"Harry, you're going to the doctor."
"I'm not Perry, I'm fine. It's just a headache!"
"Oh yeah? What about your breathing? Sometimes I can hear you from the next room! You don't fucking have asthma! And what about yesterday? When you fainted and I couldn't wake you up for ten minutes!" You really scared me. It was left unspoken, but Harry could hear it. Maybe that was why he gave in and let Perry drive him to the doctor. Who referred him to the hospital.
It was in the six hours he was there that he remembered why he hated hospitals. Bad things happened in hospitals. People died.
Dialling Perry's number with shaking fingers, Harry ran on autopilot, asking Perry to come and pick him up, sitting silent in the car, sinking onto the sofa, staring straight ahead, nothing in his head but a thousand What ifs
Perry said nothing, didn't attempt to make conversation. He just had no idea of what Harry was thinking about, only being able to tell that something was wrong. He sat beside Harry on the sofa, with a hand bracingly on his back, avoiding getting too close for comfort. He could feel the smaller man trembling from just the small contact he gave. Perry's heart shattered in his chest and he managed to ask Harry. "What did the doctor say?"
"The...I've been having headaches and I'm sh-short of breath because...they're waiting for test results but...fuck Perry..." tears brightened the usually-perky Harry's eyes. "They think...they think there's a t-tumour on my l-lungs...it's...it's," he broke off, unable to say the word. "they d-don't think there's much they c-can do but they say they n-need to see me again to m-make sure." Harry was shaking violently now, tears spilling from his eyes. Perry could not help but pull Harry against his chest and hold him as he sobbed.
He'd seen Harry cry before, but it had never been like this. Had never been tears of utter hopelessness and despair and the knowledge that everything was fucked up and it wasn't fair and there wasn't a damn thing anybody could do. Harry's words were only just sinking into Perry, bringing a lump to his throat that made breathing difficult.
To think that Harry, his forbidden, pretty little Harry, the source of amusement and annoyance, the sunshine in his dull existence could be and would be snatched from him. It twisted his stomach and made him want to throw up.
As it stood, he rubbed Harry's back in soothing circles, murmuring to him all the things he wished he'd been able to say sooner. "It's all right sweetheart. We'll be okay."
He didn't know when he'd fallen for Harry, but he knew it had been a long time ago. He'd just been to afraid of rejection to do anything. He regretted it already, but he would be only what Harry wanted him to be and nothing more.
"P-perry?" a small voice eventually stammered against the detective's shoulder. "There's something else." the blonde immediately feared the worst, but said nothing so Harry could continue.
"I've been too scared to say anything for months but...I...I don't think I'm as straight as I make out...and...and it's you I want Perry. Fuck Perry, I...I love you."
"Jesus Harry. I love you too. God, I love you so much."
Harry pulled away a little, so Perry could see his tear-stained face. They kissed, then, for the first time, the first time it meant something, Harry still crying, tears mixing on their faces as they both surrendered.
For two weeks, they were happy. The best two weeks of both Perry and Harry's life, ignoring the weight on Harry's shoulders as Harry let Perry love him, as they woke up together, as endearments and petnames where whispered, as promises were broken and new ones made. As every day they confessed their love like it was the first time.
They were happy until Perry woke up alone. They were happy until he found Harry sitting at the kitchen table, face pale, staring at a letter with an official stamp on it.
"Open it for me Perry." His voice was barely there, and Perry really didn't want to know what the letter said, but would not refuse Harry.
"Dear Mr Lockhart," he read aloud. "We have received the results of the tests we ran, and regret to inform you that assumptions of a cancerous tumour were correct. We would very much like you to come in on the Sixteenth of September to discuss all possible options." Perry stopped reading then, nothing else being important anyway. "Oh sweetheart..." he said, using his favourite petname for reassurance as Harry stood up, tentatively stepping towards Perry.
The blonde pulled the darker haired man close again, stroking his hair and kissing the side of his face. "Perry..." Harry whispered. "Get out while you can."
"Harold Lockhart, you're fucking crazy if you think I'm leaving you. No. I'm your boyfriend and I'm going to fucking face this with you."
The next few days dragged. They were both counting down the days to the hospital visit, and eventually it was upon them. Harry held on to Perry's offered hand all the way there, and Perry chanced to put his arm around Harry's already-skinny shoulders while they waited.
Eventually, Harry was called into an office. Perry went with him and they both sat down. The doctor smiled the way you would to a small child. "Hello again Mr Lockhart. Perhaps your..."
"Boyfriend. Whatever you tell me, he hears too." Harry snapped, defiantly.
"Very well then," she was clearly taken aback, but recovered quickly. "We need to discuss what we're going to do. Mr Lockhart, your tumour is cancerous and extremely aggressive. We can attempt to remove a large part, if not all of it quite safely. Chemotherapy may...give us more time. Ultimately, Harold, you have...six months. Eight if you're lucky. If we begin immediately."
