Harry is barely breathing as Marnie gently guides him into a chair in the waiting room. She hovers over him, her hands fluttering as she checks him for any injuries even though they both know that he is physically fine, she’s more concerned than he can ever remember his own mother being. It seems he finally has her seal of approval. Romeo takes a seat beside him, reaching out to grasp his forearm in support. They look like a family sat anxiously in the hospital waiting room.
For the last three hours Harry has been a hive of organised activity. From the moment he and Marnie saw James lying on that bench and Harry immediately dialling 999 to the moment the police left promising to look into what happened, Harry pushed aside his fear, his panic, his heartache, to make sure that everything was done properly. He couldn’t panic, not if James life depended on his keeping a clear head.
But now… James is surrounded by nurses and doctors in some distant hospital room and there is nothing left for Harry to do. He hated that feeling of being useless, so similar to how he felt when Dee Dee was sick, with a passion, and it was killing him to not be able to reassure James that everything would be okay, to not know what is going on and have to leave everything to some higher power. It was a choking miasma; his breath came in stuttering leaps and lurches and his frantic pacing was faltering.
Thankfully, Marnie and Romeo, previously paralysed with this same fear, awoke from their shellshocked stupor to take care of Harry. Marnie was coaching him through some breathing exercises and Romeo’s constant grip on his arm was grounding. He doesn’t think he and Romeo have ever touched, not even a quick brush of skin. Why did it take risking James’ life to bring them together like this?
After a long while, Harry can finally breathe but he doesn’t move away from his family. Because that’s what they are: a family. Him, James, Marnie, Romeo and Juliet. And Cindy occasionally. Harry has a family at last, one who accept him warts and all, who are helping him right now instead of having some other priority. He has a family, and James might be leaving it…
They all know that there are no words appropriate for their situation. None of them will accept platitudes and promises that James will pull through, the three of them are hardened realists and no matter how strong James is there is always the chance he won’t make it. They don’t know what happened to James, why he was unconscious or how to fix it. They can only hope that the doctors do.
So they sit in silence, holding hands and listening to the babble of babies and frantic mothers and watching the world pass them by as they sit in the timeless void of the hospital waiting room. It could have been minutes, hours or days before Misbah Maalik approaches them with a tender smile on her face.
Harry has never believed Ste’s bullshit about Misbah being responsible for Tegan’s death. They all knew the risks, that Tegan could still die even after the emergency operation but she would definitely die if they did nothing, and Leela has given consent for it to be done. Harry knows that Misbah is a good doctor, one life may have bene lost but there are hundreds of people alive because of her. So if there’s any face he wants to give him news, be it good or bad, he wants it to be her.
She beckons them out of the waiting room and leads them down a maze of sterile, blue and white painted corridors to a private room. She blocks the view into the room, and her innocuous expression giving nothing away.
“Well?” Marnie demands, leaning forward eagerly. Her hands clasp those next to her in a death grip and Harry has no doubts as to the fierceness of this mother’s love. “What is it?”
Misbah frowns, “James was poisoned.”
Harry is pretty sure Romeo yells something then and Marnie might have shrieked and started crying, but they are like ghosts to him. Crashing waves echo in his ears and he realises that it’s the sound of his breathing and his pounding heart. They shouldn’t be that loud, should they? Misbah might be explaining what happened and what they’ve done to James. Harry’s thoughts are singular… James… James… James…
Frustrated by the absence of James, Harry pushes past Misbah to look in through the window into the hospital room, and chokes back a sob. James is there. Hoked up all kinds of machines, with a tube shoved down his throat. He looks like a cyborg, part man and part machine. He’s so pale against those sheets, dark circles under his eyes so prominent. Harry knows James was working himself to the bone to get Cindy her house back - partly out of goodness, and partly os that they could have their double bed back - but he swears now to never let the tiredness and exhaustion that he sees get this bad again. If James wakes up that is.
Distantly, Harry feels a hand on his shoulder. He’s too tired to shake it off.
“He’ll be okay, Harry. He’ll wake up soon and make a full recovery.” It’s Misbah. She’s a doctor and she knows what she’s talking about, but how can James be okay when he looks like death warmed up. The Grim Reaper might as well be standing over his bed.
