A/N: I needed to upload this chapter because otherwise I'll never do it. That's the reason it's really short, but, believe me, you'll be grateful when you see the length of some of the later chapters! This is based in 2012, but is largely composed of flashbacks to 2009 and 2010. I really wanted to explore what Syed is risking by being with Christian. I love the dynamic of their relationship, but I think the thing I love about it the most is how deep Syed's feelings for Christian must run if he's willing to risk losing so much by being with him.
This was started at the beginning of September, when there was limited knowledge available about what's happening now. So, you can safely say the story goes AU from the 21st August onward, because I'm not psychic. Though I'm still writing, so anything that happens on-screen that fits the plot may be incorporated.
All you need to know is that Christian and Syed left Walford in early 2010, and so they've now been together for nearly two years. How that came to be is all explained in future chapters. I really wanted to see them in a comfortable and settled relationship first, before throwing them headlong into all the angst they had to go through to get to that point.
"I know it's hard, but you've got to make a choice eventually."
"I know, it's just too hard."
"Do you want me to choose for you?"
"No! No. I think this is something I need to do for myself," he said. "It's got to be the Coco Pops, though."
He handed him the cereal box with mock solemnity. "I knew you'd make the right choice."
While preparing his breakfast, he considered the advanced culinary skills it required and commented, "As one former caterer and one present caterer, we really ought to cook actual meals."
Christian scoffed. "But that would involve actual effort."
"Yeah, everything's got its downsides," he said, then had a mouthful of the cereal and pulled a face. "These are actually stale. Looks like it was the wrong choice after all."
"Nah, they're both probably a bit stale. We haven't been shopping in ages."
Syed shook his head, pointing an accusatory finger. "You haven't been shopping in ages. Shopping is your job."
"It is not," he said, then started counting off chores on his fingers, "I have hoovering, washing up, paying the bills and putting the washing out. You have food shopping, doing the washing, cleaning the toilet and the cooking. Which is why we never have anything in and we always have takeaways."
"I knew we should've made a chart," he muttered.
"No, because that goes from 'gay' into Queer Eye for the Straight Guy territory and we're just not ready for that yet."
"Stuff would get done a lot more if you didn't just change whatever your jobs are whenever you don't want to do one. And I can't remember what your jobs are, so you get away with it. On the other hand, if we had actual written documentation... you just don't want to be held accountable."
"I can't believe we're having a fight about our chores. How domestic."
Syed looked around himself, confused. "This is a fight?"
"When it doesn't involve screaming and plate-smashing, it's kind of hard to tell."
"When did we get so boring? The days of yore, when we'd accuse each other of ruining the other's life and throw things at each other's heads..." he trailed off, sighing nostalgically. "It was amazing."
"Those days are gone. Now we're stuck having a barely-above-polite-conversation volume discussions about who's to blame for stale cereal," he said.
Syed shook his head, his lips pressed together. "The passion has gone out of our arguments. It's such a sad day."
He put a clenched fist to his chest. "We shall mourn this day."
Syed grinned. "So, seriously. I'll pop in and get some things on the way home, shall I?"
"Nah, I'll do it. I'm actually fairly sure it was my job originally."
"I knew it."
"Anyway, I finish at five and you know how Tesco's meat and things tend to be funny after six," Christian said."Maybe I could get some stuff and actually cook."
"Would this cooking involve things that actually resemble the things they were before they were in the shop?"
He gasped. "Somebody wants sex."
"I do a nice thing and it's all about sex. How selfish do you think I am?"
"When it comes to getting sex? On a scale of one to ten? About an eleven."
"I would argue, but... what's the point?" he said. "It'd been six whole hours since last time and by the time I get home from work it'll have been fourteen! And once all the cooking's done, sixteen! I mean, that's just ridiculous."
"Sixteen hours of celibacy! How will we cope?" Syed gasped.
Christian shook his head disapprovingly. "And the moral of the story is: don't ignore your alarm."
"Moral learned. I still have about ten minutes before I'm beyond-the-point-of-no-return-late..."
"Ten minutes is underestimating me a bit," Christian replied with mock-offence.
The phone started ringing. "Ignore it," Syed murmured.
"Who rings the house phone?" Christian asked glibly. It might be important."
"Or it might be a telemarketer."
He picked it up with a defiant flourish. "Hallo."
"You sound happy," Jane said, her voice low and cracking. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"You, on the other hand, do not," Christian replied, convinced she'd been arguing with Ian or something silly. He didn't really want to think about the fact that Jane wouldn't ring him over something daft.
She laughed mirthlessly. It sounded a lot like she'd been crying, and he tried not to be concerned. "No, I'm not. I'm really not."
"Are you okay? Is it Ian? Are you two splitting up? Is it the kids?"
"No... it's none of those things," she said, quietly. "I don't really want to say it on the phone."
"Jane, you're scaring me," Christian said, and sensed Syed's concerned eyes on him.
