I know I know I know you all hate me... but this came to me when I was watching Series 2 of Our Girl and realising how shit it was without lovely, loveable Molly... and obviously more of Cpt. James. I personally lost all my shit at the tiny mentions of Molly in conversations the new S2 characters had with Cpt. James so I had to write about it. We deserve to have seem of the moments they've denied us.
MAJOR SPOILERS FROM POST SERIES 2 IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT.
Any fellow Captain Dawsey shippers, please come and find me on my tumblr, goodgirlwhoshopeful, because it's pretty lonely. Our Girl shippers seem to have gone completely AWOL despite all the lovely fics on here from when Series 1 was around... I hope y'all come back.
I'm at university so I can't promise how regularly I can post to this but if reaction is strong it might spur me a little...
Love and hugs.
Lance Corporal Molly James-Dawes had known many things for certain as she began her third tour: one, that she was more content in life than she had ever been; two, that she good at her job… and three, that she was lucky to be married to a man she could call her best friend.
What she hadn't realised until today was quite how she and her husband's connection had irreversibly changed in the weeks since they parted. Unforeseen circumstances left her trembling in her bunk in the woman's quarters at Camp Shorabak, (the new name given to Camp Bastion after it was handed over to the Afghan Army), tears barely remaining at bay as she attempted to converse with him as though she wasn't beginning to fall apart.
"I miss you," she whispered down her satellite phone, such contact allowed in Afghan now that The British Army were no longer on the front line, simply based in medical and support roles instead. She is eternally grateful for it on days like today, when she'd seen children blinded by gas and girls with horrific injuries by men four times their age. Being able to hear the voice of her one support system in the world… was something that no army could put a price on, especially when he too was in a place of threat.
She'd done the maths over and over; there was no less than 4,879 miles between herself and her only love, her old boss… her best friend, Captain Charles James, or Charlie as she had grown to know him. In her nightmares though, the phone call came that every soldier's loved one grew to dread, only she was not in the comforts of home like the other Army wives, but on tour too. In the pitch of the Afghan night, she would find herself running, breathless and panic-stricken, lungs seemingly painfully filled with grit and sand, attempting to chase down the 4,879 miles that stretched out between herself and Charlie. Her soul screams out for him, hearing the phantom chokes and wails of his agony, sounds she knew came from real memories from her first tour, when she had pressed her fist in his abdomen to keep him from bleeding out beneath her… All this torment, only to wake to find it was all a cruel warped trick of the mind.
Staring at the canvas ceiling of her quarters, she would have a daily experience of being unable to draw air into her lungs, drenched in her body's own sweat, despite the number of times she would repeat to herself that it wasn't real. Charles was in Africa. Charles was providing aid, not fighting. He was good at his job. Charles was alive. Charles was safe.
"Ditto, Dawsey," came his reply, bringing her back to the present with their catchphrase, that had long been theirs alone since she told him off for using it on their first tour of Afghan. She'd been nothing but an over-eager gobshite of a private under his charge back then, but the memory of that day, when they had finally admitted their hesitant forbidden feelings for one another, bounced around her nut, even after all this time.
It had been like any other day in Afghan… except it hadn't been at all.
The day before, the convoy had come across an object in the middle of the road and of course, as their CO, it had been Charles who had taken the dangerous role of approaching it for inspection. As the medic, Molly had been told to wait out for his confirmation before moving, holding her rifle up to keep an eye on him through the eyepiece… but of course she had disobeyed. By that point, she had been head over heels in love with the Boss. They had shared very few moments alone and hadn't even had the time much to even acknowledge them… but somehow they already both knew that their connection was irreversible.
Playing back the tiny, hesitant moments they had shared over and over in the dead of night – the trace of his thumb over her knuckles and her fingers as he held her wrist, staring into her eyes in the seclusion of her tent; his pinching of her Coco Pops and his wink when they sang that ridiculous bloody duet on music night – she would wonder if it could ever be possible that the Boss too returned such feelings. After all, he was handsome as fuck, posh as anything and cultured… where she was cockney, mouthy and rough around the edges as well as right through the middle!
Then, just she had had a slither of hope that love could overcome such obstacles, the boys had put her in the shit, spreading rumours about her and her long-term fellow private friend Smurf being an item because she had gone to his hometown of Newport while they were on R&R back in England together. That had been all it was, of course, between her and Smurf. She hadn't had relations with him since her first week of Basic, when they'd met and got drunk and gone at it behind the Indian take away… but it appeared that the Boss had not seen things that way.
