How in God's name did I used to do these shifts?
… Oh, I remember now. I used to nap in the utility cupboard. Also, I was twenty-seven.
John had completely forgotten how hectic the A&E of a major hospital could be, especially during third shift.
The concern for everyone - and he knew Molly had lost sleep over it - was that trauma work would brutally tear at wounds that hadn't finished healing, and perhaps never would. But while it had been years since John had worked directly in emergency care, he found himself picking it back up without the angst everyone expected, and with only a sense of hectic activity. He sometimes mentally flinched when dealing with badly-hurt little children, but he'd had those feelings before… all that had happened.
It helped that truly-bad cases weren't as common as one might think; in fact, John estimated that half of the people who streamed through the triage process didn't even need to be there. Unfortunately, the hospital had a care policy that prohibited him from informing his patients that stepping on a nail was not a hospital matter unless you were dying of tetanus right then and there, and that perhaps the whole "put a knife in a toaster" thing was even an expression because it really was a truly dumb thing to do, or that their sick kids would be far better off in a warm bed at home drinking orange juice rather than spreading germs all over the waiting room at one o'clock in the morning. Official policy: report the potential abuse cases, and then mind your own business.
At least the other staff were nice to him. And while he'd had to extract foreign objects from the ear canals of far too many grown adults, he'd not yet had a patient who'd electrocuted themselves by using a hairdryer in the bath.
Things had slipped into a nice little routine: mornings and evenings with Molly, sleep in between, all night at work. A hell of a lot better than unemployment. And his hand tremor hadn't given him trouble in ages.
That was mostly because of Molly, though.
How he could possibly have overlooked Molly for two years was now beyond him. He had a vague idea that he'd dismissed her as a prude, or a kind of woman-child, and someone easily hurt. God knew he'd seen enough of that, and it had generally been thanks to Sherlock Holmes.
Well, of course, he'd always known that she was capable and clever and 'nice' and all that. But he'd never noticed the way she walked in bare feet, her heels practically melting into the floor, or the way her hair clustered in little dark wisps on the back of her neck, or how swift and deft her fingers were, or the graceful curve of the small of her back.
It had all been a slow process over the spring. He would come home in the morning to find her up and preparing breakfast. At first, it was the bare feet. Then, as the weather warmed, she started coiling up her hair to keep it off her shoulders. And then the pyjamas had become nighties.
"John," she remarked over the breakfast table one hot morning in late July, "I was thinking. It'd be nice if we slept in the same bed now."
John was still occupying the little white single-bed in the spare room - or more often than not, the living room sofa. There had been a few brief forays into, or rather onto, Molly's bed. But he had never slept there.
He paused, looking across at her as if trying to work out if she really had said what he thought she'd said. When she returned his gaze calmly, earnestness all the way, he cleared his throat. "Okay, yes," he said. "Yes, that'd be good."
"I mean… in the same bed, at the same time."
Since he worked all night and she worked all day, he had a feeling that she wasn't talking about actual sleeping.
"Yes," he agreed with nervous haste, almost before she could finish. But now she was pursing her lips and twitching her nose. This would have been adorable, except that he knew it meant she was fretting. "Is something wrong?"
He'd seen the lips-and-nose routine once or twice before, but never before seen her make confetti out of a napkin. "John… are you happy?"
"Yes, of course I'm happy," he said without hesitation. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"So… you're happy with me? There's nothing wrong with me?"
This time there was total silence for a second or two, broken by the distant growl of someone starting up a car three houses down.
"With you? God no." John looked at her blankly, then reached across the table to squeeze her hand. "No, absolutely, no. Why would you think something like that?"
"Because, we've been… together… for nearly three months now, and I sort of thought we'd be sleeping together by now."
John dropped the piece of toast he'd been holding. It bounced off the table and hit the floor, where it instantly became the property of Toby.
"I'm sorry -"
"No-no-no," he headed her off, accidentally tipping his plate with one sleeve in the process. It clattered back onto the table sharply, sending Toby scattering for cover with his piece of toast. "No, don't be sorry. That's… good. No, it's great. It's really great. Fantastic. Don't be sorry."
"So… do you think we could start sleeping together now?"
"Of course. Yes. Absolutely. Not right now, obviously. There's a lot to think about, and it's not a decision that you should make -"
"I'm not sixteen anymore."
He hadn't been expecting that statement of practicality either. "Yes," he said. "But still, there's… well. We have to consider the what, and how, and when, and um… the possibility of any unexpected consequences. Are you taking -"
"Then it'll have to be-"
"Yes. Do you mind that?"
"God, no. But I haven't got -"
"So it won't be today."
"I can wait."
"What about Saturday? We'll have all day -"
"Are you suggesting you book an appointment with me?"
"… Would it be awful of me if I did?"
John had never had to "book an appointment" with a woman before, except for the odd foray at university where he'd also paid her.
It was an odd change, though not exactly a bad one. There was an element of anticipation to it that he'd not really experienced in the past, and which was, in its own way, just as much fun as spontaneity. Molly was unhesitant - impatient, even. She was looking forward to it as much as a kid looking forward to Christmas.
Only hesitantly would John admit, even to himself, that he was looking forward to unwrapping her as his present. In vain did he try to remember that this was her idea; she wanted it as much as he did. Maybe more. It was Friday morning before it fully dawned on him: Molly Hooper wasn't a prude, wasn't a woman-child, wasn't an angel. She was just as sensual as he was. Just with a whole lot less experience.
And that was worrying him. If Molly was expecting a scene from a romance novel, while fireworks burst overhead, she was going to be horribly disappointed.
