The soft lamplight of their room felt like a benediction, after the events of recent days. The half-light of the empty streets had felt that way too, as they’d walked slowly home together. Everything felt different, and better, since Patrick had come back to himself.
Shelagh smiled softly at the uniformed woman in the mirror. Because I have you. That was what he’d said. That, and the way he’d held her, had been such a balm to her soul.
Of course, her fears had been nothing to what he’d experienced. She half felt callous for dwelling on them. But waking each night to see him, and having him turn away – that had shaken her, truly. And knowing why, knowing it wasn’t her, hadn’t much lessened the sting. But she’d done what she could, and so had he – and, in time, he’d turned back to her. And they’d done it once, so – if and when it was necessary – they could now do it again. They would be together, in all things.
The door ajar, she could hear him pottering around in the bathroom. Even that small domestic noise, the clink of glass and toothbrush, tonight seemed hopeful and warming. She unpinned the fob watch and badge from her borrowed uniform, and set them down on her dressing table.
She had got as far as undoing her belt when the door was nudged further open, and Patrick sidled into the room. His gaze flitted from her back to her reflection, and in the mirror they shared a smile. He looked so…soft, and beautifully dishevelled.
She tore her eyes away and turned her attention to her buttons, as though this were any other night. But it wasn’t, of course. The uniform was proof.
“Can I help you with that?”
His tone was light, and loving. And, of course, it wasn’t really an offer. It was a tender sort of request.
Her back still turned to him, Shelagh hastily did the belt back up, hoping he wouldn’t notice. It was a move she should perhaps have felt ashamed of…but tonight she wasn’t about to deny them anything. Schooling her features, she turned to face him.
He smiled crookedly as he came towards her, and she tried to keep her breathing even as he reached for the button at her throat. It was strange, really. Despite how utterly normal it was, by now – undressing in front of him – or, him undressing her – on nights like this, it could still feel weighted with significance.
“You know,” said Patrick, quietly, “I keep thinking I couldn’t love you more. But when I came in and saw you today, in the surgery…”
She smiled down at her uniform, remembering the wonder on his face.
“I’m glad I was able to borrow something that fitted.”
“Oh, it definitely fits…”
If she was honest with herself, that had been a shamelessly leading comment. And Patrick hadn’t disappointed in his response. The tone of his voice…
He had three buttons undone now. He dropped his hands to the fabric belt, a look in his eye that left her undecided as to whether he’d noticed her doing it back up or not. At any rate, she could only be pleased that she had. What was her pride compared to the feel of his hands on her waist?
There was such love in the time he was taking… The way he revelled in his perfect right to undress her. It was also extremely provoking, however, and she had no doubt he knew it. As he returned to her buttons, the backs of his fingers brushed against her slip – and yet he was not actually touching her.
It was becoming difficult to regulate her breathing. And with the top of her dress undone, there was no disguising the fact. She hadn’t reckoned on him being so abominably patient.
Needing to do something, and having an idea that it might move things along, she raised both arms languidly and reached to unpin her hair.
“I’ve been remiss, letting you do all the work.”
“It’s a trial, I can tell you…”
Oh, she loved that huskiness to his voice. And despite the fact that she was still mostly wearing her uniform, she felt closer to naked with her hair falling round her face. Maybe she looked it, too, because Patrick’s gaze darkened. Gently he moved some aside, and leaned in, kissing a spot on her neck. The spot which he knew made her…
“Patrick…” she whispered, more breathily than she’d have liked.
He pulled back, and looked for a moment as though he might say something sweetly frustrating. Something like “I’m not teasing – I’m enjoying you”. But after looking at her intently for a moment, he seemed to reach a decision. A second later, his mouth was hot on hers.
Shelagh felt the prickle of tears behind her eyelids. Had she really thought they might never have this again? The last, dark week seemed a million miles away now, and yet the fear had been real. But now he was here, warm and real and solid against her. And his mouth was hungrily plundering hers.
The needy noise she made when his palm brushed across her breast was completely involuntary. His other hand swept down to the curve of her rear, pulling her tighter against him. She suspected they were both enjoying the relative thinness of the uniform fabric.
All playful pretence was gone between them. There was no time for slow seduction now. Tearing her mouth away, Shelagh quickly shimmied out of her uniform, and pushed down the silk of her slip, leaving only knickers and brassiere. Patrick didn’t have long to stare, panting; she pushed him gently down onto the bed by his shoulders, and no sooner was he seated than she had straddled his lap. Kneeling up so that her body filled his vision, she wound her hands into his hair.
“God, Shelagh,” he breathed, steadying them both with hands on her waist. “I…need you.”
“We need each other, Patrick.”
Her voice wobbled with emotion only slightly, though when he kissed her neck again it gave out completely. Then he slipped his hand down into the space between them, and Shelagh gave a little keening cry. He was pressing through her underwear with exacting fingers, and Shelagh’s hands tightened on his shoulders in an anchoring grip.
Any other night they might have stayed in that position, drawing out the time she spent shuddering in his lap. But now the urgency was too great.
He deposited her on the bed with careful efficiency, standing up then to work at his belt. Shelagh moved up the bed, divesting herself of her brassiere, and pulled back the covers to lie on soft sheets.
Soon he was back, on the bed with her, warm and naked and wrapping her in his arms. She felt slightly choked with tears again, as she pressed her face into his shoulder.
A part of her wanted nothing more than to lie there, wrapped up in his delicious warmth. Another part of her, however, had very firm ideas to the contrary, and quite naturally it was these that won out. She pressed herself against him, and smiled to hear Patrick groan.
“Would you…” he rasped in her ear. “Could we try…You astride me?”
It was a beautiful way to watch each other. To see him watching her, in the moments he managed to keep his eyes open. And when it was over, she collapsed down on his chest.
They lay like that for a long time, reluctant to give up the connection. Patrick was idly stroking her hair.
“I love you and owe you so much, my darling… So much happiness.”
Shelagh moved then, shifting off him, and he sighed.
“You can’t owe for what’s freely given, Patrick.”
He smiled, pulling her close against his side.
“Then I’ll just have to give as freely and as often, and I suppose we’ll call it square.”
“As though that wasn’t the deal already. I’m happier with you than I’ve ever been. You know that.”
He kissed her temple. “Shall I go and turn out the lights?”
“No… I want to lie here just like this. With you. Just a little longer.”
And so they lay a while longer before going to sleep, curled together in soft light.