(1939-07-29) Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
Details for Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
Summary: Keenan returns to his flat after realizing the truth of his loss, to be comforted by his fiancee.
Date: 29 July, 1939
Location: Keenan's Flat
Related: Losing Niamh

A healer never gets used to losing patients.
No matter how many years, how experienced or competent the healer, they never become immune to that loss.
Worse, however, than losing the patient, is informing the family. Pushing whatever emotion you feel, the frustration, grief, even anger at the unfairness of the world that a person should leave life in such a horrible way, down somewhere behind a wall to be a calm yet compassionate, steadying rock in the face of the grief of the loved ones to whom you must bear the knowledge of the passing. That is the most difficult burden of a healer.
It never leaves the healer untouched.

In their time together before she left, Veruca had come to know that expression on her loved one’s face when he came home from Mungo’s. That certain helplessness to cure the grief caused by a passing that can’t be prevented.
Even though he hasn’t been to work today, when he walks through the door, he wears that look. Only this time, it’s infinitely worse. For the first time, the loved ones he had to break the news to were his own family. For the first time, he was included in the number that needed to be informed of the passing of one of their own.

Two steps in the door, the strength Keenan had for Sorcha, to remain calm and be a comfort for her, evaporates. Unlike Gideon downstairs moments before, there is no table to catch him. Only cold stone as he collapses to his knees under the sudden, unexpected burden.

When Veruca went upstairs to find the records Niamh keeps of the few that have been in the employ of the shop, it seemed only natural to put a kettle on for tea. It’s the British way of dealing with adversity, whether Muggle or Wizard. The information was easy to locate, as were a quill and parchment, and Veruca sat down to contemplate a missive to the family of Nora Summerbee. Brow furrowed in concentration, she’s gotten as far as ‘we are sending formal correspondence to ascertain the whereabouts of apothecary personnel in the aftermath of this terrible attack.’ While Keenan jumped immediately to the assumption that Niamh is with Gideon and Nora was the unfortunate who’s ashes they reverently salvaged downstairs, Veruca has her reservations in the lack of positive identification. It’s not a point she chose to confront at that moment, and, in the terrible way that tragedy makes one acknowledge certain awful choices, she does hope that the Healer is correct. Either way, there is no joy to be had from any eventuality.

A noise from behind her calls her attention, and she turns, rising to move so she can see the doorway. Consequently, she spies the familiar figure, crumpled to his knees, and she moves immediately to him. What bruises might appear on her own fair skin are of little matter as she drops beside Keenan, her arms immediately moving to gather him into an embrace. “My love,” she whispers, sorrow unmasked in the tone. She doesn’t ask, there are few things that could move the stalwart man to a moment of such weakness, and she doesn’t want to make him put it into words, unaware that he already has with Sorcha, Nora and Gideon in the shop below. Her own strength comes to the fore, and while tears slip silently down her cheeks, there is no quarter given to her own sorrow for a friend… no, a sister, lost to her. There is only concern for Keenan as she draws him close, and she assumes, for now, that some confirmation was found during the cleaning.

Bruises Veruca shall have, as the man's fingers dig into her arms while he clings to her. At first, he only shakes. Then the sound comes out, the hoarse grief, the loss of a companion that shared his life from his earliest memories.

As the deluge ebbs and slows, he finds the strength to let go, long enough to lean back against the wall and pull her into his arms. "Nora.." the name scrapes from his raw throat. "… showed up teh help clean tha shop after ye left. Then… Gideon came bellowin' in lookin' fer Niamh. She never made it to Brazil." The grating of air from his throat is the only sound for the next few moments. "He screamed at me teh go search Mungo's again, even though I treated every patient brought in." The ginger strands mingle with Rue's dark ones as he leans his forehead down to her temple.

Veruca does her best to comfort Keenan, unable to fully process the pain he must be feeling. She would feel badly if something happened to one of her own family, but there is nothing even close to the bond that twines through the whole of the O'Shea family, and especially Keenan and Niamh. "My darling heart," she croons softly, fingers gently raking through his hair, making no bid to stop the sorrow but to let him deal with it as he needs. Until his grief begins to abate for the moment, she is just there to hold him, whisper softly, kiss his hair.

When he moves to shift her, Rue does so easily, pliant to his needs. As he finds words her fingers still gently stroke his hair, his face, seeking to offer some measure of solace. She winces when Gideon's arrival is relayed, the final piece of the puzzle that she had hoped would not come together. "Oh Keenan," she whispers. No words seem strong enough, comforting enough, good enough, but her presence says more than any words would be able.

