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the woodsman

Chapter Text

"You look absolutely exhausted, my friend."

Jonathan looked up from his desk, eyebrows furrowed. Had he really been so focused on his research that he hadn’t heard Edgar sneak up on him? A quick glance showed that only a dim, barely there light shown from under the doorstep. It wasn’t the first time he had evaded sleep in favor of working through the day, but the habit was beginning to catch up to him. Edgar was right; for the first time in his newly immortal life, Jonathan felt exhausted.

“Edgar, you know I appreciate your company. Nonetheless, I would appreciate it even more if you knocked next time.”

“I did, actually,” Swansea chuckled. “I’ve been standing here for a couple of minutes now.”

Jonathan didn’t know how to respond to that, really. He ignored the older doctor for a second and sat up instead, stretching backward like a cat and wincing at the loud crack that sounded through the room as he reached upwards. His neck ached from leaning over his desk for hours on end, and black ink stained the bottom palm of his hand. A quick roll of his neck resulted in a few more accompanying cracks, and the look of concern etched across Dr. Swansea’s face only deepened.

“Now really, Jonathan, this is getting ridiculous. I understand that you’re trying to find a cure for Lady Ashbury, but you still need to rest. Even the dead need sleep. Have you moved from that desk at all today?”

Jonathan leaned back in the chair. “Of course I have,” he replied defensively. “A couple of hours ago I got up to water Lisa.”

“And?”

“...That’s it.”

“For the love of God, Jonathan!” Edgar cried out. “You’re pushing yourself too hard! You haven’t left this room in days. You look like death, and I can’t even begin to imagine how hungry you must be. It isn’t safe to keep going like this, my friend. You didn’t even give yourself time to recover after defeating the Morrigan, and that was almost three months ago.”

“Edgar, I assure you that both my mental and physical states are still in working order,” Jonathan tried to reassure his friend, standing up as he talked, but his legs were so unaccustomed to standing after having sat for nearly 10 hours straight that he was sent stumbling into the bookshelf instead.
“That’s it. I am forcing you to take time off. The epidemic was my fault, Jonathan, not Lady Ashbury’s. While curing her would certainly put everyone at ease, it by no means needs to be your top priority.”

“And what is my top priority exactly, Edgar?” Jonathan snapped. He was back in the chair, now, not willing to risk another stumble. Not while Edgar was still mother henning over him, at least. “ I promised Elisabeth that I would find a cure. These months of work haven’t been entirely useless, despite what you may think. I’m so close to a breakthrough. I know it.”

“I’m positive if Elisabeth knew just how hard you were pushing yourself she’d be mortified, my dear Jonathan. As your friend - and as your boss, quite frankly - I order you to take a break. The hospital is doing fine enough now that the epidemic is over that we won’t miss your presence for a night, and come morning you are going to sleep .”

Jonathan looked down at his notes. Though they had made perfect sense in his mind when writing him, what he saw written down on the paper was absolute gibberish. He couldn’t discern any meaning from it, and most of the words were just frantic scribbles that he couldn’t even read. “Maybe you’re right, Edgar. It would do me some good to go outside, I think.”

Edgar clapped one of his hands over Jonathan’s shoulder. “That’s the spirit, Jonathan! The night is still young. Go and visit some friends. I’m sure Elisabeth would enjoy your company, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see what Sean Hampton and Nurse Crane are up to, either. It’s been so long since you’ve checked in on any of them that I’m surprised they haven’t come to the hospital themselves.”

Jonathan stood once more, steadying himself this time by leaning against the desk. It wasn’t just exhaustion causing his weakness, apparently. He could only vaguely remember having fed a few days ago, which was admittedly not a good sign. Hopefully, there would be a couple of rogue Skals patrolling the streets. A few shaky steps brought him to the coat rack, and after wincing through the soreness in his shoulders he was able to shrug it on over his shirt. “I’ve been absent for too long, I suppose,” he mused. “Let’s see what the city of London has kept waiting for me.”

 

*~*~*

 

“We’re not doubtin’ your abilities, sir, honest. It’s just...we’re worried about you, is all.”

McCullum didn’t have it in him to be mad. Not while he was in the process of getting stitched up, at least. “I’m starting to get tired of these lectures, Douglas,” he sighed, wincing only slightly as the needle wove in and out of his arm.

Douglas, Priwen’s resident medic, set the tools in his hand down on the table. “With all due respect, sir, so am I. Not a week has gone by without you comin’ in to visit me. And they’re not minor scrapes you’re gettin’ either, sir. This is the third time this month I’ve had to stitch you up.”

“Call it an occupational hazard, if you will,” McCullum replied with a wry smile that quickly turned into a grimace as Douglas resumed the stitching.

“I’m being serious, sir.”

“So am I, Douglas. What we do is no joke.” McCullum’s voice began to take on an edgy tone that always appeared when he was talking about vampires. “The epidemic may be over, but our work is far from complete. Now that there are fewer Skals roaming the streets, we have the resources available to start going after bigger threats. I have half a mind to get a Great Hunt up and running again.”

Douglas set the needle down once more, but this time it was so that he could tie off the ends of the thread. The medic sat in contemplative silence for a moment. “It’s just not a habit you should keep, sir. Visits with me, that is,” he replied, reaching over to grab a roll of gauze off a nearby chair.

