Title: Homeward Bound
Fandom: Cabin Pressure
Characters: Arthur Shappey, Carolyn Knapp-Shappey, Gordon Shappey
Relationships: Arthur & Carolyn
Genre: Angst, Happy ending
Wordcount: 2700 words
Summary: The temporary death and return of Arthur Shappey.
Notes: The character death is, as noted, temporary.
** Important ** This is a section of a larger work that's incomplete. The work-in-progress combines In The Flesh with Cabin Pressure and goes into life for the crew of MJN in the wake of the Rising and the integration of PDS sufferers into normal life. If this story seems abrupt, it is because of this - it's part of a much larger arc. I tried my best (15,000 words worth at the time of this post) to finish the whole story for the Spook Me ficathon, but my schedule didn't allow it. I apologise. In the meantime, there's this part, which does stand alone fairly well and is more angsty than spooky.
Gordon looked at the doctor with barely-concealed loathing. Not this again, the damned vulture.
“No. Carolyn already said she didn’t want this. Are you an actual moron? His records show he was on a list to receive a liver, not give his away!”
“Mr Shappey, having hepatitis C doesn’t preclude donating to others who have the same virus,” the doctor said. "There are other organs -"
“I said no.” His voice was overloud in the quiet corridor. A passing orderly gave him a wary glance and Gordon lowered his voice. “You’re not getting my consent, verbal or otherwise. And don’t bother Carolyn with this again. Try anything underhanded afterwards, you’ll have my lawyers on your hospital in a flash. You won’t like them, Doctor. Some of them are actual flesh-eaters. My boy will leave the hospital with everything - everything he came in with.”
Everything except the most important thing, he thought. Gordon thrust away the stab of pain at the reminder and growled, “Now that’s sorted, let’s get on with this.” He ignored the thickening in his throat and opened the door.
The steady beep of the heart monitor stitched into the silence and warm lighting of the room. Carolyn didn’t spare him a glance, eyes trained on the still figure in the bed. Arthur’s lax fingers lay in hers.
“What now?” she asked.
“Nothing important. Doctor Fielding was only asking about organ donation.” His glare at the doctor warned him not to open his mouth.
“He can’t donate anyway. Not since the chimpanzee.”
Gordon emitted the ghost of chuckle. “Right. Bad luck there.”
The fond words were belied by a bleak tone. Lucky wasn’t how Gordon would describe Arthur’s life. As frustrating as Gordon had found Arthur’s cheery lack of mental acuity, he’d always had a spot in his heart that was only Arthur’s. His first boy. Though Gordon didn’t regret divorcing Carolyn, as acrimonious as their marriage had become, he was sorry for the damage done to Arthur. Gordon had gone on to a fresh marriage, and the guilt and relief of leaving of leaving his slow-witted son with Carolyn had made him even more impatient with the boy. The wariness in Arthur’s eyes when they crossed paths had never left, even though he was now twenty nine years old. Old enough not to need his old dad, one would think. The memory of how Gordon had rolled his eyes at Arthur’s gift of holiday-themed Toblerone the last time they met had shame curling in his chest.
Arthur never stopped trying to make people happy. Gordon knew he didn’t deserve Arthur’s attempts to please his dad. He'd left Arthur behind in the divorce, comforting himself with the thought that at least Arthur had his mother. Now neither he nor Carolyn would have Arthur. Gordon still had his other family. He tried to smother the flicker of relief at the thought.
“Budge up, Caro, there’s a girl,” he said, pulling over a chair. She shifted, not relinquishing her grip on Arthur's hand. He put a hand on Arthur’s thigh, feeling the warmth of it through the blanket. Poor Arthur. Broken bones and surgery and ICU for the coma and more surgery, then - more bad luck - an embolism during the last bout under the knife. Undetected, leading to a major stroke. Brain death. And that... was it. The cheerful presence that was Arthur Shappey no longer existed.
The hospital was still getting a lawsuit, like it or not, Gordon decided. He patted his son’s leg uselessly. It was thinner - almost two months not moving would do that to a body. The scars from the auto accident had healed to red lines. He didn’t look too bad, really, Gordon thought. Arthur could’ve still pulled those ridiculous Pony Club girls he was so susceptible to. They would’ve thought he looked dashing or something ridiculous. He shouldn’t be here in this damned bed, more quiet and still than Gordon had ever seen him in his life.
All the would haves and could haves. It was such a damned waste.
Gordon cleared his throat. “Carolyn.”
“I’m not ready,” was her immediate response.
Neither am I, he thought. "I know. But... it’s time. You’ve been hanging on for a miracle for a month now. You’ll end up in hospital yourself at this rate. He… He’s not here any more.”
“I keep telling myself that,” Carolyn said. Her gaze never left her son's pale profile. “But I look at him and he looks alive. He’s warm. His heart is beating. So forgive me the reluctance at being told that I - we have to make the choice to make that stop. To let him…”
“To let him go.”