Harry's whole world came crashing down around him. He felt a gaping hole where his heart used to be. All the plans he'd had; to get married, to go on holiday with Perry, to finish college...they were all crumbling to dust. So little time.
"Mr Lockhart," he was brought back to his senses. "If you and Mr..."
"Van Shrike. Perry Van Shrike."
"If you and Mr Van Shrike will accompany me downstairs we can begin your treatment."
Harry blindly obeyed, supported by Perry who gripped his arm.
He let the doctor do what she wanted to him, Perry not letting go of his hand, then driving him home in his state of numbness. Harry vaguely registered Perry putting him to bed, but his whole day had passed in a blur. It was only as he drifted into a fitful sleep that he realised the true implications of what the doctor had said. It was very probable he'd never even see thirty-five.
His stomach twisted suddenly, a side effect of the chemotherapy and Harry staggered to the bathroom, hunching over the toilet bowl and being horribly, violently sick. Perry rubbed his back and held his hair away from his forehead, clearly as shaken as Harry was by the reaction.
Nevertheless, the older man ran a bath, guiding a shaking Harry into it gently, and running a sponge over wherever he could reach, kissing wherever he cleaned. The smaller man was grateful, and slept some when they went back to bed.
Weeks slipped by, Harry going to the hospital every other day to get his medicine, Perry by his side every second of it. Neither of them mentioned what was going on as it happened. By night, Harry threw up. By day, Harry was listless but ever-smiling, lying on the sofa mostly, venturing outside for walks along the beach with Perry, something they should have been able to do much more often.
Perry came close to breaking down in front of Harry when he thought of what Harry would be like, were he not so weak. They'd have a frisbee and somebody else's dog, no doubt, and Harry would be losing a fight to get the frisbee back, ending up covered in sand, and complaining about where it had gotten.
Harry soldiered on, and Perry respected him for it. He dearly wished though, that the harry who complained of paper cuts would be given back to him. The younger man cried again only once, falling apart in Perry's arms as he caught sight of his skeletal frame in the mirror. The chemotherapy had destroyed his appetite and made him lose weight far too quickly. Thank god his lustrous hair had remained intact.
"How can you love me?" Harry had sobbed. "I'm hideous! It's so fucking unfair! What did I do to deserve this Perry? What?" He'd never put much thought into the way he looked, but his appearance had shocked him. Perry truthfully reassured him.
"Harry, I love you no matter what. You're still beautiful. Your face is still the pretty face of Harold Lockhart." But for how much longer?
Perry knew the fight was being lost when blood pooled in the toilet bowl.
Sometime during the endless chain of hospital visits, gaunt nurses and cancer treatment, Christmas came around. Harry stayed cheerful and attempted to sing carols in the hospital ward (not being particularly in tune). He apologised that he hadn't got anything for Perry, but whispered in his ear as they sat curled together on the sofa at home, that perhaps tonight he wasn't too tired to have fun.
It was the most precious gift he could have given. Perry made love to him for the first time in months, both of them needing every touch.
In turn, Perry presented Harry with a box, a plain silver ring in it. "When this is over Lockhart," he grinned, emotion not feigned, "When this is over, we're getting married." Harry only kissed him, neither of them speaking what was in the air between them.
Harry saw in the new year laughing, falling asleep just after the countdown. Perry savoured every smile, every flicker of the Harry he knew.
Halfway through January, Harry didn't wake up until almost evening.
Three days after that, he collapsed in the kitchen, Perry only hearing the thud and seeing his unconscious lover on the floor.
Harry was taken to hospital again, Perry holding his hand even if he couldn't feel it, talking to Harry even if he couldn't hear it. "C'mon sweetheart, we've been through worse than this before. You're going to wake up, you hear?"
Harry did wake up, in time to see his sister and his niece, smiling at them, spirits still not dampened, laughing with Chloe until his family left.
Perry was alone in the room with Harry then. Neither of them said anything, but Perry had Harry in his arms, cradling him against his chest before kissing him desperately, urgently, as if he could take all of Harry's pain away. Someone was sobbing as they kissed, and Harry's tears were silent, his fingers gentle on the blonde's face. It was him, then.
"Thank you Perry. For all you've done for me." Words could not reproduce Harry's emotion but he had to try. "I love you, you know that. I love you so much." He held up his hand where a silver band glimmered. "I'll wear this, forever." he whispered. "But I'm so tired Perry. I'm so tired."
And Perry Van Shrike could do nothing, but cling to his lover's hand as if it was a life ring, watching his eyes close, watching him sleep for an hour, letting his tears fall, unchecked and then...
Slowly, slowly, Harry's breathing became less noticeable.
Until it wasn't there at all.