DISCLAIMER: I own nothing.
Dedication: this one's for Never Stop Believing in Love. Just because.
Don't Let Go
"Open your eyes for me, Grace," a kind but business-like female voice says, and on the second repetition, she groggily obeys. White walls, white ceiling. Medical equipment; a uniformed woman – presumably the owner of the voice. Disorientated, Grace blinks against the harsh artificial light, and as she does so the woman says brightly, "It's all over. You're in recovery."
She is sleepy, she is dazed, but she understands. It's done. The operation is done. She's come through it, just as everyone gravely assured her that she would. There isn't even any pain. Not really aware of doing so, she smiles. The woman – the nurse – pats her hand gently. "That's right. You have a doze. We'll take you back to your room in a little while."
Grace doesn't know how long a little while is, but at some point she senses movement, and hears quiet voices. She's too tired to be interested and she drifts away in a pleasant sort of haze. When she opens her eyes again, her surroundings have changed. Less aggressively clinical, a touch more homely. There's a dreamlike quality to everything that's slightly unnerving, but she doesn't care enough to be worried. The cannula in the back of her hand stings aggressively when she moves her arm slightly, but otherwise there's no pain. Good.
"The morphine will also have a sedating effect," a confident voice somewhere nearby says. "She'll sleep a lot over the next twelve hours or so, and if she does speak, she'll probably be very confused."
A touch of indignation flares in her at the comment, but it's too much effort to open her eyes, let alone argue. For some reason she dreams of the sea, of the sandy beaches of long-ago childhood holidays. She dreams of shaggy, depressed-looking donkeys and of bluff men with red faces and white legs sitting in striped deckchairs. A face looms over her and she smiles at it. He looks a lot like Boyd, the man looking down at her. Same deep brown eyes and aquiline nose. Jaunty goatee beard. She wonders if he's one of the doctors, or if he's one of the deckchair men. Hard to tell. Whoever he is, he looks very tired. Those dark eyes are kind eyes, though, she thinks. Weary, but kind. Framed by laughter-lines. Hint of something very compassionate in the endless depths.
"Peter," she says, and she's surprised at just how sore her throat is and just how raspy her voice sounds. He smiles at her and Grace wonders how such a slight smile can change the whole character of his face so dramatically. He really does look a lot like Boyd, the man who's regarding her with quizzical amusement. She remembers suddenly that she's worried about Boyd. There's going to be an inquiry about… about something. Something he's done. He just can't stay out of trouble, that man. Pseudo-Boyd is still smiling faintly. She asks, "Were you on the beach?"
"I don't think so," he says and she's surprised by how very like Boyd he sounds, too. Same deep, well-modulated voice; same perfect diction. There's a not-very-Boyd-like gentleness in the man's voice though. Grace frowns at her own judgement. Boyd can be gentle. Boyd can be very gentle. She remembers that quite distinctly. The man says, "The operation went well, Grace. The doctors are very pleased."
There's an inference in his tone she doesn't really understand. Whoever he is, he seems pleased, too, and she's not quite sure why. He looks so much like Boyd and he sounds so much like Boyd… but he's not Boyd. He can't be. Peter Boyd doesn't do hospitals, doesn't do illness. He did come to see her, though. Before. She remembers that. He came, looking sheepish and lost, like an overgrown schoolboy. She remembers his words: "Why didn't you tell me?"
The answer she gave him was too quick, too glib. Grace gazes up at the man who can't be Boyd and says, "I'm sorry. I should have done."
He frowns, as if he doesn't understand, and he says, "Get some rest, Grace."
Something lurches in her chest. Something like… fear. She whispers, "Don't leave me."
He looks down and she follows his dark gaze, only then realising that she's gripping his hand tightly. Why or when or how she doesn't know. But her hand is clutching his fiercely. Grace can feel his knuckles, feel the too-familiar sinewy strength of his fingers. Finally, she thinks she understands. He's no stranger, this man; he is indeed Peter Boyd – long-term colleague, personal friend and erstwhile lover. She relaxes and she can't help smiling at him. "Peter."
"Hello," he says mildly, amusement returning to his expression.
"I know you're not here really," Grace says, squeezing his hand again. "But thank you."
He shakes his head slightly. "I'm some kind of drug-induced hallucination, am I?"
"Of course you are," she says confidently. "Simple wish fulfilment."
