Usually she'd be too excited to sleep the night before she knew Charles was coming home. It always felt like a long time, whether it was days or months he was gone. The house just seemed so quiet and empty without him. This had been a particularly long six months and she was filled with relief that he was safe and finally on his way home. She'd been awake most of the night, staring at the ceiling, as her stomach somersaulted again and again. Only it wasn't excitement about him coming home that was keeping her awake this time. It was nerves. The anxiety of what she was supposed to say to him. It had been going through her mind for weeks, ever since he'd called her to tell her about Elvis. She'd never felt quite as helpless as she had sitting on their sofa as he sobbed into the phone, thousands of miles away and she was completely unable to do anything to relieve his pain. She'd barely heard from him since- she hadn't really been able to work out if it was deliberate or if he'd just been busy. She suspected it was the first- much the same as her he just didn't know what to say.
She was early to the base, she'd left ridiculously early wanting to make sure she wasn't late and she'd definitely be there to meet him when he landed. As she pulled into the car park and glanced over at the car next to her she spotted Georgie's Mum and Dad. Their grim expression mirrored her own and she could only imagine they'd been having the exact same thoughts she'd been having all night about what on earth they were supposed to say.
She'd thought the anxiety was bad as she'd laid in bed the night before thinking about it, but that was nothing to what she felt standing in the terminal waiting for him. She'd seen the plane land and she knew it was only a matter of minutes before he'd be right there in front of her. She still didn't know what she was supposed to say. How could anything she said ever really rationalise the fact that his best friend had been killed right in front of his eyes?
The flurry of activity amongst the other people crowded in to the terminal waiting for their loved ones alerted her to the fact people were starting to filter through. She craned her neck trying to see if she could spot him, wishing yet again that she was a few inches taller. She spotted Georgie coming through, making a beeline for her Mum and Dad, Brains headed for his family and then right at the back- there he was.
An unreadable expression crossed his face for a second as he spotted her standing there in the crowd. Then he adjusted his Bergen on his shoulder and filtered through the crowd to get to her quickly.
She didn't get a chance to say anything when he did reach her. He threw his bag down on the floor and wrapped his arms around her so tightly she wondered for a moment if she was actually going to be able to breathe. She didn't care- she was just happy to have him back with her again. She wrapped her arms around him tightly, buried her head in his chest and just relished in the feel of having him there with her again finally.
"Hi." She murmured eventually, pulling back away from him a little so she could peer up at him. He looked tired, but the kind of tired that sleep wasn't going to fix. She wondered looking at the dark circles under his eyes how long it had been since he'd slept properly. She had a feeling she knew the answer- before Elvis.
"Hi." He kissed her forehead, resting his head on the top of hers. "I've missed you." His voice was muffled against her hair.
She wasn't really sure how long they stayed there, just standing there holding each other. Eventually she noticed the crowded terminal was quickly emptying, everyone else keen to get home. A few of the boys from two section had come over and quickly said their goodbyes. Charles had thanked them quietly and told them to enjoy their time at home, but he hadn't let go of her or made any move to leave.
"You ready to go?" She asked eventually after he still made no move to leave. "You must be exhausted."
"Yeah." He said quietly, releasing her so he could bend down to pick up his bag. As he stood up he wrapped his arm tightly around her waist and started walking towards the car.
The drive home was silent, the only noise the quiet hum of the radio in the background, and to begin with she thought he'd fallen asleep. It was only when she stole a glance at him out of the corner of her eye she realised that he was awake and just sitting there, staring blankly into space.
"I think your mum is going to pop round tomorrow." She said slowly, feeling like she needed to say something to break the silence. "She did want to come today but I managed to put her off until tomorrow at least." She was starting to wish she'd brought Mrs James with her. She hadn't got a clue what to do or say. He looked lost and it was breaking her heart.
He looked at her, confused. "Okay." He nodded and she wondered if he'd even heard what she said. She didn't push it any further and he went back to staring out of the window in silence.
When they eventually reached the house they both sat in the car on the driveway for a moment. Charles was staring ahead with the same blank expression he'd worn since he'd stepped off the plane. She reached a hand out and rested it gently on his thigh. "You okay?"
He stared at her for a moment, his eyes searching hers. "Yeah… Just tired. Let's get inside…. I need a shower."
"Okay." She nodded slowly, far from convinced. She handed him the keys. "You go in, I can bring your bag."
"Thanks." He mumbled, clambering out of the car and heading inside as she went around to the boot to get his bag.
When she opened the front door to go inside she almost walked straight into the back of him. He'd stopped dead just inside the door, rooted to the spot. She dropped his bag just inside and closed the door behind her. When she looked up and followed his line of vision she realised what had stopped him.
Hanging on the wall, just beside the stairs, was one of the pictures taken at their wedding. It was of her, Charles and Elvis standing outside the church afterwards, the two of them in their uniform grinning at the camera. She was laughing and she could remember vividly Elvis threatening to pick her up and her threatening him with all kinds of things. Looking at it that moment felt like it was in another lifetime.