“What else am I supposed to do then? We’re vampire hunters, Captain, and as much as I hate to admit it they’re tough bastards.”

“You could always take a break from patrolling for a few nights,” Douglas suggested, quickly wrapping gauze around McCullum’s arm. “You said it yourself, sir. The epidemic is over. We don’t need every man out on the streets anymore.”

“How can I expect others to put their lives on the line if I don’t do the same?”

“You have put your life on the line, sir. Bloody hell, you’re the only one that’s ever gone toe to toe with that doctor leech and come out alive, and that was only because you had King Arthur’s blood with you. You’re only human, Chief. You gotta start actin’ like it.”

McCullum only hummed in reply, gazing blankly at the wall on the other side of his office. Priwen’s main headquarters may be larger than the outposts stationed around the city, but it still wasn’t large enough to warrant having a room solely dedicated to dealing with injuries. Douglas provided treatment wherever there was space available, whether that be in a storage closet or in the training room upstairs. It was due to this lack of space that he was one of the few people ever permitted inside of McCullum’s office - not that it was anything exciting, really. The leader of Priwen could hardly be called a sentimental man, and without a real job to speak of it wasn’t like he could afford hanging up pictures anyway. The only personal artifacts kept in his office were his weapons; a crossbow, a pair of pistols, and of course the huge broadsword leaning against the desk. Papers were scattered about everywhere, with the majority being recent field reports from his men. McCullum started to sort through them before his eyes widened in realization.

“Son of a bitch ,” he swore, standing up suddenly and grabbing his overcoat off of a nearby chair. “Don’t worry Douglas,” he reassured the other man, “I’m not going out patrolling. You just reminded me that there’s something very important I need to get back.” McCullum hastily gathered his weapons, hand thoughtfully resting on the hilt of the broadsword before he decided to leave it.

“Just promise me you’ll stay out of trouble, sir.” Douglas pleaded. “Those stitches will tear if you strain ‘em too much.”

“I can’t make any promises, Captain,” McCullum replied. “Knowing who I’m going to see, this night could turn out violent.”

 

*~*~*

 

Reid had to admit that it was good to feel London’s cool night air again after spending days locked up in his office. The night was unusually warm for February in London. Reid wouldn’t feel the chill either way (not feeling the cold was one of the more convenient aspects of his condition, although it did arouse suspicion) but even the few human travelers he saw were only wearing light jackets.

It was almost ethereal, walking around the city at night. Though treatment had been discovered for the influenza (an achievement Jonathan could not take credit for), and Skals were no longer reproducing at such alarming rates (an achievement Jonathan could take credit for), many citizens were still too paranoid to roam about the streets of London in the dead of night. Jonathan was almost entirely alone walking down the cobblestone alleys. The city had just begun its endeavor to get the streetlights back in working order, and in many of the districts only main roads had any sort of lighting. Jonathan didn’t mind the darkness, still being able to see in it thanks to his condition, but that along with the incessant London fog provided a rather haunting atmosphere.  An atmosphere that was completely shattered when a crossbow bolt zoomed past Jonathan’s head, digging deep into the wall beside him.

Reid wasn’t surprised and didn’t even need the aid of his vampiric senses to know the presence behind him. “I suppose I should have known we would run into each other sooner rather than later,” the vampire sighed, turning around to face the hunter behind him. “Suffice to say, I’m still not exactly thrilled to see you, McCullum.”

“Nor I you, leech.” McCullum sneered. “What are you doing prowling the streets? Hunting for your next meal, huh?”

It was too dark for McCullum to see Jonathan roll his eyes, but the hunter could hear the annoyance in the other man’s voice. “Is it illegal, now, to go out and enjoy a nightly stroll?”

“You and I both know that your kind rarely ever take innocent walks in the park, Reid,” McCullum growled. “Either way, I’m not here for a chat. You still have something that belongs to the Guard.”

Reid’s eyes suddenly widened in understanding. “Ah, yes. I had almost forgotten about King Arthur’s blood. You’re lucky; I only needed a drop of it to make my serum.”

“Hand it over, then.”

“I don’t have it on me right now. What, do you think I walk around London carrying a flask filled with the blood of King Arthur?”

“I’m not leaving until I have that flask bag, beast.” McCullum insisted. “The only reason I forgot about it was because the Guard’s been busy cleaning up all the Skals around the city. It’s a shame, really, that none of my patrols have come across you during their hunts.”

Reid began to walk down the street, ignoring the insult. “Luckily for you, I was on my way back to the hospital. We’re only a few streets away.”

McCullum followed the other man, and the two journeyed towards the Pembroke in an uneasy silence.

“I’ve noticed fewer patrols as of late. Have you called back the Great Hunt?” Reid asked, attempting to break through the tension.

“Aye. I told you I would,” McCullum muttered, “But it wasn’t because you asked me to. We were losing too many men. Priwen needs to recoup before the Hunt is started again.”

Reid only hummed in response. Moments later they turned onto one of the side streets in the back of the hospital, and the vampire made his way towards a wooden outcropping that stood out from the building. “Stay right here,” the vampire commanded, disappearing in a puff of black smoke only to reappear on the balcony a moment later.

McCullum stayed below and tapped his foot along the sidewalk, waiting impatiently for Reid to return from inside. Another sudden whoosh and puff of smoke announced the doctor’s presence.

