As the train grew closer, he grew uneasier. This was a mistake, he kept telling himself. What the fuck was he doing? He was a runaway. He was a nobody. No one would want anything to do with him. He wasn’t smart. He wasn’t clever. He was a loser. He should have never stepped onto that train. But, he did. And when that train had finally arrived in London, he swore he’d never go back.
Now here he was - back on a train. The same feelings he’d had when he left home two years ago - feelings he worked hard to suppress - were rearing their ugly heads, and Cecil wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do about that.
The train wasn’t full, thank God, and he could stretch out his leg, and smell as bad as he wanted and not bother anyone. He leaned his head back against the cold window, sliding his beanie down to cover his eyes.
Cecil had always been a deep sleeper. When he was asleep, there wasn’t anything that could bother him. Worry, hunger, pain, anger - all disappeared when he closed his eyes and let his body drift into unconsciousness. Usually, he could fall asleep quite quickly. Needs must.
However, when he had to cough every five minutes, he was prevented from getting the rest he needed. If he couldn’t get the rest he needed, his brain couldn’t relax. If his brain couldn’t relax, he’d think. If he thought, he’d think about worry, hungry, pain, and anger. Cecil could never sleep on trains, even if he wasn’t coughing. Cecil hated trains.
He did manage to doze off once or twice, but it wasn’t restful. His dreams were strange - bordering on the cusp of logic when he was asleep, and leaping into the land of nonsense as soon as he woke.
His stomach growled, then cramped. It felt like days since that odd detective had fed him, when really it had only been a few hours. Cecil guessed his body needed food more than twice a week. He’d debated nicking something from the passing food cart, but it wouldn’t do to get kicked off the train and stuck in Burton-on-Trent, or some boring shite like that. He had a bit of leftover cash, but he knew he should save it. Train food was always overpriced anyhow.
Even though the train jolted to a stop, the conductor had to wake Cecil when they reached Manchester. Cecil hadn’t even realized he’d been asleep. Grabbing his crutches, he struggled to work his way out of the seat, down the aisle, and onto the platform. His arms felt so heavy, like someone had turned them to lead while he was sleeping. He could barely keep the bottom of his broken leg from scraping against the ground, as he slowly maneuvered his way through the busy train station.
After making three separate attempts to speak with a station employee, an elderly bloke with a thick Yorkshire accent gave him directions to the nearest police station. Cecil thanked him and, as he walked away, hoped he could remember the directions told to him. He’d only been to Manchester once, when he was very young. He couldn’t remember why. To visit his mum’s friend or something.
As he made his way through the maze of streets, every step became harder. Despite the cold, Mancunian air, sweat was dripping down his face. Several times, he had to lean against a building or wall in order to cough or catch his breath. When he finally spotted the large police station, he almost felt relief. Almost, because with his profession, he was trained to feel uncomfortable around coppers.
Very slowly, he heaved his body up the concrete station steps, taking them one at a time. By the time he did reach the main entrance, he was shaking greatly and wheezing heavily. His vision had started to blur, and his thoughts were mired in fog. Somehow, he made it through the door and up to the front desk.
“Can I help you?” asked the officer behind the counter, who was not even looking in Cecil’s direction.
“I...I need to f-find...” he released a deep cough, but couldn’t catch his breath this time. “Find Gene...Gene Hunt,” he managed to force out the words before he collapsed, unconscious, to the floor.
Mum was always harassing him. Always. Always. Always. Cecil, go to school. Cecil, stay out of trouble. Cecil, did you nick money from my purse? Always. Always. Always. Harp. Harp. Harp. Why couldn’t she leave him alone? Why couldn’t she admit he wasn’t going to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a broker? Why could she admit that dad was fucking his secretary, divorce him, and be done with it?
“Fu’ing...bitch...” he mumbled. She grabbed him by the arm. “Geroff...” he hissed, then coughed. He coughed and coughed and coughed, and she was telling him to calm down. But, how could he be calm when he was drowning? Grandma must’ve dunked him in the bathtub again. He could feel the cold chills, feel the water flooding his lungs. He had to cough.
She started tucking the blankets close around him. Now it was too warm. He didn’t want blankets. It was too warm. He thrashed. He fought and thrashed and kicked with all his might which, admittedly, wasn’t a lot at the moment.
“Leave it...” he wheezed. It was hard to breath. Mum must’ve smacked him in the stomach, again. Knocked the wind right out of him. “I’ll hit back...” he warned her.
“Oh you will, will you?” she mocked. “With what? This twiggy, little wrist here?” she grabbed his wrist and wrapped her thumb and forefinger around. It was so thin. He’d never seen his wrist that thin before. He tried to make a fist anyway, but he couldn’t, and settled on yanking his hand away instead.
“Leave m’alone...” he slurred, but she didn’t. She stayed sitting next to him, a hand on his shoulder. Ces tried to pull away. This was how she always was. She’d be nice to him when she wanted something. As soon as he refused to give it, she’d lash out. Yell, cry, hit. Any moment now, she’d smack him a good one. It was just a matter of time. He coughed again, his body curling forward. She held him back.
“Easy. You have to relax,” she told him.
“I-I can’t...can’t, Mum. Drownin’ me...She’s drownin’ me...Gran’ma...” he tried to explain. Why couldn’t she ever understand?