He flinched as she put her hand on his shoulder, turning to look at her with his eyes full of the tears he'd held back ever since it had happened. "He's gone Molly." He whispered. "He just… one minute he was there and then…"
"I know." She reached up to wipe a stray tear from his face. "I know. Why don't you come and sit down? We can talk and…."
He hesitated for a moment and then shook his head. "I need to shower. You know how it is, I feel like I'm covered in dust and…."
"Okay." She nodded. "Go and shower, I'll put the kettle on and then we can talk, or we can just sit here if you like. Whatever you want to do. I'm here."
He gave her a wobbly smile. "I've missed you." He whispered, leaning down to gently brush his lips against hers.
"I've missed you too." She smiled back. "Now go and shower. You smell like you've been squashed in the back of a plane for hours."
He lingered for a moment, the faintest trace of a smile on his lips. Then with one last look at the photograph hanging from the wall he jogged up the stairs to try and shower the last traces of the tour off himself.
He stood there, watching the water as it swirled and ran down the drain. His whole body ached in a way he couldn't quite describe, and he wasn't sure if it was the lack of sleep, being cramped in the back of the plane or the weight of everything finally hitting him. Maybe it was a mixture of the three. Either way he could feel the headache starting to form.
He wasn't sure how long he'd stood there in the end, but it waslong enough that the water had started to run cold. He heard the stairs creak as Molly made her way up and he knew he couldn't hide in there forever.
She was laying on their bed, propped up against the headboard when he walked into the bedroom. He could feel her eyes on him as he walked across the room and pulled on his pyjamas, struggling to stifle a yawn.
"You look tired." She commented as he turned to face her. She patted the empty bed next to her. "Come and lay down?"
He climbed into bed next to her, her arms winding around him and pulling him close. His head rested against her chest, rising and falling with each breath she took as he listened to her heartbeat. The tears he hadn't allowed himself to cry, rolled slowly down his cheek as she held him, her hands running soothingly across his back and shoulders. The thought crept into his mind again of how easily it could've been him on that rooftop instead of Elvis. He was so, so lucky to be back with Molly again. He couldn't help but feel guilty though, even though he knew it was ridiculous. It seemed wrong for him to be feeling so happy to be back with his wife after what had happened.
She hadn't realised he was crying until he sucked in a ragged breath, his fingers twisting in the material of her shirt as though he was trying to pull her even closer to him. She could feel his whole body shaking with each sob and it broke her heart. There was nothing she could do but be there with him while he got it all out.
He'd done exactly what she'd thought he would- bottled it all up and not allowed himself to feel it at the time. She could understand why, he'd needed to be strong enough to lead his section through what had happened. Georgie in particular. But Elvis was his best friend and she'd known when she spoke to him and he told her what had happened it was going to hit him sooner or later. He'd been too calm as he'd told her on the phone, his voice emotionless and detached. It was how he'd got himself through the last few weeks of the tour she imagined.
"It's okay. It's all going to be okay." She whispered, not really knowing what to say. "I know it doesn't feel like it now, but eventually things will start to feel better."
He sucked in another breath. "Lane's face." He whispered, his voice muffled against her face. "We all… The second that explosion went off… I knew he wasn't going to make it… she was trying to resuscitate him Molly… I had to go and pull her off him… Why did he have to be up there?"
She paused for a moment, trying to think of what to say. "You knew him a lot better than me." She said slowly. "But he loved his job Charles, you had no way of knowing what was going to happen up there. None of you did. You all knew the risks going in and really it could've been any of you up on that roof. We all accept the risk that comes with doing the job. Georgie knows that, she might not understand it right now, but she knows."
He shifted slightly so his head was on the pillow next to hers, she rolled on her side to face him and gently wiped the tears from his cheek. "I just… I keep waiting for him to turn up and start taking the piss out of me or something." He whispered. "You know Elvis he's always been…. He always seemed sort of, indestructible. He'd run around doing all these stupid crazy things and somehow always come out without a scratch on him. Part of me was expecting him to get up and walk away from it even though I knew it was impossible."
"I know." She moved her hand up to cradle the side of his face, shuffling forward slightly so their foreheads were touching. "He drove me nuts half the time but I will really miss him. I'll even miss tidying up after him when he came to stay." She'd complained at the time about how Elvis had managed to create quite so much mess in the week he'd spent in their spare room but right now she'd do anything to have him back- even pick up his socks and do his washing without complaining.
Charles gave her a sad smile. "I'm pretty sure he only did that to wind you up."
"I know." She laughed quietly. "Like most things he did."
"I miss him." He whispered. "I know he'd be taking the piss out of me for being a soppy old twat if he could see me now but…" His eyelids drooped as he struggled to keep them open. The wave of exhaustion seemed to have finally hit.
"Why don't you get some sleep?" She suggested, pressing a gentle kiss to his forehead. "I'll still be here when you wake up if you want to talk…. I'm pretty sure you'll feel better once you've had some sleep."
"Mmm… Love you." He mumbled, already half asleep.
"Love you." She whispered, wrapping her arms around him and holding him close, listening to his breathing slow and deepen as he fell asleep.