The numbers on her bedside clock read 1:43, and Molly stared at them blankly for a minute, wondering what on earth had dragged her awake at this hour. Down in the curve her knees, she could feel Toby sitting upright, wire-tight, alert to the same mysterious wake-up call.
It almost sounded like...knocking?
If Molly were a different sort of woman, she might've just ignored it, dragged a pillow over her head and tried to go back to sleep. Molly being Molly, though, she sighed, and sat up, the motion sending Toby bolting off the bed and into the shadows. She fumbled into her dressing gown, telling herself that it was probably just the university boys two doors down, drunk and playing a prank, or maybe the girlfriend of that artist the floor above and she'd got the wrong flat.
The knocking repeated itself, curiously gentle. So gentle that she might've slept through it altogether. "I'm coming, hang on," she called, shuffling barefoot past the couch. She had to get up on her tip-toes to see through the peephole, and for a moment she couldn't make out anything, not one-eyed, not through the warped world of the fish eye lens.
Then Jim's face swam into sight, grinning and ghastly white where it wasn't smeared with blood.
Molly couldn't get the door open fast enough; she actually forgot the deadbolt on the first try and had to close it again to wrestle that open. Jim was leaning against her door frame, and she couldn't take it all in at once: the blood and grim on his face and hands, grey and white and sooty black; his clothes, soiled and ruined; and his smile, a little wild about the eyes.
"Hey, Kitten," he said softly, and started to fall forward.
Molly caught him just in time, bracing herself under his greater weight until he found his bearings. She pulled him all the way inside, while independently her mouth started up a loop of "Jim, oh my God, Jim, it's you, what happened, Jim, oh my God--"
He snickered at her, like he did when she shrieked and laughed at stupid television dramas, like this was some kind of great joke—his arms locked around her waist, and she didn't know if he was hugging her or about to fall again. She guided him over to the sofa, but he didn't let go when he let his knees fold, and she found herself tumbling down with him in a heap. He held on tight, taking great, unsteady breaths; for the moment she couldn't move.
Her training started to percolate through the shock eventually; she could feel him shivering, little tremors that racked his whole body, and his face was clammy where it pressed against her cheek. "Did you walk here?" she asked incredulously.
"Mmm. Part of the way." Perfectly casually, as if her weren't wearing a shirt with more holes than buttons and no jacket and it wasn't April. "Bit hard to get a cab this time of night, and I seem to have lost my Oyster card."
Molly pulled away, just a bit, and for a moment it seems like he was going to pull her back, hold her in place; then his arms went totally slack. She switched on the table lamp and pulled his head around when he flinched away from it. His eyes were dilated, but equally reactive; she raked her fingers through his hair, which was stiff from sweat and...dust? She hoped it was just grey dust, and not ashes...but she didn't feel any blood. He only flinched a little when she found a goose egg over his left ear. "Jim, you've got a concussion," she said, because it just didn't process, Jim didn't do concussion-getting sorts of things—it was like a nun coming in for genital herpes.
Jim just made another little humming noise. "Hmm. Tonight turned out to be more interesting than I'd planned. A miscalculation, one I won't make again." He turned his face up to the ceiling and frowned a bit. "I really shouldn't be here."
"You should be in hospital," Molly said, and started to get up to find her mobile.
This time Jim did pull her back down to the couch: grabbed her wrist almost painfully hard and pulled her back with a jerk. "No," he said, staring at her with wide, black eyes. "You're not calling anyone."
There suddenly seemed to be too little air in the room. "You're scaring me, Jim," she said, hating how small her voice was.
And just like that, he slid into another smile. "I know," he said fondly, letting his head rest against hers. "Isn't it fun?"
Molly tried to reign in her breathing, tried not to think about all the other times he'd used those words, that tone of voice, because those were just silly bedroom games—nothing that actually mattered, nothing that meant anything, really—he was bleeding now. She put her hand over his, the one still clamped around her other wrist. "You're freezing," she said, not as steady as she'd like to be. "And I need to clean up those cuts."
Jim scowled, all theatrics once again, but he let her pull him into the bathroom. Molly's flat might be a studio, but the enormous bath made up for a lot of its other faults: she could lie down flat along the bottom and her feet didn't even touch the other end. Jim had joked a few times about drowning in it. Now he sat down on the edge and let her passively remove his shoes, his socks, unbutton the remains of his shirt. He was wearing a tie, as soiled and torn as the rest of his clothes, with the knot pulled down to the level of his armpits; it had a pattern of tiny little skulls that almost, almost made her smile as she pulled it over his head. Very Jim, that. Strangest sense of humor.
Under his shirt he was pockmarked with abrasions and bruises, including a big one that went across almost the whole span of his shoulders, dark and mottled. Now that her hands were working, now that she had something to concentrate on, Molly found that she couldn't quite turn off the pathologist part of her brain, the one that looked at Jim like one of her corpses. He'd been shoved or thrown, hard, landed badly...she helped him pull the shirt off his arms and noted how carefully he held himself. A bit of whiplash. The cuts, the burns, the grit—it was almost like--
"Stop it," Jim said in a strange flat voice.
