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Convergence

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Patsy Mount lay on her bed in the Nurses home and listened to the sounds around her. She had arrived a few hours ago, and had been herded into the main lecture theatre along with around twenty other young women by the Bursar and Training School Matron. Rooms and uniform had been allocated along with instructions to report back to the main lecture theatre the following day where training would commence promptly at 0900hrs. Patsy had taken a cursory glance at the other student nurses. Most were younger than her, but that was only to be expected, the war had put a serious dent in her education and she had spent an additional three years at school after liberation in order to make up the deficit. The other new entrants were already making alliances and forming cliques and Patsy was rather unpleasantly reminded of boarding school. She had no time for cliques. She would socialise if it suited her, but Patsy was used to her own company and it would not bother her if she went through the whole of nurse training alone. She, along with the others were escorted to the rooms that would house them for the duration of their training and found that they were mainly concentrated on two corridors.


Now that her meagre belongings had been packed away, Patsy surveyed her room. Sparse was probably the best way to describe it. She had placed some text books onto a shelf and writing materials were on her desk. All her clothes had been put away with the exception of her brand new uniform that was on a coat hanger on the back of the door, along with freshly polished shoes that were stowed just under her desk.

Taking a long drag from her cigarette, Patsy listened to the muffled sounds of other students talking as they went off exploring, and people walking on the street outside. There were also the creaks and thuds that always resonated in a large building that had no obvious origin. Other than the fact she now had a room to herself, it did feel remarkably like being back in boarding school. Patsy couldn't decide whether that was a bad thing or not. There had been a couple of knocks on her door, with other new-starters politely asking if she wanted to join them, but Patsy was keen to savour the short peace before the mayhem of nurse training truly started, so equally politely turned the offers down.

She was just stubbing out her cigarette when she heard two syncopated sets of footsteps coming up the corridor. As they got closer, Patsy could hear the conversation they were having. She recognised the voice of the Bursar but not the other voice, that had a soft Welsh lilt to it.

"You were supposed to report at 4 pm, Miss Busby."

"I know. The bus broke down and we had to wait for a replacement."

"You're lucky I was still here. I should have gone home an hour ago." Patsy raised an eyebrow. The Bursar sounded extremely resentful, but she had always understood that on enrolment day, the staff stayed as long as they needed to, in order to welcome new students.

"Thank you for staying. I am sorry I delayed you. And thank you for helping me with my stuff." Patsy smirked. Despite making the Bursar late off, this 'Miss Busby' had managed to get her to carry some of her belongings to her room. This sounded like someone Patsy might like to get to know.

"Well, as you pointed out, it was quicker to do that rather than wait for you to do several trips." There was a slight huff. "We had twenty five new starters today, Miss Busby. Of all of them, yours is the only name I know I'll remember."

"Thank you."

"That was not a compliment." Patsy had to stifle a snigger of laughter at that. She had caught the tone of insolence from the Welsh woman. She was obviously someone who was not cowed by authority.

"You're to report to the Lecture Hall for 9 am. Make sure you're not late for that; Matron will be far less understanding." With that Patsy could hear a set of footsteps walk away even as there was further rustling, indicating that the woman outside was putting her belongings into her room.

Patsy was surprised to hear a shaky sigh from outside the room. "Well done, Delia. Great way to make a first impression." Clearly the woman was a lot less assured than the image she gave the Bursar. Patsy toyed with the idea of opening the door to say hello, but didn't want to let the woman know she had been overheard. She changed her mind when she heard the door open again and the woman mutter; "And I don't know where the Lecture Hall is. I'll be sent home by the end of the week at this rate."

Patsy swung herself up from her bed and opened the door. "You know, talking to yourself is the first sign of madness," she began, giving the woman a lop-sided smirk. Her heart stopped when she caught sight of the woman who was about to live next door to her for the duration of nurse training. She was gorgeous. Her dark brown hair was tied back into a messy ponytail, while bright blue eyes glimmered at her mischievously.

The young woman stood up straight as she picked up a bundle of uniforms and grinned back, "I always thought it was when you answered yourself back."

Patsy laughed and held out her hand, feeling immediately comfortable with this woman. "Patience Mount, but everyone calls me Patsy."

Delia juggled the clothing she was holding into one arm and took the taller woman's hand in her own. "Delia Busby, as you've probably already heard. Sorry to cause such a racket."

"Don't worry, I think it's only me you've disturbed. Everyone else went out exploring."

Delia raised her eyebrows. "Do you already know your way round then?"

"No, but I wasn't really in the mood to socialise."

The young Welsh woman looked immediately contrite. "Oh, and then I come along and ruin your peace and quiet. I am sorry."

Patsy grinned. "Well it's certainly one way to make a first impression."

Delia groaned. "Not you, too. Well, I'll just hang up my uniforms now and leave everything else till tomorrow so I don't disturb you." She bumped the door open and started to head in.

"Don't be silly. I'll give you a hand if you want." Patsy had no idea why she offered, but it felt like the most natural thing in the world. She knew she'd done the right thing when Delia beamed back at her and nodded gratefully.

Grabbing the last suitcase, Patsy stepped into Delia's room and looked around. It was a mirror image of her own set up so she set down the suitcase in the corner and grabbed the bedding that was folded neatly at the bottom of the bed. "First things, first. Get your bed sorted. That way, you can collapse with exhaustion whenever you need to."

"You sound like you're talking from experience," Delia mused as she placed the blankets on a chair and then grabbed one side of a sheet. The two of them worked quickly together to get the sheets on the bed.

"Definitely. Years of boarding school drummed that into me." Patsy looked at the edges of the bed critically. "I never got the hang of neat corners. I'm hoping there's some secret method no-one's ever explained before."

Delia shrugged. "It's something to do with pulling up one side, and folding it over smoothly. I have a feeling that making beds may be my downfall. I can barely manage to fold a letter into an envelope."

Patsy burst out laughing. "Oh well, I'm sure we'll struggle together."

Delia grinned as she grabbed the blankets and they worked quickly to finish making the bed. Once it was done, she eyed the rest of her belongings dubiously before grabbing her uniforms and hanging them in the wardrobe. She then placed both suitcases on the bed and flipped them open. There were books of various types and sizes laid on top of layers of clothing. Delia grabbed several and handed them to Patsy. "Would you mind putting them on the shelf?"

Patsy shook her head and took the books, springing into action and storing the rest of the books as Delia hurriedly stowed away her clothing.

The brunette made quick work of emptying the suitcases and closed them before storing them under the bed. She turned round to see Patsy sat on the solitary chair in the room. She glanced up at the shelf and noticed that the books had been positioned in height order and she nodded her approval. She then noticed that Patsy had placed a small clock on the nightstand along with a reading book that clearly had a bookmark partway through it. Delia raised her eyebrows; this woman was smart. "You're very good at tidying away," she lauded.

Patsy smirked. "It's my forte," she replied casually, provoking a grin from the Welsh woman in return.

With nothing left to do, Delia looked around and grabbed the small glass that had been placed by the sink in the corner. "Did you get one of these for your room?" She asked innocently.

Patsy frowned. "Yes, of course. Why?"

"Go and get it," Delia instructed, smiling.

Patsy raised her eyebrows at the request but did as she was told, letting herself back in without knocking. She grinned when she saw Delia sat on the bed, bottle of whiskey in hand. "Contraband already, Miss Busby?"

"Nope, this was a present from my dad. He told me I needed to raise a glass to my new adventure once I'd settled in and I promised him I would. I thought it might be nice if you joined me." Delia smiled cheekily.

"I'd have to say that was very good advice, and I am honoured that you would want to share it with me." She handed over her glass and Delia poured a healthy measure out for her before pouring her own.

"This is all for ulterior motives," Delia admitted as she nodded for Patsy to sit at the bottom of the bed. She sat at the top, cross-legged.

"Should I ask?" Patsy sounded confident but was suddenly very nervous by this announcement.

"Well, considering I'm going to be your neighbour all through training, and considering I am habitually clumsy and accident-prone, I thought I'd better bribe the neighbours in advance."

"Well, in that case I won't say no," Patsy replied before raising her glass towards Delia. The brunette dutifully clinked it as Patsy said the toast; "To new beginnings."

Delia smiled and took a healthy gulp from the glass, wincing as she swallowed it down. "I do not know how my dad manages to drink this stuff neat."

Patsy giggled as she took a sip. "Practice," she replied easily.

Delia relaxed slightly. "To be honest, I could just do with a friend. Getting here so late has put me on the back foot, and I've never been to London before. The furthest east I've ever been is Cardiff."

Patsy grimaced slightly. "I'm not sure I'm the most ideal person to make friends with, Delia."

"Why ever not? You've been nothing but kind ever since you teased me when you opened your door." Delia sounded almost affronted by Patsy's statement.

"You're catching me on a good day. I can be a bit prickly. I'm not the easiest person to get to know." Patsy knew she was putting up barriers, but she felt she needed to. Delia was charming and easy-going, and she was utterly adorable. Patsy could feel her defences slipping and she could not afford to put her guard down and let anyone in; it was far too risky.

"Well it's all a bit late now. We've already been introduced, and you've already had my dad's whiskey." Delia tossed back the remaining contents of the glass and gasped again. "That makes you practically family." She looked at Patsy wistfully. "And now you've told me you're prickly, I won't think it's just me. Although you will have to tell me if it is me; I wouldn't want to be obliviously causing you irritation."

Patsy felt the grin on her face widen even as she raised her eyebrows. Goodness, the girl was a chatterbox, but in a totally endearing way. "Don't worry, I'm absolutely certain you'll know when I'm irritated with you."

Delia smiled in relief. "I'm talking too much already aren't I? Mam's always telling me off for not giving anyone else a look in." She stopped suddenly and picked up the whiskey. "One more for the road?" She asked hopefully.

"A small one. I don't want to be hungover on the first day," Patsy replied, holding out her glass.

Delia obligingly poured just a splash of whiskey this time, and added the same to her glass before returning the bottle to the nightstand. "I'll have to hide that away later." She took a sip. "So Pats, what made you want to be a nurse?"

Patsy was surprised but pleased by the shortening of her name. It sounded right with Delia's accent. She thought for a moment before answering, inspecting the contents of her glass. "The short answer is that I want to help people," she shrugged.

"And the long answer?" Delia probed softly.

"The long answer will take a lot longer to go through than this will last." Patsy shook her glass before finishing the drink.

"Does that mean you'll come back and tell me?" Delia asked.

"Will you be plying me with whiskey?"

"Probably. I don't like to drink alone."

"Then yes, I'll come back." Patsy caught her breath when Delia gave her a full-on smile. She scolded herself mentally. This was dangerous territory already, and she'd only known the woman an hour or so. She had finished her drink so there was no need for her to stay, but Patsy realised that she didn't want to go just yet. "What about you? What brought you to the London? Aren't there any hospitals in Wales?"

Delia poked her tongue out at the slight but smiled immediately afterwards. "I had an opportunity and I took it. When I passed my exams I applied to three London hospitals and got offered places at all of them. Mam couldn't really say no after that. As shallow as it is to admit, the London sent the warmest invitation. So here I am." Delia shrugged at the explanation but Patsy was seriously impressed. To get offers at three different teaching hospitals was something to be proud of indeed. Behind the chatter and impish nature was clearly a very bright mind.

"Is that the short version or the long version?" Patsy asked suspiciously.

Delia laughed outright at that. "Oh, that is definitely the short version, but it absolutely nails it."

"Hmmmm, looks like we'll need more than one night to get our respective long versions out then," Patsy decided.

Delia nodded in agreement. "Definitely. Although if we need more than one bottle, the next one's on you."

"Fair's fair, I suppose," Patsy concurred. "I might branch out and get gin next time."

"I cannot drink that neat," Delia stated flatly, causing Patsy to giggle.

"Of course not, you fool. I'm sure we can find some tonic from somewhere too."

Delia leaned back. "I think my mam's worst fears are already being realised. I haven't even started training yet and I'm already planning my next alcoholic adventure."

"Dear lord, what did your mother expect? It's not as if you're staying at a convent."

"Mam has thought the absolute worst of every single aspect of my coming to London to train. I seriously thought she had something to do with the bus breaking down on the way here."

From Delia's tone it was clear there was some real friction with her mother regarding her career choice. Patsy didn't want the young woman to dwell on that on her first night here. The unfamiliarity would only serve to amplify any negative emotions, and that would not do the Welsh woman any good at all being so far from home. "Well, look on the bright side. Because you turned up late, you've found someone who will happily drink your whiskey for you."

"That's the bright side?" Delia asked, even as she grinned.

"Well, that and getting the Bursar to carry your bags. I have a feeling that story might go down in legend."

"No, you can't tell anyone about that. I'll get skinned alive."

Patsy grinned. "Your secret's safe with me," she paused a beat. "For now."

Delia groaned and leaned her head back against the headboard. "Why do I think you're going to hold that over me?"

"I won't, I promise. I'm prickly, I'm not mean."

Delia looked back at Patsy. "Well, whatever you are, you've made my first night a bit more bearable. So thank you."

The blonde soon-to-be nurse smiled. "Glad to hear it. But on that note, I really should retire to bed. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."

"Pats," Delia called, just as the woman opened the door. "Can I ask just one more favour?"

Patsy narrowed her eyes. "Depends what it is," she replied, her suspicions raised.

Delia shook her head. "It's nothing nasty. It's just I have no idea where I'm going tomorrow. I just wondered if I could tag along with you?"

Patsy could hear the uncertainty in her voice again. "Well, it was all a bit of a blur when we got shown around, so I may not be the best person to go to class with, but perhaps we can work it out between us." She smiled brightly, as Delia beamed at her.

"Brilliant. What time are you knocking for me?" The brunette asked cheekily.

"Oh, I see how this is going to be." Patsy shook her head. "Be ready for breakfast at 0730 and that way we haven't got to rush on the first day."

Delia smiled, approving the plan, and carried on smiling long after the door to her room had closed.

Patsy collapsed onto her bed, unable to take the grin from her face, even as she was castigating herself. She'd been here just a few hours and already she'd been drawn in by a pair of stunning blue eyes and a smile with adorable dimples. It was the first day. Everyone was vulnerable on the first day and it would have been unfair not to help the Welsh woman out. Patsy resolved to put a bit of distance between them tomorrow, when they officially started their training and she could hide behind her uniform and appropriate behaviour.

Chapter Text

 

Delia sat at the desk in her room with a spiral bound notebook and pencil in front of her, and some proper letter-writing materials to one side. She picked up the pencil and compiled a list of things to include in her letter home to her parents. It was Friday night and most of the other student nurses had gone home for the weekend after their first week of training at the London.

Delia was missing home and her family, but the cost of travel and the journey time had put her off making the trip. She had instead decided to wait until she had finished the first six weeks of training. This would mean lots more to talk about when she did get home and by then she would be able to face the journey. Substituting weekends home with a letter would just have to do.

Delia paused for a few moments to allow her mind to recall the events of the last few days and then made her checklist;

1. The journey from Pembroke and the bus breaking down

2. The Bursar

3. New uniform and first day of nursing school

4. Accommodation and the hospital itself

5. New friends

6. Plans for the following weeks

She was satisfied that the list would provide a lengthy enough letter to keep her parents happy, and so grabbed the more formal paper and a pen, and began to write. Delia made good progress until she got to the 'new friends' prompt. She stalled and put the cap on her pen, mulling over what had happened in the first few days at Training School.

Delia's initial meeting with her new neighbour, Patsy, had been a delightful and welcome surprise. The following morning however, the tall blonde was completely different. When she knocked for her at 0730 for breakfast, she was aloof and remote, and highly guarded in any conversation Delia tried to start. The Welsh woman decided to put it down to the fact that everyone was now in uniform and wanted to make a good impression. After being spectacularly late the day before, it didn't bother Delia to be like this to start. She could certainly do with not having any more attention focused on her, but it felt like Patsy was deliberately pushing Delia away and she didn't know why.

They sat together in the Lecture Hall for classes but Patsy remained silent during lectures and said very little else. She was slightly more animated at lunch, where there was more of an opportunity to mingle with the other student nurses, but it all felt very superficial to the Welsh woman. As the conversations sprang up among the women, it became clear that many of them were trying to weigh up background and social standing. Delia sighed inwardly. With her accent and rural upbringing, it was obvious from the start that the others tolerated her presence but did little more. She was an amusing oddity to them, which meant that they would involve her when it suited them, but there would be little genuine interest in her. Delia supposed that it was no worse than what she had been anticipating but she didn't like cliques and implied social orders. At home, everyone spoke their mind and got stuck in together.

It was interesting to witness their dynamics with Patsy however. The other students did their best to engage with the woman, encouraging her to join them for drinks and other social events that they were already planning. Patsy dutifully played along to a certain extent, but the other students got very little out of her, and absolutely nothing of her background. Again, it was clearly superficial. The difference was that the other girls didn't seem to mind at all and it was obvious they would simply pursue their line of questioning whenever the opportunity arose. Patsy's aloofness made her a mysterious member of the intake, but it simply fuelled the student nurses' curiosities.

When they finished for the day, one of the more gregarious groups of new students asked Patsy to join them at the local pub to celebrate its successful completion. There had been no such invite extended to Delia and she was just about to extract herself awkwardly from the group when Patsy looked at her. "Coming for a drink Delia?" The brunette was sure that Patsy had only asked to make a point and embarrass the other girls, but she couldn't help but smile gratefully at the taller woman. "Okay," she agreed nonchalantly. Patsy cocked an eyebrow to the other girls, almost daring them to raise an objection. Nothing was forthcoming and Delia found herself accompanying Patsy back to their rooms so that they could get changed.

"You didn't need to do that," Delia stated simply.

"Do what?" Patsy asked with a knowing grin on her face.

"Ask me to the pub. It's quite obvious who they want in their group." Delia couldn't help a tone of resentment colour her voice.

Patsy laughed. "I didn't ask you to annoy them. If I'm honest, I asked you so that there would be one person I could bear to engage in conversation. They won't leave me alone until I at least do something with them. Hopefully they'll get the hint that I don't hold with the importance of status and they'll stop pestering me. I just know that the evening would be unspeakably irritating if I didn't have one person I could rely on to have a conversation that doesn't have a hidden agenda." She winced slightly. "I hope you don't think I was using you."

"No, not at all. To tell you the truth, the only reason I'm going is because you asked me."

"Well then, we can keep each other company and tolerate the others. Hopefully, there will be some other genuine girls there that aren't all about status." Patsy opened the door to her room. "Knock for me at 7pm?" She asked cheekily.

Delia smiled back widely and nodded acquiescence.

Unfortunately, the group dynamics at the pub turned out to be exactly as anticipated by both Delia and Patsy. Delia found that when she was spoken to, it was almost viewed as a kindness and always with a strong hint of condescension. None of the other student nurses could believe that she had travelled all the way from Wales to undertake training. Some even asked her if she was going to take elocution lessons to minimise her regional accent. She shrugged off the comments and happily put on a front of cheerful optimism, but inside her heart sank and she looked for an opportunity to leave as soon as possible. Patsy provided the excuse she needed by stating that she wanted to go through the notes she had made during the first day. Delia hurriedly agreed and although there were protests from the others mainly over Patsy leaving, the women managed to extricate themselves from the pub without too much fuss.

Once back at the nurses home, Delia followed Patsy into her bedroom and sat down on the chair at the desk. She sighed as she looked at the older woman. "Well, that wasn't much fun," she commented dryly.

Patsy winced as she lit up a cigarette. "Well we can't pretend to be surprised, I suppose," she commented, blowing a long stream of smoke out.

"Why is social standing so important to them?" Delia was genuinely bewildered by the whole charade.

"It's just an extension of private school education and wanting to know one's place in the world," Patsy advised knowingly.

Delia shook her head. "You're not like that," she pointed out reasonably.

"I never really fitted into private education. I had to go through it to catch up, but I was distinctly out of place."

"Catch up?"

Patsy shrugged. "It doesn't matter. It's in the past now." She inhaled another long drag of her cigarette. "Anyway, did you want to go through today's notes? I wasn't just making an excuse to leave you know."

Delia grinned and nodded. "Let me get my stuff." The two women spent an hour going through the day's lectures and tidying their own notes before Delia finally excused herself back to her own room to give Patsy a bit of peace.

Delia sighed. That first day pretty much set the tone for the whole week. Patsy would be aloof and stand-offish while in uniform and in class. At breaks she ensured that Delia was not excluded by the other members of the class by actively involving her in general conversations. Once class had finished and they were in civvies, Delia would knock on Patsy's door and they would spend an hour going through notes. They had also gone out to explore one evening, and see how long it took to get into town on the bus. They had discovered the Embankment and taken a stroll along the Thames, taking in the sites before hopping on the bus in order to get back to the nurses home before curfew.

Delia twirled her pen over her fingers absently as she thought about what she could write. The Welsh woman didn't want to worry her parents about the snobbish attitudes of the other nurses; that would simply give her mother more ammunition to question her choice to train in London. It would be easier to just talk about Patsy, but Delia felt strangely reticent to do that too. There was something about the tall blonde nurse that Delia couldn't quite put her finger on but she felt like she didn't want to share her with anyone. They had become fast friends within days and she loved spending time with the taller woman. With every day that passed, Delia was more grateful than ever that she had serendipitously ended up being placed as Patsy's next door neighbour.

Uncapping her pen, she decided to simply inform her parents about striking up a firm friendship with the girl next door, but did not actually mention her by name. Even as she wrote the words, she smiled as she recalled cracking open her dad's whiskey. So she told them about that too but decided that was enough information about Patsy for the moment.

Delia shook her head at her thoughts. She didn't actually know a great deal about Patsy anyway. She had observed her masterfully avoid questions from the other girls, but she had done the same with Delia. At first it bothered Delia, but she realised that Patsy was an intensely private person. It hadn't stopped Delia getting to know Patsy's character and what she liked and disliked. Although it would be nice to know more about her, she didn't want the woman to feel uncomfortable or obliged to answer questions she did not want to. Delia shrugged to herself. She was sure Patsy would reveal what she wanted to, in her own time. They would be going through a long period of training together so there was no need to rush.

Delia reviewed her checklist and added a few final items including possibly attending a dance that had been organised by the London's social fund to welcome it's new intake. Delia had always loved dancing but was not sure if she would fit into one of these social events. She would just have to convince Patsy to go with her so that she didn't feel too out of place.


 

Patsy strolled back from the Off Licence with two bottles carefully wrapped up in a bag. She smiled wryly as she thought back over her first week of training. Lectures in the main, were as she had anticipated and highly dependent on the skill of the tutor delivering them. It would be a long hard slog for the next six weeks before they would be finally allowed onto the wards for the first time for placements. By then they would have learned basic resuscitation skills, bed-making and patient care in addition to the anatomy and physiology they were currently getting bombarded with.

What she hadn't anticipated was Delia Busby. The Welsh woman had arrived in a late flurry and had ended up being placed next door to Patsy. She was smart and mischievous, and Patsy had found herself instantly comfortable in her presence. Well, that wasn't exactly true. Patsy recognised immediately that she found the other woman attractive and she knew that she would have to be extremely careful around her. After spending part of the first evening with her, the tall student nurse decided that it would probably be best if she kept her distance and didn't allow Delia to get too close.

She managed to keep the barriers up until lunchtime of their first proper day. Once the group were all sat down to lunch, the inevitable jockeying for position and assessment of status began and cliques were cemented. Patsy saw instantly that Delia was viewed as a bit of an oddity and would be tolerated at best by most of the girls. This attitude appalled the woman. Having spent three formative years in an internment camp where everyone had been stripped of everything other than their own character, Patsy had long ago learned what really mattered, and it certainly wasn't money or family background.

When she was invited out for drinks with one of the more vocal cliques, Patsy decided to invite Delia as well, rather than turn them down politely as she originally intended. She hoped that once the other women started properly talking to the diminutive nurse, they too would see past the regional accent and recognise the charming and clever woman behind it, but it was clear right from the outset that they had already made up their minds. Delia would be in for a tough time for a while until the others saw her for what she really was. Up till then however, Patsy would make sure that she didn't feel too isolated.

She shook her head slightly at her own thoughts. Patsy was already feeling protective towards the younger woman but she was determined to put it down to being her friend and nothing more. Patsy remembered the loneliness she endured at boarding school, and would do all she could to make sure Delia didn't suffer in the same way.

The nurses home was eerily quiet this evening. Most of the resident students had gone home for the weekend so it was only occupied by students on placement. Patsy paused for a few seconds outside Delia's room. The Welsh woman had told Patsy that she would be writing letters home this evening and Patsy had originally said that she would leave her in peace. Despite every warning she was giving herself, Patsy just wanted to spend time with Delia. She couldn't stay away. Patsy knew she was playing a dangerous game, but told herself that she was developing a friendship with Delia and nothing more. Besides, they were the only two here for the weekend. It would be foolish to spend the weekend in solitude.

Patsy quickly slipped into her own room to retrieve her tumbler before knocking on Delia's door.

"Come in Pats," Delia called.

"How did you know it was me?" Patsy grinned at the brunette, sat at her desk.

Delia rolled her eyes. "You're the only other student who hasn't gone home this weekend, and I haven't had time to strike up any friendships with anyone from the other years yet." She narrowed her eyes as she noticed the glass in Patsy's hand. "Have you made plans for my scotch this evening?"

"Not your scotch this time, although I'm sure I'll be assisting you with its disposal in the coming weeks. I decided it was my turn to contribute to our contraband booze selection." She held up the bag in triumph.

Delia grinned. "Lovely. What have you treated us to?" She got up to retrieve her own glass.

"Gin and tonic, as promised," Patsy replied, unwrapping the bottles with a flourish. "Up for a toast to surviving the first week?"

"It does feel like that," Delia agreed, watching Patsy prepare two generous drinks. They clinked glasses and Delia moved to her bed, patting it to encourage Patsy to sit down too.

"Still happy that you picked nursing?" Patsy asked as she sat down elegantly at the foot of the bed.

"The training is wonderful. I'm really enjoying lectures," Delia answered.

Patsy immediately saw through the comment. "Not so much fun with the other students though?"

Delia shook her head. "I know it will get better. And I know I shouldn't let it bother me, but it does. I'm just so grateful I met you before the others. At least I get spoken to by association."

"It's not like that at all," Patsy refuted instantly.

"Nice of you to say, but it's true. I know that they'll get used to me soon enough, and I'm sure I'll make some more friends in time, but I do know I would be feeling a whole lot lonelier if I hadn't already found you."

"Well the feeling is entirely mutual." Patsy took a sip of her gin. "And it will get better once they get to know you."

Delia nodded. "Did you not fancy going home for the weekend, Pats? You can't live that far away."

Patsy winced, not at all comfortable with talking about her personal life. "I have a strained relationship with my father," she admitted. "I don't often visit."

Delia noted that Patsy made no mention of her mother but some sixth sense told her not to ask. "Well, his loss is my gain. I can't tell you how grateful I was when I found out I wasn't going to be on my own."

Patsy smiled. "Me too. Are you staying every weekend?"

"Only while we're in lectures. I plan on going home the weekend after first exams."

"We'll have to make some plans and do some sightseeing," Patsy decided.

Delia looked slightly worried. "I am fairly limited for funds," she admitted with a wince.

"As long as you have enough for bus fare and a spot of lunch, I'm sure we'll still be able to do lots," Patsy replied reassuringly.

Delia looked relieved as she took a sip of her drink. "Thank goodness for that. Sorry to be a bit of a pain."

"Not at all. I'm glad you told me right at the outset so we can plan accordingly. Anyway, enough of that right now, I need to celebrate the end of week one. Cheers." The two women clinked glasses again and relaxed into an evening of gentle chat and, as the gin flowed, a more giggly character assassination of their fellow students.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Six weeks of lectures and practical training flew by for Patsy and she couldn't believe they had already sat their first set of exams. Delia had been a godsend for her during revision; she had an astonishing memory and came up with the most outrageous rhymes and acrostics in order to remember information. Patsy had found herself humming to one of them as she recalled listing the causes of shock on her exam paper and it was all she could do not to laugh out loud. With the Welsh woman's help, Patsy was confident she had passed well, and was surprised to hear Delia doubt her own performance.

It had been an exquisite sort of torture for Patsy. She was drawn to Delia in so many ways. The brunette made her laugh, tolerated her seriousness and gave her space when she needed time on her own. Patsy craved Delia's company and realised that she was allowing Delia to see past her carefully crafted barriers and get to know the real woman underneath. It took time, and Patsy fretted that the more she let Delia in, the more she could be hurt should she lose her, but it was impossible to keep her distance. The two women planned weekend trips and Patsy enjoyed taking on the role of tour guide around various free museums and art galleries. She relished the precious weekend evenings when they were pretty much alone in the nurses home, playing cards or listening to the wireless. Patsy felt comfortable with Delia. She didn't have to pretend to be something she wasn't. With the exception of one thing; one very significant thing.

Patsy had been attracted to Delia from the moment she saw her. The woman's intelligent blue eyes coupled with an impish smile were seductive in their own right, but Delia was charming, earnest and cheeky, and she was irresistible to Patsy. So while Patsy allowed much of her protective cloak to be stripped away by getting to know the younger woman, she kept a firm grip on her feelings. It would only be a matter of time before Delia went off with the other nurses to find a boyfriend and that would be that. It was what Patsy dreaded would happen once they began their first placements. She and Delia had been assigned different wards and there was no guarantee that any of their shifts or their days off would match. After six weeks of practically living in each other's pockets, Patsy knew she would miss the brunette terribly, but it would also be good for Delia to make new friends. She just hoped that they would still be able to share the odd evening together.

Patsy sighed heavily. Lying on her bed moping was not going to do her any good. Delia had gone home for the weekend and had been buzzing with excitement at the thought of seeing her family again. Despite being homesick and desperate to go home, she had still taken the time to say goodbye to Patsy, and ask if she wanted her to stay. That gesture of kindness; of putting Patsy's happiness before her own had made Patsy's heart lurch. She was smitten, and she really didn't know what she was going to do about it. Patsy had shooed her away and told her that she would be perfectly fine on her own. Indeed, she had been happy in her own company. But Delia had spoiled her. Before, when Patsy had chosen solitude it had been a mechanism of self-preservation and a way to exert some control on her life. Spending time with Delia had shown her a whole different way of engaging with others, and Patsy adored it. There was a bittersweet irony that she would never be able to tell Delia how she loved her, and just how much that feeling affected her. But Patsy was a pragmatic woman, and a realist. If being in Delia's company and being her friend was the most she could have, then it would be enough; it would have to be enough.

She was startled from her musings as her door crashed open and the focus of her thoughts came flying through. "Did your visit home include a brush up on your manners?" She enquired with a grin.

Delia frowned at her for a moment in confusion, before grinning back madly as she realised Patsy was referring to the lack of a knock at the door. "Don't be daft. I've got three older brothers. We don't have manners, we fight for survival."

"Charming. I could have been busy you know," Patsy pointed out, continuing the charade.

Delia stopped for a second. "Yes, you could." She winced as she realised that in her excitement to get back to London, or more accurately, Patsy, she had completely forgotten that the other woman could have been doing other things. "Sorry," she apologised belatedly.

Patsy saw Delia's train of thought telegraphed on her face. "Really Delia. Who on earth would I be likely to keep company with if not you?"

Delia shrugged, well and truly derailed by the thought that Patsy would be spending time with other people and confused by how that made her feel. She made an effort to return her mind to the reason for abrupt arrival. "They've posted the exam results. I overheard Millicent talking to June as I was coming up the stairs. Who would have thought that Matron would do all the marking over the weekend? Did you want to come and take a look?"

Patsy got up hurriedly. "Why didn't you just take a look on your way up? You must have walked straight past the notice board." The blonde trainee stubbed out her cigarette and found a pair of shoes to put on.

"I didn't want to see them by myself. What if I've failed? I've only just come back from Wales. I don't think I could face another trip so soon."

Patsy laughed. "Delia, I will buy the next two bottles of gin if you've failed. In fact, I will buy the next two bottles if you aren't in the top half of the scores."

Delia patted the bag that she hadn't yet put down. "Well in that case we will be swimming in booze. Dad got me some vodka to bring back."

Patsy held out her hand and Delia passed the bag over. She stashed it in the bottom of her wardrobe, placing her dressing gown over the top of it. "You can't take that with you. Supposing the Bursar is there. She's bound to be around for those that..." Patsy stopped suddenly, not wanting to complete the sentence, knowing how much Delia was worrying.

"For those that fail," Delia finished anyway. "You're right. Come on. Let's get it over with. I'm either going to be celebrating or commiserating, and all this not knowing is just eating into our drinking time."

"That's what I like about you, Delia," Patsy commented, ushering the smaller woman out of the room. "Whether it's good news or bad, you're always prepared to make the best of it."

The two women hurried down the stairs to the notice board. There was a small crowd around it, with various reactions from the students as they read their results. The comments died down as Patsy and Delia approached and the Welsh woman slowed, sensing something was wrong. "You go Pats, I'm not sure I can face it."

"Delia, why are you doubting yourself?"

"I've only had local grammar school education. I don't think it's going to compare well against boarding school standards."

Suddenly, Patsy understood Delia's insecurities. "Delia, we have all been learning the same subjects from the same tutors. This is a level playing ground. We're all equals now."

When Delia didn't move, Patsy offered a lop-sided smile. "Wait there and I'll get your marks," she offered. She threaded her way through the group of students in front of her and looked at the list, working her way up from the bottom, as was her own habit from boarding school.

She turned and stepped back to where Delia hovered nervously. "Well, thanks to your amazing revision techniques, I got a very creditable 82% and was fifth in the class," she declared with a smile.

Delia only just stopped herself from throwing her arms round her to congratulate her and instead grasped Patsy's hand as she returned a delighted smile. "That's fantastic. I'm so proud of you." She looked over at the board. The other girls had not dispersed and were instead looking at her and talking softly with one another. "What's going on, Pats?"

"Well it would seem that the girl with the local grammar school education has set the standard for exam results."

"What?"

Patsy shook her head and turned her hand round so that she could grasp Delia's. "Come with me," she instructed, leading her to the board.

Delia walked over reluctantly and, mimicking Patsy, scanned the results sheet from the bottom, staring for a long moment when she eventually found her name and marks.

"That can't be right," she whispered.

"Do you think you've been under marked?" Patsy asked, straight-faced.

A nearby student burst out laughing. "For god's sake don't moan about 97% Delia. You've put us all to shame."

The other girls laughed and approached Delia, clapping her on the back and congratulating her on the score. She was very clearly top of the class. After six weeks of being on the periphery and sneered at for her provincial accent and upbringing, Delia was suddenly thrust among them, proving that she deserved her place at the teaching hospital. Patsy was unaccountably proud.

Delia turned and smiled at Patsy in wonder. "Are we celebrating?" She asked.

"Definitely," Millicent James interrupted. "We should all go out. And neither of you are allowed to hide in your rooms either. We can all celebrate together."

Delia looked inquiringly at Patsy, slightly overwhelmed by the sudden attention but drew strength from the slight nod of the older woman. Knowing that Patsy would be with her made Delia relax slightly as she was sure she could face anything with the tall blonde by her side.

 


 

 

While lectures had been mentally exhausting, there had been a clear pattern to each day that all of the students had fallen into easily. It mimicked their schooling with dedicated class times, lunch times and weekends off. A placement on a hospital ward was a completely difference experience however. Many of the students hadn't done any sort of manual labour before and were physically exhausted from making beds, turning patients and spending almost the entire shift on their feet. In addition, the students were expected to undertake the full range of shifts in order to get used to having to work through the night and eat and sleep at all sorts of odd and irregular times.

Delia was used to working long hours and shifting heavy rolls of cloth as she spent much of her time assisting in her father's Drapers shop. This gave her quite an advantage over many of the girls as she just kept going, taking on task after task. However, it also meant that she took on more than her fair share of late and night shifts, as she was the only one of the students placed in the department that made no complaint of the workload.

Patsy had been well received on her ward, approaching every task with a brisk efficiency and an obsession with cleanliness that matched Matron's. Scarred by her experience in the internment camp, Patsy also completed every task without complaint. She quickly integrated into the team, and was allocated late shifts and night shifts as she clearly did not need as much supervision as the other students.

The trouble was that despite them both working more anti-social hours, their shift times did not match well and the women found that they saw very little of each other in the first few weeks.

Delia missed Patsy terribly. While the other student nurses were now much more friendly and inclusive, the Welsh woman had yet to build up close bonds with them. As the days went by, she realised that she did not want to get as close to them as she did with Patsy. There was something inexplicable that drew her to the blonde woman. She didn't need to make any effort to be comfortable in her presence. They had spent evenings barely speaking to each other and yet totally relaxed, with no superficial obligation to fill the silence. Delia felt that she had something special with Patsy, and although that realisation made her happy, it also frightened her. She was starting to obsess about Patsy and think about her in a way she hadn't thought about anyone else. Delia brushed aside those thoughts, deciding that she was preoccupied with Patsy because she had gone from seeing her every day to snatching glimpses and an odd conversation if they happened to be in their rooms and awake at the same time.

Craving the need for her company, and firmly ignoring the potential reason for the cravings, Delia had copied her off duty for the next three weeks in the hope that she could sit down with Patsy and find some quality time together. The trouble was that she wasn't sure when she might even bump into her to discuss the schedules, she thought gloomily as she trudged toward her room. The brunette toyed with the idea of simply shoving a note under Patsy's door, but that felt a bit desperate. She didn't want to be a burden on Patsy either, especially as she seemed to be getting on so well.

She looked up and broke into a smile when she heard a door open at the end of the corridor and Patsy step out. "Hello Pats," she called, unable to keep the relief and joy from her voice.

"I thought I recognised those squeaky shoes," Patsy replied, returning a wide grin of her own.

"My shoes do not squeak," Delia protested, wincing as she heard them do just that as she stepped forward.

Patsy's grin turned into a smirk. "Please tell me you're on a late or off tomorrow. I haven't seen you in ages." Although she said it lightly, there was a hint of desperation to Patsy's tone.

"I can't do that," Delia replied, surprised at how quickly Patsy's face fell with disappointment. "I'm on a night. It means I can stay up as late as you want."

Patsy's demeanour lifted instantly. "Marvellous. I'm on a night too. Get changed and bring supplies," she ordered briskly.

Delia's eyes opened wide in amusement. "Alright Miss Bossy."

Patsy winced. "Sorry. It's just been so long, I don't want to waste a minute."

Delia's heart skipped a beat; it felt wonderful to be so needed and it gave some proportion to her own feelings of needing Patsy. Perhaps they weren't quite so scary as she first thought. "Alright. But I'm changing into my pyjamas. I've been in a starched uniform all day. All I want to do is relax."

Patsy nodded in approval. "In which case I will do the same. You have five minutes Miss Busby."

Delia wasted no time getting changed, although she took care to hang up her uniform. She also took a few moments to brush out her hair, grateful to remove the grips that kept it in place for her shift. Finally, she grabbed the whiskey and her glass before opening the door, looking out surreptitiously to ensure that the corridor was clear, and then hurrying into Patsy's room.

Patsy looked up from her bed and smiled. True to her word, Delia was in her nightwear, and looked adorable in cream pyjamas that had a small blue flower pattern dotted across them. "Bare feet? How bold," she teased.

"If my feet get cold I will simply warm them on you," Delia replied primly. "But I'm not a fan of socks."

Patsy shook her head as she held out her hand for Delia's glass, returning it once it contained a healthy volume of whiskey. She shook the bottle sadly. "Our first dead soldier," she mourned dramatically.

Delia rolled her eyes as she snatched the bottle off Patsy and tossed it in the waste paper basket. It rattled loudly and she winced apologetically. "Sorry." They both waited for a few seconds, wondering if the noise had been loud enough to attract unwanted attention before Delia sat at the foot of the bed. "It won't be our last casualty, I'm sure," she decided as she took a sip.

"I can't leave it in there," Patsy sounded horrified.

"Relax, Pats. We're both on nights tomorrow. We can get rid of all the evidence when we go out for a late breakfast."

"Now who's making plans?" Patsy smiled.

Delia returned the smile easily, finding herself revelling in the older woman's company. "Well, I for one plan on having several very large measures tonight. I haven't seen you in weeks and I can't remember the last time I had alcohol so I think we deserve it."

Patsy nodded in agreement. "I can't fault your logic, so I will just have to join you. Cheers!" She reached over and they clinked glasses before drinking again.

They took their time, catching each other up over exploits on their respective wards, honestly admitting mistakes made as well as their successes. Patsy knew that she didn't need to pretend to be perfect for Delia; it wouldn't matter if she voiced her doubts. For her part, Delia was grateful to talk about what had gone wrong, so that they could pick it apart and see how to do things better, without fear of scathing and unnecessary criticism.

As they talked, they both relaxed more and the women adjusted their position on the bed, with Delia leaning on an elbow and her now cold feet tucked under the turned over fold of Patsy's sheet and blankets, while Patsy slouched back against the headboard.

Delia found herself looking at Patsy closely as she was speaking, and realised that she was focussing on her lips. A sharp stab of alarm went through her as her alcohol-befuddled brain tried to analyse why she was doing that and she sat upright, trying to gather her wits.

"Deels, are you okay?"

Delia's heart lurched at the same time as her stomach flipped when she heard Patsy use a shortened version of her name for the first time. It felt simultaneously wonderful and frightening. It was the most obvious sign yet that Delia had feelings for Patsy; feelings that went beyond close friendship.

She realised belatedly that Patsy was looking at her in concern. "Er, yes. I'm fine." She couldn't get her brain to work as she panicked. What was she thinking? How had this happened? "Gosh, I think I'm out of practice," she continued, desperately trying to find a way to get some distance.

"Do you mind if I call it a night?" Delia felt her heart contract again when she saw the disappointment flit across the blonde nurse's face. "Let's do breakfast a bit earlier. Perhaps spend some time out and about before we need to take a nap for night shift." The Welsh woman knew she was babbling and over-compensating, but she needed to get away now so she could get a grip on her emotions.

Patsy nodded. Something was obviously up with Delia, but she clearly didn't want to talk about it. Given all the times Patsy had avoided conversations with Delia, she knew it wouldn't be fair of her to try and pin her down on what was wrong, and tried to reason that Delia would tell her when she was ready. "Go on, I'll tidy up," she offered softly as she stood.

Delia smiled in thanks before exiting hurriedly. As she got back into her own room the brunette leaned back against the door and slowly slid down to the floor, holding her head in her hands. She had no idea what to do next.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

 

Sat on the floor of her room leaning against the door, Delia picked apart her feelings for several hours. It didn't really matter how many ways she looked at it, she was attracted to Patsy. She wracked her memory trying to recall any other occasion where she had felt these sort of emotions, but there was nothing comparable. She'd never really bothered with boys, and had certainly never felt attracted to any in her home town as she grew up. She mulled over the friendships she'd had with the girls she knew. She'd always felt more comfortable with them, but she'd never felt the magnetic draw she felt with Patsy. The strength of that draw frightened her. She shouldn't feel that way towards another woman. But no matter how many times she dissected her interactions with the tall, blonde nurse, she couldn't label her feelings as anything other than love. She felt out of control, confused and scared.

The trouble was, Delia had absolutely no one to talk to about this. It would be unthinkable to confide in her parents; not only were they too far away and not on the phone, they were both old-fashioned in their beliefs and were forever asking Delia if she had met a nice chap yet.

Delia couldn't speak with any of the other nurses. She didn't know any of them well enough to trust with such potentially volatile information. There was, of course, the significant stigma that went with it too. It was ironic that the only person she could possibly have even thought about telling was the one person she very definitely couldn't. How had Patsy developed from being her best friend to a woman with whom she was physically and emotionally attracted? Delia sighed. Of all the questions she had, that was probably the easiest to answer. Patsy was beautiful, smart and attentive. She made Delia laugh and she treated her like an equal. Delia felt comfortable with Patsy - as if she'd known her for years. They might come from very different socio-economic backgrounds, but they seemed to fit together like pieces in a jigsaw.

After chasing her thoughts round in circles for much of the night, Delia knew that she had to make a decision about how to behave around Patsy. The pragmatist in her knew that it would be impossible to avoid the tall nurse. Living next door to her put paid to that. It would also not help the situation. There were some tough choices she had to make. She could either try and continue the friendship or move on and find other friends, but the thought of staying away from Patsy was unbearable. It was almost physically painful to consider it, but she didn't want to risk her friendship with the woman by making her feel uncomfortable either.

Resolving to keep her feelings firmly in check, but maintain the friendship, the Welsh woman set her alarm, determined to carry on as normal and spend time with Patsy as agreed.

Patsy was surprised when Delia knocked on her door for breakfast. When Delia told her that it was 'the law' that one had to start a set of night shifts with a full English breakfast from the local greasy spoon, she smiled and decided there and then that she would continue that philosophy, especially if she could synchronise her nights with the brunette.

Brushing off her hurried departure from the night before, Delia put it down to being tired and not eating before drinking. She was animated enough with Patsy, but the taller nurse felt she was being guarded about something.

Patsy was just grateful that she hadn't upset the other woman unintentionally. She wished that Delia would open up to her, and trust her with what was preoccupying her thoughts but given that she was just as guilty of deflecting and hiding elements of herself, Patsy didn't push.

 


 

 

Conflicting shift times during their placements continued to separate the two women. Patsy missed Delia but was used to a solitary existence and put a brave face on it all. She saw more of the students who had been placed with her and found them genial enough company. It was easy to slip into old style, superficial relationships but it wasn't the same.

After comparing schedules, the two women maximised their off duty time together. At first, Delia was cautious; anxious not to reveal her true feelings toward Patsy. After a while, she realised that she was overreacting to the situation. Patsy was obviously comfortable in her company so she relaxed, and slowly the Welsh woman overcame her fears and returned the relationship back to how it had been before she recognised her feelings for the blonde. They teased each other and talked conspiratorially about staff on the wards.

The only trouble was that every now and again, Patsy would say something that would give Delia pause for thought, or even hope that she might just feel the same way. A typical example was her scathing take-downs of the junior doctors and their endless pestering for dates. She deflected every advance and sounded almost disgusted when she told Delia of the encounters. When Delia had asked her if she found any of them attractive, Patsy had told her that none of them had anything that she wanted. It was a curiously cryptic response that the brunette found herself mulling over for a long time.

Delia had only had one approach from a junior doctor; a vile arrogant man who, once she politely turned him down, told her that he only asked her out as a favour to her. Patsy had been incensed when Delia related the story. At first, the Welsh woman thought it was because of how rude he'd been, but Patsy's vehement raging about her treatment almost felt like jealousy. Delia had stamped out that idea very quickly, sure that it was simply wishful thinking on her part.

Fortunately, the end of the first placement was nearing. Once it was over, the class would be given ten days off over the Christmas period before returning to the classroom for another term of lectures. Both Patsy and Delia were looking forward to steady routine again, not only to catch up on sleep, but also spend more time together.

Rather generously, the Training School had planned that the end of placement coincided with the Winter Ball. There seemed to be a certain irony that there were almost draconian rules on doctors and nurses fraternising, but it was ignored in the name of a charity night. It was all many of the student nurses could talk about, with much speculation on which nurses might be lucky enough to be asked out by one of the doctors.

Patsy had managed to get coerced into going by her colleagues on the ward, mainly on the pretext that at least one of the doctors who had asked Patsy out would be disappointed and might then turn their attention to them, especially if they all went together.

Patsy agreed somewhat reluctantly but had a feeling the ordeal would be an excruciating experience. For some reason, Delia hadn't seemed too keen on going to the dance. Patsy was surprised as she had heard the Welsh woman talk enthusiastically about dancing on several occasions. However, when Patsy explained her plight, and begged Delia to accompany her so that she would at least have some moral support (along with some decent conversation), the brunette acquiesced.

When it came to the evening however, Patsy found herself enjoying the ball more than she thought she would. Sharing drinks and barbed comments about certain guests with Delia was peppered with requests to dance. At first, she would glance toward Delia but the shorter woman would shoo her towards the dance floor, assuring her that she was perfectly fine guarding their table and drinks.

Finding her dance partners tolerable enough, Patsy kept the small talk to a bare minimum. She had to admit that she enjoyed dancing again, although she secretly wished she was leading a short brunette round the dance floor. At that thought, she took the opportunity to take a glance at their table as she was spun round and was surprised to see it empty. At first she thought Delia had just gone to the Ladies, but when she hadn't returned by the end of the dance, Patsy frowned slightly and decided to track her down. It was problematic navigating the ballroom and decline the various requests to dance so that she could search properly, and as Patsy checked all the hidden areas and the toilets she became more concerned.

Frustrated at her inability to find the smaller woman, Patsy then widened her search but she wasn't in the outside hallway or near the cloakroom either. On a whim, she stepped out onto the patio, shivering as the chill air hit her skin. Sure that Delia wouldn't be outside on such a cold night, she merely cast a cursory glance round, just to tick it off the list when she noticed a solitary shadow sat on the steps. She hurried over. "Delia?"

Delia started in surprise, having been completely caught up in her thoughts. She had spent much of the evening watching Patsy being twirled around the dance floor. At first, she had been okay with Patsy getting whisked away for dances; it had given her an opportunity to look at the woman unguardedly from afar. Delia once again analysed her feelings and reactions to watching Patsy. It was like putting her tongue on a sore tooth, she just couldn't keep away. Her observation did nothing to change her feelings about the tall blonde nurse, and she felt a stab of jealousy with every man who had the chance to hold her.

Given the numbers of people at the ball, Delia decided to test how she observed others. She wasn't sure if her attraction to Patsy was unique, or if she was attracted to women in general. As she cast her gaze across the ballroom, she honestly analysed what she was doing when she was looking. She shook her head and chuckled to herself as she realised that she was drawn to the legs, bottoms and chests of a lot of women, and barely spared a cursory glance at the men. Why had she not registered this before? It felt like she had discovered a hitherto hidden aspect of her own character. It was both unnerving and exciting but it was also liberating in its way. It was now obvious to Delia that she was attracted to women as opposed to men and there seemed to be no point pretending to herself otherwise.

The realisation and acceptance did not help the situation with Patsy, however. The Welsh woman sighed and took a sip of her drink when the doctor she turned down recently approached her table. "Dance?" He asked, trying to grab her hand without waiting for an answer.

Delia yanked her arm back and stared at him. "I'm fine, thank you," she declined, trying to keep her tone polite.

"I've been watching you all evening," the doctor continued, leaning in and leering slightly. "No one else has asked you. I don't know who you think you're saving yourself for."

"Not you," Delia retorted tightly.

"You've got a high and mighty opinion of yourself, considering you're nothing but a rube," he sneered.

"It really doesn't matter what opinion I have of myself. It's all about my opinion of you. Trust me, it's not good."

"We'll see. You'll be begging me for a dance later." The doctor took advantage of his height to tower over her.

Delia smiled brightly, but could feel her heart hammering. "I wouldn't beg for a dance with you if my life depended on it," she told him assuredly. Without waiting for a reply, she snatched her bag and Patsy's, and stalked away, heading for the first exit she spotted. The patio doors opened onto well-tended grounds with wide steps leading into an ornamental garden. Not wanting to drift too far away, Delia made her way to the steps and sat down, ignoring the biting cold as she leaned against a pillar. She sighed heavily. If that was the general attitude of men, she was better off without them anyway, she decided ruefully. She allowed her imagination to drift as she heard the music continue and decided that she could at least dance with Patsy in her head, even if she could never dance with her in real life.

The brunette jumped when she heard her name called and turned round to see Patsy looking at her. She had no idea how long she'd been sat on the steps daydreaming. "Hello, Pats," she greeted, a half-smile on her face.

"What's wrong. Deels?" Patsy was immediately concerned and sat down next to the younger woman.

"Nothing much. I just had a bit of a disagreement with a pig of a doctor." It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't what was really occupying Delia's thoughts.

Patsy reached out and put a hand on the brunette's arm. "Deels, you're frozen. Come back in and I'll treat you to a brandy."

Patsy's hand felt like it was burning on Delia's bicep, and she welcomed the warmth. She leaned in slightly to the taller woman. "Sorry, Pats. I didn't realise how long I'd been out here."

Without thinking, Patsy threw her arm round the other woman and hugged her close. "Delia, you need to warm up. You'll catch your death if you stay out here much longer. Don't worry about those horrible doctors. I won't be dancing anymore so we can find a nice observation spot and provide our own commentary on proceedings." Patsy allowed herself a few seconds to relish the feel of the younger woman. She wished she could do more to comfort her, but she daren't give her feelings away. She was also genuinely concerned at just how cold Delia felt. The younger woman must have been out there for some time.

Delia revelled in the closeness for a few long moments. It felt so good to be held by Patsy, even if it was purely platonic. She wished she could reveal her feelings but it was simply too big a risk. Reluctantly, she drew back and stood up, wincing as her stiff limbs protested.

"Are you okay?" Patsy was immediately attentive, and Delia couldn't help but draw a comparison of the blond nurse's attitude with that of the doctor. It was infinitely more welcome.

"I will be once I warm up. Come on, let's get that brandy you promised me."

As the two women made their way to the bar, their path was blocked. "Have you decided to dance with me yet?"

Delia rolled her eyes. The man was persistent as well as arrogant. "Did you not understand me last time?" She asked sweetly.