Romeo pushes into the hospital room and Marnie ushers Harry inside and into a seat by the side of the bed. Misbah has left to give them some privacy. The three of them sit around the bed, afraid to touch the comatose man. The silence is deafening. Harry hears a buzzing, and it takes a moment to register that it’s Marnie talking James as if she can cajole him into waking up, as if mothering him and pestering him will undo what the poison did. Romeo chimes in, laughing humourlessly, joking in an attempt to lighten the mood. It’s too bad Harry feels like all the colour has been leeched from the world.
“Harry? Why don’t you try talking to him.” Marnie hints, hesitantly reaching for his hand.
Romeo adds, “yeah, the doc said talking can help people in comas.”
Harry just shakes his head. It’s not James can actually hear him. Besides, even if he did start monologuing to his unconscious boyfriend he doesn’t want them to hear. He and James, while often unashamedly flaunting their sex life, were primarily private people. Their romantic gestures were reserved just for each other. So the words Harry wishes to say will stay locked inside until he can’t stand it anymore.
Unlike the tears that are slowly making their way down his cheeks. Unlike Marnie, who sobs loudly and obviously, and Romeo, who let a few tears escape when he realised he had never called James ‘dad’ and may never get to, Harry hasn’t cried. He was too busy taking charge of the situation to break down and bawl like a baby as he had wanted to. But it seems the dam has broken. In a matter of seconds, Harry’s shoulders shake violently, his eyes are red and puffy, and he sniffs disgustingly. It doesn’t stop Marnie from engulfing him in her arms.
“How about we let you have a moment, okay? Romeo, let’s get something to eat, I’m sure we’re all hungry.”
Through teary eyes Harry sees Marnie pull a reluctant Romeo out of the room, shooting Harry a sympathetic look as she goes.he appreciates the sentiment. Maybe this family thing will turn out okay, with or without James holding them all together.
Turning back to James, Harry reaches for his hand, careful not to dislodge the IV needle, and breathes a sigh of relief at the warm skin beneath his fingers. He adjusts his grip slightly to feel James’ pulse, to feel the steady rush of blood through his veins. Sure, the ECG machine is beeping monotonously, but it’s different to feeling the life coursing through James’ body. This way he knows that James is still in there, still living.
Harry swallows, clearing his throat enough to force a few words out. It’s like there’s a stone, blocking his voice, choking him. He wipes away the tears still flowing from his eyes, and sniffs once more. What do you say to the love of your life?
“…James…” Harry clears the frog in his throat. “I’m not quite sure what to say. Actually, I do know but I never wanted them to be said like this. This should never have happened. You don’t deserve this. No matter what you think, this should never have happened. I will go to the ends of the earth to find out who did this, and I will make them regret it. Especially if… especially if you…”
A painful sob forces itself from Harry’s throat, and he’s sure he must look a right state. A snot-covered, gremlin-y, shuddering wreck bent over the a coma patient. But just as James is the only person he is willing to make a fool out of himself for, James is the only person he is willing to ugly cry for, to cry until he has nothing left to give, to let himself go to waste waiting for James to wake up.
He sniffs. “James, I love you. I love you so much it hurts. You are the only person who has always been there for me. You stand by my side, proud and in love, even though I’m a murderer, even though I can be impulsive and even though I haven’t always been grateful to you. But I am now. You help me to accept myself, and I hope I do the same for you. There has never been anyone like you, and there never will be. You are it for me, James. I don’t think I can live in a world where I’m not with you. So, please… please, please, please… come back to me.” He trails off in a whisper. Any words left unsaid will have to wait. His heart feels torn out and ripped to shreds. God, he’s so tired.
Harry presses a gentle kiss to the palm of James’ hand. He waits for Marnie and Romeo to get back with coffee and snacks in silence. The heartbeat pulsing under his fingers and the rhythmic beeping help to ground him and calm him, much better than Romeo’s reassuring touch did. James has always been the one person for Harry, the centre of his universe. He doesn’t know what he’d do without him.
It’s just as the others return, a change of clothes and some steaming cups of coffee in their hands, that Harry thinks he feels a twitch. He looks frantically over at James’ face, his heart lurching and his mouth opening to call Marnie’s attention, but it’s as blank as it was before. His heart sinks, but he knows he didn’t imagine it. One of Jame’s fingers moved, just slightly, but it’s enough to convince Harry. He keeps his hold on James’ wrist, determined not to miss the next twitch, if there is one.
Marnie and Romeo chatter, filling the silence comfortably, while Harry smile serenely at James’ unconscious body. His boyfriend is a fighter. They’ll be back to normal soon enough. And Harry can’t wait.