Dec. 12th, 2012

fiery_ring: (looking for a fight?)
Carlotta pulls her hair back into the bun, where it promptly explodes. She sighs, and leaves it loose. No time to straighten it now, they're due in court in two hours. She doesn't like that the date got brought forward; Fern's lawyers may have got something together.

Will (sober 30 days) looks pale with fear. He gives Little William a tight little hug before they leave both kids with Will's mother.

"Look, if we don't get custody, at least we know we did our best." Carlotta says to him gently.

"You've been amazing." Will says quietly. "Taking in..."

"I didn't do it for you. It's not Little William's fault Fern had him out of wedlock and abandoned him." Carlotta says. "And technically he's my nephew."

They see Fern standing outside the court, with a triumphant smile.

"May I suggest you relinquish custody of my son voluntarily?" she asks, sweetly. "So we don't have to go through this court hearing?"

"Fern... I won't challenge you for custody, but Will will." Carlotta says. "If you met all the judge's recommendations I can't see how you could lose."

It will break her heart if she has to let the little boy go. But the legal advice she could ill afford advised her she would be very unlikely to win unless Fern has done something catastrophic. Not letting Fern worry her, she takes Will's arm and leads him into the court.

The judge gives them a dirty look as they sit down.

"This hearing is to decide the custody of William Francis Jr. According to my notes, the last judge awarded custody on the basis of an application of circus ward status. Miss Francis, what do you have to say?"

"I wish to apply for full custody, on numerous grounds." Fern says, triumphantly. "Firstly, William is a circus ward, but it is out of season and he does not at present live in a circus."

"Objection." Carlotta stands. "Circus ward status exists in and out of season."

"Granted." The judge says, grudgingly. "Next ground?"

"Secondly, I have visited every week according to the rules set out by the last court. Thirdly, when I have visited, William is often dirty."

"Objection, all babies who play outside get dirty." Carlotta says.

"Not granted. Continue."

"Fourthly, Will is an alcoholic, who nearly had to go to a psychiatric hospital. He's not a candidate for sole custody as it would be Carlotta who did all the parenting."

"I'm sober!" Will yells.

"Silence!" The judge bangs the gavel. "Miss Francis, continue."

"I know Will is still drinking, because I engaged a private detective who photographed him entering the Lion only last week. With Little William with him, I might add!"

"Your honour, I was not drinking then!" Will says, avoiding Carlotta's outraged stare. "That was for a business transaction. I sold a colt I had trained to a man I know there, to help feed my family."

"Who are at risk of going hungry because you spent all their summer earnings on liquor?" Fern says.

"Nobody is going hungry." Carlotta says. "He's telling the truth about the colt." Though he failed to mention it was in a pub.

"Oh and finally, Will continues to commit adultary. I engaged a private detective who has photographs of him engaging in drunken sex on the twelth of November. I also have a witness of him committing adultary on the twenty ninth of August, shortly before I lost custody of Little William to his wife."

Carlotta staaaaaares. No. No way. The picture is passed across, and she tries not to vomit.

"Objection." she says weakly. "You can't prove that's Will, the picture is blurred. Will, is this you?"

Will, who has gone even more pale, shakes his head.

"I-I... I don't think so. I don't remember her. But I did relapse on the 11th."

Fern gestures to a girl sitting in the court, who stands up. There's a bump...

"Clara, is this the man who got you pregnant in a drunken fling?"

"That's him." Clara says.

"Pregnant?" Will says, in just a whisper.

"I've heard enough." the judge says. "Miss Francis, have you got a job and visited William Junior every week under the court's instructions?"

"Yes, your honour. I'm living with my parents who will help support us."

"I grant full custody of William Francis Junior to Fern Francis and her parents." the judge bangs his gavel. "Case dismissed."

"TWENTY NINTH OF AUGUST?!" Carlotta stands and yells suddenly, grabbing Will by the shirt. "WE WERE SAYING OUR VOWS IN THE MORNING AND YOU DISAPPEARED ALL NIGHT AND I WAS SO WORRIED AND ALL THE TIME YOU WERE CHEATING AGAIN?!"

"Mrs Francis, sit down and be quiet, or I'll hold you in contempt of court!" The judge bellows.

"I DON'T EVEN REMEMBER, I SWEAR!" Will yells out in alarm. "Carlotta, I'm so sorry..."

"HOW MANY MORE ARE THERE?!" Carlotta yells. "Flaming hell Will!"

What happens next, all goes rather quickly. Unable to decide who she is more angry with, she launches herself over the bench and sends a tirade of angry Spanish at Fern. The next thing she knows, she's being grabbed by eight enormous security guards, who slam her onto the floor face down. Everything goes black for a moment, then she's struggling and handcuffed and dragged into a cell.

"I didn't touch her!" Carlotta yells, as they slam the door.

"Fucking circus scum." the guard sneers, locking the door and leaving her there.
"I hate these custody battles."

Carlotta gets her breath back, and staggers to her feet. There's blood dribbling down her forehead, but she barely notices due to the pain inside her. How could Will cheat the night before their vows?!

She staggers over to the cell toilet and throws up. It doesn't help. Tears mix with the blood and she tries to shake it off her face.