The man grabbed her wrist. "Oh, don't be ridiculous. All you nurses are here to bag a doctor. A dance and then I'm yours." He tried to yank Delia towards the dance floor.

"Excuse me, I don't believe Miss Busby accepted your offer." Patsy stood in front of the man, her voice like ice.

"She's just playing hard to get." The junior doctor was dismissive and didn't even look at Delia.

Patsy smiled tightly before reaching for the man's hand. Within seconds he was kneeling on the floor, squirming in pain and embarrassment, as she bent his thumb back towards his wrist with savage intent. "Pardon me for making the assumption that doctors were intelligent. You clearly aren't. When a woman says no, she means it. If a woman doesn't want to dance with you, that wish should be respected. And never, never think that all women are falling at their feet for you. You're an odious creature with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I can only assume you don't have sisters. If you do, you should be doubly ashamed. Now, please leave me and Miss Busby alone so that we can enjoy the rest of the evening." With that she gave a slight push and the doctor went sprawling onto the floor. His fall was accompanied by guffaws of laugher from his friends and he blushed crimson with either shame or anger; it was difficult to tell.

Patsy did not spare the man another look and turned to guide Delia towards the bar.

"Oh my god!" Delia exclaimed as they found a convenient gap and leaned against the counter.

"Just ignore him, Delia. Dear lord, you weren't wrong when you called him a pig." Outwardly, Patsy appeared calm and disdainful, but her heart was pounding with a mix of emotion and adrenaline. She was furious that any man would speak to any woman in that way, but to speak to Delia in that fashion was a red rag to a bull. She didn't give herself a moment to second-guess what she was doing, and what it might look like; she simply stepped in and made her point. She sighed heavily and gestured at the barman.

Delia placed a hand gently on the taller woman's elbow. "It's my treat, Patsy. Thank you." The words were said softly, and utterly sincerely. Patsy wasn't sure her heart would take the continual over-stimulation and she managed an acknowledging smile in response.

Once the drinks were in front of them, Delia took a sip before asking; "Where did you learn how to do that?" She was astonished. One moment, the doctor had been trying to drag her away, and the next he was whimpering like a baby.

Patsy grimaced. She didn't want to tell Delia of her experiences in the camp while at the Ball. It would be difficult enough to go through that ordeal, let alone describe how one kindly Japanese guard had taught her some basic self-defence moves, worried that some of the more unscrupulous guards might take obscene advantage of a young girl. He had only ever taught her techniques that didn't use much strength, and would cause maximum embarrassment to a Japanese soldier, in the hope that it would protect her from other attacks. "It's a long story. Once you're back from hols and we're back in the classroom, perhaps we can have a night in and I'll tell you about it."

Delia furrowed her brow. From the way Patsy was speaking, there was clearly a very complicated tale behind her skills. "Okay." She looked around and saw that everyone had dispersed after the incident and couples were back on the dance floor again. "Are you sure you don't want to dance again? I don't mind."

"Absolutely not. Look, there's a table in the corner over there." Patsy nodded past Delia's shoulder. "Let's relocate and sit down. You can warm up properly, and I can rest my poor feet. I have blisters anyway." She smiled softly at the shorter woman and stepped past her to lead her to their destination.

Delia was secretly rather grateful that Patsy was keeping her company. The incident had unnerved her slightly. It had also set her heart racing; Patsy had stepped in and defended her without a thought. Delia knew she was not going to be able to get the image of a fierce Patience Mount, putting a rude man in his place, out of her mind for some time. It was all really rather thrilling in a naughty way.

The two women spent the rest of the evening at the table, enjoying each other's company and both secretly grateful for the excuse to do just that. Eventually though, the evening drew to a close and they made their way out to where buses were waiting to take the nurses back to the nurses home.

The excited chattering of the nurses dulled to quiet whispers as they filed back into the nurses home. Several pointed comments were made when they realised that the Bursar was on hand to ensure that all those that returned to the the nurses home belonged there.

Patsy and Delia felt themselves both slowing as they walked down the corridor to their rooms; neither wanted the evening to end. "Did you want to come in for a nightcap? Patsy offered.

"I'd better not. I've got to be up early to catch the bus tomorrow." Delia's voice was laced with regret. "When do you go home?"

Patsy sighed as they came to a halt outside her door. "Tomorrow afternoon. I can't say I'm looking forward to it all that much."

"When are you coming back?" Delia asked, knowing that she wouldn't spend the whole break there.

"The 27th. Public transport is back to normal then." She gave Delia a lop-sided smile as she saw the woman look at her with concern. "Don't worry about me and my family problems, Deels. I'm well used to them by now."

Delia nodded, but did not look assured. "Wait here a sec, Pats," she requested, slipping into her room. She came out a few seconds later looking slightly embarrassed. "I know you hate Christmas, but I couldn't help myself. I got you a little present. It's nothing much." She pushed the neatly wrapped parcel into Patsy's hands quickly.

Patsy's eyes widened in surprise. "You didn't need to do that. Thank you." She was genuinely touched that the younger woman had thought of her, and was mentally kicking herself for not getting a present for Delia. She was so used to not celebrating Christmas in any sort of traditional sense that it hadn't occurred to her to buy a gift for someone else. She touched the ribbon lightly and then started to tug it, only to stop when Delia laid a hand gently over hers.

"Don't unwrap it now. Save it for Christmas Day. It's not much, but everyone should have something to look forward to on Christmas Day."

Patsy felt her throat close and a prickle of tears behind her eyes. How was it that this small Welsh beauty could be so thoughtful and know her so well? She swallowed her emotions down and instead wrapped an arm round Delia to hug her. "Thank you." She couldn't trust herself to say anymore, fearing her voice would betray her.

Delia hugged the taller woman back, and sighed in relief. She had been very hesitant about getting Patsy a present. They had shared a number of conversations and the tall nurse had made no bones about how she felt about the festive period. Delia could sense that there were a number of unsaid reasons behind the woman's attitude but didn't pry. Originally she was going to give the present to Patsy first thing in the morning before she set off for home, but the bus times had changed and she didn't want to wake her up that early. In addition, she wasn't sure she'd have the courage to risk Patsy's disapproval without the assistance of a bit of alcohol in her system.

After a few seconds, Delia disentangled herself from the taller woman and looked up at her. "Thank you for looking out for me tonight, Pats. I don't know what I'd do without you. Merry Christmas." On impulse, she leant up and kissed Patsy on the cheek before retreating hurriedly to her room.

Patsy stood for a long moment, overwhelmed by what had just happened. Her heart was pounding so hard it was a wonder it was still in her chest. She quickly entered her room and leaned back against the door. The tall nurse closed her eyes and relived the whole exchange again, hugging her present close to her chest, and smiling in elated awe.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

 

Patsy duly returned to the Nurses' Home on the 27th December after what she could only describe as an excruciating gathering with the remnants of her family. Her father had been his usual disengaged self. Patsy was quite convinced that it wouldn't have mattered if she had attended or not. His indifference was demonstrated perfectly when he excused himself after dinner and she saw no more of him for the rest of Christmas Day.

Patsy's own behaviour was influenced by her father, so she reciprocated the lack of interest. It was certainly less painful that way. Patsy carried out her obligatory visit, and left as soon as public transport allowed. The Nurses' Home was almost creepily quiet but it was only to be expected. Any nurse who had the opportunity had gone home to celebrate Christmas with their families. Many of the wards had discharged any suitable patients and this allowed some of them to close and more staff to take a break.

Patsy sighed as she dragged on her cigarette. Normally, she was very good at dealing with being alone. But Delia Busby had come into her life in a burst of vivacious energy and enthusiasm and Patsy had been charmed from the outset. It was ridiculous really. They had struck up a firm friendship, and despite Patsy's best attempts, she had fallen under the Welsh woman's spell. As the first term had progressed, they had got closer, and Patsy had noticed that Delia never seemed to be interested in going out on a date with anyone. Patsy tried to test the water by being very clear in her rejection of various doctors' advances but she couldn't quite get a read on how the other woman viewed this. Frankly, she was too scared to do much more than delicately hint. If it was discovered by the Nursing School that Patsy was attracted to women, it would be the end of her career.

But just before Delia left for Wales, she had pressed a small gift in Patsy's hands, despite knowing that Patsy was not a fan of Christmas. The red-head had done as requested and saved opening it till the 25th. Patsy waited until she had gone to bed in order to unwrap it in private. Delia had bought her a hardback copy of English and Welsh poetry, simply signing the flyleaf 'Merry Christmas, love Deels x'. She had also listed three of her favourite poems, 'should you be interested'. Patsy had flipped immediately to the poems in question and pored over them, memorising them and wondering what it was that made them speak to Delia. Then, rather sentimentally, she tucked the book under her pillow in order to keep the book and, by extension, Delia close by.

It was under her pillow now, and Patsy rolled her eyes at the sentimentality of the gesture. In addition to pressing a present into her hands, the brunette had placed a kiss on her cheek just before she left. Patsy couldn't get that out of her mind. She had analysed it and analysed it, along with the words Delia had spoken to go with the gesture, but Patsy remained confused by it all. The strength of feelings she had frightened her. She knew how painful it was to lose a loved one, and she wasn't sure she had the strength to go through that again.

Stubbing out her cigarette, Patsy decided that she needed a distraction for the next few days until Delia's return. She would pop into town in the morning and see if she could pick up a belated present for Delia from the sales, although she had no idea what to get her.

 


 

 

The New Year mirrored the first term in that Patsy and Delia returned to spending time every evening revising the day's classes and making notes before switching to more general conversation. Patsy noticed a clear change in Delia's behaviour around her. The young brunette had come back from Wales with the same exuberant grin on her face and same cheeky outlook, but she was much more tactile since her return. She sat closer to Patsy when they studied, and was more attentive when they spoke. At first, Patsy was uncomfortable, not sure how to cope with the breach to her personal space, but soon realised that she actually revelled in the closeness. Every now and again, Delia topped it all by kissing her on the cheek goodnight. Those were rare occasions, and usually after either a particularly tricky study session, or if their conversation had strayed too near personal territory for Patsy and she had closed down slightly.

Patsy found that she craved Delia's touch and that it comforted her, and she realised that she was falling hard for her next-door neighbour. Curiously, Delia made no mention of potential male suitors either. She simply didn't appear interested in having a date with any of the doctors. Patsy asked if it was because of that pig of a doctor at the ball. Delia simply shrugged it off, stating she hadn't been interested in him even before she discovered he had the manners of a caveman.

Patsy fretted over this, wondering if it was simply that Delia hadn't met the right man yet. A more hopeful interpretation was that just maybe, she was reading the signals right, and Delia was interested in her. Patsy felt paralysed. She felt unable to voice her feelings in case she was horribly wrong but found herself returning blindingly wide smiles when Delia looked at her in a certain way. The feeling of her heart accelerating during those interactions did nothing to dampen her hope.

One evening, Patsy barely knocked on Delia's door before opening it and letting herself in. She saw the brunette nurse sprawled on her bed, reading a letter. "Sorry. Am I interrupting?" The tall blonde asked instinctively.

Delia looked up and smiled as she shook her head. "No, not at all. Just catching up on the news from home." She sighed heavily.

"Not bad news I hope?" Patsy asked, sitting down at the chair in front of Delia's desk.

Delia sat up and shuffled back towards the headboard, gesturing for Patsy to join her on the bed. Patsy quickly shifted to sit at the foot. "No, just the same old questions. It's all just getting a bit frustrating."

"What is?" Patsy knew that Delia had a strained relationship with her mother, but had not heard her sound this irritated by her before.

"Oh, mam's just harping on about boys in the village that are free."

"Oh." Patsy couldn't help how disappointed her voice sounded.

Delia laughed. "Yes. That's how I feel. But she doesn't give up."

Patsy steeled herself. "I take it you're not interested in any boys back home?"

Delia looked at Patsy steadily. "I'm not interested in anyone in Wales," she replied carefully.

Patsy held her gaze for what felt like a lifetime, but she knew in reality was only a few seconds before nodding back. The question was right there to be asked. All she had to do was ask if Delia was interested in anyone here in London. Patsy lost her nerve suddenly, fearful of the answer, even though she was now sure what it would be. "Damn it. I've forgotten my text books. Give me a minute." Before Delia could say another word, the older woman had excused herself from the room, breaking the spell.

On her return, Patsy noted that Delia had put her letter away and was already flicking through the notes she had made. She took her place at the foot of the bed again. "Where have you got to?" She asked politely, and was grateful that Delia simply answered the question and made no reference to what had just happened.

 


 

 

Patsy could feel the grip of the nightmare begin. It was the most bizarre feeling for her. She knew she was locked into another horrific dream that her brain concocted about her time in the Internment Camp. She knew that the intensity of the dream was heightened because it often felt like three years of terror were compressed into a few short minutes. Her brain often got the order of things mixed up, like the sequence of her mother and sister dying. Sometimes in her nightmares, what they said or did during their torturous illness was wrong. Patsy knew it was wrong, and there were times when she tried to correct sequences in her dreams and take an active part. Inevitably, the events would roll on relentlessly, and she would remain locked within it.

Tonight, she could feel her limbs move as she fought and ran, and hid from unseen foe. It didn't matter. Her mind often conjured images of incidents that hadn't happened. But while she was locked into her dreams, it didn't matter if she denied it, the events would happen anyway. Every time it would provoke a visceral response she had no control over. She could hear herself murmuring out loud as she spoke in her dreams, but she couldn't help but make the noise. She knew that this dream was warming up to be truly traumatic one. It was gripping her with a force she hadn't experienced for a while. It felt like she was awake and asleep at the same time. The dream fear, and being aware of her body's actual reaction to the torment simply doubled the trauma. This nightmare would leave her exhausted, trembling and terrified but try as she might, she could not prise her eyes open and wake herself up. As this particular dream's sequence of events unfolded, she felt her limbs twitch uncontrollably. She needed to wake up before she saw her mother in the hospital hut again. She needed to wake up before she saw her sister. She needed to wake up, but she couldn't. She couldn't even divert herself away from the path she was walking toward the hut. Patsy tried, and tried, feeling the panic build exponentially. She had to wake up. Suddenly she was in the hut and seeing the lifeless eyes of her mother staring back at her. She knew she was screaming. She could feel that she was screaming, but she couldn't stop.

"Patsy?"

Who was calling her? That was no voice she recognised.

"Patsy!"

Patsy's eyes shot open and she shut her mouth, stopping the scream suddenly. She saw Delia, kneeling at her bed, a look of concern clearly on her features. The nurse, traumatised by the nightmare, sobbed, and tried to turn away, embarrassed that Delia had witnessed such weakness.

"Shhh, shhh," Delia comforted, stroking the woman's hair softly. "You're okay. I'm here." She murmured the words softly and repeatedly, and made no other comment about what had happened.

Patsy took huge gulping breaths, desperately trying to calm down. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you." She managed between breaths.

"Don't worry about that. I'm here now."

Patsy felt the bed give slightly as Delia sat down on it.

"What are you doing?"

"Well I'm not going anywhere until you've calmed down, and kneeling by the bed is giving me pins and needles so I'm getting myself comfy." The Welsh woman sounded completely matter-of-fact as if it was the most perfectly normal thing in the world.

"You shouldn't be here. It's past curfew." Patsy's words were still choppy. From experience, she knew that she would be like this for some time.

"The night Matron already knows I'm in here," Delia replied simply.

Patsy was exhausted and still shaking but forced herself to turn round and face the brunette. "What?"

"It would appear that she also decided to investigate. She saw me up and we agreed that it probably made sense for me to look in on you as I'm your neighbour. That keeps her available for anything else that might need her attention."

"Was I really that loud?" Patsy asked quietly. She could feel her face burn with shame and embarrassment.

"It was more unexpected and a bit alarming, rather than loud. And I certainly wasn't prepared to ignore someone in need," Delia replied honestly, knowing that Patsy would prefer that.

"You didn't need to do that. I'm sorry."

"I didn't need to do it, but I wanted to. Pats, you're my best friend. Of course I wanted to help you." Delia sat back slightly and adjusted the pillow so that she was slightly more comfortable. She stroked Patsy's hair again softly, trying to provide comfort.

Patsy swallowed nervously. She so wanted Delia to comfort her and hold her tight, but she couldn't find the words to ask. The excess adrenaline coursing through her was making her body tremble almost uncontrollably and waves of nausea were rolling over her. "You don't have to stay, Deels. I'll be fine," she tried.

Delia shook her head. "I'm not going anywhere yet. Just try and relax. Lie there and breathe it all out. I'm here. You're safe." The Welsh woman was almost chanting her reassurance, trying to emphasise the veracity of her words by continually stroking the older woman's hair.

"I suppose you want me to tell you about it," Patsy muttered, her voice muffled as she turned her head in towards the bed, rather than look at Delia.

"Would it help?" Delia asked quietly. Patsy shook her head. Just the thought of having to find words to describe the dream was making her shake again.

Delia's hand drifted over Patsy's shoulder blade but continued to draw random patterns. "Then no, I don't want to you to tell me about it. You can close your eyes now. Nothing's coming back while I'm here," she assured.

"I won't fall asleep after this. I never do," Patsy admitted. "You don't need to stay. You need your sleep."

Delia didn't appear fazed by this. "Okay. How about this? I will stay here and keep hold of you until you stop shaking and calm down enough to relax, and then I'll leave you in peace and get a doze in before class."

Patsy thought for a few moments, knowing that it was unfair of her to ask Delia to stay, and yet petrified at the thought of being alone for the remainder of the night. She heard her own breathing remain shaky. "Okay. But I"m sending you out once I've recovered."

"Deal. Now, scoot in a bit. I'm quite happy for you to use me as a pillow," Delia offered.

Patsy moved without thinking, and rested her head on Delia's lap. She took a deep, shaky sigh as she willed herself to calm down, and then smiled weakly when she felt Delia place a kiss on top of her head.

"I've got you, Pats," Delia whispered. "You're safe."

Patsy was surprised to find that she believed Delia, and after what felt like an eternity, her heart rate and breathing finally started to return to more normal levels. She relished the feel of Delia's fingertips tracing random patterns on her upper arm and decided to wait just a few more minutes before telling her that she would be okay and that Deels could go back to bed. The pull of sleep took her before she got the words out.

Delia felt the taller woman relax but continued to run her fingers along her arm. She desperately wanted to know what it was that had so deeply affected Patsy. Asking her immediately after the event, when she was still so obviously traumatised, was just not appropriate. The brunette hoped she could do something to help with whatever anguish was tearing at Patsy, but she would not push. She knew Patsy too well. All that would achieve would be Patsy shutting down and a psychological wall of protection being erected.

She smiled sadly at the nurse, grateful that Patsy at least felt secure enough to fall asleep. Very slowly and carefully, she leant down and kissed the top of her head again, before leaning back against the headboard. "How do I tell you that I love you, Pats?" She murmured softly. She shook her head at her predicament but settled down to her vigil; there was no way she was letting Patsy wake up alone in the morning. Delia's smile widened slightly as she looked down again. Patsy's hand had managed to grab a fistful of Delia's pyjama top. Despite her clearly being asleep, she was gripping the material as if she were holding a lifeline. It would seem that, subconsciously, Patsy had no desire to wake up alone either.

Patsy slowly became aware of her surroundings as she woke up. She was surprised that she had fallen asleep at all after the nightmare. On the very few occasions when she had done that in the past, she had woken up with another petrified start, the remnants of the nightmare still affecting her. This morning however, she felt safe and calm. The heavy pressure she could feel on her back and the rhythmic undulation of her pillow reminded Patsy that she had fallen asleep on Delia. She controlled the urge to suddenly disengage; if Delia was asleep, that would wake her up rudely. She tilted her head up slowly and winced as she saw the young brunette, fast asleep, leaning back against the headboard. Her head was tilted right over onto her shoulder. Delia was going to wake up with a terribly stiff neck.

Gently, Patsy sat up, feeling Delia's arm slip off her back. "Deels?" She whispered softly.

Delia's eyes sprung open and she groaned as she tried to right herself. "Ow." The nurse gripped her neck with her hand as it protested at the movement.

"Sorry Deels." The apology was for all sorts of things, but Patsy knew that the longer Delia stayed in that position, the worse the pain in her neck would be.

"It's okay Pats. I only dropped off a little while ago. It won't take too long to work out the kinks." As she spoke she rolled her shoulder, wincing again at the pain.

"I thought I told you not to stay?" The tone Patsy used indicated just the opposite of the sentiment, as she smiled gratefully at her friend.

"Actually, you said that you'd tell me when to go, and then you fell asleep," Delia teased lightly, returning an unguarded smile. "Besides, I didn't really have much of a choice," she continued, her smile changing into a grin as she looked down to where Patsy's hand was still gripping her pyjama top.

Patsy blushed instantly and let go, noticing the deep creasing that indicated just how tightly she had been holding on. "Sorry."

"Don't be silly. It's given me quite the ego massage." Delia kept the tone light, somehow knowing that now was not the time to revisit what had happened last night; particularly after Patsy had woken up looking rested and calm.

Patsy sat up a bit more and looked round Delia toward the nightstand. "It's nearly time for breakfast." She looked at Delia critically. "You look exhausted. Will you be okay in class?"

"Of course. I've slogged through many a night shift on less sleep." She was still absently rubbing at her neck, willing the tightness to ease. "Are you going to be okay?" She looked at Patsy with pure concern.

"Thanks to you, yes. I can't remember ever sleeping after nightmares before. I don't know what magic you have Deels, but it worked." She grinned shyly.

"I'm just a comfortable pillow," Delia returned sagely, nodding to herself as she got up. "I'd better get dressed." She yawned suddenly. "Thank god it's Friday. Just keep me awake in class and then I can sleep all weekend."

Patsy frowned. "Are you blowing me out for Saturday's trip to the V&A?" A lop-sided grin gave her away.

Delia tried to shrug, but winced again. "Ouch. Remind me not to fall asleep sitting up again," she grumbled before grinning at the blonde nurse. "I'm sure I'll be recovered enough for our day of culture. But I think you owe me lunch." With that, she winked and left Patsy's room.

Patsy continued to stare at the door, trying to order all her jumbled thoughts and feelings. Roaring clearly through all her other half-formed ideas, emotions and suppositions was one very loud question. Patsy sighed to herself. "How do I tell you that I love you, Delia?"

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

 

It was over a week before Patsy finally garnered enough courage to talk to Delia about her nightmare. Delia kept her word and they attended the Victoria and Albert museum at the weekend. Patsy dutifully bought lunch as requested but no mention was made of the disturbed night they had both had. Delia did not push. She knew it was Patsy's story to tell, and she had no intention of making her feel any more embarrassed or scared. The following week progressed as if nothing had happened.

Delia didn't say anything to Patsy, but she would stay awake at night well past midnight, listening for any further bad dreams before finally falling into her own fitful sleep. She was tired and knew that she was over-reacting. The thought of Patsy spending even a moment alone when going through something that obviously haunted her so deeply was simply unbearable for her. She was glad they had made it to Friday so that she could sleep in at the weekend. The evening was made better when Patsy stuck her head round the door and asked if she had already had dinner.

"Not yet. I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for," Delia smiled back.

Patsy frowned when she saw Delia sat at her desk, pen poised. "Do you want me to come back later when you're done?" She asked considerately.

"Of course not. It's the weekly letter home. It can very definitely wait." She stood up and leaned behind the door to snag her coat and scarf. "Where are you taking me?"

"Well I was thinking of going to the Ritz," the tall nurse began airily, "but I actually just fancied haddock and chips. Or are you in the mood for something else?"

"It's Friday night. It's the law to have fish and chips on a Friday," the brunette declared as she shrugged her coat on.

Patsy smirked. "You have a lot of laws about when food should be eaten," she declared.

Delia laughed. "Don't pay too much attention. All my rules change depending on what I'm in the mood for." She waggled her eyebrows cheekily as she fastened the buttons. "Go on Pats. Get your coat on," she chivvied.

Patsy eyes widened in amusement. "Alright, Miss Bossy," she replied, before disappearing to her own room.

A short while later, the two women walked out of the chip shop, holding parcels of tightly wrapped food. Delia took a step back towards the Nurses Home but stopped when Patsy laid a hand lightly on the crook of her arm. "Do you mind if we eat outside?" She asked tentatively.

Delia frowned. It was a freezing February evening and both women had wrapped up well against the winter weather, but there was obviously a reason for the bizarre suggestion. "Okay," she agreed slowly.

Patsy nodded, and headed away from their residence and towards Victoria Park. "I know it's an odd request but I wanted to talk," she continued. "I'd rather not do it in our rooms though."

Delia simply shrugged and followed the taller woman to her destination of choice.

When Patsy reached the park, she headed towards a bench where the pair of them often sat to watch the world go by. It was then that Delia had a sudden flash of insight. "Pats, are you wanting to talk about something..." She paused as she searched for the right word. "Uncomfortable?"

Patsy could only nod, already feeling her courage starting to leave her.

"Okay. How about we go and sit somewhere that we don't usually go. That way, it won't matter if it becomes tainted with difficult memories."

Patsy stopped and stared at Delia, marvelling at her understanding. She had no idea how the woman could be so intuitive. "That's a good idea," she agreed softly and allowed Delia to lead her to a bench that was a little more out of the way.

They huddled close together, drawing heat from each other to combat the chill February evening. The two women ate in silence, knowing that their food would quickly go cold. Patsy flicked nervous glances at Delia as she ate. She wanted to tell Delia about the cause of her nightmares, but it had been so long since she had spoken to anyone about it, she wasn't sure she could find the words, or the strength to do it.

Delia could feel the tension radiating from Patsy. She simply continued to eat in silence, not wanting to put any sort of pressure on the nurse.

Patsy wrapped up the remainder of her supper, realising that she was no longer hungry. "Deels," she began nervously.

Delia twisted slightly so that she could look at Patsy. "Go on," she encouraged softly.

Patsy nodded, looking down into her lap. "I'm not very good at opening up with people," she continued, looking up sharply when she heard Delia snort. She returned the Welsh woman's wry smile and nodded. "My nightmare last week, and me not being able to talk." Patsy paused again. This was so difficult. She took a deep, steadying breath. "It's all connected." She broke off her gaze with Delia and returned her focus to her lap. "I grew up in the Far East," she continued softly.

Patsy spoke for over an hour, her voice hoarse by the time she drew her story to a close. When she finished, she took a shaky breath and realised that she was crying, but had no idea when she had started. Having revealed her most painful secrets, she felt as though she had lain herself bare. The blonde nurse wasn't sure she was ready to look at Delia. She didn't want to see shock or overdone sympathy. She certainly didn't want to see disappointment or disgust. She jumped slightly when she felt Delia's hand gently grasp her own. She breathed in again and looked up, exhaling in relief when she simply saw a friendly half-smile and blue eyes brightened by unshed tears.

"Thank you for telling me, Pats," Delia whispered softly. She shifted slightly and put her arm round Patsy.

Grateful for Delia's presence, Patsy leaned in and accepted the comfort, feeling more tears come out after the catharsis. She hadn't realised how much of a relief it was to tell someone else. She didn't care that she was crying out in public. Her feelings had been suppressed for too long. It was indescribable to finally have someone that she could honestly talk with and who wouldn't judge her. She knew Delia wouldn't use empty platitudes or tell her how she should be feeling. Delia would simply be Delia, and be her rock to cling to whenever she felt overwhelmed.

Delia held onto Patsy as she calmed down and the tears stopped. She said nothing; there was nothing she could say to take away the pain, even though she so desperately wanted to. She took the opportunity to try and control her own emotions. The last thing Patsy needed was for Delia to be an emotional wreck. The Welsh woman had been surprised that Patsy had opened up so much, and where they were in danger of being overheard. On reflection however, the park was usually quiet in the evening, and on a particularly cold night in February, the chances of being disturbed were actually quite slim. Eventually, she felt Patsy steady herself and sit up slightly. "Come on, Pats," she said gently. "The coffee shop is still open and I think we could both do with a hot drink." She stood up and held out her hand, helping the taller woman up from the bench. They strolled, shoulder to shoulder in silence to the cafe.

 


 

 

When the students were assigned their next ward placement, Patsy and Delia were ecstatic to find out that they would be in the same department. Within the first few days, they studied the off duty and put themselves forward for the same shifts where possible, as well as trying to get the odd day off together too. It was great fun actually working alongside each other. Their already established bond meant they looked out for each other so that they didn't inadvertently get into any trouble. It also meant a fair bit of giggling which garnered some pointed looks from the ward sister.

Patsy shook her head, smiling as Delia sashayed back down the ward to answer a call button. The late shift had flown by and they had worked efficiently to get all their tasks done early. This had allowed them a few minutes respite and the opportunity for a bit of small talk.

"You seem to be getting on very well with Delia," Millicent James commented. The student nurse's words were innocent enough but they were laced with a suggestion of something much more sinister.

Patsy jumped on it immediately. "Of course I do. We're friends."

Millicent made a show of looking up and down the ward before continuing in a hushed tone. "You ought to be careful, Patsy."

"Careful of what?" She asked, a look of confusion on her face. Inside, she could feel her heart pounding.

"Come on Patsy, don't be naive," Millicent retorted.

Patsy shook her head. "I'm sorry Millicent. I am naive. What on earth are you talking about?" She could hear her clipped tones sound even tighter than normal and hoped that Millicent hadn't noticed.

The small nurse stepped closer. "You know Delia hasn't had a boyfriend or even a date since we started," she confided conspiratorially.

Patsy shook her head. "That's hardly surprising given that it's completely against the rules to fraternise with the doctors," she pointed out reasonably.

"And everyone ignores that. I've been seeing Dr King for two months now," Nurse James continued.

Patsy raised her eyebrows. "Well I didn't know that either. But aren't you risking your career if you get caught?"

Millicent shrugged her shoulders. "Unlikely. I'd probably get reprimanded but that's only if I get caught." She looked meaningfully at Patsy.

"Don't worry, your secret's safe with me. But what does that have to do with Delia, or me for that matter?" Patsy was determined to play it cool.

"Delia spends all her free time with you."

"Yes, we're friends," Patsy repeated, a hint of irritation in her voice.

"Don't you think it's odd that she does that, and doesn't go out with anyone else?"

"No. I'm actually rather grateful. I got 90% in my last set of exams."

"But she's never had a boyfriend."

Patsy couldn't help herself. "Neither have I. What's your point?"

Millicent huffed, looking annoyed that Patsy wasn't picking up on her innuendo. "You danced with several chaps at the Winter Ball, Patsy. Delia refused to dance with anyone."

Patsy knew that wasn't strictly true, but she wasn't sure it would make a difference if she pointed it out to Millicent or not. "I still don't understand what you're trying to say."

Millicent stepped closer again and lowered her voice to a whisper. "What I'm trying to say is that those country girls have funny ways about them. You don't want to be tarred by the same brush. Take my advice and keep your distance."

Patsy bristled. "When your 'advice' is based on malicious and unfounded gossip I think I'd rather just ignore it, thank you. Delia is my friend. And I suggest you stop speculating for idle entertainment."

Millicent took a step back, a little startled by the vehemence of Patsy's response. "Sorry. I'm just trying to help. I'd hate for you to lose your job because of someone else's unnatural behaviour." She spun on her heel and returned to her section of the ward.

Patsy was furious with Millicent, yet frightened at the same time. She hadn't even done anything wrong. She knew that the student nurse was just relishing the gossip, but those sort of rumours had a habit of sticking. Patsy was certain that it was petty jealousies that had fostered the speculation. Delia had been top of the class again, by some distance. The first time round, the other students had congratulated her on her achievement. This time they needed to find something to criticise.

The trouble was, the words had been said now. Despite her brushing off Millicent's comments as pure speculation, Patsy was now trying to analyse every interaction she had with Delia, just in case they had done something inadvertently to warrant the scrutiny. Would she have to act differently in order to try and deflect attention away? They certainly did spend all their time together, but many of the other nurses did the same thing. Patsy could only surmise that their conversations would include which doctor was considered the best catch.

The tall nurse looked up as she heard steps approaching. Delia was returning from her errand, a broad smile on her face. Patsy did not reciprocate.

 


 

 

Patsy tried not to let Millicent's words affect her interactions with Delia, but she knew that the damage had been done. She made some adjustments to her shifts so that they weren't always working together and she swapped some days off. When Delia asked her about it, Patsy explained it away by saying they were favours for the other nurses but she caught the disappointment in Delia's eyes. Patsy believed that she had to do this though. It would protect both their careers. Surely that was more important than her burgeoning feelings for the young woman. A small amount of heartache now was preferable to having to unpick something far more dangerous and illicit. It didn't matter that nothing had actually happened between them. Patsy knew it was only a matter of time, if she allowed things to continue as they were. The tall nurse also knew that she was taking the cowardly option. She should really have told Delia about the conversation she had with Millicent. Unfortunately, Patsy was certain that if she did that, there would be no option but to confront their feelings and she still wasn't ready for that.

Patsy exhaled a lungful of smoke with a loud sigh. She had swapped for an early today, and had briefly seen Delia at changeover, acknowledging her presence and handing over professionally as they were both being supervised. Patsy had excused herself away as soon as possible, knowing that Delia was watching her with a confused and hurt expression.

The trouble was, as the days went on, Patsy was beginning to doubt her strategy. She missed Delia dreadfully, and knowing that it was self-inflicted made it all the harder to bear. Was her career more important than a possible relationship with Delia? Couldn't she have both if they were careful and planned properly? There was no point speculating on what ifs, however. They still hadn't actually acknowledged their feelings for each other. At this rate, Patsy wasn't sure they ever would.

She was interrupted from her musings by a tentative knocking at the door. Patsy took a quick glance at her bedside clock and realised that the late shift had finished. "Come in."

Delia opened the door and closed it behind her before taking a seat at Patsy's desk. She had taken the time to get changed and was wearing a simple grey pencil skirt and yellow button down blouse. "Are you going to tell me what's going on?" She asked, ignoring the usual social pleasantries.

Patsy resisted the reflexive need to deny that she was doing anything differently. Delia had shown unwavering loyalty and support to her. Patsy owed her some honesty in return. "I'm sorry Deels. I had a bit of a disturbing conversation with Millicent James a few days ago."

Delia frowned, clearly not expecting that. "What did that spiteful cat want?" The Welsh woman didn't trust her at all; she seemed to have a negative opinion on everyone, even inferring once that Patsy was too snobbish to be friends with. Delia had dismissed her sniping out of hand and told her not to bother her again with gossip.

Patsy paused as she stubbed her cigarette out. "She said that there's been some gossip about our friendship."

"Probably initiated by her," Delia interjected, before frowning at her words. "What gossip?"

Patsy sighed. "People are saying we're close."

Delia shrugged. "We are," she agreed, unable to see the problem.

Patsy tried again. "Too close?" She saw Delia's jaw tighten.

"It's none of their business," she retorted in a slightly strangled voice.

"You're right. But rumours can be..." Patsy paused as she lit another cigarette; she was certainly in the mood to chain-smoke this evening. "Damaging?" She suggested, exhaling heavily.

"Patsy, we're friends. Nothing more." Delia couldn't quite help a slight crack in her voice. This was not how she imagined a conversation about their feelings going.

"I know that Delia. But if people are talking..."

"So what? It's got nothing to do with them." Delia was angry now that other people were interfering.

"It does if rumours end up back with the Training School. There could be repercussions."

"What repercussions? What have we done?"

"Nothing," Patsy agreed. "But it doesn't stop the speculation. Millicent commented that you haven't even had a boyfriend."

Delia laughed bitterly. "Well, other than the fact we're not supposed to be fraternising with any of the doctors, it's none of their business."

"I did say that," Patsy admitted softly.

"But you changed shifts anyway," Delia pointed out.

"I don't want to be the subject of other people's gossip," Patsy responded defensively.

Delia shook her head and then exhaled heavily. "Alright. I can sort of understand what you've done. But why didn't you tell me? Why did you leave me to think that I'd done something to upset you?"

"You haven't done anything wrong," Patsy objected. "I just started and didn't really think about the effects of my actions until later. And then I didn't know how to bring it up."

"Why ever not?"

Patsy looked meaningfully at Delia but didn't say anything.

Delia returned the look steadily before breaking away and staring at her hands. "Patsy, I'm not interested in having a boyfriend," she admitted in a whisper.

"I know." Patsy's voice was equally quiet, and hoarse with emotion.

Delia's head shot up and she looked back at the older woman. "And?" She asked finally.

Delia saw Patsy shut her eyes, and felt her heart sink, already anticipating the answer.

"We can't, Delia. It's too big a risk. We'd lose our jobs and careers before they even started."

"Isn't that for me to decide too?" She protested weakly.

"We have to use our heads, not our hearts, Deels." Patsy looked distraught but determined, now that she had voiced her decision. If she was honest with herself, she hadn't been quite sure until she said the words which way she was going to go. But it had to be the right decision, didn't it?

"When did you decide this?" Delia asked, her voice betraying her emotions. Her face was a blank mask.

"When I realised that we were the subject of gossip. Please understand Deels. Perhaps once we've qualified and are posted..."

"Stop, Pats," Delia interrupted, holding up a hand. "I... I need to get used to this. I need a bit of time." She stood up suddenly. "I need to... Sorry," she couldn't finish the sentence and dashed hurriedly from the room, allowing it to slam as she left.

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Delia carried on walking down the corridor after she left Patsy's room. She needed some distance and some time to think and she needed to do that alone. Despite it being only two hours till curfew, she headed outside, wanting fresh air and a different environment. When she finally sat down, she smiled at the irony of her chosen destination. She had made her way to the park bench where Patsy had opened up to her several weeks ago.

Delia snorted; Patsy was so infuriating at times. She had trusted her enough to reveal her deepest secrets. For Delia, that was as brave as it got. But the tall blonde nurse couldn't trust her with her insecurities regarding gossip and reputation. Unfounded gossip at that. Delia wiped away an errant tear. There was another irony. Delia had been slowly testing the boundaries with Patsy. She tried to break down the barriers with additional touches here and there, and the odd kiss on the cheek when she left for the evening. At one point she had given Patsy the perfect opening to talk but the older woman had shied away. Now, Patsy had independently decided that she couldn't risk a relationship with Delia. She had placed her career first. That hurt. It hurt a lot.

Telling Patsy that she wasn't interested in men had probably been the most terrifying thing she had ever done. But Delia knew that Patsy understood. Delia had honestly evaluated her feelings from the time she recognised that she was attracted to Patsy. In the end, she believed that Patsy was worth the risk.

It had disintegrated in the space of a few words and it was devastating. Delia's breath caught as she tried to stop the tears. She held on for a few more seconds but her emotions and body betrayed her and she broke down in wracking sobs. Her mood spiralled ever downwards as she realised that she had no one to hold onto for comfort.

It was the cold that finally broke through her mood and tears. Delia realised that she was shivering. It was unsurprising, given that she had rushed out into the chill air with no cardigan or coat. Delia was exhausted through crying, physically and emotionally but the tears had stopped. She sat up slightly on the bench and rummaged around her sleeve in the hope that she had stored a hanky somewhere. Coming up empty, Delia shrugged to herself as she wiped her eyes with her sleeve before trying to sort out the mess that was her nose. Both Patsy and her mother would be horrified at the thought of her cuffing her nose, but there was no way she was heading back into the Nurses Home without trying to repair some of the damage.

Delia took a deep shuddering sigh, trying to blow out the last of the emotion behind her tears. She smiled grimly to herself. It had been good to cry, but ultimately it didn't solve anything. The Welsh woman recalled Patsy's words and picked them apart. It was clear that Patsy didn't want any unwanted attention. Someone; no, Millicent James, had decided to spread a little gossip, obviously about Delia to Patsy. Delia frowned, mulling over the possibility of punching her lights out, but that would only end with a one-way ticket back to Wales. And the reality was that Delia detested violence and just couldn't see herself doing that, no matter what the provocation. It had clearly been noted that the two women spent all their time together. Delia would just have to find something else to do so that she didn't spend all her free time with the other nurse.

Perhaps if she and Patsy could develop some other, separate links, the other students would have less to speculate about and would leave them alone. Of course, the ideal solution would be to date a man for a while. That would certainly put paid to any rumours of inappropriateness on Delia's part. The young brunette took a deep breath as she contemplated that option. Having recognised her own leanings last year and coming to terms with it, Delia wasn't sure she could go through with the pretence. She could manage spending an evening and chatting to a man, but what happened when he wanted more than conversation? She shuddered at the thought of anyone other than Patsy touching her, let alone a man.

Delia wasn't sure what it would take to convince Patsy to break the rules and social taboos. She didn't know if any amount of adjustment to appearances would be enough for the tall blonde to take a risk and go with her heart, rather than her head. What she did know was that Patsy was special to her. And Patsy wasn't totally against deepening the relationship. She had even suggested that it was a possibility when they finished training. Delia wasn't sure she could hold out that long. To be so close, yet ever distant would be Tantalus's torture for her.

Delia sighed again. There was one thing she was certain of. Patsy was her best friend, even if it could only ever be platonic. And she was not going to give that up over spiteful rumour-mongering.

The brunette glanced at her watch and winced when she saw the time. She would have to hurry if she was to get back to the Nurses Home before curfew. Wiping her nose one last time in true street-urchin fashion, she broke into a very brisk walk.

 


 

 

The easy, comfortable connection the two women shared was fractured by the rift, but Delia surprised Patsy by not backing off completely. Patsy had fully expected the Welsh nurse to totally withdraw from her company. She wouldn't have blamed her if she did. But Delia had met Patsy at her door when she was due to leave for her shift the day after their confrontation. Patsy had looked at her quizzically. Delia had simply said that it would be more gossip-worthy if they didn't travel together to work when they were both on the same shift. Patsy had been floored by the maturity of the younger woman, and silently berated herself for her own default position of hiding away and not actually dealing with anything. There was an awkward atmosphere between them however, and their talk stayed firmly in bland, general topics.

Delia made some further adjustments to the schedule and would offer to extend if the ward was short of cover. The two women remained courteous and professional toward each other, but there was no more giggling or shared break times and their friendship remained strained.

The situation was taking its toll on both of them and Patsy found that she noticed her loneliness far more than she ever had before. She longed for the placement to finish and for classes to start again. Hopefully, they might be able to rebuild their friendship away from prying eyes.

The student nurse sighed as she looked at the wall clock, wishing for her shift to finish. Delia had been on an early today and had been particularly evasive when she left after handover. Patsy hoped that she would still be up when she got back. She missed their evening night caps, and they were overdue a catch up.

"Well, it seems the rumours were wrong about Delia." Millicent James' voice broke through Patsy's ruminations.

"What?" Patsy was absolutely not in the mood for Millicent's petty gossip.

"Delia. Everyone thought she was, well... you know," Millicent continued conspiratorially.

"I don't but I'm sure you're going to tell me anyway." Patsy's tone was cold and clipped but Millicent was far too ready to share the tidbit of information she had to notice.

"Apparently, she's gone out with Dr. Taylor this evening."

Patsy felt her heart clench and her stomach lurch. "What?" She asked again, this time her voice a whisper.

"Yes. Robert, sorry Dr. King, told me when I bumped into him earlier. I must say I'm surprised. I really didn't think Delia was interested in him after the Winter Ball."

Suddenly Patsy realised who Dr. Taylor was. "She's going out with that pig?" She asked incredulously. Her mind was reeling. What the hell was Delia thinking?

"He's not that bad. He's very good friends with Robert." Millicent sounded affronted.

"Then Robert is a very poor judge of character. The man's a boor." Patsy was completely dumbfounded by the information. "Are you sure?" She asked again.

"Yes. Apparently Dr. Taylor has been quite smitten with her. He's been asking her out almost continually since the New Year." She paused for a second or two. "Perhaps he likes a challenge," she speculated.

Patsy's heart sunk. Delia hadn't said a word about the attention she'd been receiving. She couldn't believe that Delia would willingly go out with him, even if she was interested in men. She was also concerned. She didn't trust a man who wouldn't take no for an answer. The blonde nurse looked at the clock again and breathed a sigh of relief. She would be handing over to the night shift soon.

As soon as Patsy got back to the Nurses Home, she knocked on Delia's door. When there was no answer, she tentatively tried the door and discovered that no one was home. Patsy worried at a nail before retreating to her own room. She got changed but could not settle until she knew Delia was back and safe. She found herself pacing the room, her mind going through all sorts of scenarios, most of them nightmarish. As the time edged closer and closer to curfew, Patsy could feel her anxiety rising and was tempted to go looking for Delia, except that she had no idea where to even start.

Suddenly, the tall nurse stopped her pacing and cocked her head, straining her ears as she heard footsteps. She recognised them as Delia's immediately. She listened as the footsteps got closer and she heard Delia enter her room. Patsy hesitated. She wasn't sure if Delia would want to see her after her night out. Patsy refused to consider it a date.

What Delia chose to do and with whom wasn't really any of her business. Delia might think Patsy was interfering when she had no right to. After all, she had told Delia quite clearly that she couldn't risk starting a relationship with her. Patsy paced for another moment, her indecision paralysing her. Her overwhelming distrust of Dr. Taylor drove her to want to check on the Welsh woman though and Patsy found herself gently tapping on the door.

"Come in."

The words were barely audible and when Patsy entered she could see Delia laying on her bed, facing away from the door. "Deels?" When Delia didn't reply, Patsy tentatively approached the bed and perched on the edge. "Are you okay?" She whispered quietly.

"I'm fine," Delia responded mechanically. She made no effort to turn around.

Patsy frowned, unsure of how to continue or if Delia would even want her to. She tried to keep her voice as neutral as possible. "Not a good night out then?"

"Not really." Delia's usual loquaciousness was worryingly absent.

"What happened?" Patsy asked gently.

"I can't do it, Pats," Delia replied, her voice broken with emotion.

Patsy frowned. "Can't do what?"

"Pretend to be something I'm not." Delia's voice caught as she tried not to cry.

Patsy's heart felt like it was shattering and she stroked the brunette's hair gently. "What happened?" She prompted again.

Delia shrugged but didn't answer.

Patsy persevered. "Deels?"

"Nothing," she brushed away Patsy's concern.

The blonde nurse was having none of it. "Come on Delia. What's going on?"

There was another long pause and Patsy wondered if Delia was going to speak again at all when she heard the small brunette take a deep, shuddering breath.

"I thought that if I went out with someone, it would stop all the gossip. People would leave us alone." Her voice cracked again. "That I could get you back."

Patsy closed her eyes and felt her own tears spill down her cheeks. What had she done? "You haven't lost me, Deels," she told her firmly.

Delia shook her head again. "It's not the same. I miss you. I miss being myself around you. I miss you being yourself around me." The tears started in earnest now and Delia's body shook as she cried.

Patsy shifted and lay down behind Delia, wrapping her arm round her and holding her tightly. "I'm sorry," she whispered brokenly. She felt Delia clutch her hand and the two women held onto each other as the frustration and sorrow of the last few weeks finally found a release.

Eventually, their tears subsided but neither woman made any effort to move. They were both finding comfort in their nearness.

Delia took a steadying breath. She was so confused. Patsy had said that it was too risky to act on their feelings, yet here she was, holding her tight and comforting her. "What are we going to do?" she asked tentatively. She felt Patsy's deep exhalation of breath on her neck as the other woman sighed and steeled herself for the answer.

"I don't know," Patsy admitted. "You know how private I am Deels. I can't bear the thought of being the topic of gossip," she continued. "And no matter what happens, we have to acknowledge that if we do," she swallowed nervously. "If we do act on our feelings, we have to be absolutely secretive about it." Patsy's heart was hammering in her chest. Just talking about something so illicit felt alien to her. But she also knew exactly how she felt about Delia. For years she had relied on objectivity and logic to get her through life, but Delia had ripped up her rule book. The blonde nurse simply couldn't stand the thought of Delia going out with anyone else, male or female. The thought that Delia might find another female suitor was especially hard to contemplate.

Delia didn't move, but instead forced herself to really listen to what Patsy was saying. Could she accept that Patsy would be aloof and stand-offish in public? Could she cope with having a covert relationship? Would she be able to mask her feelings for Patsy in public? It really wasn't as simple as just being careful. Rumours had already impacted on them.

Delia sighed. A more fundamental issue was that she had never had a relationship before. To embark on any relationship was nervy and exciting but there were so many additional pressures and considerations to take into account. She was going to have to consider Patsy's feelings and needs as well as her own. But wasn't that what it was all about? She squeezed Patsy's hand softly. "We need to talk about this properly Pats. Not just skirt around the issues. Can you do that?"

Patsy paused as she considered Delia's request. "Probably not easily," she admitted finally. "But I want to try," she continued honestly. She felt Delia nod. "We need to talk about this with clear heads. We've both got Saturday off. Shall we go out somewhere for the day?"

"Have you been looking at my duty schedule?" Delia couldn't help but smile slightly. It felt good that Patsy was still tracking her.

"Always," Patsy responded unabashedly.

"Okay. A day out it is." Delia glanced at her bedside table. "Pats, it's well past curfew. Are you sure you want to be here?" She didn't want the other woman to leave, but she knew too well Patsy's obsession with keeping to the rules.

"I'm not going anywhere yet," the taller nurse replied firmly. "I still need to know what on earth possessed you to go out with Dr. Taylor, of all people." She felt Delia stiffen and was immediately contrite. "Only if you want to talk about it, of course," she qualified hurriedly.

Delia sighed. "It didn't require any effort on my part," she admitted. "He's been asking me out for months. When you told me about the rumours, I thought it would be a good way of deflecting attention away from us." She paused for a second. "I thought it would stop all the speculation about me and my 'tendencies'. If that stopped, people wouldn't see anything wrong with us spending time together. It might let you..." Delia halted again, deciding that she didn't need to finish that train of thought. She sighed. "So the next time he asked me out, I said yes. I think it took him by surprise. But at least I didn't have to try and attract anyone else's attention."

Patsy made no effort to hide the worry from her voice. "Why didn't you tell me he was pestering you?"

Delia grinned. "After you verbally eviscerated him at the Ball I wasn't sure how you'd react if I told you he still hadn't got the message. I didn't want you to get into trouble on my account."

Patsy smiled ruefully. Delia was uncannily accurate in her assessment. It was highly likely she would have done something career-ending had she found out about the abhorrent man's behaviour. "Did he at least behave himself?" She asked lightly. Her smile dropped immediately when Delia didn't answer. "Delia?"

When Delia didn't answer again, Patsy sat up and gently pulled Delia over. "Deels, what happened?" She whispered.

Delia sighed shakily. "He was perfectly reasonable, if a bit insufferable at the pub," she replied eventually.

"Okay," acknowledged Patsy. "Then what happened?"

Delia turned her face away. "Oh he just thought he was owed something for his perseverance I suppose."

Patsy went cold. "Delia, did he hurt you?"

Delia shook her head. "Not really."

The answer sent a loud alarm bell off in Patsy's head and she found herself looking intently at Delia for any signs of unwanted attention. Her heart sank when she saw red marking around the younger woman's wrist. She ghosted her fingers over Delia's skin. "What happened?" She whispered.

Delia swallowed. "He tried to kiss me when we were walking back. He grabbed my arm and tried to pull me into an alleyway. He wasn't pleased when I made it clear that I didn't want to join him."

Patsy paused, trying to contain her fury. It would certainly not help the situation if she exploded in front of Delia. "Did he...?" She didn't know how to phrase it, and she certainly wasn't sure she wanted the answer.

Delia turned back and looked at Patsy, smiling grimly. "No. A knee in the groin put paid to that."

Patsy closed her eyes and sighed with relief. "Oh, thank god." She blew out another breath and looked at Delia steadily. "I can't believe you'd try and put up a smoke-screen in that way."

Delia shrugged, looking a bit embarrassed. "If it deflects unwanted attention away from you, then I'll do it again," she declared, although she really wasn't sure she could put herself through that again.

"No," Patsy demurred reflexively. "I'm not having you doing something so risky just because of my stupid insecurities. We'll find another way to stop the rumours," she decided firmly.

Delia grimaced. "I have a horrible feeling there will be worse rumours about me now."

"What do you mean?" Patsy was perplexed.

"I can't see Dr. Taylor accepting my rebuttal of his advances with good grace, frankly," Delia continued.

Patsy's features darkened. "Don't worry. I'll make sure that doesn't happen," she promised grimly.

"Pats, please don't get into trouble," Delia pleaded.

"I won't. But I know exactly how to ensure your reputation doesn't receive any damage from Dr. Taylor at least," Patsy declared.

Delia had no idea what Patsy would be able to do, but was grateful that she would even try. "Thank you."

The two women looked steadily at each other and the atmosphere thickened palpably. Patsy could feel her pulse quicken and she heard a hitch in Delia's breathing. It would be so easy to bend down and kiss the younger woman now, and she caught herself looking at Delia's lips.

Delia sat up, bringing her face much closer to Patsy's. She had seen the glance to her lips, and had looked at the blonde's in return. "Pats?" She murmured, locking eyes with her again.

"I'd better go," Patsy said suddenly, knowing that if they kissed now, she had no idea where it would stop. Delia had already gone through a roller-coaster of emotions today. Patsy smiled reassuringly at the younger woman, seeing the disappointed confusion on her face. "I think you've had enough emotional upheaval for one day," she continued, as she tucked stray strands of hair behind the brunette's ear. "And as you said, we need to talk about this properly."