Her hand gripped Arthur’s harder, rubbing it between her fingers as if to reassure herself that he was still with them.
“We have to, love, it’s not right,” Gordon said. “He won’t wake up, he’ll be in hospital forever and one day he’ll catch pneumonia or similar... “
“I don’t know,” she said and Gordon couldn’t stand this, being racked any more over this terrible choice.
“Carolyn, please.” The tone of his voice caught her and she looked at him, the terrible grief in her eyes softening in acknowledgement of his own. “Please. It’s time,” was all he could manage.
She looked away, head dropping in an abbreviated nod, the smallest assent she could make. Gordon nodded to the doctor. Carolyn moved up to the head of the bed and pressed a kiss to Arthur’s pale cheek. “Arthur. You are the best thing that ever came into my life, my brightest joy. I hope you know that. I love you.” She cupped his face, eyes memorising well-loved features, the arcs of dark lashes covering the brown eyes Gordon hadn’t seen in weeks. She smoothed a stray lock of hair back from his face.
Gordon took Arthur’s hand in both of his. “Arthur.” His voice cracked and ground. “Son. Good bye. Your dad will miss you.”
The nurse removed the mask, turned off the ventilator. Arthur’s chest fell as his last breath left him. Carolyn’s fingers never stopped carding through the wavy brown hair over Arthur’s forehead as the heart monitor’s rate slowed, stopped.
Gordon looked to the doctor, who gave a single nod. Gordon placed a hand on Carolyn’s shoulder, feeling the cracked porcelain tension of it ready to shatter. But she didn’t. That was the wonder of Carolyn, that strength. He’d butted up against it often enough in their marriage. Gordon only hoped it was enough to sustain her through the lonely years ahead of her. But for now he only clasped her shoulder as they looked at the still form of their son. Her only child.
“Arthur,” Carolyn breathed.
Gordon squeezed his eyes shut at the world of loss in that name.
Dark. Dark. DARK. He raises hands and feels pressure against his hands, something above, to both sides, he can’t straighten his arms. Hungry. Hungry. He pushes and the surface above groans and cracks. Something falls on his face and he sniffs the heady scent of earth. Dark. Get out. Out. His fingers scrabble, squeeze into the crack and wrench. Splintering sounds, more dirt and it’s a womb, he must get out. Free. Hunger. Tearing, digging, thrusting dull limbs into soft earth, squeezing and kicking, sharp things poking into his hands dragged away as he forces them through a dark passage.
Out. Out. Open air, free at last. Dark. Dark! He fumbles at his eyes, nails catching at the closed lids, peeling them up and away from the things on his eyes. He pulls one plastic cap free, then the other. A bright flash of light, a loud noise and he flinches. Thunder. He drags himself away from the ragged gash in the earth, rain sheeting down, washing clots of dirt from his face, hair into his eyes. Around him others stand swaying in the lash of rain or free themselves from similar holes. He ignores them, lifts his head to wetness and sniffs. His jaw flexes. Something stretches in his mouth, then pops. The lips pull apart and he drags the thread free from his gums. His tongues sweeps over the small wounds, touches his lips. Hungry. The emptiness within forces him to his feet, stumbling away. Hunting.
June, 2012, Norfolk
“...but the first thing I remember clearly is how dark it was that night, and how my favourite shirt was grubby with dirt. My mom buried me in my Muppets shirt, wasn’t that nice? And I was all, I don’t know, hungry, but like not the hungry I had from before, when you really want some fish and chips? Wish I could have fish and chips now. Anyway, I tried to look for something to eat, but I was in this graveyard with a high fence ‘round it. Dad paid for the cemetery, which Mom said after I called her yesterday was too posh and a ‘disgusting display of caring after the fact’ but I guess she’s glad. The fence kept me from getting out and people were keeping an eye on it because of the Rising. Because the next thing I remember was these people throwing a net over me and then putting a leash-thing around me, which, hey, wasn’t very brilliant of them… Was kinda not-brilliant for me too. I mean, I know they had to do it, but ugh! I'm not a dog! But I guess I was kind of rabid? Maybe? So I understand, I guess… And I was loaded into a truck and taken to the Treatment Centre. I hung around for a while with a bunch of you, just groaning and stuff, not doing much at all and it’s a bit boring when I think about it now. But then they came up with the treatment and I, I mean the real me, got to come back!”
Arthur beamed around at the support group. His fellow Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers and the one human therapist stared at him in bemusement.
Liza, an older woman with hair almost as pale as her skin and eyes was smiling at him, but Peter was scowling. Peter was a bit scary, Arthur thought, with the tattoos standing stark against his white skin and the holes where piercings used to be in his lip and brows.
“So, what?” Peter said belligerently. “That was it? You just toddle out of your grave, get picked up, and that’s all?”
“Yup!” Arthur said. “Oh, except maybe I tried to nibble on one guy’s arm once but he gave me a bit of a shock with his stick and I stopped right there.”