“You’re not drowning, Cecil. You’re sick and you need to rest or you’ll never get better. You want to get well, don’t you?” she asked.
“Why?” he coughed. It was so warm. He was drowning in warm, thick water. Sinking down. “What....what’s so g-great ‘bout...livin’?” he choked out. It was so cold. He was drowning in cold, slimy water. Sinking down.
“You get well, and I’ll show you,” she promised. Mum always broke her promises. Dad never made any. Ces didn’t know what a promise was.
“ ‘S too hard...can’t....can’t fight...anymore,” he cried. He could feel his tears mingling with the film of sweat on his skin.
“You have to try, son. I know it’s rough, but you have to give it a go. It’s when you fight, you know you’re alive,” she encouraged him, stroking his hair. Cecil looked up. He could always tell if Mum was lying or not by the look in her eyes. But, his mum’s eyes weren’t green...
“Oi! Can’t you bastards give ‘im summit? Poor boy’s practically on his death bed over here.”
Cecil woke up to a sponge bath. As far as waking up went, it was the best alarm clock he’d ever had. The nurse was running the cloth slowly up and down his arms, across his chest. As she moved him, he could feel the crisp, fresh sheets underneath his skin. It all felt so good. Mostly. The only uncomfortable part, besides the heavy weight in his chest, was the oxygen mask covering his face. The cool air being forced in his lungs felt wonderful. The constricting rubber band, and his cracked and bleeding lips, did not.
The nurse said nothing to him, only smiled as she adjusted his hospital gown, checked his IV, and pat him on the shoulder. He was exhausted, but for the first time since he could remember, he felt comfortable.
“You’re awake I see.”
Cecil’s attention was torn away from the exiting nurse and onto the entering Man.
“Well, certainly didn’t expect to see you in town,” Gene continued as he sat in a chair, a steaming cup of coffee in hand.
“Surprise,” Cecil mumbled from underneath the plastic mask.
“Thirsty?” Gene asked as he stretched out his legs and made himself comfortable. Cecil wasn’t really sure of an answer. After a few seconds of internal debate, he decided a few drops of bitter on his tongue would taste good. Unfortunately, he’d probably have to settle for water. He nodded his head anyway. Gene set down his coffee and grabbed a styrofoam cup from the small table. He pulled down the oxygen mask and held the straw to Cecil’s chapped lips.
“Easy. Don’t gulp it,” Gene told him. He helped him take a few sips, then drew back the cup and replaced the mask. “Better?” he asked. Cecil nodded. “Good. You’re knackered. Get some kip,” he ordered.
Cecil was never one to obey an order, but he decided he agreed with Gene on the being knackered bit, and fell back asleep.
“Still...here?” Cecil yawned as he cracked open his eyes and noticed Gene.
“Clearly,” Gene responded, reading his newspaper.
“Bored...yet?” he shifted, trying to get comfortable.
“Spent my fair share of time waiting in hospitals,” Gene sighed. “Pneumonia. Case you were wondering,” Gene commented as he continued to flip through his paper. “Were out of it a week, ‘fore you finally came round yesterday.”
“Quite...the story,” he wheezed.
“Care to tell me how it started?” Gene asked. Cecil didn’t answer. “How’d you get to Manchester?”
“Train,” he tried to shrug, but didn’t have the energy.
“How’d you get the broken leg?”
Cecil didn’t answer.
“Must’ve hurt business.”
“Piss off...” Cecil grumbled, and tried to look away.
“Well, see, that’s the thing, isn’t it? I’d gladly up and leave yeh, but you’re the one what passed out saying my name. So, I thought it best I stick around and see what you wanted,” Gene sighed and continued to scan his paper. Cecil had no retort. “So, what’re you doing in Manchester?”
“Don’t know,” Cecil answered.
“Hm,” was Gene’s response. “And how’d you catch pneumonia?”
“Living on the streets,” he said it like it should’ve been obvious. It wasn’t like it was a big deal or anything.
“Hm. And what were you doing living on the streets?” Gene turned the page.
“Someone rented your bedsit,” he sighed. “Couldn’t....couldn’t crash there...anymore. Changed...the locks.”
“Hm. Couldn’t earn enough for rent?”
“Couldn’t work,” Cecil coughed. The questions were beginning to make him uneasy. Bloody coppers.
“Cos of the leg,” Gene confirmed.
“And how’d you hurt your leg?” Gene asked again. At first, Cecil refused to answer. Gene said nothing, just let the silence fill the room. It wasn’t long before Cecil became too tired not to answer.
“Punter,” he tried to shrug. It was no big deal. It wasn’t. Gene said nothing, only waited. Cecil continued. “Gave him...what he wanted. Then...he said I gave him...too much lip...’bout the price,” he coughed, caught his breath, and continued. “So, he kicked the...shite outta me.”
Gene sat there quietly. Even the newspaper had stopped rustling. Now the silence was uncomfortable.
“It were nothing,” Cecil told him. “Me own fault...Thought I could...work on me own,” he shifted in the bed. “Shoulda got some protection...” he was struggling to keep his eyes open now. Being sick was exhausting, especially when he hadn’t been eating much beforehand. He heard the paper crumpling again.
“So, why’d you come to Manchester?” Gene asked.
“Guess I needed some protection,” Cecil mumbled.
“Guess I’ll stick around then,” Gene sighed quietly, as Cecil drifted off to sleep.