“You aren’t real.”
The reflection stared dully back at her. Silver hair, an unreadable expression, exhausted blue eyes, alive but, at the same time, lacking any semblance of life to her. The porcelain sink felt cool on her trembling hands as she pressed against it, leaning forward slightly.
Her whole body [i]ached[/i]. Fatigue laid invisible chains on her body, making every movement a struggle. Her muscles pulsed with pain, sinking its dull teeth deep into her. She wished she could just get it over with. She knew her time must be running out; things had gotten worse and worse. Even her mind was getting away from her. She used a special program to remember her notes and the evidence; word processor programs were often open with little tidbits and observations about the case.
Little Guy did everything he could to make her feel at ease- asking questions about things she’d forgotten to say or speak about in such a way that it seemed like he was the forgetful one, instead of her being the one going senile. It made her feel like less of a wreck. It was better than being blatantly reminded about her… Condition.
Naomi’s lips curled up in a ghoulish smile as she opened the cabinet, taking out her medicines and a bottle of painkillers. Chalky tablets, plastic-covered capsules, and tiny pills were taken in turn, chased with tap water. The painkillers came last. Sometimes she wondered what the use was now. Little by little, her faith in Derek had waned until her chances of survival seemed nil. Only a miracle could save her, and what was the chance of one of those?
At any rate, Naomi knew she didn’t deserve it. Her time in Delphi had ensured that. Simply taking a sample of Savato and saving a couple lives hadn’t erased the harm she’d done or the parasites she’d assisted by proxy, by virtue of keeping their young incubators alive. The idea of atoning for that still had rooted in her, but on days like this- days where she was at the end of her rope- her efforts seemed laughable. What place was there for the Devil Doctor?
Naomi slowly shut the cabinet door and turned her back on her reflection, body voicing its every complaint. Still, she wouldn’t allow herself to call in sick. This case could be important, it could save another life, it could give people closure… Could have, would have, what if. Those were the main ways she occupied herself on days like these, when she wasn’t working.
What if she hadn’t taken the job with Delphi?
Could she have done something better?
Would she have been ferreted out, time after time, until there was nowhere she could practice?
Each and every outcome lead to one conclusion: no matter what, if she had chosen right, she wouldn’t have given herself this disease. While none of the scenarios were cheery, excepting a handful where she stopped Delphi early or fled, she at the least hadn’t envisioned herself dying at 31. This was her punishment. She really couldn’t have expected to get out scott-free.
Naomi staggered out of the bathroom, preparing herself for another day of work.
The specter was getting to be an annoyingly common sight.
Maria surveyed it- her, rather- over the rim of the can she been poised to take a sip from. Blank eyes stared back at her, too bright against the dark miasma churning within her; the dual shocks of red drew her eyes. “…So you’re back, huh?” She took a short sip of the bitter drink, letting it dangle in her hand afterwards as she faced the ghost. “…Damn, maybe I should have asked Gabe for some tranqs,” she muttered with a touch of bitterness. “So what is it now? I don’t think I can just have you sit back and share a drink with me.”
The specter flickered out- the ghost of a forgotten acquaintance stared back at her, brows knit in distress as she mouthed one word. Maria grit her teeth.
“Beginning! Beginning, I get it, that’s what you always say. Broken record…” Maria lapsed into silence, glowering at the ghost. She felt tight, ready to spring. “Why did you have to follow me home?”
“Why do you have to come to my work?”
“Why can’t you leave me alone? I’m sick of it! Things are bad enough without a ghost haunting me,” she spat. “And no, because isn’t an answer,” she muttered. She disregarded the ghost, hands clenching the slick can a bit too tightly. Aluminum crumpled under her grasp. After a few moments of scowling at the unwavering ghost, she sighed and put her hand over her eyes.
“…I wish you could actually speak and tell me why you’re here. What’s the damn reason? You tail me from here to there… I’m not that interesting, am I?” She laughed shortly, sour amusement lacing it. “D'you just want to watch how a ’‘hero” can screw up, and how bad?“ She opened her eyes behind her hands. The scene at the docks was still fresh in her mind. Hero… Ha. Like she could ever be one. Even when she was young, she…
She lifted the crumpled beer can to her lips, tilting it back until only trickles and droplets remained in it. ”…What am I doing? You aren’t real. I’m ranting at the [i]air[/i].“ Yes, that must be it. Just an overstressed mind. Being a paramedic had a high turnover rate, high stress, enough paperwork to give an entire office carpal tunnel, but she still wouldn’t give it up.
