WATCHING OVER YOU
Tommy is watching over Barbara. It's all he can do for her now. Watching and wait and hope.
A first time story.
Written: October 2014. Word count: 3,485.
Tommy slipped inside the room and closed the door quietly. He shrugged off his overcoat and dropped it onto one of the two chairs as his eyes automatically went to the machines standing by the bed. He read them, nodded and moved to the bottom of the bed where the chart was; he picked it up and glanced at it. He had become skilled at reading hospital charts and machines during the last six weeks.
The chart showed there hadn't been any change since he was last in the room. Whilst that wasn't good, it wasn't as bad as the previous week when there had been a change - a change for the worse. It had been one of the most terrible weeks of Tommy's life as he had worried and paced and tried to conquer the nearly overwhelming fear he had felt. Yet no one would have known; no one would have seen any difference in his behaviour (he only paced when he was alone) or in his demeanour. All the nurses and doctors he encountered during that week would have seen the same Thomas Lynley they had seen before.
It was what the British did; it was what the Lynleys did: maintain a stiff upper lip at all time. No one would have known he was crying inside; that part of him was dying inside; that part of him, the best part of him would die, if she died. No one would have known. No one. Even at the Met he had behaved just as he had behaved since she had taken the bullet meant for him and had been hospitalised, more dead than alive, with only a thirty percent chance of recovering.
For six weeks he had gone to work and done his job before grabbing a quick supper and then going to the hospital where he stayed until the night nurse apologetically told him he really did have to go home. For six weeks he had shown little, if any emotion, certainly none more than that of a colleague and friend and then not even a particularly close one. If anyone wondered quite why he visited her every evening and every weekend, no one asked questions; no one gave any indication that they might wonder if maybe it was more than friendship. Well they wouldn't, would they?
No one would know quite how much she meant to him and what his true feelings for her were (she didn't even know that). No would have know how hard it was for him to go to work every day, to do his job, to solve crimes, to do paperwork, to function as he always had. No one would know how difficult it was for him to get out of bed every day and go to work, rather than spend all his time sitting by her bed. No one would know the deep, insidious, crawling guilt he felt every time he saw her, be it in the hospital or in his dreams. No one would not how much he hated himself, blamed himself, that it was she lying there and not he.
No one would know what it had cost him to remain calm and professional, so very, very professional, detached even (well as detached as any copper when arresting someone who had hurt a fellow copper could be) when he had arrested and put the cuffs on the man who had shot her. Maybe he did pull the cuffs a little tighter than he might have done with anyone else; maybe he did drag the man along, barely allowing him to maintain his balance; maybe he did throw him into the chair and merely shrug when he fell onto the floor before dragging him back up. Maybe he had done all of those things - but they were nothing more than he would have done for any other colleague; cops looked out for their own.
No would know how deeply he had envied Brian Carter, the young DS who had been flirting with Barbara for months now. The young DS who fancied himself in love with her, who openly shed tears at the news and railed about how unfair it was and what he would do the bastard who had shot her if he could get his hands on him - and he very nearly did. No one would know how hard it had been for Tommy to grab Carter and pull him off the man, throwing him out of the interrogation room and telling him to go and get a cup of tea and calm down - he never did report the incident.
Tommy, however, could do none of those things, no matter how deeply, how desperately he wanted to. No, that wasn't who he was; that wasn't what he was; he had to maintain standards at all costs - even if that cost were the people with whom he worked thinking he didn't care about his partner.
He had a new partner now; well he had someone he worked with. Bartholomew Barrington couldn't have been more different from Barbara if he tried. An upper class, public school educated boy (the same school as Tommy himself) who had got a first from Cambridge, who wore bespoke suits, was almost as tall as Tommy, never had a hair out of place and certainly wouldn't push his underwear into a kitchen drawer. In fact he probably didn't even do his own laundry. He was well read, well spoken, well educated, well dressed, liked fine food and wine; he was everything Tommy was and Tommy despised him. To be fair, it wasn't Bartholomew he despised (he couldn't, he was too nice a chap and too good a copper for him to despise him), no it was the very fact of Bartholomew he despised.
Yet if it wasn't for Bartholomew, his work ethic and quite how good he was, Tommy wouldn't be free to visit Barbara every evening, nor to spend every weekend by her bed. 'You get off, sir, I'll wrap things up'. 'It won't take two of us to finish the research, sir', and things like that was what he said to Tommy at least three times a week. Tommy knew he shouldn't leave things to Bartholomew as often as he did. However, he was damned good and didn't need Tommy breathing down his neck.
It was only when Tommy was leaving that day, when both of them were leaving, having completed all the outstanding paperwork on the Dexter case, that Bartholomew had, for the first time ever, said something even remotely personal.
As Tommy sat down in the chair next to Barbara's bed and took a sip of the coffee he had brought with him, he recalled the words and the look on Bartholomew's face.
