Ollie is quickly becoming Dom’s favourite patient, even rivaling Mr Phillips, the coma patient. Unlike Mr Phillips, at times Ollie actually laughs at Dom’s jokes. He’s still confused, but he’s getting better, if slowly. Dom takes to popping in to see him at the start and end of his shifts. It’s weird at first, spending time alone with him. They’ve never quite been friends, and they’ve only really spent time together with Zosia present. But Zosia is gone, and god knows they both could use a friend.
Besides, Ollie doesn’t really know Lofty all that well, or at least he doesn’t remember them bonding over professor Hopkins, so he’s the perfect recipient for Dom’s thoughts on the matter. Because Dom has to vent to someone.
”I used to think he was almost worryingly nice,” he says, after establishing that Ollie is feeling okay this morning. ”It was quite a relief when he yelled at me for making the new F1 cry.”
”Dom,” Ollie says, looking disapproving.
”What?” Dom says. ”As if you never done that. It’s all part of being an F1.” And it’s not like he slept with her, so she’s better off than he was as an F1.
”Have not,” Ollie says. Dom narrows his eyes at him.
”Awfully convenient, this memory loss of yours at times, isn’t it?” The moment he says it he realises how insensitive it sounds, but Ollie doesn’t seem to mind. So Dom leans back in his chair and puts his feet up on the bed, ignoring Ollie’s frown, and goes back to talking about Lofty.
”Would you really never grow a mustache?” he asks Lofty as they’re grabbing a way too late lunch in the middle of a hectic shift. For some reason, Lofty’s reaction to the suggestion of growing one when Dom was trying to figure out what his New Year’s resolution was has been bothering him.
Lofty laughs. ”Have you seen my hair? I’d look like a porn actor from the seventies.”
Dom has a sudden but vivid flashback of being thirteen years old in the attic in his friend Sam’s house, where they’d found Sam’s dad’s old collection of porn magazines. He remembers agreeing with Sam’s comments on the women, while not understanding why his eyes kept straying to the men in the pictures. He takes a breath and focuses on Lofty again.
”I don’t know,” he says with a teasing smile. ”I think it’d be a good look on you.”
Lofty just shakes his head and picks off a wilted looking lettuce leaf from his sandwich.
”I’d look ridiculous.”
”You’d look like Tom Selleck,” Dom insists. ”Tom Selleck is hot.”
He probably shouldn’t be doing this, he thinks as Lofty not quite blushes, but ducks his head in that way that means he’s pleased, but embarrassed. But then again, it would be weirder if he didn’t, because he always flirts with his friends, and even if he isn’t anything more, Lofty is definitely a friend.
”Just sleep with him already," Ollie says, interrupting Dom’s rant on the fact that Lofty brought him a hot chocolate at the start of their night shift. Not even coffee, which is a normal thing to get a friend or a colleague, but hot chocolate, which obviously must mean something more.
”I did,” Dom says. He stands up from the chair and heads to the window, opening the blinds to look out over the parking lot. ”It didn’t end well.”
”At your wedding. To Zosia,” he quickly adds and turns to face Ollie, because Ollie still gets confused about the fact that he’s married twice at times.
Ollie frowns, the way he does when he’s not sure if he’s remembering something. Dom waits patiently.
”You had a date, at the wedding,” Ollie says finally, slowly.
”Seriously?” Dom complains. ”Your memory is like scrambled eggs most of the time, but that you remember? I was hoping I could keep you under the illusion that I wasn’t the type of person who cheated on my boyfriend with the first pretty nurse who walked by.”
Ollie makes a face. ”He wasn’t very nice.”
Dom sighs. ”No, he wasn’t. He still didn’t deserve that, though.”
”And Lofty is clearly more than a pretty nurse,” Ollie says, his blue eyes almost too intense for Dom’s liking.
Dom sighs even deeper. ”Yes, he is.”
