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A New Frontier

Chapter Text

I didn’t wake up again until about 10 o’clock at night. The hotel room was quiet, but I noticed that the TV had been turned off and I had a blanket draped over me. There was a note on the coffee table and I flicked on the lamp beside me to read it:

“The hospital called while you were asleep. You can visit Graham tomorrow morning at 8 AM while they run a couple routine tests before they discharge him. Dinner is in the fridge :) -Bree”

The thought of waiting another ten hours to see Graham, especially since I was now fully rested, was torturous. I was ravenously hungry though, having not eaten since dinner the night before. There was a plate of simple chicken and vegetables in the fridge, as promised. I didn’t even bother heating it up on the stove before eating it.

I was seated on a stool at the counter when Bree opened the door to her room and tiptoed out. Roger must have been asleep. Seeing another friendly face was cathartic after the day I’d had, and I allowed her to pull me into a comforting hug. Tears welled in my eyes, but none fell. My head rested on her chest as she stood beside the stool, the sound of her steady heartbeat relaxing my own, and she kissed the top of my head.

“Let’s talk.”

I wiped the moisture from my eyes and nodded, following her into my bedroom as to not wake Roger by speaking outside his door. Bree pulled her robe tightly around her and sat on the bed, her back against the headboard. I sat cross-legged in front of her and she gave me a sympathetic look.

“I spoke with Alyssa about what the public defender said. It looks like neither you nor Graham are at risk of being charged with anything, thank goodness. His biggest concern is that the defendant will justify his actions with homophobia, but the good news is that it is a small enough case that there will be no jury, just a judge. We just have to hope that whoever the judge is, they won’t have any homphobic bias towards the guy who punched Graham.”

“I hit the guy too, though. If the judge is biased, will the charges be turned onto me?”

Bree shook her head, “Luckily, the other guy isn’t pressing charges. But even if he did, the officer’s report described your actions as self-defense. You were very lucky that he didn’t use your actions as an excuse to lock you up just for being gay. There are plenty of officers who would not have taken your side. You have to be more careful, John. Telling him that Graham was your boyfriend, which he included in the report, could have consequences.”

I nodded solemnly. I had gotten so used to the people in my 20th century life being accepting of me that I’d forgotten that most of the world wasn’t. “What’s the worst that could happen, Bree? Be honest.”

Bree sighed. “Worst case scenario, the charges are dropped and the guy goes free. Had the officer not supported you in the report, then it would be a lot worse.”

“What about the lawsuit?”

“That’s a whole separate case. The worst there is that you lose, which I don’t think is likely. The man hurt Graham on purpose and put him in the hospital. If he’s deemed guilty of assault, that will help the lawsuit.”

I put my face in my hands, trying to wrap my head around everything Bree was saying. She placed a hand on my back and spoke softly.

“Everything is going to be okay, John.”

“Legal issues have a way of seeping into other aspects of one’s life, Bree. I mean, Graham’s employer-”

“Won’t care,” Bree finished my sentence for me. “I know the deans there, and they have no comments about Graham’s sexuality. Yes, there are some faculty members who judge Graham’s ability to do his job by his sexual orientation, but the students love him. As long as he has the support of the student body, the deans will continue to advocate for him. The last thing they want is for the student body to protest the administration for being homophobic and cause a scandal.”

“Well, the avoidance of scandal is certainly something that hasn’t changed over the centuries,” I said, managing to crack a smile. Bree nodded in agreement and put a hand on my forearm.

“Last year, there was a professor in the dance department who was fired because one of the dances she choreographed was borderline pronographic. The students kicked in the President of the university’s door and she was reinstated on the spot, along with a 10% increase in the department’s budget.”

“Do you think the students would advocate for Graham, too?”

“Yes, I do. But it probably won’t even come to that. Harvard will try and bury the case before it can see the light of day. Roger already consulted the head of the history department, who knows and accepts Graham, to get a head start on it. Those who would speak against him are being bribed not to.”

“Is that not illegal?” I asked, somewhat surprised.

“They’re not giving them raises, so technically no. They’re just offering them more funding for their research. Everyone at the university we’ve spoken to seems confident that Graham’s position will remain unchanged and he will still be up for tenure in a couple of years.”

I couldn’t help but think of Graham, who was probably worrying about the same thoughts that I’d had. He was probably picturing his life in ruins. “Do you think that, if I were to bring a note to the hospital, they’d be able to get it to him?”

“Depends on who’s behind the desk and if it’s a slow night. He wouldn’t be able to read it though, not with the concussion. Just a few more hours until you can see him, I promise.”