"YOU CAN'T PILE EIGHT PEOPLE ON MY WIFE YOU BASTARDS!" It's Will's voice, and the next moment, he's in the next cell, and still yelling. "She's a war hero, a captain, with medals! She's battled the idea that men should be the breadwinner, when every day faced with prejudice, and if it wasn't for her, I'd be dead drunk in a ditch!"

"Shut up." The guard snarls. "Your wife is just in here to cool off, we'll be back to charge you with assault later."

"Carlotta!" Will gets to the edge of the cell. "Oh God, you're bleeding, I'm so sorry." There are tears running down his cheeks too. "C'mere, let me see your head."

Carlotta blinks away the blood and tears and looks at him. He looks utterly hysterical. And the anger is still there, but he's in front of her and he's clearly been punched a few times too and... she moves over to the bars, and he reaches his arm as far as he can with the handcuffs to try and wipe her face with his sleeve.

"Tell me the truth. Everything." she says, sitting down at the bars. Her head is spinning and she tries not to be sick again.

"I wish I could." Will says, sinking down next to her. "There's big gaps in my memory. But... the night before we married, Fern turned up... she told me I wasn't to tell anyone I saw her or she'd destroy me and make sure you left, but she was trying to persuade me to leave you and marry her. I was in such a state after that I couldn't stop shaking and I went out drinking as usual. I don't remember anything else about that night except that I woke up in a strange bed with Clara. I ran out and back to the camp.

I stole from our cash box to buy alcohol. When you stopped me and I tried to go cold turkey, I started hallucinating. I didn't want you to think I was mad so I started stealing alcohol when we stopped at villages to stock up the hip flask."

He pauses, as Carlotta groans. Not just feeling terrible that he couldn't tell her, but because circus folk get enough bad press as it is, without an actual thief among them.

"I... I'm not sure Clara is the only one. That photo could have been me on the twelth when I disappeared for two days. I relapsed after I caught up with some of the other soldiers for Rememberance day and we all got hammered, and everything between that and the police finding me on the twelth is pretty blurry. The bit about being sober since then is true." He wipes his nose on his shoulder and starts to sob harder. "I don't know what to do, I can't fix this, I can't see how you'll forgive me..."

Carlotta leans on the bars, nudges her hands through, and holds his hands in the cuffs.

"I don't know, Will." she says quietly. "I know you're ill but you can't go on like this. It's not just about me, now there's two children involved. I have to think of Molly too. You have to support Clara now as well as Fern, and we have to find the shops you stole from and pay them back."

"We? You're not leaving me?" Will asks, in trepidation.

"You told me the truth." Carlotta says. "And you didn't try and tell me the drink made you do it. The little speech you made when they dragged you in here didn't do any harm either..." she sighs. "I'm not enabling you again. I'll fight to the death to help you with the post traumatic stress and alcoholism, but if you get drunk and disappear again I can't promise I won't leave with Molly."

"Maybe you should leave me. I've been a terrible husband." Will says, hanging his head.

"Will... you came back from the war a broken man. We were barely schoolkids when we married at the start of the war. Everyone said we were too young, and they were wrong; we were better young, we aged really quickly. I've not seen the Will I married for a long time, but I know he's still there. The Will that took me on the horse show and marvelled that I could ride like a boy, who I snuck a kiss with and got in trouble with the head... you were made to look after horses, not to kill."

She squeezes his hand. And suddenly, he laughs slightly, weakly.

"How daring we thought we were, sneaking outside your school to hold hands and kiss! Was that really only a couple of years ago?"

"Yes! If we went back there, we'd still know a lot of the top formers. We're young still, Will. There's so much we can do! That's why we have to get you better. The war cheated us out of the best first years of our marriage, and the best of our precious first year with Molly. If we weren't in these cells, I'd suggest we go and kiss in front of Miss Theobald's window right now."

Will squeezes her hand back.

"I love you. I'm going to do everything I can to get better."

"I love you too. No more secrets, Will! If you're relapsing, or hallucinating or you have the shakes, I want to know. We can have a code word even. But you don't hide anything from me, clear?"

She looks up and the smile fades as Clara enters the cells. She waits until the guard has left, then approaches the bars.

"Will? I'm really sorry, I don't think the baby is yours. You were so drunk you couldn't do anything, er, effectively. I mean, we tried, but it didn't really work, and then you were really sick so I put you in my bed to sleep it off.
I'm marrying the man who's more likely the father and he wants to bring the baby up as ours, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't try and find me again."

"Then why did you say in court that the baby is his?" Carlotta demands.

"Because Fern found me and begged me to help get her baby back." Clara says. "She was... persuasive. I'm sorry, the fling was my fault as much as Will's."

She leaves, to Carlotta's relief. Okay, so it's good that there isn't another baby in the picture, but Clara is the last person she wants to see right now. Except possibly Fern.

The guard comes back in after an hour, and pulls a face at the couple holding hands.

"Circus scum, you're free to go. We're handing over the lad to the police, he'll be charged with assault and kept overnight."

Carlotta squeezes Will's hand one more time, and stands.

"Captain Francis." she says, fixing him with a stare. "Thank you. Will, I'll pick you up tomorrow." She leans across and kisses him gently through the bars.

"You're forgiving him?" The guard asks, surprised, as he uncuffs her. "After he's cheated repeatedly?"

"Probably. I don't have any proof he cheated more than once, the evidence is dubious, and he doesn't remember.

Either way, I don't have to justify it to anyone."

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Carlotta Francis (nee Brown)

February 2014

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