"I hope Sergeant Havers is doing better, sir." Eight words, said in the tone he pretty much said everything else, delivered with just the right emphasis as one colleague might speak about another, even one he hadn't known. And yet as he had met and held Tommy's gaze, Tommy knew in one instant: Bartholomew Barrington had seen through his stiff upper lip; he had seen the truth. He had seen how much Tommy was hurting, how deeply he cared; he had seen that the woman Tommy was going to visit wasn't just his partner and colleague. He had seen; he knew, and he would say nothing. The old school tie - it did still exist.
"He knows, Barbara," he said, taking and holding her hand for a second or two and brushing her fringe from her forehead. He allowed himself to touch her twice during his evening visits: once upon arriving and once just before he left. No more; just twice - three times at weekends. He didn't hold her hand for more than a fleeting moment - he wanted to, but he didn't. He didn't stroke her forehead or kiss her cheek. Other than the allocated two touches, he kept his distance; he sat in the chair by her bed. Maybe he pulled it just a little closer to the bed than a friend and colleague might do. But that was okay because he was reading to her, and he didn't want to speak too loudly.
It had been one of the doctors who had suggested he try reading to her, suggesting something she knew and liked. The doctor had said it might reach her, it might penetrate her brain and give her something onto which she could hold. They still knew far, far too little about the brain and comas, but they were fairly certain hearing was the last sense to leave. Plus, there had been some positive results of people talking to, reading to, singing to even, those who were in comas - so why didn't Tommy try.
Tommy was more than happy to try; except he had no idea of the kind of books Barbara liked, or indeed there were any she loved, if she had a favourite, what books she knew. He knew she knew the police manual, but he suspected that wasn't the kind of thing the doctor had in mind. He didn't see her as a romance reader nor a lover of detective or mystery stories (what copper was?) nor as someone who enjoyed science fiction or fantasy or autobiographies - so what did she like? What could he read to her? Surely she read.
He tried to cast his mind back to the few times he had been in her flat and attempted to remember if he had seen any books or even magazines. He tried to remember if on the times they had been away on a case overnight, if he had seen a dog-eared paperback pushed into her bag. But he couldn't. He had a vague memory of something book-sized, something that could have been a book either on her kitchen counter or in her bag. But was he deluding himself? Did she read? Surely she must - mustn't she?
He mentioned to one of the nurses, one he saw most days, that he didn't know Barbara's reading tastes. She had said what he read didn't really matter; it was just the sound of a voice that helped. She went on to say that they suggested reading to the patient as it was, in many ways, easier than just talking to the person. One-sided conversations were hard, as Tommy knew only too well.
In the end he had gone back to his childhood and books he had grown up loving, books that had taken him into different worlds and touched him. For three weeks now he had been reading Arthur Ransom to her. It hadn't seemed to make a difference; she hadn't improved; she was still in a coma. However, as it hadn't seemed to have a negative effect, he had continued to read to her, taking her into worlds he had known and loved and was enjoying rediscovering.
A FORTNIGHT LATER
Tommy slipped inside the room and closed the door quietly. He shrugged off his overcoat and dropped it onto one of the two chairs as his eyes automatically went to the machines standing by the bed. He read them, nodded and moved to the bottom of the bed where the chart was; he picked it up and glanced at it. He was prepared for the usual 'no change' and so was surprised to see a note to the effect that 'Miss Havers seemed a little more responsive'.
He abandoned his usual coffee and the book, pulled the chair nearer to the bed than he normally sat and took her hand. "Barbara?" he said, holding her hand between both of his for a moment before slowly moving one hand to her forehead and brushing her fringe back as he stared intently down at her.
Just for a moment, a moment so fleeting he didn't actually believe it, he thought he felt the smallest hints of movement as her hand rested in his. He tore his gaze away from her far too pale face and looked down at their joined hands. But no, her hand lay limp, still, unmoving in his as it always did. He had simply imagined it; the words on the chart had given him hope; hope which had allowed his mind to imagine something that hadn't happened.
For the moment he felt angry with the nurse who had written on the chart; how dare she (or he) write something like that? How dare they give him hope? He felt the anger rise up him, anger he knew wasn't really directed at the poor nurse, but was still directed at the man who had put Barbara into this bed; and the anger at himself for being the perfect copper and not giving the bastard anything to complain about. Anger for not being able to show his feelings; anger for not being able to cry, or shout or rave or even talk about her with affection. Anger towards his dead father and his living mother who had brought him up not to show emotion. Anger towards his boarding schools which had instilled the stiff upper lip in him he had never really lost. Anger for not even being able to go on holding her hand beyond his self-permitted time.
He sighed and carefully replaced her hand on the bed and there it was; there, just the smallest of hints of movement. This time he had seen it. As he had put her hand down, as he had moved his away, her hand had twitched, just a little, but it had moved. Of course it was still now and no matter how hard he stared at it and willed it to move again, it remained still. For a moment he considered pressing the call button and summoning the nurse; but what could he tell her?