His sudden stoney silence hurt, and it was most likely meant to punish her… but it indirectly also gave her some comfort… because there was only one reason men got a sulk on at the mention of other men, well she knew, and that was jealousy.
Therefore, there had been no way she could let the Boss walk out to his potential death without knowing for sure, every step he took away from her taunting her with images of his being blown into the air, so she had moved forward and taken cautious steps toward the suspicious road block, which could well blow them both to smithereens, because she knew she had to tell him, in case it did.
"Have you got a death wish?!" he'd demanded.
"Maybe," she'd said, though she managed not to add, 'if it means I save you'.
"Yeah, well, it's nice to have some quali'y time togeva'," she'd added, knowing that her platoon where out of earshot in the convoy, wondering what on earth she was doing.
"Is that why you're risking your neck?" he'd asked harshly, carrying on forward while cautiously listening out of IED's.
No, she wanted to say. No – I'm risking it for you.
Keeping one eye through the viewfinder on her weapon, she trained the other on the back of his head, barely managing the words. "Nothin' happened with Smurf – but at least now I know."
"Well, I never thought you'd look at someone like me. I thought you were out of my league."
He'd turned on his heel and paused, though not quite been able to look at her. "What you trying to say, Dawes?"
That had made her nervous – more so, strangely, than being so close to what could have easily been the end of her life. Somehow though, she'd held her ground and not let his tone deter her. "I'm jus' sayin'…" Sometimes in life, all there was left was risk. "I'm fond of you, sir."
He had turned back and it was all she could do to focus on the curls that peeped out from beneath his helmet against the back of his tanned neck. "And I wanted to tell you in case we get to that sheet and someone detonates it and we're blown to smithereens."
"Well, let's continue this conversation when we're back at Brize Norton, shall we?"
"Love's stronger than army regulations…" she'd tried softly, but she had known it was a long shot. If there was one thing Captain James was, it was a stickler for the rules.
"Nothing is stronger than army regulations!"
The words had been harsh, as he'd no doubt intended them to be. The Boss had always been good at isolating his feelings from the task in hand. ('Do. Not. Get. In-fucking-volved!', as he always liked to scold her in the beginning.)
She'd felt it then, as they moved but a foot or two from the sheet: the impending sense that that may have been the end… and it wasn't enough. What they had, the impasse they had reached… it wasn't enough! Not when the admission of actual, real love felt so close! It couldn't end there…
So, with tears in her throat, she found herself saying words aloud that, in hindsight, sounded so despite that they made her grimace… but war was a context in and of its own.
"Do you love me?"
He never got chance to answer, as Sahal, their moody Afghan Army Captain ally, had reached out for him, injured and bleeding beneath the sheet. His revelations about being beaten by the Taliban were followed by the dreadful news that they had done so… because he had refused to murder Molly.
As the news sunk in straight from the horse's mouth, no one else had been in the hospital room but the three of them. The Boss' eyes had shone with an unspoken weakness and vulnerability she had never once seen from him before, his jaw slack and his throat bobbing with emotion, the whites his eyes shining with unshed tears.
Breaking almost every rule, he'd taken her face into his hands, cradling her and smoothing his thumbs over her cheeks to catch her own as they fell. At the time, she remembered wanting to physically scream, to panic and run, the same way she had felt on her very first disaster of a patrol, when she'd cowered from bullets and heaved for air.
So no, it hadn't in fact been an ordinary day. The context was often forgotten, as the outcome seemed so normal, after that. Once she knew he knew… it was as though her heart no longer cared or recalled the meaning of caution. The next day she had been eying him from where Two Section had been downing their scoff, unable to keep her focus on her conversation with Corporal Kinders. Charlie, then known to her simply as Bossman, had been gazing at her fifteen foot away, his hands on his hips in his usual authoritative stance, so she had given in and found an excuse to go over to him. His eyes seemed to call for her even from such a distance, wearing his trademark smirk, so she'd excused herself and marched over, thankfully far out of earshot of the rest of her Section as the words, "I don't know how I keep my hands off you," seemed to slip from her mouth without hindrance nor hesitation.