Reid tossed the object in his hand towards McCullum. “There you go, then.”

McCullum made the mistake of catching the flask with his bad arm. He winced, and a look of concern was suddenly plastered on the doctor’s face.

“Are you injured, McCullum?” Reid asked earnestly. Or at least, what sounded earnest. McCullum knew all too well the games vampires played, and he wasn’t one to be tricked.

“I’m fine, leech. It’s none of your concern.” He began to move away, but Reid only followed.

“Maybe I should have a look at your injuries,” Reid insisted, “Just in case.”

“I have my own men, Reid.”

“That’s fine and all, but I doubt your men are able to spot the signs of potential Skal infection as well as I can.”

“I said I’m fine, blood drinker.” McCullum snapped. He looked upwards towards the sky, which had turned from an inky black to a smoggy gray. “Looks like the sun’s rising, doctor. You’d best head on inside. It’d be an absolute tragedy if you were to burn to a crisp.” Reid looked up at the sky as well, swearing under his breath as blooms of smoke began to rise from his coat. He hadn’t even noticed the sun beginning to rise. He shifted back up towards the balcony, careful to stay in the shadows of the building.

“Until we meet again then, hunter,” Reid called out. McCullum ignored him and quickly made his way back towards Priwen headquarters. The patrols were just returning from the night’s hunt, and from their excited conversations, it seemed to be a successful one. They could report to him come nightfall. As of right now, he was too exhausted to deal with field reports.

Exhaustion had found its way back into Reid’s state of being as well. He wasted no time taking off his jacket and shoes before changing into a soft cotton nightshirt. His research lay on the table on the other side of the room, calling to him, still left largely unfinished. That can wait for tonight , he thought sleepily.

The sun rose in a sea of red, bleeding over the city of London, and both men drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

It was nearly two weeks before McCullum saw the leech again.

It wasn’t that he was disappointed by it or anything. The fact of the matter was that the Skal population of an area went down drastically whenever the good doctor paid a visit. The only reason McCullum noticed the other man’s absence was because his men were finding more and more of the bloody beasts out on their patrols. The numbers were nowhere near as bad as the epidemic - God, he hoped the Guard wouldn’t have to deal with anything like that ever again - but it was enough to become a threat if they didn’t increase their patrols. With the sudden increase in workload, McCullum had barely even given Reid a second thought.

Until they met again, that is.

A particularly concerning report from a couple weeks prior brought the hunter to the east end docks early in the morning. Normally he would be asleep at this time, resting up for another night of fighting vampires, but it was good for humans to get out during the daylight every once in a while. The day was chilly, and instead of his usual trench coat, he had donned a heavier winter jacket along with a soft brimmed hat. It was clear that McCullum wasn’t expecting to find any sort of vampire cowering from the sunlight underneath one of the abandoned alcoves underneath the pier. Even the blood-crazed ones were far too careful to caught when the sun was rising. Yet there was Reid, huddled up against the far wall, glaring daggers at the slowly encroaching sunlight.

“It would seem I’ve caught you at an unlucky time, beast.” The hunter didn’t have any weapons on him except for a pocket knife - he had only prepared himself for human attacks, seeing how it was daylight - but he brandished it nonetheless

Reid looked up from the ground, seemingly unperturbed by the knife in the other man’s hand. “Ah, McCullum! You couldn’t have chosen a better time, as it were,” he smiled, walking as close to the edge of the alcove as he was physically able. “Fancy a cup of tea? A biscuit?” The vampire had wandered too close to the sun and was quickly forced to step back with a hiss as his skin began to blacken. Reid really was in a sorry state. He lacked his trademark overcoat, leaving just a torn shirt and vest, and although the skin underneath the gashes was pale and unmarred McCullum had a feeling the blood adorning Reid’s clothes was his own.

McCullum almost felt bad for the leech. Almost. “This is quite the predicament you’ve gotten yourself into, beast,” he chuckled. “I’m almost curious as to how it happened.”

Reid glared at the hunter, blue eyes looking especially pale in the light of day. “I’m currently conducting vital research. Skal blood - particularly of those that were infected through the influenza - is needed for this research. During the epidemic, I was able to just take samples from patients unfortunate enough to be infected with both. Now, I am forced to use less...shall we say, conventional methods.”

“That’s an awful lot o’ words for saying you were Skal hunting, Doctor Reid.”

Reid inhaled sharply. “I wasn’t trying to hunt them. I was trying to capture one so that I could avoid going out to collect Skal blood in the future. The ones that were infected by influenza are being rapidly killed off. I never know when the supply of their blood will run out, and if it happens before I find the cure…” The sentence trailed off, but Geoffrey understood well enough. Reid was confined to the very back wall at this point. He sank down to the ground and grabbed a pebble off the dock, throwing it up into the air in a manner that suggested he was bored rather than in peril.

McCullum sat down as well, on a wooden stump close to the entrance of the small cave. The sun felt warm on his back, and although he still held the knife it was no longer pointed at the doctor. “Not like I’m trying to compliment you, leech, but even one of my new recruits is able to take on a single Skal without any problems. Are rats just not cutting it for you anymore?”

“Oh no, the rats are absolutely delightful,” Reid sneered, lips pulled back to show the slightest hint of fang. His expression softened when he saw the smirk plastered across McCullum’s face. “Forgive my short temper. Usually, I don’t let your antics get to my head, but as you can see, this situation has me a little on edge. As for why I’m here, well, the short answer is that I was stupid.”