“Unbelievable,” Peter muttered. “You ain’t hardly lived, mate. You never even got to eat brai -”
“Peter,” the therapist said.
“Well, none of us are living now, right? So eating doesn’t really come into it,” Arthur reasoned.
Jenny shifted on her plastic seat, uncomfortable. Arthur liked Jenny, even though she never talked. She couldn’t. She had no lungs for breath. Organ donor. Arthur was sad for her and a bit glad he still had lungs. He always told her how brilliant it was that she was learning sign language. He wished he was clever enough to do more than return-sign greetings to her, but he did talk to her loads.
“Oh, come on!” Peter said. “Arthur’s full of shite. Like, Pollyanna here comes back and it’s like some fucked-up fairy tale where he never did nothing bad? Never hurt anyone, never killed? “Cuz that’s messed up, that. That’s not what we are, we’re zom-”
“Peter!” Liza hissed. Peter rolled his eyes.
“'Scuse me, Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers, and I dunno about the rest of you but I know what I done, and that was rip a hole in some bleeder and eat his brains. That’s what we are,” Peter said. “You’re living in the wrong kind of fairy-tale, Arth, if you think anyone out there is gonna treat you like you ain’t a monster.”
“That’s enough, Peter,” the therapist said. “You’re upsetting Jennifer.”
Arthur reached over and took Jenny’s hand. She wouldn’t look up, her free hand plucking and twisting at the hospital scrubs but there was a return pressure on his hand. “Don’t worry, Jenny, I don’t think you’re a monster,” Arthur said. “I’d never.”
“You should just own it,” Peter muttered, but he ducked his head. “S’all I’m saying.” Jenny flashed him a middle finger. Arthur giggled. The therapist cleared her throat.
“Now, Liza and Arthur will be returning to their families tomorrow, so I’m sure the rest of us all wish them well, right?” The group murmured congratulations. Jenny squeezed Arthur’s hand again and she darted a look at him, mouthing, good luck.
You too, he mouthed back and she gave a small smile before ducking her head again.
“Right, then. Affirmations, everyone?” the therapist prompted. Arthur straightened and looked at his friends, his fellow sufferers, all them speaking in a ragged chorus with greater or lesser tones of belief.
“I am a Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferer. And what I did in my untreated state was not my fault.”
The halfway house was plain and undecorated but Arthur thought it was brilliant. He was going to see his mum again! It had been ages, well, years, though he couldn’t quite remember time passing when he'd been buried or not himself. Technically he was still twenty nine because that’s when he died, but what birthday should he celebrate? His thirty-second? His death-day? No, maybe not, Mum had sounded all wobbly when he’d called her to say he could come home. She wouldn’t like to remember he died, even if he couldn’t remember that bit.
Arthur looked at his face in the mirror. Pale skin, bluish veins, the lines of scars from glass from the auto accident. The eyes still surprised him. His old brown eyes had been - well - him for as long as he could remember. But these eyes weren’t so bad, he decided. Like a husky. A creepy husky. But he couldn’t meet Mum like this, the Centre said. Normal people wouldn’t like it. He held his eyelid apart, popped in the contact and giggled at the odd-eye effect of one grey and one brown eye. Brilliant! The other contact went in with the ease of practice. With rising spirits, he uncapped the cream mousse and began to smooth warm flesh tones over his skin. Long, even strokes, just like he'd been taught, and the scars began to disappear.
She was standing with her head up and jaw tight. When Arthur opened the door, her eyes snapped to him and widened. He stepped towards her, stopped, clutching his plastic bag of belongings in his hand, suddenly nervous. Would she think he was a monster, like Peter said? “Mum?” he quavered. “It’s me. Arthur. Um. Hi?”
“Arthur,” she breathed. “Arthur.”
He didn’t remember the final stumbling step forward but his mum was in his arms, squeezing him until he gasped. He hugged her back, swaying with the force of his relief and love. “Mum, Mum, I missed you, missed you so much…”
Her hand brushed through the hair on the back of his head, stilled at the coolness of the flesh beneath her fingers, then continued stroking. She pulled his head down and kissed his cheek without flinching and turned her face back against his shoulder.
“Mum? Can I celebrate three birthdays in one?” Arthur asked without thinking. Carolyn jerked a little in his arms. “Since I missed three,” he finished lamely, berating himself for bringing the topic up. Of course his mum didn’t want to think of missing birthdays, he’d been dead!
To his surprise, she snorted a wet laugh. “That’s my darling boy. You can have all the birthdays you want now. Oh, Arthur.”
Arthur felt the weight of her forehead against his shoulder but was a little sad he couldn’t feel how warm she was. He missed warm hugs. She didn’t seem to want to stop hugging him anyway and Arthur was glad. He had three years of hugs to catch up on. Also, he thought maybe Mum was crying but that was okay. He was so happy he could cry too, if he could only make tears. But he couldn’t cry anymore, so he just squeezed her tight.
It was brilliant to be going home.