He'd grinned and dropped his head back a little as he laughed. Secretly, she was thrilled that she managed to make him laugh. His jaw had dropped and his tongue had popped into the inside of his cheek as he seemed to debate what to say. His eyes met hers and she could see the unsaid confessions lingering in his dark brown eyes… He had no idea, but her heart was pounding. "Ditto."
"Ditto?!" she'd cried. "Ditto! I was expecting somethin' a li'le more romantic than bleedin' 'ditto'!"
Despite the fact this marked the beginning of their secret code… it wasn't in fact her favourite memory.
She had several that played back on days like today – many more since marrying the bloody man, of course – but there was something about the fragility of those first few weeks, before things were known and out in the open, that left her weak at the knees with an incompatible sense of adoration for him: her kind, gentle commanding officer who took off his stern mask of control… just for her.
He had first shown her such gentle, surprisingly soft hidden parts of himself the day she was to go home from Afghan on R&R for the first time. He had sent her off with one request which personified him to a T – to buy him coffee capsules from a ponsey shop on Regent Street for his coffee machine, of all things! She had been in her civvies – a vest and short shorts – and from what she could remember, she had felt incredibly self conscious as her Boss, whom she had secretly lusted after only deep within her imagination by that point, had knocked on the nylon of the quarters. She could still remember how his eyes had been all warm and smiling in their usual confidence… but with something else lingering in them. Some sort of promise.
He'd taken her hand in his and begun to carefully scribe the name of the coffee he wanted on the skin of her forearm… only to not let go when he should have.
"Go and buy me some 'Rosebaya' coffee capsules…" he had instructed softly as he knelt on one knee beside her bunk, smoothing the marker pen along her skin in his elegant hand. "…and I'll adore you…for always."
His eyes had caught hers upon this compliment and, of course, she'd risen to the bait.
Just like that, he'd let the soft chuckle on his lips die away and left his hand in hers, the hot pad of his thumb ghosting along her own upward until he reached the boney texture of her knuckles, as though touching her any less delicately would break whatever fragile tension hung between them. She'd struggled to breathe, as this had been the first time he had ever showed her explicit interest beyond their professional relationship.
His eyes had never left her face, as though he had already known this would happen and made up his mind. He was always so sure, her Bossman… her Charlie. He always knew what to say.
"Come back to me," he'd murmured then, as he had done many a time since, as though suddenly their separation as she went home to England was more dangerous than her being in an active war zone.
"I will… Don't worry," is all she can say then – just as it was all she could say now. What else was there? After all, it was all luck, as he always liked to remind her. Luck…flook… chance.
They'd been interrupted after that and he had leapt back from their interlinked fingers as though she had burned him, clearing his throat like the most quintessential Rupert before marching off for whatever duty he was needed for. Then, it had left her confused, but now, she appreciated the sheer magnitude of this memory.
Charles James was not at all one for letting rules slide, not even for one moment… So, the mere fact such a fragile moment of intimacy was allowed to take seed in such a volatile, frightening place… Well, it was quite something.
"What's got you so quiet, soldier?" came Charlie's enquiry in her ear, waking her from her consuming reverie. She only realised then that there are tears down her cheeks, silent but heavy, making her lips taste of salt. "It's not like my Molls to be so quiet."
"Jus' thinkin'," she mumbles pathetically, unsure how to even begin her explanation. I'm in big trouble, Bossman… Trouble that will mess up the careers of both of us.
"Dawsey? Thinking?! Oh dear, time to call the court marshals!"
His joke falls on deaf ears, as the tension in her frame is too much to be overwritten. She knows he can tell, as he falls equally quiet for a long moment. She takes the opportunity to listen to his breathing, deep and steady in her ear. If she closes her eyes, she can just about picture his exact stance: sat in his isolated CO's quarters at his makeshift desk looking at the photograph of their little makeshift family: just the two of them and his little boy, Sam, whom she had grown to love like he was her own.
The key here was like – he isn't her own, so it was always much easier to enjoy his company. She doesn't do kids; a life in her family's crowded flat in Newham, filled to the brim with her five siblings, had long taught her that! That and Sam was ten years old! He was hardly a baby… No, she certainly didn't do babies.
Oh, what was she going to do…
"Molls… Please. What is it? Please. Talk to me."
She closes her eyes as more tears fell, cursing his ability to speak with such a tender softness. He was supposed to be an Army superior, for crying out loud! How was it possible he could be both so bloody stern while also so bloody caring?!