McCullum nodded, humming softly in agreement. “And the long answer?”

The sunlight had reached Reid’s boot, and he pulled his legs up against his chest with a low growl, resting his arms on his knees. “I’ve been exhausted as of late. Starving, too.” McCullum shot Reid a dirty look at that, and the vampire only scoffed. “Oh, please. I refuse to take an innocent life, McCullum, you know that, but that doesn’t make my other options any less appetizing. Either way, it hasn’t put me in the best state of mind. I didn’t realize it was so close to daybreak before I left to go find Skals. By the time the sun started rising my only option was to try and make it back to the Pembroke as quickly as possible. Or that was the plan, at least, before I was ambushed by one of your patrols. You trained them well, by the way. They knew that if they were able to keep me until sunrise that I would have no chance of fighting back. The only way I was able to escape them was by losing them through little tunnels and caves like these. Unfortunately, the sun had fully risen before I could retreat back to the sewers, and so here I am.”

“I’ll have to congratulate the lads for a job well done when I get back then.”

That only drew out another long sigh from the vampire. “And what brings you down here? Surely you usually rest during the day as well.”

“Aye, I do,” McCullum agreed, now twirling the knife in between his fingers, “But I had some errands to run. A couple weeks back I got an interesting report from one of my patrols, saying that a bloody leech had been sighted in sewers all around the city. The report said it had moved out, but your kind can be fiercely territorial when they want to be, so I figured it was in my best interests to investigate.”

“Oh!” Reid exclaimed suddenly, letting the rock drop to his side. “ That Ekon. Yes, he was using the sewers as a pathway of some sorts. You don’t have to worry about him anymore. He had settled underneath the West End; I encountered him back in November while I was trying to make my way to Aloysius Dawson’s mansion. The monster had kidnapped a poor young woman and was planning on turning her against her will to become his immortal bride. I swiftly put an end to that plan, and to the offender in question.”

McCullum looked surprised. “Well, I guess I have to thank you for that.” He muttered. “But I’m still not too pleased that you’re left roaming the streets.”

Reid only shrugged. “You’ll probably get your wish in a few moments, McCullum.” The shade inside the alcove was growing increasingly limited, and Reid was forced to stand up again so that he could press himself up against the back wall in an effort to evade the light. “After the sunlight incapacitates me, at least grant me the decency of a swift end. That’s all I ask.” Reid’s tone was deathly somber, and McCullum realized with a start that the leech was being serious.

The hunter quickly stood up and shrugged out of his coat. The bitter winds coming off the Thames bit at his skin, but at least he was granted the luxury of not bursting into flames. “I’m not gonna let you be killed by the sunlight, you bastard,” McCullum growled. He began unwrapping the scarf from around his neck, and after taking off his hat he threw both of the items at Reid’s feet. “The only thing that gets to kill you is me.”

Reid picked up the scarf and jacket, but he looked at McCullum with surprise. “Surely this is a joke, McCullum? You've thought of me as a threat since the moment I was reborn. Now is the perfect chance to extinguish it.”

“Do not make me change my mind, Reid,” McCullum warned, finally putting the knife back into his pocket. “I’m an honorable man. You spared my life back at the hospital. This is me returning the favor. After this, I’m no longer in your debt. I don’t owe you anything.”

Reid only smiled in response. Both men were the same height, but McCullum’s broader shoulders meant that the jacket fit a little loosely on the doctor. He would have to be careful in making sure it didn’t slip. Reid had wrapped the scarf around his neck and mouth, and with the hat on his head the only parts of his skin now exposed were his eyes. As long as they walked carefully back to Pembroke and stuck to the shadows, the vampire would be fine.

The vampire took a tentative step into the sunlight. Nothing happened; no smoke, no charred skin, no agonized screaming. Reid let out a nervous laugh. “I never thought I’d be able to do this ever again,” he beamed, carefully to keep his body covered in spite of his excitement. The brim of the hat kept the exposed half of his face safe, but the sun was still rising at a dangerous angle for a vampire. The taller buildings in the city should be plenty to provide the vampire with the cover he needed, but they would have to leave the docks, and soon.

“As heartwarming as this is, leech, we’ll need to hurry.” McCullum began walking, although strangely enough, it wasn’t in the direction of the Pembroke. “That hat isn’t going to protect you for very long. We need to get you into some shade before the sun is directly over the city. We need the shadows.”

Reid began to follow, neck constantly craned downwards. “Where are we going? The Pembroke is the other way.”

“Aye, but I know a shortcut through the West End. It’s less dangerous, and we could use the tall buildings.” McCullum explained. Reid stopped in his tracks at the words, and the hunter turned around to glare at him. “What are you doing, Reid? We’re on a bit of a time crunch, in case you haven’t noticed!”

“I just - I really - is a shortcut through the West End really necessary?” The doctor stammered. Now McCullum was confused. Never had the hunter seen the other man this flustered before. Hell, he had been certain that the only emotion Reid could exhibit was absolute calm.

“Yes, it’s necessary, “ the hunter snapped, beginning their trek once again. “For many reasons, actually. Do you need me to list them out for you, doctor?”