Delia nodded, knowing that the older woman was right. "Are you on lates again tomorrow?" She asked tentatively.

"Yes, and we will be going to breakfast beforehand. I'll knock for you in the morning if that's okay."

Delia's smile broadened in relief. "That would be lovely," she agreed.

Patsy stood up and took a step away from the bed before hesitating. She turned back and placed a kiss on top of Delia's head. "Goodnight Deels," she whispered softly, displaying her trademark lop-sided smile as she turned away again.

Delia's eyes followed the taller woman out of the room before she laid back down on her bed, grinning madly. "Goodnight, Pats," she murmured.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

 

Patsy breathed a sigh of relief as the train began to pull out from the station. She and Delia had managed to secure a compartment to themselves but Patsy had been holding her breath and hoping that no one would join them. Now that they were on the move, they would be guaranteed privacy at least until the next stop.

The tall nurse jumped slightly when she felt Delia take her hand but forced herself not to instinctively pull away. She looked toward the brunette and gave her a lop-sided smile. "Are you sure you don't mind me dragging you to the seaside today?"

"Fish and chips, sticks of rock and bingo? What girl could refuse?" Delia replied impishly, her dimples on full display as she grinned.

Patsy returned the smile, absorbing Delia's infectious enthusiasm. "I'm surprised you didn't mention a kiss me quick hat," she teased.

Delia's face fell comically. "Oh, I was saving that as a surprise."

Patsy shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Fool."

Delia's smile returned immediately. "I love the seaside, Pats. That smell of ozone. The cries of seagulls."

"There are plenty of gulls on the Thames," Patsy interrupted.

"Yes, but they don't swoop down and nick your chips."

"Well in that case, I can't wait."

"I might even go for a paddle," Delia continued, unperturbed by the injects.

"You'll be on your own," Patsy demurred instantly.

"Oh, come on. Why not?"

Patsy looked at Delia primly. "Where do you think all those sea creatures go to the lavatory?"

Delia laughed outright. "I'm not sure there are that many live creatures in the sea around Clacton."

"All the more reason not to subject oneself to it then," Patsy rejoined.

"Don't worry, I won't make you come in with me." The Welsh woman paused just a beat. "I'll make you hold my stockings though."

Patsy grinned again and squeezed Delia's hand. "Maybe," she conceded.

Delia relaxed back into the bench seat. "So are you going to tell me what you did to keep Dr. Taylor so quiet?"

Patsy sat back and looked out of the window, her eyes rapidly tracking the scenery speeding by. "It was remarkably simple actually. It was just a question of using the right leverage."

Delia frowned, not following the blonde nurse. "I think I need a bit more than that Pats."

Patsy smiled. "After I left you, I set my alarm clock for an early start..."

...Patsy tapped on the door lightly and stepped back slightly, checking to make sure her clothes were hanging immaculately. She had got up in plenty of time to coif her hair and apply her make up. It might be only 0530 but the statuesque nurse was looking at her imposing best. There was a sound of shuffling and the door finally opened. Millicent James squinted into the light, blinking. "What on earth do you want at this time of the morning?" She asked, her voice croaky from lack of use.

"Good morning, Millicent." Patsy smiled insincerely but she kept her voice at a whisper. "I've got a bit of a task for you I'm afraid."

"Can't this wait? You know I've been on lates." Millicent was also whispering but her irritation was clear.

Patsy cocked her head to one side and widened her smile. "One has to make the most of one's opportunities, don't you think?"

"What on earth do you mean?"

Patsy took a slight step forward and used her foot to lever the door open. She glanced over Millicent's shoulder. "Good morning Robert," she whispered breezily.

Millicent grabbed the door to prevent it opening any further but any colour she had in her face drained away. A distinctly male voice grumbled from the general direction of her bed.

"How did you know?" The short nurse hissed.

"You haven't exactly been discreet, Millicent. Given that, I suspected that you would risk an overnight tryst. I do hope you have at least been sensible and used prophylactics." Patsy's delivery was unemotional, but she could not help but roll her eyes when she saw the embarrassed expression on Millicent's face. "Good lord, please tell me you have more sense than that?"

"We were careful," Millicent insisted.

Patsy shook her head and glanced at her watch. "Speaking of being careful, the night Matron is due on her final round." A predatory smile returned. "Gosh, wouldn't it be appalling if Dr. King was found inside the Nurses Home?" She used a pause to good effect. "For both of you."

"What do you want Patsy?" Millicent ground out, somehow still managing to keep her voice down.

Patsy could hear the rapid rustling of clothes and knew that Dr. King was hurriedly trying to dress. "Just a small favour actually. And the reality is, it's nothing you shouldn't already be doing."

Millicent frowned. "What?"

"As you know, Dr. Taylor took Delia out on a date last night. Let's just say he was not on his best behaviour and Delia let him know that."

Millicent looked down the corridor. Time was ticking. "What has this got to do with me?"

"Connections, Millicent. Connections. We both know how our class system works." Patsy smiled tightly. "You and Dr. King are connected. He is good friends with Dr. Taylor. Through you, I'm asking Dr. King to tell Dr. Taylor to ensure that he behaves in a gentlemanly way. It would be rather dishonourable to spread unfounded gossip, don't you think?"

"Ask him yourself," Millicent spat back.

"One has to capitalise on any advantage in order to improve one's chances of success. What I'm witnessing right now does give me a considerable advantage. I suspect that because you are aware of what I know, you will ensure that Dr. Taylor listens to you." She shrugged nonchalantly. "It would be a terrible shame if someone were to find out about your arrangement with Robert. Of course, no one will hear a thing as long as I hear nothing bad about Nurse Busby."

Millicent sighed and looked back anxiously at Robert, who was hopping as he tried to get his shoes on. He nodded at her rapidly. "We'll try," she offered.

"You'll make sure it happens," Patsy corrected firmly. "I have no objection with Dr. Taylor stating that they had nothing in common. That much is blatantly obvious anyway. However, if there is a single slur or suggestion that Delia took part in anything other than going for a drink with Dr. Taylor, I will assume that it came from you. If that happens, I will ensure that the Training School are fully aware of what you have been up to. And with whom." Patsy's delivery was icily clinical.

Dr. King barged past Millicent and stepped into the corridor. "We'll do it," he confirmed grimly. "To be honest, his behaviour has been atrocious. I'll speak to him." He twisted round and kissed Millicent tenderly on the lips. "Love you," he whispered softly. "Satisfied?" He asked Patsy as he turned back.

Up until this point, Patsy had been feeling perfectly justified in dictating terms with Millicent. The woman was a shrew who took delight in the misery of others. However it was clear that Dr. King was completely smitten by her. He was also honourable enough to recognise his friend's poor behaviour. Millicent must have hidden talents, she decided. "Yes," she confirmed.

The tall nurse nodded her head down the corridor, indicating that he should leave and stood with Nurse James as he hurried away.

"Why?" Millicent asked suddenly.

Patsy shrugged. "You have done nothing but make up gossip about Delia. You have also taken great delight in spreading other people's gossip too. She is actually a decent, hard-working nurse. For some unfathomable reason, you have never given her a chance. Further slurs on her character through unfounded gossip isn't fair and it needs to stop. It's bullying. I will not stand for it." She paused, knowing that Millicent would be trying to deflect the criticism away from herself. "Look at how Robert reacted. He's an honourable man. Aren't there similar principles here?"

Millicent looked mutinous for a moment but suddenly nodded. "That was your only favour," she warned.

Patsy smiled coldly. "Oh, I think we both know that's not true. But we might just be doing favours for each other because we want to do them next time." Her expression softened, and she canted her head slightly, silently suggesting a truce.

Millicent nodded hesitantly. The sound of footsteps at the end of the corridor caught both their attention. She glanced at Patsy before stepping back inside her room and closing the door silently. She had obviously had a lot of practice at that.

Patsy sighed grimly. There was more to Millicent than she had realised. She really ought to try and get to know the other student nurses better. But hopefully there would be no gossip and Delia would be left in peace...

 

"You never said a word at breakfast," Delia commented when Patsy finished relating the episode.

Patsy wrinkled her nose. "There wasn't much to say really. Besides, although I hoped it had worked, I didn't know. But I haven't heard a single whisper about you and Dr Taylor." The blonde nurse's expression darkened slightly. Fortunately, she hadn't seen the man since Delia's disastrous night out with him. She had no idea how she was going to behave around him.

"Well, whatever they said seems to have done the trick. He's completely left me alone," Delia confirmed. "Although it has only been a few days," she added gloomily.

"Given that he was pestering you every day, I think you should be okay," Patsy comforted, giving Delia's clasped hand a squeeze. She smiled reflexively when she felt it reciprocated. "So I know how organised you are Miss Busby. What have you planned for us?"

Patsy sat back and listened to Delia enthusiastically relate her agenda for the day. A wry smile graced her lips. The most important thing was to spend time with Delia. Whatever they did during that time was purely icing on the cake. Her attention returned fully to Delia when she heard the woman state quite clearly that the whole point of a day away from the London was for them to talk properly.

"You do know that I'm going to find that excruciatingly difficult, don't you?"

Delia nodded cheerfully. "You have told me once or twice," she rejoined indulgently. "But I'm going to find aspects of this incredibly hard too. One thing I have learned in life is that things are made easier by talking." She smirked as she saw Patsy roll her eyes. "Don't worry, Pats. I think we can both admit that I can talk enough for the pair of us."

Patsy grinned. Somehow, Delia had managed to reassure her and address some of her doubts without even trying. She wasn't sure how she had ever managed to function without her. She returned her attention to the scenery outside. "Do you mind if we save the big conversation for later? I'm feeling rather elated right now."

Delia smiled. "Of course. Do you want complete silence, or did you want me to fill the vacuum with my usual raconteur stuff?"

"Delia, I could listen to your voice all day," Patsy declared earnestly. "Feel free to fill the silence."

Delia's heart pounded when Patsy afforded her a full-blown smile. It was glorious to be looked at like that. Taking a steadying breath, she started recounting a tale of mischief from her childhood.

 


 

 

The two women spent most of the morning exploring the pier and enjoying the amusements. Delia was surprised to see Patsy become fixated with the ha'penny waterfalls, determined to see a cascade of coins tumble over the edge. The Welsh woman took great delight in teasing her when she came away empty handed. At lunchtime, they found a fish and chip shop, and decided to sit on the beach to eat. It was relatively empty so the women felt safe to talk unguardedly.

"Come on then, Deels. Did you want to start?" Patsy offered as she speared a chip with her wooden fork and chewed pensively.

Delia raised her eyebrows. "You don't need to look like you're facing the firing squad, you know."

Patsy sighed. "Sorry. I did warn you that this was going to be difficult for me."

Delia broke off a piece of cod. "I know. Shall we start with the easy stuff and see what happens?" She suggested.

"The easy stuff?" Patsy wasn't sure that any of this was going to be easy.

Delia nodded. "The very first question. Do you want this to go further than just friends?"

Patsy looked closely at Delia and smiled softly before nodding. "Yes. Yes, I do."

Delia beamed. "Oh that's a relief. My heart was pounding just then," she admitted.

"Mine still is," Patsy replied, her smile widening as she looked at the younger woman.

"So, what are our restrictions?" Delia prompted.

"Um, everything?" The blonde nurse suggested.

Delia shook her head in mild exasperation. "How about we break it all down into simple segments. 'Everything' is a bit too vague for me." She stiffened slightly, preparing herself for the next question. "Let's start with the big one. If we're caught, we could lose our jobs. Originally, you weren't prepared to risk that. What's changed?"

"I don't know." Patsy was typically defensive.

"No. I told you that if we were going to do this, we would really need to talk. I'm not accepting evasive answers from you." Delia was all business.

Patsy grimaced. She then looked at Delia sheepishly. "I realised that you were more important," she whispered.

Delia was speechless and stared at the taller woman, open-mouthed. She had certainly not expected that level of honesty so soon. She quickly recovered and grinned broadly. "Well, don't you know how to make a girl feel good?"

Patsy blushed furiously. "Deels!"

The Welsh woman relented quickly. To get Patsy talking at all was a win. It would be foolish to make her feel uncomfortable and make her retreat back into herself. "Well it's lovely to hear. But we need to be clear. Are we prepared to risk our careers?" She paused and looked at Patsy steadily. "I am," she declared firmly.

Patsy nodded. "Me too." She smiled a half-smile and Delia thought her heart would burst.

"Well then. We're making progress. What's next?" Delia was conscious that she had been leading the conversation so far, and she needed Patsy to be completely involved with it.

"We need to set the 'rules of engagement' as it were."

Delia resisted the urge to tease the blonde and instead simply built on the premise. "Go on."

"Obviously one must keep it secret. That means no public displays of affection, no terms of endearment..."

"Then Pats and Deels will have to do," Delia interrupted, grinning again.

Patsy smiled affectionately at the brunette. "I quite like the thought that Deels will forever more mean darling," she declared.

Delia laughed. "Thank you. I will not be telling you what Pats stands for though. I think you need to have an air of mystery to your pet name."

Patsy narrowed her eyes. "So you're saying that it will be a name for all things?"

"You'll have to wait and see," Delia teased lightly.

Patsy's look turned slightly more serious. "Nothing we do or say can give us away in public. Are you going to be able to do that?"

Delia shrugged. "To be honest, I don't know." She looked down at her forgotten lunch. "Patsy, I've not done this before," she hedged. "I haven't even had a boyfriend. To have all the secrecy on top of it." She pulled a face. "I really like the feelings I have when I'm around you. I don't know if I'm going to be able to hide that," she said candidly.

Patsy nodded. "They do say that nothing worth having is ever easy. We will both have to find a way through this. I'm not a complete novice, and I am familiar with putting up defences." She sighed. "We have to be patient with each other, and acknowledge how difficult it will be, especially when we are out with others."

The brunette narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean, you're not a complete novice?" She asked, her lips twitching into a smirk when she saw Patsy blush furiously.

"Er," the older woman faltered immediately before wincing. "I was at boarding school," she pointed out.

"Are you telling me boarding school isn't like Malory Towers?" Delia couldn't resist the teasing.

Patsy narrowed her eyes, deciding that she needed to take the upper hand. "Do you really want to know?"

Delia's grin fell away instantly and she cocked her head slightly as she thought about the question. "No, I don't think I do," she decided.

Patsy smiled kindly. "Deels, we'll work our way through things together. But we have to be smart and plan. It's not just a case of being distant in public. There was already gossip about how much time we were spending together."

"I've been doing a bit of research into that and may have come up with at least one thing that will help with that," Delia replied enigmatically.

"Please tell me you're not going out with any more men," Patsy begged seriously.

Delia shuddered. "I don't think I could, Pats." She pulled a face as she thought about her disastrous evening. "Could you go out with a man?" She asked curiously.

"It would have to be for a very good reason," Patsy hedged. Delia sensed there might be more to that particular topic but now was not the time to investigate. "Talking of dates. Are we going to be able to do something like that?"

"Are you asking me out Miss Busby?"

"I thought we had already fully established that."

Patsy grinned. "A conventional date is out of the question but I'm sure we can fashion our own sort of arrangement, don't you?"

Delia returned the smile and nodded. "Yes, I think we can." She glanced towards the sea, and sighed. "I'm a bit talked out now," she declared. "Do you mind if we take a break?"

Patsy laughed. "Absolutely not."

"Good. It's time for a paddle. Are you coming?"

"Definitely not. I will be quite happy sitting here, enjoying a cigarette, thank you very much."

"You don't know what you're missing," Delia told her as she reached up under her dress to release her stockings. She grinned impishly when she heard Patsy's breath catch. "Something on your mind?"

"You are a terrible flirt, Delia."

"I know. And I'm making the most of it right now before I have to return to being polite and formal in your presence."

Patsy shook her head in amusement. "I am not complaining," she teased back, enjoying the freedom they had. She was delighted that she managed to get Delia to blush in return.

When Delia returned from the water's edge, the two women went to the pier for bingo and tea. Patsy could not understand why Delia was so insistent on playing, and after her losses in the arcade, had no expectations. It was a welcome surprise when she won on more than one occasion.

Eventually, as the evening drew in and the light failed, the two women headed back to the train station in order to return back to the Nurses Home.

There was an odd awkwardness as the two women ended up in Patsy's room. After the freedom to openly discuss starting something together, the familiar surroundings pulled them rudely back into reality. Patsy felt strangely paralysed again, and it was frustrating given how much they had talked. "Night cap?" She offered.

"No," Delia replied softly.

Patsy looked at the shorter woman questioningly. She was certain that Delia would want to extend the day for as long as possible. "No?"

Delia shook her head as she closed the distance between them and reached up to caress the blonde woman's cheek. "It's not a night cap I need right now," she whispered. She leaned up and kissed Patsy's lips softly.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Patsy's eyes snapped shut the second Delia's lips touched her own and she allowed herself to revel in the sensation. Her heart was pounding and she brought a hand up to cup Delia's cheek in a mirror of the younger woman. She used the touch to bring them closer and she increased the pressure. Delia may have initiated the kiss, but Patsy quickly took control, opening her lips and teasing Delia with light nips and touches with her tongue. As Delia opened her mouth to reciprocate, Patsy continued with her advantage and deepened the kiss. She grinned briefly as she felt Delia's arms suddenly wrap around her. She did the same and they both pulled each other closer together.

The blonde nurse pushed herself into Delia, revelling in the sensation of Delia's body pressing into her. The whole experience was threatening to overwhelm her, and she could feel her legs tremble. Instinctively, she tried to manoeuvre them both towards the wall, in the hope that leaning against something might just stop her from collapsing outright. Delia seemed to get the hint and allowed herself to be guided.

Unfortunately, Patsy's navigation was slightly off and she ended up slamming Delia into the door, producing a loud vibrating shudder. The women broke the kiss immediately, but neither removed their arms from each other.

As one, they turned their heads toward the door, listening for any signs that someone was investigating the noise. It was difficult to hear anything over their rapid, gasping breaths.

Delia was reeling. She had never experienced a sensation like kissing Patsy before. Her heart was hammering and her head was spinning. She quite frankly couldn't care less who came up the corridor right now. The only partially coherent thought she was hanging onto was how wrong she had been to put scorn on all the romantic notions she had seen at the cinema. It had always felt like a Hollywood trope. It might not exactly be 'boy meets girl', but she knew she would never again be dismissive of the young couple being portrayed as dizzily in love.

She leaned back and closed her eyes, willing herself to calm down and she forced herself to take a deep, steadying breath.

"Deels? Are you alright?" Patsy's concern was evident even though her voice was no louder than a whisper.

Delia opened her eyes to see Patsy staring at her. Her face was only a few inches away and Delia's breath caught again. Suddenly she unwrapped an arm and slapped the taller woman on her shoulder. "I can't believe you made me wait so long for that!"

Patsy's initial indignant surprise transformed into instant amusement and she laughed loudly, partially in relief, and partially in delight at the words.

"Shhhhh!" Delia tried to quieten the older woman slightly but her plea was shaky with contained laughter. The pair of them began a battle of trying to suppress their giggles.

Satisfied that they had not attracted any unwanted attention, Patsy pulled Delia away from the door and walked backwards towards her bed. She sat down rather ungracefully as she felt the back of her knees hit, and took Delia with her. Somehow she managed to twist enough so that they both ended up sitting on the bed. For a few more minutes, the pair of them allowed the laughter out quietly, each of them setting the other off with barely suppressed giggles. It dissipated the tension that had been building between them and eventually they relaxed and calmed a little. Patsy was relieved. If she was honest with herself, now that she had kissed Delia, she was also annoyed that she had denied this happening for so long. She squeezed her love's hand lightly before getting up again.

Delia frowned as she watched Patsy pluck a book from her desk and wedge it under the crack of the door. "You've done that before," she accused, glad that she had got her voice back under control.

"At boarding school," Patsy confirmed. "It was the only way one could get any privacy at all."

"You had your own room at boarding school?"

"Once I was in sixth form, yes. It did make some things a little easier." She waggled her eyebrows playfully.

Delia grinned. She was adoring this teasing side of Patsy. "How come you haven't told me about this before?"

"One needs to keep certain secrets," Patsy replied primly, but the words were somewhat undermined by the expansive smile she displayed.

Delia leaned back on her hands. "I have ways and means of getting secrets out of people," she stated cockily.

Patsy raised one eyebrow. "I don't doubt that for a second, Delia Busby. In the meantime however, would now be a good time for a night cap?" As much as she was enjoying the repartee, Patsy needed a few moments to steady her nerves and thoughts.

Delia nodded. "Yes please." The brunette was just as grateful for the distraction. The whole day had consisted of emotional conversations. Now, the sensation overload she had just experienced by kissing Patsy had wrung out her emotions again. Delia could do with a little less intensity.

Patsy waved her glass at Delia after retrieving the whiskey from its hiding place. "Do you mind sharing a glass, or did you want to go and get yours?"

"Sharing is just fine," Delia agreed. She had no inclination to go anywhere just yet and she lazily watched the tall nurse pour a very healthy measure of amber fluid. "Are you planning on getting me drunk?" She asked.

Patsy squinted at the glass before casting a dismissive glance at Delia. "We're sharing." She paused for just long enough. "Besides, I don't plan on getting up for a while once I sit down." With that she moved toward the bed, deliberately swaying her hips just a little more provocatively than usual.

Delia's eyes widened and she felt herself blush again. Patsy was also clearly quite the flirt when she wanted to be, and Delia loved it.

Patsy made sure not to sit too close to Delia. She could see the affect she was having on the brunette and she was enjoying the back and forth they were sharing. Rather unusually, she took a large gulp of the whiskey before handing the glass to Delia, making sure that she brushed Delia's fingers with her own.

Delia shot Patsy a glance when she felt the caress. "Are you deliberately trying to tease me?" She asked, taking a sip.

"Yes, I rather think I am," the blonde admitted.

Delia grinned again. "What happened to 'we must be cautious at all costs'?"

Patsy's grin faded just slightly. "It's still there sadly. And now more than ever we'll have to be careful about how we interact in front of others." She sighed. "This really is going to be terribly complicated and hard. Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?"

Delia took another sip of whiskey before placing the tumbler on the nightstand. "After that kiss?" She shook her head. "I don't have a choice," she whispered, leaning forward and capturing Patsy's lips with her own again.

 


 

 

After the roller coaster of emotions on Saturday, Patsy and Delia returned to work. At first they both over-compensated and it was difficult to reconcile the behaviour of the weekend with the stiff interactions they displayed on the ward. Delia tried to relax a bit and emulate what they did when they really were only just friends. Patsy was having none of it. Having already had to deal with rumours, she was determined not to have a repeat of the situation. The aloofness was on show whenever there was any chance of being observed. Patsy made it quite clear that Delia was not to show any sort of display of affection. That meant no touching as well as no terms of endearment.

Delia found it intensely frustrating and restrictive but she could not complain. The pair had discussed this and Patsy was adamant that it was vital to maintain a facade if they were not to be caught. Delia looked on ruefully as other nurses happily called each other 'darling' or looped their arms together when they went out. It wouldn't be out of the ordinary if she and Patsy were to do the same. Patsy was also highly cautious whenever they spent time together in each other's room. Curfews were strictly adhered to and Patsy would not enter Delia's room if there was someone who might observe her.

In the privacy of their rooms however, the restrictions were reduced and they spent long hours wrapped in each other's arms, kissing and lightly exploring skin that was gradually exposed. Both women had selected a book to ruin by wedging it under the door. It wasn't perfect but it would at least ensure no-one could walk in on anything that should not be seen. Even so, Patsy was obsessive in guarding against discovery. Their kissing and exploring had to be done almost in silence.

Delia struggled with it, but knew that Patsy was right to exercise such restraint. She also knew that she would put up with any conditions if it meant that they could be together. The Welsh woman was sure that Patsy would relax a little if they could add to the facade and deflect attention away from them spending time together. She continued with her research to find another plausible smokescreen to divert attention away her apparent lack of interest in dating men.

One Tuesday evening, as Patsy was strolling back to the Nurses Home after her late shift, she recognised a figure walking along the road from the opposite direction. She frowned as she took note of what the woman was wearing. "St John Ambulance? When did you sign up for them?"

Delia smiled. "That was the research I was telling you about. I was a cadet in Wales. I thought that now I was nursing I might take it up again. They're always in need of volunteers, and it gets me out every Tuesday evening if I'm not working."

"Isn't that like a busman's holiday?" Patsy asked, not sure if she could spend her free time doing what she already did for a living.

"Some of it is," the brunette agreed. "Mostly it's volunteers hanging on my every word when I talk to them about patients. But I do get to go out on the ambulance as a volunteer."

Patsy was almost jealous. Now that they had decided to deepen their relationship, she wanted every spare moment of Delia's time. However, it was quite an ingenious idea and would certainly put paid to any suggestion that the pair were indeed only spending time in each other's company. "You never told me you were in the Cadets," Patsy complained good-naturedly as they made their way upstairs.

Delia shrugged. "I wasn't actually very good to be honest. I was always up to mischief."

Patsy arched an eyebrow. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"

"I wanted to be out and about adventuring. They wouldn't let me join the scouts so I had to compromise with St John."

"No being a Brownie for you then?" Patsy couldn't help but tease.

Delia stuck out her tongue. "The closest Brownie pack was far too far away from the village for me to go to." She reflected on her youth for a moment. "It's funny. I know I was always being naughty at Cadets, but I can't knock it. It really got me interested in nursing. The Nursing Superintendent was a nurse during the Great War. She knew Edith Cavell." Delia's voice took on a tone of awe.

Delia bumped open her door. "Coming in?" She offered.

Patsy took a glance down the corridor and Delia rolled her eyes at the caution.

The tall blonde stepped past Delia and sat down. "You're getting too casual," she admonished.

"Not at all," Delia disputed, taking off her tricorn hat and placing it in the top of the wardrobe. "I just took note of our surroundings as we walked along." She turned round and looked at Patsy. "We don't have to be quite so covert about it."

"Yes, we do."

"Patsy, lots of girls spend time in their friends' rooms. It's not a crime."

Patsy grabbed the 'door book', as they had dubbed it, and wedged it firmly in place with her foot. She turned round and approached Delia, a predatory look on her face. "It's not a crime to talk," she agreed as she wrapped her arms round Delia's waist and pulled her close. "But I have no intention of just talking," she continued in a whisper, before leaning in to kiss the shorter woman.

After a few more weeks, the ward placements finished and the student nurses were back in the classroom again. Patsy found it interesting to note how much more confident all the young women were. After significant exposure to patients, and the rigours of the ward pecking order, most were now beginning to feel that they were no longer pretending to be nurses and had earned the right to wear the uniform. Some of the women had blossomed on the wards, naturally gifted at building a rapport with both patients and staff. For others, it was still a struggle, but they had begun to develop coping mechanisms and techniques for overcoming their self-doubt.

This re-evaluation of skill and confidence affected the internal cliques within the intake. Some of the girls that had been painfully shy initially, now exuded confidence because of their placement success and were clearly elevated in status. The net effect was that the division between the cliques was far less pronounced and they all mingled together socially with greater ease.

The upside to this was that both Patsy and Delia were invited out to the various social functions organised. The downside was that this new found socialising ate into their personal time together. Fortunately, most of the students still decided to go home every weekend. Delia maintained her stance of not going home during class. No one could read anything sinister into that as she had done that from the start of training. This allowed the women to plan trips and days out in relative freedom. Delia had planned a trip to the pictures next week. Patsy had smiled indulgently as the Welsh woman waxed lyrical on the merits of the film she had chosen. She had been looking forward to seeing it for months. Patsy would have watched a blank screen for 90 minutes as long as she got to sit next to Delia and share a bag of sweets with her while they did. When Delia challenged Patsy on her apparent lack of enthusiasm, Patsy simply shrugged and then proposed they get an early dinner before the start of the film and make a proper evening of it. From the look on Delia's face, Patsy had suggested the right thing and they had both grinned madly at each other, realising that this could be considered their first proper date.

In the meantime, Patsy and Delia found themselves in the local pub on a Wednesday evening of all nights. The somewhat tenuous excuse was that they had suffered a whole day's lectures on the nervous system. The professor had been turgid to say the least and the whole lecture hall had zoned out. Once released for the day, the students felt compelled to commiserate with each other, realising that they would have to go through and learn the information themselves. One of the nurses suggested that they should go and get a drink to celebrate the mere fact that they had all managed not to be bored to death. After quickly getting changed, the pub was inundated with student nurses who rapidly monopolised the Snug. Patsy and Delia sat at a small round table with two of their colleagues.

"Did you understand any of that?" Mavis whined plaintively.

"Not really. Professor Barker was quite stunningly dull," Patsy replied, taking a drag of her cigarette.

"I don't know why we need to know all that anyway. We're nurses, not doctors," Jean grumbled.

"Aren't you interested? It's fascinating. Especially the brain. There's so much we don't know about it." Delia was the only one in the group who showed even a modicum of enthusiasm. "This fragile lump of blancmange that houses our thoughts and emotions. Our memories. I could study this forever."

"We wouldn't expect anything less," Mavis teased, but there was no maliciousness in her tone. The rest of the class seemed to have resigned themselves to conceding that Delia would be the shining light of their group. "Well, I shall just wait for you to go through it all again and then you can explain it to us," she declared.

Patsy had to damp down a proud smile and masked it by finishing her drink. She adored it when others recognised Delia's innate ability.

Delia shrugged. "I can't promise miracles but I'm happy to help." She tossed back the last of her drink. "Anyone up for one more?" She offered generously.

With nods all round, Delia collected the glasses and made her way to the bar.

"What are you up to next Friday night, Patsy?" Jean asked suddenly, once Delia was out of earshot.

Patsy's brain stopped. In all their preparations for keeping things secret, Patsy had not once considered having to cover up anything at the weekend. Everyone else went home. There was no need for deception as they would be left in peace. Unable to come up with anything plausible, Patsy fell back on something she knew instinctively wasn't going to be good enough. "Nothing, I don't think," she replied ungrammatically.

"Thank goodness. Mavis and I are going dancing with Dr. Edwards and Dr. Keene. But they asked us to find someone for one of their friends. Would you mind?"

Patsy pulled a face as her mind raced. "I'm not sure." She glanced over to where Delia was standing at the bar. "I think Delia mentioned something about the pictures," she tried vaguely.

"Oh, come on. You can go to the pictures any time. When was the last time you went dancing?"

"The Winter Ball," Patsy answered truthfully. "But I can't. We're not allowed to fraternise with the doctors." Internally, she sighed with relief at having found an excuse.

Mavis laughed. "Oh, no one pays any attention to that. But technically, you wouldn't be fraternising anyway. Their friend isn't a doctor. He's studying to be a lawyer."

"Please Patsy. You'd help us out of a fix. And it would be fun," Jean wheedled.

"What about Delia? It would hardly be fair of me to leave her in the lurch." Patsy tried a different tack.

"But they can't have been firm plans. You would have said so," Mavis pointed out. She frowned. "Did you want us to ask them to find another chap for Delia? That way she could come along too."

Patsy controlled the expression on her face with extreme difficulty. Things were rapidly spiralling out of control. She had no intention of going out and watching a strange man fawn over Delia, and she was certain Delia would feel the same. The two women were also now likely to pounce on Delia when she got back to the table. Patsy's heart sank, wondering what on earth Delia would say. "Wouldn't it be easier to find another girl to go with you?"

"Not on a Friday, Patsy," Jean replied. "Everyone else goes home. This will be the first weekend I've spent here when I haven't been working," she continued. A wicked smile crossed her face and it was clear that she had thought about this for some time and had a very specific set of plans for the weekend.

"What do you say, Patsy? It would help us out tremendously." Mavis was practically begging.

Patsy was distracted from answering as Delia returned and placed a tray of drinks on the table. She looked at the Welsh woman worriedly, seeing Delia frown as she caught the tension radiating from her.

"Everything alright?" The brunette asked.

Mavis jumped in quickly. "Delia, what are you up to next Friday night?"

Delia blinked at the sudden change in conversation and shrugged slightly. "I've volunteered to cover an ambulance," she told them blithely.

Mentally, Patsy groaned. Of course, Delia would have prepared an excuse. And it was an ingenious one. If anyone did happen to see them out, Delia could simply say that her services were no longer required and so changed her plans.

"There you go, Patsy. Problem solved," Jean declared triumphantly.

"What problem?" Delia asked the question brightly enough, but Patsy could clearly hear the tautness in her voice.

"We're off out dancing next Friday and we needed a third girl. Patsy didn't want to leave you in the lurch, so to speak, but as you're already otherwise engaged, it means she has no excuse not to put her dancing shoes on." Mavis was positively giddy with excitement.

Delia shot Patsy a look of hurt surprise but quickly regained control of her features before smiling tightly. "How lovely for you. Think of me as you're spinning round the dance floor while I'm out in the cold dark night."

Two of her three companions laughed heartily. Patsy wanted the ground to swallow her up. She had been so insistent with Delia that they plan everything in order that they didn't get caught out. Because of her own lack of preparation she had just blown their first proper date. How on earth was she going to make this up to her?

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Delia had managed to keep up a pleasant enough front on the walk back from the pub, but the moment Jean and Mavis headed down a different corridor, the Welsh woman stopped talking. Patsy was determined not to part company with Delia without at least trying to do something about her blunder. "Are you coming in for a nightcap?"

"Are you sure it's safe? It's very close to curfew." Delia was unable to keep the bitter tone from her voice.

Patsy couldn't blame her; this problem sat firmly with her. "Please?" She asked softly.

Delia nodded tersely. "I'll get my glass," she stated, ducking into her own room.

Patsy sighed as she took off her jacket before retrieving the gin and tonic from its hiding place in the wardrobe. She had just kicked off her shoes when her door opened again and Delia entered, glass in hand.

"Large or small?" Patsy asked as she unscrewed the bottle.

"What do you think?"

Patsy closed her eyes for a few seconds before pouring two very healthy measures. "Well, the least I can do is be hungover with you tomorrow in class," she commented.

"Yes, that's the least you can do." Delia sat cross-legged at the bottom of Patsy's bed and held out her hand for her drink.

Patsy sat at the top of her bed and mirrored Delia's pose. "Delia, I'm so sorry," she began. "My mind just went blank."

"What happened to not leaving anything to chance? Why wouldn't you have thought about excuses at the weekend?" Delia kept her voice low but made no attempt to hide how annoyed she was.

"Because I truly didn't think we would have to worry about any classmates staying at the weekend." Patsy looked down at her drink. "I am sorry, Deels. I'm sure we can see the film next week," she offered, before taking a large draught.

"Patsy, it was our first date." Delia was frustrated and hurt. "It wasn't about the film. It was about the evening."

Patsy nodded, feeling tears prick her eyes. "I know," she replied. "I promise I'll find a way to make this up to you," she continued determinedly.

"Patsy, are you really sure you want to do this? I don't want to put pressure on you if you're uncomfortable..."

Patsy's eyes shot up and she looked at Delia incredulously. "No! Delia, please. Of course I want to do this. Why on earth would you think that I don't?"

Delia shrugged, feeling very vulnerable all of a sudden. "You made such a big deal about keeping everything secret and having to plan. And then..." She shrugged again, trailing off and taking a sip of her drink dejectedly.

Patsy put her glass on the nightstand and scooted closer to Delia, taking her free hand in both of hers. "Delia, I truly am sorry, but it was just a stupid oversight on my part. It won't happen again. I promise that you'll get your first date." She gave a half smile. "It might just take a fraction longer than we expected."

Delia threw her arms around the older woman and hugged her tightly, sighing with relief as she felt Patsy reciprocate. The dangerous thought that perhaps Patsy had deliberately sabotaged their plans had crossed her mind, and it had really frightened her. Patsy's sincerity was obvious though. It could be easy to stay upset and hold a grudge about this, but Delia always thought doing that never really solved anything.

Patsy clung to Delia desperately. The very thought that Delia might think that she didn't want to be with her had shaken her to the core. She was determined to make it up to her somehow.

Eventually, they relaxed their embrace and sat back. Patsy caressed Delia's cheek adoringly before placing a chaste kiss on her lips. "Delia, I want to be with you."

Delia nodded, swallowing down her emotions before leaning in to kiss Patsy again.

----

Patsy was applying her lipstick when there was a very business-like knock at the door. She frowned. "Come in," she called.

Delia entered quickly, clad in her St John Uniform. "I just thought I'd pop in and wish you luck for tonight." She grinned cheekily as Patsy groaned before glancing round to make sure the door was shut. "Well, actually, what I wanted to do was see what you were wearing tonight so I can at least have some nice, warm thoughts while I'm out in the cold night." She winked cheekily.

"Delia, you are incorrigible," Patsy mock-scolded but she couldn't help but smile. "However, perhaps I should also say that you look quite fetching in your uniform."

Delia laughed. "I'd better go or I'll be late. Honestly, Pats. Try and enjoy the evening. You haven't been dancing in ages. You might as well make the most of it."

Patsy closed the distance between them and looped her arms around Delia's waist. "I am going to hate every second because I know I could have been spending the evening with you." She leaned down and they kissed languidly. When they broke apart, the tall nurse used a thumb to wipe the lipstick away from Delia's lips. "This isn't quite your shade, Deels."

Delia grinned. "I think you probably need to reapply your lipstick too. You haven't got much left." She turned and checked the mirror quickly to ensure that there was no evidence of their embrace. "Don't wait up, Pats. I probably won't finish until 1am."

"One in the morning? How will you get in? That's well past curfew."

"Easy. I spoke with Matron once I arranged my shift. She rang the Division Superintendent who confirmed what I was doing and I was handed a key to the front door." Delia nodded at the simplicity of the arrangement.

"I'm surprised you haven't had a spare cut," Patsy mused with a grin.

"Who says I haven't?" The shorter woman retorted. She smiled and grabbed her handbag from where it had fallen on the floor. "Have a tango for me," she called as she left.

Patsy smiled at the closed door for long moments before sighing. Her mood fell instantly as she returned to the mirror in order to repair her make-up and set her hair. A short while later there was another knock at the door.

Mavis and Jean stood giggling outside and Patsy's mood darkened further. She managed to school her features into an impassive mask and allowed her fellow student nurses to lead her out of the Nurses Home.

The men were waiting for them outside the dance hall. As she was introduced to her date, Roger grabbed her by the elbow and began to push her forward and into the hall. "I am capable of walking by myself," she snapped, removing her arm smartly.

"Sorry," Roger replied. He looked at her as they handed their overcoats over to the cloakroom attendant. "Aren't you a bit old to be a student nurse?"

Patsy straightened and looked at him coldly. "Are you this tactful with all the women you date?"

Roger frowned. "I'm merely asking a question. You're definitely older than the other girls." Patsy rolled her eyes as they headed into the hall. "I'm surprised you're not already married, or at least courting," he continued unabashed.

Patsy's eyes widened and she came to a stop before they got to the table. "Goodness me, when did you finish Charm School?" She asked pointedly.

"I didn't," Roger replied, perplexed.

"Obviously," Patsy shot back, rolling her eyes as she started walking again. She placed her bag down at the foot of the table and sat down before looking expectantly at the trainee lawyer.

"Oh. Er... Would you like a drink?" Roger belatedly remembered his manners.

"Large vodka and tonic please," Patsy requested, her tone brooking no argument.

Roger was slightly taken aback but dutifully went to the bar. The others had immediately headed to the dance floor. Patsy sighed and retrieved her cigarettes from her bag, hoping that she had enough to last the evening.

Patsy watched Mavis and Jean dance with their respective dates and exhaled a long cloud of smoke. It was something she would never be able to do with Delia, but she smiled as she tried to imagine how much fun it would be to twirl Delia round the dance floor. She caught sight of Roger returning and her smile fell. The man had an untidy air to him, even though he wore a decent suit. Patsy had the feeling that he could be given a made-to-measure Savile Row suit and he would still look like he had slept in it.

"I didn't realise you smoked," the dark-haired man commented as he sat down beside her, putting the drinks on the table.

"It's one of the pleasures I have in life," Patsy retorted sharply. She just about stopped herself from pulling another face. Roger was obviously a talker. She was not in the mood.

"I always find women smoking slightly vulgar," he continued.

Patsy looked at him for a moment, wondering if he was actually listening to what he was saying. "Oh dear," she replied, taking a deep lungful and then blowing a smoke-ring at him. She was secretly delighted; she hadn't tried to do a smoke-ring since sixth form. It was a perfect 'o' shape. Patsy raised an eyebrow at him, daring him to comment but he looked away and took a sip of his own drink.

For a moment, she thought he might take the hint and leave her alone, but he tried again. "So why are you training to be a nurse? It's not as if you'll do it for long."

"What do you mean?" Patsy was genuinely perplexed.

"Well, once you get married, you'll give it up and have children. Why bother with working now?"

Patsy smiled tightly. "I want to help people," she managed, deciding that she ought to at least try and remain civil.

"Oh well, I suppose there is that. We do need girls to keep the patients comfortable I suppose."

"Yes, we do." Patsy couldn't keep her tone from being sardonic and she blew another smoke-ring. She'd forgotten how satisfying they were to do.

Roger grimaced. "It does seem a waste of time though. I sometimes wonder why girls go to school at all."

"Good grief, what century are you living in?" Patsy couldn't help herself.

"Well, name one woman who's made a serious contribution to society," Roger retorted. "And I don't mean Florence Nightingale, she was just another nurse."

Patsy bristled. "She wasn't just another nurse. She was a brilliant reformer and mathematician. She invented the pie chart, and generated massive social reform. But let's not talk about Florence Nightingale. How about Ada Lovelace?" She paused, waiting to see any spark of recognition. "No? Another brilliant mathematician who designed the computer. What about Marie Curie? The only person, man or woman, to receive the Nobel Prize for science in two different fields. I'm sure you could agree that they have made a contribution to society." Patsy smiled savagely.

Roger shifted uncomfortably but wasn't prepared to give up his point. "Well, that's just a few."

"You asked for one," Patsy retorted sharply. "Would you like me to go on?"

Roger looked at her before downing his drink. "Another?" He asked blandly.

Patsy tried to calm down as Roger disappeared hurriedly. She knew she was being petulant and dismissive but she couldn't help it. She simply did not want to be here. She thought about Delia and wondered how her evening was going. The tall nurse sighed. She needed to make up for her colossal mistake and really show Delia that she wanted them to be together. The obvious thing to do was to arrange a surprise date. The trick would be trying to organise something where they could actually treat it like a date rather than simply sharing an experience as friends. Patsy took another drag of her cigarette as she caught sight of Roger returning and smiled tightly when he placed a drink in front of her. "Thank you," she managed politely.

Roger made no attempt to sit down. "Listen. You're clearly not enjoying my company and I can't say I'm having a splendid time either. Would it be awfully rude of me if I just leave you to your own devices and go and chat to that girl at the bar?"

Patsy raised her eyebrows. Roger had more of a backbone than she had given him credit for. She glanced over to where a woman was watching nervously. "Did you tell her that you came here with me?" She asked.

"Of course. I'm not a cad." Roger sounded affronted.

Patsy looked at him and nodded. "I can't say I've been the model of good company either," she admitted. "I am more than happy to sit here. It was very nice of you to ask."

Roger nodded curtly. "Can I just ask, why did you agree to come out if you didn't want to?"

Patsy looked over to where Mavis and Jean were dancing. "I got cornered into it and felt obliged to help out my friends. I think perhaps I should have been braver and insisted they find someone else." She nodded to where the woman stood. "Go and attend to your new friend. There's no point us all having a bad evening."

Roger looked relieved as he left and Patsy took a sip from the drink he had generously left her. At least she could now try and think of something to do for Delia without being needlessly distracted by having to converse with him.

A few hours later and after more cigarettes than Patsy cared to count, she insisted to the others that they return to the Nurses Home in order to make curfew. Mavis and Jean readily agreed and the tall blonde nurse couldn't help but wonder what plans they had already put in place to spirit their doctors inside undetected. Fortunately, the other nurses lived in another part of the building, so Patsy returned to her room alone.

As Patsy passed, she couldn't help but knock on Delia's door. There was no answer and she tried the door quietly. The room was empty. Delia must be having a busy night on the ambulance, Patsy mused.

Patsy went back to her own room and changed into her pyjamas. She wanted to wait up for Delia to return, even though Delia had told her not to. It wasn't simply guilt. She had genuinely missed her company this evening and she wanted to find out how her shift on the ambulance had gone. Despite her best intentions however, Patsy fell asleep some time after midnight, and did not hear Delia come back.

The tall nurse cursed when she woke up some hours later. She raised an eyebrow when she noticed the time. It was after 8 o'clock. Rubbing her face wearily, she levered herself out of bed and left her room. Through habit, she glanced down the corridor to make sure she was unobserved before opening the door to Delia's room quietly. Patsy couldn't help but smile fondly when she saw the brunette sprawled on top of her bed, fast asleep. She was still in her uniform, although her hat had been placed on the desk. She must have collapsed onto the bed, exhausted.

Patsy sighed. She really needed to do something to make it up to Delia. She nodded to herself when an idea came to her. The blonde closed the door silently, leaving her love to sleep undisturbed.

--

Delia stirred and stretched, taking a moment to come to. She rubbed her face and took a deep breath, smiling as she registered the aroma of coffee and bacon. Her eyes opened and she looked towards the door, grinning. "Have you brought me breakfast in bed?" She asked, waggling her eyebrows.

Patsy returned the smile, shaking her head at Delia's impishness. "Given the time, a more accurate description might be brunch," she suggested, making her way over to the bed carefully. In one hand she held two large steaming white mugs. In the other, were two plates, stacked on top of each other. Both plates carried a large sandwich with rashers of bacon poking out the sides. She rested the mugs on the nightstand and waited for Delia to sit up before perching on the edge of the bed and passing her a plate. "One bacon sandwich with tomato sauce, Miss Busby."

Delia grabbed the plate eagerly. "Pats, you're an absolute life-saver. What a wonderful way to start the day." She picked up one half of the sandwich and took a large bite.

Patsy smiled as she tucked into her own sandwich. "I think it was the least I could do given the circumstances," she replied.

Delia ignored the comment and instead looked at the two coffee mugs. She selected the lighter looking brew. "Where on earth did you get proper mugs and plates from?" She asked.

Patsy grinned. "That was surprisingly easy. Once I decided that you deserved breakfast, I went to the cafe and asked if I could have some bacon sandwiches to take away. When Benny found out that breakfast was for you, he insisted on proper plates and mugs." She took a sip of her own coffee before continuing. "I think he has a crush on you."

Delia laughed. "What makes you say that?"

"When I asked about taking the crockery back, he said there was no rush, but it would be lovely if you could return it." Patsy couldn't keep the teasing tone from her voice.

Delia blushed. "Well, he will be sadly disappointed. I only have eyes for you."

"I should hope so," Patsy responded tartly.

"Although, if he keeps making me bacon sandwiches as good as this, I may be persuaded," the Welsh woman continued, winking.

"Brat," Patsy accused, smirking as she continued eating her sandwich. "Did you know he calls you 'Taffy'?"

Delia nodded. "Oh yes. You should have seen his face when I started speaking Welsh to him."

"Frightened?"

Delia paused for a moment. "No. Now I think about it, he looked entranced. I think my accent is my secret weapon."

"It's certainly one of them," Patsy agreed, blushing when Delia shot her an amused look. "Well, Benny and I love it. We can't both be wrong."

Delia grinned as she took another bite of her sandwich. "So how was your night of dancing?" She asked around a mouthful of food.

Patsy smiled tightly. "As anticipated I'm afraid. Roger was a pompous toad. Unfortunately, my behaviour wasn't the model of courtesy either."

Delia frowned. "Why? What did you do?"

Patsy sighed. "I spent most of the time picking holes in just about any statement he made. I certainly wasn't the woman he expected me to be."

Delia looked at Patsy shrewdly. "So what you're really saying is that you went because you had to, resented every second of being there and took it out on him," she surmised.

Patsy nodded. "I think that covers it neatly," she admitted honestly. "Fortunately, he found another woman at the bar and politely extracted himself from my company."

"He left you on your own?" Delia was appalled.

"It was quite the relief actually. I spent the rest of the evening thinking about what I could do to make amends for ruining our night out." The blonde nurse smiled apologetically at her love.

Delia shook her head. "Pats, you don't need to keep apologising. And I know that you'll have an excuse handy next time." She waited a beat. "There will be a next time, won't there?"

Patsy looked almost affronted. "Of course there will be. In actual fact, I have an idea about what to do today, if you're not too tired. What time did you get in?"

"About half past two. I made the fatal mistake of lying down just for a second after I took my shoes off. The next thing I knew, I was smelling coffee and bacon." She grinned at the older woman. "What an inspired idea. Although if you waited for me until you ate, you must have been starving."

Patsy grinned. "I was a little peckish," she admitted, "but it was worth the wait." She looked down slightly, looking bashful. "Seeing you wake up like that," she added quietly.

Delia smiled back shyly. "You are terribly sweet, Pats." She leaned over and placed a kiss on her cheek before taking a hand in her own. "It's the little things that are important, Pats. Yes, it will be nice to finally go out on a date, but little things like getting me the most gorgeous bacon sandwich, and blushing when you say lovely things like that." She paused as she traced Patsy's lips. "Those little things mean the most," she whispered before kissing Patsy properly.

"So, what's this idea you have about today?" The Welsh woman asked when they finally broke the kiss.

"How about you get washed and changed and I'll take the crockery back to the cafe?" Patsy suggested, avoiding the question.

"I thought Benny wanted me to take it back? Can we stop by on our way to wherever we're going?"

"You are a terrible tease, Delia Busby. Yes, we can take it back when we go. I'll leave you to get dressed." Patsy swung her legs off the bed and got up.

"You don't have to go," Delia offered as she got up too. She looked at Patsy carefully and realised that the older woman wasn't quite comfortable with that level of intimacy yet. She nodded towards the door. "Go on. But before you go, can you at least let me know if I need to dress up for this adventure?"

Patsy looked down at her own attire before looking back at the brunette. "Nothing special or too dressy. Whatever you're comfortable in," she recommended before leaving Delia's room. "Knock for me when you're ready."

---

Delia took great delight in bantering with the owner of the cafe when they returned their crockery. Benny went red with embarrassment when she started speaking Welsh to him again, but managed to get her to teach him how to say good morning and goodbye. Delia promised to have him fluent in Welsh if he continued making bacon sandwiches that good, and Patsy suspected that a fair number of purchases in the future would be heavily discounted for them.

They eventually left the cafe and headed towards the bus stop, getting on the number 15 towards town.

"Where are we going, Pats?" Delia was intrigued. They had spent many a weekend in town, but from Patsy's tone, this was going to be something different today.

"You are impatient, Miss Busby. Wait and see." Patsy grinned when Delia poked her tongue out at her in a most unladylike fashion.

Delia kept a lid on her curiosity for the remainder of the bus trip but as they walked over Waterloo Bridge, she started to get excited again. "I don't think I've been to this part of town. What's here?"

Patsy smiled indulgently. Delia could be so childlike in her enthusiasm sometimes, and it was adorable. She decided that the brunette had been patient long enough. "I saw an advertisement in the newspaper a few days ago. It's not really my thing, but knowing how much you love the cinema, I thought I'd bring you to the National Film Theatre. There's a festival on today."

Delia stopped dead in her tracks. "Really?" She was astonished. She had heard about the NFT but had never dreamed that she would one day go there. When Patsy nodded confirmation, Delia flung her arms round the taller woman. "That's wonderful. Thank you!"

Patsy squeezed back for just a second before discretely disentangling herself. "Delia," she warned gently.

Delia nodded immediately, realising that she had been perhaps a little too effusive in wanting to thank the other woman. "Sorry. I couldn't help it."

Patsy smiled, and firmly shut down any other reaction. She wanted to enjoy her day with Delia and not spoil the mood. "Come on, I think there's half an hour before the first set of features is on."

Delia looked over to the imposing building. "So what are we going to see?"

Patsy shrugged. "I have absolutely no idea. You're the film buff. I will be more than happy to be guided by your choices."

"Let me get this straight. You have little to no interest in films, and yet you're prepared to spend the whole afternoon and evening here because I do?" Delia asked.

"I would say that was a fair summation," Patsy agreed.

Delia smiled adoringly as they continued to walk over the bridge, her mood bright. "Patsy, you're too kind. I wouldn't expect you to do something you didn't want to do."

"I don't recall saying that I didn't want to do it," Patsy corrected. "I simply said that I don't have a particular interest in films."

Delia shook her head. "It's incredibly thoughtful of you. You're certainly racking up points today, Miss Mount. Come on, let's see if there's a programme available and then I can plan what we're going to see." She picked up the pace and they headed for the box office.

Several hours later, Patsy and Delia strolled along the Southbank, enjoying the late evening warmth. Delia desperately wanted to loop her arm through Patsy's but knew that the older woman would disapprove. Instead, she walked as closely as she could to the taller woman, and was relieved that Patsy made no attempt to move away. "So, what was your favourite film?" She asked.

Patsy looked down and frowned at the younger woman. "Are you testing me?"

Delia laughed. "Not at all. I'm just hoping that at least one of my choices wasn't too torturous for you."

"Actually, two of them were really rather good. That Diana Dors film was astonishing," Patsy replied.

"I didn't think you'd go for a busty blonde," Delia commented slyly.