Wiping her eyes fiercely, she felt the need to hurry lighting adrenaline in her blood – irrationally convinced that someone could overhear her conversation any moment now… despite the fact she is sat on top of the shitter while everyone else slept, just as she used to do in the days of her first tour.
His soft, near whisper of a prompt was making her emotions worse, as she could picture his big brown eyes, full to the brim with empathy and a tortured conscience, pleading with her to open up. She clenched her fists in her lap as her hands began to shake, the undeniable tide of panic and fear rising up her throat and rendering her speechless.
You can't tell him. You just can't.
"Did you really love me then?" she questioned suddenly, pushing back what she really had to say, unable to stop playing back that day on the dirt track. They had been approaching what could have easily been an explosive that would end their lives…but they had been together…so, somehow, she hadn't felt nearly as scared as she did right now. "That day, when I badgered you up to that bloody sheet despite the fact we could have easily got ourselves blown up – " Trying to ignore the way her breathing was uneven in her hysteria, she wiped her nose with West Ham sleeve. She thinks of his handsome face, all deep brown curls, heavy set brows and angular, tanned face from his last humanitarian mission, and it's enough to crumble the last of her resolve. God in bleedin' hell fire, she missed him. She wasn't used to love like this, all consuming and almost…humid in its intensity, because up until Charles, she had never really been loved properly – romantically anyway. She knows that now. All those she'd been with prior to the miracle Captain James had been nothing more than quick, meaningless, less than satisfying shags. She is usually much better at burying all this until it was time to go home. After all, she had learnt from the best.
Today though, she knows she has no hope of getting her emotions in order… and she knows precisely why.
"Did you really?" Her words crack and she knew she was a mess, but was without hope of consolation now… not without Charlie.
"Oh, Molly!" His tone is enough to halt her breathing. "You know I bloody did," he whispered, while she pretended momentarily that it didn't make her tears worse. "God, I've loved you since that first day – remember? When you walked out for the Section photograph with your ridiculous big mouth, giggling like a schoolgirl over 'cockwombles' and I was an utter wanker for the rest of the week, making misogynistic remarks to kick you down a notch…when really it was because I was instantly put out by those cheeky eyes of yours… I thought you knew that!" He was always so quick to feed her such flowery words, despite the fact he knew she had a real struggle believing them.
"Alright, alright, I was just a–askin' if you laved me – no need to – " she attempts to rebuke croakily, though half-heartedly, her smile brittle and wobbly.
There's quiet between them again and she can hear the tussle in her ear as he moved about. "What is it, Dawsey?" he tries again, her military nickname feeling wrong on his tongue when they no longer worked together. Usually, she let him say it, but today, it brought back too much… Too much that she felt may be about to slip through her fingers.
"Please don't," she begged, trying to breathe. Even though she was out in the open air, the absolutely massive expanse of the Afghan sky stretched out over her, she suddenly felt as though she was surrounded by walls the were closing in. "That bloody name reminds me of them days when I was…"
"When you were what?" he prompts, forever eager to understand.
"Nofin' to you."
Such words were a confession in and of themselves, as she was pretty sure she had never actually said them aloud to him before, never voicing the way that she had felt so inferior and insignificant in the shadow of one of the army's 'finest young Officers'.
"Never!" He sounded outraged and she instantly felt herself cringe. Why couldn't she just be the women a man like that needed her to be?! What kind of a Captain's wife was she? Forever disappointing him… "Molly, Jesus! You were never nothing!" She could practically see the trademark frown that made a deep 'T' furrow on his brow. "Not for one moment! Where the fuck is this coming from?! Besides – it's no different than you still calling me Bossman all the bloody time!"
She would have laughed and scoffed and made a half-hearted self deprecating comment, had she been herself… but today, her heart doesn't even leap at such a romantic confession… but seemed to weep all the more for it.
There was over four thousand miles between them… and it felt like eternity.
She bit back a sound of panic and burrowed her face into her forearm in the hope she could physically push the sound back. "Charlie…" His name was a whimper from her lips, fragmented and almost childlike.
He suddenly sighs, evidently hearing her near-silent distress. "Molly! Calm down. Calm down and tell me. Is everyone treating you alright over there?"
