When Chris wakes, it's to a gentle, familiar touch to the back of her hand, the equally gentle and equally familiar touch of a second hand moving over her hair. She takes a deep breath before she opens her eyes, blinking against the bright lights as the face she'd just been dreaming about swims into focus.
For a second, she's disorientated. After all, she'd been dreaming about fresh air and sunshine and him, the two of them walking hand in hand somewhere she'd never been, somewhere where it was just them, no patients, no work, no worries. Just his hand in hers and his smile reaching all the way up to his eyes, the same way she knew hers did when she looked at him.
It had been a lovely dream.
It also hadn't been the first dream like that she'd had, but it is the first time that she's woken up from such a dream to see him standing at her bedside. It throws her, makes her wonder if she's really woken at all, but then he squeezes her hand and touches her cheek and she knows that this is real.
"Tell me you haven't been here all night."
It's actually obvious that he hasn't; after all, she knows what this man looks like when he's slept in a chair, or when he hasn't slept at all and he looks far too rested for that. Plus, the green polo shirt that she remembers from her dreams has been replaced by crisp white cotton, not what one wears when patching up patients. "Kate threw me out," he tells her, keeping his voice down low and looking over his shoulder as if he's expecting her to appear for a repeat performance. "How are you feeling?"
Chris shifts experimentally before trying to pull herself into a sitting position and a series of aches and pains makes her regret the movement. "Easy," Tom says before she can say anything and she bites her tongue against words that would surely prove that doctors make the worst patients.
"I'm ok," is all she says and at that, he lifts an eyebrow.
"You were in a bus crash yesterday," he reminds her and she expects him to say more but instead he looks down at their joined hands. He takes a deep breath as he lifts up their hands, closes his other hand around them and sits down on the bed.
He doesn't meet her eyes, keeps staring at her hand, wrapped in both of his. The hairs on the back of Chris's neck stand up and it's hard to breathe suddenly, the air in the room seeming thick, charged with something she can't identify.
Or maybe, something she can.
"Tom." She whispers his name - it's all she can do - and he looks at her then, his eyes dark and serious. "I'm ok."
"I didn't know that." When he speaks, it's after a long pause and he sounds hesitant, unsure of himself. She's not used to hearing Tom speak that way; he's always calm and confident, assertive without being arrogant. It's a rare quality in many doctors, one she's always appreciated, one that helped her fall in love with him in the first place. "One minute, we're all laughing and joking, I'm listening to your voice for the first time in months, thinking how much I've missed hearing it... then DJ and Steve start fighting and next thing I know, all I can hear is horns blaring, people screaming..." He closes his eyes, looking as if the memory is causing him physical pain, and he's still holding her hand in both of his so she feels as well as sees the shudder that wracks his body. "I didn't know if you were ok... I didn't know if you were alive or dead." He chuckles as he rubs a thumb over her knuckles, finally lifting his head so that he can look into her eyes. She doesn't know if it's the sensation of his skin moving over hers or what she sees in his face that makes her shiver. "And sure, it was only a couple of minutes before I heard you on the radio, barking orders at everyone..." He's teasing now and she feels herself blush, ducks her head. "But Chris... those were the longest couple of minutes of my life. All I could think about was that I might have missed my chance."
Chris frowns. "Your chance?"
"With you. Us." Tom presses his lips together, looks away for a moment but only a moment. "Chris, when I'm over there, practising medicine... it's everything I ever wanted." He'd said that yesterday but it's something that she's always known about him. So she's not expecting his next words to begin with a caveat. "Except for one thing. And I couldn't put my finger on it, not until yesterday, staring at a CB radio, praying that I'd hear your voice coming out of it."
Chris's heart is hammering in her chest and her mouth feels dry. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I had to consider living in a world without you in it. And I didn't like it." He tilts his head, gives her that look he always used to give her to forestall an argument. "I know, we haven't seen one another in months, our lives are miles apart... literally... but I always thought we'd be able to give it another go one day."
He looks worried for a second when a sob escapes Chris's lips but his face clears when he realises she's smiling. "I always thought that too," she admits. After all, there may have been other men in her life - she hasn't been living like a nun since they ended things - but she always found herself comparing them to Tom. And at night when she dreamed of living happily ever after, dreamed of happy families and long walks and lazy mornings in bed, it was Tom who was with her, always.
Tom, smiling that same smile that was on his face right now, the smile that made her want to smile right back, the smile that made her think that all was right with the world. "Don't go back to Melbourne," he says and as she blinks, he corrects himself. "Or do go back. Pack up your place, sell your car... come back to Africa with me. There's enough work for two doctors, more than enough... you can stay with me..." He stops talking suddenly, like he's realised how fast he's talking, how fast he's moving things along. She's always been the more cautious of the two of them so it makes sense to her that he's going to think that she wants space, wants time to consider things.
But she'd been in a bus crash yesterday and if she closes her eyes, she can still picture the ute coming towards them too quickly for them to move out of the way, she can still hear the squeal of brakes and the teeth-jarring sound of ripping metal. She can still feel the terror that she was going to die and all she had to show for the last few months of her life were the drudge of Melbourne and the painful memories of nursing her father in his final months.
She'd known, in those few seconds before the crash where time had seemed to stretch out and last forever, that she'd wanted more.
She still wants more, and what she wants most of all is sitting on the edge of her hospital bed, holding her hand.
"Where would I sleep?" she asks and it's her turn to tease him now. "Your spare room?"
He looks sheepish but there's a twinkle in his eye when he tells her, "It's full of boxes. There might be a bed under there somewhere... if you're lucky."
He's leaning in now, close enough that she can feel his breath on her lips. "And if I'm not?"
He shrugs both shoulders exaggeratedly. "Guess we'll just have to share."
"Oh." She nods and she would say more but he's kissing her so she has better things to do. Like reach up and run her fingers through his hair, as much to ground herself as anything else. Her head feels like it's spinning and she's not so sure it's all entirely to do with Tom and his kisses and his touch. Maybe he knows that because he pulls away, although only as far as to rest his forehead against hers.
"So," he says after a moment where they're just smiling at each other, "I'm told there's a party on in town later on... I take it I'm not being forward if I ask you to be my date?"
He already knows her answer, the same answer to all of his questions, but it brings up another thought and Chris looks down at herself. "My bag-" she begins and he cuts her off with a kiss to the forehead.
"Is already at The Majestic, in your room." He grins. "Vic and Nancy took care of everything." Another kiss to her forehead. "All we need to do is get you discharged... and luckily enough, you know a doctor who can help with that."
Chris grinned. "And where would he be?"
Tom narrowed his eyes to absolutely no effect, not when he was smiling like that. "Right where he wants to be," he says before he kisses her again.
And, for the first time in months, Chris knows she's right where she wants to be too.