"Delia!" Patsy was shocked, glancing round nervously. Fortunately, there were only a few other people around, and they were some distance from the pair of them. She huffed when she saw the brunette roll her eyes. "What I meant was that I was surprised at just how good an actress she was. I don't think I've seen her in anything serious before."

Delia smiled. "She was good," she agreed. "And quite stunning to look at too," she admitted unselfconsciously. "Although she's perhaps a little too busty for me," she added with a wink.

Patsy shook her head, surprised at just how confident Delia appeared with her own convictions. It felt so alien to be open and honest, even if they were practically alone. She walked over to the river wall where there was almost no chance of being overheard and stared across the Thames. "How can you be like that?" She asked genuinely.

"Like what?" Delia was perplexed.

"So assured. Doesn't it worry you that we aren't...?" Patsy trailed off, suddenly not wanting to finish the sentence.

Delia smiled tightly. "Normal?" She finished astutely. "No, it doesn't." She shrugged. "I know what I like. I know what I don't like. It might not be normal but it's what I am." She looked at Patsy intently. "It's what we are. At the moment, you're the only other person I can talk freely with. If I can't be myself with you, then I can never be myself." She cocked her head slightly. "I like being myself with you. You make me happy," she admitted softly.

"You sound so sure of yourself, Deels," Patsy remarked softly, glancing at the diminutive nurse.

Delia pulled a face. "I don't know about that. It took me a while to realise that I was different, I suppose, but once I did, I just knew that was that."

Patsy sighed uncomfortably. "It's not just different," she demurred quietly.

"Yes it is," Delia insisted. "You can't punish yourself for how you feel. For what you feel." She gently pulled Patsy round to face her. She could hear her heart hammering in her ears, but needed to ask the question. "Does what you feel for me really feel wrong?"

Patsy swallowed, feeling a little overwhelmed. "No," she whispered eventually.

Delia nodded, a bright smile on her face. "So every time you doubt, or feel down, remind yourself of this conversation. Remind yourself of us."

Patsy nodded back and managed a wan, lop-sided smile, touched by Delia's honesty. "You make me happy too, Deels," she said, remembering her love's earlier declaration. She sighed, trying to shake off her suddenly serious mood. "Come on, after all this high end culture, I'm in the mood for a nice, simple supper."

"Chips?"

Patsy nodded. "Chips," she confirmed.

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

 

"Come in," Delia called, after hearing a knock at her door. She continued staring into the mirror as she applied black eyeliner carefully with a tiny brush.

"Good evening, Miss Busby," Patsy greeted with a grin. She flicked her eyes back towards the door to make sure it was shut. "You look stunning," she complimented earnestly.

Delia grinned but continued concentrating on her make-up. "Thank you, Pats. Once I've done this eye I will inspect you, and no doubt you will take my breath away," she replied easily.

Patsy blushed, still unused to the younger woman's compliments. She sat down on Delia's bed and continued to watch the brunette get ready. "Have you decided what you're going to do when someone asks you to dance?" She asked in a light tone.

"If someone asks me, you mean," Delia corrected. "Actually, I think I will accept. I haven't had a proper dance since I was back in Pembroke." She glanced at Patsy briefly at the reflection in the mirror and smiled. "As long as you don't mind?"

Patsy shook her head. "Of course not. I will simply look on jealously."

"What about you? Will you dance?"

"Rest assured that should I be asked to dance, I will be imagining that I am holding you instead," Patsy returned with a grin.

Delia raised her eyebrows before rummaging for a lipstick. "You'll have to have a good imagination. I'm not sure any of the doctors are 5'4"."

The blonde nurse burst out laughing. "I haven't met a Welsh doctor yet either, but I know what will be going on in my head."

"Sounds interesting. I may have to ask you all the details when we get back," Delia teased.

Patsy shook her head. It was the night of the Summer Ball. The two women had discussed at length if they should attend or not and decided that it could only assist with the facades they had built up. At first, Delia wasn't sure that she wanted to dance, wanting only to share that activity with Patsy. The older nurse had pointed out that there was nothing wrong with enjoying a dance with someone else, particularly as they were unlikely ever to be able to dance together in public.

The tall blonde nurse stood up suddenly and stood behind Delia, resting a hand over Delia's, preventing her from applying the lipstick she was holding. "It might be better to wait just a moment," she suggested softly.

Delia turned round, grinning. "Oh? Why's that?"

Patsy leaned down and crushed her lips into Delia's. When they finally drew apart, they gasped for a second before Patsy smiled. "I didn't want you to have to apply your lipstick twice," she breathed. "And now you know what I'll be thinking when I see you dance with someone else." She stepped back and grabbed her bag. "Although it has resulted in me having to reapply mine."

Delia blushed. Patsy was often an enigma to her. When she acted spontaneously, in private, the passion and desire she revealed was breathtaking. It was an odd juxtaposition to Patsy's logical, highly guarded public persona, and she usually kept a tight control on it. Delia loved it when she let it show. She looked back toward the mirror and hurriedly removed the traces of Patsy's lipstick away before applying her own. Satisfied that they were presentable, the women headed to the front of the Nurses Home where a coach was waiting to take them to the Ball.

The evening had a very different feel to the Winter Ball. The student nurses no longer felt new. It amused Patsy and Delia immensely to watch their colleagues flitter around trying to attract the attention of the doctors. Both women accepted requests to dance and behaved impeccably with their dance partners, deflecting requests for anything more than a dance with a polite refusal. Interestingly, the doctors readily accepted the rebuffs, a sure sign that they too recognised the nurses' new found confidence.

Late into the evening, Patsy led Delia outside into the sunken gardens. It was good to escape the heat of the ballroom and enjoy some cooler, fresh air. "How many requests for a date have you had?" Delia asked, teasingly.

"A lady never reveals that," Patsy retorted with a grin. "How many have you had?"

Delia blinked as she comprehended the barb. "Hey!" She slapped Patsy's arm playfully as they continued through the garden. "Actually, I've had three. It's been quite flattering."

Patsy smiled, before she sighed. "I will miss you for the next two weeks."

"I'll miss you too. But it's the summer break, Patsy. I have to go back. They'll be expecting me."

Patsy shook her head. "I know that. And of course you should spend time at home with your family. You haven't seen them for weeks. I'm simply going to miss your presence here, that's all."

Delia sighed too. "It's starting to feel less and less like home to be honest. I'm beginning to feel like London is where my life is." They continued through the gardens, the breeze providing some cooling comfort on their perspiring skin.

"Will you be going home?" The Welsh woman asked tentatively.

Patsy shook her head. "My father's house isn't home for me, Deels. I can just about tolerate Christmas. I have no inclination to visit more frequently than that." She paused for a second. "I may take a trip to visit my aunt though. It's a pleasant enough journey."

It saddened Delia that Patsy had next to no family to speak of. Delia's family certainly had their quirks, and her mother did have a tendency to be overbearing, but Delia knew that intrinsically, they were her support. They gave her the foundation to have the courage to go off and explore, and follow her dreams. She knew that they would provide a safety net should she falter. How frightening it must have been for Patsy, having much of her security taken away.

Delia desperately wanted to take Patsy's hand and give her some comfort, but knew that the gesture would not be well-received in a public arena. Instead, she headed to a bench and sat down. "Take a seat for a few, Pats and rest your feet. If they're anything like mine, they'll be sore from being trodden on so many times."

Patsy nodded, shaking off her mood. "They have definitely been the subject of abuse from atrocious dance partners," she agreed. She smiled affectionately at the younger woman. "Why don't you cheer me up by telling me about your plans while you're in Wales?"

Delia frowned. "Are you sure that's going to cheer you up?"

"Hearing your voice makes me happy, so I don't see why not," Patsy replied.

"Charmer."

A few hours later and the nurses returned to their living accommodation. As usual, the night matron was present to ensure that the nurses all returned and that there were no extra visitors. As it was the Summer Ball, it was well after usual curfew and the women were encouraged to hurry to their rooms promptly.

A quick glance down the corridor gave Patsy the confidence to follow Delia into her room and she grabbed a now ruined book to jam under the door.

Delia raised an eyebrow. "I take it the night isn't quite finished yet?" She asked playfully.

Patsy closed the gap between them and looped her arms around Delia's waist. "I hope not. I'm not seeing you for two weeks. I need to make sure I have enough memories to keep me going."

Delia hung her arms around Patsy's neck and smiled softly. "Well, we'd better not waste any time then," she murmured, pulling the taller woman towards her.

They kissed languidly and deeply, pulling each other closer as they did. Almost imperceptibly, Patsy guided them to Delia's bed and they tumbled onto it, giggling quietly even as they adjusted position so that they could continue their gentle caressing and exploration. It slowly got more heated, and Patsy rolled on top of Delia, her hands roaming freely as she continued to lay kisses on Delia's lips, jawline and neck. Without thinking, the blonde nurse ran a hand over one of Delia's breasts, squeezing it as she felt her nipple harden through the younger woman's attire.

Delia groaned, revelling in the sensation and involuntarily arched into the touch, raising a thigh at the same time and wedging it into Patsy's apex.

Patsy's breath caught and her eyes fluttered shut at the stimulation. Instinctively, she pushed back against Delia's thigh, gasping as she felt her pulse pounding. She could feel Delia's hands tightly gripping her shoulders and she pushed again, before suddenly registering what they were doing.

Instantly, Patsy disengaged and rolled off Delia. "Sorry. Sorry," she gasped as she sat up.

It took Delia a moment to get her brain working again. "Patsy, what's wrong?"

"We shouldn't be doing this," Patsy continued.

Delia frowned, confused. "I really wasn't minding," she grumbled, not following.

"I was going too far," Patsy admitted, shame-faced.

Delia sat up, and leaned against the headboard. "Were we?" She asked softly.

Patsy seemed to be in a world of her own. "I shouldn't be thinking that way," she muttered, refusing now to look at Delia.

Initially, Delia thought that Patsy was simply berating herself for getting carried away, but the look on her face was not one of guilt. She was ashamed. The brunette pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. "Patsy, you can't help your feelings. We've talked about this."

Patsy shook her head. "I know. And I know what you say makes sense. But I can't help how I feel." She shrugged.

"Did what we were doing feel wrong?" Delia asked softly. She made no attempt to touch the older woman; she didn't want to crowd her.

Patsy shook her head. "No," she admitted. "Not at all." She shook her head. "I don't know what to think a lot of the time. It just felt... I just felt..." Patsy tapered off, annoyed that she couldn't express herself.

Delia finally placed a hand on the older woman's shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. "You're not ready. That's fine, Pats."

Patsy winced as she looked round at Delia. "Sorry."

"Don't apologise. Neither of us should do something we're not ready for."

"We haven't really spoken about this, have we?" Patsy mused.

Delia smirked. "It's not the easiest subject to bring up."

Patsy exhaled heavily. "I really am sorry for spoiling the mood, Deels."

"Don't be daft." Delia glanced at the clock briefly. "Come on. Swing your legs back round and we can have a quick cuddle before you go to bed."

Patsy complied instantly and snuggled into Delia's embrace, taking comfort from the smaller woman's strong arms as she rested her head on her love's shoulder. They lay in comfortable silence for a few moments. "Were you ready, Deels?" Patsy asked timidly.

"I felt ready," the brunette answered honestly. "I certainly wanted to do something, and I know I love you, so I..." She stopped as Patsy looked up at her sharply. "What?"

"You love me?" Patsy whispered.

Delia nodded. "More than anything," she qualified. Her eyes widened as she realised the gravity of what she had said.

Patsy smiled, the turmoil of feelings suddenly calming when she heard the certainty in Delia's voice. "I love you, too," she confirmed, leaning up to kiss her gently.

 

----

 

The start of the second year of nurse training was back in the classroom but this time, the students would have thirteen weeks of lectures, practical skills training and assessment. The training would prepare them for their placements which would be on wards with more complex patients, including Cardiac Care and Accident and Emergency.

Because lectures held greater detail and were significantly more challenging, the nurses formed bigger study groups that Patsy and Delia were happy to be part of. Although an element of their shared time had now been reduced, the two women simply ensured that they made the most of the time could share together alone. As Autumn rolled into Winter, they got more creative with what daylight they had available at weekends, and enjoyed cosy evenings, wrapped in blankets and listening to the wireless.

It was 4.30pm and the lecture was just starting to finish when the doors to the hall burst open and a matron wearing her outer cape and carrying a clipboard came marching in. "I do apologise, Professor Kendall, but there has been an emergency."

Every pair of eyes was fixed intently on the Matron as she approached the lectern. She looked down at her notes before casting her gaze around the auditorium. "Listen carefully. There has been a transport incident and the hospital needs to prepare to take many casualties. Please listen for your name and instructions. Nurses Busby, Callaghan, McAllistair, and Tate. According to our records, you are all members of St John Ambulance. Please gather your outdoor coat, scarf and gloves and report to the ambulance coach that is waiting for you by the entrance to the Nurses Home. Nurses Anderson, James, Marchant, Mount, Ransome, Stapleton and Stephens. You are to report immediately to Matron Pearce at Accident and Emergency and follow her directions."

The Matron listed two further groups of nurses. One group was told that they would be covering in the Emergency department for the night shift if they were required. The final group would report there in the morning to assist with the probable backlog of work once the emergency was over. They were instructed to report to the Nurses Home kitchen first to confirm their work requirement.

"Because of this, I have taken the liberty of cancelling your classes for tomorrow. I will work with the Training team in order to reschedule them but this takes priority." The Matron paused as she took off her spectacles and looked at the young women in front of her. "I know you are students and inexperienced. Use your wits and seek guidance where you can, but we need every pair of hands. This incident is serious. Now, please make haste to your assignments."

Delia looked at Patsy nervously. "Transport incident? What do you think has happened?"

"I hope it's not another bus crash like that one on Oxford Street in June. That was horrific," Patsy replied. Impulsively, she took Delia's hand and squeezed it tightly. "Be careful, Deels."

"You too. I'll see you later," the brunette replied before hurrying outside to the coach. The others in her party gathered with her and they quickly hopped on the coach. The Matron who had interrupted their class joined them and the coach pulled away quickly. "Girls, there has been a train crash. There are many wounded and the ambulance service will be stretched to capacity. Because you all have St. John Ambulance training, I am taking you with me to assist on scene. Be warned. It is likely to be chaotic."

She looked out of the window. "As you can see, the weather is against us, too. The fog is unlikely to lift anytime soon, and the temperature is only going to drop as the evening draws on. When we do finally get to scene, I will see the officer in charge and then direct you."

Her look softened slightly as she saw four young women stare back at her determinedly. "Steel yourselves, ladies. The injuries are likely to be severe but we need to remain calm and professional at all times. People will be looking to us for comfort and treatment. Concentrate on that, rather than the overall scene."

"You sound like you're talking from experience." Nurse Tate had never been shy at making comments.

The Matron looked grim. "From the reports so far, it sounds as bad as anything I dealt with during the War. I need you to be prepared."

The nurses nodded seriously and sat in silence for the journey.

It was worse than anything they could have imagined when they got on scene. A train had ploughed into another one as it waited at points near a bridge. Both trains were packed with commuters and Christmas shoppers returning home. The carriages had crashed into the bridge supports, collapsing the bridge onto them. In the worst possible timing, another train had been on the bridge at the time and one of its carriages had crashed into the train below. Debris was scattered everywhere and patients from the carriages less affected by the crash were wandering around, dazed and cold.

When the nurses arrived, there were clear tasks for all of them. Nurse Penny McAllistair, originally one of the shyest students on the course, was assigned a triage area where she was expected to send off the patients to hospital in order of priority. Nurses Tate and Callaghan, with their no-nonsense attitudes were asked to make up ambulance crews with ambulance staff already on scene and transport the patients in an endless shuttle run.

Matron looked at Delia steadily. "Nurse Busby. The Chief Fire Officer has made a request of me that I feel you are best able to do, although I must stress that you do not have to do this."

Delia swallowed nervously. "Go on."

"There are two crushed carriages that have the tiniest of openings to get through. None of the firemen or ambulance men on scene are small enough to squeeze in and see if there is anyone alive left in there."

Delia closed her eyes for a moment before nodding. "Lead the way," she said firmly.

"Are you sure, nurse Busby?" The Matron looked genuinely concerned.

Delia nodded. "Yes. As you said, we all need to help where we can."

Matron turned on her heel and guided Delia to where the main rescue was taking place.

 

----

 

Patsy looked up as the doors to the department burst open again and another patient was rushed in. "Bed 9 on the right," she directed efficiently. As soon as she had arrived at Accident and Emergency, the ward sister had allocated jobs. She assigned Patsy an area to receive patients and triage them in order to make the best use of the doctors and experienced nurses. She finished off a temporary dressing for the patient she was dealing with and then crossed over to the latest casualty. Her eyebrows rose when she saw Nurse Tate. "How many more?" She asked softly after she took the details of the patient they had just delivered.

"Who knows?" Amanda sounded despondent. "It could be hundreds. We're taking some of the patients to other hospitals so that no one gets overwhelmed so it's difficult to keep track. We can't rush either because the fog is so bad."

Patsy winced. "I keep forgetting about that. How are the others?" Patsy didn't want to mention Delia specifically but she hadn't seen her or Penny with any patients yet.

"I know Rachel is on an ambulance but I don't know what Penny and Delia are up to," Nurse Tate replied. She looked over to where her ambulance man colleague was hurriedly grabbing blankets and draw sheets. "I'd better go." She shook her head. "This could go on all night."

Patsy nodded grimly. The second the patients had begun to arrive, the nurse had switched off her emotions in a way she hadn't done since she was in the internment camp. No one had batted an eye at the cold, efficient persona she took on. The staff she interacted with responded to her commands without a second thought, despite many of the nurses having greater experience.

As the casualties continued to be brought in, Patsy had no time to focus on anything other than treatment. The injuries were horrific. Many people had multiple broken bones and crush injuries. There were a multitude of head injuries and lots more with minor injuries. Initially, there had been a quick flood of casualties through the door, but they then started arriving at a slower rate. As the evening wore on, the people that came through the door showed signs of exposure alongside their original injuries.

Patsy was surprised when Nurse Stapleton tapped her on the shoulder. "Can I help you?"

"Patsy, we're being relieved." She gestured to the main doors where their fellow students had just arrived.

Patsy frowned and looked at her watch. It was almost 11pm. "I can stay on if they need," she offered automatically.

Nurse Stapleton smiled. "I had already offered. I was told quite categorically by Matron that the whole point of allocating teams earlier was so that there was an organised approach, using rested staff." She shrugged. "She also said that she had kept us on for an extra hour as it was, given that casualties were coming in thick and fast. There are less serious ones coming in now. Most of the night turn student nurses will be dealing with the minor injuries so the main team can deal with the seriously injured."

Patsy looked at the row of patients she had been dealing with and realised that Lynette was right. She hadn't received any ambulance patients for a while now. She nodded but felt guilty for leaving the Casualty department while it was still busy. "Who am I handing over to?"

Nurse Stapleton gestured to another nurse hovering by the door. Patsy smiled and called her over, giving her a run down of all the patients in her area.

Patsy, Lynette and the rest of the students trudged wearily back to the Nurses Home in silence. For the last few hours, they had been working almost without thought and at a furious pace. Now that they had stopped, their minds were beginning to comprehend what they had seen and what they had dealt with. They were met by the night matron. "Come into the kitchen, girls. There's sandwiches and Horlicks for you."

"I'm not sure I'm hungry," Millicent demurred, voicing the thoughts of everyone else.

"I'm sure you're not. But none of you have eaten since lunchtime and you've been working like Trojans. You will feel better for it." Matron was quite insistent. As the seven nurses made their way into the kitchen they were surprised to see plates of sandwiches laid out and a pan of milk keeping warm on the stove. The matron gestured to the women to sit down at the table and they crowded round it, taking steaming mugs as they were passed round.

Once they began to drink, the nurses realised that they were actually ravenous and the food was demolished in quick order.

"Rachel was manning one of the ambulances," Millicent commented blandly, wanting some conversation to happen, but not really wanting to talk about what she had experienced.

Patsy looked at her and wondered if the haunted look she saw there was also on her own face. "I spoke with Amanda briefly. She was also on an ambulance. She didn't tell me much."

"Me, neither," Lynette agreed. She took a sip of her drink before looking at the night Matron. "Do you know when they'll be back?" She asked.

Matron shook her head. "I don't. I knew about the staff changeover which was why I arranged food for you all. Even so, you were over an hour later than I expected." She looked at the young women compassionately. "You've all done well, girls. It's perfectly reasonable to be upset by what you've seen. You remained professional and efficient throughout the evening. No matter what else you think, remember that." She took the empty plates and put them in the sink so that she could wash them. "Once you've finished your drinks, you might want to go to bed. You all look exhausted."

Patsy was aghast. There was no way she was going to bed until she had seen Delia and was about to protest when Millicent, of all people, beat her to it. "Penny McAllistair is my best friend, Matron. I haven't seen her on an ambulance. I don't know where she is, but I need to know she is all right before I can go to bed." She looked at Patsy and gave a hopeful smile.

Patsy realised that she wanted someone to back her up. It was easy. "I'm not going anywhere either, Matron. I'm waiting up for Delia." She returned a small smile to Millicent.

"Sorry, Matron. I think you have our company for a while yet. None of us are going anywhere until the others return." Lynette was quite definite in her declaration.

Matron kept her back to the student nurses as she washed the plates, and smiled. She was a firm believer in loyalty among the girls, and they would all need each other's support to get through this. "Very well. There's bread and jam in the pantry. I suggest that one of you makes a tray of sandwiches for those that are still out and about, and someone else warm a fresh pan of milk. You could probably all do with another drink."

Just a short while later, voices were heard at the entrance of the Nurses Home and Matron made her way out smartly. The nurses all focused on the kitchen door and waited for the others to come in. Nurse Callaghan and Nurse Tate entered first. They looked pale and exhausted.

"Here, sit down." Patsy immediately offered her seat, along with another nurse. Food and drink was pushed immediately in front of them.

"I'm not sure I'm hungry," Amanda stated, her voice dull.

"Please try. You'll feel better for it," Millicent pleaded. They all looked up again when the kitchen door opened.

The only word to describe the look on Penny and Delia's face was haunted. Both women looked frozen. Delia was holding onto Penny's arm and she pushed her towards the table. Space was immediately made for them but Delia went to the sink and grabbed a bar of soap to wash her hands.

She was absolutely filthy. Her uniform was covered in dust, grease, dirt and blood. She stood at the sink and just stared at her shaking hands. Patsy softly approached and turned the taps on, filling a bowl with tepid water. From the mauve hue of Delia's skin, she wouldn't tolerate the water at a higher temperature. In silence, she gently took hold of Delia's hands and lowered them into the water before lathering up the soap. She took one of Delia's hands and carefully and thoroughly washed it before placing it back in the sink and doing the same with the other one.

Behind her, Millicent sat next to Penny and pushed a drink in front of her. "What happened, Pen?"

Penny took a sip before glancing up at her friend. "You know it was a rail crash?" At Millicent's nod, Penny continued. "They had to dig the patients out of the wreckage. Each one came to me and I had to decide who went to hospital first. It was horrible. They all came out broken and bleeding." She took another sip of her drink. "The local people were so kind. They came out with blankets and bandages. We put lots of the minor injuries in their homes and no one complained."

She sighed shakily. "It's probably the worst thing I've ever had to do in my entire life." The willowy nurse looked over to where Delia was still standing at the sink. "One of the firemen said it was worse than anything he dealt with during the War," she continued. "But at least I didn't have to do what poor Delia did though," she whispered.

All eyes looked up to where the small nurse was still washing her hands before they looked at each other.

Patsy delicately extricated Delia's hands and patted them dry before leading the smaller woman back over to the kitchen table and sitting her down.

"You need a drink, Delia. You're frozen." Patsy was desperately worried about Delia. Why was she so dirty? Her uniform was ruined.

"What did you have to do?" Lynette asked curiously.

Delia couldn't look at anyone so instead stared at the drink that had been placed in front of her. "There were some carriages that were completely crushed. None of the rescuers were small enough to get inside. They asked me to take a look in each of the carriages to see if there was anyone left alive. I crawled through each one." She swallowed. "It's quite difficult to search a train with just a torch. There were a lot of people in each one. I couldn't help any of them."

"A lot of people?" Amanda asked. She knew that there had been well over a hundred casualties taken to hospital but she had no idea how many people had died.

"I counted 72 where I searched," Delia replied, her voice hollow. "I think there were more."

The kitchen was deathly quiet as Delia spoke. Each nurse tried to imagine having to do the same thing. They didn't envy her at all.

The night Matron broke the silence after returning to the kitchen carrying two brand new uniform dresses. She handed one to Millicent. "For Nurse McAllistair," she advised in a soft tone. Matron turned to Patsy and handed the other uniform over, along with a paper sack. "I don't believe that uniform is salvageable. Perhaps you could put it in here and I'll make arrangements to have it disposed of." Her tone was brusque, but Patsy could see concern in the woman's eyes and she nodded as she accepted the items.

"Nurse Busby, Nurse McAllistair. I've started to draw baths for you both. You've been out in the elements all evening and you need to get clean and warm." She glanced at Millicent and Patsy briefly. "I'm sure your friends will help you to the bathroom. In the meantime, I'll ensure that some sandwiches are put in your rooms along with a fresh drink."

"I'll do that," Rachel volunteered.

Matron nodded. "Girls. Please sleep in tomorrow. You know that classes have been cancelled. You've all had very long days and need your rest. I will leave you in peace for the remainder of the night but you know where I am if you need me."

When Patsy got Delia to the bathroom, she made her wait until she retrieved her pyjamas from her room. She could hear Millicent with Penny in an adjacent bathroom, coaxing her to get into the bath and offering to wash her hair for her. It was one of the few occasions where Patsy really couldn't care about what people might say. Delia needed her.

She stepped back into the bathroom and found Delia still standing in her filthy uniform, seemingly in shock. "Come on, Deels. Let me help you," she offered. The blonde nurse waited for Delia to nod acquiescence before she knelt down and loosened Delia's shoelaces. The second she started her task, she switched to become Nurse Mount, wanting to make sure that Delia wouldn't be embarrassed by the assistance. "Goodness me. We'll have to get these replaced tomorrow, too," she commented briskly, levering off the shoes and placing them straight into the large paper bag. She didn't even want to think about what they were covered in.

Next Patsy stood up and unbuttoned Delia's uniform, concentrating wholly on the task at hand. There was absolutely nothing sexual or sensual about this. From Delia's passive stance, it was obvious that she needed the help.

Patsy removed the uniform and also placed it in the bag before standing up in front of her love. "Do you want help with everything else?" She asked softly.

Delia looked lost and broken. "Please don't go, Pats," she requested, her voice a whisper.

Patsy nodded reassuringly. "All right. I'm going to take your undergarments off now." Again, she waited for Delia to agree before stripping the younger woman and then helping her into the bath. Delia simply sat in the tub, so Patsy grabbed the shampoo and after removing any remaining grips Delia had in her hair, proceeded to wash it thoroughly. The water turned black as Patsy moved on to wash Delia's body. She would need another bath tomorrow probably. But for now, she had at least got the worst off, and managed to warm her up.

Patsy helped Delia out of the bath and wrapped a towel around her body while she did her best to get most of the water from her hair. Eventually, she led the Welsh woman back to her room, noting once again that Delia just seemed to stand in the middle of the room, looking lost.

"Do you want to get into bed?"

"I'm not sure I want to close my eyes," Delia admitted, her voice shaky.

"Delia, I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here all night for you. I promise." Patsy looked at Delia earnestly.

Delia nodded before pulling back the covers and getting into bed. Patsy looked down at her uniform. "Can you wait for 5 minutes while I go and change into my pyjamas?" She asked.

Delia again nodded mechanically and Patsy all but ran to her own room, stripping quickly and leaving her clothes where they fell. When she returned, Delia was still sat in bed, but this time Patsy was relieved to see a small smile of recognition from the brunette.

"I like those pyjamas," Delia commented somewhat randomly.

Patsy gave her a lop-sided smile. "They're my favourite. Now, come on. Budge up."

Delia shifted across the bed slightly and breathed a sigh of relief as Patsy got under the covers with her. "Aren't you worried about what people think?" She asked curiously.

"I have a feeling that all bets are off for today, Delia. And no. The only thing that matters right now is you." She looked lovingly at her. "Do you want the light on or off?" She asked quietly.

"Are you going to hold me?" Delia responded with a question of her own.

"All night," Patsy promised.

"Then the light can go off," the diminutive nurse decided. "But don't be surprised if I have nightmares."

Patsy leaned over and switched off the table lamp. "Lie down, Deels. I've got you."

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Delia lay in her small single bed and stared at the wall. She could feel Patsy's arm wrapped round her, and her body pressed behind her. It ought to give her comfort. It did give her comfort. But it was not enough to keep her thoughts at bay.

Every time she closed her eyes for any period longer than a blink, the images came back. She could vividly see lifeless bodies staring at her; bodies contorted and twisted into unnatural poses by the power of the collision. Men and women. Old. Young. Very young. All victims of a terrible tragedy.

It was like a bizarre version of The Wizard of Oz. All the time she kept her eyes open, she was in a black and white bedroom. The second she tried to sleep, she was in a crashed train in glorious technicolor, ghoulishly accentuating everything she was eager to forget.

Delia sighed, feeling Patsy pull her closer as she did. It wasn't so much the sheer volume of bodies she had seen that had overwhelmed her. It was one casualty in particular that kept flashing in Delia's mind. As she scanned the carriage with her torch, the body of a woman was illuminated. She was tall and lithe. Despite the fact that her hair was matted with blood, it was clear she was blonde. What caught Delia's attention however, and made her heart lurch then, and now, was that the woman was wearing a thick wool coat.

Patsy had one exactly like it.

Delia knew it was irrational but at the time she had broken down and sobbed. It had taken her a long time to compose herself. The Welsh nurse knew she had said goodbye to Patsy in the Lecture Hall, but her mind was cruel. She couldn't get the thought out of her head that it could be her. Delia had forced herself to examine the woman more closely, even though it was obvious she was dead. The closer inspection allowed Delia to rationalise her thoughts and emotions. It wasn't Patsy.

But what if it had been? Delia honestly didn't know what she'd do if she lost her love. No one knew of their relationship. If anything happened to Patsy, she would have no claim to be able to see her. She'd have no claim to any of her keepsakes. That thought set Delia's pulse racing again. Delia wasn't even sure that she would be allowed to visit Patsy if she was seriously ill in hospital.

Delia's tired mind remained cruel, and even when she thought about her relationship with Patsy, the image of the woman who had died in the carriage imprinted on her brain. It invaded all her thoughts of Patsy. It was illogical but Delia felt as though she had no control over her thoughts.

She was too frightened to sleep.


Almost imperceptibly, she felt Patsy relax and her breathing become more even and shallow. The arm she had used to hold her close felt heavier and less controlled. Delia was relieved. There was no point in them both having a sleepless night.

She glanced at the clock on her bedside table. The luminescence on the hands was fading now but she could still just barely make out the time. Delia realised that she could stay still no longer, and she very carefully extricated herself from Patsy's grasp and slid out of bed. Silently locating her slippers and a dressing gown, the young woman grabbed a pencil and scribbled a note, hoping that her writing would be legible in daylight.

She left the note on her desk and then quietly opened the door, slipping outside and shutting it softly behind her.

Not quite sure where she was going, but needing to do something, Delia headed down the corridor and found herself making her way to the kitchen. If nothing else, she could make herself a mug of Horlicks and wait for morning without disturbing Patsy by tossing and turning.

She was surprised to see the light on in the kitchen and stopped when she saw Penny McAllistair watching a pan of milk on the hob.

Delia cleared her throat, not wanting to startle the other woman too much and was pleased that Penny simply turned round, instead of jumping or crying out.

"I take it you couldn't sleep either," Penny commented, rather than asked.

Delia nodded simply and sat down at the kitchen table when Penny nodded towards it. She watched the willowy nurse go to the fridge and take out a bottle of milk, adding plenty to the pan.

They waited in silence for the milk to heat and then Penny joined Delia at the table, handing her over a mug of cocoa. "Millie stayed with me," Penny admitted. "She was so caring. She even got into bed with me to make me feel safe."

Delia smiled sadly. "Patsy was the same. I just couldn't close my eyes though."

Penny nodded. "I can't do that without seeing all those patients. I keep wondering if I chose the right one to go to hospital first. What if I made a mistake? What if my decisions were wrong?" Her voice cracked with emotion.

Delia leaned over and grabbed her hand. "You can't think that way, Pen. Each patient needed to be treated and all of them got to hospital. You made what you thought was the right decision at the time for each one. No one could ask any more of you." She looked at her colleague and realised how fragile she looked. In some ways, Penny's job had been worse than hers. She may have seen a lot of fatalities, but there was nothing she could do for them. They were simply corpses at that point. Penny was dealing with patients who needed treatment and care. Without intervention, they could die. The pressure must have been horrendous.

Penny sniffed, trying to put on a brave face. "At least I didn't have to do what you did, Delia. There's no way I would have been brave enough to get into a crashed train with just a torch. I can't even begin to imagine how horrible that was for you."

Delia smiled grimly. "Funnily enough, I was just thinking that I was glad that wasn't doing your job."

They both shook their heads ruefully as they continued to drink their cocoa. There was silence for a while, until both women began to open up and describe what they had done.

Penny was relieved. It felt easier talking to Delia. She didn't need to waste words on describing the scene, or the chaos, or the noise. More importantly, even though she was relatively sure the others wouldn't judge her, she was absolutely certain that Delia wouldn't. Delia would understand the circumstances. She would understand the doubt. She would understand the guilt.

They held each other's hands while they spoke, giving each other quiet support as they tried to rationalise what they had seen and what they had done.

As their conversation tapered off, Delia went to the pantry to retrieve a loaf of bread. "I don't know about you, but I'm starving."

"Oh thank god. I thought it was just me." Penny grinned. "But are you sure it's wise to cook toast at this time of night?"

"It's closer to morning to be fair." Delia shrugged, starting to feel fractionally more like herself. "Besides, there's plenty of bread if anyone wants to join us," she reasoned.

The willowy nurse nodded and while Delia produced a small mountain of toast and jam, Penny made tea. There was something reassuring about the simple repast.

"I do feel terribly guilty," Penny admitted, round a mouthful of toast.

"You could only do your best at the time," Delia reassured her.

"Not about that. Well, I do feel guilty about that, but that wasn't what I meant." Penny winced, realising that she wasn't making much sense. "I feel guilty because Millie looked after me, comforted me and was prepared to listen to all my fears, and I didn't even ask her how she got on."

Delia dropped the piece of toast she was holding. "Oh my god. Neither did I." She was horrified. How could she have not even thought about what Patsy and the others had to do?

"It's completely understandable, Delia." A new voice broke into their conversation as Patsy entered the kitchen. Somehow, the blonde nurse managed to retain her elegance even wrapped in a dressing gown and wearing slippers.

"Sorry," Delia apologised immediately.

Patsy shook her head. "There's no need to apologise. I think we were all overwhelmed." She took a seat next to the Welsh woman and smiled softly at her. "Thank you for leaving the note. It prevented a total panic when I woke up."

"I didn't want to disturb you," Delia explained.

Patsy nodded before reaching for a slice of toast. "I woke up hungry. I'm beginning to think the smell of toast must have permeated all the way to our floor."

Penny stood up and retrieved a mug from a cupboard. "Would you like tea? There's plenty in the pot and it's still hot."

Patsy nodded. "Thank you. Have you both been up long?"

"What time is it now?" Penny asked as she poured Patsy's tea and topped up the other mugs.

"Just after 6."

"About three hours then," Delia admitted. "I didn't realise the time." She took another sip of tea before looking at Patsy. "So how was it at the hospital? Are you all right?"

"I just worked without thinking. As each patient came in, we found a space and started treatment. It was so busy I didn't have time to think about it, if I'm honest." Patsy shrugged apologetically but winced slightly when she saw Delia narrow her eyes at her. She should have known the brunette would be able to see through any veiled response.

"Don't you believe her," another voice commented, and Millicent shuffled into the kitchen. She had obviously just got up and her hair was sticking up spectacularly. She sat down next to Penny. "Nurse Mount here had her department jumping to her every command."

Patsy stiffened, taking the comment as a slight but her eyes widened when she heard Millicent continue. "It was quite something to see. I don't think I've seen anyone with so much presence on the ward who wasn't at least a Sister. You were quite amazing, Patsy," she praised honestly.

Delia smiled. Hearing Patsy appear to function so well was a relief, but she knew they would need to talk later.

"What about you, Millie?" Penny asked quietly.

"I wasn't nearly so composed as Patsy," she admitted freely. "I thought I was going to start crying at any moment. I don't know how you did it, Patsy." Millicent seemed quite in awe of the blonde nurse.

Patsy smiled tightly. "I simply concentrate on the task at hand. One is not nearly so efficient if one is overwhelmed with emotion."

Delia saw Penny start to reply but shook her head almost imperceptibly. Nothing any of them might say right now would get through Patsy's very obvious barrier. She would speak with her later in private when, perhaps, she might open up.

Penny was certain that Patsy was hiding her true thoughts about what had happened, and when she saw Delia's gesture, she knew she was right. Instead of challenging Patsy's assertion, she changed tack. "I could have done with some of your efficiency with me. I definitely felt overwhelmed."

Patsy was immediately contrite. "Pen, we all deal with stressful situations in different ways. What works for me may not work for you."

"Every single one of us would have been overwhelmed if we were put in your position," Delia declared assuredly. "But the simple truth is that despite feeling overwhelmed, you did your job and patients got to the hospital. You saved lives last night."

"We all did," Millicent amended, starting to look at their overall impact.

"Not all of us," Delia muttered darkly.

They were interrupted by the arrival of Rachel who was quickly followed by Amanda. In a few minutes the kitchen held all eleven student nurses who had formed part of the initial response to the incident. More tea was brewed and heaps of toast were demolished as they all shared their personal perspectives on the tragedy.

The different stories helped them piece together a better picture of how the disaster had been handled. Amanda admitted that she had been thrilled to work on the ambulance and was determined to either specialise as an Accident and Emergency nurse or work for the Ambulance Service instead. In contrast, Lynette was now certain that her calling lay in long term and palliative care. As they talked, they realised that they all had doubts about their abilities, and none of them were sure that they could deal with something of that magnitude. But they had coped. They had coped well.

They surprised themselves by laughing too. Rachel set it off. She was quite the story teller, the others decided, with a laconic style that kept them in rapt attention. "I don't know what my mother was so worried about," she commented quite bizarrely at one point.

"What?" Lynette asked.

"Mother told me to always wear clean scanties in case I was in an accident. I lost count of how many patients I transported last night and I couldn't tell you the state of any pair of their unmentionables."

There was a pregnant pause for a few seconds before the kitchen erupted with laughter. It was certainly more than the comment deserved but it aided the catharsis. They were still giggling when the nurses who had helped out on night shift joined them.

There was a sense of relief and a lessening of guilt when the night team told them about their shift. They had been used to treat the minor patients and then reassigned to bolster the staffing for those wards that admitted patients. It was confirmed that there were no further seriously injured casualties brought into A&E. Those on the night shift wished that they had been able to help at the start. They were all told quite firmly that it was not an experience that anyone should wish for. There was more sharing of stories, and the group drew strength from each other. If anything good could be taken from the accident it was that they became closer and more loyal as a group. It was left unsaid, but each nurse felt quite sure that they now had a cohort of friends they would always be able to rely on. Not colleagues; friends.

The kitchen was quite crowded now, and the nurses were all bunched together. Patsy took advantage of this to whisper quietly to Delia. "Deels, you look exhausted. Why don't you go back to bed for a while?"

Delia shook her head. "I'm going to have another bath," she told her. "And then I need to get up. I've got a couple of errands to run now that we have a free day."

"Anything I can help with?"

"Not really, but I would appreciate some company if you're not too tired," Delia admitted.

"Of course." Patsy was concerned. Delia had dark lines under her eyes and she was pallid and drawn. What she really wanted was for the Welsh woman to rest, but Delia would do that on her own terms.

Delia stood up. "I'm sorry to leave you all, ladies. But I need another bath. I still feel a bit grimy from last night." The first team nurses all nodded sympathetically as Delia left with Patsy, while the night turn staff looked concerned.

As they walked down the corridor, Patsy and Delia could hear Penny's hushed tones explaining Delia's role to those that weren't aware. Blindly, Delia reached out for Patsy's hand; Patsy took it willingly.

---

At 9.15am Delia and Patsy were patiently queuing in the Post Office. Delia had a scrap of paper held tightly in her hand, and she fidgeted nervously as she waited to be served.

"Deels, can I ask what you're up to?" Patsy had not wanted to crowd Delia with questions and had simply told her that she was more than happy to accompany her wherever she needed to go.

"I need to send a telegram home," the diminutive nurse replied simply.

Patsy raised an eyebrow. Telegrams weren't cheap these days, however the Busbys weren't on the telephone at home so it was the quickest way of getting a message to them. "What's the urgency?"

Delia ignored the comment as she was beckoned forward by the Post Master. Patsy waited to one side, a polite distance away so that she could not overhear what was being said.

Nothing further was said until the pair left the Post Office and carried on down the High Street. "I needed to let my parents know that I was all right. They don't know London very well, and my mother always assumes I'm involved in every bit of bad news that originates here."

Patsy nodded. That was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. She was shocked when Delia continued speaking.

"I also told them that I won't be going home for Christmas."

"I would have thought that now, more than ever, you would want to spend time with your family." Patsy knew the remnants of her family were quite dysfunctional, but Delia's family ties were far stronger.

"I do want to see them," Delia admitted. She looked at Patsy sadly. "I just don't think I can get on a train yet."

Patsy nodded slowly. "What will you do then? You've got an aunt who lives in London haven't you? Will you go there?"

Delia smiled shyly at the taller woman. "I rather thought I'd spend my Christmas with you. That is, if you haven't made plans." She broke off, suddenly recalling that Patsy did indeed visit her family at Christmas. In fact that was the only time of year that she did visit.

Patsy looked at the brunette incredulously for a moment before a huge smile broke across her face. "Really?" She couldn't quite believe it.

Delia nodded. "If that's all right?"

"I'd adore that," Patsy sighed, barely believing that it could happen.

Delia's smile grew. "Me, too. Perhaps we can plan a bit of it at the weekend. In the meantime, I need to get some new stockings."

The tall blonde nodded. "You need to get some new shoes, too."

Delia sighed. "I'd forgotten about that. I'd just got them too. I hope the Bursar doesn't berate me too much."

"I don't think there will be any problems today." Patsy paused as she spotted a sign in the High Street. "Do you mind if we pop into Woolies?"

"Not at all. What did you need?"

"Well, now we're staying here for Christmas I need to get a tin of Quality Street and some Newberry Fruits." Patsy's mind was racing. She wondered if the kitchen would be sufficient for them to be able to pull off a Christmas dinner.

Delia looked at her, aghast. "Who eats Newberry Fruits? Other than my nan."

"I love them," Patsy admitted freely.

"They're vile. Honestly, Pats, you'll be telling me you like Parma Violets next," Delia grumbled.

"Gosh, what a fabulous idea. I love them, too."

"You can't be serious. They taste like soap." The Welsh woman was quite indignant about Patsy's confectionary choices.

"I couldn't possibly comment. I've never eaten soap."

Delia snorted. "I don't believe that for a second what with you going to Catholic boarding school." The brunette shuddered. "I might have to reassess your judgement skills, Nurse Mount."

"Hey!" Patsy protested in mock outrage. "Come on. I'll let you pick out what you want, too." She led the way into the shop with a sigh of relief. That brief exchange had been reassuringly familiar. Cheeky Delia was still there.

After a successful shopping trip, Delia and Patsy returned to the Nurses Home. The Bursar was helpful and kind when she provided a pair of replacement shoes for Delia, much to the Welsh woman's surprise.

As they headed back to their rooms, Patsy caught sight of a new sheet of paper on the Notice Board. She drifted over and read the content. Delia had been slightly in front and hadn't realised Patsy's diversion until she got to the stairs, but hurriedly backtracked to join her.

"Well, it's good to see that we're all back to normal as far as study goes," Patsy commented drily.

"What does it say?"

"Exams are still to go ahead on Friday, but 'there will be allowances given for questions related to the missed lectures on Wednesday'." She read out the last part directly from the notice.

Delia groaned. "I don't know if I can do any revision today."

"We don't have to. How about we go back to the room and you see if you can have a nap."

The brunette shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not sure I'll be able to."

Patsy began to head up the stairs. "In that case, you can lie down and I'll read out some of our revision notes. If that doesn't send you to sleep, nothing will."

Delia smiled, realising that Patsy was desperately trying to help her, and wasn't quite sure how.

"All right," she concurred as she followed the taller woman up the stairs. "You can start with baroreceptors and neuroreceptors. I still can't work out how they work together."

Patsy pulled a face. "We'll both be asleep in minutes if I start with that."

"I won't complain."

 

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

 

Despite finding it difficult to concentrate long enough to revise, the student nurses found that the exams on the Friday were a welcome diversion. Without exception, they grumbled about having to take them, and they all fretted that they would fail, but it was also a relief to get them out of the way. The New Year would mark a new placement and a fresh start for them all.

With the conclusion of the last exam, the students hurried back to their rooms. The Christmas break had begun and most were going home today.

"I can't believe you're staying here, Delia," Penny commented as they walked back more sedately than their classmates.

Delia winced. She hadn't intended telling anyone else of her change of plans but some of the girls had asked if she was heading home on Friday or Saturday and she didn't want to lie. "Neither can my mam," she replied darkly.

Mrs Busby had replied to Delia's telegram with one of her own. Delia had been almost impressed by just how much disappointment and annoyance her mother had managed to convey in the limited number of words allowed. However, it didn't really matter how much her mam didn't like it. Delia just knew that she wouldn't be able to spend any time on a train without completely panicking. She wasn't even sure she had the courage to board a train.

"Was she very cross?"

"I think she's sent my Christmas present to the church so that it doesn't go to waste."

"She wouldn't do that would she?" Millicent was shocked.

Delia shrugged. "I don't know. I'll find out once she decides to write to me again."

"She'll come round," Patsy said assuredly. "It was probably just a bit of shock."

"Well, if it's any consolation I don't think I'll be in my parents' good books when I get home," Penny sighed.

"What have you done?" Patsy asked bluntly.

"I haven't done it yet. I'm not quite sure when to tell them." Penny was stalling and her companions knew it. Subconsciously, they slowed down and allowed a gap to form between them and the group ahead.

"What's wrong?" It was clear that Millicent didn't know what was going on either.

The willowy nurse sighed heavily before drawing back her shoulders and standing upright. "I'm giving up nursing," she declared finally.

"What?" There was a chorus of astonished queries as Patsy, Delia and Millie all stopped suddenly.

Penny shrugged. "I can't do it anymore."

"You can Penny, you're just doubting yourself. You had an awful job to do, but you'll feel better after the holidays." Millicent sounded as if she was going to cry.

"Please don't do anything hasty," Patsy interjected. "It's only been two days."

Penny shook her head, her face flushed as she tried to hold back tears. "I can't do it, Patsy. I won't be able to step onto a ward without thinking about Tuesday."

Delia took Penny's hand and squeezed it gently. "Have you spoken to Matron yet?"

Penny shook her head, grateful that Delia wasn't also questioning her decision. "No."

"In that case, I will make a suggestion. It is completely up to you what you decide." Delia took a steadying breath. It had crossed her mind to quit too. "Speak to Matron and see if you can take some time. Perhaps join the class behind us. That would give you three months away and you may think a bit differently after that."

"No. I don't want to lose you." Millicent looked bereft.

Penny smiled wanly at Delia. "I'm not sure I will change my mind. I haven't slept for three nights now."

"I understand, truly I do. But I think time will give you an opportunity to see things differently."

Patsy looked at the Welsh nurse sharply but didn't say anything.

"Please, Penny. Give yourself a chance. At least if you come back, we can still see each other regularly." Millicent sounded desperate.

If it wasn't for the fact that Patsy knew Millicent was seeing Dr. King, she might have been inclined to think there was something much deeper than friendship between Millie and Penny.

Penny pulled a face as she thought about it. "Do you think Matron would allow me to do that?" She asked tentatively.

Patsy smiled tightly. "It's better than losing you altogether."

Penny looked at the concerned faces of her friends. "All right. I'll speak to Matron. But I'm not making any promises."

There were sighs of relief all round. "Do you want me to come with you?" Millicent offered tentatively.

Penny nodded and after saying their goodbyes to Patsy and Delia, they retraced their steps back to the Lecture Hall.

There was silence for a while as Delia and Patsy returned to their rooms. As they reached their corridor, Patsy could hold back no longer. "Did you think of giving it up?" She whispered.

Delia nodded. "Yes, I did," she admitted honestly.

"And?" The tall nurse pushed slightly.

Delia opened the door to her room and stood to one side, silently inviting Patsy in. When she closed the door, she leant back against it and looked steadily at Patsy. "I can't give up nursing, Pats. This is where my life is." She paused a beat. "This is where you are."

Patsy stepped forward and pulled Delia into her arms, holding her tightly for long moments.

 


 

 

The pub was noisy and crowded. Patsy and Delia had managed to secure a small table in the corner but they needed to speak loudly to be heard.

"I've never been in a pub on Christmas Eve," Patsy admitted, finishing off her gin and tonic.

"Me neither. Mam always insisted on help with the food preparation before we all went to church for the late service," Delia replied. She gestured towards the blonde woman's glass. "You up for another?"

Patsy looked at Delia steadily. "Have we got any early morning plans tomorrow?" She asked.

"I haven't planned anything," Delia confirmed, grinning widely. "But I can't guarantee I won't wake up early. It is Christmas after all."

Patsy narrowed her eyes at the younger woman. "I will be setting a strict curfew. I don't wish to be disturbed before 8 o'clock. I don't care how excited you are about presents."

"Come on, Pats. 8 o'clock? I'll be going up the wall by then." Delia made no bones about getting excited on Christmas morning.

Patsy thought it was absolutely adorable and the stern look she attempted to give Delia was ruined when she grinned back. "Go on then. I'll have another G & T. But I will be a bear with a sore head if I am not allowed to recover from my hangover at a leisurely pace."

Delia beamed widely before springing up and heading for the bar.

"Taffy!" Benny called over to her from where he was standing.

"Hello, Benny. Nadolig Llawen!"

The cafe owner blushed. "I hope you've just wished me Merry Christmas," he managed.

Delia looked delighted. "That's exactly what I did. You've been paying attention."

If it was possible, Benny went even redder. "It's a lovely language, Taffy. Well, it is when you speak it."

"Thank you." Delia smiled graciously at him.

"Let me buy you and Patsy a drink," Benny offered generously.

"Oh no, don't be daft. We're fine."

"Nonsense. Brian!" The barman turned to Benny immediately. "Those two in the corner there are my favourite customers so I'm buying them the next round." His tone brooked no argument.

Delia nodded. "Diolch."

When Delia returned to the table with their drinks she saw Patsy regarding her with an amused look. "What?"

"I told you he's sweet on you," the nurse said knowingly.

"Bless him. He insisted on getting us a drink. What a thoroughly decent man."

"They generally are around here," Patsy mused. "They may not have two pennies to rub together but they have the most generous natures."

Delia nodded as she sipped her drink. They chatted idly for a few moments before they realised someone was hovering near the table and looked up.

"Good evening," Patsy acknowledged politely, if slightly nervously.

A tall, gangly man wearing a donkey jacket and heavy trousers smiled at them. "You're nurses at the London, ain't ya?"

Patsy winced. She was not keen on their profession being well known in the pub. They didn't want gossip to get back to the hospital, and she had no desire to be called upon to treat a dubious malady when they were trying to enjoy a night out. "That's right," she acknowledged.

"You do a marvellous job. Especially last week." He missed Delia pale slightly at the reference.

He looked towards the bar. "Brian. The next round is on me," he declared decisively. Brian nodded and the man looked back at the seated women. "Merry Christmas, girls." He walked away without another glance as Patsy and Delia stared wide-eyed at each other.

It seemed that a trend was set.  Patsy and Delia found themselves plied with drinks all evening.  They weren't even sure if they paid for another round.  At first they were anxious about taking the drinks, but the other patrons were insistent. It was a way of saying thank you without all the embarrassment of actually saying thank you.

As the night drew on, the pub grew more rowdy and someone sat down at the piano. After a couple of false starts, a sing-a-long began in earnest, and Delia and Patsy found themselves singing as loudly as the rest. The landlord put out heaped trays of sausage rolls and mince pies for his patrons, knowing that more rounds of drinks would be bought if they didn't disappear off to get food elsewhere.

For the first time in a week, Delia wasn't pushing thoughts of the rail crash from her mind. She was blissfully drunk, singing woefully off-key next to the woman she loved, even if she couldn't publicly declare it. This Christmas Eve was turning into something really rather memorable. The fact that they were holding each other round the waist and swaying as they sung added an extra frisson. Their closeness was undetectable given that the pub was so crowded, and many of the patrons were also hugging each other and singing with gusto.

The Welsh woman looked discretely at Patsy. The tall nurse looked absolutely radiant and relaxed. It made Delia's heart soar.