The watery, teary smile she wore could be seen by no one, but ever since she had gotten sweet on him three years ago, she had found herself unable to control her reactions around him. His sweet, husbandly concern made such an expression automatic. Until, of course, she remembered why she was crying… and then it seemed impossible for any form of happiness to remain.
Things were not okay. They hadn't been throughout this tour… It may only be a four month stint to get through, but it felt like an for-bleedin'-ever. She was away from her Section – no longer allowed to work with them now that the CO in charge of them was her husband – but, more than that, she was away from her family. Two Section, all the lads; Brains, Fingers, Mansfield…Charlie… they were her family – (not that she could ever tell mum or dad that!).
"Yeah…" she lied, trailing until she realised that she had promised herself after their grey, uneven beginnings to never lie to him, so she added a meek: "Mostly."
"Mostly?!" he echoed. Instantly, she felt the tension in him, as though feeling it telepathically. "Sweetheart, what on earth does that mean?"
"It don't gotta mean nothin', Charles – was just sayin'! You know how boys can be when there's a new woman about."
Well did Charles know such things. Lords knew he himself had played a part in such grimace-worthy assumptions based on gender in the not too distant past, calling Molly their 'token Doris' in front of the whole section when she had first arrived and making comments about her needing to change from her Stilettos. In the army, men answered to men who had earned their respect… and women had to work all the harder for it.
It was as it was, though that did not make it right, and it was through loving Molly that Charles was able to realise the clear prejudice that existed within the 'bad apples' in the armed forces, whom sneered and teased and sexualised their female colleagues and all in the name of normality. The very idea that such a thing was happening to his Molly… Well, it left his twitching for his weapon.
Charlie could always tell when Molly was avoiding the truth… but today she remembered the fact a moment too late… For a start, she never called him Charles.
"Yes," he replied, his voice no longer soft. "I do." She could tell by the way he now spoke that he was pacing. "I do, which is why your waterworks are ever so slightly terrifying me. What's happened?"
"Naffink," she denied – though far, far too quickly. Shit, she thought. Now I'm done for. "No, naffink!"
"Please don't hide things from me, Molly," he whispered desperately, his tone quiet and soft but with a hint of the stern manner needed when one was a Captain. She felt the urge to confess all to him instantly, to tell him all that kept her up at night… all that very nearly had her running to him every single day now.
"I'm not lyin'," she managed back, though barely.
"God damn it, Molly, I know when you're holding out on me!" His tone lost it's patience and suddenly he sounded like the weary Bossman she remembered all over again.
She was shaking now, because it all came back; her inability to open up, her first tour as a mentor where she'd been wracked by horrendous PTSD from her previous and very first tour in the army and had no friends to turn to; all that time ago that she lead on poor, sweet Smurf instead of being honest, instead of telling him straight away that she could never love him… not when she loved The Boss. The stress of the latter got to him, ultimately leading to his erratic behaviour on the battlefield…then his death.
There was no one to blame but the two of them for that. Her and The Bossman, they were the two people he confessed to loving the most in the whole world… and they therefore broke his heart… There was nothing else to blame but them. Apart from the bleed in his head, perhaps.
'Look, Molly." His Welsh accent was always so bloody friendly. "I'm not stupid! I know you said you didn't want to go out with anyone from the platoon – "
" – No, Smurf! I don't want to go out with you!"
"Dawes." He was trying different tactics now, dragging her from her guilt fuelled flashbacks and almost making her smile as he was putting on his sternest 'Captain James' voice and adopting the name the Army still often used for her… despite the fact her name had not been Dawes for many months now.
Meekly, she shook her head and stared into the darkness, feeling as though her mind was truly going round and round in circles.
"'ow can you love me after what I did?"
She was changing the subject, but she had to know. It had been a question that had gnawed at her for days on end at first, in the days after Smurf collapsed to the ground at the centre of the West Ham pitch and never got back up.
"Did what? Molly, my love, I don't – "
She could practically see her husband shaking his head as she heard him heavy gasp and sigh down the phone, becoming utterly frustrated that he couldn't take her by her shoulders and shake her, probably. She felt shame rolling from her in waves into the quiet, peaceful stillness of the night air and it was then that she realised she wasn't breathing – oxygen replaced with ragged sobs.