So instead he settled back into the chair, reached for his coffee and the book he had dropped onto the chair, took a sip of the former and opened the latter and prepared to read to her. Except, he realised when he had dropped the book, the bookmark had come out and he couldn't quite remember to where he had got.
He sighed again, drank some more coffee, found the chapter he thought he had got to and began to flick through it in an attempt to remember where he had stopped. That was the problem with visiting hours, even in the private wing they were pretty much set in stone. And although the regular night nurse, whom he had also got to knew quite well, was pretty accommodating and did allow him to remain longer than he should, when she told him sister was on her way, he knew he had to leave. Thus, on more than one occasion he had had to abandon the story mid-chapter - and he did remember he'd had to do that the night before. Oh, well, what would it matter? It wasn't as if she could hear him, was it? It wasn't as if his voice reading Ransom's words penetrated her brain, was it? It wasn't as if she would remember, was it?
He drained the coffee, looked at the chapter again, thought he knew where he had got to and began to read.
A few seconds later he was on his feet, his finger pressed on the call button staring down at her as she blinked up at him quite calmly and said, her voice strained, slightly strange, unused for weeks, "You read me that bit last night, sir."
AN HOUR LATER
As he paced up and down the small corridor outside her room and watched nurses and doctors go in, for a moment, he wished he hadn't pressed the damn call button, that he had waited and - And what? Confessed his undying love for her? Told her how day by day seeing her like that, still, pale, cold had almost killed him? Told her about the rage inside him, a rage he didn't know how to let go of? Told her she was his life, his sun, his moon, his world, that only she could balance him and make him whole? Told her she was going to marry him or -
"You can go back in now, Inspector Lynley." The day nurse he knew well smiled at him. It was a completely different smile from the professional one she had given him every day, and suddenly he knew. As he looked at her he knew: Bartholomew Barrington wasn't the only person to have guessed the truth; so had the young nurse staring at him now. Somehow, like Bartholomew, she had seen past his defences, past his British stiff upper lip; she had seen that Barbara wasn't just a friend and colleague but was in fact someone who mattered and mattered deeply to him.
For a moment he hesitated, suddenly uncertain about going back into her room. Then he told himself not to be so foolish, planted a smile on his face and went back in. She was now partly sitting up in her bed, her hair had been tidied, her face was no longer dreadfully pale and she had fewer tubes coming out of her arms.
As he opened the door she turned her head and smiled at him. "Hello, sir," she said, her voice still somewhat different from her usual one; no doubt just the result of being unused for so long.
"Hello, Barbara," he said, pushing his hands into his pockets and crossing over to the bed. He stared down at her. "How are you?"
She glanced up and he saw her wince slightly, swiftly he sat down on the chair and was rewarded with a grateful smile. "Tired," she said. "Which I know is daft as I've been unconscious for two months, but I am."
"Eight weeks, four days and six hours," he said, without meaning to. She widened her eyes and looked at him. "I'm a detective," he said quickly. "I notice things." And suddenly he couldn't help it; he had to touch her, had to reassure himself she was actually real, actually alive, actually breathing. He took her hand and held it between both of his; it was warm, so unlike the hand he had touched over the last eight weeks. "I'm so sorry, Barbara," he said, trying hard to ignore how badly his voice was shaking.
"For what?" She hesitated for a moment and then said softly, "What are you sorry for, Tommy?"
Whether it was the use of his given name or just the sheer relief of her being alive, of being conscious or the realisation of quite how much the last eight weeks had taken out of him or the fact that he had been maintaining a fašade at work, here at the hospital and even at home all the time she had been close to death, or more likely a combination of all of them, but he felt tears well up in his eyes.
He gripped her hand even tighter and said softly, "I love you, Barbara."
To his surprise her cheeks flushed a little, she blinked several times before giving him the sweetest smile he had ever seen on her lips. "I know you do, Tommy," she said. Then added, "Don't forget I'm also a detective. I notice things."
He swallowed hard and wiped the back of his hand over his eyes. "And you?"
She glanced away from him for a moment and he felt a pain shoot through him. He should have known; she would never, she could never, love him. She might like him, respect him, enjoy working with him; they were friends, working partners, but that's all they could ever be. A girl like her would never love a toff like him.
"Well," she said. "Apparently they won't let me go home unless there's going to be someone there to make sure I don't overdo it." She paused and moistened her lips before saying, "One of the nurses asked me if my boyfriend would look after me."
Tommy prided himself on being a good detective and of being able to read women and read them very well. However, as he stared at Barbara and she looked back at him, he simply couldn't read her; he didn't know what she was thinking. "And what did you say?" he finally asked.
She turned her hand inside his and slipped her fingers between his. "I said I'd ask him," she said softly.
For a moment he stayed where he was, stunned by her words. Then he moved from the chair and sat on the bed, put his arms carefully around her, gently pulled her towards him and kissed her. A second after his lips met hers, she began to kiss him back.
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