”I got you something,” he says to Lofty, as they both prepare to leave for the day. He reaches into his backpack and takes the book out, feeling a bit awkward as he hands it over to Lofty. He’s not exactly the type of person who goes around buying presents for other people, but he just happened to be in a bookshop, and just happened to walk past the sheet music section, and well. He didn’t get it gift wrapped, though. That felt like a step too far.
Lofty’s eyes light up as he read the title of the book.
”A Tune a Day For Saxophone, Book One? Dom, that’s so thoughtful!”
”It’s nothing,” he says, a bit embarrassed by Lofty’s enthusiasm, but Lofty is already hugging him before he can get the words out. He returns the hug, wondering, not for the first time, how Lofty always manages to still smell clean after a long shift.
”How’s that going, anyway?” he asks, as he reluctantly lets go. ”The whole learning saxophone thing.”
Lofty frowns as he puts the book into his bag. ”It’s a lot trickier than I expected, actually. And I’m probably doing something very wrong, because I tend to get this cramp in my lips.”
”Well, just imagine when you get the lip thing right,” Dom says lightly, shrugging into his coat. ”I mean, that and being able to hold your breath for three minutes? You’re going to make someone very happy.” He bursts out laughing at the look on Lofty’s face, because it’s just too easy and too irresistible to tease him sometimes.
”You’re a menace,” Lofty says, not quite able to stop a smile. ”Absolutely awful.” He closes the door to his locker while shaking his head.
”Sorry,” Dom says through his laughter. ”I just had to.”
”I’ll let you buy me a drink to make up for it,” Lofty says. ”Oh, come on,” he continues when Dom wrinkles his nose, because he was planning on an early night. ”Essie already turned me down, because she had plans.”
”So, I’m your second choice then?” Dom says, in mock offense. ”Charming.”
Lofty tilts his head to the side. ”Well, third really, since Meena had some studying to do.”
”Well, clearly being the third person to turn you down would just be cruel,” Dom says, and Lofty’s smile is worth sacrificing a few hours sleep for.
”I wish everyone would just stop assuming that I’m keeping track of his every move!” Dom exclaims, after Sacha catches him in the staff room to ask if he knows where Lofty is, since Lofty seems to be the only one able to have a conversation with Mr Hull in bed five without being spat on. Sacha looks taken aback, and Dom immediately regrets his outburst.
”Sorry,” he says, ”it’s just that Essie keeps going on about it, and Zosia called last night asking if done anything about the whole Lofty situation yet, and I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”
”Well…” Sacha says slowly. ”Since we’re on the subject…”
Dom groans. ”Sacha, not you too! Why is everyone so invested in this?”
”He just seems to make you happy,” Sacha says simply.
”That’s what Essie keeps saying,” Dom says. He’s not questioning that Lofty makes him happy, he knows that all too well.
”So, what’s the problem, then?”
Dom bites the inside of lip and looks out the window. ”That’s what everyone’s saying, how good he’d be for me.” He glances quickly at Sacha, who is watching him patiently. ”Just…” He looks away again and shrugs. ”What’s in it for him?”
”Dominic,” Sacha says quietly. He takes hold of Dom’s shoulders, and just waits until Dom reluctantly looks at him. ”Dom. You are smart, and funny. You care so much about other people, and you’re loyal to your friends. You’re brave and resilient. You’re an excellent doctor. You’re a good person, Dom, and anyone should be lucky to have you.”
”You forgot about my devastatingly good looks,” Dom says, trying to make a joke out of it, but Sacha won’t let him.
So Dom sighs, and looks away again. ”I don’t exactly have the best track record with relationships though, do I?”
”You’ve had some bad luck. With Isaac, and with Lee. But that’s because of them, not because of you. You didn’t deserve what happened with them.”
”Kyle was nice, though. And I treated him horribly.”
”Dom, that was years ago. You’re not the same person you were back then.”
Dom scoffs. ”People don’t change, Sacha.”
”Fine, maybe they don’t,” Sacha admits. ”But they evolve. And you certainly have. Trust me, I’ve been there to see it.”