Patsy looked towards Delia and smiled unguardedly. Here she was, surrounded by strangers and holding onto the one person who meant everything to her. Up until this point, the only happy memories of Christmas she had, were when she was a child before the war. It had been a long time, but the feelings of goodwill, and generosity, and love had been rekindled. No, they had been reignited. This was what Christmas was supposed to feel like.

Patsy couldn't quite relax fully. She was still concerned about showing too much outward affection for Delia. Patsy was careful to ensure that a line of propriety was maintained, but she couldn't help the way she looked at the younger woman. Delia's decision to share Christmas with her was the best gift she could ever have received. She didn't know how she could ever repay her.

Eventually, it got to midnight, and the landlord regretfully had to ask his guests to leave. It took some time. Patsy and Delia were accosted by many of the men leaving for a 'Christmas kiss'. Both women were gracious and patient with them, but accepted kisses on the cheek only.

Delia, impudent as ever, would not allow Benny to simply wave goodbye and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Merry Christmas, Benny. Give our love to the wife and kids."

"Will do, Taff. I'm open on the 27th if you fancy a fry up."

Delia laughed. "We might just take you up on that."

Delia turned and put her arm round Patsy again as they headed back to the Nurses Home. "Sorry, Pats, I'm going to need a pair of steady legs to help get me home," she said loudly to excuse their closeness.

"I was rather hoping to rely on you, Deels. This could be a long walk." Patsy was equally loud as wrapped her arm around the shorter girl's shoulders.

"You want an escort back ladies?" Benny offered chivalrously. It was a generous gesture given that he would be going completely out of his way.

"No, thank you," Patsy declined politely. "We'll be fine."

He was about to offer again when Delia stopped him. "Honestly, Benny. It's lovely of you to offer, but it's not far. It's a clear, crisp night, and I can assure you that Patsy here is very capable of looking after me." She grinned wickedly.

Benny laughed. "All right. But head straight home. It's freezing." He paused as he tried to remember what Delia had said earlier. "How do you say it again?"

"Nadolig Llawen."

He shook his head. "Nope. Never going to get that. Thank god it only comes round once a year. Goodnight, ladies."

Patsy and Delia chorused their goodbyes before turning back down the street. They walked in companionable silence for a while, revelling in their closeness. As they approached the Nurses Home, however, Patsy suddenly stiffened. "Goodness, I've completely forgotten about curfew. The door will be locked."

Delia shook her head. "Relax. I have everything under control."

"Delia Busby, I am not letting you shin up a drainpipe. You almost gave me a heart attack when you climbed all the way up that tree the other weekend."

Delia snorted. "We couldn't let that lad lose his kite. And that was an easy climb."

"Delia," Patsy replied, a steely hint of warning in her tone.

"I'm not climbing anything, silly. I've got a key, remember?"

Patsy blinked. "I thought you were joking when you said you had made a copy."

"Why would I joke about that? I'm a great believer in making life easy where I can." She dug around in her coat pocket and retrieved the key triumphantly. "Ta da!"

"Shhhhh! We still have to get inside without alerting Matron," Patsy hissed.

Delia shrugged but when she spoke again it was a whisper. "All right, but I wouldn't be surprised if Matron was blowing her pigs to market in her room after half a dozen sherries. There's next to no one staying here at the moment who isn't working."

Patsy giggled and then struggled to keep quiet, shooting Delia another look.

Delia grinned back devilishly before using the key in the door. They managed to keep quiet all the way up to their corridor and creep silently into Patsy's room.

Once the door was shut, Patsy grabbed the 'door book' and jammed it into the bottom of the door. She turned round and leaned back, sighing with relief. She watched as Delia unbuttoned her coat and couldn't help smiling expansively. "Merry Christmas, Deels."

Delia smiled back. "Are you drunk, Patience Mount?" Without looking, she slung her coat towards the corner of Patsy's room, watching as Patsy removed her own.

"I am deliciously drunk, thank you very much." Patsy's coat and scarf were thrown in a similar direction.

Delia raised her eyebrows. This was new. In all the time she had known Patsy, she had always fastidiously hung up her clothes before doing anything else. Her nostrils flared slightly as she stalked towards the tall nurse, resting her hands on the woman's hips. "Do I get a Christmas kiss?" She whispered.

Patsy lowered her lips in response and captured her love's lips with her own. Patsy wrapped her arms around Delia and deepened the kiss, moaning slightly as she felt Delia respond, tasting gin and lipstick, and all things Delia.

The women crushed themselves together, getting lost in the sensation of the kiss. Patsy couldn't get enough of kissing Delia. Her body was reacting to every touch of Delia's tongue and she could feel the younger woman gripping her shoulders tightly. She wanted more. Patsy knew now. She wanted more. She wanted... "Delia?" she gasped as she broke the kiss eventually.

Delia looked into Patsy's smouldering eyes and could see exactly what she was asking. Knowing that she was mirroring Patsy's look of desire, she simply nodded before moving in to kiss Patsy, hard.

Patsy was reeling. She knew it was the alcohol making her bold, but she also knew that it wasn't simply the alcohol making her reckless. She had been holding back her feelings for so long. She had told herself for so long that it was wrong to feel this way. But it wasn't. How could it be wrong when every touch, look and taste of Delia sent her dizzy with want and love. Nervously, she brought her hands up and attempted to undo one of the buttons of Delia's blouse. Her hands were shaking so much she could barely control them but eventually she managed one.

Delia kissed Patsy again and tried to be patient but the taller woman's hands were trembling. After the third fumbled attempt, Delia took pity on Patsy and disengaged from her embrace, stepping back slightly. "Let me help," she murmured, her voice thick with need.

Delia found her own hands shaking as she tried to unfasten the next button down. She looked up in frustration after her second failed attempt and her breath caught as she saw Patsy staring at her, completely hypnotised by Delia's actions.

Delia didn't know if it was a year's worth of want, the alcohol in her system, or an after effect of the train crash demanding that she need affirmation of love, but Delia needed Patsy now.

Her eyes burned with desire and she returned Patsy's stare as she grabbed hold of either side of her blouse and pulled it open. She hoped that the buttons would simply take the path of least resistance and slip through the holes. Two buttons flew off the blouse.

Patsy gasped.

It was the catalyst Patsy needed and she stalked straight up to Delia and grabbed Delia's now open blouse and tugged it off her shoulders. As they kissed again, she pushed Delia back towards the bed and they tumbled onto it.

Patsy ran her fingers over the newly exposed flesh before using her lips to repeat the exploration. She could feel Delia tugging at the zip of her dress and absently shifted to help her remove it, no longer concerned about what Delia might think of the scars that marred her skin. She had seen the look of lust and love in Delia's eyes, and felt secure in her embrace. She arched into the brunette's touch, even as she felt Delia writhe at the attention she was lavishing on her.

Patsy's hands drifted towards the fastenings of Delia's skirt and moments later it joined the other garments on the floor. The blonde lay kisses along Delia's neck and lower. Her hands moved almost without volition as they reached behind Delia to unclasp her brassiere. Delia lifted herself slightly to help the process, finding Patsy's lips again and kissing her deeply as Patsy at last touched Delia's breast almost reverently.

Delia bit down on a groan. She knew that they were alone in their corridor, but she was not going to take any sort of risk that might frighten Patsy into backing off. She had wanted Patsy to do this for over a year. As Patsy broke the kiss and moved her lips lower to caress Delia's breast, Delia realised that her imagination had been a poor substitute for the real thing. She felt like she was seeing stars. Her own hands drifted slowly towards the clasp of Patsy's bra but she ran her hands gently over it several times to ensure she wasn't rushing the older woman.

Patsy was almost surprised to find that her brassiere had been removed but there was no time to be worried by it. The sensation of her breasts touching Delia's as she reached up for yet another kiss was almost overwhelming. It felt as if all of her blood was pumping into her core and she could feel an insistent pulse pounding there. She needed... She wanted... Suddenly, Patsy wasn't quite sure how to proceed. She didn't want to be inadequate for Delia. She wanted it to be perfect. She needed it to be perfect. Why was her brain suddenly functioning when she should be running on instinct?

Delia could sense the hesitation in Patsy and raised a hand to her cheek. She guided her face so that they looked at each other, their lips just inches apart. "Are you all right?" She whispered gently.

Patsy nodded. "I want to, Deels, but I don't want to disappoint you."

"You'd never disappoint me, sweetheart," Delia replied. Gently, she rolled them over and took the lead, somehow knowing that was what Patsy needed. She kissed her again, lightly at first, before once again building up the intensity.

As Patsy responded to the kiss, Delia shifted slightly and drew her hand lower, lightly tracing random patterns on exposed flesh. Her hand went ever lower but paused just above the waistband of Patsy's knickers. She broke off the kiss and looked at Patsy lovingly. "Are you sure?" She breathed.

Patsy nodded and Delia smiled softly, lowering her lips down to kiss her again, even as her hand dipped underneath the thin material.

 


 

 

"Pats?"

Patsy felt a nudge, to go with the whisper of her name. She grumbled incoherently and nestled down into the covers.

"Pats?"

The whisper was more urgent this time. Patsy opened one eye and smiled as she saw Delia looking at her with a huge grin on her face. "What time is it?" She asked groggily.

"8 o'clock on the dot," Delia said innocently. "I waited as instructed."

"You haven't just changed the time on the clock have you?" The tall nurse asked suspiciously.

Delia looked almost affronted. "No, of course not." She paused for a second. "I wish I'd thought to do that. I've been awake for ages."

Patsy groaned as she opened her other eye and rubbed the sleep out of eyes. She realised that she was still cocooned in the blankets and quite nude. Delia was sat up and wearing pyjamas. "When did you get dressed?"

"When you stole all the blankets."

"I'm so sorry." Patsy was immediately contrite until she saw a twinkle in Delia's eye. "You've only just got dressed, haven't you?"

Delia nodded. "I managed to sleep under a tiny corner of the blanket, but I didn't freeze to death," she continued dramatically.

Patsy grinned, not taken in for a second. "You should have woken me. I'm sure we could have found a way to keep warm," she teased.

Delia winced. "Try moving Pats. I think you'll find that you've worked muscles you didn't even know you had. I know I have."

Patsy looked at the brunette sceptically before sitting up. She groaned, this time in pain and her eyes widened in surprise. "Goodness me, everything hurts." She rubbed her left hip absently and then blushed, recalling several moments that could have attributed to that particular ache.

"Everything?" Delia teased, a rather self-satisfied grin on her face.

Patsy narrowed her eyes. "Yes." She paused for a second as she ensured that the blankets maintained her modesty. She gave Delia a lop-sided smile. "I wouldn't change a thing though," she admitted softly.

Delia's grin transformed into a full-on smile. "Me, neither." She leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss on Patsy's lips. "Merry Christmas, sweetheart. I love you."

Patsy smiled as she returned the kiss. "I love you, too."

To be continued...

Chapter Text

"You can't still be hungry," Delia grumbled. She was lying on her bed and she propped herself up on her elbows so that she could see what Patsy was up to.

"Not really. I just like cracking nuts," Patsy replied, her face a mask of concentration as she selected another one to shell.

Delia grinned, amused. "Pats, you can't make it that easy for me. I need to work at my innuendo."

"Really, you don't," Patsy demurred. "Ha! Success." She smiled triumphantly at the crunch of a walnut being broken into.

Delia sat up completely and looked down to where Patsy sat, cross-legged on the floor. "You haven't cracked any of the Brazil nuts," she pointed out.

"They're too tough. You'll have to do them."

The Welsh woman laughed. "Are you saying that you're weaker than I am?" She teased.

"I am not weak," Patsy protested, sounding affronted. "It's just that you are unreasonably strong."

"Unreasonably?" Delia queried.

"Yes." Patsy paused and there was a wicked glint in her eyes. "For your size," she continued in a dead-pan tone.

Delia laughed good-naturedly. Their Christmas Day so far had been all she could have hoped for. They had exchanged gifts before heading down to the kitchen for a simple breakfast of tea and toast. After reviewing the facilities the weekend before, Patsy decided that it was not ideal to prepare a Christmas dinner. Delia then discovered that the canteen at the hospital was providing Christmas dinner for staff and she managed to charm the canteen manager into being included in the numbers.

It wasn't perfect but the staff working were making the best of it too, and were more than happy for Patsy and Delia to share in the festivities. The food was surprisingly passable for hospital standards, and at least they didn't have to clear up, as Delia pointed out.

The two women then went out for a long walk, enjoying the mostly peaceful streets and each other's company before returning to the Nurses Home. They had spent the morning in Patsy's room but had relocated into Delia's and the tall blonde nurse had fetched the bag of nuts, a bowl and nutcrackers along with her precious box of Newberry Fruits, much to Delia's disgust.

Patsy had managed to shell a good portion of the nuts by the time Delia sat up. The brunette frowned as she surveyed the scene. "You do know that there are pieces of shell everywhere, don't you?"

"Ah, yes. That is rather an unfortunate side effect." Patsy looked slightly apologetic.

Delia narrowed her eyes. "This is why you bundled me in here. You didn't want all the mess in your room, you rat!"

Patsy smirked. "I'd be picking up the fragments after every nut. I'd never get to enjoy the experience."

"But it's alright to do it in my room?" Delia wasn't cross at all, but it was fun to spar.

"I'll get the carpet sweeper from the cleaner's cupboard when I'm done. You'll never know I was here." Patsy paused and popped a freshly liberated hazelnut in her mouth. She crunched thoughtfully and then handed Delia a Brazil nut and the nutcrackers.

"Did you want a demonstration of my unreasonable strength?"

"No, I want a Brazil nut. They're my favourite." Patsy waggled her eyebrows and smiled with puppy-dog eyes.

Delia laughed and shook her head as she got to work, unable to resist the look Patsy had given her. She cracked several before putting the shells in the bin.

Eventually, the novelty of the task wore off and after some hurried tidying, the two women lay back on Delia's bed, listening to the Evening Program on the wireless.

Patsy sighed. "I could do this every year." She sounded wistful.

"In the Nurses Home, on a single bed?" Delia queried. She felt blissfully relaxed and was rather hoping she could fall asleep in Patsy's arms.

Patsy turned and looked at the smaller woman. "If I'm holding you, then yes. It doesn't matter where we are."

Delia smiled lovingly. "You're such a romantic."

Patsy winced slightly but tried to mask it.

Delia caught the gesture. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," the blonde reacted instantly.

Delia simply raised an eyebrow and waited patiently.

Patsy hesitated and rested her arm over Delia's waist, allowing her fingers to trace random patterns on the brunette's back. The move drew them closer together and Patsy revelled in their nearness. "I don't think I deserve the title of 'romantic'," she admitted finally.

Delia frowned. "Why ever not?" The Welsh woman could think of nothing that might have provoked the statement.

Patsy sighed and shifted uncomfortably. She had a feeling this was going to turn into a horrifically awkward conversation about feelings, but she was bothered by what she had done. She felt like she needed to confess that concern to Delia. Even if it was excruciating to do so. "I shouldn't have made love to you when we were drunk."

Delia stiffened and her eyes became round, suddenly wide-awake and alarmed. "Did you not want to do that last night?"

Patsy tightened her hold on the smaller woman as she felt Delia begin to pull away. "More than anything. But I shouldn't have to be drunk to get up enough courage to. We both lost our inhibitions. Our judgement could have been impaired. We should have..."

Delia stopped Patsy's words by placing a finger across her lips. She smiled softly at her love. "Patsy, I have wanted to be intimate with you for so long. I never pushed, because you're so reserved and cautious. But I've seen your passionate side. Your kisses make my toes curl and turn me to jelly. If it took a bit of Dutch courage to go to the next step, then what does it matter? I knew exactly what I was doing last night."

She paused for few seconds. "Up until this point, I hadn't regretted my decision at all. But I will kick myself forever if this wasn't something you wanted to do, or wasn't ready for."

Patsy grabbed Delia's hand and kissed her finger before clasping it tightly. "Deels, I love you. I just feel like a fraud that I couldn't get past my own insecurities to show you just how much I love you. I shouldn't need alcohol to be able to do that. It feels like I've cheated somehow." The tall nurse shook her head slightly, frustrated at her inability to express what she really felt.

Delia kissed Patsy's knuckles lightly. "If I recall correctly, neither of us has had anything other than a glass of wine with lunch?"

Patsy nodded mutely.

Delia took a quick glance at her watch. "Lunch was over six hours ago," she continued.

"Yes," Patsy whispered.

"Then you can't say that alcohol is affecting your judgement now, can you?"

"No." Patsy seemed unable to respond other than monosyllabically.

"Make love to me," Delia breathed, barely finishing the sentence before Patsy surged toward her and claimed her lips. They kissed passionately, crushing themselves into each other for long moments before breaking apart, breathing heavily.

"Wait just a second," Patsy requested breathlessly, rolling off the bed and jamming a book under the door. She turned round and swallowed, seeing Delia disheveled, waiting on the bed for her. She had never seen a sight so beautiful.

Last night had been all about finally sating their pent-up desire. There had been an urgency to it, mixed with the hesitancy of finally breaking down the last barriers of intimacy. Now, Patsy took her time, mapping Delia's skin with her fingers and lips. She marvelled at how her touch elicited goosebumps, and was spurred on by the tiny gasps and moans that Delia did her best to suppress.

Delia's reactions sent Patsy soaring too. Last night had been amazing, and intense. Tonight, Patsy realised that it hadn't just been the alcohol influencing their reactions. And there were still no lightning bolts striking her down because of her sin. It was glorious. It was wonderful. It was right.

The lack of alcohol did mean that they were more aware of their surroundings this time, and both women kept an ear out for any external disturbance that might indicate unwelcome visitors. Patsy was not quite so relaxed, ready to push away from Delia if she had to.

Delia didn't quite lose herself completely to Patsy's attention. She sensed the slight control Patsy was maintaining, and kept a tiny part of herself aware too.

Their lovemaking was blissful, but controlled, and both women knew that they would be unlikely ever to be quite so blasé about the potential of being discovered as they were on Christmas Eve.

~~~

The rest of the Christmas break passed far too quickly for Patsy and Delia. After spending the night with each other on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they decided not to push their luck and retreated to their own rooms to sleep for the remainder of the week. They were uncertain when the other nurses would start to return and didn't want to risk being caught out. However, every moment that could be spent together, was spent together.

Delia in particular, found it difficult to sleep alone and her slumber was often broken by flashbacks to the rail crash. She put it down to the massive emotional upheaval she had gone through in the last few days and tried to ignore it. Although she was tired, she knew she could lie in, and was woken on one occasion with another bacon sandwich, courtesy of Benny's cafe.

Since becoming intimate, they had both become more tactile with each other. Patsy insisted that they maintain the strict rules she had set when out in public. When they were alone, she took every opportunity to take Delia's hand and hold her as they lay on her bed. She didn't know what she had done to deserve Delia's love, and often just needed to touch the brunette to prove that it was real. Delia had always craved Patsy's touch and now found it incredibly difficult not to demonstrate her affection.

The New Year brought new ward placements. Patsy was assigned the Intensive Therapy Unit while Delia would work in the Cardiac Care Unit. The women were dreading a return to shift work. It would mean long periods of not seeing each other if their shifts did not align, but they resigned themselves to making the most of whatever time that did match.

Working in ITU was a very different experience to the other wards Patsy had trained on. The nursing was far more intense, with one member of staff per patient. As a trainee, Patsy would initially shadow an experienced nurse, learning to operate the life support machines in addition to detailed observations, airway maintenance and general nursing. Once she was signed off, she would look after her own patient under supervision.

For the first few shifts, Patsy enjoyed the massive learning curve and heavy workload. Most of her time was spent concentrating on the nurse she was shadowing. When she started to manage her own patient, she had to focus on every element and often had to be reminded to take a break. She barely took notice of the rest of the ward.

Things changed as Patsy began to get used to her tasks and they became ordered and routine, rather than relentless and new. A woman in her forties was admitted with bacterial meningitis. She was feverish and in and out of consciousness. Her case was far too complex for Patsy to manage as a student, but the woman was placed in an adjacent bed. Patsy found herself called over to assist whenever she grew particularly combative through her altered level of consciousness.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about the woman except she was the same age as Patsy's mother had been in the camp. Watching and sometimes helping her colleague fuss round in a seemingly futile attempt to treat her was painful for Patsy. She studiously ignored the woman and concentrated on her own patient.

It didn't help that Patsy was on a run of late shifts and Delia was on earlies. This meant that Patsy left for work before Delia had finished and returned back late in the evening when Delia was getting ready for bed. Patsy was reluctant to knock on Delia's door. She had noticed that the brunette was looking tired, but Delia centred her. She tapped lightly and slipped in when Delia called out.

Delia was propped up in bed and had been reading, if the book that was now splayed on the nightstand was anything to go by. "What's wrong, Pats? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Patsy shook her head, unable to find her voice and simply crossed the room and perched on the edge of the bed. "Hold me," she whispered brokenly.

Delia instantly obliged, shifting over and gently pulling Patsy down so that they could embrace comfortably. "What's happened?" Delia was instantly alert, stroking Patsy's hair and back soothingly as she felt Patsy tremble in her arms.

Patsy knew she was being stupid. And she still found it incredibly difficult to talk about the camp and her mother, even to Delia. She was being irrational and Delia needed to sleep. "It's nothing, Delia. I've just been missing you." She brushed off the query defensively.

Delia stifled a sigh. There was no point pursuing a conversation Patsy didn't want to have. She just wished Patsy felt secure enough to trust her. She decided to let it slide and stay within safe territory. "I've been missing you too. You know you can knock on my door anytime. I don't mind waiting up for you."

Patsy didn't answer for a few minutes. She was too busy drawing strength from Delia's presence. She really had no idea how she had coped with anything before she knew Delia. It all felt a rather hollow existence now. The blonde nurse looked up and studied Delia's face. "You look exhausted. Are they slave drivers in Cardiac Care?" She gently tucked a long strand of silky hair behind Delia's ear.

The Welsh woman smiled as she shook her head. "No. It's the incessant early shifts. I don't think I'll ever get used to getting up at 5.30."

Patsy winced. "It's gone half-ten. I'll go so you can get some sleep."

Delia tightened her hold on the taller woman as she tried to get up. "Not yet. You've only been here a moment."

"I don't want to contribute to your weariness, Deels," Patsy demurred.

"You're not. I was reading while I was waiting up for you. I really have missed you. Let me just enjoy a few minutes being held by you." She smiled shyly.

Patsy returned the look, feeling calmer than she had all day. "You have magical powers, Nurse Busby," she decided before placing a gentle kiss on Delia's lips.

"So do you," Delia replied.

They shared kisses for a few more minutes before Patsy finally broke away. "It's nearly curfew. I'd better go."

Delia rolled onto her back and groaned quietly. "When's our date?" She asked. They had taken to labelling any time off together as a date. If the first couple of weeks was any indication, they would not have much time together at all for some considerable time.

"Sunday. Depending on the weather I think we'd thought of going to Regent's Park."

"I think I'd rather spend the whole day in bed," Delia grumbled, blushing when she realised what she had said.

Patsy grinned, feeling lighter somehow. "I've created a monster," she teased.

Delia shrugged. "I know what I like," she replied, a devilish smile on her lips.

"Incorrigible, Nurse Busby," Patsy accused as she got up. She leant down and kissed the younger woman one last time. "Get some sleep. We'll talk properly when we have time."

Delia had a feeling that Patsy was brushing away the incident but now was not the time to make a point. She nodded groggily and waited for Patsy to let herself out before turning off the bedside lamp.

The brunette lay in the dark while her eyes remained stubbornly open. She was getting flashbacks more regularly now and had been waiting up in the hope that she might be able to talk through her fears with Patsy. The look on Patsy's face as she came through the door stopped any thought of bringing up her own problems.

She exhaled loudly, frustrated with herself. The train crash had been weeks ago now. With the exception of Penny, who had decided to take a break from training but had promised to return, all the other nurses seemed to have put the incident behind them. No one brought it up in discussion either, even when the news broadcast the confirmed cause of the crash and reported on the repairs to the bridge.

Delia rubbed her face wearily before rolling over and determinedly closing her eyes. She concentrated on her breathing, in an attempt to stop her mind from racing but her thoughts oscillated between her concern for Patsy and the rail carriage.

The nurse was just at the in between heaviness of being awake and asleep when she heard Patsy's cry. She was on the move before she realised what she was doing. Patsy hadn't had a nightmare for months. Delia squinted down the corridor to check that it was clear before letting herself quietly into Patsy's room.

Patsy's eyes shot open just as Delia reached out to take her hand. She was sweating and looked haunted. Registering that Delia was there, Patsy burst into tears, unable to contain the emotions elicited by the dream.

They manoeuvred through the familiar routine of dealing with the nightmare. Delia made herself comfortable on the bed and Patsy buried herself into her love's embrace.

"Sorry," Patsy muttered through chattering teeth.

"Never apologise about this," Delia demurred. "It's just one of those things."

"You're supposed to be sleeping," the blonde continued.

"It doesn't matter." Delia stroked Patsy's hair and peppered kisses on her head. "I can rest here just as well with you."

Once again feeling safe, Patsy relaxed. She felt guilty for disturbing Delia. The nightmare had obviously been triggered by her experience on the ward. She knew that she would need to talk about her fears and memories or the nightmares would continue.

Patsy sighed shakily, feeling her body relax and allowed sleep to claim her again.

~~~

When she woke, Patsy realised she was alone. Confused, she sat up and looked at the bedside clock. It was half past 8. Even as she realised that Delia had gone to work, Patsy spotted the note left on the nightstand. She smiled as she read Delia's neat script. The tall nurse lay back down in bed and mulled over recent events before getting up to make the most of her morning before work.

When Patsy stepped into ITU, she could instantly see that the woman with meningitis had deteriorated. Once again, she was allocated the patient in the adjacent bay and although she had plenty of work to keep her busy, the tall blonde nurse couldn't help but be distracted by the other patient. Where yesterday, she had been restless and combative, now she lay unmoving.

For Patsy, it was like watching her mother slowly die again. She knew it was irrational to think this way but Patsy could sense the frustration and despair from the nurse attending the woman. It brought back painful memories of loss and guilt. She did her best to help but it was easier to concentrate on her own patient, who was comatose but stable following a severe head injury.

By the time she trudged wearily back to the Nurses Home, Patsy was mentally exhausted. She knew she had promised herself that she would talk to Delia, but Patsy wasn't sure she had the energy for it. She got changed out of her uniform and into some thick flannel pyjamas before surreptitiously sneaking into the Welsh woman's room.

She smiled fondly as she surveyed Delia sprawled across the bed, fast asleep. A book lay half-open on the floor and Patsy surmised that she must have drifted off while reading. She tip-toed over and folded the book, placing it on the nightstand, before going to the wardrobe to retrieve an extra blanket. With Delia lying on top of the covers, she would wake up cold if Patsy didn't cover her up.

Patsy placed a featherlight kiss on top of Delia's head before retreating to her own room. They could talk another time. It took her a while to still her mind, and Patsy smoked several cigarettes as she thought about the poor woman in ITU. Eventually, she lay down and tried to relax enough to sleep.

Patsy shot up in bed, gasping for breath a short while later. Her heart was racing and she was sweating. Fear coursed through her trembling body as she tried to shake off the nightmare.

She looked up as the door opened and saw Delia blearily stumble in. "Deels, you don't..."

"Yes I do. Budge up." Delia was tetchy, but there was no way she was going to let Patsy go through her nightmares thinking she was alone. Not when she could help. She grabbed Patsy's alarm clock and set it before getting into bed with her love. "Come here, sweetheart," she offered, opening her arms for Patsy to settle in.

Patsy hesitated. Delia looked drained and wan. She clearly was not getting enough sleep and Patsy felt guilty for disturbing her again.

"Please, Pats. The quicker you settle down, the quicker I can close my eyes too." Delia made no bones about feeling tired but was resolute in offering Patsy a safe place after her nightmare.

Patsy nodded shakily and shuffled into place. "We need to talk," she muttered sleepily.

Delia managed to keep the volume down on her stab of incredulous laughter. "I think I must be hallucinating. I'd swear I just heard you say that we need to talk."

Patsy buried her face into the crook of Delia's arm and smiled. "Only you could make me smile after waking up terrified," she mumbled.

"Shhhh. We will talk. Just not now. I'm here, sweetheart. Go to sleep." Delia's voice was thick with drowsiness.

Patsy was embarrassed and cross with herself that she had interrupted Delia's much needed sleep. She couldn't help but nestle in and take comfort from her lover and she once again relaxed into slumber.

~~~

Patsy didn't get the chance to speak to Delia the following evening. Just before the end of the shift, the meningitis patient died. Seeing the drained defeat in her colleague's eye, Patsy immediately offered to assist in laying out the body. The two women worked methodically and quietly. Given the age of the woman, and the fact that she had a young family, the nurses did their best to make her look at peace before waiting for the porters to take her to the chapel of rest.

As the bed was wheeled away, Patsy glanced at the wall clock. "Hell, I've missed curfew. Matron will have my guts for garters."

The sister in charge shook her head, happy to be of assistance after Patsy had been detained so late on the ward. "That's easily remedied, Nurse Mount. I'll ring ahead. Matron will be waiting for you when you get there." She looked sympathetically at the student nurse. "Thank you for your assistance this evening. It was very good of you."

Patsy shrugged it off. "I couldn't really help with anything else. It was the least I could do."

"Nevertheless, I appreciate it. Now go home and sleep."

The Matron let her in as predicted. She then walked up the first set of stairs with Patsy, much to the young woman's consternation. Patsy almost stumbled when Matron told her that it was too late to check on Delia and that she should let her sleep tonight. She looked at the spindly nurse in alarm but calmed slightly. The woman didn't look disapproving or judgemental. It would seem that the Matron had picked up on their close friendship but nothing more. Patsy hoped she had read her correctly, but the comment made her anxious and cautious. She followed the woman's advice and went straight to her room.

When she woke up the next morning, Patsy sighed with relief. She had slept through, without incident. Knowing that they had both had a better night's sleep, Patsy was determined to see Delia tonight and attempt to talk to her. She got dressed and hurried to the High Street to pick up a small token of appreciation for Delia before rushing back to get changed and go to work.

Patsy was just stubbing her cigarette out at the end of her first break when Lynette came in and filled the kettle. "How's Delia?" She asked conversationally.

"Fine." The response was automatic but, for the second time in twenty four hours, Patsy's heart began to race. She had thought they were being discreet. What had they done that had garnered attention all of a sudden?

"Oh, that's a relief. Rachel said she looked absolutely ghastly after she collapsed yesterday." Lynette turned round and leaned against the counter, looking concerned.

Patsy felt all the air go out from her lungs and she became light-headed. "Collapsed?" She asked.

"Yes. She went down like a sack of potatoes according to Rachel. Matron wanted her admitted, but she insisted that with you next door to keep an eye out for her, she would be better off in her own room." Lynette snorted. "I suppose she told you she simply fainted. How typical of Delia to downplay everything."

Patsy's mind was reeling. So that was what the Matron had been referring to. But that would also mean that no one would have checked in on Delia since yesterday. "Did Rachel say what was wrong with Delia?"

Lynette frowned. "Hasn't she told you? How strange. Rachel said she thinks it's meningitis."

Patsy ran.

 

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

 


Despite every instinct telling Patsy to go straight to the Nurses Home and Delia, Patsy forced herself to see the Ward Sister.

"You're asking to leave the department so you can check on a work colleague?" Sister Marshall looked confused.

"Yes, Sister. Of course, I wouldn't normally do this, but I've only just found out that she's unwell."

"What does this have to do with you? Can't you just ring the night Matron and ask her to check in with her? I can't afford to lose nurses on a whim."

Patsy swallowed. She had anticipated that the conversation would go this way. "Yes, I could, I suppose. But they only allowed Nurse Busby home because she told the Matron I would keep an eye on her. I feel like I'm letting everyone down."

Sister Marshall had barely heard the last part of Patsy's conversation. "Nurse Busby? The small Welsh girl who was at the rail crash?"

Patsy nodded. "Well, she was one of the nurses, yes." She was surprised that Delia had made an impression on staff throughout the hospital, even if she had been described as a little girl.

Sister Marshall shook her head. "Terrible business." She paused and looked at Patsy steadily. "Go. I'll allow you to take your second break now but you will be deducted an hour's pay. I expect you back at work in 90 minutes. We cannot afford to lose you for the entire shift."

Patsy nodded hurriedly. She wouldn't have cared if her pay for the whole week had been stopped at this point. "Yes, Sister." She spun on her heel and through sheer force of will, managed to make herself walk, rather than run, towards the exit.

"Nurse Mount?"

Patsy turned around, wincing. "Yes, Sister?"

"Go to the stores and take Nurse Busby some Lucozade. She'll need it to aid her recovery."

Patsy nodded gratefully. "Thank you, Sister."

After collecting supplies, Patsy hurried back to the Nurses Home, bounding up the stairs two at a time in her rush to see Delia. She tapped lightly on the door but did not wait for an answer and let herself in. "Deels?" She called softly.

As the light from the corridor illuminated Delia's face, she flinched and pulled the covers up to shield her eyes, groaning slightly as she did so.

Patsy quickly shut the door and the room fell dark again. It wasn't pitch black, but Patsy's eyes weren't used to the switch in brightness, so she crossed the room using memory rather than sight. "Sorry, Delia," she apologised as she placed the bottles she had been carrying on the nightstand. Patsy could make out the shadowy outlines of a bottle of painkillers as well as a jug of water and a glass.

"Where have you been?" Delia mumbled, sounding supremely grumpy.

Patsy kneeled down by the side of the bed and stroked the top of Delia's head gently. "I am so sorry, Delia. No one told me you weren't well."


Slowly, Delia pulled down the covers and she squinted at the blonde nurse. "How did you find out then?"

Patsy shook her head. "Fortunately, Lynette came into the staff room and told me. I begged Sister to let me check in on you."

Delia frowned. "What time is it?" She asked groggily.

"It's 5 o'clock. Sister gave me an hour to make sure you were alright and then I have to go back to work."

Delia stared at Patsy, her eyes cloudy. "I'm glad you're here," she whispered.

Patsy bit back a sob of relief. "I'm glad you're all right. How are you feeling?" She brushed a few strands of hair away from Delia's eyes. The blonde nurse could feel the heat radiating from her brow.

Delia shrugged and winced. "Like I've been run over," she grumbled. "Hideous headache, fever, achy all over, and photophobia. I haven't got a stiff neck though, so that's a relief."

"Lynette said you've got meningitis. Why on earth weren't you admitted?" Patsy just about managed to disguise the panic in her voice.

"The doctor said it was a mild case. Although the symptoms don't feel that mild, to be sure. It's viral meningitis, Patsy. According to the doctor, the standard treatment is bed rest, plenty of fluids and painkillers. I'd rather do that in the comfort of my own room than being kept awake all night being prodded and poked on a ward."

Patsy narrowed her eyes. "If it's as simple as that, why did you faint on the ward?"

Delia looked uncomfortable. "I think that was due more to the fact I haven't really been sleeping all that well."

Patsy looked stricken. "I'm so sorry. That's all my fault because of the nightmares."

"Not really," Delia admitted softly. "I hadn't been sleeping well before you began with them again."

"Why?"

Delia yawned. "Long story that I don't think I have the energy for yet," she replied eventually.

Patsy nodded reluctantly. "You sound as evasive as me," she commented wryly.

"Irritating, isn't it?" Delia muttered.

Patsy gave a lop-sided smile. "Very. Deels, are you sure it's all right to leave you on your own?"

Delia nodded. "As long as someone checks in every now and again, I'll be fine," the Welsh woman insisted.

"I'm sorry I didn't come by sooner." Patsy couldn't help but berate herself.

"I'm just glad you're here now." Delia smiled.

"I'll stay as long as I can, and then I'll be back at the end of my shift."

Delia shifted slightly and sat up, groaning as she did. "I need a big favour from you first," she declared.

"Why are you getting up? You're practically falling asleep on me as it is. It's bed rest only for you, young lady."

"I need to go to the loo. I tried earlier but managed to do a first class impression of a new-born lamb." She glanced at Patsy and looked slightly embarrassed. "Can you help me down the corridor?"

"Of course." Patsy got up immediately and switched into nurse mode. Delia leaned into the taller woman heavily and flinched before shielding her eyes almost completely from the artificial light in the corridor. "Don't worry, Delia. Close your eyes if you need to. I'll guide you."

Delia didn't even bother to argue and allowed Patsy to lead her to the bathrooms. She was exhausted by the time they returned to her room, and knew that it was only Patsy keeping her upright by the time she got to her bed.

Patsy took her time and ensured that Delia was tucked back into bed and comfortable. She insisted that the younger woman drink a glass of Lucozade before filling the tumbler with water. "You need to keep drinking."

"I know. I'm just not looking forward to another bathroom trip."

"I'll help." Patsy looked nervously at the bedside clock and then grimaced. "Will you be all right if I go back?" She really didn't want to leave her, but now that Patsy had seen Delia for herself, she felt reassured that the young woman was not at death's door.

Delia nodded, trying hard, but failing to hold off the grip of sleep. When Patsy leaned over to kiss her though, Delia found the strength somewhere to lift a hand and stop her. "No kissing, sweetheart. I'm contagious." She wiped her brow before drawing the blankets up under her chin. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone," she mumbled, her voice beginning to slur as she succumbed.

Patsy shook her head and waited for a few more minutes to assure herself that Delia really was asleep and comfortable. She then hurried back to the ward, knowing that she would be coming straight back as soon as her shift was over.

 

~~~~

 

For two days, Delia was pretty much bed bound. The debilitating headache and photophobia meant that she needed to rely on Patsy's assistance to get to the bathroom, and the exertion of each trip exhausted her for hours afterwards. The only upside to the illness was that either the flashbacks had stopped or her body was too tired to react to them. Whatever it was, Delia managed to sleep uninterrupted. Patsy managed to cajole her into drinking Lucozade, but Delia had no real appetite and it was a struggle to find any sort of food to tempt her with.

On the third day, the Welsh woman seemed to turn a corner. Her headache receded to just a dull pain and she suddenly had more energy. She was actually sat up in bed and reading when Patsy came in after her late shift. "Hello, Pats."

Patsy smiled. "Hello. You're looking better." She crossed the room and perched on the side of the bed before brushing Delia's fringe out of her eyes. "I can feel that your temperature's dropped, too." She looked at Delia appraisingly. "How do you feel?"

Delia frowned. "Definitely better, but not a hundred percent just yet."

Patsy closed her eyes in relief. "Oh, that's wonderful news." She glanced round and took stock of the nightstand. "I see you've been drinking a lot more too. You must be feeling better."

"I actually managed to get to the bathroom earlier so I felt a bit safer drinking more." Delia grinned sheepishly. "I still seem to be sleeping for hours on end though. I'm not sure how I'll cope going back to work at this rate."

"You'll be fine in no time now." Patsy kicked off her shoes and swung her legs up on the bed so that they could sit alongside each other. "I've got tomorrow off."

Delia groaned. "That was our day off together." She looked apologetically at the taller nurse. "I don't think I'm going to be up to going out anywhere," she admitted reluctantly.

"I didn't think you would be. So I have a couple of suggestions, but at least one isn't particularly romantic."

Delia frowned. "Go on," she prompted.

"Well, it's been several days since you've had a bath and washed your hair. I thought I could help you out with that."

"That's got my heart racing more than you probably intended," Delia interrupted, a mischievous grin on her lips.

Patsy shook her head. "You're definitely on the mend. But getting back to my proposal, I then thought that you could spend a bit of time in my room while we air your room out. It could do with having the window open to blow out all the stale air, and there's nothing better than fresh sheets. Once I've done that, I'll get us some proper food for lunch, if you feel up for it?"

Delia looked embarrassed. "You shouldn't be doing all the cleaning for me, Patsy. That's not fair."

"Nonsense. It'll take me no time at all. And it will be nice to see you eat something substantial. I really will believe you're feeling better at that point." Patsy was simply relieved to have a plan that involved Delia recovering well from her malady.

Delia nodded. "All right, but I don't want you wearing yourself out and succumbing to some ridiculous illness, too. Promise me you'll get a good night's sleep tonight."

"I promise. But I'm not going anywhere yet." Patsy paused for a second, and then took a steadying breath. "How tired are you feeling now?" She probed.

"I haven't really done anything to make me feel tired today." Delia looked at her love curiously. "Why?"

Patsy hesitated again before wincing slightly. "I wanted to ask you about why you weren't sleeping," she admitted softly.

Delia sighed. "I wondered if you'd bring that up again." She rubbed her face and sat up a bit more, trying to gather her thoughts. She looked carefully at Patsy. "I will talk about this, but I do hope you'll trust me enough in return to talk, too."

Patsy nodded. "Of course. But I can tell you that the reason I don't open up to you more has nothing to do with trust."

Delia frowned. "What does that mean?"

Patsy marshalled her thoughts for a few moments. "After the camp was liberated, I ended up sailing home and being sent off to boarding school. The war in Europe had finished a few months earlier and already, people were not talking about it. The war in the Far East was a bit of a mystery to most people. Those of us that survived just couldn't talk about it. The horror was unimaginable. Even though there had been reports about the Holocaust, I don't think people could believe that prisoners of war could be treated so appallingly. No one thought that the Geneva Convention would be so blatantly ignored, but they didn't know that it didn't apply to civilians. That adjustment was only made after the war."

The blonde nurse swallowed, keeping her emotions firmly in check. "If I'm honest, I hadn't even heard of the Geneva Convention. All I knew was that no one should be treated that way. But even if it had applied to all prisoners, I truly don't believe that the Japanese would have abided by it."

Patsy's voice was bitter. "They were ashamed that their role was guarding women and children. They thought it was dishonourable. So as prisoners, we had no rights whatsoever. No matter what a treaty might say. What made it worse was that the Japanese withheld food and medicines from us. They were locked away in a storeroom in the camp. Within arm's reach." She blew out a shaky breath. "I have no idea how many of us could have survived if they had provided the quinine and Vitamin B they had in stock."

She looked away and blinked rapidly, determined to carry on. Patsy felt her hand being clasped and she looked back at Delia. As always, there was no faux show of sympathy on her features. Neither was Delia crying. The Welsh woman simply looked steadfast and controlled. Patsy was supremely grateful for that, as she knew she would not have been able to maintain her own composure if she had seen Delia shedding tears.

"You don't have to do this now," Delia offered; generous and sensitive as ever.

Patsy shook her head determinedly. "Don't stop me now, Deels. It's taken me thinking that I might lose you too, just to open up," she revealed.

"I don't talk about this because..." Patsy paused as she struggled to vocalise her thoughts.

"Because I suppressed this for so long..." She stopped again and shook her head in frustration. "Damn, this is not easy."

Patsy took a deep breath in and blew it out through her mouth forcefully. "I don't know how to talk about it, Delia. I don't know how to let you comfort me. I don't know the words that can describe how I feel. I've kept all this hidden for so long that it's festered into a ball of toxic fear that I can't face, let alone describe. It's not that I don't trust you. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's that I don't know where to start."

She swallowed round a lump that had formed in her throat and felt her self-preservation kick in. "I know that because I haven't talked about what happened to me, I have secrets and elements of my past that I don't want others to know about or, worse, ask me about. It makes me defensive when people do ask."

She paused again. "The barriers I have set up mean that I am difficult to get to know." Patsy shook her head. "No, that's not completely honest. Because I don't even know how to talk about it, I hesitate to start with people. I don't want to put myself through the explanations, let alone anyone else."

The blonde nurse sighed. "It's something I've dealt with for a long time. And until recently, my 'defence measures', for want of a better description, have served me well. But that was because I hadn't realised just how isolated I had made myself." Patsy gave a lop-sided smile. "And then you got under my skin."

Delia looked at the older woman curiously. "Is that a bad thing or a good thing?" She asked.

"Delia, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me." Patsy was almost forceful in her response. "But I can only bring down my walls a bit at a time. I'm just grateful that you're so patient with me."

Delia nodded. "I wouldn't want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable."

Patsy shook her head ruefully. "Talking about any of this is excruciating," she admitted. "But it helps. And, certainly for the moment, I can't think of anyone else I could do this with."

Patsy took some time to school her thoughts again, hiding the action by pouring herself a glass of water and topping up Delia's Lucozade. When they had both taken sips, Patsy turned to face the brunette. "I may be wrong, but I'm assuming you haven't been sleeping because of the train crash and what you saw. I can categorically tell you, that bottling it up won't help."

She shrugged grimly. "I won't force you to talk. That doesn't help either. But if you feel you can, I'm here to listen to you, Delia. I won't judge, or tell you how you ought to feel, or even how to deal with what happened to you. That is a purely personal thing and it wouldn't help. But I can be here to hold you and to listen for as long as you want me to. If you want me to."

Delia was stunned. Patsy had spoken about the camp before and what had happened to her family, but it had been a clinical, objective description. Although she had been emotional about it, she had made no attempt to describe her feelings about what happened, or indeed the internment's subsequent impact on her. Just now, Patsy had laid herself bare and she had done it selflessly, in the hope that it would help Delia open up. The younger nurse was heartbroken at what Patsy had had to deal with by herself at such a young age. To then have to carry guilt, anger, bitterness and shame around during her formative years must have had a devastating impact on her emotional maturity and growth.

As hard as it was, Delia understood exactly why Patsy had been so forthcoming. It was her way of telling her not to make the same mistakes she had. To find the words to describe her fears somehow.

The Welsh woman squeezed Patsy's hand once again and blew out a steadying breath. She began by describing how she felt as she crawled through the carriages of the train. She told Patsy how she didn't feel horror at the dead bodies she passed. As soon as she realised that someone was dead, she dehumanised them and she moved onto the next person. As the body count grew, Delia began viewing them all as objects rather than people, protecting herself emotionally from the reality of the situation.

Delia talked in general terms to start with, but she knew what the focus of her fear was. Hesitantly, and with many long periods of silence, the diminutive nurse described seeing the woman who had been wearing 'Patsy's coat'. She knew how irrational it was that she checked the woman's pulse multiple times, even though she knew she was dead. It didn't matter. The woman didn't even look like Patsy. Again, it didn't matter.

Delia admitted that it was the thought that the woman might have been Patsy, that then morphed into a thought about losing Patsy that had been consuming her at night. Every night since the train crash, Delia had either kept herself awake worrying about what might happen if she ever lost Patsy, or she had fallen into a fitful sleep that had amplified her fears and given her nightmares. It would seem that she was not one to cry out in her sleep though, as she hadn't disturbed Patsy or any of the other Nurses Home residents.

Patsy kept her features masked as she listened but she knew Delia hadn't mentioned this before because of her own nightmares. It was her fault that Delia had kept this inside for so long. She should never have been so caught up in her own drama, or she would have seen the signs earlier.

"Don't you dare," Delia warned suddenly.

"What?"

"Don't you dare blame yourself." Delia may still have been ill, but her intuition remained sharp as ever.

Patsy pulled a face. "It's difficult not to. You spent several nights comforting me from my nightmares. I knew you were tired, but I didn't realise just how badly you were affected by it all."

"Patsy, if I'm honest, the nights I spent comforting you were the ones where I got most rest. I could relax knowing that I was right next to you."

"Yes, but you didn't tell me," Patsy pointed out. "And you probably didn't tell me because you didn't want to add to the stress that I was already going through."

Delia looked guilty. "Of course. You were already going through enough without me adding to it all."

Patsy nodded. "I can understand that. But I will still be feeling guilty about it for a while," she replied.

"You shouldn't. You're not a mind reader." Delia shifted her gaze and stared across the room for a moment, her eyes unfocused. "Your nightmares started when you came home all upset. Did something happen on the ward?"

The older nurse raised her eyebrows in surprise. "I might not be a mind reader, but I'm not so sure about you," she deflected instinctively.

Delia was having none of it. "What happened, Pats?"

Patsy looked down and picked at a loose thread on the bedspread. "There was a woman on the ward," she started hesitantly. "She came in with meningitis." Patsy looked up as she heard Delia gasp in shock. "Bacterial meningitis," she qualified hurriedly.

"Gosh, no wonder you dashed off the ward to check on me." Delia was instantly understanding.

Patsy nodded. "All I could do was watch her die on the ward. She was the same age as mother." Patsy's voice caught on the last word and she gratefully leaned into Delia's embrace as the brunette swung an arm around her in comfort.

Delia offered no words but instead simply held Patsy as she cried. She knew that there was simply nothing she could say that could make it any better. She rubbed Patsy's arm gently and waited patiently until the tears stopped.

"Sorry," Patsy muttered, her voice tight with emotion as she sat up and disengaged from Delia's hold.

"Well, we are a pair, aren't we?" Delia decided ruefully. "I don't want to add to your worries, and you don't want to add to mine." She exhaled forcefully. "Why don't we try and rely on each other just a little more?"

Patsy looked dubious. "I'm not sure it's that simple."

Delia smiled softly. "The concept is." She wrinkled her nose. "Actually doing it might feel a lot more awkward, at least to start with," she admitted. "But if we don't try we'll never know."

"You're awfully optimistic that it will help," Patsy demurred.

"Hasn't it already?"

Patsy gazed at Delia for a long moment. "Yes," she agreed at last. "It has."

Delia clasped Patsy's hand in her own. "Pats, I don't expect you to solve all my problems, or even that you have all the right words to say, but I do know that just by talking to you today, I feel I can cope with my fears." She shrugged. "That's a pretty good feeling."

Patsy winced. "I have to warn you that I am not going to be very good at opening up with my feelings. Probably ever, if I'm honest."

Delia shook her head. "It doesn't matter. Just know that I want to help and I'll be there for you whenever you're ready."

Patsy nodded shakily. "Thank you."

Delia looked surprised as she yawned suddenly. "I never thought talking would wear me out so much."

"I know. And I think we've done enough talking for tonight." Patsy swung her legs off the bed and stood up. She bent down and placed a kiss on top of Delia's head. "Goodnight, darling."

Delia pouted. "I am looking forward to being able to kiss you on the lips again, Nurse Mount."

"Just a few more days and we'll be fine," Patsy reassured her. "But until then, I'll see you in the morning, Typhoid Mary."

Delia narrowed her eyes at the tall nurse. "I have a long memory, Pats," she warned.

"Oh, I'm counting on it."

 

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text


"Where on earth are we going, Delia?" Patsy sounded quite perplexed as she stared out the window of the bus. It was the second one they had hopped on. The destination displayed on the front of the Routemaster simply said Sydenham. It was a place Patsy had never heard of and she could see no recognisable landmarks in this part of London.

Delia laughed. "How can it be a surprise if I tell you?" The Welsh woman grinned, thoroughly enjoying her lover's confusion. It had been several weeks since Delia's bout of meningitis. She had made a complete recovery and returned to work in remarkably quick time. Patsy had looked after Delia devotedly, and the brunette wanted to show her thanks in some way. Delia did some research and made plans for their next day off together. All she had told Patsy was that they were going across London and that the journey would be quite long, but the destination would be worth it.

"I'm guessing that we're going to be outside as you told me to wrap up." Patsy couldn't help but continue to fish. She could sense Delia's excitement and had told herself that no matter what the surprise was, she would react as though it was perfect, simply because it was obvious Delia thought it was going to be wonderful.

Delia shook her head. "Patsy, stop worrying. I know that you will like this. And if you don't, there's always Dulwich art gallery and Horniman's museum we can visit now we're in this part of London."

"How do you know so much about London?" Patsy was genuinely surprised. She knew all the central London tourist locations, but had never really given areas outside the city much thought.

"It's called the library, Pats. You know, that place that stores tons of useful information. It's where I always go when you're working."

Patsy gave the brunette a lop-sided smile. "You don't look much like a bookworm."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Delia frowned.

Patsy shifted uncomfortably. "Well, one has a certain image of the bookish type," she hedged.

Delia looked astonished. "Are you calling me a swot?"

"You are! You always get top marks in exams, but..." Patsy trailed off.

"But I don't look like I read." Delia wasn't sure whether she should feel insulted or not.

Patsy decided to bluff her way out of the hole she was rapidly digging for herself. "No, you don't. You look like you enjoy being outside in the fresh air."

"A country bumpkin in other words?" Delia was enjoying watching Patsy squirm.

"No! That's not what I meant at..." Patsy narrowed her eyes as she caught the sparkle in Delia's. "One day I will beat you in a war of words."

"I look forward to it," Delia retorted, a large grin on her face. She looked out of the window and stood up, yanking the line to pull the request to stop bell. "Come on. We're here."

Patsy got up hurriedly. "Where are we?" She asked again.

Delia hurried down the steep stairs of the bus and hopped off the bus onto the pavement. She smiled as she saw Patsy looking around, trying to find a clue. "Come on. It's this way." She turned and headed down the street towards some large iron gates.

Patsy frowned as she read the name on the wooden placard. "Crystal Palace Park." She looked at Delia dubiously. "You do realise that there are plenty of parks locally, as well as in central London. Why have we spent the best part of two hours coming here?"

"This park has something all the other parks do not," Delia replied mysteriously, grinning as she walked through the entrance.

"Well it better have a cafe. I'm gasping for a tea," Patsy grumbled good-naturedly. She dutifully followed the shorter woman into the park and took a moment to savour the rolling lawns.

