Harry is there—Harry is there. He can smell the cheap shaving soap Harry uses and feel his gentle fingers wander across his clothes. He can’t tell why—Harry is there. He passes out again.
It feels different, beyond all the pain that settles like a veil across his senses. It makes it hard to think, to even experience his own body, a harsh pain enveloping him at every attempt he makes at figuring out where his limbs start and end, like someone shoved him into a too small coffin made out of nails. At least he can safely tell he’s not dead—God would never shove outer worldly pain onto the dead, he is sure of that.
Breathe. He has to be breathing, a pulsing pain struggling through his body every few seconds. Yet he can’t set it to manual, he can’t focus on the actual motions, there’s just pain. It becomes worse as he realizes it’s settled only in his chest, that no matter how much he digs he won’t be able to reach the motions beyond the pain.
Someone calls out to him but he can’t understand. Maybe it’s his name, reassuring in the far distance. His head won’t turn, his fingers won’t twitch. I can hear you, forms somewhere in the back of his throat but the way to his tongue is long forgotten.
There is a pressure on the pain, one that makes it worse and makes it better. Someone else screams—he screams. He thinks he screams, his own voice sounds too far away and too guttural. He can’t even decide if he’s screaming in pain. Maybe it’s just for attention. Pull me out. But he can’t decide out of what.
The pressure moves towards his cheek, taking on the form of a hand with gentle fingers. The voice returns still inaudible. He wishes he can see, can talk—can convey all that feels wrong within him.
The noises directed at him become repetitive. His name, it has to be his name. A second hand seems to join the first, just as caring. He wants to reach out, to grab them and reassure that he’s conscious. He needs to reassure them. He needs to lead, but he’s helpless and the frustration builds.
“Graham—” The rest of the sentence goes missing in the void between him and the person speaking. It seems reassuring, a gentle hand tentatively moving several strands back behind his ear as if the person is worried they’re overstepping boundaries. It seems a better painkiller than laudanum, he realizes, as the hand lingers near his neck.
(Harry, he tries to choke out several minutes and more hands on his face later. He can tell they’re trying to get him to swallow laudanum at that point but he can’t separate any of his muscles from the rest of his body.)
“Harry.” His throat feels like someone is running sanding paper over it each time he chokes out a syllable. He can’t recall how much time has passed since the last thing he remembers, all he can tell is that they’re not back, the sun seeping through something covering his eyes. His arms refuse to cooperate as he tries to find out what it is.
“It’s to keep you from accidentally going snow blind,” Harry’s voice comes, Graham clearly having succeeded in partially lifting his arms and turning his head. “We’re nearly back, lieutenant—” Graham disguises a disappointed sound in not hearing his first name as a groan of pain. “—I’m sorry.”
Harry is there. The constant lack of consciousness clouds his ability to think but beyond the pain now settled under some carefully wrapped bandages, he can sense that they’re back on Erebus, a pillow under his head and a blanket covering most of his lower body. And Harry—cheap soap the give away once again.
His eyelids feel heavy, heavier than they felt under the blindfold, but he forces himself to open his eyes, desperate to look at the man who probably saved him. Harry is asleep on the floor, back resting against the side of the cabin. The book he was reading before falling asleep is lying in his lap, covered haphazardly by one of his hands, whilst the other stretches towards Graham’s uncovered arm on the bed. Maybe Harry’s slip-up hadn’t really been a slip-up, he considers.
(“Look there!” Harry exclaims as he spots a few sea animals Graham doesn’t recognise in the distance. He grabs Graham’s hand in excitement, pointing both their hands at the animals and mistaking Graham’s confusion as to what they are for confusion as to where they are.
It takes him several seconds to realize what he’s done, a blush creeping up on his cheeks instantly. He lets go off Graham’s hand with a quick “sorry”. Graham wishes they were alone on deck—that he could reassure Harry it’s all fine. He doesn’t and Harry falls into a pattern of calling him lieutenant.)
His fingers feel stiff and bruised as he stretches them towards Harry’s hand, a mere brush of their fingertips in the hope it wakes Harry up—his throat still feels like sandpaper is being shoved down it.
