Thank you thank you to anonymous for suggesting such fanfics for me to write! As you all know, I looooooooooooooove writing fanfics. So giving me a thing you want to write is a gift!
Pre-Sejal Harry Heartbreak With Older Tattoo Artist
I struggled with this idea, because I can absolutely see young too-cool-for-Punjab Harry thinking he is cock of the walk and then being cut down to size by a tough older woman he has to win over. But I couldn’t see how/why he would leave her, and turn into Sad Modern Harry. And then I figured it out! DEATH! Obviously death, losing the one woman who could challenge him would drive him towards thinking relationships will never work, plus thinking the one perfect woman for him would be this older experienced tough cool woman is why he doesn’t seriously consider Sejal for so long.
So, here’s my plot. Harry is in Canada, he came there to be a singer but is working as a driver in the meantime. He’s already gone through a journey to thinking he has set aside his past, he’s lost the turban, he wears jeans and cool clothes, and he is heading towards tourism as a career, working for a car company that specializes in hiring out to Indian tourists in Toronto. It’s the early 2000s, everything is still a little grunge and rough and cool. Shahrukh goes to pick up bars and has casual sex and thinks he knows everything. And then one night he gets drunk at a friends bachelor party and gets a horrible tattoo, a weird miss-shapened outline of India. He hates it and gets a referral to a really REALLY good tattoo artist from one of his friends who has an amazing back tattoo. She is cool and tough and older, way too cool for him. She’s desi, but born in Canada, he doesn’t even realize she’s desi until he says something in Punjabi and she snaps back at him. He hits on her of course, and she just laughs at him. And also laughs when he asks to pay on installments for the fix tattoo. But he is determined, offers to work it off, and she agrees because she needs someone to help her around the house.
He drives her to mysterious appointments, and also helps her paint her cool apartment over the tattoo studio and fix up the stairs and stuff. He keeps hitting on her, but now it is more of a joke between them because they are friends and he sincerely cares about her. One day she has a really bad stomach flu when he shows up and he skips work to stay at her place and take care of her all day. And then one day he picks her up from an appointment and she is kind of weird and quiet, and then invites him in to her apartment. And then asks him for sex, but to be clear that it is just physical comfort in this moment, no emotions, no feelings. And of course he says “yes, I understand, I won’t feel anything!” But we see his face as they make love and know that he is feeling everything all at once.
When it is over, she goes into the bathroom by herself, and he hears her crying. He gets dressed and waits outside and when she comes out and asks him to leave, he does, no questions asked. The next day everything is the same as before, they are friends, he comes over in the morning before his shift to help her out with groceries and household chores. And then as he is leaving, she tells him that she wants to start working on a tattoo design for him, but he needs to really think about what he wants it to be.
Their relationship shifts a little. They go through the intimate process of figuring out his tattoo, she pushes him to tell why he is thinking about a Sikh design, what his religion and community means to him, and finally the same sad story he told Sejal, of walking away from his whole family in the middle of the night. He cries as he tells it, she comforts him, and they start to kiss. But then she starts to cry also and he stops and instead they just hold each other all night. The next morning, she asks him to move in with her. She is lonely, and she knows he is just renting a bed somewhere, this makes sense. He agrees. They enter into a strange sort of relationship that doesn’t have commitment. He cooks, he shops, he takes care of her, and they share a bed at night. And she slowly works on building his tattoo.
She stops going in to work regularly, just doing his art and nothing else. She spends more and more time in bed. And finally, he sneaks in to her mysterious appointment and charms the receptionist and learns she has cancer. He doesn’t tell her at first, instead makes her a nice dinner and gives her an opening to tell him. But she doesn’t. Until he confronts her with the truth, that he knows what is happening, that he is furious she is trying to do this alone, that she won’t ask for help or support or anything. Turns into a big fight, he storms out and walks the city, then finally returns to find her passed out on the bathroom floor and calls 911. When she wakes up in the hospital, they finally talk honestly.
She tells him that his story is her story too. She walked out on her family, only in her case it was an abusive husband. She fled with nothing to a woman’s shelter and went from Henna designs to tattooing. She built a life here all by herself and she could take care of herself. When she was first diagnosed, she started cutting people off, she couldn’t stand their pity (we previously had hints of this, photos with friends, old gifts, the oddness of a full life that now seemed to only have Harry in it). And then Harry appeared, she was just going to use him as a silly nice young boy to help her through the last few months. Only now, she is hurting him too, he has come to care for her and she cares for him too much to hurt him. He has to leave her. Harry, very gently, tells her “no”. His hurt doesn’t matter, he loves her, truly loves her, and if she throws him out of her life, he will just come crawling back in.
While she is in the hospital, there is an issue with finding a relative to sign a release form. Harry fights with the bureaucrats to say that he is her family, but they hit a wall. And then, he asks her to marry him. Just so he can take care of her, just to make it easier. She agrees, surprisingly easily. They are married in the hospital chapel, and then go home together. He quits his job and becomes her 24 hour caregiver. He sings for her, tells her stories, plays games, cheers her up. And whenever she is strong enough, she asks him to bring her tools so she can keep working on his body art.
She is in and out of the ICU now, and hospice nurses are coming regularly, and bring her a hospital bed. She is barely awake most of the time. But one night she wakes up and is clear and asks him to sleep with her again, to crawl into the bed and hold her. The next morning, she is gone.
The hospice nurse gives Shahrukh a packet she left behind. In it is her will, leaving everything to him, and legal paperwork to start the process of making him a Canadian citizen thanks to their marriage. And a letter from her, in which she explains that he made the last few months of her life the best part of her life, made her feel loved and safe in a way she never had before. She knew he wondered why she agreed to the marriage, it was because she knew it was the best gift she could give him. Canadian citizenship, an inheritance, everything he needs to really start his life. And she tells him to start his life, to forget her, to travel the world, to grow into everything he can be.
On the day of her funeral, Shahrukh finally meets all those friends she kept away. A lovely group of outcasts and wise folks. One of them is an older desi woman who runs an abused wife shelter, the place where she came when she first arrived in the city. She pulls Shahrukh aside and holds him and lets him cry himself out. And she tells him “it’s okay, it’s nothing, it’s okay” (the words Harry says to himself later when he wakes up with Sejal). He pulls away and uses his shirt tail to wipe his eyes, and she asks to see his art on his chest. He takes the shirt off, and she recognizes it as an unfinished Sikh wheel. She tells him he should leave it unfinished, as a reminder that his life is not finished yet, he has more to do. And then she looks surprised and says there is something he has to see. She takes him to a mirror and turns him so he can see written in tiny script deep within the design the words “I love you”. She couldn’t say it to him when she was alive, or after her death, but she could write it on his body.
Years later, Shahrukh is living the life she told him to live, seeing the world, being free. He shipped all her things from her Toronto apartment to his apartment in Europe and returns there when he wants to feel her presence. He is now the age she was when she died, and he feels the weight of that, feels how his life is empty like hers was, how everything is going wrong. Enter….SEJAL!