Delia stopped and breathed in expansively. "Just smell that air, Pats. We're barely inside the park gates and it already smells fresher and cleaner." She smiled wistfully. "It's almost as good as home."

Patsy grinned back. "All that's missing is the smell of the coal mines?" She teased.

"Pembroke isn't really known for mining. It's all green hills, rain and sheep."

The tall nurse rummaged around in her handbag for a moment before locating her cigarettes and a lighter. She hunched over slightly to protect the flame as she lit a cigarette and took a long drag before returning the lighter and pack back to her handbag. "Sorry Deels, there's only so much fresh air one can take."

Delia rolled her eyes. "You're addicted to them."

"They are a guilty pleasure, I know," Patsy agreed, unabashed. She took another critical view of the park. It was midweek so there were only a few other visitors. With just a little effort, it would be easy to imagine being completely alone here.

Because of that, Patsy decided to be just a fraction more adventurous than usual and she hooked her arm through Delia's. After all, they were halfway across London and she would be astonished if there was anyone that she knew from the hospital here. The journey itself had been quite the adventure.

The nurse knew she had done the right thing when she saw a look of delight burst across Delia's features. Patsy told herself that lots of girls walked together without raising a single eyebrow. Even if any suspicions were raised, they would be able to evaporate into the anonymity of London without it being a problem.

Patsy smiled warmly at Delia. "Come on then, Miss Busby. Lead me to whatever this big secret is. I hope it's worth the build up."

Delia nodded. "Me, too. I've wanted to visit ever since I read about it."

"Read about what?" Patsy asked innocently.

Delia was having none of it. "Come on. I think it's this way."

Patsy managed to keep the pace at a leisurely stroll and stop Delia from dashing ahead. It had been a good idea to link arms, she decided. The Welsh woman was practically skipping in her excitement.

"Delia, I do hope you haven't built your expectations up too high. I don't want you to be disappointed. Whatever it is."

The brunette stopped suddenly, almost causing Patsy to stumble. Delia stared ahead, biting her bottom lip in thought. "I am definitely not disappointed," she muttered.

Patsy followed her gaze and frowned for a moment as she tried to work out what it was she was looking at. All of a sudden, it made sense. "Goodness me. It's the dinosaur park!"

Delia nodded excitedly. "I know. I've wanted to visit ever since I read about it when I was a little girl. I thought we could have a picnic in front of the megalosaurus."

Patsy laughed as she watched her girlfriend. She hadn't moved since she had spotted one of the models. Patsy wasn't sure she had even blinked. "Are you sure this is a treat for me and not you?"

Delia couldn't tear her eyes away. "Oh, come on Patsy. Who doesn't like dinosaurs?"

The tall nurse laughed again until she caught the look on Delia's face. "You're serious aren't you?"

"Yes. Of course I am. They're amazing and we still know next to nothing about them."

Patsy looked back at the model dubiously. "Wouldn't you have preferred to go to the Natural History Museum if you wanted to see dinosaurs?"

Delia shook her head. "I love dinosaurs and I love the outdoors. Visiting here with you is the perfect combination. Come on. Let's take a closer look." Delia was giddy with excitement and Patsy couldn't help but be infected by it.

The two women hurried down the slope towards the display.

Patsy viewed them critically. "Are you sure you aren't disappointed. They look a bit..." Patsy searched for the right words. "Unkempt?"

Delia's enthusiasm had not waned at all now that she was close up. "Most of these were made before Darwin published The Origin of the Species," she told Patsy conversationally. "There's a story that the Royal Society had a big banquet inside one of the dinosaurs while they were being built." She looked at Patsy, her eyes shining. "I know that they just look like statues now. And some of them are a bit... mossy. But it's the story behind them and what people must have thought."

Delia leaned back against one of the small rails that encircled a display. "The men who made these had to guess what the dinosaurs looked like, just from a few fossils. Just imagine the Victorians seeing these for the first time. They're huge. And scary." She looked over her shoulder. "Well, this one isn't as it's a herbivore, but this is adventure and discovery on a massive scale."

She smiled as she recalled a long-distant memory. "When I first read about dinosaurs, I told my mother I was going to be a fossil hunter or an explorer. I knew right from when I was little that I needed to see and do more. Mam told me that I'd be lucky if I could find my way out of Wales."

The brunette shook her head. "Well, I proved her wrong."

"Why didn't you?"

"Why didn't I what?" Delia was confused.

"Become an explorer? You've always struck me as someone who is determined to get what she wants." Patsy was fascinated.

Delia's smile became more expansive. "I have got what I want," she replied impishly. "Honestly though, Pats, it was that nurse from St John, telling me about the Great War and Edith Cavell. I realised that I might want to go exploring for my own curiosity, but what I really wanted to do was help people. Fortunately, I have managed to sort of combine the two and embarked on my great big London adventure."

"It was rather fortunate for me, too," Patsy concurred.

Delia furrowed her brow. "What about you, Pats? What did you want to do when you were little?"

Patsy sighed. "Not be an explorer, that's for sure. We spent so much time travelling, I never really felt settled. I don't think I ever really thought about doing something when I was very young. It was just sort of expected that one would marry and have children. Having a career was considered very unsuitable for a young lady." Patsy couldn't stop an expression of disgust ghosting across her features.

Delia leaned into her slightly, pulling on their linked arms. "Well I'm glad you decided to go for the unsuitable option."


Patsy smiled unguardedly at the shorter woman. "Me, too," she agreed. Feeling a little exposed after providing such a candid answer, Patsy fell back on practiced techniques of diversion and eyed Delia's bag hopefully. "Where's this dinosaur you want to have the picnic in front of? I'm ravenous."

Delia giggled, shaking her head knowingly. They wandered for a bit longer, with Delia providing snippets of information regarding the various monsters on display. Patsy dutifully listened and found herself soaking up more of Delia's enthusiasm. She was more impressed by her knowledge than the exhibits. They eventually spotted the megalosaurus and found a convenient park bench where they could sit and eat their lunch.

Patsy sat back and relaxed as she ate. This was such a simple thing to do and yet she was thoroughly enjoying herself. It helped that the weather was being kind, and that Delia was so caught up in imparting all her knowledge. Patsy felt like she was looking into Delia's youth and she adored it.

After lunch, they discovered that the park also had a maze. Delia was all up for going through on instinct, but Patsy told her that there was a perfectly logical approach to solving mazes and set off to demonstrate it.

Within minutes, Delia sabotaged her plan and forced her to take a different path. "The whole point of a maze is to get lost and then find your way out."

Patsy shook her head. "The point of a maze is to solve it."

"But how can you get the feeling of being lost if you approach it like a logic puzzle?"

"I don't want to feel like I'm lost," Patsy demurred.

"Not even with me? All alone in the maze?" Delia teased.

Patsy gave her a mock-stern look. "I don't care how many times you reassure me that we are alone in here, I am not doing anything risky. People could come round a corner at any minute."

Delia pulled a face, but knew Patsy was right. "I'll behave," she assured the taller woman. "But we are going to go through this on instinct. It'll give me an excuse to hold your hand when you're feeling scared."

"I wouldn't be feeling scared if we were using my methodology," Patsy grumbled. She made no attempt to extricate her hand from Delia's grip though and they spent the next twenty minutes turning and back-tracking before finally finding the centre. Delia crowed in triumph as she stood on the bench, while Patsy wished she had a camera to capture the moment for posterity.

After a late cup of tea in the park's cafe, and with dusk falling, the two women decided that it was time to head back to the London. Fortunately, they were both on late shifts the next day so at least there wouldn't be an early start.

As they sat on the top deck of the bus, Patsy stared out of the window. "I cannot understand how a day out in the fresh air can be so exhausting," she complained.

"It's wonderful," Delia replied. She was glowing, her face coloured by the exposure to the day's elements.

Patsy grinned. "Thank you for taking me there. I really enjoyed it."

Delia nodded. "That's another place ticked off the list. I'll be back at the library to research our next excursion."

Patsy stood up suddenly and yanked the bell line. "No need to research, I've just found it. We need to get off."

Delia's eyes widened in surprise but she stood up and followed Patsy off the bus. "What have you found?" She asked as the bus pulled away.

Patsy was walking quickly down the road, her earlier lethargy now evaporated. "Look," she gestured.

Delia scanned the street for a clue and then gasped. "Streatham Ice Rink? You're kidding me. You don't like skating do you?"

"I adore skating. I haven't been in years. Come on."

Delia pulled a face. "You know, we could have planned this as another trip."

Patsy stopped and looked back at the brunette. "I'm sensing hesitation from the would be explorer. Do you not like skating?"

Delia shrugged noncommittally. "I've never done it."

"You'll love it," Patsy enthused. She noticed the reluctance in Delia's stance. "At least come and try it." When Delia still didn't move, Patsy stepped back towards her. "If you really don't want to go, we can go back," she offered.

"It's not that. I just don't know if I'll be any good at it," Delia admitted hesitantly.

Patsy smiled. "Well, I know that you're certainly brave enough to try. And absolutely everyone holds hands until they get the hang of it. I'd be more than happy to hold yours."

Delia straightened up. "Alright. I've never let anything else beat me. Let's give this a try," she nodded, striding towards the entrance. She glanced at Patsy nervously. "You will hold my hand won't you?"

Patsy nodded. "Definitely. But knowing you, Deels, you won't need me for long."

As it transpired, it took Delia far longer to actually start skating than Patsy anticipated. Initially, Delia clung onto the side of the rink and edged round slowly while clinging on desperately to Patsy's arm. Every now and again, she would try and go a little faster but any hint of losing her balance sent the Welsh woman straight back to the side.

Patsy was perplexed and she tried to work out what it was that was holding Delia back. She had a sudden flash of insight. "Delia, how flat are your feet right now?"

Delia looked up, confused. "What?"

"Patsy smirked. "Tell me if I'm wrong, but are your toes all curled up and tense?"

Delia stopped and looked wonderingly at the tall blonde. "Yes," she realised as she mentally checked. "How did you know?"

Patsy shook her head. "You're trying to grip the ice with your feet. It's psychological." She waited for a few moments for her words to make sense to Delia. "Trust the blades, and trust your balance," she continued. "Open out your feet in the boots and really remember what that feels like." Patsy held a hand out in front of her as a fist and slowly splayed it open to demonstrate what she meant.

Delia complied and shook her head ruefully. "That's better. My toes were starting to cramp up."

"You aren't doing anything unusual, Deels. I can remember being like that when I first started. Now, stop holding onto the side, it puts you off balance. If you must hold onto something, hold onto the crook of my arm."

Patsy waited patiently a small distance away from Delia, knowing that she would have to let go of the side in order to get to her. She could see Delia mentally check the position of her feet before taking a deep breath and pushing away from the side.

Delia beamed in triumph as she glided close enough to grab onto Patsy's arm. "Are you ready to risk your life and get me skating?"

"I think you'll do just fine. Come on," Patsy encouraged, pushing off with her skate and providing momentum for Delia to get going too.

With just the little tip Patsy provided, it seemed that Delia suddenly trusted her skates and within moments she was lengthening each push. "Oh my goodness, this is great," she enthused as she built up speed.

Patsy grinned knowingly. "I know."

Within two circuits, Delia had changed grip from Patsy's elbow to her hand, and just a short while after that, she was skating solo.

"Don't get too over-confident," Patsy warned as Delia sped up once again. She moved forward and then turned, skating backwards while she spoke to Delia.

"How on earth did you do that?" Delia was seriously impressed.

"Lots of practice. But now we know you like skating, and we know where this place is, perhaps we can come again."

"Oh, come on, Pats. Teach me how to go backwards," Delia pleaded.

"I think you need a bit more practice going forward," the tall nurse demurred again.

Delia frowned and watched Patsy's feet carefully as they completed yet another circuit. Patsy rolled her eyes, knowing what was about to come. Delia tried to turn on her skates, hoping that the momentum she had built up would allow her to skate backwards.

Patsy bit her lip as her girlfriend went crashing onto the ice in a big heap. She quickly stopped before skating back to where Delia sat.

The brunette shook her head. "I know. Don't tell me. I couldn't help myself," she admitted ruefully.

Patsy dug a skate in to brace herself and held out a hand but couldn't help laughing out loud at Delia's rather ungraceful way of getting back onto her blades. She pressed her lips together when Delia shot her a warning look. "I will not say that I told you so. But I will remind you that perhaps you might want to just practice going forward?" Patsy teased mildly.

Delia rubbed her bottom and winced. "Alright. I'll listen."

"Could I have that in writing?" Patsy asked innocently.

Delia frowned. "Er, never," she admitted. "Come on. Let me get my confidence back and then you can buy me a coffee," she declared.

Patsy smiled. It was typical of Delia not to let things defeat her, and she was impressed by her determination to succeed. The tall nurse had a feeling that they would be making regular trips to the ice rink in future until Delia could indeed skate backwards.

It was late when they got on the bus for their last leg home. Delia spoke to the conductor as she purchased their bus tickets and asked him to remind them when they were close to the London. "It always looks different in the dark," she told Patsy by way of explanation.

The upstairs of the double decker was empty and the two women sat on the back seat. After lighting a cigarette, Patsy used her free hand to hold Delia's, a lop-sided grin forming as she felt Delia squeeze her hand back.

"What a wonderful day. I'm really not sure how I'll have the energy for work tomorrow," Patsy commented with a contented sigh.

"It's a price I'll happily pay for spending a day with you," Delia responded easily.

"Me, too." Patsy sighed again and leaned into Delia discretely. "I'm assuming that skating is on the list for regular activities?" She enquired.

"Up until I can skate as well as you, definitely," the brunette confirmed.

Patsy grinned. "That might take quite a while," she warned.

Delia's smile widened. "I like the idea of that."

"The idea of what?" Patsy furrowed her brow.

"Having to plan a long way into the future," Delia admitted shyly.

Patsy nudged the smaller woman. "And you accused me of being a romantic," she teased lightly.

Delia looked at Patsy, her eyes glimmering. "I mean it, Pats. This is it for me. I'm sorry if I'm coming on a bit strong, but I just can't imagine my life without you now."

Patsy swallowed round a lump that had suddenly formed in her throat and her voice was tight when she spoke again. "I'm the same."

 

To be continued...

 

 

Chapter Text

Patsy and Delia found themselves in a relatively comfortable routine for the next few months. While on their ward placements, they tried their best to synchronise days off. There were several further visits to Streatham Ice Rink as Delia was determined to improve her skating skills and they celebrated at the Rink cafe with hot chocolate and sausage rolls when she mastered skating backwards.

The shadow of secrecy for their relationship became the norm. They established a routine that was a comfort to them, although they both craved more.

Patsy was posted to the Psychiatry Department for her next placement. She was nervous as this was a whole different sort of nursing, but she was determined to step up to the challenge. Delia was placed in Paediatrics.

Within days of the placement starting, Patsy began to question herself and her ability. Psychiatric nursing was not about cleanliness, order and discipline and Patsy found that her usually reliable skills for getting things done now felt woefully inadequate.

Patsy couldn't imagine what it was like to be on the ward here. Some of the women had attempted suicide, and would try and stockpile their medication in order to try again. Patsy had been specifically warned about their behaviour. There was another woman on the ward that had been abused, although the details were alarmingly vague.

"Come along, Georgina, it's time for your medication," Patsy advised the frightened looking woman in the day room. The Matron had despatched her on the lunchtime drugs round. The first two women had passively taken their tablets and Patsy had waited and watched them swallow the pills, checking their mouths to ensure that they had indeed been ingested.

This patient was a young mother whose baby had been taken into care through neglect. As Patsy surveyed her carefully, she realised that the girl was barely an adult and looked incapable of looking after herself, let alone an infant.

"I don't want it. I can't think when I take it," Georgina protested, her voice a harsh whisper.

"I'm sorry, but there isn't a choice. It will make you better," Patsy reasoned logically.

"It doesn't make me feel better," the girl objected more vehemently, pushing back her chair forcefully as she stood up. She was small and fragile looking and Patsy didn't feel threatened at all by the move.

"These things take time. We're all here to help you," Patsy told her softly, keeping her tone neutral, but wanting to engage with the girl. She looked absolutely petrified as her eyes darted nervously around the room.

Patsy took a step closer. "You're very anxious. This will help," she tried, her voice trying to coax her gently.

Georgina backed away, still unable to look Patsy in the eye.

Patsy's inexperience led to her mistake. "Don't you want to get better?"

The girl's eyes suddenly stopped and she stared at her balefully. "Get better? What for? I've got nothing left. Nothing!" With that, the girl began to knock her head back against the wall, each blow landing more forcefully than the last.

Patsy panicked and stepped forward, trying to grab Georgina by the arms and get her away from the wall. She was unbelievably strong, however, and she easily pulled away from Patsy's grip in order to continue pummelling the wall with her head. Patsy's stomach turned as she saw blood begin to stain the wall.

Fortunately, another nurse came to Patsy's rescue and they managed to restrain the woman until a doctor arrived with a sedative.

Patsy had never felt more useless as she wordlessly received a dressing down from the Ward Sister, advising her to avoid talk about the patients' personal issues. The therapists were there to deal with that. She meekly acquiesced and agonised endlessly over how she could have done things differently.

Patsy found dealing with the male patients worse. There were a number of men being treated for being homosexual. Others were suffering with disorders including mania and psychosis. Seeing them lurch from aggressively intimidating behaviour to being chemically subdued and lethargic, disturbed Patsy, even though she knew that the treatment was necessary.

Despite the warning not to engage with personal business, Patsy couldn't help but talk with the patients if they started a conversation with her.

"Do I disgust you, Nurse?" James asked suddenly. Patsy had sat with him during his therapy session with the psychiatrist as part of her learning. She was now escorting him back to the common room.

"Not at all," Patsy stated firmly. "Why would you think that?"

"I saw your face while I was talking." James looked down. "I understand. I disgust myself."

Patsy felt her heart clench. James' session had consisted of an endless circle of conversation regarding his deviant, illegal and unacceptable feelings for other men. She rather suspected she had been unable to mask her feelings about the so-called care the psychiatrist was providing. It sounded like sheer indoctrination to her. "What do you mean?"

"I volunteered to take the tablets. I volunteered to come in here. They told me that it would cure me," he confided, stammering slightly. He risked a quick glance at Patsy before continuing. "I shouldn't be having these feelings. It's wrong."

Patsy couldn't help herself. "Does it feel wrong to you?"

"Doesn't matter how it feels. It is what it is," James shrugged in reply. He swallowed nervously. "I saw that look in your eyes. You know it's disgusting, too."

"I don't think that at all," Patsy objected. She paused. "I don't think people have the right to judge, if I'm honest."

"But it's illegal," James pointed out. "We judge those that murder. It's the same principle," he insisted.

Patsy closed her eyes as she swallowed a wave of nausea. "What harm is it doing?" She asked.

"It's wrong," James insisted. He shuffled along for a bit longer, agitation clearly showing. As they reached the common room he stopped and looked at Patsy again. "They told me that doing this treatment would cure me," he repeated. "But they were wrong."

"What?" Patsy didn't quite follow.

"It stops the physical urges," he admitted. He swallowed and blinked suddenly. "But it doesn't stop the feelings." With that, he turned suddenly and left Patsy to stare after him morosely.

After that interaction, Patsy did everything she could to avoid dealing with those being treated for homosexuality. But it did nothing for her own esteem. She found herself questioning how appropriate her feelings for Delia were. That became torturous in itself.

Patsy knew that she loved Delia. She knew that it didn't feel wrong when they were together and she was absolutely certain that she could never experience that intensity of feelings with a man. She simply wasn't attracted to them in the same way. However, those emotions not feeling wrong did not make it right.

Patsy began to second guess herself when she was on the ward. What if the medical profession suddenly decided that they should cure homosexual women? Would they somehow know that Patsy was one? Would Patsy want the treatment in the same way James wanted it? That thought shook her to the core, or more accurately, the fact that she didn't dismiss it instantly rocked her.

"What's bothering you?" Delia asked as she took a sip of tea. They were in Benny's cafe, having breakfast before the start of Patsy's shift. Her hours were predominantly 9-5 with only a few late shifts to assist the skeleton evening staff. Student nurses weren't allowed to work night shifts in Psychiatry.

"Nothing really," Patsy deflected instinctively.

Delia simply raised an eyebrow and waited.

"I hate not being good at something," Patsy finally admitted.

Delia frowned at the admission. "We all have to learn new things, Pats. And we can't be good at them immediately."

"You seem to be blossoming on Paediatrics," Patsy pointed out.

Delia was excelling in her placement. Her sunny disposition and naturally curious nature was perfect for the children on the ward who saw her not as a grown up nurse to be scared of, but almost as one of them. Delia encouraged them to make camps out of their beds, if they were well enough, and ensured that those who could not leave bed were also entertained. She wilfully ignored the Matron's insistence that the children should not be overstimulated and instead, invented games that they all joined in with. Delia was the children's ally. They insisted that she was there when something scary was going to happen, and Delia's room quickly became decorated with a myriad of pictures created especially for her.

The brunette laughed. "If you ask the little ones, they'll say I'm brilliant. Matron Farmer, however, has a rather different opinion. I've already had one note put on my file for disobedience."

Patsy's eyes widened in shock. "You don't sound upset by it."

Delia shook her head firmly. "It's a small price to pay to cheer up those children. Some of them are desperately unwell." She stopped suddenly, thinking of a couple of patients who had a very poor prognosis.

Patsy smiled softly. "It should have been obvious that you would do well on the Children's Ward."

Delia grinned back. "Why? Because I am one myself?"

Patsy nodded. "Exactly." She sighed. "I just wish I could find a way to relate to my patients."

The Welsh nurse grimaced. "You can't compare the two. The whole reason those patients are there is because they are mentally unstable."

"Not all of them," Patsy demurred.

"Go on," Delia urged.

Patsy shifted uncomfortably and glanced around the cafe before telling Delia about James.

"That's horrible," Delia declared when the blonde nurse finished.

"I know. He's just this hollow shadow." Patsy hesitated before admitting what was really bothering her. "I've managed to avoid working with any of the others since."

Delia was shocked. "Why? If anyone..." She stopped when Patsy looked at her sharply.

"That's exactly why. How can I be part of that 'treatment'? It feels like I'm condoning it if I'm part of it."

Delia looked at Patsy carefully. "You're not the one giving them the drugs. But you can be there so that they have someone to talk to. Give them an understanding ear and listen to their fears."

"I'm not sure I can do that either," Patsy admitted, looking into her coffee mug.

Delia was having trouble following the conversation. "What do you mean?"

Patsy shrugged noncommittally but didn't answer.

Delia narrowed her eyes as she scrutinised Patsy's body language. "Please don't tell me that you think they ought to be treated like that," she begged.

"No," Patsy responded instantly. "It's barbaric."

"But..." Delia prompted again.

There was a long pause while Patsy searched for the right words. She wasn't sure there were any. "But perhaps they should be helped," she suggested finally, wincing as she heard the words she spoke out loud.

"Helped?" Delia's voice was a harsh whisper and Patsy's eyes shot up from where she had been staring into her mug. Delia looked a mixture of hurt, betrayed and angry.

"Do you still think that what we're doing is wrong?"

"It is wrong," Patsy pointed out, obliviously pouring oil on the fire. "Why else would we keep it secret?"

Delia's eyes filled with tears but she was determined not to cry. "So I'm wrong to feel the way I do about you," she stated flatly.

"No!" Patsy objected vehemently. "I didn't mean it like that." She winced as she looked around the cafe. "We can't discuss this here, and I need to get changed for work. Can we talk about this later?"

"I finish at 10 tonight. Will you still be up?" Delia's voice was little more than a strangled whisper.

"Yes." Patsy sighed. "Delia, I am sorry. I am using all the wrong words to say all the wrong things. You know what I'm like."

Delia looked at Patsy sullenly. "I know we need to talk," she replied ominously.

Patsy nodded as she stood up. "I need to get going."

Delia stood up and reached for her bag. "Go ahead. I'll pay the bill. See you later Patsy." The diminutive nurse sounded defeated.

Patsy wanted to reach out and comfort Delia with a touch, but she couldn't take that risk in public. With a regretful sigh, she slipped on her coat and hurried out of the cafe.

~~~~

As Patsy trudged wearily back to the Nurses Home, she couldn't help but mentally review her day. The final words she had shared with Delia weighed heavily on her mind. She was just grateful that she had a few hours before Delia finished her shift so that she could at least try and rehearse what she wanted to say. She did not want to hurt her again.

As she stepped into the Nurses Home, Patsy started when the Bursar stepped out from her office. "Nurse Mount. I've been waiting for you."

Patsy frowned. "Waiting for me? What's happened?" Patsy had barely spoken two sentences to the Bursar in all the time she had resided at the Nurses Home.

"Yes. I'm moving you to another room," the Bursar continued officiously.

"What?" Patsy's eyes widened in disbelief. "Why?"

The Bursar looked up and down at Patsy before answering. "It's been reported that you have been breaking curfew." She sniffed haughtily. "After discussion, it was decided that the most appropriate course of action would be to relocate you to another area of the Nurses Home."

"Discussed with whom?" Patsy could feel a ball of fear form deep inside her, but she was also angry.

"The Training School Matron made quite the case for you." The Bursar sounded distinctly aggrieved by that.

"So you've just listened to an accusation and not even spoken to me about it?" Patsy was indignant.

The Bursar shrugged and set off up the stairs. "Come along. I need to escort you to your new room."

Patsy hurried after the older woman. "This isn't fair. You have no right to move me like this," she protested.

"Oh, I have every right, Nurse Mount. Just be grateful that I'm allowing you to pack your things and transfer them to another room. If I had my way you would both be packing your things and leaving the London for good." The Bursar was scathing.

Patsy went cold. Delia was clearly implicated in this too. Her heart pounded suddenly. What was going to happen to her? "Am I the only one moving?" She asked eventually, as they strode along the corridor towards her room.

"Yes. Don't worry. I'm not putting anyone in your room. It will remain empty for the remainder of the term." She glanced back at Patsy before continuing to Patsy's room. "Perhaps that will work as a barrier to protect the other residents," she mused spitefully.

Patsy bit down on a retort and instead stepped past the Bursar in order to open her room. "I'll need some time to pack my things."

"I'll wait," the Bursar replied coldly.

Patsy felt a trickle of sweat run down her spine. She had no idea if any of the other nurses were back from their shifts yet. She fervently hoped not. Witnessing her move would fuel the gossip beyond anything she could cope with.

Defeated, Patsy located her suitcases and lay them on her bed. Her first impulse was to throw everything in haphazardly in order to be as quick as possible, but Patsy decided that if the Bursar was going to wait and supervise, then she would take her time and pack carefully.

As she folded her clothes neatly and surveyed the rest of her belongings, Patsy realised that it wouldn't take her long to pack anyway. She had always lived sparsely. There was just one box that contained items that were irreplaceable. She carefully placed it in one suitcase and packed her text books and a folder of stationery around it, before tucking one of her jackets over the top.

The other case held clothes, shoes and toiletries. As Patsy surveyed her room, she realised that she had never really personalised it in the way Delia had with hers.

Patsy's heart lurched as she realised that Delia would be returning to her room without knowing what had happened to Patsy.

Quickly retrieving a pen and notepad, Patsy straightened and approached the Bursar determinedly. "I need to leave Delia a note."

"I don't think so," the Bursar replied reflexively.

"She won't know what's happened. She'll be worried."

"She'll find out soon enough."

Patsy jutted out her chin determinedly. "I really don't care what you think of me, or what you think I may have done, but Delia is my best friend. I will not have her worry unnecessarily."

The Bursar narrowed her eyes at the young nurse. "All right," she allowed eventually.

Patsy knew that there was every possibility that the Bursar would return to Delia's room in order to read the note. There was no way Patsy would be able to write what she really wanted to, but anything was better than nothing. With a slightly shaky script, Patsy simply told Delia that there was a problem with her room and that she had been relocated and that she was not to worry.

The Bursar pursed her lips disapprovingly as she waited for Patsy to slip the note under Delia's door. "Follow me," she directed, turning on her heel and walking smartly back down the corridor.

Patsy picked up her suitcases and sighed. She walked slowly for a few moments as she considered her predicament but realised that she needed to pick up the pace or the Bursar would disappear off without her. While a small part of her mutinously wanted to do exactly that, Patsy also knew that the Bursar wouldn't care and leave Patsy stranded without a room. She would have to track her down eventually and Patsy was convinced that the humiliation wouldn't be worth it.

The Bursar led Patsy to a section of the Nurses Home that was just about as far away from Patsy's original room as could be. It was obvious why. She was in a room in the middle of the corridor, and before she even entered, Patsy felt that she had lost her privacy.

When the door swung open, Patsy's loss felt more acute. Despite the room being ostensibly the same as her old one, it was grey and lifeless, with the striped mattress exposed and blankets and sheets folded neatly at the foot of the bed. Patsy bit her lip as she recalled meeting Delia for the first time and helping her make her bed. She would not give the Bursar the satisfaction of seeing her upset however. She took a deep breath and steeled herself. "Will you be waiting while I unpack?" She asked, unable to keep a hint of sarcasm from her voice.

The Bursar sniffed dismissively. "I don't think there's any need for that." She turned to walk away. "Any further infractions regarding curfew will not be dealt with so leniently," she advised as she departed.

Patsy resisted the urge to slam the door shut, and instead closed it as quietly as possible. She could feel tears prickling at her eyes as she stared at her new home. She had just been unceremoniously removed from a room that held some of her most cherished memories.

It would do no good feeling sorry for herself. She located the nearest cleaner's cupboard and found a carpet sweeper, bucket and bleach. With a heavy heart, she returned to the room in order to at least get it acceptably clean before she unpacked her cases.

It was only when she finished placing the last of her belongings away in a spotlessly clean room that the reality of the situation came crashing down on Patsy. The new room felt sterile and cold. It might hold the same contents as every other room in the Nurses Home but it felt different.

Blindly, Patsy grabbed her 'door book' and held it to her chest as she lay on the bed and gave in to her emotions. Something had happened which was enough to prompt the Training team to attempt to separate her from Delia, but wasn't enough to lead to instant dismissal. Patsy wondered if it was simply one too many evening spent in each others' rooms that had finally garnered attention. All the nurses had close friends. In that respect, she and Delia were no different to the rest of their intake. Perhaps there was talk of the amount of time they spent together at weekends, given that neither of them travelled home much.

Her privacy had been invaded, and her attempts at secrecy were once again revealed to be not good enough to protect her or Delia. In addition, her placement in Psychiatry was making her feel vulnerable and exposed both as a nurse and as a person.

The maelstrom of emotions Patsy was feeling simply fuelled multiple circular questions and the inability to make a decision and do something. The blonde nurse knew that she was wallowing in self-pity. But she didn't know how to break free from her fretting. She knew that talking to Delia would help calm her down and rationalise things, but Patsy didn't know if she should. For the first time since they had really talked and decided to embark on a relationship, Patsy wondered if it might be wiser to break up.

~~~~

Delia's shift ended badly. Little Rosie Connor had died, her cystic fibrosis finally collapsing her lungs beyond use. It had not been easy either. She was a tough little girl and had fought for every breath. Knowing that Delia had built a special relationship with the little girl and her family, Matron Farmer had allowed her to stay with them until the end. Delia concentrated firmly on the needs of the family and had ensured they were looked after until they were ready to go home. Only then did it sink in and Delia hid herself in the Sluice Room in order to grieve.

A short while later, she was back on the ward and trying her best to comfort the other long term children there who all knew Rosie. The older ones were remarkably resilient and pragmatic. The younger ones just didn't understand. It provided Delia with a distraction until the children fell asleep. She then concentrated on a series of mundane tasks just to pass the time until the shift was over.

Unfortunately, if she wasn't thinking about Rosie, it gave her room to think about the conversation she had with Patsy that morning. Delia had been certain that Patsy had moved away from thinking that she was abnormal for loving another woman. Certainly, Patsy had never seemed happier and they just felt comfortable in each other's company. The risk of discovery meant that they were not often intimate, but when they were, it was often initiated by Patsy. Delia adored seeing Patsy come undone with passion, and was more than happy for her to take the lead. They remained careful, and only took things further when they were sure that no one else was around. Patsy insisted on sticking to curfew although there had been a couple of occasions when it had been a close thing.

Since working in the Psychiatric department, however, Delia had noticed Patsy become more withdrawn. Their conversation had been the first opportunity to discuss why, and it had taken Delia completely by surprise. It had wounded Delia to hear that Patsy believed that what they were doing was wrong. It had taken a long time for them to admit their feelings. It had taken even longer to act on those feelings. Since then, they had made mistakes, but had also found their way together as they developed a relationship in secret. Its very nature meant that they had only each other to rely on and trust. There had been a few issues with that as well.

If Patsy still thought what they had was fundamentally wrong, what did that mean for them? Would Patsy want a future with Delia or would she rather simply hide away?

Delia had no answers. She knew she needed to talk to Patsy about this, no matter how uncomfortable it might get. And earlier, Patsy had promised that they would talk.

When she was finally released from the ward, Delia forced herself to walk back at a steady pace. She would get changed, grab the gin and they would talk things through again. Delia needed Patsy to know that as far as she was concerned, her feelings were perfectly alright. If it was not the norm, then so be it. It was something that they had both nurtured and cherished. If it wasn't right, why had they spent so much time, attention and love in developing it?

Delia wasn't prepared to lose Patsy over this. The blonde nurse was simply too important to her.

She had been so busy concentrating on the situation and what she might say that Delia was almost surprised to find herself in front of her room. She hurried inside and changed into her pyjamas. She knew that this conversation was going to be excruciating. The least she could do was be in comfy clothes. After retrieving the gin from the back of her wardrobe, Delia turned to head out when she noticed a folded piece of paper on the floor.

Frowning, she picked up the note, scanning it quickly. A wave of nausea rolled through her and she bolted outside. Delia opened Patsy’s door without knocking, and stumbled slightly as she surveyed the room. It was completely devoid of Patsy's belongings. Only the faint aroma of Patsy’s perfume gave any hint to her ever having been there.

It took Delia a few seconds to do anything. She couldn’t comprehend what had happened. The nurse scanned Patsy’s room and desk for any further missives but there was nothing. Reluctantly, Delia returned to her own room, her heart sinking further as she heard Patsy’s door shut with a grim finality.

Delia sat down heavily on her bed and studied the note again for any clue as to what had gone on. Patsy had written that there was a problem with her room and that she was moving. But there was no information on where she had moved to.

Delia's heart clenched and a solitary tear rolled down her cheek. Why would Patsy leave in such a hurry? There wasn’t anything obviously wrong with the barren room next door so it could hardly have been an emergency. Why would Patsy not tell her where she had relocated?

A cold, hard dread balled deep inside, as Delia wondered if Patsy had already made up her mind and decided to put some distance between them. What on earth was she going to do now?

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Patsy tapped nervously on Delia's door. It was 6 o'clock so it would be perfectly reasonable for nurses to be up and about getting ready for an early shift.

The door opened almost immediately and Patsy found herself grabbed by her blouse and pulled into the room before she had time to react. The second the door shut the pair embraced, crushing each other with a ferocity of emotion. Patsy heard herself sob as she buried her face into Delia's neck. She could feel Delia's fingers dig into her back, in an attempt to draw her even closer.

They stayed locked together for a long moment, neither willing to be the first to pull away. Eventually, Delia loosened her hold and took a step back and looked into Patsy's eyes. "Where have you been?" She whispered, her voice hoarse.

Patsy looked at her lover critically. Delia looked ashen and exhausted and had clearly been crying. She felt her heart contract and she led Delia to her bed so that they could sit down. "I'm so sorry Deels. The Bursar ambushed me yesterday and told me that I had to move rooms."

"Why?"

Patsy pulled a face. "She wouldn't explain in exact terms but she hinted pretty firmly that it was all about putting some distance between you and me."

Delia bit down on an incredulous laugh. "Is that all?"

"Delia, this is serious. We could lose our jobs." Patsy couldn't believe Delia's reaction.

"Why didn't you come and tell me where you were? Or leave a proper note? I've been worried all night." Delia forced herself to ask questions rather than jump to conclusions. She'd been speculating all night and resolved nothing.

Patsy looked chagrined. "I wanted to Deels. I intended to. I needed a distraction so I scrubbed out the room I'd been given and then unpacked." She hesitated for a moment before sighing. "Then I wallowed in self-pity for a while and got lost in my thoughts. By the time I realised I should be coming to see you, it was past curfew."

"Bloody curfew," Delia scoffed. "And you didn't think that it was worth breaking? To let me know that you were at least alright?" She knew she wasn't being fair, but Delia couldn't help herself.

Patsy bristled, equally fragile after an emotional night. "Of course I did. But the Bursar made it quite clear that breaking curfew was an element of the issue and I was quite convinced that she or the night sister would be watching and waiting to see if I was going to break it again."

Delia was instantly contrite. "Sorry. It's just that I didn't know what to think." She ran a hand through her hair. "We'd said that we were going to talk, and then to see your room empty..." the brunette trailed off, her throat constricting again.

"I'm sorry too. But the Bursar was watching my every move. And I didn't even know where she was going to put me. I had to leave a basic note. And I would have come back." There was a clear note of insistence in her voice.

Delia nodded shakily. "I know." She swallowed. "I was so scared, Pats," she admitted finally.

"I'm sorry," Patsy repeated. "I did mean to come back and tell you where I'd ended up."

Delia took a deep breath and steeled herself. "I was worried that it was you that wanted to put some distance between us."

"What?" Patsy was aghast. "I wouldn't just up and leave. I'd never have such disregard for you."

Delia nodded, but could feel her heart pounding. She felt sick but knew she had to continue. "I know. But after our conversation at the coffee shop, I wondered if you were having second thoughts."

Patsy closed her eyes. She did not want this conversation. Not now, when they were both so emotionally wrung out. She felt a tear trickle down her cheek. "I can't deny that I haven't thought about it," she admitted finally, her voice little more than a whisper.

Delia stood up abruptly, hugging herself as she went to stand in the corner of her room. She stared absently at the wall, unwilling to face Patsy as she spoke. "And what conclusion did you reach?"

"Delia, can we talk about this later? I need to get ready for work and..."

"No." Delia turned round suddenly, her eyes flashing. "We put this off yesterday because there was no time. I can't wait another shift wondering where I am with you."

"Delia I love you." Patsy stood up, feeling suddenly defensive. "I'm sorry if that's not good enough for you."

"Patsy, this isn't about whether you love me or not. It's about whether you can accept your own feelings and what that actually means. For you as well as us."

"I've never hidden from you how reserved I am, or how difficult it is for me to talk about things." Patsy could hear her voice become tight.

"Again, this is not about that. This is about how you view your feelings for me, and what that means for us both." Delia was tenacious.

"No, that's what it is for you. And what does it matter? We can't have a normal relationship. We have to keep things secret and I'm sorry if that means I can't parade around with my heart on my sleeve. But I've accepted that at least. You haven't." Patsy kept careful control of the volume of her voice, but there was no doubting the force of her words.

Delia clenched her hands in frustration. "So what do we do then? Just carry on like we are? Together but not really? Grabbing a moment here and there? Never able to do much else."

"I didn't realise I was boring you Delia," Patsy lashed out.

"That's not it at all and you know it." Delia's voice was shaking now. "I don't know where I stand with you. If you can't accept yourself for who you are, how can you accept us?"

"Why is this so important to you?"

"How can it not be for you?"

"I'm scared Delia. Satisfied? I'm scared." Patsy stepped forward slightly as she spoke and Delia could see her trembling. "I don't know that I can ever accept myself for having these feelings which means that every day I think that I'm being unfair to you. But I don't know how to cope without you anymore. And that frightens me too." She took a breath and suddenly her face became a mask. Delia felt her stomach lurch.

"Perhaps it would be easier if we kept our distance for a while," she stated woodenly.

"What? No!" Delia was horrified that Patsy could even suggest such a thing.

"Just think about it logically for a minute," Patsy persevered. "I already have the Bursar watching me. I have absolutely no doubt she's watching you too. We simply can't carry on as we did without inviting further scrutiny and then, who knows? They've already separated us. The only next step after that would be to terminate our employment."

"Love isn't logical, Patsy. That's the whole thing about it. We can't just treat it like a puzzle that needs solving." Delia could feel tears rolling down her face but she didn't care.

"We have taken too many risks. We've been complacent. I think it would be best if we both took stock of the situation. We need to look at this objectively."

Patsy sounded as cold as Delia ever remembered and to her it was obvious that she had already made up her mind. "Are we breaking up?" She asked faintly, unable to look at the other woman.

"No." Patsy's firm denial prompted Delia to lift her head. "This is about us being careful and taking stock of the situation. If we are going to be together, we need to be cleverer than we have been." She sighed in resignation. "And we also need to be able to cope without each other too."

"What? Why?" Delia was alarmed again. Every message Patsy was giving her was confusing.

"So that if we do need to keep our distance, it won't destroy us. Please understand, Delia. This is for the best."

Delia heard the finality in Patsy's tone and knew that it would be futile to try and dissuade this course of action. "If you think it's for the best," she allowed eventually, her voice sounding foreign to her.

Patsy nodded. "I need to get ready for work. We'll catch up on Monday." She yanked the door open and left without looking back.

Delia stared after her, paralysed. At least Patsy had remembered that they both had Monday off. But that was four days away. And Patsy hadn't told her which room she had moved to.

~~~~

Patsy sighed as she lit a cigarette in the break room. It had been three days since her row with Delia. After running away on the pretext of getting ready for work, Patsy had tried not to obsess over what had been said. But it was impossible to immerse herself in work in the way she could on other wards. Psychiatry just did not lend itself to that. Instead, Patsy felt herself building barriers for coping with work as well as her private life. She felt lost and isolated.

What was worse was that she knew there was a way out of this. Delia was her lifeline. She had already shown her how important it was to trust and love. But Patsy wasn't sure if it was wise to rely on someone so totally like that.

After realising that she hadn't told Delia her new room number, Patsy decided to leave a note the following day. She had then talked herself out of it, deciding to put her own theory to the test. She should be able to cope without her. It had been torture. Unfortunately, Patsy now wondered what it would look like if she left Delia a note after a considerable gap. How would Delia react to a belated attempt to reach out? The nurse managed to tie herself up in knots considering all the possible permutations, and all it resulted in was inaction, despite the crushing pain of loneliness she was buckling under.

Her musings were broken when the door opened and Staff Nurse Clarke entered. "Hello, Patsy. I don't suppose I can nick a cigarette? I rather stupidly left mine at home."

"Of course." Patsy offered the cigarettes and her lighter and watched the older nurse inhale and sigh deeply.

They sat in silence for a moment until Staff Nurse Clarke looked at Patsy speculatively. "I'm glad to see you've stopped trying to be the patients' friend," she commented.

"What do you mean?" Patsy automatically took the comment as a slight.

Eleanor shook her head quickly. "I'm not criticising. Just the opposite in fact." She blew out another plume of cigarette smoke before continuing. "Every time we get a student here I wonder how long it will take them to stop being Florence Nightingale."

Patsy frowned, confused. "I'm sorry, I'm not following you."

"This is not the place for tea and sympathy. Psychiatry is tough. You can't mollycoddle the patients into feeling better, and you certainly can't offer them false promises. They're here because they're broken. And one has to remember that one can't fix patients with kindness."

"That's no reason not to treat them with dignity."

"I'm not saying that either. But you can't get sucked into their heads. All that ends up happening is that you wish you could help them more, or worse, understand them." Staff Nurse Clarke shuddered. "If you let yourself get drawn into their worlds, it consumes you. This job is all about self-preservation." She took another drag of her cigarette and then stood up and filled the kettle. "Take it from me, if you want to stay in nursing, you need to build some protective barriers. Keep your distance." She leaned against the sideboard and looked at Patsy steadily. "You'll never survive if you don't protect your personal space."

"That's a very cynical view," Patsy demurred.

"It's a practical one," Eleanor riposted. "And not just for psychiatry. It's just more obvious here."

"More obvious?"

"It's far harder to empathise with psychiatric patients. And even if you could, what's the point? They wouldn't know anyway. And where does that leave you? Feeling heartbroken for them when they go off and do the one thing you've been trying to talk them out of for months." There was a bitter sadness to Eleanor's tone and she swung round to grab some mugs.

Patsy waited for the older woman to turn round again. "You sound like you're talking from personal experience."

"Why do you think I'm telling you to build your barriers now?" She stirred the contents of the teapot before pouring two cups and returning to the table and passing one to Patsy. "I suppose the reality is that you must find your own way. But I can see that you're dedicated and the way you carry yourself suggests that you want to be in nursing for the long run. If that's the case, you do have to protect yourself. Even on the regular wards."

"If it's that bad, why don't you just leave?"Patsy asked. She didn't really know Staff Nurse Clarke. She was almost cold with the patients but none of them seemed to think any less of her.

"Probably because of some kind of misguided loyalty to the department," Eleanor answered ruefully. "There isn't exactly a rush of people wanting to be psychiatric nurses. You might not have noticed but we are permanently short staffed here."

Patsy nodded. "I do know that psychiatry is not for me," she admitted.

Eleanor took another sip of her tea. "Listen. It's only for a few more weeks. After that you have what, one more placement?"

Patsy nodded at the query.

"Then you qualify. Dig deep now. Protect yourself while you're here. Don't get involved and just do your job. Then use the next placement to get your persona right. Take a look at the nurses on the wards, Patsy. Really take a look and see how they cope."

Patsy shifted uncomfortably. "Most of the senior nurses do seem quite severe."

"For good reason," Staff Nurse Clarke commented assuredly. "If most of us are like it, what does that tell you?"

Patsy frowned and stared at her tea. Was this how she needed to be in order to survive? She had looked at the senior staff and admired their efficiency but not their manner. Was it inevitable that she too would become brusque and cold? It might work for her, but she couldn't imagine Delia going down that path at all.

Delia.

In a flash of clarity, Patsy realised that it was Delia that grounded her. It was Delia that was her support. She could quite easily be brusque and cold at work, as long as she had Delia to centre her. With Delia, she could cope with anything. And for the last few days, she had done nothing but keep her away.

"Are you alright? You look like you've seen a ghost," Eleanor asked.

Patsy shook her head. "I'm fine," she brushed off. She glanced up at the wall clock and then checked her own fob watch. "I need to get back," she announced as she stood, draining the last of her tea.

Staff Nurse Clarke nodded. "Remember what I told you Patsy. And when you qualify, do yourself a favour and find a ward where you can concentrate on just getting the job done. You'll survive for a lot longer."

"And you?" Patsy asked bravely.

Eleanor sighed. "Me? I'll do what I always do. I'll buck up, whistle a happy tune and crack on."

~~~~

Patsy hurried to get changed. She knew that she had told Delia that they would talk on Monday, but she didn't want to wait any longer. Once she was out of uniform, the tall blonde nurse rushed over to the other side of the Nurses Home and tapped quietly on the door to Delia's room. When she got no answer, she opened the door anyway only to confirm that the room was indeed empty. Grabbing the notebook and a pencil that were always situated on the desk, Patsy hastily scribbled a note, telling Delia her room number and to come over as soon as she got in from work. She then returned in a much more sedate manner and tried to still her thoughts as she waited anxiously for Delia to return.

It was hell. Patsy found herself pacing and smoking incessantly. In the end, she forced herself to go for a walk just to kill a bit of time, but found herself returning back to her room quickly, just in case Delia had finished early. She was quite frazzled by 9.30 and began worrying at a thumb nail, knowing that Delia would have finished and be over at any minute.

By the time it got to 10.30, Patsy's heart was pounding for an entirely different reason. Delia should have been back by now. Patsy's mind flitted between worrying that something had happened to Delia and the more realistic option that Delia simply didn't want to come and see her. That thought was almost too painful to consider, but Patsy also knew that Delia had every right to feel that way.

Just as Patsy was contemplating going to Delia's room instead, there was a quiet knock at the door. She opened it to see Delia standing there, her face unreadable.

"Come in," the blonde invited immediately, closing the door behind them and automatically reaching for a book to wedge the door, before hesitating and looking at Delia. "Are you staying for a while?"

"I don't know," Delia responded, her voice hollow. "It depends what you have to say."

Patsy could see the strain on the younger woman's face. Carefully, she placed the book on her desk and leaned against the door. She took a deep breath. "Do you want to sit down?" She offered. Everything felt stilted and almost unfamiliar.

"I wasn't going to come," Delia admitted suddenly. She made no effort to sit down but instead walked to the far side of the bedroom and hovered near the corner, her arms wrapped round her.

"What changed your mind?" Patsy asked, trying to keep her voice as neutral as possible.

"I remembered how devastated I felt when you disappeared the other night. I didn't want you to go through needless worrying."

"Delia," Patsy began, stepping forward.

"Stop. Just stop," Delia interrupted forcefully, rendering Patsy motionless. "I've done everything on your terms. Everything. I never forced you to do something you didn't want to do. I never pushed you because I know how insecure you are. I really thought we were getting somewhere when you trusted me enough to tell me about your past and how it's affected you."

Delia's voice shook with emotion and she focused her gaze on the carpet in front of Patsy, knowing that if she looked at the other woman, she would crack. "But every time something sends you spinning, instead of talking it through with me, you make up your mind instantly. You shut me out. You never once considered my feelings in this. There was never any choice in how we might move things forward, or get through things together. It was just you deciding, once again that it would be better to hide away and pretend that nothing was going on."

Delia did look up now, and her eyes were blazing. "It's not fair Patsy. This has all been completely new to me. I've been trying to find my way through and take your feelings into consideration every step of the way, but you've completely ignored mine. You're not the only one who feels scared and insecure. You're not the only one who worries if we're doing the right thing, no matter what my heart says."

Delia exhaled heavily. "I've had enough Patsy. We're either in this together, and I mean properly together, or I'm walking away."

Patsy felt tears rolling down her cheeks but made no attempt to remove them. She could see how much it had cost Delia to speak in that way too. "I had a conversation today with one of the nurses on the ward," she began neutrally, noting Delia's brow furrow at this turn. "She told me that I needed to build up barriers to protect myself."

Delia groaned in frustration and rolled her eyes. "I'm not sure how many more barriers you can put up, Patsy."

Patsy nodded absently but remained focused on what she wanted to say. "As she was talking I realised that too. And I also realised that I can do that and still be myself and sane, because I have you." She held up a hand to stop Delia as she opened her mouth to interrupt. "Please, Delia. Let me finish. I know it's all been on my terms and this probably feels the same, but please just let me speak a moment longer."

Delia nodded.

"I am so sorry that I backed away and cut you out, again. What's worse is that I know that I have it in me to do it again. It's the way I've always dealt with things. I realised today that it doesn't have to be that way every time anymore, because of you. I have to learn to break the habit of always retreating. But more than that, I have to learn that we are in this together, and I can't just put my feelings ahead of yours."

"It's not about one of us taking priority," Delia interjected, stepping forward a half-pace.

"I know. I'm not explaining myself well. I never do." Patsy exhaled forcefully. "Delia, please don't walk away. I promise I will share and work these things out with you, but I also know I will get it wrong. I can't promise that I'll get it right every time, but I can promise that I will try, and I will listen the second you pull me up about it. Please give me a chance to make things right."

Delia turned away again, her mind in turmoil. She had to think. Was it enough that Patsy at least recognised her shortcomings in their relationship? They had barely brushed on how Patsy viewed loving another woman. Addressing that would be crucial for Delia if she were ever to think that what they had really was a relationship. Could Delia accept that sometimes Patsy would hide, no matter how many assurances she made?

Patsy could feel her heart hammering in her chest as she watched Delia. She was determined not to interrupt her thoughts even though she desperately wanted to carry on pleading her case. The tall blonde couldn't help but hold her breath as she saw Delia eventually turn round again.

"I'm not asking you to be perfect, Pats. But I am asking you to consider how things impact on me as well. That you can promise," Delia insisted.

Patsy nodded. "I promise," she vowed. She grimaced as glanced at her bedside table. "It's almost curfew. What time did you want to meet tomorrow so I can start to make things right?"

Delia stepped forward and grabbed the 'door book'. "I'm not going anywhere tonight. You can start to make things right, right now." She looped her arm round Patsy's neck as she simultaneously jammed the book under the door. The kiss was fierce and hard, and it was not broken even as they tumbled onto the bed.

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Delia stared long and hard at the grid in front of her, furrowing her brow in concentration. After a few seconds she looked up and into the dark brown eyes of Trevor Matthews. He was fidgeting impatiently and anxious for her to make her move.

Delia narrowed her eyes at him for a second before returning to look at the grid. After a few more seconds of waiting, she carefully marked her 'X' in the top right hand corner. She had to fight to keep the grin off her face as she saw her young opponent desperate to place his 'O'. He sat back in triumph after running a line down the grid, his smile widening at the crestfallen look the nurse had on her face. "How did I miss that?" She asked, banging her head with the heel of her hand.

Trevor giggled. "Can we play again?" He asked excitedly.

Delia smiled and raised an eyebrow. "What's the deal?" She asked in a singsong voice.

Trevor wrinkled his nose. "I have to take my medicine first." He huffed dramatically. "I hate it," he added, somewhat needlessly.

"I'd never have guessed," Delia told him, the ghost of a smile gracing her face. She waited for him to hold out his hand and then put two tablets in his palm. "Go on," she encouraged.