“No, McCullum, it’s just I-”

McCullum began listing off his fingers. “I'm just about freezing my arse off, you burn in the sunlight, and you look like a bloody criminal wearing my scarf like that. Oh, and not to mention-”

“That’s quite enough.” Reid snapped. He popped the collar of the jacket a little bit higher. If McCullum didn’t know any better, he’d think the doctor was trying to hide from more than just the sun. “I just...I haven’t returned home in so long. People may recognize me.”

“You’ve been to the West End since you’ve returned,” McCullum pointed out. The wooden docks beneath their feet turned to cobble, and there was a gate a couple yards ahead of them that no doubt led to the district in question. “My men have seen you wandering around, giving out medicine and the like.”

“Well, yes,” Reid sighed, shifting around uncomfortably in the too-big coat. “But that’s at night. So few people are awake, and even fewer who knew me when I was alive. Unfortunately, one of my old friends is a bit of a night owl himself, and I’m almost certain that he and his wife have told the rest of the neighborhood that I’m alive and returned from war safely. I have no doubts that everybody is wondering where I am.”

The gate creaked open, and Reid could already hear the hustle and bustle of the West End market street. “That’s a sad tale and all, Reid, but right now I think you should be more worried about running into the sun than into one of your old colleagues.” They made their way out onto the streets. McCullum had thought that the two men would stick out like a sore thumb - his civilian clothes were clean and without any damage, but they were far from elegant - yet to his surprise, a good portion of the other citizens on the streets was wearing simple outfits like theirs. It wasn’t something he had ever seen in the West End. Looks like these bloody barons were affected by the war after all, he thought. It was a surprisingly comforting notion, to be reminded that the filfthy rich were just as troubled as the filthy poor in light of recent events.

Reid carefully pulled down the scarf. The street was surrounded by tall stores on each side, meaning it would stay drowned in shadows for quite a few hours to come. The vampire looked understandably uncomfortable, given the situation, but otherwise, all was well. At least he hadn’t caught on fire yet.

McCullum heard a groan from beside him and was aware that Reid had stopped walking. “I knew this would happen,” the leech muttered, “I bloody well knew it.”

“Do my eyes deceive me? Dr. Jonathan Reid! It’s been such a long time, old chap!” A short man wearing fine clothes walked up to the two of them and clapped his hand over Jonathan’s shoulder. He was rather portly, middle-aged, and McCullum could see that his hair was thin and graying through the sad attempt at covering with it with a hat.

“Good day, Mr. Becketts,” Jonathan offered a curt smile, careful not to show any teeth. 

“Good day? Aha, a good day indeed!” The man - Becketts - let out a hearty laugh and turned towards McCullum. “Can you believe him? Three bloody years without a single word and the only thing he says to me is ‘Good Day’! That’s our Johnny, alright,” he said affectionately, though his stare grew concerned when he turned back to the younger man. “Although I must say that you look quite different, Johnny. You’re so pale, my boy! You would think spending all those years in France would give you a bit of color!”

Jonathan let out his own nervous peal of laughter. “Yes, well, I’ve been working night shifts since I came back from the war. That’s part of the reason why I haven’t been able to stop by, you see. We’ve been incredibly busy, both because of the epidemic and in the aftermath.”

Becketts raised his hands. “Oh, you don’t have to explain your work to me, Johnny. Your mother used to tell us about it all the time.” His expression softened again. “And of course I am dreadfully sorry about your poor twin sister, Jonathan. Mary was such a sweet young woman. Please accept my condolences, as late as they may be.”

“Of course, Mr. Becketts,” Jonathan smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Thank you.”

McCullum, who had been waiting awkwardly behind Jonathan for this entire ordeal, cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but the doctor and I should really be heading out. We’ve been out too long as it is.”

The man gently clapped McCullum’s shoulder before he could grab Jonathan and begin moving. “Why Johnny, I don’t think you’ve introduced your friend yet!”

The annoyance was practically radiating off of the poor doctor. Or was it simply plumes of smoke? Geoffrey couldn't tell. “Oh, how silly of me. This is Geoffrey McCullum.”

"We're not mates," McCullum added hastily. "He's just a...colleague."

Becketts nodded, though judging from the smile still on his face he had most likely ignored McCullum's interjection. “Ramsey Becketts, at your service, sir. I’m a banker, just like Johnny’s father was. That’s how our families grew to be so close. And tell me, what is it you do, Mr. McCullum? Are you a doctor as well?”

McCullum almost snorted at the thought. “No, sir, I’m no doctor,” he replied, struggling to think of a different profession. Something told him that Mr. Becketts wouldn’t take too well to his actual job being vampire hunting. “I was a blacksmith’s apprentice in Ireland before the Great War. I finished my apprenticeship in France, and now I’ve set up shop in London.”

“Oh really?” Becketts' hold on Geoffrey tightened, and his interest was clearly piqued. “A good friend of mine just so happens to be in need of a decent blacksmith, as it were! They’re looking to add some wrought iron to-”

“Mr. Becketts, as lovely as it is to see you again, McCullum and I really ought to be going.”

The shorter man looked upset, but he nodded in understanding. “Of course. I didn’t mean to keep you from your errands, Jonathan. We’ve all missed you terribly. Promise me you’ll try and stop by for tea one day?”

