Henrik doesn't expect the knock on his door that evening.
What he expects even less is to open the door to see Carole Copeland standing there, a purse clutched in her hands.
"Hello," he greets her nervously. It's not that he doesn't enjoy seeing her, but he really didn't expect it tonight. He has to wonder what she's here for.
"Hi," she replies, and quickly clarifies why she's come: "Sorry to pop in without telling you, but I think you might've accidentally taken my phone home with you this afternoon? I can't find it anywhere – I even tried calling it from the landline and it didn't go off – and I last remember seeing it at the studio."
Henrik nods. He had intended to return the phone after finding it had somehow fallen into his bag, but hadn't had the chance to do so. He'd also remembered hearing it ring earlier, but as the phone had a password, which he of course didn't know, he couldn't answer it. "It's in the living room."
"Perfect, thanks, I'll just get it then," Carole says, walking inside. (Henrik notices she actually puts in the effort to scrub her shoes on the doormat first. He appreciates that.)
"That's really not necessary," Henrik points out, "I can fetch it for you."
"Oh, it's just a few steps. It's no trouble, Henrik."
Henrik reluctantly allows her through to the living room to retrieve her phone.
"Shall I get you something while you're here?" he offers, recalling that that's the polite thing to do for guests. "A cup of tea, perhaps?"
"I don't want to be a bother," Carole insists.
"You're nothing of the sort," Henrik assures her.
Carole seems to take a moment to think this over. "A cuppa would be nice, thank you," she admits.
So Henrik walks into the kitchen and turns the kettle on. He returns a few minutes later, with a freshly boiled cup of tea in one hand and a saucer holding a couple of biscuits in the other. He places them down on the table by the sofa and Carole takes them gratefully.
She ends up staying for a half hour after that. There's no attempt at small talk, thankfully, just the two of them in the quiet together. It's actually quite nice.
Henrik tries to convince himself, sometimes, that he's happy being a solitary creature. And often he is, but he does get terribly lonely some days, and this sort of close contact with other people is something he has all too rarely. He appreciates Carole's presence, appreciates that she isn't pressuring him to make any pointless conversation, appreciates how she's just there.
(The closest they get to small talk is when she turns on the TV to watch EastEnders and ends up having to explain the storylines to him. "Okay, so that's Sharon, and she's married to Phil, but she had an affair with a younger bloke called Keanu so now…")
It's been somewhere around fifty minutes by the time Carole says "I'd better get going," and slips back on the shoes she'd removed earlier.
And then, in some kind of unlucky stroke of irony, there's a rumble of thunder.
(Henrik shudders, for a second, caught off guard by the noise. Loud noises weren't exactly something he'd ever liked anyway, but these days he feels his stomach drop if there's some sort of crash or bang without warning. He's still trying to accept that as something he'll likely always have to live with.)
Right when Carole gets up from the sofa, there's a flash of lightning visible from the windows.
"You can't go home in this weather," Henrik speaks up. "You certainly can't walk home in it."
Carole nods. "Guess you're stuck with me 'til this storm's over, then."
Another crash rings out. Henrik tries not to panic. It's just thunder. He should be able to deal with thunder.
But when the lights flicker and Henrik swears it feels like his heart is about to give out on him, he stands up and heads out of the room. "I'm going to find a torch," he says.
After all, Carole doesn't need to know if what Henrik really does is fetch the torch he typically uses for late-night reading, then sit down on his bed and try to catch his breath. It's only a storm. No one's in danger. You're at home, not the hospital. It's the 6th of March, 2020: that day was more than two years ago now. You're not back there. It's only a storm.
When he thinks he's finally brought his heart rate down to something resembling normal, he comes back down the stairs, the torch clutched in his hands. If Carole noticed how long he was gone for, she doesn't mention it.
Henrik returns some minutes after he left, holding a torch. His eyes meet Carole's for a moment as he walks into the living room, and the glimmer of anxiety in them is becoming more obvious with the moment.
"Are you alright?" she can't help but ask.
"Yes," Henrik answers. "It's just the weather. I don't like the thunder, you see."
"I didn't take you to be someone who was scared of storms," Carole comments. (She thinks to herself that maybe she should've. She knows how sensitive Henrik can be about loud noises, it makes sense he'd dislike thunder.)
There's another flash of lightning outside and then sudden, pure darkness. Carole swears she can hear Henrik gasp as the lights go out. She takes the torch from his hands and turns it on. "Looks like we'll just have to wait this out."
Henrik nods, clenching his fists. Maybe the dim light is making her imagine things, but Carole thinks she can see his knuckles turning white.
She outstretches an arm, allowing him ample time to move away if he wants. When he doesn't, she places her hand on his shoulder.
There's another rumble of thunder outside.
"I'm not scared of the storm," Henrik announces suddenly.
"You said you didn't expect me to be scared of storms: you were right. I'm not. It's not the storm itself that bothers me," Henrik admits, "so much as the waiting. The anxiety of never knowing when the next crash will happen."