Trevor paused before flipping them into his mouth and holding his hand out to take a glass of water that Delia had ready in preparation. He took two huge gulps and gasped as he handed the glass back, scrunching his face up as he did. "Did I tell you that they taste like earwax?" He grumbled.

Delia smirked. "You tell me that every time. Now. One more game and then I need to check on the others."

Trevor eagerly drew out another grid and immediately picked his first spot.

"Nurse Busby, is Trevor being a nuisance again?" A voice called from down the ward.

Delia turned around to see Trevor's mother hurrying to his bed. "On the contrary, Mrs Matthews, Trevor is teaching me how to play noughts and crosses."

The young man in question looked up, the smile practically splitting his face. "I've won four times."

"Four times?" Trevor's mother repeated in mock astonishment. "Perhaps you should let her win one."

Trevor looked instantly panicked and stared at Delia with wide eyes. "You do still want to play with me don't you?"

Delia read the signs instantly. Trevor clearly didn't win at much, if anything. And it would appear that his defence against disappointment was to stop playing. She shrugged nonchalantly. "I have to learn how to beat you. I can only do that by playing with you. So don't worry, I will be carrying on playing for a long time yet," she told him reassuringly.

Trevor nodded, the quiver of his bottom lip an obvious indicator of relief.

Delia grabbed her pencil and marked her spot quickly before nodding at Trevor for him to take his go. She looked up when she felt a hand placed gently on her shoulder.

"Thank you," Mrs Matthews whispered, her eyes glistening with moisture.

Delia shook her head and shrugged slightly. "It's no trouble," she replied genuinely.

"What's no trouble?" Trevor asked, looking up again.

"Me trying to learn how to play noughts and crosses," Delia told him happily. She glanced down and made her next move, knowing that she was setting him up for another win.

A short while later and Delia was at the Nurses Station and reviewing the notes from her patients for her shift. She had quickly finished the game with Trevor so that his mother could spend precious time with him.

"You are doing yourself no favours getting so attached to them," Sister Rawlins chided.

"I'm sorry Sister. I can't help it." Delia brushed off the criticism.

"It will devastate you when they reach the end," the rotund senior nurse told her.

Delia nodded in agreement. "I know, Sister. But right now they need all the love and attention they can get. If that means that I hurt a bit more at the end of it, then it's a small price to pay."

Sister Rawlins looked over her spectacles at the student nurse carefully. "That is an admirable sentiment, Nurse Busby. But take care to protect yourself as well. I get the impression that it is your intention to have a career in nursing, as opposed to using it as an interim before marriage."

The diminutive nurse blushed slightly. "This is what I want to do, Sister. I love it."

Sister Rawlins smiled. It was nice to see that at least some of the students viewed nursing as a vocation. It made up for the many students who would be gone the second they were engaged. "Is this your last placement, Nurse Busby?"

"No, Sister. I have one more after this, and then I qualify."

Sister Rawlins nodded curtly before picking up a pile of notes. "I would urge you to consider Paediatrics as a permanent posting, as long as you can develop appropriate coping mechanisms," she advised as she left for her office.

Delia stared open-mouthed as the older nurse left. She hadn't really given her permanent position much thought. It would give her an opportunity to specialise immediately. It was practically unheard of for student nurses to be given guidance as to their permanent postings and Delia felt quite proud of herself.

"Nurse?"

Delia spun round and saw Mrs Matthews waiting. "Hello, Mrs Matthews. Is something wrong?"

"No, not at all. I just wanted to thank you. Trevor hasn't stopped talking about you all afternoon."

"There's nothing to thank me for. I've just played a few games with him, that's all."

Mrs Matthews shook her head firmly. "That's not all. You've been his friend as well as his nurse. And that means the world to him. And to me."

"You're all having a hard enough time as it is, dealing with Trevor's illness. The least I can do is try and make him a little more comfortable."

"You're an angel, Nurse Busby. You'll make a super mum one day."

Delia swallowed. "I hadn't really thought that far ahead," she managed, her mind spinning slightly.

Mrs Matthews patted Delia's arm reassuringly. "Don't you fret, Nurse. You're already a natural. We're lucky to have you here." With that, she turned and headed back to where her son was now lying down and resting.

Delia stared after the woman, her words ringing in her ears. Up until that moment, Delia hadn't even thought about being a mother. It wasn't an option available to her, given that she had no intention of marrying. As she stared at the Matthews' family however, she couldn't help but consider something she could never have.

Delia allowed the two trains of thought to rattle through her mind for the remainder of her shift. She seriously evaluated what she was doing on the ward and realised that she felt comfortable and happy there. It was certainly an option, although switching from adults to paediatrics would extend her training. The Welsh nurse smiled to herself as she concluded that she would need to talk it over with Patsy.

The smile faded slightly when she considered what Mrs Matthews had said. Delia had never really thought about children or being a mother, even before she realised that she wasn't attracted to men. It had never been a burning desire. But now Mrs Matthews had spoken about it, Delia wasn't so sure. She adored children, but did that equate to her wanting motherhood?

More to the point, she had never really discussed it with Patsy. Delia knew with absolute conviction that she wanted to share her life with Patsy. But that would be a childless family. Delia wasn't sure how she felt about that, and she definitely didn't know how Patsy felt. Her heart lurched in fear at the sudden thought that Patsy might desperately want children. Would the draw be so great that it could potentially split them apart? She sighed heavily as she emptied the autoclave. That was another discussion they would have to have.

The brunette shook her head ruefully. The woman she loved more than everything practically had a phobia of difficult conversations. Delia would have to pick her moment to tackle this. But Patsy had promised Delia that they wouldn't shy away from those conversations, and that they would make decisions together. That, at least gave her some reassurance.


~~~~


Patsy cleared her throat as she entered the common room and approached the solitary man sitting at the table. She smiled tentatively as he looked up. "Hello James. Are you all set to go home?"

James shook his head nervously. "Not really, Nurse," he admitted. "I'm not sure I can do this on my own."

Patsy gestured to a vacant chair and the patient nodded for her to sit down. "James, I can't begin to imagine how you're feeling about this," she started neutrally. "You've been here a while, and you've been working with the psychiatrists to give you some more..." she paused as she thought about her phrasing, "more structure and meaning with your thoughts. That will help once you've been discharged."

James stared at the table and scratched at an imagined imperfection. "It's not that, Nurse," he demurred quietly. "It's the medication. It clouds my head. And I'm tired all the time."

Patsy could see a hint of panic in his eyes as he turned to look at her. "James, you won't be on your own. You've got regular appointments to see the psychiatrist. And your doctor will be keeping an eye on you too."

James shook his head. "He'll be checking to make sure I keep taking the tablets. It's either that or go to prison."

Patsy placed her hand over James's and stopped him picking at the table. "Your priority is to keep yourself safe. Some of your thoughts and feelings are probably overwhelming and confusing. Whatever you do, you need to find a way to cope. That may be doing something as simple as keeping out of temptation's way."

"You don't understand, Nurse," James interrupted, shaking his head crossly.

"Possibly not. But I do understand self-preservation. I understand having to hide elements away from other people in order to protect oneself." She took a breath before continuing. "James, if it ever feels overwhelming, remember that you can't possibly be the only one out there who has these feelings... these urges.  There have to be many others out there, for doctors and scientists to have invested time and research into what's going on."

James sniffed. "More like find ways to stop it," he corrected.

Patsy had to acknowledge the veracity of that. "Probably. But that means you are not alone."

"Are you telling me to find other men like me?" James asked curiously.

Patsy shook her head. "No, I'm trying to tell you that you aren't the only one out there struggling to cope with it."

James sighed heavily. "Thank you Nurse," he said eventually.

Patsy frowned. "What for?"

James looked at her and smiled grimly. "For not insulting my intelligence and extending the courtesy of not telling me that tablets are the only answer to this."

Patsy nodded. "You will be alright," she insisted firmly as she stood up. "You're stronger than you know."

As she left the common room, Patsy exhaled, trying to release some of the tension she was feeling. Her reconciliation with Delia had given Patsy some perspective. Delia couldn't make all Patsy's fears go away, but they somehow felt more manageable. Patsy was determined to do what she could to make a difference within the Psychiatric Department.

When her shift finished, Patsy headed back to the Nurses Home, deep in thought. She needed to find out why the Bursar had forced her to move rooms and deliberately separate her from Delia. What had tipped her off for her to act? It would be no easy task however. One couldn't simply walk up to the Bursar herself and ask for a rationale. Besides, Patsy had tried that on the night, and had merely been treated to a derisive sniff and a series of only partly veiled insinuations. It certainly hadn't given her any answers. Instead, she would have to try some discrete detective work, starting with the relative safety of her student colleagues.

She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she bumped right into a woman trying to leave the Nurses Home as she tried to enter. "Goodness me, do forgive my carelessness," she apologised instinctively before really looking at the other woman.

"Don't worry Patsy. I wasn't really paying attention myself," Penelope McAllistair replied, her usually placid expression looking troubled.

"Penny. How are you?" Patsy's manners immediately surfaced.

The slight, blonde nurse shrugged noncommittally. "I'm a bit cheesed off, if I'm completely honest," she admitted rather surprisingly.

Patsy raised her eyebrows. "Why? What's happened?"

Penny glanced at her wristwatch quickly. "Have you got time for a cup of tea at the cafe? Perhaps we can have a chat."

Patsy nodded. "Of course, as long as you can give me five minutes to get changed out of my uniform."

Penny nodded. "I'll wait here," she declared.

A short while later, the two student nurses sat across from each other in Benny's cafe, both nursing piping hot cups of tea.

"So what's the problem, Penny? Are you struggling again?"

"No. I'm flying through class and feel so much more confident on the ward," Penny replied before taking a sip of tea. She winced at the heat and used her spoon to stir it in the hope that it might cool slightly.

"Then what's got you so bothered?" Patsy asked patiently.

Penny glanced round furtively before she leaned in conspiratorially. "I think the Bursar's gone barmy," she declared.

Patsy blinked at the sudden announcement and then her heart lurched. "Why? What has she done?" She asked, trying to keep her tone as neutral as possible.

"Last week, she banged on the door and barged in while Millie and I were talking. She told me that I had to pack my things as I was being moved."

Patsy's eyes widened. "Did she say why?"

"All the time I was packing up, she insisted that it was because I wasn't part of Millie's class anymore, so I had been put in the wrong room. I didn't believe her. When I came back to training, I'd asked her if I could move into that room. I knew it was empty and it would be good for Millicent to be close by. She didn't have any objections then at all."

Penny snorted derisively. "Then, all of a sudden, it's a big mistake and I have to go somewhere else. It was utterly preposterous."

Patsy forced herself to stay quiet and allow Penny to continue.

"The Bursar told Millie to go to her own room and she wasn't to come with me to the new one. Excuse my language but she was an absolute cow about the whole thing," Penny exclaimed.

Patsy raised an eyebrow. It was most unlike Penny to be so rude about someone else, particularly someone in authority. "So then what happened?" She prompted gently.

Penny sighed heavily. "The Bursar escorted me to my new room. Honestly Patsy, it could not have been further away from Millie's room. But that's not the worst of it."

Patsy nodded, now impatient to find out what had made Penelope so vexed.

"While we were walking there, the Bursar kept making comments."

"What about?" Patsy had a dread feeling, but she wanted to make sure.

"She kept hinting that Millie and I spend too much time together."

Patsy lit a cigarette and inhaled sharply in an attempt to stop her reaction giving herself away. "Surely that's none of her business," she pointed out after she blew out a plume of smoke.

"It's not. But she wouldn't stop talking about it. She didn't say anything outright, but she hinted that it was unhealthy." Penny stopped suddenly and gestured towards the packet of cigarettes that were on the table. "Do you mind?"

Patsy nodded in acquiescence and hid her surprise. Other than Delia, Penny was about the only student nurse Patsy knew that didn't smoke. Clearly, some things had changed.

The blonde nurse shook a cigarette from the packet and lit up with practised ease. "She made all these hints about us potentially losing our jobs and that we should be ashamed of ourselves."

Patsy shook her head. "Good grief. What has it got to do with her?"

Penny shrugged. "I could hardly tell her that half the time it looks like we're spending time together, Millie is actually out with Robert. I've lost count of how many times I've covered for her."

"And you two are always out on social functions."

"Apparently we've broken curfew and set rumours off." Penny breathed in another lungful from her cigarette, and held onto it for a longer period before exhaling heavily.

Patsy frowned. "What rumours? You're best friends. Of course you're going to spend time together."

"According to the Bursar, we're too close. And she was doing us a favour by separating us in order to stop anyone jumping to disgusting conclusions."

Patsy felt ice crawl down her back. She fought to keep her expression neutral.

"What am I going to do Patsy? I can't have anyone thinking I'm like that."

"Like what?" Patsy stalled.

Penelope looked at her incredulously before leaning in slightly. "That I'm..." She paused as she searched for the right word. Patsy looked back at her steadily, offering no help or a way out.

The slight nurse inhaled her cigarette again before shaking her head. "Frankly I'm surprised," she stated, obviously changing tack.

"Well I am too. Everyone in our class knows that Millicent and Robert have been an item for the longest time," Patsy responded.

"That's not what I meant," Penny demurred. She shrugged. "I'm surprised that the Bursar focused on us. You and Delia spend far more time together than we do, and she's left you alone."

Patsy couldn't help but wince. Penelope noticed immediately. "Not you as well?"

Patsy nodded gloomily. "I got moved around the same time as you by the sound of it. I'm surprised you didn't know."

"No. I thought it was just us." Penny sighed. "How horrible for you." She paused and took a sip of her tea. "Did she make the same vile insinuations?"

Patsy nodded curtly but didn't say anything. She wasn't sure she could trust her voice.

"Who does she think she is, making accusations like that?" Penny sounded both incensed and offended. "What are you going to do?"

Patsy shook her head and cleared her throat in an effort to make her voice work. "Nothing. If I change what I do now, the Bursar will think she was right. Delia and I are simply treating it as an inconvenience to our friendship." They had spoken at length about how they would proceed and had already concluded that this was the way forward. Voicing it to a third person validated it somehow, and gave Patsy reassurance.

"You're absolutely right," Penny nodded agreement. "I'll have to suggest to Millie that we do the same, where possible. She shouldn't have to give up seeing Robert, just because the Bursar is a sour-faced busybody."

She pulled in another lungful of smoke before rubbing the cigarette end into oblivion in the ashtray.  "What about the rumours though?"

Patsy frowned. "What rumours?"

Penny leaned forward again. "About having an unhealthy relationship," she clarified in a whisper.

"I'm not convinced there are any such rumours going round," Patsy countered, amazed at how strong her voice sounded. Her heart was hammering. "I've not heard anything."

Penny canted her head slightly. "Are you talking about you and Delia, or Millicent and me?"

"Both. Really Penny. No one from our set would ever jump to those conclusions. We all know how devoted Robert and Millie are to each other." Patsy ignored the other part of the question. If people were talking about her, she doubted it would reach her ears.

"What about the nurses in my group? They don't know me as well. They all know I spend more time with my old class than I do with them. All it takes is one vicious rumour to get back to them and I'll be a pariah, if I'm allowed to carry on nursing."

"Perhaps you should spend a bit more time getting to know your new colleagues, or at least allowing them to get to know you," Patsy suggested.

"I know I should," Penny agreed. "But I think the train crash forged a special bond between us all. I don't have the same connection with them." She sighed loudly and sat back. "From the way the Bursar was behaving, one would think it was on a par with being a murderer. I mean, I know it's wrong, but I don't know what difference that makes to one's nursing skills."

"Neither do I," Patsy agreed firmly.

"I don't really understand it though. Millie is my best friend. She's one person I know I can rely on for absolutely anything, and I'd be heartbroken if anything happened to her, but there's no attraction there." She spoke with objective curiosity. "Good lord, I don't even know how..." The slender nurse cut short the sentence and shuddered slightly. She looked directly at Patsy. "I mean, have you ever thought about Delia like that?"

Patsy was certain that Penny was asking innocently, but her heart clenched and she only just managed to control the alarm that crashed over her. "Penny! I can't believe you'd ask something like that." The tall nurse could feel her pulse pounding in her neck. She had always prided herself on her honesty. It was a matter of principle for her and felt that it was intrinsic in her nature. So she deflected. She couldn't outright lie. That would be anathema to her, but she was not so naive as to trust anyone other than Delia; there was too much at stake.

Penny seemed to have an almost morbid fascination with it all. "Sorry. I'm just trying to work out what makes them tick. It must be a miserable existence."

"Miserable?" Patsy asked faintly.

"Gosh yes. Let's not even get into the mechanics of it, but just imagine not being able to tell people you're in love. Imagine not being able to simply walk down the street, hand in hand. Goodness, imagine not being able to even tell one's family." Penny shook her head sympathetically.

Patsy swallowed as her throat tightened with emotion. "Quite," she managed.

Penny looked up. "When Millie has words with Robert, she comes by and sobs her heart out on my shoulder. Imagine not being able to tell anyone else." She shook her head again. "Why would anyone choose to live like that?"

Patsy couldn't help herself. "You can't help who you fall in love with," she supplied candidly.

"Hmmm. I suppose one could look at it like that. I can't imagine anyone wanting to live that way." Penny frowned. "It all rather makes a mockery of the Bursar's thought processes. It makes me wonder why she has such a bee in her bonnet about it all."

Patsy nodded. "Me too." She took another drag of her cigarette as she evaluated Penny's reaction and feelings to the whole thing. "Methinks the lady doth protest too much," she quoted after she exhaled.

Penny's eyes widened at the implication. "Oh Patsy, that's wicked," she admonished, even as her eyes twinkled with merriment.

"Well, she seems to have rather a fixation with other people's business." Patsy canted her head to one side. "And come to think about it, no-one else in authority has admonished me about relationships. In fact, when Delia was ill, the night Matron practically expected me to look in on her. She didn't make any speculative insinuations." Things only fell into place as Patsy spoke the words out loud. She had agonised over the situation with Delia but it had taken a conversation with Penny to suddenly take Patsy out of the nucleus of the issue and see things from a broader perspective.

Penny snorted. "I'm feeling less and less guilty about calling her an interfering busybody now."

"I would go as far as to say you're being somewhat restrained," Patsy replied with a grin. The conversation with Penny had been risky and precarious in places, but she felt better for it. It was out of the question that she would be able to trust Penny with any greater detail, but she was certain that she had found an ally to assist in dealing with the Bursar.

Penny grimaced. "This whole thing has got me on edge, and I can't help but feel it's been whipped up out of nothing by the Bursar. It's wholly unfair. The last thing I want is for my reputation to be in tatters for no reason. And I certainly don't want to be tarnished with that sort of label."

"Yes, me too," Patsy concurred quietly. She finished her tea and reached for her handbag. "Well, at least we know now that we weren't singled out. If we all just carry on as before, hopefully the Bursar will realise that her concern was misplaced and this will all blow over." She stopped temporarily as she located her purse and pinched out a number of coins. "In the meantime, if I hear any gossip regarding you and Millicent, I will stop it dead in its tracks. I'm hoping you'll do the same if you hear anything regarding Delia and I?"

Penelope nodded quickly. "Although Delia should be used to it by now," she muttered.

Patsy looked sharply at the slender nurse. "What have you heard?" She demanded.

"Nothing. I just remember that kerfuffle when we started and all that speculation about her then."

"I didn't really hear much about it," Patsy rejoined, barely keeping her voice under control.

Penny looked embarrassed. "I feel I owe Delia an apology. I know I did nothing to stop the rumours. If anything, I helped in their spread."

Patsy drilled a look at Penny. "How could you?"

Penny held up a hand in supplication. "I know. Having potentially been on the other side, I certainly know now how cravenly that was, and how dreadful it must have felt for her. I hope it didn't hurt her too badly."

Patsy shrugged. "You'll have to ask her that," she replied curtly.

"I will when I apologise," Penny vowed. She glanced at the cafe clock and stood up. "Come on. I'll walk back with you." She waited as Patsy stood up and shrugged on her jacket. "Hurry up, Patsy. I don't want to be late for my date with Millicent."

Patsy grinned and shook her head as Penny winked at her before the two women hurried back to the Nurses Home. Delia would be finishing soon, and they had lots to talk about.

 

~To be continued~

Chapter Text

 


Patsy watched Delia nervously pick at the bedspread and shook her head slightly. "Come on Deels. Out with it," she requested finally.

Delia looked up, slightly surprised by the interruption to her meditation. "Out with what?" She hedged.

Patsy raised an eyebrow at the brunette. "Since you got back from your shift, you've asked me practically every detail of my day but barely given me anything other than an outline of yours. And you haven't stopped fidgeting since you sat down. You clearly have something on your mind."

Delia pulled a face before looking back down at the bedspread. "It's... complicated," she admitted.

Patsy sat down next to Delia on the bed and waited for the other woman to look up again. "I think we're both rather used to things being complicated now, Delia. Come on, old thing. We both promised we would talk to each other. Of the two of us, I was quite certain it would be me that would be unable to fulfil that particular bargain." She gave a self-deprecating smile, hoping to encourage Delia to speak her mind.

Delia nodded in acknowledgment and swallowed but was still uncertain where to begin. She picked the safer option. "Sister Rawlins gave me something to think about today."

Patsy raised an eyebrow. "Go on," she encouraged.

Delia looked at the older woman steadily. "She suggested that I should consider specialising in Paediatrics."

Patsy grinned delightedly. "Goodness me, that's wonderful." She paused as she saw the doubt in Delia's eyes. "Don't you want to do it?"

"I hadn't really thought about what I'd do once I qualify. It still all seems so far away. It caught me a bit on the hop."

"So what do you think now?" Patsy asked gently.

"Well, my first thought was that we ought to talk about this together," Delia admitted.

"Together? Why?" Patsy was quite surprised.

Delia frowned. "Because my decision affects us both," she pointed out. "I'd have to extend my training into Paediatrics. I'd be a student for another year."

Patsy shrugged slightly. "I'm not quite sure how that affects us, darling. We'll both be working. It hardly matters if you're still in training."

"I have to stay in approved accommodation all the time I'm training," Delia pointed out steadily.

"I have no plans on going anywhere, so I'm not sure what's changing," Patsy replied.

Delia sat back and stared steadily at the blonde nurse. She bit her lip as she considered her next words. "How far have you thought ahead, Pats?"

"What do you mean?" Patsy sounded genuinely confused.

"About the future. What are your thoughts on what happens next?" Although she hadn't really thought about which path her career might take, Delia had thought a lot about what might happen once they finished training. From the surprise she heard in Patsy's voice, it would appear that she hadn't really thought ahead. Delia felt compelled to see what the other woman's thoughts were, now that they were talking about it.

Patsy pulled a face. "I don't really know. I suppose getting through each placement and each set of exams is looking far enough ahead for me."

"Haven't you thought about where you want to work once you do qualify?"

Patsy shook her head. "It's been more a matter of elimination to be brutally honest. I can categorically state that I will not be specialising in Psychiatrics. And probably not Intensive Care. I'd rather deal with patients I can actually nurse."

Delia nodded ruefully, knowing how difficult the last two placements had been for Patsy. "That's understandable. But what about... arrangements?" She asked hesitantly.

Patsy's brow furrowed again. "Arrangements? What do you mean?"

"Are you simply planning on staying at the Nurses Home?"

"Aren't you?" Patsy looked at Delia curiously, unsure as to where this was heading.

Delia sighed, her shoulders slumping slightly. "Probably short term. But I didn't really imagine me staying here for the rest of my working life."

Patsy felt her heart accelerate. "You're not thinking of going back to Wales are you?" She grimaced as she heard the slight panic in her voice.

Delia shook her head firmly. "Absolutely not. My home is here." She looked at Patsy shyly. "It's where you are."

Relief washed through Patsy and she leaned forward and kissed Delia softly. "I feel the same way," she whispered.

Delia smiled, grateful for Patsy's affirmation. "I was just trying to think ahead." She paused as she steeled herself. "About what we might do," she suggested eventually. "Together."

"I don't know what choices we have," Patsy replied.

"So we just continue as we are, somehow carving out a life together in a building shared with a load of other nurses?" Delia questioned, feeling frustrated by the circumstances.

"What other option is there?" Patsy responded with a question of her own.

Delia shook her head. "I don't know. But is it something you'd consider? Finding somewhere to live, with me?" Despite the pressure that had been on their relationship recently, Delia had never stopped imagining a perfect world where she shared a house and her life with Patsy. It just felt right somehow.

Patsy smiled wanly. "That would be heavenly," she said. "But isn't it all rather a pipe dream?"

The brunette shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't really looked into it. I thought it might be better to talk to you about it all first before building my hopes up."

Patsy exhaled heavily. "Well we can't do anything until we've finished training. We have to live at the Nurses Home until then at least. After that, I'm not sure what they would allow."

Delia flopped back on the bed, growling with frustration. "Why is it any business of the hospital where we live?"

Patsy lay down next to her lover and turned her head to look at her. "You know very well why, Deels. The hospital won't risk having its reputation tarnished. Young nurses can't possibly be allowed to make their own arrangements. They might not be proper." Patsy couldn't help the smirk on her face, or the emphasis on her last word.

Delia turned to look at Patsy, grinning. "You see, that's the point. I don't want to be doing anything proper with you once I do get you completely to myself."

Patsy felt herself flush at the suggestion, and allowed her thoughts to stray towards a potential future with Delia, where they could shut out the world and not have to worry about interruptions or discovery. "Isn't that rather underlining their point?" She asked teasingly.

Delia rolled onto her side, throwing her arm over Patsy and tugging her close. "I'm really not interested in what the hospital thinks right now," she breathed urgently.

Patsy responded by simply leaning forward and kissing Delia, deepening it as she felt her lover pull her even closer. She could hear her pulse pounding in her ears as she felt Delia arch into her caress. It would be so easy to get carried away right now. She could never get enough of touching Delia; of worshiping her body and revelling in how she reacted. But the 'door book' was not in place and there would be too many people still out and about at this time of day.

Regretfully, Patsy pulled back, slowly reducing the intensity of the kiss and she smiled apologetically at Delia when she heard the other woman grumble in protest at the curtailment of their activities. "Sorry, Deels."

Delia huffed, but knew that Patsy was right. "I know," she grumbled. "We really need to investigate our options," she asserted.

"It all seems rather redundant right now," Patsy pointed out logically. "Even if we could move out, we can't do it yet. It's all a bit of a moot point."

Delia couldn't help but ask. "Is this something you don't want to do?"

Patsy shook her head vehemently. "I absolutely want to be with you. But the last thing I want is false hope. Given that we have an unconventional relationship, it may prove difficult to achieve conventional arrangements."

"So you don't want to investigate now?" Delia asked in a small voice, unable to hide her disappointment.

"Delia, please don't read anything more into this than the simple truth that we must reside here until we qualify. Once we pass that hurdle, then we can look at our options." Patsy sighed heavily. "If I'm honest, I don't want to find out that we can't find a way around this. Not yet. I'd rather live in blissful ignorance for the moment." She shrugged. "So all I want to do is concentrate on what we know we can do, rather than wishfully yearn for something we can't."

Delia nodded glumly. "All right," she conceded. She sat up before smiling wistfully. "Fancy a drink before I head back?"

Patsy nodded and watched the petite nurse rummage in the bottom of the wardrobe as she tried to locate the alcohol of her choosing. "Was that all you wanted to talk about Deels?" She asked with a flash of insight.

Delia stiffened slightly and then turned around, holding a bottle of whisky in her hand. She nodded firmly. "Wasn't that enough?" She asked back.

Patsy shook her head. "Of course, but you look like you still have something on your mind."

Delia poured generous measures of amber liquid as she pondered her answer. Patsy had made it quite clear that she didn't want to discuss things that she couldn't do anything about. If they were to stay together, children would never be an option for them. To be fair, Delia hadn't given the matter any thought until Trevor's mum had made a comment about it. She wasn't really sure how she felt about it herself. She picked up the glasses and made her way back to the bed. "One of the mothers said something to me today," she began, looking at the bedspread, rather than Patsy.

The blonde nurse frowned. Delia was perturbed but she was not upset. "Go on," she prompted.

Delia paused again. "Patsy, what do you think about children?" She asked eventually.

Patsy's eyes widened, taken by surprise by the question. "Well, I couldn't eat a whole one," she returned glibly.

Delia shook her head. "Fool. Mrs Matthews told me that I'd be a good mother one day. It got me thinking."

Patsy felt her pulse quicken in alarm. "And?"

Delia looked up and shrugged. "And I thought it ought to be something that we talked about."

Patsy frowned. "I'm not sure there is anything to talk about."

"Do you want children?" Delia asked bluntly.

"Given that I have no interest in men, it's really rather irrelevant," Patsy replied.

"That doesn't stop you wanting them," the Welsh nurse responded carefully.

Patsy sighed. "It does for me. I can't see the point in expending needless energy on an issue that won't ever arise."

Delia frowned. "So you have no maternal instincts?"

Patsy gave a tight-lipped smile as she shook her head. "It wouldn't matter if I did. I can't act on them." Her gaze sharpened slightly. "What about you?" Patsy could feel her stomach flip flop as she asked the question. She wasn't sure if she wanted to hear the answer.

"I don't know," Delia replied honestly.

"What do you mean, you don't know?"

"Exactly that. I hadn't given it any thought at all about it. Now I am," Delia explained.

"But we'll never be able to have children together," Patsy pointed out, rather needlessly in her opinion.

"That's why I want to think about it now." Delia was determined to remain objective in this, knowing the potential impact.

"I must confess, Deels, I'm a bit confused. You've just been talking about perhaps living somewhere together and now you're talking about having children; something we very definitely can't do. What is it that you want?" Patsy couldn't help the sharpness of her tone.

Delia was onto it instantly. "I'm not talking about having children. I'm talking about us acknowledging that we can't have children and ensuring that it isn't a problem."

"Why would it be a problem when it's not an option? Or is this a veiled attempt to tell me that you're going once you decide that you do want them?" In a blink of an eye, Patsy had resorted to self-preservation mode.

"Stop it, Pats. This isn't just about me. It's about you potentially wanting them too, but you're just too bloody-minded to deal with it."

"There's nothing to deal with," Patsy protested vehemently. "So I don't know why we're discussing it."

Delia took a deep breath and then exhaled loudly. "All right," she conceded, realising that at best she would end up in a circular argument with Patsy that wouldn't solve anything. She took a deep sip of her whisky before changing the subject, silently vowing to return to the subject when the time was right.


~~~~

 

"Patsy, Delia. Wait up." The two nurses turned on the stairs to see Penny McAllistair hurrying to catch them. They moved to the landing and then waited for the tall blonde to reach them.

Penny smiled effusively at them both and hugged them briefly. Delia hid a smile as she noticed Patsy stiffening slightly to the breach of her personal space but was rather proud that she managed to hide it so well.

"I'm so glad I spotted you. I wanted to thank you, Patsy," Penny said breathlessly.

"For what?" Patsy's brow furrowed in confusion.

"After we spoke a few days ago I thought I'd take your advice and make a bit more of an effort with the girls in my new class," the willowy nurse continued.

Delia smirked. "Patsy told you to be more sociable?" She asked, a hint of surprise colouring the tone.

Patsy shot the smaller woman a pointed look even as Penny smiled and nodded. "Well, not exactly. But she pointed out that perhaps I hadn't allowed the class to know me that well and that I ought to make an effort," she explained.

Delia's eyebrows rose as she looked at Patsy. "Really?"

Patsy opened her mouth to speak but was distracted as Penny looped her arm through Patsy's and tugged her towards the stairs so that they could continue to descend. "Yes. And she was right, of course. The other girls are actually quite lovely. I hadn't realised that they were all a little wary of me. They'd heard that I'd been at the train crash and they told me that they didn't know how to bring the subject up."

"That's understandable," Patsy agreed, wishing that she could look behind to see Delia's face. After talking at length about the incident while she was recovering from meningitis, Delia refused to talk about it again, saying simply that she had dealt with it and needed to put it behind her. Patsy remained unconvinced but knew from her own personal horrors that one couldn't be forced to talk about traumatic events.

Penny nodded. "So I told them all about it. Once they understood what I'd been through I think they understood why I needed to take a break." She huffed a slight laugh. "Would you believe that they were a bit scared of me? Because I had so much more experience. None of them wanted to look silly in front of me. And what with me spending so much time with our class, I think a lot of them just assumed that's exactly what I thought of them."

"Oh Penny, how could anyone be scared of you? You're the nicest person I know," Delia giggled.

Penny laughed too. "I don't know about that, but I know I'm not exactly an ogre. I think I've managed to set them straight. Thank you, Patsy. It's made such a difference. I feel like I'm part of my new class now too. Actually, I feel quite privileged. It's almost like I'm part of two groups."

Patsy gave a lop-sided smile. "Well, you certainly look a lot happier than when I last you saw you."

Penny pursed her lips. "Oh, I'm still mad with the Bursar. But I've decided to fight fire with fire."

Delia's eyebrows shot up. This was a whole new Penny. "What does that mean?"

"Well, if the Bursar has taken it upon herself to be judgemental on close friendships, we thought we'd give her lots of close friendships to judge."

"What have you done?" Patsy asked, a dread feeling creeping over her.

Penny smiled brightly. "In all honesty, it wasn't actually my suggestion. I just told everyone in my class about what the Bursar had done in splitting us up. Jessica suggested giving her a conniption by everyone holding hands or linking arms every time we walk past her office. She'll run out of rooms pretty quickly if she wants to keep up her regime of casting aspersions."

Patsy's jaw dropped. "And the girls were quite willing to risk that?"

"Risk what? It's no different to being friends at school. If you ask me, it's the Bursar's filthy mind that's the problem, not girls being friends."

Delia was rather grateful to be walking behind Penny now as she couldn't keep the devilish grin off her face.

Patsy was quite taken aback. "But aren't they worried about their own reputations?"

Penny shrugged. "I did ask that. Jessica pointed out that if all the girls behaved that way, it would be impossible for the Bursar to suggest that everyone was being deviant. She simply wouldn't be believed. Millie's asking the others to do the same thing too."

"We'll happily join in," Delia offered, relishing the opportunity to be able to hold Patsy's hand in a slightly more public arena without arousing suspicion.

"No," Patsy demurred instantly. She hurried to explain as she noticed Penny's look of surprise. "We've already drawn suspicion. I would anticipate that the Bursar will hold a grudge and be vindictive. I'd rather not give her another excuse to do something."

Penny wrinkled her nose. "You really think so? Perhaps I ought to speak to Millie again."

Patsy shook her head. "It's completely up to you. I think the Bursar may get the message when she sees lots of the girls do that, but she might not be so forgiving to you and Millicent. And she's also not stupid. She'll know that one of us will have spoken about it to the others. I wouldn't put it past her to really put the boot in if she's given an opportunity." Patsy could feel Delia's gaze boring into the back of her head and knew that she would be disappointed by the stance, but she was simply not prepared to risk either of them to a prank, no matter that it was a show of unity.

Penny pursed her lips. "You might be right. I'll talk it over with Millie and the others." She smiled grimly. "The others were quite determined to make a point, however. It's funny how people group together to make a stand for a cause."

"But what cause are they standing for?" Delia asked shrewdly, studiously ignoring the pointed look Patsy shot back at her.

Penny halted at the bottom of the stairs and looked at Delia in surprise. "Unjust and arbitrary actions of course. Who wants to live under authoritarian rule? I lost an uncle in the war fighting against that. The least I can do is have principles, too." She glanced at her watch. "Goodness me, is that the time? I must dash. See you later, alligators."

Delia and Patsy remained motionless as they watched Penny hurry down the street. "Delia, what were you thinking? Did you honestly expect her to stand there and say that she was standing up for someone's right to be deviant, as she calls it?"

Delia shrugged. "Well, I don't think she believes it's evil or they wouldn't be protesting that way."

Patsy shook her head. "They've simply looked at how it might impact their own lives. What's next? Banning us from the local pub without a chaperone? This isn't standing up for anything other than how it affects them."

"It's a start, Patsy. And that's a good thing. Come on. Look at our first year here. The merest hint of impropriety had nurses warning you to stay away from me. Perhaps attitudes are changing."

"That's as may be, but I do not want the spotlight on us. I want nothing to do with this. We need to continue to be absolutely discreet." Patsy sighed. "Sorry, Deels. I just don't want to risk being discovered. I've had too many scares as it is."

Delia looked at Patsy carefully before nodding resignedly. "All right. Whatever you're comfortable with. Come on. I could definitely do with a good skate today."

Patsy nodded, feeling bad that she had to suppress Delia's natural exuberance, but quite certain that it was the right thing to do.

 

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Delia sighed as she adjusted her cap in the mirror and ensured that her hair was neat. She had no intention of receiving a dressing down simply due to how she presented herself at work. The Welsh nurse supposed that it was only a matter of time before her luck with placements ran out. She had enjoyed the challenge of Coronary Care, even if she'd missed two weeks because of her bout of meningitis. Paediatrics had been so good, she was firmly considering extending her training to specialise within the department.

Psychiatrics however, was turning out to be every bit as challenging as it had been for Patsy. Delia had been under no illusion that it would be easy. Not after seeing Patsy almost come apart at the start of her placement. However, Patsy had found a way to cope. Not just with the patients, whose stories were heartbreaking enough. But also with the department's treatment of the patients.

She had been warned not to get too close to the patients. Nor should she give them any personal details about herself. Their mental state made them manipulative and cunning. Matron had told her quite clearly that treatment for the patients came in the form of medication and therapeutic procedures. The patients weren't rational. After all, that was why they were here. Trying to be rational with them could prove counterproductive and Delia needed to maintain a professional distance from them.

Delia was extremely uncomfortable with some of the methods of treatment, but knew she shouldn't simply dismiss them, just because they sounded barbaric. Instead, she spent every spare moment in the Hospital library, reading all the material she could gather about different therapies and drugs. She mulled over all the information she absorbed during her studies, but wasn't sure she felt any more comfortable with it.

Steeling herself, Delia stepped back onto the ward and proceeded towards the recreation room. Most patients were there for afternoon tea. She would need to ensure that they had been catered for, and then encourage them back to their beds for the early evening where they would not be too much bother. They could receive their medication while in their beds, and ensure that they were compliant for the evening.

Delia surveyed the common room as she stepped through the double doors. She knew that other nurses would also routinely visit, although most of the others would make the most of the time when the patients were drinking tea to take their own breaks. The women in the room seemed suitably calm, if not subdued. There was nothing untoward going on, so Delia turned to leave, deciding to remain at the nursing station. It was far enough away not to encroach on the patients' personal space, but close enough at hand if there was a problem.

She couldn't help but ask a general question to the room before she departed however. "Does anybody need anything?"

At first, none of the women even looked at her. Then, from the corner of the room, a small voice piped up. "Where are you from, Nurse?"

Delia looked at the source of the words. Angela Gold was staring at her teacup, but flicked her eyes up to glance at Delia furtively.

"I told you, Angela. I'm from Wales." With Matron's warning about information firmly in her head, Delia had only ever given the same vague answer every time Angela had asked. She noted the resigned slump of Angela's shoulders and realised that Angela had expected the non-response. The brunette glanced back out the door and realised that one senior staff nurse was currently engrossed in some paperwork at the Nurses Station, but there were no other staff within earshot.

"I'm from Pembrokeshire. It's in South West Wales."

Angela looked up from her teacup and stared at Delia for a long moment before turning away again.

Delia sighed. Perhaps Matron was right and they shouldn't be trying to engage in regular conversation. That attitude went against every principle of nursing Delia held dear. She turned to leave but was stopped by the familiar sound of a chair scraping along the floor. When the diminutive nurse turned back around, the chair opposite Angela was now some distance from the table - an obvious invitation to sit down.

Delia looked yet again up the corridor, and still finding the area clear, made a decision and approached the young patient. Angela looked to be only a few years older than Delia. According to her notes, she had been admitted for manic depression, but other than repeatedly asking Delia where she was from, Angela had barely said 10 words in all the contacts they had shared.

"Is Pembrokeshire like how the counties are in England?" Angela asked as soon as Delia sat down.

"Yes. I couldn't tell you how it compares in size to them though," Delia answered carefully.

"So where in Pembrokeshire do you live?"

Delia wondered if the question was more a test of building trust than any real desire for a geography lesson. "Do you know Wales at all?" She decided to answer with a question of her own.

Angela snorted. "Not really," she admitted.

Delia smiled. "Well, I come from a tiny village that I can guarantee you've never heard of, but the nearest place you might have heard of is Tenby," she explained.

Angela frowned. "That seaside resort?" She asked finally.

Delia nodded, encouraged that she was striking up what appeared to be a structured, meaningful conversation. "That's right. It really is beautiful."

"I'm sure. So why leave there and come here?" Angela continued with the questioning.

"I came to London to train." Delia shrugged nonchalantly. "The best teaching hospitals are in London. It made sense to come here."

"But what about everyone you left behind? Don't you miss them?"

"Of course I do. But I write regularly, and I visit when I can. Instead of seeing them all the time and taking them for granted, I make the most of visits home. It can't be helped. I need to be here." Delia realised that she was probably saying too much and snapped her mouth shut in an attempt to stem the flow.

"You're the first person here that talks to me like a human being," Angela commented bluntly.

Delia frowned, unsure how to answer but found that she didn't need to as the other woman continued to speak.

"I am a human being," the woman stated, emphasising the last words with an intensity that worried Delia.

"Are you from London?" She asked neutrally. Delia's ear was not trained to differentiate the nuances of different London accents, so she decided not to take it for granted.

Angela looked at her in surprise. "No," she stated softly. "No, I'm not," she whispered. She looked suddenly unsure and vulnerable.

"You don't need to tell me anything about yourself, Angela," Delia reassured hurriedly. "I'm sorry for prying."

Angela gave a tight-lipped smile. "I'm not from round here," she confided. She stared at the door of the common room for a long moment before looking back at Delia. "My name isn't Angela Gold either."

Delia frowned. "Then who are you?" The conversation had taken an unexpected turn, and she did her best to damp down her alarm.

"My name is Angela Goldberg."

Delia narrowed her eyes when the woman sat opposite looked challengingly at her. "So you're telling me you're Jewish." She shrugged. "So what?" Delia really had no interest in other people's religious beliefs. It was how a person behaved that mattered to her.

"I came here as a refugee," Angela continued, her voice barely above a whisper. "A distant relative in Aldgate gave me shelter."

"You escaped Nazi Germany?" Delia guessed. "You must have been very young."

"I left Germany in 1945," Angela corrected, her voice hoarse.

Delia's eyes widened in shock. "You were held captive?" She asked delicately, not knowing if it was even appropriate to mention any ordeal Angela may have suffered during the War.

Angela looked grim. "Do not shy away from it, Nurse. It's something no one should forget. I was in Birkenau. I left alive." Her voice became brittle again. "My twin did not."

Delia closed her eyes as she attempted to mute her reaction. She had seen the newsreels and read the reports about the Holocaust. Mengele's experiments on children and twins in particular, had become infamous. When she opened her eyes again, she noted that Angela was studying her carefully. Delia realised that she was waiting for a reaction, and how she responded was important to her. Instead of offering an apology for something she couldn't possibly understand, Delia chose a different route. "Why did you change your name?"

Angela blinked in surprise. It was not the reaction she had been expecting. "My adopted family did it on my behalf. They said that it was important that I move on, and not be asked endless, ghoulish questions that would only remind me of the horror." She barked out a short laugh. "As if I could ever forget."

"I take it no one spoke about it," Delia surmised.

Angela shook her head bitterly. "I survived hell and the rest of my family did not. I was shipped to a foreign country at the age of 14. I was too emaciated to go through puberty, couldn't speak English and was told not to tell anyone I'm Jewish." She canted her head slightly. "Is it any wonder I'm in here?"

"Nurse Busby!"

Delia jumped and turned to see Matron standing in the doorway, a disapproving look on her face. She turned back and smiled apologetically at Angela. "I have to go."

"Thank you, Nurse," Angela stated as Delia rose.

Delia's brow furrowed again. "For what?" She enquired softly. She could feel Matron's eyes boring into her, but felt that this was important.

Angela smiled wanly before picking up her cup of tea. "I am a human being," she repeated, no longer looking at the dark-haired nurse.