She couldn’t save everyone. She had to admit that. There were no real heroes. And if there were? She certainly wasn’t one of them. “Look, can you just go?” Maria felt unspeakably idiotic talking to a figment of her imagination like that. “This… This isn’t helping anything.” She sighed, reaching for another drink. “I want to be alone.”
One moment she was there, the next, she was gone. Maria leaned back into the chair, staring dully out into the room. The failure to communicate, the lost patients, how she’d faced an onslaught of them, how that one day they just kept coming and coming and she couldn’t do anything…
The thoughts would torment her for a while yet. Maybe it wasn’t the best to be alone with her thoughts, but she couldn’t call the ghost back.
Elena held the rungs in a vicegrip.
Frost given form curled up with each panicked breath. Flakes of snow drifted down into their prison. A thin coating glistened on the ground; the flakes disappeared into the burbling water licking at the hem of her coat. Her grip was white-knuckled, but her hands were numb.
“Doctor-” Her voice was thin with fear, almost lost behind Valerie’s urgent question.
“Markus, how are you doing?”
“I’m doing the best I can. It shouldn’t be long.” The normally cool tone held a sharp edge of panic as he worked on the lock, swearing softly as the forceps grabbed hold of another section of the lock. She could almost feel his fatigue, could almost see the brightly-colored plastic swimming before his eyes, blurred with fatigue; he grabbed the bar near it as he worked.
“Elena.” Her eyes met Valerie’s, looking over her shoulder. Val’s eyes darted to look down at the water before focusing again on Elena. It seemed dark, sloshing against her body. The doctor’s hands tightened subconsciously. “He’s almost done. Okay? Hold tight.” She nodded in response to the soothing words, unable to calm her panic. Icy currents played against her body, splashing against her midriff- she had thought it at her hips just a moment ago- it was coming up too fast, it seemed like each time she blinked it rose another half-inch. A deep ache bit into her body as a chill settled in.
“Oh, [i]fuck[/i]-” Any semblance of calm had fled his voice. The forceps clashed once with a discordant click against the lock before falling silent, as if he’d given up.
“Well, well, [i]wel]/i]l, isn’t this a daring attempt. Did ya really think you’d get away?”
The chill in the air, the roar of the water, it all seemed to fade away. Her heart jumped into her throat as she looked up at the gilded mask. Grit ground under Kidman’s foot as he shifted; his hands were stuffed in his pockets. “Got some balls on you, huh? Let me guess-” Sick amusement bloomed in his voice. “You all thought you could just stage a jailbreak and waltz outta the place. Wrong move, Doc.” He lifted his foot.
A wet snap could barely be heard over the strangled cry, overlapping with two others as they fell. Chaos took over- chill waters churned around her, she caught glimpses of her doctors, she couldn’t [i]breathe[/i] water was rushing into her lungs and she stared up at the distorted visage leering down at them, the man behind the mask [i]laughing[/i] as the weight of her saturated clothes dragged her down, she reached up, trying to reach the ladder; she knew this was going to
She had thrown the blanket off in her sleep.
Elena reached up, still caught in the frenzy of the dream. Her lungs burned for air, and it felt as if she was sinking into the bed, dragged down by her clothing. Her fingers closed around the air. [i]The icy metal had been in her grasp just a second ago, so why[/i]- Her eyes darted around, looking for their captor, for Markus and Valerie, and were met by the sight of a placid bedroom in the early hours. Still, she struggled to breathe.
No matter how much she got, it seemed like too little; small tremors played over her body. Fear still had hold of her. With each attempt, it slowly got easier. After a period of time, too stretched out to her, she caught her breath.
“…You aren’t real.” The whisper was shaky, exhaled with a slow breath. It spilled from her over and over, and she snatched it up.
“You aren’t real.” Her voice was surer and surer with each whispered repetition, gaining strength. Her nerves, frazzled and frayed from the nightmare, slowly calmed as she turned the light on. No concrete walls, no rushing water. No bars, no damned toy lock.
“You aren’t [i]real[/i].” The young nurse slowly sat up, pulling the covers back on. Winter’s chill was never a pleasant one; the warmth was welcome as she slowly laid back down and eased herself into a comfortable position. Nightmares like that weren’t uncommon- she knew they shared them, and she knew they hadn’t been getting easier. The thick cover weighed down on her, soothing, and she closed her eyes. Elena curled up, safe in the knowledge that she was far away from that place.
Sleep wouldn’t be far off.