Dom is far from convinced, but he knows it’s no use arguing with Sacha when he’s being supporting and reassuring and in general dad mode, so he just nods and musters up a smile.
Sacha’s whole face crinkles when he smiles, and he holds out his arms. ”Hug it out?”
”Noo,” Dom whines, but it’s a token protest, and Sacha knows it. So he lets Sacha envelop him in a huge hug, closes his eyes and lets himself relax for a minute.
”Maybe I should just stick to dating strictly non hospital related men,” he suggests. ”No doctors, no nurses, no patients.”
Ollie frowns. ”When does anyone of us meet non hospital people?” he asks reasonably.
”I met Freddie,” Dom says, and adds under his breath. ”Through an app.”
Dom sighs. ”The guy I brought to your wedding.”
”And cheated on with Lofty,” Ollie says, looking pleased that he remembered. ”So that went well.”
”Compared to my other relationships, it was a pretty good outcome,” Dom says. ”So I should probably just abandon even the idea of Lofty, since it would inevitably end in a disaster.”
”Stupid,” Ollie mutters, and Dom’s mouth drop open.
”Zosia would tell you,” Ollie says, and then looks uncertain, as if he’s not sure Zosia would say that at all.
Dom sighs. ”Yes, she would.”
”He’s nice,” Ollie says, probably not aware of just how much of an understatement that is, Dom thinks.
”Oh, did I tell you what happened yesterday? A hernia patient had brought in her seven lucky ceramic cats and lined them all up on the bed, and naturally Lofty knocked one of then down on the floor the second he got in the vicinity of her, and…”
”Hasn’t Valentine suffered enough?” a voice says drily, and when Dom turns around Jac Naylor is in the doorway.
”You look awful,” Dom says bluntly, because she does. She’s pale, with shadows under her eyes, and she’s in a wheelchair, which he knows she hasn’t been for the last couple of days.
”Turns out physical therapy is a bitch,” she says grimly, and wheels herself over to Ollie’s bedside.
”You try waking up every morning feeling like you’ve been pushed down two flights of stairs,” she continues, and Dom just goes cold. The world stops for a moment and when it starts turning again he can barely breathe.
”Right,” he says, almost stumbling as he gets up from his chair. ”Sorry, I have to go.” He hurries out the door, ignoring Ollie calling his name after him.
He’s not sure for how long he’s up on the roof, but his fingers are starting to go numb from the cold when he can hear the door open. For a split second he almost expects it to somehow be Bernie, but when he turns around, it’s Jac, leaning heavily against the door frame.
”Are you insane?” he exclaims, despite not wanting to acknowledge her at all. ”What are you doing out of your wheelchair?”
”The roof isn’t exactly wheelchair friendly, if you hadn’t noticed,” she says, trying to disguise the shortness of her breath.
He hurries over to try to help her inside again, but she waves him off and instead sits down on on the metal steps.
”Well, this is all very dramatic.”
He stares at her. ”I’m not the one risking my life getting up here. I just…” He’s not sure what to say. He was surprised by his own reaction. ”I just needed some air.
They’re both quiet for a minute, and then Jac sighs.
”I honestly didn’t know,” she says, looking straight at him.
He’s torn between running away and asking her to shut up, but instead he keeps quiet and sits down beside her.
”I knew about Mayfield, of course I did. Gossip gets everywhere in this hospital. But I honestly didn’t know about the stairs. Believe it or not, but I wasn’t trying to be cruel.”
”It’s fine,” Dom says automatically
”Valentine knows, I suppose, but I guess he doesn’t remember. He got a bit upset, since none of us understood what was wrong. Fletch came by and set us straight. He gave me quite the talking to.”
Dom shrugs. ”It’s not like I expect everyone to know. It’s just that sometimes it feels like that’s all people see when they look at me. What Isaac did.” He pulls a loose thread at the hem of his scrubs, just to have something to do with his hands. ”It used to be the whole Malick thing, now it’s Isaac.”