"Please don't be ashamed of me," she wept in a whisper. "I know I tend to fuck things up… but I don't mean it. I swear – "
Now, she barely heard his reassurances, or how they were interspersed with barks of 'Not now, Mansfield!' away from the handset. She wanted to laugh, shout hello to her old platoon and be the Molly that they had once known… but today, it felt as though she was long gone; buried beneath all the shattered bones she had strapped and the myriad of blood on her hands. "Molly James-Dawes." Suddenly his voice was willed with the fever that she loved so much, the passion that made her fall for him in the first place. "You best tell me what's going on right now before I jump in the nearest helicopter, get over to you in Afghan and spank it out of you, is that understood?"
He sounded just like he had her first tour, almost to the word – obviously minus the spanking part. He had a thing about sulking when he couldn't get his way and she had always loved to tease him for it… but now she wished nothing more than for him to suddenly grow a layer of nonchalance, to not care so she wouldn't have to keep on… covering up.
If I tell you… all hell will break fucking loose!
Opening her mouth, her lips shook and her breath trembled along with them, as though the power of the words in her throat were too much for her body to even contend with.
If she said these words, told the truth, it would all be over… and a whole new tidal wave of shit would hit not just her life, her career, but that of Charlie too… and therefore, collaterally, that of Sam's. She couldn't do that – wouldn't – she had long decided. She wouldn't hold her husband back again – not after all but getting him shot and then only just convincing him not to give up his commission.
Charles was many things… but he also belonged in the army. To have one without the other would be to strip his soul from him…and she would not be responsible for that. She would not be like Rebecca.
So, she did what any soldier worth their salt would do… and disobeyed.
"Really, it's nothing," she choked hastily, trying to sound as though she were clearing her nose and therefore dismissing her tears. "Just being a silly – y'know me when things get on my nut." Through gritted teeth, she swallowed the lie down with the salt of her tears. "I gotta' go – these buggers might gonna need me to save their boney arses tomorrow!"
"Molly James – are you crying?"
No shit, Sherlock, the usual Molly would have said. Today though, she could say nothing.
"Please don't. Please." Closing her eyes, she could see him in his desert camo, like a second skin on him, all tanned and zero-body-fat, eyes looking up at her all round and pleading, (half resembling the puppies Molly used to will she could rescue from Pets At Home as a kid). "When you cry… It's like…we're back at that mountain pass – " The moment he said it, all she could see with sheets of dust, choking her now as it did then. Oblivious to her fractious, trigger-happy memories as they assaulted her, he was still talking. " – and you're running off like the bloody hero you always have to be – even when it's fucking stupid – crawling through that minefield to get to Smurf – "
She scoffed at the memory of her friend and his trigger-happy habits of wondering away from the rest of the Section. " – Bloody Smurf."
" – and it's like I'm still there watching you crawling on your hands and knees and my whole heart is in my mouth because I can't help you…all because of my bloody station."
She doesn't remember much of that herself, other than she woken up ten metres from where she felt her foot nudge the old, buried Russian explosive. When had she come to, coughing on a cloud of thick desert dust and couldn't see past her own nose, it had been him, Captain James her CO, that filled her senses, yelling at her down the radio in the way every Officer would when recovering his men.
'Dawes! Can you hear me, Dawes?! Come in Dawes! Dawes!'
"I had to go in," she defended weakly, sniffing hard. "I was the medic and the poor bleedin' sheep shagger had only done gone got a bullet in his groin!" She thought of the alternative – her Bossman going in instead – and felt sick at the thought.
"That's beside the point – I – " She heard him sigh, heavy and telling of the expanse of his chest. "You got us off track, Dawsey. How do you always manage that?" For a moment, there's a saucy tone to his voice as he hinted at all the times she liked to distract him with… 'unsavoury activities' – or whatever bloody shite he called sex – a deep, rumbling promise, and it sets her blood alight with a repressed, animalistic desire for him, for his contact, for his sheer presence.
"It's like I'm there again," he continued, "helplessly watching you crawl in a bed of explosives and then there's this boom and I have to watch you get thrown through the air again and I can't do anything – "
The memories suddenly shutter her vision.
'Dawes!' someone screams into her ear – the radio is screeching and hissing. Everything hurt, like a dull ache… but mostly the high pitch squeal in her ears. She can barely hear… What was that?
'Dawes, speak to me!'
The Captain – why could she hear the Captain? Wasn't she dead?! Bleedin' hell, he'd only followed her into the afterlife… Perhaps heaven did exist, maybe.