I was about to protest, but the phone in the living room rang and I sprang up to answer it, Bree close in tow. She pressed her head next to mine so she could hear the full conversation.

“Hello?”

“Hello, sir. This is Dean Torrington. I’m the Dean of Faculty at Harvard University. May I ask who I am speaking to?” Speak of the devil...

“This is John Grey. I am a close friend of Graham’s.”

“Ah, I’ve been informed of the contents of the case file, Mr. Grey. I know who you are. I apologize for calling at this hour, but there is an urgent matter I would like to discuss. I understand that Professor Nowak is incapacitated at the moment, so I humbly request that this information be relayed to him.”

“Of course, Dean Torrington. What information would you like me to relay?

“Your- uh- partner… he is a very respected professor amongst the students. He has the highest approval rating in his department, which is quite the achievement. The case of the day’s events has been brought to my attention by the head of his department. Now, Professor Nowak’s personal life, while known amongst the faculty and students, has managed to remain outside of topics of discussion and has thus not been brought to the attention of our major donors. We wish to keep it that way, for the sake of the students who adore him and for his own sake, of course. I understand that his colleagues will not bring this matter to light, and nor will I. However, I would like to avoid anyone else finding out about the case, so I am prepared to offer some...incentive...for Professor Nowak to drop the charges all together.”

I glanced at Bree, who seemed just as shocked as I was on letting Graham’s attacker go free. “Well, what do you propose?”

“I have consulted the President of the university about this matter already, and he and I have agreed upon a proposal. We are prepared to offer Professor Nowak compensation for his medical bills, a paid leave of absence to recover from his injuries, as well as a year long sabbatical to continue his research which he can begin whenever he so chooses.”

Bree put a hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp. “Well, Dean Torrington, I will have to inform Graham of this proposal in the morning when he is discharged from the hospital.”

“Of course, Mr. Grey. Have a good night then.”

I hung up the phone and turned to Bree. “There’s no way that Graham would accept a bribe and let that guy walk free,” I said, not quite sure if my statement was true.

“Sabbaticals for research like Graham’s are extremely rare, John. I don’t see how he could possibly pass up that big of an opportunity. And dropping the charges would make this whole matter disappear.”

I shook my head. “Except for the fact that he would be allowing for that man to avoid any consequences. Does Graham even have the authority to drop the changes anyway? The prosecution has already filed them, I know that much.”

“He can ask the prosecution lawyer to request that the state drop the case, which could feasibly be done on the grounds that Graham was incapcitated when the charges were filed and had yet to even speak to his public defender.”

The complexity of the situation was making my head throb. “It’s up to Graham, then.”

……...

Graham was sitting up in bed when I was finally able to see him. Bree and Roger had gone to retrieve Graham’s car, so I was alone. He had a look of concern on his face, but I could tell that something was off. The bags under his eyes drooped heavily, but he seemed awake regardless. He turned to look at me when I opened the room, but his expression remained unchanged.

“Graham, love, how are you feeling?” I tried not to speak loudly, per the doctor’s suggestion. The lights in the room were dimmed and the curtains were drawn.

“I asked my lawyer to request that the state drop the charges.”

I blinked, not sure if I had heard him correctly.

“Graham, you’re tired. I think-”

“No, John. This- this isn’t up to you. My lawyer came in an hour ago, he’s probably already made the call.”

I sat in the chair beside him, and went to take his hand. He didn’t move away, but he didn’t reciprocate my squeeze either.

“But, why?”

Graham sighed. “I’ve spent my entire life building a career that I love. I can’t take even the smallest risk, John. I love my students, they need me. Just one word about this case to a donor and everything I’ve ever worked for would be gone.”

I leaned forward, trying to look him in the eyes. “I know how that feels more than anyone.”

“Then you see why I had to let the guy go free.” He turned his head to look at me and I could see the tear stains on his cheeks. He’d been thinking of this all night.

I nodded, “Yes, I suppose I hadn’t thought of that last night. I just hate that you have to sacrifice justice just for life to remain normal.”

“I do too, John, but some things haven’t changed since your time. And, um, what do you mean about thinking about it last night?”

I sighed and squeezed his hand. He squeezed back this time. “Dean Torrington called in the middle of the night. He and the President are offering you financial compensation for your injuries and a year long sabbatical, whenever you may choose, for your research in exchange for the charges being dropped.”

Graham swallowed and thought for a moment, processing what I had just said. “So they’re paying me off?”

