“I could never do your job.”
It’s a simple statement, one they’ve both heard countless times from well-meaning family members, strangers, even from each other on particularly bad days. Their jobs are difficult, not for the faint of heart, of course, but they are far from unforeseeable; they’re both aware of this, on some level. It’s when everything seems unpredictable that you learn what to expect, however intangible these things may be, and it is for this reason that they can get through their days at all.
They’ve both come to expect fear, anger, misplaced passion; they’re usually on opposite sides of the events caused by these emotions, if they intersect at all, yet they’ve both learned what to associate with the feelings (blood, death, a barrel of a gun pointed in their direction). They learn to manage; they force themselves to move on, to forgive themselves, and if not to forgive those that hurt them, then to at least allow themselves not to be controlled by them.
Likewise, they’ve come to expect joy, relief, excitement -- and it is in this that the paths of their careers rarely pass, but considering what that entails, neither can complain. Though these emotions can never seem to surpass the negative ones, they look forward to what follows (hugging, crying, a thousand thank yous). They can both remember every person they’ve saved, every relationship they’ve kept alive, and they focus on these when they can.
There are dozens of other things, little moments that no one else would think anything of. A patient begs for narcotics, a victim curls up in a panic attack, and for a moment, their thoughts turn to each other; they can’t do anything about it, save for sending a quick text, but both of them pretend that the other can somehow feel their thoughts, even though they know that kind of sensory perception is, if not impossible, highly improbable.
Learning to expect the unexpected -- or rather, learning to accept the unexpected -- bleeds into their personal lives as well. And so it should; it’s difficult to make plans when you’ve got a twelve hour shift, or when you’ve got cases to work through, or when you’re three time zones apart. Within six months of meeting each other, they’ve learned to stop planning things.
Text messages are always answered hours apart, with time stamps punctuating each message like it’s part of the script. It takes an entire day to have a conversation about work, and by then, they’ve both moved on to other aspects of the job.
He’s just waking up as she gets off a shift; she’s eating a quick lunch while he waits for lab results to come in; and this is when they make phone calls or facetime each other. Even then, it’s precarious, and they are too used to rushed goodbyes and sudden disappearances for being upset to be justified.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t, though.
They make it work; they figure out how to appreciate the parts of their relationship that they wouldn’t have otherwise. It isn’t rare for one of them to fall asleep during a phone call; they wake up the next day to texts ranging from affectionate teasing to concern for their well-being. They send selfies with captions that they’ll admit are stereotypical at their best and downright dorky at their worst; they post cutesy things about each other on social media, despite knowing that the other won’t see it until hours later.
When they’re in the same place at the same time, though, is when the fruits of their labor really seem to prosper. He’s holding her hand (because he trusts her enough to not stiffen at her touch despite how he has to apologetically nod at everyone else), and she’s leaning into his shoulder (because she trusts him enough to feel safe despite the weapon tucked away dangerously closely), and they’re trying to eat dinner but they’re too busy talking, talking and laughing and relishing in the fact that they’re here with each other, and it’s no wonder they don’t doubt their relationship, not when they are so at peace with each other.
And so they continue, learning what works, what makes things easier, what secrets neither of them really intends to keep. Soon enough, they can read each other, predict what’s coming even when they can’t see each other. He learns when her stutter is from nervous energy and when it’s from a failed surgery or an oncoming panic attack, and how to help her find her footing again. She learns to speak softly when he’s too embarrassed to talk about his sensory issues but surrounded by too much hustle and bustle to pretend they don’t exist. They both learn which topics are off limits, which ones can be tread on under certain, safe circumstances, and which ones can make up an array of slightly bitter jokes and sarcastic remarks.
It takes a long time for them to discuss their families; it takes a much shorter time for them to discuss the coworkers that they’re forming another family in (not a new family -- they aren’t striving to replace who they had, but rather, to increase what they have).
Maybe in another universe, one works a much steadier job, with much steadier hours, and they can see each other more than once a week. For that matter, maybe in another universe, both of them work predictable hours, and they come home in the evenings for dinner. Maybe in another universe, neither has the trauma to work through; she is not insecure, he is not afraid, neither of them are overwhelmed. Maybe in another universe, a perfectly average nine to five, two point four children, white picket universe, they never learned to find predictability in chaos, because they never had chaos keeping them apart.
Maybe in another universe, they are a different kind of predictable; but in this universe, they are together, and they are more than satisfied.