Sitting up, she comes to the rather dazzling realisation that she's not dead – that the sky she can only just make out through the dust is the Afghan sky! She expects feel her the worst, she finds she has her legs. She didn't get blown into pieces! And not an ounce of blood spilled! Opening her mouth, filled with dust and leaving her heaving for breath, she fights with everything she has to speak – so his cries, sweet Bossman's anguish, can seise.
'I'm alright! I'm alright, Boss!' She hears them then, her mouthy platoon, whooping down the radio. 'I can't believe I still have my legs!'
She could tell by how he paused that he was visually reliving it too.
"Having to listen to you cry…sort of feels like that," he wheezed, leaving her without words. "I know it doesn't make much sense, since one involves, you know, death, but – "
" – Yeah, yeah, alright," she dismissed roughly. "I ain't soft like you, Jamesey, but I fink I can get the jist!" It sounded brusque but really it was self preservation, because she knew that if he carried on like that she would never get her composure back. As she wiped her eyes over and over, her nasal passage well and truly congested. Taking a breath, she felt her chest wheeze of its own accord, sounding like a long, near-silent sob. When she spoke next, the strength and humour in her voice had been replaced with a quiet plea. "Enough wiv' the soppy shit please, Jamesey."
She could hear that he was dissatisfied with her excuses, but predicted he was also exhausted, because his reluctance was not forceful anymore as he replied.
"Forgive me if I might gonna not believe you, Dawsey." There was a slight humour in his voice at her bad grammar – which by now she knew was bad, but she used it to make him smile. "Because my Molly doesn't cry much."
Still to this day, having him talk about her with such a title left her tingly all over.
He sighed, seeming to drop this battle. "Double away and try to get some shut eye, okay? It sounds like you're exhausted." Suddenly, she could here a cheeky grin return to his voice. "I have no doubt you might gonna need to save the odd sleeping AA or two before you're done, so you'll need all the energy you can get."
She managed a smile, remembering the times they would go on patrol on her first tour, only to find said Afghan Army lounging at their posts, playing cards and sometimes even sleeping. She had asked him then what they would do, once the Western allied forces left them to fend for themselves… Well, it was only now that the very surface of the answer to such a question was beginning to emerge.
Such a thought meant that the memory suddenly shifted. Suddenly, it wasn't a happy one she could see in her mind, but a poisonous one, just like all the others, dissolving into hazed memories of her ID-ing half of those same AA men's corpses, including sweet young Rolex boy – as she had named him because of his American rip off watch – after they had been ambushed by the Taliban. They had been strewn across the dirt path, shot at point blank range… None of them had even stood a chance.
"I worry about you, Molly," came Charlie's soft confession then, thankfully pulling her from the morbid memory. "I mean, I worry anyway, in the husband-who-can't-shut-up-about-his-wife kind of way," he continued, rambling slightly. "Elvis keeps having a go at me for it, actually."
That made her smile, because how couldn't it? The idea that her Bossman was no longer one hundred and ten per cent professional one hundred per cent of the time and all because of her left her feeling smug as anything. She pictured him running a hand through his perfectly parted hair, threading through the tangle of cropped army-regulation curls. "But… lately, I'm worried differently."
The normal Molly would have been outraged and offended at the inference that her husband was worried for her, at the idea that she needed worrying about… but today, she felt numb to such stubborn independence. Today, she felt herself pining so hard that she was ashamed of herself. Today, she felt like no soldier.
He carried on, oblivious to her shame. "I feel like you're drifting away, Molls, and that makes me shit scared because I know how wonderful life can be now I have you. You and Sam, remember? When we get home, we still need to take him to Cadbury World and gorge ourselves on all the chocolate we can – once we get out of bloody fitness dietary recommendations… Yeah? Please focus on that."
Home. Once, East Ham had been home, stuck in a tiny flat with her gobby sister and loud, screaming baby brother and a mother who was half way between the two… Home wasn't where Charlie grew up either, in the echoing, four storey mansion of Royal Crescent in Bath. While it held many happy memories; their first date… their first and most mind-blowing sex session… it wasn't home. It place stood too much as a pillar of their differences in Molly's eyes, no matter how bloody breath-taking it was. She felt like a bee in a hornet's nest in that kind of house while her own flesh and blood could barely breath in a two bedroom flat.
