Thank you for your lovely reviews. Particular thanks to Ami – incidentally, I had no idea Billy had a wife and children, he does seem entirely aloof and I'd always imagined him as being alone outside of work; this chapter again follows the 'no family' line – and of course Sophie who's been there through everything.
I know some of the chapters seem quite short, and I would like to expand each of the scenes, but the whole idea of this story was to show snapshots of Scarlett's life, and to kind of leave what happened in between hanging, so I'm actually quite pleased if anyone reading this is left wanting to know more.
Anyway, I digress. This is the last of the chapters I'd already written up before I posted the story, so from now on I'll try and take any advice into account. This chapter might be quite hard-hitting, it was definitely difficult to write, apologies in advance. Please excuse anyone OOC-ness, and any inconsistency with real-life medical procedure.
Martha had known, from the moment that Billy had asked her to hold his hand (those words still rung in her ears four years on, the way he'd said Martha), that something was wrong.
It had taken her three weeks to get it out of him. Three weeks of seeing him every single day. He'd raise a hand and shout "Morning, Miss" across the clerks' room, as cheery as ever, like he was performing a play for her, determined not to crumble.
After three weeks, he'd asked her to walk with him at lunch time, and they'd ended up sitting on a bench alongside the Thames, gazing silently out, and she'd known then that whatever it was he was about to say would change everything.
"I didn't say before, Miss," he'd said, eventually, "Because I didn't want to hurt you. But then I realised that not telling you would hurt more. And I need to tell you, I can't be the only one any more, I–"
"Billy," she'd whispered, "What is it?"
And as he'd told her he'd cried into her coat, and she hadn't washed it, the coat, for a good long time afterwards, just because it felt like she needed to have him close to her, and his dried tears on her shoulder meant she didn't have to let go quite yet.
She'd supported him from the start. She'd gone with him to the hospital when he'd had the implant, and he'd stayed for the week after whilst he sorted himself out, physically and mentally. They'd watched old, faded episodes of The Bill and eaten sweet and sour chicken out of the cartons.
Scarlett, a tiny baby at the time, had laid in her cot in the next room, and when Martha had gone in to kiss her goodnight, Billy had gone too, and he'd pressed his thumb into her tiny fingers, and something in her subconscious had made those fingers curl around his, and Martha thought that had given him more strength than she ever could with all her words of reassurance.
Gradually, it had faded from the forefront of their minds. Martha had never forgotten about it, never forgotten the risk ("He said it might be seven years or it might–" Billy had broken off, sobbing, the only time she'd ever seen him cry except when he'd come to the hospital after Scarlett had been born, "It might be a year."), and she suspected that Billy hadn't either, but they got on with their lives.
The more time that had passed since he'd told her, and the more that they didn't mention it, the harder it was to casually drop into conversation. It was like a taboo, something they didn't talk about. Nobody else at Shoe Lane knew, so of course it couldn't be mentioned at work, and if she tried to bring it up at other times, he'd change the subject quickly. She didn't think he was in denial, exactly; he just wanted to live his life as normally as possible. If she'd been in his position, she'd have felt the same.
Suddenly, though, it wasn't something terrible that might possibly happen in the distant future. It was real and it was now, and very soon it would be over.
That was what had first got to Martha, when Billy had told her. "When it happens, it'll be over quickly," he'd said, stumbling over the words, alienated from the confident man she'd always known before.
Maybe that was supposed to be a good thing; you heard doctors say 'oh, they didn't suffer'. But the idea of him being there one day and not the next had really frightened her, and it still did; now she was facing exactly that. Taking Scarlett to the park with him, pushing her on the swings, having ice creams, and then what? He was just gone? How exactly did she explain that to his goddaughter?
"They didn't think–"
"What, Marth?" he said softly. The use of her first name, that intimacy, broke her heart that little bit more.
She'd been going to say 'they didn't think this would be an appropriate place for a child to visit', but the remainder of the sentence got lost inside her throat. Of course Billy knew it wasn't appropriate. It wasn't appropriate for anyone to be in this place. Billy wouldn't be here at all soon.
"She's with the nurse outside."
"But I want to see her."
She shook her head, "You can't, Billy."
There were a couple of cards on the table. She picked one up, just for something to do, just so that she didn't have to look at his ashen face, his wet eyes. There was a teddy bear on the front, and inside it was signed by John and Jake and Bethany. She thought about the three of them sitting around that table in the clerks' room, wondering if their leader would ever come back.
"She's your goddaughter. I know."
"And I can't say goodbye to her? It'll be over quickly," he said, echoing those words, "It'll be over soon."
"I know it will. I know."