Molly froze, Jim's shirt still dangling from one hand. Toby had appeared and was sniffing at the hem. "Stop what?"
"You're thinking. Deducing," Jim said with a sneer, one that broke into a wince as he rolled his shoulders. "But it's better if you don't know."
"Don't know what?" she asked. He didn't respond, just looked at his scratched and bloody hands. One of his fingernails was nearly torn off, she noticed. He was always so vain about his nails. "Jim, tell me."
"Nearly everyone at that hospital thinks you're a bit stupid, my dear," he said, and sounded strangely tired. "For once, live down to expectations. Don't ask me questions. Don't think about why. Because..." He looked up, mouth pressed together, and for a moment he seemed almost...confused? "It's safer this way."
He was scaring here again, and not in the fun way. She let his shirt drop, and Toby squeaked when it landed on his head. She looked at him, bruised and battered on the white tiles of her bathroom, and something in her heart gave way. "Okay," she said. "No more questions."
He blinked, and then peered at her, almost looking confused. "Thank you," he said quietly.
She helped him shimmy out of his trousers and pants and propped him up under a hot spray; it rinsed away the dust and blood, made him look more like a man and not an extra from some horror film. Molly knew better than to leave in the bath by himself when he had a head injury, but she had to step out for just a minute to find towels, and a few random pieces of his clothes that had migrated here during the past few weeks. When she got back, Jim had sat down in the bottom of the tub, legs crossed, water still pounding down on his battered shoulders.
Molly turned off the water and for a moment, they both sat in silence. She had the mad desire to drag him out of the tub and bundle him up in all the towels she owned, to park him on the sofa and put on the telly and pretend that there wasn't this enormous gulf opening between them, no mysterious secrets, no black bruises and ghastly smiles.
Instead she patted his shoulders as gently as she could, and then went for her first-aid kit. "I don't have anything stronger than paracetamol," she said, and she shouldn't really be apologizing for not having major narcotics in her flat, but she couldn't help it—there's a reason she became a doctor, even if she did mostly end up with patients who no longer need care.
What she did have was a load of plasters, and bandages, and steri-strips, and burn ointment—Jim had once remarked with a grin on how clumsy she was outside a laboratory. He hardly reacted now, as she climbed in the bath behind him and started swapping his cuts with iodine. The running water had washed away debris, and she carefully joined up the edges of each laceration. "You need stitches," she said. "I should stitch these."
"Got a needle on you?" Jim asked hoarsely.
Molly just sighed. "Why'd you come here, Jim?"
He didn't answer.
He did swing around when she tugged on his arm, let her give the same treatment to his face and hands. He'd look like a mummy by the time she was done. "I thought," he said, then scowled, and lowered his head, as if the words had slipped out without his permission.
"Look at me," she said, taking one of his battered hands in both of hers. "Jim, please." He finally looked up, water still clinging to his lashes. "I'm scared, Jim. I'm so scared for you."
He blinked. "Why?"
She didn't know how to answer that—not in words—so she just kissed him, pushing into his space to press her mouth to his. For a moment, he didn't do anything, just sat there and let her make a fool of herself; then he brought his free hand up to cup the back of her head, and returned the kiss chastely, almost sweetly, before pulling back.
"I should go," he said, looking at her with outright confusion now. "I really should go now."
"You're hurt," she said. "And it's the middle of the bloody night." Don't go, she wanted to add, because she had a terrible feeling that if he left now he was never coming back.
One side of his mouth twisted down oddly, but he was gently stroking the snarled mass of her hair. "I shouldn't even have come here. I don't know why I came." That seemed to irritate him, but he didn't try to pull away.
"Not yet," Molly said, and resisted the urge to squeeze his hand. "Just stay a little while, Jim, please."
He looked at her a little while longer, and she realized that he didn't look confused, not really; he looked awed. Then he suddenly laughed, a weak huff, not his usual infectious giggle. "Two hours," he said. "Wake me up in two hours. They won't have got this far by then."
Molly didn't ask who they were. She just urged him up out of the tub, and instead of making him get dressed, she pulled off her own nightgown, which was wet from the bath anyway. She led the way back to the bed, and pulled up the duvet; after a moment, Jim curled around her, tucking his face into her shoulder. He was warm now, shower-damp, and his bandages were rough on her skin where he stroked the curve of her hip, absently, as if his hands were on autopilot. After a moment, Toby completed the picture by curling up at their feet.
"Two hours," Jim reminded her, obviously losing the struggle against sleep. He really shouldn't sleep at all with a head injury. "Got to leave by then."
"Two hours," she said, without any intention of actually waking him.
He gave her another sleepy grimace, and mumbled into her shoulder, "'Night, Kitten." Molly had left the lamp on, but she didn't dare get up to switch it off.