No. These days, home was simply wherever Charlie was… though she had never told him as much. With a face as handsome as his, he hardly needed the ego boost!
"I'll try," she managed to agree, attempting multiple times to clear her throat and failing.
"I need you, Molly. The Army bloody well needs you too, but forget them for a second." She hiccuped in her teary haze, teetering on the edge whenever she listened to his determination. "I need you. I do – for always – so please, please look after yourself."
In her mind, she pictured stroking his face and pushing her hands into her hair the way she knew he loved, hidden away the privacy of their homely Bath flat where no Army regulations or international wars could reach them.
"I love you, Bossman." She used his nickname to avoid having to say it, his real name, which barely passed her lips as it was but never passed her lips on tour. It was as though saying it made the hole in her chest that yearned for him all the bigger, as though her body called for him every time she managed to say it.
She heard his breathes attempt at a chuckle, because they had had many a disagreement over what they called one another, but thankfully he let it go.
"Ditto, Dawsey." Her felt her face contorting into surpassed sob as she faced the reality that he had to go… As did she. Thankfully, he didn't sound unaffected either, as he cleared his throat in his usual 'I am a man' way and sniffed once or twice.
But then, he surprised her.
"I can't breathe without loving you."
She swallowed hard at his declaration, having to bite down on her lip with such strength that she could suddenly taste the tang of blood. "Ditto." The word was a croak at best, but she could tell by his laugh that he heard it.
She swallowed hard at his declaration, having to bite down on her lip with such strength that she could suddenly taste the tang of blood. "Ditto." The word was a croak at best, but she could tell by his laugh that he heard it.
"You don't think enough of yourself – you never have. I'm so proud of you, of everything you've done – of going out there and being brilliant, like I told you to be! When will you get that through you wooden skull?!"
Huffing a laugh at his utter inability to see how bias he was, she couldn't help but run her mouth: "Bleedin' hell, Bossman! Don't let the lads 'ear you talkin' all soft!"
There was another moment of silence, as heavy as the last, before he suddenly laughed. "There's only one person to blame for my softness!" he added, candidly. "And she's mouthy and cockney and has a frightening obsession with Coco Pops!"
"Yeah, yeah – blame me! Y'secret's sake, you girly git!" She had to hold the phone away from her mouth while she gasped for air, forcing the sense of humour and false cheeriness up from the depths of her abilities of deception, her emotions making her throat seem to swell. Despite her attempts to be nonchalant, her voice continued to rise in pitch against her will. Swallowing hard, she knew it was time. "I really should go. I have to be up at 04:30. Speak soon, okay?"
On the other end of the time, she heard him yawn. "Of course," he said, though his voice remained terse and quiet, as though slightly suspicious. "I expect to hear all about it when you save the next lot of boney arses!" She swallowed back the paranoia that swamped her that he knew what she was holding back…that he knew that a mess she had gotten herself into. "Stay focused," he ordered. His soft, rounded posh-boy vowels washed over her in a rare moment of serenity. She was still unable to still still with the panic and fear in her veins, but when Charlie spoke to her like that, with a tenderness and a constant concern, she never felt more at home… just for those few seconds. His catchphrase was one of her favourite things. "Stay alert. Stay alive."
"Speak for yourself, Bossman!"
She managed a tiny sound of humour, though it was a hair's breadth away from dissolving into another kind of emotion all together. She looked up at her favourite thing about tour, the blanket of countless stars, and she wondered absentmindedly if he was looking at them too.
Her name filled the melancholy quiet like a lullaby, making Molly wish it were like any other day, because it had been, it would have sent her into a lull of wonderful dreams, in a world where she was her old self again… and her hands had never known the blood of her loved ones.
As he repeated the words that lit their romance all that time ago – a silent reminder to look after herself for his sake if not her own – it struck her once again that he might just be psychic. Somehow, Captain Charles James always seemed to know what to say.
"Come back to me."
She would, she vowed, as she did the first time and every time since…
Days later though, she realised it should have been her demanding such a thing of him, typical reckless heroic nonce that he could be, as her Corporal awoke her with the kind of news that, had she been a weaker person, would have stopped her heart.
"I'm sorry for the intrusion, Dawes, but… We've had comms from our aid work in Kenya."
It was as though the world had ripped out her lungs with a few simple words.
"I'm sorry, but…it's your husband, Dawesy. He's been taken."