Carole gets the feeling that they aren't talking about thunder anymore.
"Like on Bonfire Night," she says quietly, not quite knowing where she's trying to go with her own analogy but hoping it makes sense, "when there's suddenly a bang out of nowhere, and it makes you jump. Even though you know it's just another firework."
"Or like the sound of a gun," Henrik mutters. He looks down at his hands.
Oh. That's the answer Carole was looking for, and she thinks she should have made the connection sooner.
"I'm sorry. I should've known," she apologises. She tries not to think of when she first spoke to Dominic on the phone after the hospital shooting, tries not to think of how jumpy and nervous he seemed, how shaky his voice was.
"No need to apologise. If anything, I should say sorry for bringing up the subject. It wasn't you who did it." Henrik doesn't say anything further, though Carole's not sure what he means by 'it'. 'It wasn't you who killed my son?' 'It wasn't you who killed and injured so many people (one of whom could have been your own child)?' It seems Henrik's not sure what he means, either, as he eventually adds "any of it, really."
They sit silently for some moments. Eventually, Carole starts contemplating whether or not to speak up. She doesn't know whether sharing this would help Henrik feel better, or just make it feel like she was trying to make it about herself.
"I still remember when I heard the news, you know," she begins. "I was in the kitchen, of all things. I was baking cupcakes. Feels so wrong for a day like that, but how could I have known then? And then – Barry, he shouted at me to 'get in here already' and I thought I must've done something to make him angry, but no – so I came into the living room and heard the news presenter lady saying there was an active shooter at Holby City Hospital, and all I could think was 'but that's where my Dazzle works, what if he's been shot, please, Lord, please let him live'." She finds herself tearing up just recalling the memory. "I was a wreck until it was over. Until I could finally call him and know he was okay."
Henrik doesn't look at her the entire time she's speaking.
"Of course, I'm lucky," she hurriedly finishes, "my son made it out that day."
"Yes, well, your son was innocent."
Carole doesn't know what to say to that. She can only imagine how awful Henrik must have felt – must still feel – about all of it. It may be true that his son – Fredrik, was it? – had done a lot of damage, and that the police had no other choice but to shoot him, but…
"Fredrik was still your son. No matter what your child does, it doesn't change your parental instincts, does it?"
Henrik just nods. (Carole swears she can hear him near-silently choke back a sob.) "Though I don't think parental instincts are something I've ever had," he says. "I was never present in his life. Not until he was already an adult, and by that time, I think it was already too late."
"That's not true," Carole reminds him. "If you didn't have any parental instincts at all, you wouldn't have cared when he…" she pauses, trying to find a sensitive way to put it, "when he passed. And you wouldn't be worrying about whether you were a good enough father to him."
Henrik is unsure of what to say. He wants to believe Carole is telling the truth. It lines up with what everybody else has told him many times, that he shouldn't blame himself, that Fredrik's choices were Fredrik's fault, not his own.
But there's some part of him, still, that thinks he must have caused it somehow. At least if his failings as a father were the reason Fredrik turned out like he did, there's still a reason. Otherwise, it's too much to comprehend: a senseless loss of lives and careers because of one random act of cruelty by one random man's son.
It's silly of him to search for an answer, he thinks, as it's been more than two years now and he still hasn't found one. But he needs some way to make sense of it all.
"I suppose," he finally says.
"And little Oskar really likes you, doesn't he?"
"He seems to."
"You must have done a good job taking care of him then. Heck, even my Darren sees you as a better father than he ever had, so you must be doing something right."
"He does?" Henrik asks, surprised. He does have quite a fondness for the young doctor, and had noticed that Dominic seemed to look up to him, but seeing him as a father figure? That's caught him off guard.
But then again, from what he knows of Dominic's family, even he must be better than Barry. For all Henrik's faults, he can't imagine rejecting a child for their sexuality the way Barry did to Dominic.
"He's never mentioned it to you?"
"Well, he's said it to me. That you're like a dad to him."
"I see," Henrik replies. "Well, I'm glad if I can be a role model of sorts to him. Though I'm not sure I'm the best person to learn from."
"You are. You're kind, and intelligent, and you do what's right… if Darren follows in your footsteps, I'll be the proudest mum you've ever seen."
(Henrik tries not to wonder whether his own mother would be proud if she saw him now. Or for that matter, if she'd seen him at 20, or 30, or… No point in dwelling on impossibilities, he reminds himself.)
"Not that I could possibly take any credit for how he's turned out." As Carole speaks the last few words, her smile suddenly looks all too forced.
"You've clearly done a better job at parenting than I ever did," Henrik assures her.
"I let that bastard treat my son like rubbish just because he wasn't like the other boys. What kind of a mum am I if I stayed with Barry even though he was hurting us both?"
