"It Might Have Been".
rating: +24+x

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.”

~ John Greenleaf Whittier

It was overcast, that day.

For many people, the middling grey British sky would be heralding something to be wary of – at the least, rain to dampen spirits and ruin picnics of those optimistic enough to believe Summer meant sun. For others, it would be integrally connected to their mental health; a heavy sky pregnant with an equally heavy burden, making promises of something awful and unpredictable.

For Laurel, it was a blessing in disguise.

She tugged her pajamas off and stood in the dim sunlight that came through her bedroom window, arms wrapped around herself in protection and in defense against the chill that was definitely not born of Summer. Eyes narrowed, she took in the outside world with a sense of defiance.

No shadows. The grey smothered the sun and left people to walk alone. Laurel thought of Peter Pan, thought of shadows sewn to soles of the feet, wondered where the shadows went when the sun hid, or slept.

As she tugged on a t-shirt that didn't smell so godawful that it should have been quarantined, and a pair of jeans that only had suspect stains near her ankles, Laurel tried not to second guess her urge to go out. Her fingers twitched anxiously and she reached for the lighter in her back pocket. Right. Fuck it, she could do this. It, the thing, it didn't own her, goddammit!

She slipped on a pair of trainers, grabbed her keys and a handful of suitable money from the change dish near her front door, and left the flat. A sign near the letterbox proclaimed in understated, but red, text -

'Night worker sleeping. Please do not knock!'

Blinking at the slight light the daytime provided, Laurel hesitated in the doorway to the outside world. Her mind registered that the cloudy day was rather depressing, but it was better than the sun.

Taking a deep breath, Laurel began her walk to the local off license. It would take five minutes, tops. Walk, walk, walk don't look down, pause at the road, watch for the cars, walk, walk, walk fuck, is it getting sunnier?, pause again, cross again you used to do this every day, don't worry, walk, walk, walk, hit the shop like a nosebleed.

The owner of the shop peered at her licence like he always did and she again contemplated getting her date of birth tattooed on her arm. This was taking time. Time was something she didn't have. Windows were something the shop didn't have. It was all making her incredibly anxious, her mouth dry when she finally asked for her cigarettes, her hand shaking as she snatched back her ID.

The transaction felt like it took forever, but she was soon back outside and flipping her lighter open. She absently wondered when it became automatic to leave her phone at home; when it became automatic that she didn't want to check messages and phone calls from friends. Her back pocket felt strangely empty without the cumbersome object, but she increasingly found that a social life was too dangerous, these days. Too troublesome, when…

She absently shook her head as she also shook her lighter and flipped the lid down on it. Fuck it, forget it. She slipped a hand into her pocket, her other hand smoking the cigarette with slow purpose. She wanted to smoke until her throat was sore, as if curing a problem. She bowed her head and absently pulled her hood up over her dirty hair, suddenly self-conscious now the desperate drive to get fags had left her.

This self-consciousness is why she was staring at the pavement when the sun suddenly decided to reappear.

It happened instantly. One moment, darkness on the pavement, the threat of rain; the next moment, the shadow appeared next to her, as it had done half a dozen times in the last few months. Laurel's breath caught, but she couldn't bear to lift her head and look away from the figure.

It was simple enough to tell what the shadow was. What it had been. What it might have been. A head that came up to Laurel's hip, a head with hair in pigtails on each side of the head, and a motion that indicated skipping – two skips to Laurel's one step, keeping pace with her. Laurel swallowed dryly, shook her head.

'It isn't there,' she told herself, firmly. 'You're going mad. You are mad. It's the night shifts, it's the isolation, this is nothing, no-one.' As she threw affirming, if degrading, thoughts at herself regarding her own mental health, a voice from nowhere piped up. A voice she didn't know, but it was definitely female and definitely young. And…pink?

'Was I an accident?'

It may have been the tenth or so time she had seen this shadow, but Laurel had never had the figure talk to her – if, indeed, that was what was happening. She didn't feel confident she wasn't only providing her own narrative. Her chest hurt, and she looked around to ensure she was alone, so it didn't feel so weird when she said out loud -

"No. You were very much wanted. I just… lost you."

