Pairing: Alan Rickman/Liam Neeson
Disclaimers: Dear gods, I know I'm evil. Please don't kill me for this. Don't know 'em, making no profit. And I hope none of this is ever true.
I have loved him for so long that I no longer remember what it was like not to love him. In sleep, relaxed as he is now, he looks far younger than his years. I’ve loved watching him sleep all these years we’ve been together. He still doesn’t know that I do it, but I’m sure he suspects. He does, after all, tease me about sitting awake until all hours writing in my journal.
I should sleep. We are, after all, picking out a Christmas tree in the morning. We treasure times like that… times when we’re out of the public eye doing things that are so completely normal that for a while we forget who we are.
It is difficult for me to look away from him. He’s beautiful. He is also the kindest, most gentle man I know. I love him more than I ever thought was possible. The fact that I have to crush him breaks my heart.
His lips curve into a slight smile as I put out the lamp and curl up against him, sliding my arms around him and pressing against him for warmth. I’ve had twenty-five years of this, and it never gets old. I’ll figure out how to tell him later. Right now, I just want to enjoy being here with him.
The one rule that we’ve always had is that the tree has to be taller than Liam. I don’t know how that particular rule came about, really. It just sort of happened. He also insists that the tree come from a Christmas tree farm because he refuses to cut something that’s been growing in the woods for god knows how many years. He says it’s inhumane. I love the crazy bugger to distraction, so I go along with whatever he wants.
I try not to appear too distracted as he darts around like a little boy, looking for the perfect tree. It appears he’s found one, finally. It’s a couple heads taller that he is, and it’s as wide as both of us put together. He’s smitten. I should probably be jealous. I’m too bloody tired for anything but relief, though, as we pay the man and load up the tree.
Liam puts in a Christmas CD when we’re settled in the car. I don’t know whose idea it was to put Joni Mitchell on a Christmas compilation, because she’s depressing as hell, but I find myself agreeing with her this time. I wish I had a river I could skate away on, too. I don’t want to face all this again.
“You’re not allowed to brood at Christmastime,” Liam tells me, leaning in to steal a kiss.
Apparently I’ve been staring out the window longer than I thought. It’s started to snow, and watching the fat flakes float down relaxes me.
“Want to talk about it?” he asks.
“No,” I answer. I’m not ready yet. I’ll never be ready, but I’m going to have to do it sometime. “I love you,” I whisper, and lean over to rest my head on his shoulder. If I think about it, I’ll cry.
“Love you,” he says, sliding his free arm around me. “Finished shopping yet?” he asks, sensing that I need something to distract me.
“Almost. I still have to get you something wonderful.”
“I already have something wonderful.” He leans a little closer and his arm tightens around me a little more. “Anything I can do to make whatever’s bothering you better?”
“Don’t ever let go,” I whisper. I’m not sure if he hears me.
“Hadn’t planned on it,” he says, his voice equally soft.
We manage to get our monstrous tree into the living room and into the stand, and promptly decide that decorating it can wait until we’ve had dinner. When I ask if Liam wants me to help him in the kitchen, he tells me that I look tired, and that I ought to rest while he cooks. He’s too good to me, really.
I’m curled up on the sofa by the fireplace. My eyes are closed, and I’m trying to figure out exactly how to go about this. If Liam didn’t have such a wonderful voice, I’d throw something at him to put an end to the steady stream of Christmas carols drifting in from the kitchen, sung with that gorgeous Irish accent. I’m pretty sure I can feel my heart breaking.
I have been living with this knowledge since Monday. It’s Friday now, and I’m not sure I can bear it alone much longer. I received a phone call last Friday morning while Liam was out. I promptly removed the number from the caller I.D.
Monday afternoon had been deceptively sunny. It was so cold outside that my hands ached. I had told Liam that I was going Christmas shopping and wasn’t sure when I’d be back. I hated lying to him, but it was for his own good, really.
I always complained about crowds, but in truth, I would rather have been out in the merry chaos than sitting in my doctor’s office – the one with the soft leather chairs and his desk, not the exam room – staring out the window at a drab little brown bird sitting on a bare tree branch. It may have been a plain, commonplace creature, but its song was heartbreakingly beautiful. It did little to ease my mind. Being called to this particular office was bad news. So far, neither side was winning the internal argument as to whether I really should have brought Liam with me. I will not deny that I would have felt better with him by my side. I didn’t want to worry him.
“I’m sorry I kept you waiting,” Will Martin, my doctor, told me. “Claire got sick at school and I had to call Anne to go get her.”
“That’s all right, Will,” I told him. It seemed as if my voice was coming from somewhere else. Will actually being there made it all a hell of a lot more real. My right hand went automatically toward the ring on my left ring finger – a gold claddagh band pointed toward my heart. It has been there all these years, and Liam wears an identical one. The metal was skin-warm, and its touch comforted me. I think some part of me knew what Will was going to tell me before he actually said it.
“I got your test results back on Friday evening.”
He sad down across from me then, setting the folder he carried on the desk. I had to force myself to look at him.
“I hate that you had to wait all weekend,” he continued, “but I didn’t think it was a good idea to discuss it over the phone.”
Will is not just my doctor. He’s been a friend for many years. I didn’t like the look in his eyes. I’d seen that look before.