"Oh, I'll probably do lots of things wrong," she said when he gently brought this up on Friday night. They were theoretically watching a DVD, but by now "watching a DVD" generally meant a hesitant, over-the-clothes fumble on the sofa, while Toby looked on in annoyance and occasionally tried to interrupt.
"You will do everything wonderfully," he said, his voice muffled by her hair as he kissed her neck. "I was talking about me."
"Really? But I like what you're doing now…"
John decided to shut up and keep doing it.
They'd already discussed how it would happen; without a fuss or a prologue. So Molly was only slightly taken aback when, at nine on Saturday morning, she was washing up the breakfast dishes and felt John's arm snake around her waist.
"So you want to keep that appointment then?" She smiled, trying to sound like she was calm and collected and not like the bottom had just dropped out of her stomach.
"If I may." He hadn't shaved yet, and planted a sandpaper kiss on her neck.
"Yes…" She suddenly felt embarrassed that she was dishevelled, still in her nightie and hadn't had a shower yet, but it would be silly to stop him now - and she didn't want to. She reached up to touch the side of his neck and leaned back into him slightly, then paused. "What's...? Oh."
The oh was so abrupt that he pulled away. "Do you want me to stop?" he asked.
"No… oh no, I just feel so stupid that I, well, I didn't know what… that…"
"Listen, Molly," he murmured in her ear, his arms circling her waist again, then wandering down over her hips. "For the rest of today - for the rest of your life - you are not stupid, and you don't say, think or feel things that are stupid. Okay?"
She swallowed and nodded. "I just don't want to do something wrong…"
"You'll have to tell me what you - oh."
But this oh had a totally different tone and was given for a totally different reason. He didn't clarify if she was okay; he didn't need to. She gripped the side of the sink with both hands, the stainless steel cooling the heat in her palms.
"John," she murmured. "Turn me around."
"Turn me around…"
He slid his hands up to her hips, bringing the fabric of her nightdress with it, then gently turned her to face him. She clasped her hands around his neck as he lifted her up onto the benchtop. A storm of kisses, interrupted when he suddenly gasped and cupped the back of her head with both his hands.
"… What's the matter?"
"Jesus, you nearly hit your head on that…" He tapped on the overhead cupboard behind her, then exhaled.
There was silence for a few seconds, broken by a curious little squeak as Toby wandered into the kitchen to see what was going on. He brushed against John's legs, then jumped up onto the bench beside Molly, sniffing at her elbow.
They looked at each other.
"Don't you dare laugh," John told her, but he was struggling to keep a straight face himself. "Bedroom?"
"Yes - oh, I'm too heavy, John," she protested as he lifted her in his arms.
"Nope, not even close." He shifted her easily as she put her arm around his neck. "Do you seriously want me to put you down, though?"
"Yes. But on the bed."
He took her up the stairs, and neither of them had any regard for the very-put-out cat they left in the kitchen.
"You're miles away. Everything okay?"
John had just returned from the bathroom. Molly was sitting up shameless in bed, playing absently with the ends of her dishevelled hair. He flopped down beside her, resting his fingertips on the small of her back. She took a deep breath and smiled.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I'm… that was… I liked it."
"Oh, good." John nodded. He was lazily tracing a random pattern along her back with his finger, appreciating how the fine white down on her skin responded to his touch. "Good. Positive feedback's always… good… to hear."
"Have you ever had anyone say they didn't like it?"
"I didn't think so."
John decided to not tell Molly it was considered bad bedroom etiquette to mention your exes. "That's a glowing recommendation," he said instead. "Especially since I've never been interrupted by a cat before."
She flushed. "I'm so sorry. I forgot to tell you he can open the bedroom door."
"I think…" John leaned over and kissed the first part of her available to him, which happened to be her hip… "I'll forgive you for it. This time. And every other time."
The tracing on her back was a lot less random now. Molly.
"Are you playing games, Dr. Watson?" she teased, smiling at him.
"No idea what you're talking about, Dr. Hooper." I love you.
She lay back down beside him, resting her head against his shoulder. Her loose hair tickled at his neck. John couldn't remember the last time he'd lain with a woman… together, but not together. Cuddling, to use a babyish word for it.
"This is nice. I like this."
"Well then, we'll have to do it quite often, since we both agree on that." He started tracing on her back with one finger again. She ran her own fingertips lightly up his arm, bringing them to rest on the livid, raised scar on his shoulder.
A shiver ran through him.
"Yeah, I know." He rested his fingertips on hers, as if he were about to draw her hand away. "Still, I'd hardly be an Adonis without it."
She was looking at the scar tissue with a curious lack of emotion, and John wondered if she was puzzling out where the wound scar ended and the suture scars from three surgeries began. She had no admiration or revulsion for the marks on him. He'd half-expected one or the other, based on… the reactions of some other women.
"Does it bother you?" he asked her quietly.
She took a deep breath. "It bothers me," she said, "that you got hurt, yes. It bothers me that you… that you suffered. And it bothers me that you think it's ugly or that you should be ashamed of it. But if you're asking if the actual scar bothers me…" She brushed her lips against it. "No."
He laid his palm on her face, and then on her hair; her soft brown locks flowed around his fingers like water. She rested her head against his chest.
"Would it scare you if… I said something just now?"
He smiled. "No. I promise to be brave."
"I don't think I've ever felt like this about somebody before." She paused, then lifted her head to look at him earnestly.
"Yeah, well, I don't think there's anything at all scary about that." He brushed a stray lock of hair away from her face. "Because I haven't either..." He was tracing on her back again.
"I love you too, John."