“Yes, they think it is what is best for you and your students. I think they assumed that you would continue with the charges.” I couldn’t tell how he felt about what I’d said because his features were overwhelmed with exhaustion, but he was being worrisomely quiet.

“I don’t want them to think that the only reason I dropped the charges was for money. But I will need it anyway if I drop the lawsuit, so it would be stupid not to accept it.”

“You deserve whatever compensation they are offering you, Graham. If they won’t let you have justice, then at least you will be able to recover comfortably and continue to forward your career.”

Graham nodded and took a shaky breath. I stood from the chair and leaned over him, kissing him on the forehead. “They’re going to let you out soon, and then we can go home.”

“But my car- and our luggage-”

“Bree and Roger came down last night. Roger is driving your car home and Brianna is getting our luggage from the cottage. You and I can take a cab back to the hotel, where Bree will meet us. We’ll stay for the rest of the day so you can sleep comfortably.”

For the first time since I entered the room, Graham smiled. “You thought of everything.”

“Well,” I admitted, “I can’t take all the credit. But I did manage to call Bree and hold down the fort until she got here.”

“I’m lucky to have you, John. That guy looked like he wanted to beat me to death.”

I leaned over and hugged Graham gently, “I don’t even want to think about that. Christ, when they put you on that ambulance, I was so scared.”

“Me too.”

Our embrace was interrupted by a nurse entering the room, clipboard in-hand. “Mr. Nowak,” she said, looking down at her clipboard. She looked up and noticed me, “Oh! And you are?”

“John Grey, a...close friend. I can leave the room, if necessary.”

The nurse glanced at Graham, who shook his head. “It’s okay, Mr. Grey. I just need to give Graham here a once-over before we can discharge him into your care.”

I sat back down and gave the nurse space to work. She shined a flashlight into Graham’s eyes, gave him some tests for his hand-eye-coordination, and gave him a few mental tests using decks of cards with pictures and numbers on them. It was an odd procedure, but whatever the results of whatever it was meant to determine were to the nurse’s liking.

“You’re definitely still concussed, but it’s safe for you to go to sleep now. Wear sunglasses outside, no TV, no music, and no reading for 2 weeks. Stay hydrated, avoid drinking coffee, and try and stay in bed as much as possible. I’ll have the doctor send a report to your general practitioner and you can schedule a follow up there. Go ahead and get dressed and I’ll meet you up front.” She handed him a pair of sunglasses, presumably to wear once he was out of the dim room, and left.

Graham stood up slowly, holding my arm for support. “God, my head feels like it’s going to split open!”

I laughed, trying not to do so too loudly. “That’s how I felt when I had the measles.”

Graham’s eyes widened and he looked at me in disbelief. I shook my head and helped untie the back of his gown, so he could pull his clothes on. He dressed slowly, pausing after each time he had to bend down to put on his trousers and his socks.

“Let me tie your shoes for you, my dear. You look like your head is in agony.”

He reluctantly allowed me to stoop down and fasten his shoes while he put on his wristwatch and the sunglasses.

“How do I look?”

“Like hell, but hopefully that will be remedied by sleep.”

………

Graham collapsed into the bed fully clothed, sunglasses still secured on his face. I drew the curtains, bringing the room to almost pitch black. He must have fallen asleep in seconds. I carefully removed his shoes and the glasses. I also made sure to leave a tablet of his prescription from the hospital at the bedside with a glass of water, lest he wake up with a throbbing headache.

Brianna would probably be back soon, but until then there was not much that I could do. I paced around the hotel room, catching sight of myself in the mirror on the wall as I passed by. I looked almost as unkempt as Graham did. But there was no use in taking a shower until I had access to clean clothes.

There was a small convenience store in the lobby of the hotel, which provided me with a few toiletries that I’d yet to take advantage of that morning. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, feeling a bit less grimey. I managed to make use of the disposable razor I’d bought downstairs, which made me look presentable at best. I resumed my pacing, not wanting to feel idle.

Bree finally appeared about 10 minutes later with a bellboy aiding her in carrying up our luggage. She tipped him before he left and gave me a short hug, leaning back to brush her hands sweetly over my freshly shaved cheeks.

“You look like you’ve been taking care of yourself, which is a good sign. How is he?”

I smiled and sighed, “He’s fast asleep and has the worst headache of his life, but he’ll be okay. But I must tell you, he decided to drop the charges before I even spoke with him this morning. Apparently he had a chance to speak to his attorney.”

Bree seemed somewhat surprised, as I had been, but also relieved. “It’s terrible that that guy won’t face any consequences, but at least now we know that Graham won’t either. Do we know for sure that the state dropped the case?”