Jac scoffs. ”Everyone at this hospital has a scandal or two in the closet. Yours is the Malick thing. What Mayfield did? That’s his scandal, not yours. You have a reputation as a good doctor. That’s what people see. That’s all that matters.”
He blinks. ”Thank you.” He certainly never expected a pep talk from Jac Naylor.
”Fine,” she says briskly. ”We good?”
He nods, and she braces herself with her hands, trying get up, but falls back again with a sigh.
”I hate to do this to both of us, Copeland, but you will have to help me to my wheelchair.”
He takes her back to Darwin, Jac complaining all the way that she’s perfectly able to wheel herself and Dom cheerfully ignoring her. As they get on the ward, they’re met by Fletch, looking as if he wants to strangle someone.
”Where have you been? You told me you were going straight back here from Ollie’s room?”
”You’re neither my dad nor my warden, Fletch,” Jac says dismissively, ”so that’s hardly any of your business.”
”It’s perfectly fine,” Dom interjects, with his most charming smile. ”She only left the wheelchair for a little while, when she went up to the roof.”
Jac turns to glare at him as Fletch splutters angrily, and if looks could kill Dom would be incinerated right here and now. He winks at her, and hands the wheelchair over to Fletch. He’s going to pay for this so badly, he thinks as he gives her a cheery wave and walks off. But getting one up on Jac Naylor might be worth it.
Lofty puts down a stack of charts on the desk a bit more noisily than necessary, and Dom winces.
”Could you maybe go be loud somewhere else?” he asks, hissing as even talking makes his headache ever more aggressive.
”I could,” Lofty agrees cheerfully. ”But I like being loud over here. Besides, you should go check on Mrs Martin. She keeps vomiting.”
Dom lifts his head from the desk far too quickly.
”No, no, no,” he pleads, once the wave of nausea has passed. ”I can’t deal with vomiting right now.” He watches a delighted smile spread over Lofty’s face, and frowns. ”She’s not vomiting, is she?”
Lofty shakes his head, and Dom groans, letting his head fall down on his arms. ”I hate you. I hate my life.”
”Maybe you shouldn’t spend the entire night drinking when you have work the next morning,” Lofty says sensibly.
”Shut up,” Dom mumbles half-heartedly. ”Beside, it’s Meena’s fault.” He said yes when she suggested a drink after work last night, in an attempt to clear up whatever was left by the somewhat frosty reception he gave her when she first started. One drink had turned into several, Dom lost count somewhere along the way. And still, she seems to be doing fine this morning.
”Why isn’t she feeling awful?” he asks out loud.
”Well, she is quite a bit younger than you,” Lofty says, and it’s evident he’s on the verge of laughing.
Dom groans again. ”Stop being mean to me. Everything hurts.”
For a brief, blissful moment, there are fingers in his hair, massaging his scalp, but they quickly disappear.
”Would you like me to get you a coffee?” Lofty says kindly, and Dom looks up at him.
”Yes, please,” he says pitifully.
”If I do, will you go and have a look at Mrs Martin? Because she’s not vomiting, but she is complaining. A lot.”
”Anything,” Dom says emphatically, and Lofty smiles.
”Okay, then. I’ll be right back.”
Dom watches him leave with a not at all wistful sigh. Then Essie clears her throat behind him, and he grimaces.
”Please, not now, Essie, I’m very poorly.”
”I swear I will stop talking to you until you figure things out with him,” she says, ignoring his pain.
”Everything is perfectly figured out, thank you,” he tries.
”Stop lying to yourself, Dom,” she says bluntly.
”God, Essie, why the obsession with my love life?” he exclaims. It’s mostly the hangover talking, and it comes out way harsher than he meant it, and he regrets it immediately when he sees the anger flashing in her eyes.
”You’re wasting time! Do you know what I would give for five more minutes with Raf?” Her voice is raised, and and the patients in the nearest beds look over at them. Dom swallows as he sees tears rising in her eyes.
”That’s not fair,” he says quietly, but firmly.