Martha hadn't brought him a card. She hadn't done anything for the past couple of days, since he'd been put in the back of that ambulance.
It had been the middle of the night when the hospital had called, and the ringing of the phone had woken Scarlett. Martha had found her way down the stairs with her hands, too groggy to realise it would be easier with a light on, muttering something disparaging about solicitors.
"Martha Costello?" a woman had said.
"Yes. Who is it?"
"I'm from St. Luke's."
She'd put a light on, and found herself standing alone in the middle of her living room, surrounded by children's toys and red ribbons. She'd known then what was going to happen. "Billy?"
"Yes. Mr Lamb's been brought in, he's–"
She'd already been fumbling for the Yellow Pages, looking for the address of a taxi company. "Will I be able to– can I see him?"
"Did he ask you to phone me?"
"He's been given a sedative; he was quite distressed. He cried for you, in the ambulance."
And so she'd taken Scarlett around to her mother's (that was what mothers were for, really) and rushed to the hospital and sat with him all night, long into the morning, and then Clive had called her and gone mad about her missing a case at the Old Bailey.
She'd gone out into the hospital gardens and screamed at him down the phone, "Billy is dying. Do you think I give a fuck about the Old Bailey?"
She'd gone back to work, because she couldn't just sit there. It would be like waiting for him to die, and they all were, really, but she couldn't admit that to herself. And then she'd rushed back to the hospital because he was all alone, and he needed to understand she was there for him until the end. She just wasn't ready for him to go.
Jesus, Billy, I love you so much. Scarlett loves you. We all love you, everyone does. You don't deserve this. I would die in your place if I could.
"I'm so proud of you," Billy whispered, "Martha Costello, QC."
"The QC belongs to you, and you know it. I wouldn't have got it without you. I wouldn't have got anywhere without you," she said, reaching out and running a hand down the side of his face, "Twenty one years, we've worked together now. Haven't made a bad team, have we?"
Despite the chorus of the beeps coming from the machines he was attached to, the room seemed to overflow with silence.
It had never been more difficult to smile in her life. "Don't be. Don't be sorry for anything, Billy."
"Please, let me see her. Just– just a minute."
She shook her head. He forced himself up onto one elbow, and then the other, and when she moved to lay him back down a tear splashed down from his cheek onto her hand, and she knew she couldn't deny him this, one last wish.
In prisons where they still had the Death Penalty (those two words sent shivers down her spine), convicted murderers got to choose their last meal. They ate their pizza or their past from a colourful tray, and then they were led out into a courtyard and hanged. In hospitals, entirely innocent people didn't even get that, but they got their families and their friends.
He pulled his wires out, and she helped him to sit up. He leant heavily against her, like she'd leant against Clive during the time they'd thought she was losing Scarlett.
"Don't cry," she said, "Please, don't cry."
"I'll try not to. Miss."
"Billy. That's not funny."
It was, to him, right now. She could see the way his eyes sparkled, the way the corners of his mouth twitched. "It's just habit."
Painstakingly slowly, she helped him into his slippers, and out of the door into the cool corridor. One of the nurses sat in a chair, jiggling Scarlett on her knee, and when she saw Billy she jumped up, but she didn't lecture him. Martha was grateful to her for that.
"Mummy," Scarlett held out her arms, and her voice shook in a similar way to Billy's. Oh, darling, I wish I could protect you from this. "Why's Billy crying? Why can't we all be healthy forever?"
The nurse helped Billy to sit down, and Martha sank down beside him and held him tightly. She'd never held him before, and she never would again. Scarlett nestled between them, and she leant up and smothered Billy's white cheek in kisses, and time didn't seem to matter any more.
"Come on, Billy," the nurse said.
He sagged against Martha. She couldn't say a word, because if she opened her mouth she knew her sobs would ring out along the corridor. Stay strong, for his sake. You can fall apart soon. She wiped his cheek where Scarlett had left a trail of warm dribble, and kissed it with her own soft lips.
"Marth," he whispered.
"I know," she said, "I know."
The nurse helped him up and half-carried him back to the room. He turned at the door, and it seemed to take all of the energy in the world for him to raise his hand and wave to Scarlett, the innocent little girl with the golden ringlets and the bright blue eyes who looked so like her mother that it broke him and made him whole, all at once.
"I'll just take her to mum's," Martha said, "And then I'll come back."
"I'll wait for you."
Oh, God, Billy. Don't.
"Night, night, Billy," Scarlett shouted to him, blowing rubbery kisses and waving her hands about in front of her face to show they were being transported across to him.
Saying 'goodnight' suggested another day. Saying 'goodbye' suggested the end. He knew which it had to be, this time.
"Bye, bye, Scarlie."