The breath left her body when she saw him. A mist was before her eyes as she pushed past the men surrounding him and flung herself to her knees.
He was a mess, a horrible, dirty, bloody mess. They were a mess. It was all a mess. She grabbed his hand, sucking in breaths, trying to control herself. She was Bel Rowley, producer of The Hour – The Hour you couldn't miss, The Hour everyone was talking about – and she had to keep calm.
"Freddie!" she whispered more desperately, clutching his hand too tightly. "Freddie, you bloody idiot. Why did you have to-"
"Miss-" Someone had touched her shoulder but she shook them off as she blinked up at the sky, willing away the film of tears in front of her eyes.
"You stupid, stupid fool," she hissed pointlessly at the heavens.
And then, very slightly, she felt a returned pressure on her hand. For a split second she forgot to breathe. She looked back down at his poor, darling face and felt sure she saw a gentle upward turn of his lips.
"Freddie?" she gasped.
"Moneypenny," he replied.
"My God, he's alive and you're just standing around staring! Do something!" She jumped to her feet, looking wildly around.
"Bel." The person had to repeat herself until Bel was able to focus on Lix standing beside her. "The ambulance is coming."
"Yes. Good." She knelt on the grass again and took his hand again.
"I'm staying with him," she declared, looking up at Lix obstinately but the other woman did not contradict her. She nodded once and then started speaking to the other men, turning away to give her some privacy.
Bel turned back to Freddie. "Can you hear me, Freddie? I want you to know that – that, oh I don't know, that you were right about everything. I wish you weren't but you are and I hate it. I'm a terrible liar – you knew that too. Oh God, I'm blabbing. You know what I mean. I wish you weren't so brave. You're the bravest man I know. It's going to be alright. You're going to be alright."
His eyes were swollen so much she could hardly see them but even so she unaccountably felt him watching her. It unnerved her and reassured her in equal measure.
When the ambulance came, her hand had to be pried from his by Lix who kept a hold of her as they moved him onto a stretcher.
"I'm not leaving him," said Bel again, staring after him.
Lix grabbed her. "Let them do their job, darling, and don't get in the way. Hector's got the car."
She saw Hector then with Marnie and Isaac. Randall was nowhere to be seen.
"He's going to be alright, isn't he?" asked Isaac anxiously.
"Of course he'll be fine," replied Lix, ushering Bel away.
"You don't know that," she said quietly. "You don't know he will be fine."
"I hope it."
The wait in the hospital was dreadful. Everything seemed too bright, too sterile. Lix sat on the grotty plastic chair staring at the floor, her head bowed; Bel paced, biting her lips and her nails in turn. Several times she almost said something, even started a sentence, but always felt the better of it. Thinking was intolerable, speaking worse.
At last, the doctor emerged.
"You're Mr. Lyon's friends?"
Bel almost ran forward. "Yes?"
Lix stood up and held her hand in a crushingly tight grip.
"You'll be pleased to know that none of his injuries are life-threatening. We have bandaged the head wound but there is very little we can do for the fractured ribs except to give him painkillers."
Bel looked as if she was taking in the words but she barely heard anything after the first sentence. It was left up to Lix to ask if he was awake and if they could see him. The doctor shook his head. "He won't wake for several hours now. I suggest you both go home and get some sleep. If I could have a contact number for one of you...?"
"Oh God, Camille," said Bel suddenly. "Someone should-"
Lix looked at her intently. "Leave her to me, darling, and give the doctor your number."
"No." Bel shivered but stood up to them. "I'd like to stay. If that's alright. Even if it's not alright, actually, I want to stay. I want to be there when he wakes up."
"I don't think-"
"Just let her stay," said Lix and in such a tone that the doctor relented.
Cleaned up under bright hospital lights, Freddie looked almost worse than he had done outside but at least he looked peaceful as he slept, his chest rising and falling slowly but reassuringly steadily under the blanket. Bel sat down on the uncomfortable chair next to him and watched him. The nurse dimmed the lights in the room but still she looked at him, looked at every part of him as if she had never seen him before. She looked at him and now she had leisure to think and to cry again, though this time it was in relief.
She woke with a sudden jerk, feeling instantly freezing cold and stiff at being curled up in such an odd position. Freddie's eyes glittered narrowly at her from the bed in the pale, grey light of dawn. She swallowed as her mouth opened and shut again.