“I’ll try my best, Mr. Becketts. Good day.” Jonathan bade Mr. Becketts farewell, and with that, they were on their way back to the hospital. It was so strange, walking around the streets of London during the day. The general population had recovered from the influenza, and it seemed like the whole city was out and about. The silence between them grew tense, and McCullum cleared his throat.

“I didn’t know you had a twin sister.”

“And I didn’t know that you were a blacksmith’s apprentice. There’s a lot we don’t know about each other, isn’t there?”

McCullum only scowled in response. He didn’t know what made him ask the question in the first place. Reid was a fascinating leech, although he’d sooner be damned than admit it. Never in all his years of hunting had McCullum encountered a beast with the restraint and… humanity that the doctor possessed. But oddity or not, the doctor was still a leech. He would succumb to the hunger, sooner or later, because that was the nature of the life he was cursed with. For some reason, the thought made McCullum sad. “Let’s keep it that way, yeah? You spared my life, and I spared yours. We’re even now. That doesn’t make us friends.”

Reid hummed in agreement. “Oh no, of course not. I’m sure the next time you see me will be the time you finally make your move. You’ll finally finish what you started, yes?” The doctor’s tone was serious, but McCullum could tell by the toothy grin plastered across his face that he was only joking. 

“You can count on it, beast,” the hunter growled in response.

“I’m looking forward to it.” They had reached the hospital, though instead of going straight to the main entrance Reid led him to a balcony on the side of the building. It wasn’t actually a balcony - it was literally just a wooden board sticking out from the building, most likely left over from some construction project - but McCullum couldn’t think of anything else to call it. A makeshift ladder was propped on the wall against the side, though McCullum had no doubt that the leech never used it.

“This is one of the entrances to my private office. The other one is inside.” Reid began to take off the borrowed clothes, careful to stay in the narrow shadows hanging off the building. His hair, usually so neatly styled, was mussed up by the hat and hung to the side of his head.

“Are you really that desperate for me to kill you, beast?” McCullum’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. What vampire just gave out the location of his lair? He shrugged on the coat and hat before tying the scarf around his neck. All of the clothing Reid had returned was cold, despite him wearing it for almost half an hour. Bloody leeches and their lack of body heat , he thought with a scowl.

Reid sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “McCullum, you’ve known about me for how long now? Five months? If you were going to kill me you’d have tried to do so by now.”

“I did try.”

“Yes, you did,” Reid agreed, “And I showed you that I was capable of being more than a mindless beast, did I not?”

McCullum only huffed in response. The bloody doctor seemed to enjoy bringing up his moral superiority at every chance he got. “So maybe you’re not a threat right now. You protect humans instead of hunting them. But one day, doctor ,” McCullum spat the word before stepping forward and shoving his finger into Reid’s chest, “You’re going to lose hold of the humanity you’re so desperately trying to keep. And when you do, I’ll be there to snuff you out. Your kind are monsters, Reid. It’s in your nature. There’s nothing you can do to change it.”

That finally seemed to shut the other man up. He stared at the ground before shrugging his shoulders and meeting his gaze back to McCullum’s. Those pale blue eyes never failed to send a shiver down the hunter's spine. “Nevertheless, you still know where I am. I didn’t tell you without reason. Anytime you - or your Guard, for that matter - are injured beyond what your medics can heal, come to me instead. My door is always open.”

McCullum’s mouth almost dropped. “What the hell are you getting at, leech? Why would I ever entrust my life or the lives of my men in your care?”

Reid shrugged again. “Because I’m trying to show you that I’m a doctor before anything else, McCullum,” he replied. “We could be useful allies, if only you allowed it.”

McCullum didn’t have a response to that, really. Luckily he didn’t need to think of one. The sun was too high in the sky to justify Reid staying in the ever-shrinking shadows. There was a sudden whoosh , and in a puff of black smoke, Reid stood on top of the wooden balcony. The door was propped open, but he was only halfway inside.

“Goodbye, hunter. Please, do try to remember my offer the next time there’s an injury in the Guard.”

McCullum sighed. He wasn’t a stupid man. If somebody got injured, he couldn’t just let them die. Not when there was a way to save them, and as unappealing as the prospect of getting healed by a leech was, Reid was a world-renowned doctor. Some of the newer recruits were so young, and so many of them had families. He would be a bigger monster than the leeches to let them die for his pride.

“I’ll keep it in mind, leech. But you’d better be on your best behavior.” McCullum turned, then, and made his leave before Reid could say anything else. He never saw the victorious smile the doctor wore on his face.

McCullum began the trek back to headquarters, feet dragging along the whole way. The journey wasn’t long, but in his exhausted state it seemed to take hours. The bed in his office wasn’t comfortable by any means, but he couldn’t bring himself to care as he lay down without even taking off his boots.

That day, Jonathan dreamt of nothing, and Geoffrey dreamt of doctors with hands stained in blood.

Chapter Text

Jonathan Reid had become a near constant thorn in Geoffrey’s side.