"You don't mean…"
"He never laid a hand on either of us," Carole shakes her head. "But he still did all sorts of damage to Darren's mental health. And mine, but – Darren was only young, his brain was still developing… I should've left. And taken him with me, of course. I should've gone to a women's shelter or something, but I thought they wouldn't take me because I wasn't being hit. And I… I always hoped that somehow Barry'd realise the error of his ways and say sorry and I could have the perfect family I'd dreamed of. That's me, I guess – silly old Carole, with her head in the clouds."
Henrik notices tears are forming in Carole's eyes. He holds out his hands, silently offering her a hug, and she immediately leans in and accepts it.
"Sorry," she says, pulling away after a few moments. "You probably have more than enough on your mind without listening to my problems."
"It's alright," Henrik says, folding his now-unoccupied hands in his lap. "I could say the same to you, and I'm sure you would tell me I was being ridiculous."
That makes Carole laugh, and she wipes her eyes on the sleeve of her blouse. "I suppose neither of us have been very lucky in life, have we?"
"We certainly haven't, no," Henrik chuckles.
"I try to be grateful for the good things I have," Carole says. "I have my wonderful son, I have friends who support me, I have a roof over my head and food in the kitchen. And I have dance class every week with one of the nicest men in Holby."
Henrik feels a heat in his cheeks. He hopes Carole doesn't notice he's blushing.
All of a sudden, the ceiling light comes back on. Carole can't help but be amused by the timing – she'd half-forgotten that the light had gone out in the first place, and was listing all the things she was thankful for when the room suddenly lit up. It feels like the sort of thing that would happen in a film.
"And now the power's back on, too," she says with a smile.
She takes her phone from the nearby table and turns it on. She'd lost track of time while talking to Henrik, and wonders if it's still early enough for her to go back home.
She could leave, she supposes, but it is getting late. She doesn't really like the thought of walking home in this weather, too – even if the storm seems to be over (she doesn't think there's been any thunder or lightning in a good while now, actually), it's still raining out and she hasn't got a coat.
"Would you mind if I stayed the night?" she asks.
"Not at all," Henrik promises. "I think I ought to tidy the spare room first, but then you can sleep in there if you'd like."
"Oh, I've bothered you enough tonight. I can sleep on the sofa if it spares you trouble."
Henrik shakes his head. "I'd sooner give you my bed than let you sleep on the sofa. It's not a comfortable place to sleep at all."
"Are you offering?"
Henrik purses his lips slightly in thought, before answering "if you really want."
"I was just joking."
An awkward silence befalls them for a moment, before Carole decides to break it. "I can help you tidy that spare room," she offers, hoping that's enough to make up for how much she's bothered Henrik today. She does worry about it, being 'too much'. (Another consequence, she thinks, of over thirty years of marriage to Barry Copeland.)
"You don't need to."
"It's the least I can do."
They sort the room out easily, and Henrik lends Carole a nightshirt of his. It comes down to her calves, and she has to fold the sleeves up, but it fits alright in the end.
She settles down in the guest room by half past ten, but she tosses and turns for a while after that. She just can't seem to get comfortable, and even with the cosy duvet over her and Henrik's flannel nightshirt on, she's just a bit too cold.
So she makes her way to Henrik's room. He's still awake, it turns out, sat up in bed and reading a book by torchlight, so thankfully she doesn't have to worry about waking him.
"Do you have any blankets I could borrow?"
"I'm sure I could find one," Henrik answers. "Why?"
"I was feeling a bit chilly," Carole explains. "It's quite cold in there. I think the heater's broken."
"I see. My apologies – I'll have to get that fixed." Henrik gets up from the bed, ready to search for a blanket. "I don't have guests over very often to notice these things. You're actually the first I've had since returning from Sweden last month."
"You don't get lonely, do you?" Carole inquires with a touch of worry. She's always been fond of meetups and having her friends over at her house, herself. It was even something of a refuge, when she and Barry would have a bad patch in their marriage. She thinks she wouldn't be able to cope if she ever tried going weeks at a time barely seeing anybody outside of work, but it seems to be a regular occurrence for Henrik.
That doesn't do much to reassure Carole, but she decides not to pry. She's done enough sticking her nose into Henrik's business tonight.
Henrik seems to realise something, then. "The heater in here isn't broken," he points out.
"Oh, goodness, no, I couldn't," Carole protests, blushing. "I couldn't make you do that."
"You aren't making me do anything, Carole," Henrik folds over the corner of his duvet and gestures towards the bed.
"If you're sure you're okay with it…"
"I am. I wouldn't be suggesting it if I weren't."
So Carole carefully climbs into the bed, trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach. She knows Henrik's right, but between the anxiety about possibly being a bother, and the thought that she's getting this close to Henrik, it's difficult to push her emotions aside.
Henrik gets into bed after her. Somehow it's less nerve-wracking to actually be lying next to him than it was to think about it. It's actually comforting, in a way, to have him so close.
He was definitely right about his room being cosier, Carole thinks before she drifts off to sleep.