moment.
"Gov! You scared me."
Neil Manson looked dreadful. Harassed, confused and scared were only some of the emotions flickering across his face. His eyes – Lily's eyes – stared into Jo's. "Meadows has put me off the case. They know I'm Lily's dad – well, we think I am so...No one is telling me anything. Please Jo, tell me something."
"Sir, you know I can't."
"I'm not asking as your boss Jo – I'm asking as a father." Suddenly, a barrier fell. "I never even knew I had a daughter 24 hours ago but I do. I have a daughter and for all I know she could be dying. When Jake was six he might have lived in Spain but I knew his daily routine. I knew his favourite colour, what his favourite bedtime story was, how he took his hot chocolate, what cereal he liked, what foods he hated. I don't even know if Lily has a middle name for crying out loud – I don't know her Jo, I can't lose her." Even in the days of Jake's leukaemia Neil had never publicly broken down like this. "I made a stupid mistake Jo, something I've regretted since the day it happened and because of that I've missed six years of her life. Please tell me what is going on." Oh, how he could manipulate people, Jo seethed.
"She's in intensive care. They're having to warm her blood for her because she can't raise her body temperature alone because she's too weak. She's being ventilated to try and prevent her lung's collapsing before they can assess the total damage and she's under heavy sedation. They're doing their best for her Neil."
"Thank you." He said, although he didn't appear soothed in the least, if anything he looked more panicked.
"Go home gov, Grace is in too much of a state to face any of us right now." He flinched slightly at the mention of his ex. "Go home and try and get some sleep. You're no good to anyone if you're falling asleep on us – come back tomorrow and I'm sure Adil will update you."
"Okay, thank you Jo."
As he turned to go, shoulders hunched in preparation for the cold blast from the outside world DS Masters called out to him. "Her favourite colour is purple," he turned in time to catch Jo smirking at him, "and she loves butterflies."
Can I just add at the end, a really brief (but big) thank you for all the wonderful reviews I've received and for everyone who added this to alerts/favourites! Thank you all so much! Keep reviewing!