"I knew," he whispers brokenly. "I felt it… when I saw the ashes…" his throat tightens again, and for long moments he can't speak. "I felt broken, but I didna have tha time teh…" he trails off again. "I let ma logic override ma heart, that Niamh went teh Brazil. That it had teh be Nora layin' there. Because I could neh have done what I needed teh do if I believed it was Niamh…"

She doesn't shush him, letting Keenan speak when he can, waiting through his silences in quiet patience. When Veruca finally does find words of her own, her voice is soft but even, as it usually is. "There are no words, my love, that I can say to change what is, although I dearly wish that were not so." While Keenan is the strength of many in his family, Veruca has the fortitude to be his strength, the love to stand beside him and give him something that not many think to… someone to lean on. She has years of experience keeping herself in check, as he himself does. But sometimes the rock needs a rock of it's own to keep the world steady.

Where many might rush to question this even now, asking if he's positive, can they make sure, they are not questions that occur to Veruca. She is aware that he, of all people, would know beyond a doubt now that he is looking through new eyes.

Keenan has already been questioned, been ranted at for his surety, but he knows. It's a feeling that one doesn't understand until it happens to them. Even Gideon's bones know it, though his mind is following the same path that Keenan's did when his heart first told him his sister was gone.

Just as his bones know she is gone, his heart knows that there is not enough tears. He will never be able to fully express the grief he feels, and so the body does what it must. It shuts down the tears before he makes himself ill, it steadies the breathing, even if that haunted look can't be erased, his instincts take care of his physical needs. "We were always at each other, in jest an' sometimes serious… but, she was always there with me. When I shut out tha rest o'tha world after Da's accident… she was still so close, right there… always." He smiles bittersweet. "Even then she was takin' care o'me. Makin' me eat when I got home from tha grocers at night…"

Despite the calm that seems to come over Keenan, Veruca can still feel a tremble beneath the composure. "She has always been protective of you, love," come the soft words. It was something Veruca could feel from the moment Niamh realized that Rue wasn't just another light-hearted fling. It was shown on Rue's return, and the talk over tea that was the future sisters-in-law shared. And the thought tugs up the brunette's own bittersweet smile. More than words, however, Veruca gives Keenan support quietly, speaking little so that he can have his own voice. Too soon he will have to return to being the strength of the whole family.

As if the same thought is going through his mind, Keenan closes his eyes and lets out a long sigh. "We'll need teh close tha shop a few days. I dunno what we're goin' teh do." He procrastinates considering what he really needs to do by talking of the shop, but it's only a momentary distraction. "Ahhhh, Rue. How'm I goin' teh tell Ma an' me Da? It'll break their hearts…"

Veruca nods to Keenan's words of the shop. "Right now, one step at a time, love. Yes, the shop will have to be closed for a few days. There is time yet to think about longer term." She doesn't acknowledge the tears that escape anew at this new question, but she turns her head and presses a soft kiss to Keenan's cheek. "There is no other way but to just tell them. And before they hear word of it some other way." Surely Sorcha knows, the girl was cleaning the shop with them. And obviously Gideon isn't taking it in the best of ways. Hard as it is, it is news best come from Keenan. "Shall we go by floo?" She does consider, however briefly, that he may decline her offer to accompany him. Her own family would keep themselves very private at a time like this. But that would be more to hide the lack of grief, the absence of real emotion. In this case, she would stay back if he requested, to give them time to share their grief as a family without an 'outsider' in the mix. "Whatever you feel is best, love," she adds gently.

Leaning his head against the wall, Keenan finally breaks the contract, and brings long fingered hands up to scrub down his face once. Eyes closed, he takes a deep breath through his nose, sniffling the last of the mucus down before he nods. Sliding up, using the hard stones coated in plaster to bear his weight, he reaches out his hand for Rue. "Aye. I don'know what Sorcha is doin'. Gideon's given her hope that Niamh's out there somewhere, she went teh help, an'… who knows where he thinks she could be. But he's out lookin' fer her." His eyes close once more to steady the spinning of the world. "But… that's just what did it… she went teh help, she ran around helpin' people until tha potion…" he swallows hard, pulling Rue to him in a tight hug to forestall more tears at the words that can't be said.

Rue steps forward immediately, sliding her arms around Keenan's waist and pressing close to him. "Love, don't," she murmurs softly, brushing her fingers along his scruffy jaw. "She did exactly what you would have been doing. She was helping people without concern for herself. She may not have been a healer, but she had the heart of one. Same as you do." If there was any way that Niamh would have wanted it, it would have been exactly this; helping others no matter the personal cost. "Her noble spirit would have had it no other way."

The moments tick by as Keenan hangs onto Rue, and her words. "Aye, if she had teh go, it's how she would've chosen," he agrees, the words as heavy as his heart, not holding as much comfort now as they may in days to come. Finally, he pushes away from the wall, taking her hand and leading her over to the fireplace. Reaching into the jar above the mantle, he waits until the last possible moment to let go of her hand, knowing she'll be right behind him when he steps out into the homey cottage kitchen in Cornwall.

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