“The cancer is back, Alan,” he said softly. “I’m so sorry.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. That was a stupid question. Will had never been the sort who would give me that sort of news if he wasn’t sure. Still, I wasn’t sure what was worse – not knowing and living in fear, or having that fear confirmed. I felt numb. Hell, I still feel numb when I think about it too long.
“I’m sure,” he replied in that same soft, sad voice. “I wish I was wrong.”
I took a deep breath, then let it out in a sigh, trying to get my bearings after just having had the world yanked out from under me again. I made a conscious effort to make my voice come from my body this time instead of wherever it was coming from before.
“So…you’re telling me my number’s up, then?”
“What I’m telling you is that based on your test results, the cancer is back. We caught it early, Alan. If we start treatment right away, there’s no reason why we can’t get rid of it."
“Are you just saying that to take away the sting? How many people beat cancer twice, Will?”
“When you’re a cancer survivor, you tend to have a fear that any symptom could be a sign that it’s back. That’s how when it does come back, you catch it early while it’s still treatable. The odds are good that you’re going to be fine.”
“Sixty-five percent, Alan. In this sort of situation, that’s very good odds.”
I was quiet for what seemed like an eternity. So was Will. The only noise was the melancholy song of that little brown bird still perched outside the window. When the tears came, Will sat beside me and hugged me. I’m not sure how long we sat there.
I finally pulled myself together. I dried my eyes with a tissue from Will’s desk, and I took a deep, steadying breath.
“How am I going to tell Liam?”
“You didn’t tell him you were concerned?”
“No… I… you didn’t see him last time. He broke, Will.” I sighed and closed my eyes. That particular memory was still fresh in my mind, even after five years. “I don’t want to break him again.”
“You’re both stronger for having been through this before. You know what to expect. You know how to fight.”
“I don’t feel strong,” I whispered. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to fight it…it was just that I was so bloody tired all the time. That’s what prompted me to come see Will in the first place. I remembered how it all started last time, and when I started feeling the same way, I got scared. Some part of me, I think, has always been scared that it would come back.
“We need to start treatment soon,” Will told me, dragging me out of the chaos that was taking place in my mind.
I shook my head to clear it a bit. “I don’t want to be sick at Christmas,” I said quietly, and was torn between disgust at myself for the pleading tone in my voice and absolute dread. The treatment is almost as bad as the illness.
“We can start right after,” Will nodded, sympathy in his eyes. “But only just,” he went on. “I’d like to start chemo on the twenty-seventh.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I just want to enjoy this Christmas with Liam.” It might be the last one we have went unsaid, but it hung in the air like a dark cloud. I stood up then, needing to get out of the confines of the office that was growing smaller every minute. “I need to go.”
“I’ll walk you out,” Will offered. “We’ll make an appointment.” He gave me another brief hug. “Bring Liam with you. It’ll make you feel better.”
I nodded and told him I would, but I kept wondering how I was going to bring him with me if I couldn’t even bring myself to tell him. I knew that telling him was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done.
Liam calls me to dinner, dragging me out of my thoughts. I feel a little better, having rested, but there’s still a huge weight on my shoulders. I don’t want to believe that it’s happened again.
After dinner, we get out the decorations and start to work on the tree. All the regular ornaments go up first – colored balls of glass, fairy lights, bead garlands, the usual Christmas stuff. Then we get to the special ones. Most of them are things we’ve picked up over the years. There’s a twenty-five year old “our first Christmas” one that we both refuse to part with. We have a pair of ceramic turtle doves that always go on the tree. There are other trinkets that have been given to us by family and friends over the years, but the one that has always meant the most to me is toward the bottom of the box, safely wrapped up.
That small ornament, when I unwrap it, is what breaks down the solid wall of control I’ve managed to maintain all week. I can’t stop the tears, and the feel of Liam’s arms around me as I sob into his shoulder doesn’t really make me feel better.
He made the ornament that I clutch in my hand. It’s a small silver box suspended by a ribbon. Inside, it holds the papers that proclaimed me cancer-free last time.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” Liam pleads. “And don’t tell me it’s nothing, Alan. I know you too well.”
He looks at me then, and I find that the power of speech has abandoned me. All I can do is cling to him, as if he is my lifeline.
“It’s back, isn’t it?” He asks, his voice shaking as if it doesn’t want to touch those horrible words.
I nod, pressing my face into his chest. “Will told me on Monday. I…I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell you…”
“Alan…love…you should have told me at the beginning. The thought of you going through it alone…”
His tears mix with mine, and we move to the sofa. I don’t know if I could get that far on my own, given the state I’m in at the moment, but his quiet strength keeps me going.
“We’re going to get through this,” he murmurs softly against my chest as we cling to each other. “When do you start treatment?” He asks after a moment.
“Two days after Christmas.”
“I’m coming with you.”
I nod at that. “I knew you would.”
“I love you,” he says simply.
“I love you, too,” I whisper. I promise myself that I will tell him I love him every single day for as long as we both live.
Liam takes my hand – the one with the ring, the one holding the box – and I feel the warm metal of his ring against my skin.
“We’re going to be all right, you and I,” he says softly, and somehow he manages a smile through his tears.
“We’ll be fine,” I agree, melting into his arms. For a while, I let myself enjoy the present and not worry about the all too near future. I know that as long as Liam is with me, lending me his strength, I’m telling the truth when I say we’ll be fine.