”Well, I’ve got news for you, Dominic,” Essie says bitterly, as she collects a chart and stands up.
”Life isn’t fair.”
She finds him in the break room later, after they’ve managed to avoid each other for a few hours. He looks up from his magazine as she closes the door behind her.
”Feeling better?” she asks and he nods. The shock of the argument seems to have driven the hangover away.
”I’m sorry,” she says, and he immediately shakes his head.
”It’s fine, I understand.”
”No, you were right.” She sits down beside him, and grabs his hand. ”It wasn’t fair.” Her voice is trembling slightly and she takes a deep breath. ”I just miss him so much. I miss what we had. And I hate the thought of you missing out on a great thing with Lofty.” She looks down at their hands as Dom intertwines his fingers with hers. ”But it’s not my place to push you into anything. So, I am sorry.”
”I’m sorry too,” he says, because he feels so completely useless around her since Raf’s death. ”But if anything were to happen between me and Lofty, and I’m not saying it will, it has to be because of us, and not because of anyone else.”
”I know,” Essie says, wiping away a tear. ”I know that.” She takes a deep, trembling sigh, and then she smiles a little. ”But at times you look so much like a lovestruck calf. So am I still allowed to tease you about it, just a little bit?
Dom bursts out laughing, and holds her hand even tighter. ”Always.”
He’s going over to Sacha’s for dinner, because they’re both pathetic and lonely, and it’s just been one of those days when you shouldn’t have to cope with being pathetic and lonely on your own. Sacha had to go reassure Mrs Stevenson in bed seven that she wasn’t going to pass away during the night because of her kidney stones, while Dom cowardly sneaked off to the locker room. He’s just pulling his t-shirt over his head when he hears the door open.
”Do you think I should shave my mustache?” For some reason he can’t let it go. Whatever’s standing between him and Lofty is clearly bigger than his mustache, and still…
”I’m sure I don’t have an opinion either way, Mr Copeland.”
It’s Hanssen. Of course it’s Hanssen. One of these days, Dom will remember to look before he speaks. Today is evidently not that day.
He sighs before closing the door to his locker, and turning around, smiling sheepishly.
”I thought you were Mr Levy.”
”How disappointing for both of us,” Hanssen says drily, and Dom fails to suppress a laugh. He hasn’t really talked to Hanssen since… everything, and it’s a nice surprise to hear him make a joke.
”So, why the sudden ambivalence toward facial hair?” Hanssen asks, sitting down on the bench. Dom isn’t exactly sure what Hanssen is actually doing in the locker room, it’s hardly his usual haunt, but if Hanssen wants small talk, Dom’s happy enough to indulge him.
He’s not sure what Hanssen knows about him and Lofty. There doesn’t seem to be that much gossip going around, but he’s pretty sure that the incident with Freddie and Lofty was reported to him.
”No reason,” he says, avoiding the truth. ”Just figured it might not be to everyone’s taste.”
”Isn’t that their problem?” Hanssen asks.
Dom bites the inside of his lip. He sits down next to Hanssen, their shoulders not quite touching.
”Isaac didn’t like when I didn’t shave,” he admits quietly. He doesn’t like to think about what’s actually bothering him about the whole thing, but Hanssen has seen him at his worst more than once.
”Ah,” Hanssen says. They’re both quiet for a moment.
”And is that why you chose to grow it after Mr Mayfield was gone?” There’s a slight pause before the word gone, as if Hanssen was contemplating another word.
Dom shrugs. ”Partly. And I figured it makes me look older, less…” Vulnerable is the correct word but he doesn’t want to use it. Hanssen seems to understand anyway, because he nods.
”Well, if you want my opinion, which I’m sure you’ll do fine without, if you like it, then keep it. If that’s enough to put anyone off, then frankly, Mr Copeland, that’s their loss. But maybe,” Hanssen continues, and turns to look at Dom until he’s forced to look back. ”Maybe you should also consider the possibility that you no longer need it.”
Dom blinks. ”Thank you,” he says. It sounds inadequate, but he doesn’t know what else to say.
