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A Slight Tilt of the Axis

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The first time Molly Hooper and Martin Crieff meet isn’t earth-shattering. The world doesn’t slow down around them, romantic music doesn’t spontaneously start playing in the background, their eyes don’t lock in an intense, passionate gaze – to be perfectly honest, they barely make eye contact with each other, preferring instead to furtively glimpse at the other just long enough to ascertain two facts. 

Fact One: The person passing by on crowded North Gower Street is indeed rather cute.

Fact Two: London is a city filled with over seven-and-a-half million people, and, as unfortunate as it may be, the chances are that they will never see said cute person ever again.

It’s a pity, but both of them are too shy to take the necessary actions to rectify the situation. After all, they are both far too familiar with the pain of a broken heart, so they shove the experience to the back of their minds, cataloguing it among the many regrets and what-might-have-beens that their lives seem to be comprised of.

But although luck (or fate or destiny or whatever one would like to call it) hasn’t been very kind to either of them in the past, it decides that some things are worth a second chance, and opts to bring them together again.

The second time they meet is infinitely more striking and considerably less mundane. And although the world doesn’t shatter, it does tilt just the tiniest bit: an almost-imperceptible shift of a formerly-flat surface that sends two people – scuffed and battered and yet still shining with the glint of hope that only comes from youth and a large dose of naïveté – bumping into each other. 

Literally.

Martin’s mind is preoccupied with bills that he can’t pay and clients that he can’t stand and, as always, what the hell he’s supposed to say to the gravestone of a father whom he had let down time and time again. So he really can’t be blamed for not looking at where he’s going as he trudges down the familiar dirt path in the Fitton cemetery. Not, of course, like any of those excuses come to mind as he walks straight into the brunette, startling her into dropping the bouquet of lilies she was about to place on the gravestone in front of her. “Oh gosh, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to, I’m such a klutz, I’m sorry, sorry!” he stutters, too busy mentally cursing his complete and utter lack of coordination to recognize the woman in front of him.

“Oh no, really, it was my fault, I shouldn’t have been standing in the middle of the path like that,” Molly says, giggling nervously as she picks up the lilies.

They finally make eye contact, and- ah. There it is, that moment of recognition: I’ve seen you before, and I never thought I’d see you again. They both blush. Martin opens his mouth, but he doesn’t know what to say; what do you say to a really cute girl who passed by you once in London that you’ve just walked into who probably has a boyfriend and most likely thinks that you’re a complete and utter clot?

“It’s lovely weather today.” He winces. Apparently, you make some lame comment about the weather that is probably horribly inappropriate to say in a cemetery to someone who is obviously mourning a loved one. If she didn’t think that he was a clot before, she definitely thinks that he is one now. He won’t be surprised if she slaps him. Or just walks away.

“Yeah. My father always loved days like this one. I mean, obviously he can’t enjoy them now, but when he was alive and all…,” she says, trailing off as she gestures towards the gravestone with a nervous giggle. Great job Molly, she thinks to herself, make an awkward joke about dead people. That’s sure to win you tons of points with cute redhead here.

“Oh, I’m visiting my father too,” Martin says, pouncing on the new subject even as he wonders when the hell he became eager to talk about his late-and-certainly-not-great father. Probably around the time he bumped into an adorable brunette who is, against all odds, still talking to him.

“Oh,” Molly says, biting her lip as she tries to figure out some kind of subtle way to continue the conversation. Granted, part of her is aghast at the fact that she’s actively trying to flirt – okay, perhaps not flirting (that implies a certain level of smooth grace that she’s adamantly certain that she doesn’t possess), but certainly socializing – with an attractive stranger in front of her father’s grave. However, that part is quickly gagged and shoved to the side by a larger part of her that is acting unsettlingly like a high school cheerleader (complete with pompoms) and is currently chirping that she needs to recommence conversation A-S-A-P. So, before she can think better of it, Molly says the first thing that comes to mind: “Is his grave close by?” She instantly regrets opening her mouth. The question’s probably the least tactful one she could have asked; she sounded like she was asking about his freaking flat or something! But no, it’s been said, and now, as mortifying as it is, she has no choice but to wait for his response.

“Oh, it’s just a row or two away,” he says, before awkwardly adding “I can show you it if you’d like.” Oh fuck. Who the hell invites a pretty girl to see his father’s grave? It’s possibly the most un-romantic, un-suave thing Martin has ever done, and Martin has done a lot of un-romantic, un-suave things before. Surprisingly, she agrees.

“I’m Molly Hooper, by the way.”

“Martin Crieff. Pleased to meet you.”

They spent the rest of the short walk to the gravestone in a silence that isn’t quite as awkward as Martin feared.

Molly watches as Martin pulls the weeds from in front of the gravestone with steady hands. It’s obvious that he’s done this many times before, but there’s something in his expression – something bittersweet and regretful and all-too-familiar to Molly – that takes her breath away. She doesn’t really know how to bring up the subject, let alone if she should, but she feels the need to say something, so she says softly, “You must have loved him.”

“Well, yeah, I mean - sure, he was a great dad and all, just… not to me,” Martin trails off with a defeated shrug. He doesn’t expect her to really understand; hell, he has a hard time trying to explain the relationship between him and his dad even now, seven years after that phone call from the hospital.

“No, I- I understand. It’s never easy, being invisible. Knowing and accepting that you don’t matter, that they’ll never see the real you no matter how hard you try,” she says quietly, more to herself than to him. She’s blushing now, as if she can’t believe that she said that out loud, and he has no idea when he started being able to read her but he knows without a doubt that he doesn’t want it to stop. 

“Would you like to go for coffee sometime?” he asks, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he has time to second-guess himself. “With me, I mean.”

She nods, a smile lighting up her face. “I’d like that.”

Martin beams back with a grin that is just a little bit crooked. Because really, although their first meeting wasn’t earth-shattering, their second meeting, with its gravestones and stutters and ten different types of awkward, is perfect.