McCullum almost regretted saving Reid from burning to a crisp, truth be told. The hunter liked to patrol by himself at least a couple days a week. It helped clear his head, and in all honesty he needed a break from the lads some nights . But God forbid he go through a single lone patrol now without encountering the bloody leech doctor. McCullum knew that Reid was seeking him out - he just couldn’t figure out why. Reid would ask about trivial things, like what state the Guard was in, or if McCullum was getting enough sleep. If the hunter didn’t know any better, he’d think the leech was trying to make conversation with him. More nights than not, Reid would even ask McCullum if he wanted to accompany him on his rounds across the various districts. His excuse was always something along the lines of, “I’m sure you’d find it useful to keep an eye on me, and it would be handy having you around in case I encounter one of your patrols,” but McCullum could see the twinkle in the leech’s eye. The thought that the leech enjoyed spending time with him was enough to put McCullum on edge.

And the worst part? He found that he was starting to enjoy the company as well.

Dr. Reid fascinated McCullum. He was past refusing to admit it, now; Reid was an intriguing man and that was just a fact that McCullum had learned to live with. The interest was purely professional. From the Guard’s standpoint, Reid was an oddity that could provide an endless amount of knowledge if studied. His intrigue had nothing to do with Reid’s icy blue eyes, or his deeply smooth voice, or the way that jacket he wore emphasized the broadness of his shoulders.

“Are you alright, Geoffrey? You seem distracted.”

McCullum was snapped out of his trance by the deep timbre of the other man, grateful that the redness in his cheeks could be explained away by the brisk London night. Reid had just finished the last of his rounds in Whitechapel, and the two were making their way back to Pembroke hospital. “Yeah, I’m fine. Tired, is all.”

Reid stopped, suddenly, brows furrowed slightly as he grabbed McCullum by the shoulders. “You’ve been injured recently,” he murmured, a stray hand moving upwards to try and reveal the scratch marks hidden beneath Geoffrey’s scarf.

“Get your hands off me, Reid,” McCullum growled. That was another absolutely infuriating thing about the leech - it seemed he had no concept of personal space. The habit most likely stemmed from being a doctor, McCullum reasoned, but that didn’t make it any more distracting. It was hard enough keeping his focus in Reid’s presence without the doctor constantly brushing shoulders or bumping legs. “Don’t you ever work a single bloody shift at the shithole hospital?

The concern didn’t leave Jonathan’s face. “Doing rounds around town has become a part of my workload, but don’t change the subject. You’re going to kill yourself if you keep going on like this, Geoffrey. I told you to tell me whenever you were injured-”

“Yeah, beyond what my men can handle, right? Well, rest assured that Douglas is perfectly capable of treating a scratch, Dr. Reid.”

A slight smile made its way onto Jonathan’s face. “I’m sure he’s a skilled healer,” Jonathan agreed, smile turning devilish. “Just not as skilled as me.”

McCullum scoffed. “Were you this humble when you were alive, Reid?”

To the hunter’s surprise, Reid pulled a face at that, baring the slightest glimpse of fang. “Let’s just say I doubt you would like the mortal me any more than the immortal one and leave it at that,” he sighed. Now Geoffrey’s interest was piqued, and he made a mental note to bring this conversation up later. They had reached the Pembroke by now, although instead of going off to the side balcony like he usually did Jonathan headed towards the main entrance.

“I have a few things I want to give you,” he explained at the confused look on the hunter’s face. “Medical supplies and the like.”

McCullum raised a brow at that. “Why would you want to give vampire hunters medical supplies?”

Reid shrugged as they began their way up the stairs. Now that the epidemic was over, the hospital had cleaned up quite a bit. The night shift was still busy, seeing how this was one of the few open hospitals in one of the worst parts of town, but there were no longer rows upon rows of patients littering the hallways. “Just call it a kind gesture between two friends.”

“We’re not friends,” McCullum sneered, although the words were not as venomous as they used to be. He wondered deep down if he really meant them. His mind wandered to their fight in the Pembroke when Jonathan spared his life. “I’m not saying we could be friends, you and I,” the leech had said sadly, “But maybe we could...collaborate?” Back then, the words just seemed like a desperate attempt at making peace. McCullum wasn’t so sure, now, and he didn’t like how the thought refused to settle in his mind.

“Oh, of course not.” Reid hummed pleasantly.

Reid’s office was located at the very end of the doctor’s wing. He unlocked the door and apologized for the mess with a sheepish smile. The area was more or less what McCullum was expecting. Reid had been back in London for a few months now, but only a couple of personal objects were scattered in between books and trays of medical equipment. A vibrant green fern stood in the corner by what appeared to be a tool desk, and McCullum moved to get a closer look. A long knife lay on top, right next to a bunsen burner and a tray of what looked like -

“Orichalcum power?” McCullum called to Reid in surprise. The doctor poked his head out from behind one of the cabinets set up in the corner of the room, left arm filled with several bottles.

“Ah, yes. I tinker around with the weapons, sometimes. It’s a habit I got during the war. It was far more practical to perform your own repairs in the trenches”

McCullum merely hummed in response. He studied the setup, wondering what Reid was trying to do, and when he realized he almost laughed out loud. “You’re trying to coat the knife in orichalcum, aren’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right. At first, I thought I could get away with burning the powder onto the knife, but it didn’t work as well as I hoped. I’m going to try to melt it down next.”

“It won’t work,” Geoffrey scoffed. “Orichalcum is too soft to coat a knife with. It’ll dull the blade, and you’ll never get a decent swipe at a leech. Mixing it with other metals won’t work, either, because it loses its magical properties unless it’s pure. Orichalcum is much more useful when it’s powdered. It isn’t flammable, so coating bullets with it is a surefire way to stop any leech in its tracks.”