Hanssen just nods. Then he rises from the bench, carefully straightening the lapels on his shirt.
”Well, I must be off,” he says, and Dom realises he still has no idea what Hanssen wanted in the locker room in the first place. ”Have a good night, Mr Copeland.”
Dom smiles. ”You too, Mr Hanssen.”
Ollie is having a bad day, and they’ve been so rare lately that it makes him even more frustrated. After he drops the coin he’s been flipping between his fingers for the fourth time he refuses to accept it when Dom’s picked it up from the floor.
”It’s no use,” he mutters, and leans back against the pillow, closing his eyes.
Dom frowns. ”Of course it is.” He puts the coin down on the bedside table. ”You have to keep practicing.”
Ollie is silent for a few moments, and then he opens his eyes, looking straight at Dom.
”What if I don’t get better?”
Dom leans forward in his chair.
”What are you talking about? You’re getting better every day.”
”Not enough,” Ollie insists. He stares down at his hands. ”Not for surgery. What if I’ll never be?”
”You will be.”
”If I can’t do this, what am I?”
Dom grabs Ollie’s hand, holding it tightly. He recognises it so well, the panic at the thought of not being able to do this job, of not being allowed to.”
”Then you’ll be handsome, charming, clever Oliver Valentine,” he says forcefully. ”And you can be anything. But you won’t have to. Because you are getting better, and you will be coming back to work.” He blinks away the tears threatening to rise in his eyes, and pretends to not notice the ones in Ollie’s.
”I mean, I promised Zosia to look out for you, so if you don’t, she’ll blame me. And she’s scary.”
Ollie musters up a smile at that, and Dom squeezes his hand before letting it go.
”Dom?” Lofty’s standing in the doorway, looking a little hesitant. ”Hi, Ollie, he adds, raising his hand in a greeting. ”I don’t want to interrupt, but Dom, Sacha was wondering if you would mind starting your shift a little earlier. He’s needed in theatre, and we’re shorthanded today.”
”Sure,” Dom says, smiling at him. ”Just give me a minute.”
Lofty smiles and leaves, and Dom turns back to Ollie.
”Will you be okay?”
Ollie nods. ”Yeah. Thank for the company.”
”I’ll see you tomorrow,” Dom says, and rises from the chair.
”Dom,” Ollie calls, just as Dom’s about to leave the room. ”He’s missing out. Lofty, I mean.”
”Thank you,” Dom says, taken by surprise.
Ollie just shrugs, and picks up the coin again. Dom watches him for a minute, the way he painstakingly moves the coin from finger to finger, even though it’s hurting him, even though he keeps failing. He drops it again, on the bed, and doesn’t hesitate before picking it up this time. He smiles triumphantly as his fingers finally obey him when he starts over again, and Dom makes up his mind.
Lofty is standing at the nurses’ station sorting through a chart. When Dom comes up behind him and says hi, he promptly jumps and knocks the folder to the floor.
”I’m sorry,” Dom laughs, as he bends down to help Lofty collect the sheets of papers, now spread over the floor.
”It’s fine,” Lofty says easily, reaching for a paper behind Dom. ”Today has been going too smoothly so far, so it was bound to happen.”
Their hands brush against each other as they both reach for the same piece of paper. Dom takes a breath. He can hear Ollie, Essie, Sasha, even Jac and Hanssen in his head, encouraging him to just take that one next step.
”Do you want to get a drink after work?” he asks.
”Sure,” Lofty agrees. ”I was talking to Meena about it earlier, actually, she and…”
”No,” Dom interrupts, brushing his hand against Lofty’s on purpose as he hands him the final piece of paper. ”I was thinking somewhere else than Albie’s. Just you and me.”
”Oh.” Lofty looks down on their hands and then up, meeting Dom’s eyes. He smiles, a bit shyly, but pleased. ”Sure. I’d like that.”
Dom mirrors his smile, and suddenly feels lighter. ”Good,” he says. ”I think we need to talk.”