"You still snore," said Freddie in a rasping but clear whisper.
Bel opened her mouth to protest that she didn't but the words wouldn't come and instead she found herself laughing and sobbing at the same time, her hand pressed to her mouth. She controlled her hysteria quickly, for he was watching her soberly and with an intensity that even in his enfeebled state made her nervous.
"I hate you, Freddie Lyon," she said with great feeling.
He smiled but it was a knowing smile, an indulgent smile even. Bel could not meet his eyes but kept glancing away.
"Did you get the story? Did she come?" he managed to ask a moment later.
She had completely forgotten about the programme. "Yes," she replied. "She came."
"So it was all worth it."
Bel glared at him. He was infuriating. "How can you possibly say that when you're – when you're-"
"Lying in a hospital bed with God knows-"
"Two broken ribs, a broken ankle, severe bruising and cuts, and possible concussion," she interrupted crisply. "I read the doctor's report."
He grimaced as he tried to shift about on the bed. "Impressive. Are you going to take care of me?"
"You don't deserve to be taken care of. Especially not by me."
"True, your bedside manner lacks finesse."
"That's not what I..."
He turned his hand over where it lay on the blanket and with one frowning glance at him, she placed her hand in it, shuffling forwards on the chair to be closer to his bed. Suddenly it was hard to remember why she should be angry at him.
"I'm not buying you grapes and mopping your brow," she said, her smile almost painful.
"Good, I hate grapes."
"And I'm going back to work in the morning. There's going to be so much that needs to be done after tonight."
"Good," he repeated. "I'd expect nothing less from you."
It was difficult for him to smile broadly but there was a softening around the cheekbones and eyes and she knew he was.
"About what happened earlier," she murmured a moment later, forcing herself to hold his gaze and drawing courage from his hand, "before... Is it – is it still-"
"Possible," he breathed. "Don't be daft, Moneypenny. It's you and me, anything's possible."
"I don't..." She swallowed and sat up a little straighter. "You see, I'm not very good at this sort of thing."
"You're terrible at it – I've told you so many times. But it doesn't matter now."
"I've made so many mistakes. I don't want this to be another one."
"It won't be." He tugged on her hand a little, pulling her back towards him. "Damn, I wish I could sit up."
"I want to kiss you so much."
"Oh, Freddie!" A flush of heat and longing washed over her and she could feel the imprint of his lips on hers as vividly as if he really was kissing her.
He gripped her hand more tightly. "I thought of nothing else all evening. I thought of nothing else since the day we met."
"Liar." Then she bent over the bed and kissed him very softly and gently, feeling the upwards curve of his lips under hers.
"Freddie..." she said, when she pulled back a moment later, licking her lips and feeling them tingle still. "Is this it? I mean, for us..."
"Do you want it to be?" he broke in, opening his eyes to look sharply at her. "Because it always was for me."
She chewed her lip. "It seems so final. As final as death." And she shivered.
"A flattering comparison. One of your better ones, darling. Can I call you darling? I have in my head so many times."
She did not trust herself to speak but only nodded.
"Darling Bel. Dearest Bel. Dearest, loveliest Bel-"
"Stop." She felt almost giddy. "Enough, Freddie!"
"While you're slaving away at your desk I'll write you love poems. I'll dictate them to the nurse and make her post them."
"I will. Twice a day by the morning and afternoon post."
"I'm in love with you."
She drew in a breath and suddenly stood up, feeling overwhelmed. Limping on legs that had gone to sleep, she crossed to the window and stared out over the roofs of London, trembling fingers fiddling with her necklace.
"You need to get used to hearing it," continued Freddie, his voice rasping with the effort to speak more loudly, "because I'm not going to stop saying it. Not now."
His words fell in a vacuum and then - "I wrote."
"America. I wrote to you in America." The room felt strangely silent as she spoke. "I replied to your letters."
"I never received them," he replied after an infinitesimal pause.
"I never sent them."
She could not turn round. She did not know what he was thinking.
"Can I read them now?"
"Yes," she said quickly before she could think about it, and turned around. "You should go back to sleep."
It was a mark of how shaken he really was that he didn't contradict her.
"Will you stay?" he asked as she came back to the bed.
She sat back down and held out her hand to him once again.