“Not yet, but his public defender is working with the prosecution as we speak. They’ll probably call our house sometime in the next couple of days.”

Bree nodded, stooping down to pick up the suitcases. “The cottage was lovely, but did you guys seriously decide to go somewhere with no heat or electricity?” I was glad she had changed the subject.

“No, it was merely a happy accident. I do wish we had been able to spend more time there, though.” I shrugged.

“I’m sure you’ll be able to go back eventually. Now, I’m going to go and get some pizza for lunch. You can’t come to New Haven and not eat pizza, and I’ll be damned if I miss out. Do you want to join me?”

I turned and peered through the crack in the door to the room where Graham was sleeping. Bree gave my shoulder a squeeze, “I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

She grabbed her purse and was gone again, leaving me in a similar state as I had been before. I found myself wandering into the bedroom, where Graham slept peacefully. His head was turned so that the dark bruise on the side of his head was exposed. I leaned over the side of the bed and kissed it lightly before carefully climbing in next to him. I suddenly felt tired myself and managed to doze off for maybe a quarter of an hour before a movement beside me took me out of my shallow sleep.

“Go back to sleep, love,” I whispered. Graham’s eyes were open now, but he didn’t respond. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“My head hurts too much,” he mumbled, snuggling into my side under the covers so that only the top of his head was exposed.

“There’s some medicine from the doctor-”

He shook his head.

“Graham, it will make you feel better. Please take it.”

“I can’t, I haven’t eaten anything. It’ll give me a stomachache.”

“Let me get you something to eat then.”

Another head shake. I pulled back the covers slightly to reveal his face. “What do you need?”

He wrapped an arm around my waist and nuzzled into my chest. I could feel his breath shaking as I wrapped my arms around him. “Just hold me,” he said tearily.

Graham had never been one to hide his tears as long as I’d known him, and today was no exception. But his cries in this moment, unending and full of despair, were almost unbearable to hear.

“T-they hate me and I-I can’t m-make them stop. I g-got too comfortable a-and now I don’t feel s-safe. I didn’t d-do anything to him a-and he still…”

I rocked him gently in my arms, whispering in his ear as he cried. “You’re safe now, everything will be okay, shhhhh, this is not your fault.”

The sobbing ceased eventually and I brought him the box of tissues from the bathroom. He blew his nose, wincing from the pressure in his head. “God, I’m such a mess.”

I kissed his forehead and wiped the wetness from his cheeks. “Let’s get you cleaned up then, yeah?” He nodded and managed to stand from the bed, pausing once he was vertical. I gripped his elbow to prevent him from falling over from the vertigo, but he settled eventually.

We showered together, both so that I could assist him (since standing made his headache unbearable) and also because in that moment, we couldn’t bear to lose sight of each other for even a couple of minutes. I needed to know he was safe, and he needed me so he could feel that way. I washed his hair and ran the soap over his skin, rinsing away the clinical smell of the hospital that lingered on him. I also helped him shave his face, which was a challenge in the dim light, and he brushed his teeth at the sink while I unpacked some comfortable clothes for him to wear.

I could tell that he felt much better once he was back in head, freshly clean and dressed comfortably. “You take good care of me,” he said, “I appreciate that.”

“Of course, my dear.”

There was a soft knock on the bedroom door and I went to answer it. Bree had returned with the pizza, which was in a large square box labelled “Pepe’s.”

She peered behind me at Graham and smiled. “Are you boys hungry?” She whispered. The smell of the food made my mouth water and I nodded.

“The best part about being in a hotel is that you can eat in bed,” Bree said. She opened the curtains enough to allow a dim light into the room and placed the box on the mattress.

“You got Pepe’s?” Graham raised an eyebrow, sitting up to inspect the box. “Sally’s is better.”

“One, how dare you? And two, you’re not supposed to be reading, so eyes off the pizza box,” Bree retorted jokingly.

We ate on the bed, which felt odd to me, but I enjoyed it immensely. I could see that Graham did too, although he only managed to eat one slice. I gestured to the pill on the bedside table and he took it begrudgingly. Graham and Bree spent the meal debating which pizza place was better, which eventually devolved into a heated, whisper-yelling disagreement between New York pizza and New Haven pizza, Graham being biased towards the former.

“Your concussion must be worse than the doctor’s said, because if you think that a crappy $1 slice from a street vendor is better than Frank Pepe’s masterpiece here, you must be delusional.”

Graham rolled his eyes and turned to me. “John, you’re the tie-breaker here.”