Harry startles, something that makes Graham realize it’s very painful to laugh. “Lieutenant Gore!” He scrambles upright to get Graham water, something Graham is more than grateful for.
Graham realizes too late that he requires help, Harry’s hand already under his head to help him lift it. The urge to move his head and lean into the hand is almost impossible to resist and he’s infinitely thankful for the cup being brought to his lips. The water is a long-wanted relief for his dry throat.
“How long have you been sitting here?” Graham whispers as Harry leaves his side. He turns his head to look at the heap of curls turned away from him. part of him feels like he’d gladly die to an infection if he could just run his hands through them once. Harry caring for him all the way from what happened at King William Land back to Erebus had done nothing but solidify his feelings. Feelings that he, perhaps too hopefully, assumes are being returned. It can’t be that Harry would just say “lieutenant” over and over again to reassure him of being alive.
“A few days,” Harry admits sheepishly, avoiding eye contact with Graham as he pulls the latter back out of his thoughts. He picks up his book from where he left it on the end of Graham’s bed, coming to stand awkwardly in the middle of cabin. “It didn’t feel proper to keep you in a sickbay hammock with such injuries.”
“Thank you, doctor.” He wishes he could ask Harry, clearly trying to leave, to stay a little longer. To sit with him as he fights against the tiredness as if Harry won’t return to him. There’s so many things he wants to make clear but it’s the wrong time—it’s always the wrong time. But Harry is there and Graham smiles as he gets corrected on his use of the word doctor. Someone who saves my life is clearly a doctor, he tries to say but the pull of darkness is too strong.
Harry comes back every few hours, often to assist with tasks a steward could easily take over, like helping Graham drink or helping him shift into a more comfortable position. A mixture of exhaustion and laudenum makes Graham unable to have a lot of conversation, drifting in and out of consciousness as Harry treats his injuries, occasionally waking up in the middle of a small monologue and wishing he could hide being awake better as Harry stops mid-sentence and apologizes.
“Can I ask something, lieutenant?” Harry asks suddenly. It’s been only a few days since he arrived back on erebus but it feels like weeks with how often the same people walk in and out of his cabin and how little he can judge the passing of time being shut indoors. Graham has recovered from most of his exhaustion, though less of the pain, and it’s the first time he’s actually fully aware of Harry trying to heal him.
“Of course,” he takes a pause before continuing, “wish you’d call me Graham."
“Graham, yes.” Harry starts fiddling with the bandages he’s holding, clearly uncertain of how to phrase it, “When I initially treated you, back on the shore of King William Land—well. You were already wearing bandages, but I could not find any injury on the area they are applied.”
Fuck. Graham feels his heart sink into his stomach. In all the pain, all the exhaustion and automatic bandaging of his entire upper body, he forgot to consider that Harry would’ve seen parts of him that he desperately tries to hide. “Harry—” he whispers but his throat refuses to cooperate. Reality seems to fall apart in front of him, a simple question from an overly curious doctor setting off all his worst nightmares. He can see the court material in his near-future, if they didn’t just execute him on the spot, the loss of everything he has and doesn’t have with Harry—had the man been lying about everything like a cruel joke. He feels sick.
“Lieute—Graham?” Before Harry can even finish his correction, Graham’s stomach gives out over Harry’s shoes, the man barely able to lurch over the side of the bed. The scream of pain that follows mere seconds after, Graham’s stitches heavily protesting against the sudden movement, send a second ripple of sickness through him.
Harry seems unfazed by the vomit on his clothes, his hands painfully gentle to Graham as he helps him back into his bed. The washcloth that Harry runs across his face is a good kind of cold. It’s all a series of touches he feels he doesn’t deserve—ones that Harry is merely executing because he can’t lose another man.
“Have you—told anyone else? The captain, any of the lieutenants?” Graham asks after Harry helps him sip some water. He leaves out James, he knows James doens’t care, but he doesn’t dare to think about Sir John, who’s world view and faith, in both God and him, he would shatter if the man found out. “Harry—”
“No.” There’s a confusion in Harry’s answer that Graham can’t instantly place, one that gives him entirely too much hope that Harry knows but doesn’t care. “It is not my business to tell, sir.”