The subsequent chuckle is deep, placid. "All right. Whatever you say, Grace. You're the psychologist."
Smiling to herself, she starts to doze again. For a little while she's back on the beach with the donkeys in their straw hats, but then Spencer Jordan's there and the beach becomes a bleak, industrial wasteland by the Thames. For a moment she's afraid, but the fear retreats quickly as she spots all her colleagues, one by one. Eve and Frankie, laughing together; Stella and Mel, united in death, but both very much alive. Spencer. Boyd. Kat. Felix. All of them. She doesn't need to be afraid because they are there and they are as much her family as any of those individuals biologically linked to her. The wasteland morphs gradually into a sunny London park, and she's happy. They're all happy.
Not-real-Boyd is still there when she opens her eyes again. Grace thinks it probably makes perfect sense that his hallucinatory counterpart is every bit as stubborn as the real Boyd. Her throat still hurts. She asks hoarsely, "What time is it?"
"Almost two in the morning."
Further proof that he isn't real. Not that Grace needs it. Somewhere on the other side of the city, Boyd is doubtless curled up fast asleep in his own bed, possibly alone, possibly not. She says, "I wish you'd tell me."
He sounds bemused. "You wish I'd tell you what, Grace?"
"That you're seeing someone."
Not-real-Boyd says, "I'm not seeing someone, Grace. No time and absolutely no inclination."
She snorts. "Now I know you're definitely a figment of my imagination."
"Is that right?"
"Obviously," Grace says. She regards him silently for a moment or two, and then admits, "I wish you were here. It doesn't matter what they keep telling me, I'm still so damned frightened. If you were here, you'd tell me not to be so bloody stupid."
"Don't be so bloody stupid."
"That doesn't count," she complains. "It's exactly the same as talking to myself. You're really not helping. I'm going to unimagine you."
"Go on, then," he challenges easily.
Grace shuts her eyes determinedly. Again, she doesn't know how long she sleeps for, but when she wakes, he's still there. The only difference is that he's slumped down low in the chair by her bed and he's got his feet propped on another chair presumably dragged into position just for the purpose. His arms are folded across his broad chest and he's snoring softly. "Great," she mutters to herself, to the room, to the infuriating phantasm. "Other people get famous film stars when they hallucinate – I get a bad-tempered, snoring policeman."
The snoring stops and one eye opens. "Officer, Grace. Police officer. Gender neutral."
"One that lectures me on political correctness," she adds. "Why are you still here?"
"You asked me not to leave, remember?"
She thinks she does. Vaguely. It might have been a dream, however. Or it might have been real and she's dreaming now. Everything's very confusing, very mixed up. She remembers donkeys. And a park. She says, "Parliament Hill."
He straightens in his chair, feet back on the floor, both eyes now open and intent. "What about it?"
"That's where we went. The day we…" Grace lets the sentence trail. It's pointless. Too long ago. Too much water under the bridge. And she's only talking to herself. She remembers that day so clearly. They knew – both of them – what was coming. It didn't matter who said what. Still doesn't. Grace says, "The day we decided it was over."
Not strictly true. The actual day they decided it was over had been and gone for both of them long before they stood up on Parliament Hill together. That day was just the day that the grim words were shared aloud. Grace remembers the slight breeze, the young man in bright red shorts walking his boisterous dog. Remembers looking up into cool, barricaded eyes and knowing that nothing was ever going to be the same again between them. No tears, no tantrums. A very adult, civilised sort of break-up. Superficially. The pain bled out afterwards in other places. "That's why you're alone, Boyd; you are isolated and unloved…"
As effective as a sharp, stinging slap. More so. Boyd didn't say a word. Didn't roar back at her. Just sat and stared, as if completely immobilised by her hard, cruel words. The same eyes watch her now, a little quizzical, a little wary. Grace wants to cry. Not just for the mistakes of the past, but in cold fear of the future. Isolated and unloved. An eerie prediction of her own life to be…?
Swallowing hard, she transfers her gaze to the shadowy ceiling. Looking at not-real-Boyd hurts too much. "I just lost my temper. I didn't mean to hurt him. Not like that."
"Shut up," she says fiercely, refusing to look round. "I don't need you in my head. I loved him. Don't you understand that? I loved him, so I lashed out at him. I knew exactly how to hurt him. And I did. God help me, I did. And all I managed to do was push him even further away."