"It's just..." Whatever it was, it was on the tip of her tongue, just then, he could tell. "There's nothing... I really want to see you."
"I know it's been a while, babe," Christian said. "I've just been busy."
"No, I understand," she replied. "I'd just really like to see you face-to-face."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Syed's head shoot up at the word.
"Yes. In Walford. I would come up there but..."
He watched Syed trying to hide the fact that the mention of the word Walford had shook him up. "Oh, Jane, I don't know if I can..."
"I will if you tell me what's wrong. And don't you dare say nothing, because I can tell when something's really wrong with you."
Jane struggled to find a breath. "It's just... they've found some abnormal cells..."
On a list of things he had been expecting, that came somewhere near the bottom. He'd been expecting Ian to have been playing away or something, though he'd probably have wondered at Jane not being secretly relieved to have a reason to get rid at long last. "What?"
He could hear her struggling not to cry. "I-I found a lump. It was tiny, minuscule. But I've always been hyper-aware of these things, especially since Ste... well, you know. So, thinking I was being paranoid, I went to Dr. Al and expected him to tell me off for wasting his time or something. But..."
"Like I said. Abnormal cells," she replied, trying to keep her tone diplomatic. "I've got an appointment with the oncologist this afternoon, so it's not been officially-officially confirmed yet, but they think it's... well, they think it's breast cancer."
"Cancer," Christian repeated. The word felt bitter on his tongue, and it felt like it was burning a hole down his throat into his stomach. It was amazing that that single word that could break hearts and destroy lives in a moment.
"But Dr. Al said if it is cancer- which it's not definitely, yet- they've got it really early and chances are I'll be fine..." she said, her tone trying for jovial, but falling several notes short.
"Then why do you sound so scared?" he whispered.
"It's... cancer, Christian," she replied, sounding sick with terror. "What do you expect? I'm petrified."
"I'll call in sick at work, all right?" Christian told her. "Catch the soonest train up I can, all right?"
"You don't have to do that," she insisted. "There's no rush."
He tutted. "Of course there's a rush!"
"I know how much trouble it is for you here..." she said.
He banged his hand against the table, startling Syed. "Fuck the trouble! You're my sister, for Christ's sake. You really think I care about all that when you're... look, I'll be there as soon as I can, okay?"
"Christian, do me a favour. Please, keep calm. There's no point in you getting yourself worked up over this. It won't help anything, will it? Ian's gone into meltdown and I know the kids are just going to be a mess and I really need someone who can keep it together, because God knows I can't.
When she sounded so desperate, it was hard to ignore her request. He shoved down his own feelings of panic, reminding himself if he was feeling this bad, she must be feeling ten times worse. "Right, okay. There, I'm calm as a summer's day," Christian said, his tone smooth. "See you later, okay? Really soon later."
"See you," she somehow managed. He was fairly sure the last syllable was a stifled sob.
Christian dropped the phone to the table with a clatter that echoed through the flat and stared at it for a few moments. Then he felt Syed's hands cover his and looked up into his concerned eyes. "What is it? What's wrong? All I heard was cancer..."
"Well, you don't need to hear much more than that, do you? It's not her star sign," he said. He stood up. "I... need to... do things."
Syed got up and gently pushed him back down into his seat. It didn't take much effort, he felt like he weighed nothing, like his mind was disconnected from his body. "Christian, just take five minutes, okay? You need to get your head sorted before you get anything else sorted."
"Right," he said, flatly.
"Having a panic attack isn't going to help anything, is it? So, breathing."
"It's just... I wasn't expecting that," Christian told him.
"Nobody ever does," Syed replied. "What did she say, exactly?"
"That they're not completely sure whether it's cancer or not but they actually are sure, they just haven't got the sack to say it yet," he said. "If she has, which she does, they've got it early."
"That's good, though?" he asked.
"Yeah," Christian replied, then snorted. "As good as news about cancer gets, I suppose."
"Yeah, see? She's going to be fine."
"You're coming with me, right?" Christian asked.
Syed nodded slowly. It was hard to tell if the slowness was deliberate or an accidental show of reluctance. "And leave you alone in this state? In Walford, of all places?" he asked, incredulously. He said Walford as if it were a particularly nasty expletive. "There's a reason I haven't had a day off in two years, for times like this."
"Nothing to do with a promotion?" he asked wryly.
"Nothing," he said. He put a reassuring hand on Christian's shoulder. "I'll pack the bags. I've done it enough over the years. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think I'm rather good at it."
"Okay," he whispered.
"You just try and calm yourself down, okay? I'll be twenty minutes, tops," Syed said. He stopped before he got to their bedroom door. "How long do you think we're going to be staying for?"
Christian shrugged. He wondered why Syed was asking- to see how much time he needed to book off work or to find out how long the torture was going to last. "A few days, maybe? A week?"
At this response, Syed looked decidedly unenthusiastic. Christian wasn't particularly excited about it, either. They'd had no plans to return to Walford at any point. All the place contained for them was bad memories and some people they'd rather never see again.