“But you know—that—that—” He can feel the sickness coming back up his throat. “why did you ask, if you don’t care?”
Harry drops another washcloth in a basin of water. “It looks uncomfortable,” he mutters, “or i could have missed an injury.” The nervous blush from all those months ago returns back to his cheeks and Graham would laugh if laughing didn’t make his injuries worse. He smiles instead, closing a conversation he doesn’t really want to have with silence. Comfortable silence.
“Sir John has passed,” Harry says one day, knowing Graham is confused by the commotion and yelling outside his cabin. They don’t really speak that day, Harry finding new things to do surrounding Graham’s injuries that keep him within the room. Graham is glad for the distraction, even if he doesn’t say it, and when Harry leaves him, the emptiness he leaves behind hurts.
It takes him two weeks before he’s entirely relieved of staying in bed, being allowed by Harry to cross the corridor to the wardroom. He leans his weight on Harry as he tries to ignore the pain still shooting through his chest with each step. The scent of Harry’s soap is now even more familiar and he has to stop himself from leaning in more and running his hands through the soft curls.
The bandages are off entirely, the stitches prodding uncomfortably against his shirt. Harry’s forbidden him to bind, something that makes Graham uncomfortable until Harry points out that the jumper basically does the same job. It’s relieving, to have someone to talk to about it, even if Harry is more curiosity than understanding at times. At least he doesn’t judge, Graham decides in the end, an odd euphoria going through him when Harry doesn’t avoid his chest like he would a woman’s.
Harry’s visits to Graham turn from doctoral to friendly, more than once the things in his hands not bandages or washcloths, but books and drawings of various sea creatures they had fished up earlier in the expedition. All the monologues he had been giving to a largely unconscious Graham now being encouraged by Graham, partially because he was bored out of his mind and partially because he could look at an excited Harry for hours.
“Graham?” Harry interrupts a daydream, lowering the book he’s holding. Graham smiles, despite his initial insistence still not used to the way Harry says his name. “What are you thinking about?”
“You—” It’s out before he can stop himself. Fuck. Again. But Harry doesn’t flinch and merely lowers the book, his eyes wandering towards his hands as he blushes, the redness only amplified by the orange of the lamplight. Graham can’t tell if he should backtrack now he still can. Everything with Harry had gone so smoothly, their transition into friendship and the comfortableness that had grown between them. He doesn’t want to believe that he’s throwing it all away.
“I’m—” Harry frowns and stops, clearly annoyed at his own brain. “No one’s ever said that before,” he whispers, so quiet that Graham almost has to sit up to hear it. He can’t tell if Harry means people stop listening often or if they’ve never blatantly told him they’re in love with him before. Both options hurt Graham to think about—he’d listen to Harry talk for hours.
“Are you joking about this?” His eyes flicker up at Graham, his face almost heartbreakingly open in its emotion, all hopefulness and worry.
Graham reaches out with his hand, running his fingers across Harry’s as best as he can without straining his barely healed injuries. “Is there a reason I would lie to the person that saved my life, doctor?” He puts an emphasis on the title with a smile—teasing, but sincere.
“No,” Harry mutters, “no, of course not.” Graham thinks he can feel his heart trying to escape his chest as he watches Harry look down again, curls falling into face, barely covering the smile on his face.
A carnival—Graham curses the thought as he thinks back on the entire thing, no matter how much he may have approved of it as James first suggested it. He struggles to find Harry in the mass of people watching the entire tent burn down, desperation growing the more people he pushes aside, annoyed at his own silly costume the further onto the ice he wanders.
It’s Harry who finds him as he’s on the verge of crying, all the way at the back of the crowd, staring hopelessly at the backs of people he can barely recognise in the little light. He expected many things to be their first kiss—all the way from something spontaneous one night as they’re discussing something Harry read to his own apartment back in London. The desperate aftermath of a fire related disaster in the middle of the arctic had not been part of any of his expectation and he can barely say it feels right. It tastes of ashes, Graham’s hands rough in Harry’s neck as he desperately confirms they’re both alive.
Harry is there.