'Well, I'm not lost right now!' The voice was quick to reply, cheerful, definitely pink. 'You found me!'

Laurel felt like her own grey-speckled thoughts were disturbed, thrown about, struggling to find a foothold in her own brain, struggling to make sense of what was going on. It was this unnerved disruption that allowed her to speak freely.

"…I guess I did."

It hurt her chest more to try and ignore the shadow than to actually give it attention. She couldn't pinpoint why, and she could hear her own breathing, heavy, as she tried to stumble for some moment of reality. She tapped the ash off her cigarette – it had consumed so much of itself that over half of it blossomed and blew away in the wind. Shit.

She kept trying to ignore the shadow. The doorway wasn't that far away.

'Who was my daddy?'

The voice was sweet. Almost lyrical, humming to a tune forgotten in childhood, going up and down in all innocence. The simpleness of the question was another heart-stopping moment.

"Your daddy…uh, his name was David. He was a lawyer."

The child shadow nodded, still skipping, keeping up with Laurel, on an even plane.

"It was probably him. But it may have been a man…whose name I didn't know."

Dark shadows - why always shadows, a cold punishment - an alley by a club. Drinking, after the end of a relationship. Drinking way too much, get pushed out of the bar for being an obvious drunk. "No more for you." Some guy comes up. Handsome enough, looked sober, tall and muscular – an overwhelming strength she was oblivious to, at the start. He offers to help. Blinded by drink and tripping over her feet, she takes it. Next thing she knows, her back is scraping brick under her shirt and he is inside her, and she tries to scream but can only whimper. She hates her body in the darkness, she hates it in the shower later, and she hates it when she pees on a stick and it tells her she's pregnant. But she never hated the… thing, growing within her.

"Who your daddy was…or wasn't, doesn't matter. I wanted you."

The reply was instant, and cheerful as ever, waking Laurel from the dark memory of that night where everything changed.

'I want you too, mummy. Always.'

The shadow, which until now, had been like any other shadow, produced a hand that twisted awkwardly but stayed flat as it was lifted from the ground. It shakily turned the palm towards Laurel's empty hand, the hand without the cigarette.

Laurel paused, then took the hand. It felt like holding nothing, but when the shadow squeezed her hand, she could feel it, and her fingers tingled. It was like when her insides had tingled before the blood started trickling between her legs, before she lost the baby from the cozy nest it had made itself in her womb. She never even got to hold her, but now…

"This is as close to you as I've ever been." Laurel muttered, mainly talking to herself. She could see her front door now. The sky above was changing its mind on this moment of freedom for the shadow-child, and the sun was threatening to go in once more. Laurel swallowed anxiously, squeezed the alien hand that somehow gripped back, despite its consistency and the impossible nature of the situation. All that didn't matter right now. Only one thing mattered.

"You know you'll…go away, once I get inside."

She waited with bated breath. She wasn't sure what for. A denial? A tantrum? A sudden revelation that the shadow could do more than hold hands, that it could come to life and be the child lost so many years ago?

All she got was childish innocence in response.

'I know.' The child answered. 'But I won't be lost, and you'll find me again.'

Find her again. That meant going outside in the sun. That meant confronting this. That meant being seen as potentially insane as she spoke to shadows she was pretty sure no-one else could see. But… she had lost her child, once. Did she really want to lose her again?

Hand in hand, both continued walking towards the building. With a heavy heart, Laurel knew that her child would disappear the second they reached the threshold. The child kept skipping, seemed happy, held her hand, and continued towards their destiny, for now, motivating Laurel to keep moving too. She suddenly felt all too aware of where shadows go when the sun goes in, and she suddenly felt all too aware of the people she met in her life who hated going out in the sun, and she suddenly thought that maybe she wasn't so alone after all.

Linked hand in hand, mother and child both knew as soon as they hit the threshold, Katie would disappear. She would be gone until Laurel could face seeing her unborn child once more, on a sunny day, filled with a desperate need.

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