Not-real-Boyd offers quietly, "Perhaps if you'd tried harder to make him stay…"
"You can't hold onto the wind," Grace says desolately. "No-one can. The harder you try, the more futile the attempt becomes."
"Maybe he just didn't believe he was worth loving."
She laughs. Bitterly. "Damned man could keep an entire clinic of psychologists in work for the better part of a decade."
The dark voice asks gently, "Do you love him?"
That makes her look round sharply at the unwelcome doppelgänger sitting by her bed. "He doesn't love me."
"You think that, do you?"
"I know that. First chance he got, he went off with someone else."
"He was hurt," not-real-Boyd says. "He needed to prove to himself that what you said to him wasn't true. He needed to be loved. By someone. Anyone."
"I loved him," Grace says stubbornly.
"And how was he supposed to know that, Grace?"
"Oh, go away," she says sulkily. "I'm tired and you're getting on my nerves."
"I have that effect on people," he says, his tone mild.
The first hot tear escapes and rolls away, cooling as it goes. She's scared, she's confused and she's lonely. Isolated and unloved, she thinks. Alone in the middle of the night in this big, private room with just the spectral manifestation of her own sense of guilt and loss to keep her company. Tragic. She's too old to be crying so piteously for herself. Angrily, Grace tries to swipe the tears away, but that just makes the cannula in her hand hurt even more and for a moment she thinks she's about to be completely swamped by fear and regret. The mattress dips as he settles onto the edge of it, and she's not sure who puts more effort into firmly but carefully manoeuvring her up against his chest, him or her. The warmth she can feel through the thin shirt is as startling and just as familiar as the comforting scent of him.
"Why are you here?" Grace demands, slightly modifying her earlier question.
"Because I'm too stubborn and too stupid to let go," he says simply. "Don't you know that by now?"
Accusingly, she says, "You're real, aren't you?"
Boyd laughs softly and tightens his grip on her a tiny fraction. "I'm afraid so. I did try to point that out to you, but you weren't having any of it."
Grace keeps her head firmly against his chest. Anything to avoid eye-contact. "I think I liked you better when I thought you were a hallucination."
Again, the deep chuckle. "Thanks, Grace."
"Tomorrow I'm going to blame it all on the morphine," she decides. "And the anaesthetic. Clearly, I really don't know what I'm saying."
His reply is nonchalant. "Okay."
The heat of his body is very comforting in a soporific sort of way. Then, it always was, she remembers with a flicker of regret. It was a wonderful, guilty pleasure to curl against him in preparation for sleep. Always so warm, and always so uncharacteristically gentle and patient in the quiet dark hours. She misses it. Misses him. This, she suddenly comprehends, may be the best chance she ever has to put right some of the things that are still so very wrong between them, despite the slow thaw in relations that were conspicuously glacial for a long time. She's still not prepared to look at him. Grace says, "I meant it. I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Yes you did," Boyd says simply. "But I probably deserved it."
"Things were just so bad between us… It was so impossibly hard… Going into work day after day and trying to pretend there was nothing wrong when just one misplaced word could lead to all sorts of… unpleasantness."
"It's over," Boyd tells her gruffly. "Over and done. A long time ago. No point in going over it all again now."
She wants to tell him it's what she needs, but she's still so tired and disorientated. Thinking clearly is a real struggle. Quite abruptly, Grace yields. There's one thing she can ask, one thing she thinks he'll accede to, just for the sake of their shared past if nothing else. Into his shirt, she mumbles, "Don't let go, Peter."
"Not intending to let go," Boyd tells her.
And as far as she knows, as she slips in and out of sleep, he doesn't. Not once, not until the sun is well above the horizon and the nurses start to arrive to perform their appointed morning tasks. When he leaves, his farewell is quiet and typically laconic, and Grace starts to wonder how many of the things she remembers from the long night hours she can rely on. Donkeys and beaches, parks and phantoms.
There's one thing, though. One, tiny, insignificant thing. If she concentrates hard, really hard, Grace can just about smell a lingering trace of him on her skin. Familiar. Unique.
She still loves him. The certain knowledge comes wrapped in ribbons of joy and thorns of pain.
"Ah, Doctor Foley," her consultant's voice says, cutting through her reverie. "How are you feeling today…?"
He talks and Grace listens. But nothing she hears seems to encourage the future to form a clear shape in her mind. Her life seems to be in a state of flux. In every possible way.
- the end -