“Well, I haven’t had a ‘crappy $1 slice’ in New York, so I can’t possibly contribute to the comparison.”

“We’ll have to fix that, then.”

I was glad to see Graham acting like himself again, and it almost made me forget about the stresses of the day- until the phone rang in the living room. I left Bree and Graham to continue their debate and answered it. “Hello?”

“Hey, John. It’s Alyssa. How is he?”

“He’s okay, he just has to be careful for the next couple weeks.”

“Good. The public defender called.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Already? What’s the verdict?”

“The state agreed to drop the charges on the grounds that they were filed without a statement from Graham or a witness to corroborate what you told the officer in the report.”

“So the state is just going to pretend that what the officer reported never happened?”

“Essentially, yes. The officer never got a statement from the witness who called the authorities. So basically, there is enough plausible deniability for the case to be deemed as having insufficient evidence. Aside from the witness, who left before the police arrived, you’re the only one who saw what happened. But since you were involved directly, they can’t take a statement from you without it being corroborated by the witness. They could have tried to force Graham to talk, but his medical tests showed that the injury caused him to have limited memory of the events leading up to the assault, which would make his statement unviable.”

“But he’s concussed, surely that’s enough evidence that the guy hit him.”

“Well, yes. But you hit the guy too, so there’s no evidence that at least one of his injuries wasn’t caused by Graham and that the man wasn’t acting in self-defense. Without the witness testimony, there’s no case.”

“What if the witness comes forward?”

“They won’t. They’ve committed a felony by leaving the scene of the crime, so they would be stupid to reveal themselves.”

………

“So the case is dropped? Like it never happened?” Bree was driving us back to Boston. Graham had fallen asleep again by the time my phone call with Alyssa had ended, so I waited to tell them the news.

“Basically. There were no witnesses aside from me, so the case would have been dropped even if Graham hadn’t wanted it to be. There was no way of telling who threw the first punch, and my statement wasn’t sufficient on its own.”

Graham, who was laying down in the back seat, sighed heavily. “I guess I’ll have to call Dean Torrington when we get back to the house then.”

The rest of the ride was fairly silent, and Graham fell asleep in the back. By the time we arrived home, the sun was low in the sky. Bree and I unloaded the car and brought the bags up to mine and Graham’s room. Whilst she touched base with Alyssa and reunited with Jemmy, I went outside to wake Graham.

“Love, we’re home,” I whispered, stroking his hair. He didn’t open his eyes, but he lifted his hand up to rest it on mine as I pet him.

“Mmm, I like that,” he said drowsily. His voice was deep from having just woken up.

“C’mon, love. Why don’t we go inside and call Dean Torrington, and then I’ll do this some more? Does that sound good?”

He nodded and sat up slowly, clutching his head. “I think I’ll need another dose of that acetaminophen too,” he said.

Alyssa left as we came up the walkway. She stopped briefly to give Graham a hug and we said our goodbyes. “Hang in there, hun,” she said. I wasn’t sure which one of us she was talking to.

While I got everything sorted with Graham’s medication and unpacking, he stayed downstairs on the phone. I could smell something cooking in the kitchen, presumably Bree whipping up something for dinner before she took Jemmy home. When I came back downstairs, Graham was hanging up the phone.

“As soon as Klara is old enough to come with us, I will be taking a trip to Scotland for my sabbatical. Am I a sellout?”

“Of course not,” Bree said, “A really shitty thing just happened to you. At least this way you can get some sort of justice, even if it’s merely an opportunity to forward your career despite it having been at risk due to the attack.”

Graham nodded tiredly and made his way into the living room I followed him in with his medicine, which he took gratefully this time. Bree came in a few moments later with Jemmy, who rushed over to Graham to give him a hug. “I’m happy you’re okay, Uncle Graham.”

Graham smiled over Jem’s shoulder, “Thanks, kiddo.”

Bree gave us both a hug and kiss before leaving with Jem. “Call if you need anything,” she said on the way out the door. “Dinner is on the stove.”

“You’re Uncle Graham now,” I said. Graham’s face had lit up upon Jemmy’s words, and he was still glowing. I hadn’t seen him this way since before the attack.

“It’s weird, I’ve always been the youngest in my family. I don’t have any siblings and only one cousin who never had any kids. I wasn’t ever expecting to be ‘Uncle’ anything, let alone become a father. That’s one of the reasons I’m relieved about the state dropping the charges, I guess. I’ll still be able to provide for Klara.”

“Five weeks,” I whispered. “I’m terrified.”

“Me too.”