 


~~~~

 

A few days later, Delia sat on a bench situated in the patio area that was ironically called the garden at The London Hospital. Simply adding some pots and tubs hadn't really done much to make it feel more pastoral, but it was better than being stuck inside. Delia needed to blow out the cobwebs and shake off her mood. She breathed in deeply and closed her eyes, wishing that the aroma was more reminiscent of rural Wales.


"Don't tell me you've started smoking," Patsy commented as she sat down next to the other woman. The garden was a favourite haunt for smokers who wanted to go outside.

Delia wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Not on your life. I have no intention of getting hooked on anything," she declared determinedly.

"Anything?" Patsy rejoined innocently, lighting a cigarette with unconscious ease.

Delia blushed at the insinuation and scanned the garden quickly, already knowing that it must be empty for Patsy to make such a comment.

"Anything that makes me sick as a dog," she amended with a rueful grin.

"So you have tried then?" Patsy was intrigued. She had offered Delia a cigarette once but had never pushed or enquired further when the brunette politely stated that she didn't partake.

"Have I not told you that story?" Delia was incredulous.

"No. Come on. How bad was it?" Patsy was already teasing, but her smile took any edge from it.

"Awful," Delia replied firmly. She grinned as she shook her head at the memory. "We were behind the bike sheds at school. Mavis had managed to pinch some cigarettes from her dad. Players, if I remember correctly. She and Sally lit up and smoked like they were film stars. Mavis offered me one, so of course I said yes."

"Why of course?"  Patsy asked.

Delia rolled her eyes. "At the time, I would have told you that I simply thought Mavis was brilliant and I wanted to be just like her. Now of course, I'd be honest and say that I fancied her like rotten."

Patsy snorted. She took another drag and encouraged Delia to continue.

"Obviously, I had never smoked before, but I'd been watching them, and of course I'd seen it at the pictures, so I lit up and took a great lungful. And immediately started coughing like mad. Then, even as I was coughing, I realised I was feeling sick but before I could warn anyone, I threw up all over my shoes. I think I splashed sick on Mavis too."

She gave Patsy a resigned look. "That put paid to any friendship we'd ever had. Before I realised what was going on, Mavis and Sally scarpered, leaving me to throw up by myself. I was most put out and feeling very sorry for myself until I realised why they had so cruelly left me." Delia was quite enjoying regaling Patsy with the events of her past.

The blonde nurse nodded and gestured with her free hand. "Well, go on. Do tell. Why had they abandoned you?"

"Because Miss Jennings, our Head of Year was out on patrol. She must have seen us as she came straight over. I was too busy being sick to spot her coming but the others hadn't." Delia shook her head. "Goodness me, she let rip. It was half in English, half in Welsh. I could barely follow what she was saying. She only stopped when she realised that I was more interested in throwing up than listening to whatever it was she was saying. She took me to the nurse's room and then sat with me and made me drink two glasses of water. She just waited until I recovered enough to stop heaving."

Delia paused for a moment and smiled wistfully before looking at Patsy fondly. "I'll never forget her, Pats. She just completely calmed down and then spoke to me really quietly. She said that her father had miner's lung and could barely get out of his chair without getting out of breath. She asked me why anyone would choose to put smoke in their lungs when they were surrounded by the glorious fresh air of Pembrokeshire and then she asked me to promise her never to smoke again." Delia halted again as she recalled the memory in her mind's eye. "She was so sincere, and so urgent about it. I couldn't help but promise her." She looked at the blonde nurse and grinned. "If I'm honest, I definitely had a crush on her."

Patsy laughed with the younger woman but she could see that such a seemingly innocuous contact had had a profound effect on her. "So you kept your promise?"

Delia nodded unashamedly. "Yes. It was really important for her, so it became important to me. It certainly helped that I had no desire to feel that ill again so it wasn't exactly a hardship for me. It never even crossed my mind to break the promise. I suppose once I said no enough times to realise that it was just as easy as saying yes then it wasn't an issue anymore."

"You didn't feel you needed to join in and be part of the crowd?" Patsy asked lightly, knowing that smoking at boarding school actually afforded one a little anonymity given that practically all the girls lit up.

"Being part of the crowd is overrated," Delia decided. She sighed and sat up slightly. "So was it simply the urge for a cigarette that brought you out into the fresh air, Nurse Mount?"

"Well I was heading for the staffroom," Patsy admitted candidly. "But I caught sight of you as I was walking down the corridor and found myself diverting here before I even thought about it." It really had been as simple as that. Patsy had become more and more worried as Delia withdrew into herself during the placement. She tried encouraging her to talk about the patients or her experiences. Delia would give her a sketchy overview of her day, but Patsy was sure she was holding back on how she was coping. Patsy valued just how important Delia had been to her during her tough times. It was only right that she do the same for her. She just hoped that Delia would reach out when she needed to, and not try to go through the experience alone.

Spotting Delia in the courtyard on a break was reason enough to alter her destination. Seeing the forlorn and dejected look on her face simply made Patsy hurry to reach her.

"Must be my magnetic personality," Delia mused.

"Undoubtedly," Patsy agreed unabashed. She exhaled heavily and a large plume of white smoke billowed in the cold air. "But I also wanted to check in with you. I know things have been... difficult." Patsy decided that there was no point hiding her concern.

Delia's shoulders dropped slightly. "I think I can say this hasn't been my favourite assignment."

Patsy gave her a sympathetic look but frowned when she noticed the thin red marks on Delia's forearm. "Goodness Delia. What happened?" She traced the marks faintly with her fingers.

"Angela Gold," the Welsh woman replied cryptically.

"The lady that's manic depressive?" Patsy queried, hoping she'd recalled correctly.

Delia nodded morosely. "She had been doing so well. Calm as a millpond yesterday. Something must have happened when the patients were having morning tea. She went absolutely berserk." She shrugged. "I got caught in the crossfire before she could be properly restrained."

"Are you hurt anywhere else?" Patsy's eyes studied the rest of Delia carefully, as though she could see through the material for any other wounds.

"I don't think so. Once she was secured, Matron checked me over to make sure I was alright and then told me to go and have a bit of fresh air." Delia looked at Patsy sheepishly. "I have a feeling I was looking a little peaky."

"Well I dread to think how pale you were before you came out. The cold has put a little colour in your cheeks but not much." Patsy desperately wanted to reach out and take Delia's hand in a show of comfort, but the garden was too well overlooked to be discreet.

Delia squirmed slightly under the scrutiny. "I'll be fine Pats. I just need to toughen up a bit. Find a way of coping that works for me I suppose."

"Delia, it's not about being tough. Believe me, I know."

Delia nodded. "I know. But I've got to find a way to get through this that works for me. It's our last training ward. I am not failing at the last hurdle."

"You won't," Patsy assured her. She gave a lop-sided smile. "I won't let you," she declared firmly. Overriding her caution, she reached out and took hold of Delia's hand. "I'm here to listen to anything you need to talk about. You know that. But if you'd prefer, why don't we go to the pictures tonight? My treat. I think you could do with a couple of hours of pure escapism."

Delia gave a brief smile before glancing at her fob watch. She squeezed Patsy's hand before rising from the bench. "I'd better get back or Matron will wonder where on earth I've got to. And yes. I'd love to go to the cinema. In fact it's just what I could do with." Her smile turned into a grin. "However, I don't care if it is your treat, you are not buying Parma Violets."

Patsy looked at her in mock horror. "Would I?" She asked imperiously. Inwardly, Patsy felt a rush of relief wash over her. If Delia was able to crack jokes, then things weren't as dire as she had originally thought.

"You deliberately buy them every time we go," Delia pointed out.

"One can hardly be blamed for selecting confectionary that one at least has a chance of tasting."

Delia's mouth dropped in outrage for a second before she shook her head and grinned. "Perhaps we could get some pic-a-mix instead?" She suggested.

Patsy wrinkled her nose as she returned Delia's smile. "I think that's a very sensible compromise." She took one last puff from her cigarette before grinding the stub with her shoe. "Honestly Deels, if you're not up for it and would rather just have a night in, I'm happy to do that too."

Delia could see that Patsy desperately wanted to help. "Really Pats, spending time with you is the best medicine, no matter what we do. But I like the idea of a trip to the pictures. I could do with something to look forward to today."

"Alright. I think you're due to finish before me today so I'll come to you once I've changed," Patsy decided.

"Perfect. Right. I must fly." Delia turned on her heel and hurried back to the Psychiatric wing of the hospital, feeling the heavy weight of dread press on her as she got closer.

She thought she had been making good progress with Angela Gold. Delia had spent a lot of time talking with the young woman and building up a rapport after her breakthrough with her a few days ago. The fact that Angela had trusted Delia enough to reveal her past compelled Delia to try and find out more. She reasoned that it was only natural, given how she had been with Patsy.

Delia had told Matron and the Psychiatric Consultant what she had discovered, in the hope that she could provide information that might help her treatment. Angela hadn't appeared to respond well to any of the medication that had been prescribed during her stay. The Consultant had listened attentively but stated afterward that the causes of her illness didn't really matter, he needed to find a way to treat her and keep her from harming herself, or others.

Now Angela had had another episode, Delia wondered what would happen to her.

"There you are Nurse Busby. I was just about to send out a search party," Matron commented curtly as Delia navigated the secure doors.

Delia winced. "I'm sorry Matron. I must have lost track of the time."

Matron dismissed the apology with a shake of her head. "That's not what I meant. Dr Fairfax was looking for you."

"Me?" Delia was surprised. As a student nurse on the ward, she should have been one of the most invisible members of the team.

"Yes. Apparently, he wants to try a more invasive therapy for Angela Gold and he's requested your help. You'll find him in his office."

Armed with no more information than that, Delia approached the Consultant's office at the end of the corridor and tentatively knocked on the door.

"Ah, Nurse Busby. Are you all recovered?" Dr Fairfax asked considerately, gesturing her arm.

"Yes sir. It's just a scratch. I was simply a little caught by surprise," Delia replied candidly.

Dr Fairfax nodded absently as he scanned his notes again. "Yes, well I've been looking at the progress with Miss Gold." He coughed slightly. "Or perhaps I should say, the lack of progress. After today's outburst it's quite clear that she is potentially a risk to herself and others," he concluded as he looked up.

"This is the first time I've seen her upset," Delia replied neutrally.

"Miss Gold has been in and out of this department for many years, Nurse Busby. Believe me, what you saw was simply the start of a prolonged mania episode." He took off his half-moon glasses and rubbed his eyes briefly. "She hasn't responded to any of the medication therapies. I really don't think we have much alternative so I am recommending a lobotomy."

"No," Delia interjected reflexively.

Dr Fairfax looked up sharply. "I'm sorry, Nurse. I was of the understanding that you're a student, not a doctor."

Delia could feel her blood boiling and she ignored the implied warning. "Don't you think she's suffered enough?"

Dr Fairfax grew red with anger. "I am a doctor. My job is to alleviate suffering, not inflict it. She has not responded to conventional drug therapies in order to control her outbursts." He gestured to Delia's arm. "And don't stand there and tell me that she is harmless when the evidence is quite to the contrary."

Delia moved a hand over the red marks in a useless attempt to hide them. "They're just scratches. Nothing major. Damaging her brain seems to be a drastic action."

"It may be nothing major this time, but this behaviour typically escalates. I've seen it during my many years of experience working in Psychiatry." The grey-haired doctor fixed her with a pointed look and his voice shook. He was clearly not used to being questioned. "As to your second point, I'll avoid the obvious insult to my work and instead tell you that her brain is already damaged. That is why she is here. I am attempting to repair some of that damage, or at least ensure she does no further damage to herself, or others."

Delia wasn't done. "Angela was experimented on in a Concentration Camp."

"This isn't an experiment, Nurse. This is a recognised, well practiced and documented procedure. The patient has the potential to harm, be it herself or other people. I have a duty to treat that in whatever way I can." Dr Fairfax was quite resolute.

Delia tried a different approach. "Doctor, even being prepared for the procedure is likely to frighten and upset her."

"That's why I need your help," Fairfax reasoned. "While I have no intention of explaining the whole procedure to her, she will as you rightly point out, need to be prepared. You building a rapport with her, despite being told not to, does actually work in our favour. You should be able to approach her and keep her calm so that a sedative can be administered without fuss. The less agitated she is when that happens, the better."

Delia shook her head in disbelief. "Why does that matter? Surely the quicker she's rendered unconscious, the better?"

Dr Fairfax grimaced. "Miss Gold will need to have some level of alertness while the procedure takes place. It's the way we can establish that the procedure has been successful."

"What?" Delia was absolutely incredulous. She had read nothing about that.

Dr Fairfax sighed but decided to humour the young nurse. "The patient is required to recite a story or a poem or a song they know from memory. The moment the memory falters, the probe has gone in far enough. It's a reliable system of assessing the limits of the surgery."

Delia shook her head rapidly. "You can't do this. And I certainly can't be part of it. She'll be terrified."

"That's exactly why I need you to be there. And quite frankly Nurse, you don't get to pick and choose what you can and can't do within the department. Miss Gold will respond better to you than anyone else on the ward and she will get the treatment required."

"Doesn't she have any say in this?" Delia asked.

"She is a mentally ill patient. One can hardly expect an objective, coherent conversation from her. And I certainly don't need her agreement." He looked down at his notes again. "I've booked an operating theatre for tomorrow morning. Please see Matron and ensure you're on duty to assist." With that, Dr Fairfax indicated that the conversation was over by nodding towards the door.

Delia watched the doctor pick up his pen and start to make additions to his notes. Furious, but feeling impotent, the brunette spun on her heel and strode from the room. She needed to talk to Matron about this.

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Patsy hurried back from the garden to the Ward and arrived just in time to receive a patient from Recovery. Without being asked, she returned him to his bed and conducted all the necessary checks. She made sure she received a thorough handover so she understood his requirements. With an almost unconscious efficiency, the blonde student nurse completed the patient notes. She then made the young man comfortable before reporting back to the nurse in charge of her area.

Senior Staff Nurse Cooper raised her eyebrows in pleasant surprise. "It seems you're right at home here Nurse Mount," she commented, a wry grin on her lips.

Patsy's eyes widened slightly, taking the comment as a mild rebuke. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overstep my place," she apologised instantly.

Nurse Cooper shook her head. "That wasn't what I meant at all. I just wanted to thank you. I can't remember one of our students ever being quite so efficient."

Patsy nodded acceptance at the compliment. "Thank you. But to be honest, it's rather a relief to be working in a structured, orderly fashion."

Nurse Cooper frowned slightly. "Where were you before?" She enquired.

Patsy grimaced slightly. "Psychiatry," she replied. "And before that, it was Intensive Care."

Nurse Cooper's eyebrows rose again. Patsy decided that the nurse had one of the most expressive faces she had ever encountered.

"You certainly drew the short straw. Having three difficult placements in a row."

"Three?" Patsy queried.

"Male Surgical holds its own challenges, Nurse Mount." Nurse Cooper's lip curled slightly in disgust. "After all, we have to deal with the most arrogant breed of doctor in the hospital."

Patsy nodded in understanding. "Surgeons do seem to think they are all knowing and all powerful."

Lucy huffed. "I don't mind them thinking that." She grinned at Patsy. "I just resent them telling me every time they see me."

Patsy grinned back. "I must be extremely fortunate. I haven't had that particular pleasure yet," she confided.

"Oh, give it time. They can't help themselves." Lucy smiled again. "Let me know how you feel about working here once you've had to deal with them in full flow."

Patsy shrugged. "Of course. But I think I can handle a pompous man," she confided.

Nurse Cooper nodded. "I don't doubt that for a moment. You do really seem to have a presence here. It's been quite amusing seeing the patients behave in such an orderly fashion."

"Let's just hope they don't get used to it, or my strategy will become somewhat redundant," Patsy mused. "Now, what's next?"

Nurse Cooper looked at the Surgery List and groaned softly. "We've got three more patients scheduled back from Recovery all around the same time."

"Sounds like we need to formulate a battle plan," Patsy decided confidently. Her eyes widened fractionally as she realised that she might have overstepped the mark but smiled with relief when she saw Nurse Cooper nod enthusiastically.

"Given how efficient you've been so far, I was hoping you'd be up for that. Come on. Let's sit down and go through this together."

"Are you sure?" Patsy hedged. The last thing she wanted to do was be considered a know-it-all who didn't know her place. Every ward always had a pecking order. It was vital to navigate it carefully if one wanted to make any sort of progress.

Lucy looked at her incredulously. "Nurse Mount, you have an aptitude for organisation and planning. I am not going to ignore that, simply because you're a student. I'm all for making my life easier."

Patsy smiled openly, relaxing as she sat down with Nurse Cooper to discuss the rest of the shift.

Male Surgical was the first placement in a long time where Patsy felt comfortable. It was a busy ward with patients whisked off for planned surgery, along with emergency patients having to be accommodated with little notice. Patsy approached the placement systematically.  Her demeanour and attitude seemed to fit in perfectly with the Ward's character.

More importantly, Patsy could put up her protective barriers and happily hide behind her brusque manner. The work was challenging both mentally and physically, but the environment was one where Patsy was confident she could thrive and grow as a nurse. Her cool efficiency was clearly welcomed by the established staff which also took the pressure off. Within a few days, she felt like part of the team.

Psychiatrics had thrown Patsy off her equilibrium. She had found a way to cope but she had considered it a test of endurance and resilience. As Patsy worked with Lucy, she realised that Male Surgical would be a good choice for her to work once she qualified. And despite her humorous tone with Nurse Cooper, Patsy was genuinely convinced that she could deal with arrogant surgeons. One simply needed to prick their egos every now and again and it would be fine.

Patsy was quite surprised when the relief shift came on duty. She had been completely absorbed with the implementation of the plan she had devised with Nurse Cooper. It had worked beautifully, and Patsy had overheard Nurse Cooper tell Matron how much she valued Patsy's assistance in its construction. Patsy felt rather embarrassed by the thoughtful scrutiny Matron gave her, but Patsy continued with the handover efficiently and clearly.

As soon as she was dismissed, Patsy hurried to grab her things and head back to the Nurses Home. Although she had thoroughly enjoyed her shift today, Delia had not been far from her thoughts, even at her busiest moments. Patsy hadn't spent much time with her in the last few days and she was determined to make up for that.

After swiftly changing into slacks and a blouse, Patsy headed to Delia's room. She entered almost simultaneously as she tapped a perfunctory knock on the door, as was now both their habit. The tall nurse frowned when she saw Delia turn over from where she had been lying on her bed. Patsy saw a haunted look on the brunette's features that was suddenly masked by a face of neutrality. She cocked her head to one side, even as Delia sat up, forcing a smile as she did. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." The response was immediate, and Delia cursed herself for just how weak her voice sounded. And how unconvincing.

Patsy raised an eyebrow. "Tell me Deels, when I deflect or downright avoid something I don't want to speak about, is it as obvious as that?"

Delia winced. "For me, yes," she admitted. "Actually, if I'm brutally honest, I think most people know when you don't want to talk about something," she continued.

Patsy pulled a face. She probably deserved that. "And yet somehow, you always provide me a sanctuary so that I can talk. No matter if it's me just letting off steam, or I'm trying to find some meaning to my reactions."

She sat down next to the Welsh woman and reached over to take one of Delia's hands in her own. "You are so very much better at this than I am." She huffed self-deprecatingly. "And definitely much more experienced. But if I can help you, just by listening, or even just sitting here... whatever you need. I'll do it. You deserve that sanctuary too, Deels."

Delia leaned into Patsy as her breath caught and she tried desperately to control her emotions. "I'm just being stupid, Pats. There's really nothing I can do."

Patsy adjusted slightly and hooked one arm around Delia. She held her tightly, rubbing her upper arm in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. "Whatever it is that's bothering you this much, it's not stupid. If you can't talk about it, I completely understand. And I certainly won't try and make you talk about it." She gave a half smile she heard Delia snort at the remark. "We don't have to go out tonight if you'd rather stay in," she offered.

Delia shook her head, even as she buried herself further into Patsy's embrace. "No. I want to go. I really do need to get away from my thoughts. I've been doing nothing but thinking about the situation since I got home."

"We've got a little time now, if you want to get it off your chest?" Patsy suggested gently, hoping she wasn't being too obvious in her desire to help.

Delia smiled even as she shook her head. "Not right now. As long as you don't mind me being a little quieter than normal, perhaps we can catch the earlier showing and have a late supper? I might feel up to talking after I've been distracted for a while."

Patsy shifted slightly and kissed the top of Delia's head lovingly. "Whatever you want to do, we'll do."

They sat on the bed for a few moments longer, neither woman eager to break their embrace. Eventually, Delia caught sight of the time on the bedside clock and reluctantly sat up slightly. "Come on. If I remember correctly, you promised you'd buy me a quarter of bullseyes."

Patsy widened her eyes in mock indignation. "I did not," she objected, quickly returning the grin that had formed on Delia's lips. "But as it's you, I'll see what I can do," she conceded indulgently.

~~~~

Patsy sighed as she watched Delia staring morosely at the food that sat untouched in front of her. "Are you sure you'd rather not just go back?" She offered courteously.

Delia looked up suddenly, and winced, realising that Patsy could easily read her distraction. "I'm sorry. I'm awful company. But I don't want to go back yet." She looked back down at her plate. "I don't really want to be on my own," she admitted softly.

"You won't be," Patsy whispered back assuredly. She wanted to reach over and offer Delia some comfort by holding her hand, but that was far too risky to do in public.

Delia nodded and swallowed nervously. She had been putting off explaining what had happened on the ward all day, and Patsy had displayed seemingly limitless patience with her. Knowing how it felt to be on the other side of reticence, the Welsh nurse steadied herself. She then explained everything to Patsy as she pushed her dinner around her plate. It took a lot of false starts, but Delia forced herself to recall all the details, and tell Patsy what was waiting for her in the morning.

She was grateful that Patsy silently sat and let her talk uninterrupted. Patsy patiently waited as Delia struggled to find the right words to describe her thoughts on Angela's proposed treatment. Concentrating on the detail and processes made it simpler to tell the other nurse what was going on. She finally looked up when she finished speaking, not knowing what sort of look Patsy would have on her face. Delia breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Patsy simply give a lop-sided smile that was full of empathy and understanding. "I'm not over-reacting?" She asked tentatively.

Patsy shook her head firmly. "You can't help your feelings Delia. It's important to recognise them. It helps you deal with them in the long run."

Delia shot the blonde woman a wry smile. "Wise words, coming from you," she teased gently.

Patsy shrugged. "It is far easier to provide advice on how to deal with things, than actually undertake that advice myself. One's own troubles always seem far more difficult to define." She looked at Delia ruefully. "And infinitely more difficult to deal with than other people's problems," she admitted.

"What do I do? I don't want to have anything to do with the procedure. It's barbaric. But if I kick up a stink, it might jeopardise my career." Delia couldn't think of a way out of her predicament.

"Shall we consider the options?" Patsy suggested calmly.

"I'm not sure there are any," Delia demurred, but she nodded and waited for Patsy to speak again.

"Alright. So Dr. Fairfax has decided that surgery is necessary. Have all the other treatments been tried? What has been done before?" Patsy asked.

"Surely you're not suggesting that it's the right thing to do? After how you reacted to the treatment of homosexuals?" Delia was astonished.

Patsy shook her head firmly. "Male homosexuality is illegal. Men are forced to have treatment because of a point of law, not because they are unwell. This is different. Angela is diagnosed as a manic depressive."

Delia nodded but wasn't sure that the two situations were all that different.

"You've struck up a relationship with her, but that's only recently. How was she treated in the past? How long have they been trying to treat her?" Patsy continued.

Delia shrugged. "I don't know. A while I think. Dr. Fairfax said she has been in and out for years."

Patsy paused for a few seconds before continuing. "Is it possible that Dr. Fairfax thinks that there isn't any other alternative?"

Delia shook her head. "She spoke with me. She responded. She told me..." Delia trailed off as she recalled Angela's words before looking at Patsy again. "She told me I treated her like a human being."

Patsy felt her heart clench. Delia's empathy was such an important trait for a nurse, and it was one that Patsy envied. Sometimes it came at a price. "But she lashed out at you today?" She pointed out objectively.

Delia frowned. "That was in self defence."

Patsy nodded quickly. "I'm sure, but she didn't differentiate between you and the other staff at that point? She didn't calm down when she saw you?" Patsy hated seeing the look of hurt disappointment on Delia's face but she needed her to be objective.

"I don't think she was in a place to be thinking logically," Delia admitted.

"And if they've been trying for a long time to deal with those periods when she can't think logically, is it reasonable for them to consider a more drastic solution?"

Delia sat back. "Everything I've read about lobotomies fills me with dread," she stated, her voice hoarse with emotion.

Patsy nodded. "It certainly has a barbaric feeling to it," she agreed. "But Dr. Fairfax is an experienced psychiatrist. He's read papers too. He must think that it's a treatment worth trying to help Angela."

Delia closed her eyes and tried to recall her conversation with the doctor. She had to acknowledge that he didn't appear gung-ho in his assessment or decision making. It all just felt so wrong though. She sighed heavily. "I still don't know if I can be part of it, Pats."

"Why don't you go to the ward early tomorrow and speak to Matron? Ask to see Angela's previous notes and see what's already been tried. It may help you make that decision," Patsy suggested.

Delia looked at her lover gratefully. Patsy somehow knew that she needed to make her own mind up about what to do. She had also carefully avoided giving her own opinion. "Thank you," she said simply as she stood up and put on her coat.

Patsy grabbed her purse and left money on the table to cover the bill. "I wish I could help more," she replied as she followed Delia out of the cafe.

They walked shoulder-to-shoulder back towards the Nurses Home. "I don't expect you to solve all my problems, Pats. But knowing you're here makes them more... more manageable I suppose," Delia continued.

"That's exactly how I feel when I talk to you," Patsy answered. "Nothing's overwhelming when I know you're with me."

On their return to Delia's room, she grabbed Patsy's hand and led her inside. "Will you stay?" She asked tentatively.

"I'll stay till curfew, Deels. But we can't risk being caught by the Bursar."

Delia frowned. "She won't know if we're quiet," she protested, her eyes flicking to where the 'door book' lay crumpled on the bookshelf.

Patsy shook her head, taking both Delia's hands in her own. "I wouldn't put it past her to keep a running check on who has been coming and going. If she saw us come back together, she'll be watching." She released one of her hands and tucked a few stray strands of hair behind the shorter woman's ear. "I'm sorry. But it would be folly to take a risk. Not when we're both so close to qualifying."

Delia wanted to be angry with Patsy. She wanted her to break the rules just this once, when she needed her. Instead, a further wave of sadness enveloped her as she realised that she would have to spend the night alone, contemplating what the next day held in store. She stepped in and hugged Patsy tightly. "I don't want to be alone," she said in a small voice.

Patsy wrapped her arms around Delia and reciprocated the hug. She sighed heavily. "I know Deels. I don't want to leave. But small periods of separation are a better alternative to us being permanently separated, and without jobs." She kissed the side of Delia's head, and felt the brunette tremble as she tried to maintain control. "I'll stay as long as I can," she stated. "I might not be physically here, but I am always with you."

Delia sniffed as she buried her face into the crook of Patsy's neck. "I hate when you leave," she muttered.

Patsy felt her heart clench, but forced the logical part of her brain to maintain control. It was simply too risky to gamble on if the Bursar was watching. "I hate it too," she admitted softly. "But it's the right thing to do." She placed another kiss on Delia's head. "I'm off tomorrow. Come to my room as soon as you finish. I'll be waiting for you," she promised.

Delia nodded, but did not speak. She didn't trust her voice right now. She felt weak and vulnerable, and wanted nothing more than for Patsy to hold her all night and tell her that everything would be alright. Logically, she knew Patsy was right to be cautious. Logic didn't take away the pain she felt at the thought of being alone however.

The women remained in the tight embrace for several moments. Eventually, Patsy slightly disengaged, knowing that curfew was rapidly approaching. She stepped back and lifted up Delia's chin so that they could look at each other. "I have to go," she said somewhat redundantly.

Delia swallowed and nodded again. "I know."

Patsy stroked the side of Delia's face. "I might not physically be here, but remember I've got you. I've always got you," she vowed, before leaning down to place a gentle kiss on Delia's lips.

As they broke the kiss, Delia gave a half-smile, knowing that Patsy was sincere. She couldn't help but think that Patsy's declaration offered only cold comfort though as she turned to leave and return to her own room.

~~~

When Delia entered the department the next morning she was expecting it to be quiet. It was too early for the morning tea rounds and the patients would either still be asleep or at least still in their beds. What greeted her was a hushed panic. Staff were hurrying throughout the department and there were various conversations held in audible whispers. Something bad had obviously happened, Delia realised with dread. She spotted Matron and approached cautiously. "Good morning Matron. I know I'm early. What's happened?" There was no point dancing around the obvious commotion on the ward.

Matron looked at Delia sharply. "One of the patients has gone missing. The hospital is being searched now, but the other patients have picked up on the situation and are restless." She narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. "You're supernumerary today, aren't you?"

Delia winced. "Not exactly. I'm supposed to be assisting with Angela Gold."

"Miss Gold is the patient that has gone missing," Matron advised Delia curtly. "I need you to assist in the search of the hospital grounds. The police have been informed and are making local enquiries. She can't have got far, but we need to rule out that she isn't hiding in the hospital somewhere. The porters and some of the nurses are assisting but we need staff for the day shift."

Delia nodded. "What happens if I find her?" She asked nervously.

Matron pulled a face. "That rather depends on her frame of mind. If she's calm and responsive, by all means encourage her back here. If she's unstable, which is far more likely to be the case given that she's left, get help from the porters. They'll be able to get her back where we can keep her more secure."

Delia wasn't sure she liked the sound of that. If Angela was found by any porter, or the police, she was likely to be manhandled back to a secure room. Delia was certain that would do nothing to help her current state of mind. She hurried from the ward and started her search in the same wing, trying to look at the hospital in a way Angela might. Would she just try and hide in the building or would she want to get away?

Realising that she shouldn't be too rational in her thought patterns, as Angela certainly wouldn't be thinking that way, Delia set herself a methodical approach. She had to find her before she harmed herself.

Two hours later and Delia had reached the ground floor. She could see porters and other staff bustling around so could only assume that Angela was still unaccounted for. Delia had searched all the linen rooms and sluice areas. She had checked the kitchen areas and pantries as well as the public toilet areas. She was beginning to think that Angela had indeed left the hospital.

Delia suspected that the police would have already gone to her home address to see if she had made it back there. She wasn't convinced that Angela would consider it a safe place though. Delia shook her head. She needed to clear her thoughts and think before searching again. The Welsh nurse stepped out of the hospital and decided to wander around the perimeter. Angela might be hiding out in the grounds after all, and in the meantime, the fresh air would do Delia some good.

After completing a circuit however, Delia was beginning to think that her search would be fruitless. She had also had plenty of time to consider the implications of Angela's disappearance. Had she known that she was about to undergo the procedure? Was she running away from treatment? In some ways, Delia didn't want to find the young woman. After all, she didn't want her to go through it either. This way, she would be safe from surgical intervention. But was she safe from herself? Could she cope while her mental health was in such a fragile state?

All Delia knew for certain was that there were too many questions that still needed answers. And she wanted to know Angela was at least safe.

Sighing with frustration, she looked heavenward for a moment as she wracked her brains about where to search next. In that moment she saw movement on the roof of the hospital and her keen eyes focused on the spot. A few seconds later, she saw the movement again. It was clear that someone was on the roof. Delia felt her stomach lurch at the thought that it might be Angela, and what she might be doing up there.

She was off and running before she could pursue that line of thought any further. She zigzagged through the general crowds near the entrance of the hospital and headed for the stairs. She spotted a porter and changed direction. "I think Angela Gold is on the roof."

"Sorry, who?" The porter looked at her in bewilderment.

"Go to Psychiatrics and tell Matron that I think Angela Gold is on the roof," Delia tried again, not wanting to waste any more time.

"That's not my department, Nurse," the porter objected indignantly.

"Just go," Delia commanded, not waiting to see if he was moving as she began to trot up the stairs. She had already been delayed for too long. As she worked her way up each level Delia hoped that it was Angela up on the roof. It would be extremely embarrassing if it was someone from Maintenance undertaking checks. But somehow Delia knew she was right. And that led onto another set of thoughts, including how long Angela may have been up there. More concerning however was why she was up there. Delia just hoped that if she was planning on doing anything drastic, she would hold off a little longer. Although she had no faith in her own ability to prevent Angela from doing anything she didn't want to do.

The diminutive nurse was panting heavily by the time she reached the top of the building. Her thighs were burning with the effort she had expended. She ignored the sign prohibiting access to the roof and opened the door, groaning when she saw yet more stairs. Delia sucked in two large lungfuls of air and then raced up them.

The door leading onto the roof was ajar. Delia didn't want to startle whomever was on the roof, so she pushed it open gently, squinting into the daylight as she stepped out. Very quickly she located the other person on the roof, standing right by the ledge and looking down.

Delia realised that the woman must be frozen. She was dressed only in a nightgown and her feet were bare. For a moment, Delia hesitated, unsure what to do. Approaching Angela might provoke her into taking an action Delia did not want her to. Instead, she deliberately scuffed her shoe along the ground as she shut the door behind her, clearly signalling that Angela was no longer alone.

The sound had the desired effect as Angela spun around immediately. "Stay back," she called out, sounding frightened and desperate.

Delia stopped moving immediately. "Angela, it's me. Delia," the nurse identified herself, trying to keep her voice as calm as possible. "Don't worry, I won't come any closer."

"Good." Angela seemed to falter for a moment as she squinted at Delia. "Good," she repeated more softly. She rubbed a hand up and down her arm. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you," Delia admitted, feeling that honesty was the way to go. "Everyone's been worried about you."

"They want to experiment on me," Angela refuted sharply. "They're not worried about me at all."

Delia wondered if Angela had overheard something she shouldn't have. "We are worried," she repeated. "We've been searching the hospital for you."

"You've found me now. What are you going to do?"

Delia could see Angela's teeth chattering. But her stance was almost belligerent. There was no way she would be able to rush anything or get her to do anything she didn't want to do. "That depends on you, Angela. What do you want to do?"

"I want to go home." Angela admitted, her voice cracking slightly.

"Come on then. Let's go inside and get it sorted," Delia offered.

"Don't lie to me. You won't allow me home," the young woman snarled, even as she rubbed her arms again.

Delia unfastened her cardigan. She would get chilly but Angela was clearly in greater need. "I'm going to throw you my cardy. I promise I won't come closer," she assured.

"I don't want it," Angela protested, backing up to the edge.

"Please, don't go back any further. There's no trick. I'm just going to throw it to you. I'll wait by the door. I can see you're cold. At least warm up a little."

Angela stared at Delia suspiciously but didn't say anything further. Delia took that to be a good sign and she shrugged off her cardigan. She folded it tightly in the hope that it might travel further when she tossed it to the other woman. Fortunately it landed only a couple of feet in front of Angela and Delia remained determinedly still, waiting for Angela to react.

After a few moments silence, Angela's shoulders dropped slightly and she darted forward, snatching the garment quickly before stepping back to the ledge. She hurriedly put it on, closing her eyes as she folded her arms across her body, feeling the warmth immediately.

Delia nodded in relief but still said nothing, not wanting to rouse any sort of suspicion from the girl.

Eventually, Angela fidgeted under the nurse's scrutiny. "There's no point staying here. You'll only get cold."

Delia shrugged. "Possibly, but I think I'll be warmer than you. At least I have shoes on."

Angela looked down at her bare feet. "They take your slippers away from you when you're on watch. It's supposed to stop you wanting to escape." She huffed before she looked back up at Delia angrily. "I'm not right up here," she said harshly, tapping the side of her head with a forefinger. "Why would they think I'd be bothered if I had shoes on or not?"

"I don't know," Delia admitted. "I haven't worked with the patients on watch yet. I haven't got enough experience." She wasn't sure if it was wise to admit a fallibility, recalling that Matron had insisted that the patients would use that as a point of manipulation. Delia wasn't sure there was much left to manipulate in this situation. She needed Angela away from the ledge, preferably inside the building. She would only be able to do that if she established a credible rapport with the woman.

Angela canted her head as she thought about Delia's response. "You're the first one who hasn't tried to tell me that I'm not mad," she commented. "They always deny it. They just say I'm unwell, or I need help. They never say I'm not right in the head."

Delia exhaled heavily. "If I'm honest, it all means the same thing. I just don't think they want to upset you when you're already struggling, by being so blunt about it all."

"They make it worse. Do they think I don't know I'm mad?" Angela spun round and looked at the edge of the building. "Sometimes I think it would just be easier all round if I didn't exist anymore."

Delia couldn't help but take a step forward. She waited in alarm, wondering if Angela had noticed that she had closed the gap. It quickly became obvious that Angela wasn't really concentrating on her presence anymore.

"I should have died with my sister," the young woman muttered. "It would have made everything so much simpler."

"Life isn't simple," Delia replied softly. "Everyone has challenges. Some just have significantly greater ones than others."

Angela barked out a harsh laugh. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"I don't think there's anything I can say that will make it better," Delia replied quietly. She took another small step, carefully placing her foot so as not to scuff the ground.

"That's the problem, isn't it? No one can make it better. I can't even think straight sometimes. They ask questions, and tell me to do things and I can't answer. I don't know what the answers are. It makes me angry." Angela's voice was harsh with tears.

Delia was just grateful she was continuing to talk. She was also wondering where the other staff were. She was woefully unprepared to deal with this sort of thing. She needed help. "Is that what happened yesterday when you were upset?"

"They talk at me. They never ask what's wrong. They never talk to me." Angela spun back round to look at Delia. She looked surprised that Delia was a lot closer than she thought she would be and Delia worried that she might overreact. Instead, the young patient gave her a wan smile. "You're the only one who's listened to me. Treated me like a human being."

"I'm listening now," Delia replied softly. "Talk to me. Say what you need to say."

Angela laughed again. "It's not that easy, is it?"

Delia raised her eyebrows. "Isn't it? Start talking. Take your time. And don't worry about what you say."

Angela shook her head. "You haven't got time to listen to me. You've got a job to do."

Delia smiled grimly. "I am doing my job. Right now. And I have all day to listen to you. So please. Talk to me."

Angela took a glance back at the ledge. "Are you going to try and talk me out of jumping?" She asked bluntly.

"Of course I am. That's my job too. But I actually think it's more important right now to listen to you. And I can't do that if you're not here." Delia couldn't help but be a little flippant. Her heart was racing but she knew Angela was no longer totally suspicious of her presence. She was also convinced that anything other than complete honesty would be a waste of time.

Angela blinked a few times, and Delia could see tears track down her cheeks. "Why do you care?" She asked brokenly.

That gave Delia pause for thought. Simply saying she cared because she was a nurse wasn't going to be helpful, or indeed the truth in this case. But she could hardly tell the woman that her childhood plight reminded Delia of Patsy's and it was far too easy to consider that it could be Patsy standing there just as broken. "I think you could do with a friend. And I know that I can do that."

Angela's bottom lip quivered for a moment and suddenly her knees buckled. She sank to the ground and hid her face in her hands even as great wracking sobs convulsed her body.

Delia closed the gap immediately and sat down with her, wrapping her arms around the woman. She could feel how cold Angela was, even with the cardigan. "I've got you," she whispered as she rubbed the woman's back reassuringly. The woman shivered in Delia's arms as she continued to cry but Delia was not going to rush her back inside. Angela needed to be treated carefully and slowly.

Even as that thought entered her head, the door to the roof flew open, and the women sat up. A porter and a policeman rushed towards them.

Angela disengaged herself from Delia quickly and scrambled to stand up. "No." She turned towards the edge of the building but Delia caught her arm and held on firmly.

"I'm sorry Angela. I can't let you hurt yourself," Delia said.

The psychiatric patient yanked her arm from Delia's grip easily, but the delay was enough for the policeman to close the gap completely and he tackled her to the ground. He rolled them both back well away from danger before he sat up, still holding the woman firmly. "Come on Miss Gold. You need to come with me."

Angela shot a hurt look at Delia. "Did you have them waiting for me?"

Delia shook her head rapidly. "No, but the police had to be informed. You were missing."

Angela struggled futilely. The policeman holding her was almost twice her size. "Please don't let them experiment on me," she begged. "I'm a human being."

Delia felt her heart break even as she knew that she wouldn't be able to persuade the policeman to relax his hold on Angela; not while they were still on the roof.

The porter held open the door and Angela was bundled through, still crying. Delia hurried to follow them. Once on the ward, Angela was led swiftly into a side room within the department and the door shut behind her. Delia noticed that there were several other policemen on the ward, along with a nurse already with her outdoor cape on. She approached Matron. "Has something else happened?"

"Well done for locating Miss Gold, Nurse Busby," Matron commended gruffly. "The porter was a little surprised at how you instructed him, however I have reminded him that they are here to assist us, not the other way round." The senior nurse sounded almost proud of Delia's efforts.

"Thank you," Delia replied automatically. She looked around again, "What's going on? Why are there so many people here?"

Matron looked over her glasses at the student nurse. "While you have been trying to locate Miss Gold, I have been working with Dr. Fairfax to get her some more intensive help." She glanced over to the side room before looking back to Delia. "Once Dr. Fairfax has checked her out and deemed her fit to travel, she will be transferring to the secure unit at The Bethlem. They have a space all ready for her."

Delia felt an icy cold dread go through her. "Why is she going there?" She asked nervously.

"Dr. Fairfax decided that she was too much of a risk to herself and other patients if she stayed here. She'll be able to undergo all the procedures necessary and remain safe and secure at The Bethlem," Matron explained curtly.

"She's still having the lobotomy?" Delia couldn't help but ask.

"Yes, amongst other recognised treatments." Matron frowned as she saw Delia go pale. "Nurse Busby, please don't judge methods you don't understand. The Bethlem have been treating the mentally ill for years. She'll get the best care."

Delia shook her head. "She didn't want to be experimented on," she demurred softly.

Matron frowned. "They won't be experiments. They are recognised procedures and they are for her own benefit."

"She won't see it that way," Delia muttered darkly.

Matron narrowed her eyes slightly. "Nurse Busby, now that we know what is happening with Miss Gold, you aren't required here today. I suggest you take the rest of the day off and return to the normal schedule."

Delia looked at the Matron steadily. "Can I at least say goodbye?" She asked, knowing that it would be difficult, but feeling like she owed Angela something.

"I don't think that would help anyone, Nurse Busby. She's likely to be sedated for the journey anyway so that she doesn't get distressed. I'll see you on your next shift." There was no doubt that Matron was dismissing Delia from the ward. Without wilfully disobeying, there was little Delia could do. She paused for a moment, wondering if she could change Matron's mind, but the woman stood resolutely in front of her, waiting for her to go.

Finally nodding agreement, Delia turned on her heel and left the department, wondering how she was going to be able to return.

 

To Be Continued...

 

Chapter Text

Delia headed for Victoria Park, not caring that she was in uniform without her cardigan or cape, despite the cold weather. She needed the wide open greenery and the fresh smelling air. It hinted at the clean simplicity of life in Wales. Delia stalked purposefully around the perimeter of the park to allow her anger to dissipate. She didn't want to vent her ire at Patsy. That would be unfair and very definitely undeserving. Delia needed to be in control when she eventually sought the other woman out. She knew Patsy would want to know what had happened. Patsy would want to help, but wouldn't be able to if Delia couldn't articulate what was wrong.

Eventually though, the thought of Patsy's comforting presence became too great to resist and she returned to the Nurses Accommodation, slowing as she approached. Delia stood outside for long moments, trying to order her thoughts and get a grip on her emotions. Inhaling deeply, she steeled herself and headed upstairs.

Patsy looked up from her magazine when she heard her door open. The second she saw the look on Delia's face, she hurriedly stubbed out her cigarette and sprang from the bed. A long arm reached for the 'door book' and Patsy wedged it with practised ease before leading Delia to the bed to sit down.

Delia numbly kicked off her shoes without bothering to untie them. She lay down on the bed and rolled away from the door to face the window, tucking her hands underneath her head and the pillow.

Wordlessly, Patsy spooned her from behind, pulling the smaller woman in close. "Deels, you're freezing. Where have you been?" She whispered in concern.

"I needed to go for a walk. I had to try and sort things out in my head," the brunette replied, her voice dull and holding none of the usual warmth that Patsy so adored.

Patsy frowned. "What happened to your cardigan?" Her eyes widened when she heard Delia clamp down on a sob. "Delia?"

"I gave it to Angela," Delia croaked out, feeling her throat constrict. She felt Patsy hug her slightly closer and was surprised and relieved when the other woman didn't press her for information. She doubted she could speak right now anyway. Delia thought she'd walked for long enough to get a grip on her emotions, but the second she saw Patsy, a whole new wave of sadness crashed through her.

Patsy felt Delia shiver slightly and snuggled in behind the smaller woman tightly, hoping to share her body heat and warm her up. She knew that it was always going to be a very difficult day for Delia. She couldn't even begin to imagine having to witness a lobotomy. She knew there were no words of consolation that would help right now. Instead, Patsy held Delia and waited. She was certain it would be enough for Delia to know that she was here. Delia would talk when she was ready. And if she wasn't, that didn't matter either. Patsy just wanted her to feel loved and safe. She might still have difficulty expressing her own emotions, but Patsy knew that she could give Delia the love and comfort she needed in private. So she waited patiently, occasionally stroking Delia's hair or kissing the back of her head, just to emphasise that she was there.

Delia was grateful for Patsy's warmth. She hadn't realised how cold she'd become since leaving the hospital. She allowed Patsy's comfort to envelop her and found that she relaxed into Patsy's embrace. Despite her throat feeling dry and tight, Delia forced herself to tell Patsy about what had happened. She heard Patsy inhale sharply when she described the events on the roof, but she continued pressing on, finishing with the curt dismissal by Matron, and how that made her feel.

Delia swallowed when she ended, moving her hand so that she could grip Patsy's hand that was laid across her waist. "What am I going to do, Pats?"

"I think you did everything you could, Delia. I don't think anyone can criticise you for your actions," Patsy reasoned.

Delia shook her head. "That's not what I meant. How do I go back to that ward? I don't agree with how they treat their patients. I don't want to be part of it. But if I don't go, I'll end up being back-squadded at best. I could get kicked off the training course for insubordination. But I don't know that I can be party to that regime."

Patsy sighed as she ordered her own thoughts. "Do you remember the first Winter ball we attended?"

Delia frowned and smiled at the same time, confused by the complete swerve of conversation. "How could I forget? That was when I became absolutely certain I liked women."

"Women in general?" Patsy's tone was lightly teasing as she fished for more.

"Yes, actually. I already knew I liked you."

Patsy somehow hugged Delia even closer. "Do you remember that pig of a doctor?"

Delia pulled a face. "Ugh. What a vile specimen. But at least it allowed you to be my knight in shining armour." Despite her thoughts being firmly embedded in the current situation, if felt nice to be somewhat distracted by past events.

"I know I haven't told you where I learned how to do that," Patsy admitted.

"I just assumed it was during the War and you understandably didn't want to talk about it," Delia replied matter-of-factly.

Patsy kissed the back of Delia's head again. "That's exactly right. But I think it might help to know."

Delia had no idea where the conversation was going, but found herself nodding acquiescence.

"In the camp, the guards were angry, and resentful towards us. They were highly unpredictable and hated having to guard us. The guards assigned to work in the camps were those considered unworthy of fighting. And to guard women, who hadn't done everything they could to avoid capture was an insult. There was certainly no honour to be had at all."

Patsy swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry from the memories. "One of the guards was a lot older than the others. He didn't really engage with any of the women, except for dealing with daily roll calls and whatever else the camp commandant decided needed to be done. But he had a soft spot for the children in the camp. He ensured they got extra food, and shielded them from the insane punishments that were doled out."

Patsy smiled wanly as she felt Delia trace random patterns on her hand, offering comfort almost unconsciously. "He was the one who taught me how to do that. It was all about gravity and physics. And a little on how joints work. In return, I taught him some English."

"Wouldn't that be viewed as collaborating?" Delia asked curiously.

"It may well have been. But no one said anything to me. And all the mothers seemed to sense that he was doing what he could to protect the children in the camp." Patsy sighed heavily. "That's the reason I brought it up."

Delia furrowed her brow. "I'm not following you."

"Everyone in the camp hated all the guards. We couldn't think of them as even human. They certainly didn't treat us humanely. But he did. In the smallest of ways, he made tiny adjustments to make things just a little less horrifying." Patsy hugged Delia tightly. "He gave us hope that perhaps someone else might treat us humanely. Or those in other camps might have a little more consideration. Just that tiniest bit of generosity, and humanity made us feel like humans, not trapped animals."

Patsy kissed the side of Delia's head gently, as she tried to gain control of her voice again. The revelation had been quite traumatic to talk about. "It made a difference to us Delia. Don't think that you're not helping. Being there and treating the patients with dignity and compassion, even if none of the other staff are, will go far further than you'd ever realise."

"It feels like I'm complicit in something I don't agree with," Delia grumbled. She mulled over Patsy's words though. She hadn't thought about the impact she might make if she remained.

Patsy sighed. "I know. And there were days when that guard undertook tasks we hated him for. I still have an instantly hostile reaction to anyone I know is Japanese," she admitted. "Sometimes it takes me a while to get past that prejudice, because of my experiences. But what helps me get past that is knowing that not all the Japanese behaved in the same way during the War. Those tiny acts of kindness that allowed me to see one of them at least as not a monster or the enemy."

She twisted her hand slightly so that they could hold hands. "I'm not saying it's the same situation at all. And not everyone responds to a kind word." Aware that Delia couldn't see her, Patsy had the freedom to pull a face, knowing that she certainly responded more positively to genuine action rather than hollow platitudes. But Delia would never do anything that wasn't authentic or in the patient's best interest. She kissed the back of Delia's head again before continuing. "But if some of the patients feel more like humans and a little less like voiceless prisoners, isn't that a good thing?"

Delia closed her eyes as Patsy's words prompted the memory of Angela describing herself as a human being. She felt another hot tear trickle down the side of her face. Shifting suddenly, the young trainee nurse spun round on the bed and buried herself into Patsy's warmth, welcoming the feeling of protection. She wasn't convinced, but knew now that she could at least report for duty on her next shift.

~~~~

For the next few weeks, they continued working their respective placements. Delia found that she had to remind herself that she was making a difference, almost on a daily basis. What kept her going was seeing the change in Patsy. The blonde nurse was thriving in her department. The work was orderly and logical. Staff Nurse Cooper had well and truly taken Patsy under her wing and Delia was delighted at how positive and enthusiastic Patsy was. It made a very welcome change to the last two placements, and reminded Delia that nursing shouldn't simply be defined as one bad experience.

The Welsh nurse knew without doubt that she would not specialise in Mental Health, despite the niggling perception that she was making a difference with some of the patients. She was tempted to return to paediatrics, knowing that she had done well there. But after the dramatic events on the roof, Delia wasn't sure she wanted to go to a department that was likely to be full of extremes. She needed a bit of stability until she could centre herself again. The trouble was, she didn't know what that might look like after they qualified.

Delia was trying to find the words to explain all this to Patsy as they sat in Benny's cafe late one morning. They both had a day off but were not in the mood to do anything too energetic, so they decided to go for an early lunch.

"Delia, I don't know why you're worrying so much. Your exam record alone means you'll be snapped up on any ward that you go for."

"Only if I pass final exams," Delia replied gloomily.

Patsy smiled as she shook her head. "You'll be fine. I know it's hard, Delia. If you want a bit of logic and orderliness, you might want to consider Male Surgical," she suggested.

Delia pulled a face. "I don't want to think I'm copying you or following you around," she admitted in a small voice.

Patsy's smile broadened. "We're not in school anymore. I'd love to work on the same ward as you. I just didn't want to suggest it because I didn't want to put any pressure on you."

Delia managed a small smile in return. "I'll think about it," she promised.

Both women were startled by a cry in the corner. Benny's wife, Shirley stood up suddenly and looked panicked. "Oh Lord. My waters have broken."

Patsy and Delia hurried over to where she was clutching her distended abdomen with one hand and gripping the nearby table with the other. "Can we help at all?" Patsy asked courteously.

"You might have to," Shirley replied between panting breaths. "This is my fourth."

"Let's get you comfortable and call the midwife." Patsy tried to be as reassuring as possible, even though she could feel her heart pounding. Desperately, she tried to recall Mr Slade's lectures.

"We're not on the phone." Benny had come out from the kitchen and was hurriedly taking his apron off.

Delia nodded to Patsy and moved away from Shirley. "There's a telephone box just down the street. Call for Shirley's midwife." Delia gently guided Benny towards the exit even as she gestured to the few remaining patrons that they should leave.

"I don't know the number," Benny admitted, paling as panic began to set in.

Delia rested her arm on Benny's forearm. "Everything will be alright. Come on, Benny. You've already got three kids. Who looked after Shirley then?"

"The nuns at Nonnatus came out." Benny's eyes widened as he heard his wife cry out in pain again. He looked over to where she was trying to find a comfortable position.

"That's good. Go to the phone box and ask the Operator to put you through. They'll be here in no time," Delia assured him.

He looked back to where Delia stood and clutched her hand. "Promise me you'll look after her," he begged.

"I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to flip the sign to close the cafe so we can have a bit of privacy and slide the bolt over once you're gone, but just knock and I'll let you back in."

He nodded shakily. "Alright, Taffy. And go out to the back if you need boiling water. There's a kettle on the stove."

Delia nodded and bundled him out of the door hurriedly before going back to Patsy and Shirley. "What do you need, Pats?" She asked brightly.

Patsy shot Delia a look, realising that she had manoeuvred her into taking the lead with the patient. "Well hopefully the midwife will be here very shortly, but in the meantime can you have a look round and see if you can find something clean and warm to wrap baby in, just in case there's an early arrival?" She tried to give her voice a tone of breezy confidence, but Patsy's heart was racing.

Delia nodded, and headed straight to the kitchen. Patsy turned back to Shirley, squeezing her hand sympathetically as another wave of pain crashed through her. "I hate to admit this Shirley, but you are far more experienced than I am with respect to childbirth. Do forgive me if I ask any silly questions."

"I'm just grateful you're here. My Benny is useless in a crisis. Every time I've given birth he's fallen to pieces." Shirley panted in an effort to control her breathing.

Patsy nodded, feeling a little more reassured. "Now, I hope you don't mind but I need to take a quick look to see what's going on. I won't touch anything, I promise."

Shirley nodded. "You're young sweetheart. Once you've had a baby you'll realise that once it gets going, the last thing you care about is your dignity. Look away."

Patsy raised her eyebrows slightly, grateful at that moment that she had absolutely no intention of going through childbirth. She lifted Shirley's dress and took a quick glance. "We're going to have to remove your undies I'm afraid."

The cafe owner's wife nodded and shifted her body weight as Patsy tugged at the garment.

As soon as it was clear, Patsy could clearly see that the baby was crowning. "How swift was your last birth?" She asked, trying to keep her voice neutral.

"That one shot out. I barely had time to realise I was in labour," Shirley replied, wincing again before crying out and clenching her hands in reaction to the pain.

Patsy nodded. "I suspect there may well be a repeat run. I can see that baby is crowning."

"What can I do?" Delia asked as she came back. She was carrying a selection of clean towels and had found a cushion that she placed behind Shirley's back.

"I rather think baby is taking care of himself," Patsy replied. "Shirley, do you remember all your ante-natal classes? About the breathing and not pushing?"

Shirley nodded, her face now covered with a sheen of sweat. "I do, but I don't know if I'll be able to manage. All I want to do is push."

"Please don't. Just concentrate on your breathing. It will help with that feeling," Patsy replied, finding that concentrating on the task at hand was giving her focus and calming her. She grabbed one of the towels and positioned it just under Shirley. "As soon as you get the urge to push, start panting. It will slow baby down." Patsy took one of Shirley's hands and gave a sympathetic squeeze. "At the very least I'd like to slow the journey down a little so that the midwife can arrive in time."

Shirley nodded but it was clear that she was fighting a losing battle with the urge to push. "I know. They always seem to calm everything down." She barked out a half-laugh. "You're not doing too bad though."

Patsy gave a lop-sided smile but it fell quickly as she saw Shirley tense again. There was no stopping this baby. She moved back down to take another look. "Alright Shirley, I see that baby is not taking no for an answer. Just try and pant if you can. It might stop any sudden dilation." Patsy shuddered at the thought of Shirley possibly tearing but she was limited with what she could do. She looked up and saw that Delia had knelt behind Shirley and was holding her hands, gently giving reassurance and encouragement. The blonde nurse sighed in relief. At least she could simply concentrate on what was happening down below.

"Oh god, oh god. I have to push," Shirley panted, the last word becoming strangled as the urge took over.

Patsy quickly positioned her hands close to the baby's head. "Are you absolutely sure you have to push?" She asked quickly. The only answer was a continuing grunt. Patsy looked up at Delia quickly. "Looks like we're going to deliver a baby," she stated cheerily.

Delia's eyes widened and she adjusted her position in order to support Shirley as much as possible. "Listen to Patsy. Baby's on his way. She'll help." She winced as she realised that she'd just heaped the pressure on Patsy, but the blonde nurse wasn't really listening.

"Big push now Shirley. Work with the contraction. Come on now." Patsy's tone had become efficient and brusque, but Shirley happily reacted to it, leaning up as she bore down with all her might.

The contraction finished and Shirley gasped for breath. "What's happening?" She managed between breaths.

"You've almost crowned. You need a big push on the next contraction. Can you do that?" Patsy encouraged, focusing on the baby.

Shirley had barely begun to nod when the next contraction gripped her. Trusting Patsy, she pushed again, although she was beginning to feel exhausted.

Patsy sensed that she was flagging. "Come on Shirley. One big push and baby will crown."

Shirley continued to push and Patsy couldn't help but smile in delight as she saw the baby's head come through completely, dark wet hair matted on its head. She took a quick look to make sure that the umbilical cord wasn't obviously caught but couldn't really see anything. "Well done, Shirley. Well done. We're nearly there. One more push on the next contraction. Ready?"

Shirley swallowed and gripped Delia's hand more tightly. "I'm not sure I've got the strength," she panted.

Patsy looked up. "Yes you do. You've done this three times already. You know you have the strength to do it," she coached, smiling broadly at the mother-to-be.

Shirley tensed again and started pushing. Patsy was ready and kept her hands close to the baby as finally it was born. Grabbing a towel, Patsy wrapped the infant, rubbing slightly to provide a stimulus and all three women gasped in relief as the baby cried loudly. "I did it," Shirley exclaimed in wonder.

Patsy found that she was quite choked with emotion. She never thought she would react that way to the birth of a baby. "You did it," she agreed. "You've got a beautiful daughter." Very carefully, she handed the precious bundle to Shirley. "Hold her to your chest. It will help with the delivery of the placenta."

Shirley couldn't contain her joy, and could not stop smiling as she looked at her wrapped bundle. "I'll never live this down," she said ruefully. "Benny will be beside himself knowing that his little girl was actually born in his cafe."

A sudden knocking at the door startled them. Delia looked at Shirley. "I'll need to let them in. Do you think you can lean back against the wall?" She asked gently. At Shirley's nod, Delia helped her adjust and then got up to go to the door.

Shirley looked at the blonde nurse before her. "Thank you so much Patsy. You were amazing."

Patsy shook her head quickly as she laid another towel across Shirley's lower half in an attempt to preserve her dignity. "Not me. I think baby just wanted to make an entrance and she wasn't prepared to wait for anyone."

"Don't sell yourself short. You've got a way about you." She frowned for a second. "Patsy. Is that short for Patricia?" She asked.

Patsy shook her head. "No. Patience." To her surprise, Shirley burst out laughing at the response.

"Goodness me, how perfect."

The bolt on the door scraped open and suddenly, Benny was at Shirley's side, a look of awe on his face. He was followed by a small bespectacled nun, who hurried up to where they sat.

"Benny, this is your daughter, Patience," Shirley announced.

Benny's eyes widened. "Patience? When was that decided?"

"When she decided that she didn't have any. Giving her a name to remind her of its virtue is the least we can do," Shirley declared, winking at Patsy who was staring at her in astonishment.

"Patience," Benny tried the name out and then smiled broadly. "I like it," he approved.

"Welcome to the world, Patience," the nun greeted in a soft Scottish accent.

"Hello Sister Bernadette," Shirley greeted. "Sorry you couldn't deliver this little one."

Sister Bernadette smiled warmly at the new mother. "It sounds like you've been in very safe hands. But there are a few other things we need to do before we're all done." She glanced to where Patsy was still kneeling. "Well done. You've done an amazing job."

Patsy shook her head again. "All I really did was catch her," she replied with genuine modesty.

The small nun peered at the blonde woman astutely. "You've brought a life into the world. There is nothing ordinary about that. When you have a moment, celebrate what you've been part of." She looked at Shirley and the infant briefly. "There's just a little more to do, but I can take it from here."

"Are you sure?" Patsy couldn't help but ask, blushing when she saw the nun raise an eyebrow in amusement. "Sorry. We'll leave you to it. Congratulations, Shirley."

"Yes. Congratulations. And well done Benny," Delia added, giving the cafe owner a quick hug.

"I can't stop smiling. My daughter was born in my cafe." Benny seemed to be in a daze.

"Babies aren't fussy where they're born, Benny. But it's certainly a lovely story to tell her when she's older. Now, we will need to get your new addition home once I've sorted this last bit out, so perhaps you might want to think about making arrangements for that?" Sister Bernadette suggested.

Patsy hurried to the kitchen so she could wash her hands and then joined Delia by the cafe door, looking back to where Sister Bernadette was now expertly managing the delivery of the afterbirth.

Benny looked at them. "Thank you girls. You don't know how much this means."

"It was the least we could do. Now, be a good husband and look after Shirley. She's going to need your help," Patsy advised, earning an approving nod from the midwife.

As they left the cafe, Delia couldn't help but beam at a somewhat shell-shocked Patsy. "I can't believe you delivered a baby. I am so proud of you," she declared.

Patsy grinned back before frowning slightly. "I can't believe she named the baby Patience," she replied.

"How lovely," Delia lauded, unable to keep the smile from her face.

Patsy paused for a moment. "Yes. Yes it is," she agreed before they headed back towards the Nurses Home.

 

 

To Be Continued...