Jonathan seemed impressed. “I didn’t know you were so handy with weapons,” he admitted.

McCullum shrugged. “I like tinkering with things whenever I have spare time. It gives my hands something to do, and provides newer and better equipment for my men.”

“I suppose we have something in common, then,” Jonathan agreed, carefully packing the various medicines away in a case before handing it to McCullum. “That’s several doses of aspirin, some antibiotics, a few local anesthetics, and a batch of Dakin’s solution. Be especially careful with the latter two,” Jonathan warned, hand still gripping the case tightly even as McCullum grabbed hold of it. “The anesthetics I gave you can only be admitted intravenously, and that means there’s a danger of muscle spasming if the needle hits anything other than the vein. Dakin’s solution irritates the skin, as well, so be sure to use a sealant like petroleum jelly to keep it in the infected area.”

“Listen, Douglas may not have a fancy medical license, but he knows what he’s doing, Doc.” McCullum insisted, finally yanking the case from Reid’s hand. He stood there awkwardly, staring down at the floor. “This is...awful generous of you. These supplies aren’t cheap. I’m not sure what to say.”

“A simple thank you would suffice, normally, but when you’re involved I’ll take what I can get.”

Geoffrey snorted before sobering his gaze back towards the other man. Reid had taken his jacket off and was sitting at the medical desk in the corner, preparing some slides to go under the microscope. It was uncanny seeing the leech do something so...human. “A vampire doctor, huh? You really are a terrifying creature, Jonathan Emmet Reid.”

Jonathan leaned back in his chair, staring at Geoffrey with those icy blue eyes. “I’ve learned - and am still in the process of learning, as a matter of fact - to not let what I am define who I am. I’ve been a doctor far longer than I’ve been a vampire. The urge to help people isn’t one that simply goes away. I just have to make sure it trumps my other...instincts.”

“The ones that tell you to drain a bite instead of healing it, you mean?” Geoffrey sneered. “You may still be a good man, for now, but you’re also still a leech. You can’t just ignore what you are, and I’m afraid somebody’s going to get hurt before you realize that.”

“So you think I’m a good man, then?” Reid shot a toothy grin at the hunter, fangs barely visible in the low light of the office.

McCullum’s cheeks went red, and he swore silently to himself before swallowing the lump in his throat. “Can’t you retract those or anything?” He gestured towards Reid’s mouth, changing the conversation. “Smile like that in public and I won’t be the only one after your head.”

Reid only bared his teeth in a grimace, absentmindedly rubbing at one of the elongated canines with the pad of his thumb. “It’s a side effect of the hunger. Most vampires keep their own thirst under control with a more nourishing food source, hence the ability to retract their fangs. Unfortunately, since I’m essentially starving myself, this is just something I have to deal with.”

“So you’re okay with going around looking like a beast, then?”

Reid shot the hunter an icy glare. “I’d much rather go around looking like a beast than acting like one. The fangs are perfectly manageable as long as I don’t open my mouth too much during conversation. And if anybody does notice, well…” Reid shrugged. “Not everyone can resist being mesmerized like you. How do you manage that, by the way?”

McCullum started towards the door, shooting his own wry smile towards the doctor. “I’m not about to go and tell you all of my secrets now just because you’ve given me some supplies, leech,” he scoffed.

Reid merely shook his head, a soft smile gracing his features as he turned back towards the blood samples. “Do remember to lock the door on your way out. Some of my colleagues have been making a habit of popping in unannounced.”

“Looks like being nosy is a common trait in your profession.”

That managed to draw a chuckle out of the doctor. The sound was low and rich, and if Geoffrey was blushing again it was certainly due to the heat of the room. “Goodnight, McCullum,” Reid hummed. The hunter only responded by locking the door behind him.

 

*~~~*~~~*

 

The next night, McCullum was strangely absent from the streets. Reid wasn’t worried, or even surprised. There were many nights where McCullum went out hunting with his men. The night afterward Reid was kept busy with his rounds until it was nearly sunrise, and checking in on the hunter was clearly out of the question. After the third night in a row without a word, Reid started to get worried. Ever since that day by the docks, McCullum liked to keep tabs on the doctor as often as possible. Three days without any appearance at all was unusual, but still, Jonathan convinced himself that he was just being paranoid.

He was conducting his rounds around the docks that night and was about to stop by the Turquoise Turtle before stopping suddenly outside the door. All of the scents inside were familiar, but one of them was definitely out of place.

“In all of the places I expected to run into you, this certainly wasn’t one of them,” Reid finally worked the courage to walk in and lean against the bar next to the other man. Tom, the barkeep, was occupied with a couple of rowdy patrons and left the good doctor alone.

"G'evening, Doctor Reid." McCullum's voice sounded strangely…disconnected. As if he were here, but his thoughts were wondering about somewhere else. Jonathan stared, admittedly caught off guard by the unexpected tone. If Geoffrey McCullum was one thing, it was always in the moment. He had never seen the hunter look so...distracted.

"Good evening, Geoffrey." Jonathan's eyes narrowed in suspicion when McCullum didn't even respond to the use of his first name with his usual prickliness. With slow, methodical movements, Jonathan reached out a hand and grasped the underside of the stool next to McCullum, pulling it out and taking a sit when the action also failed to garner a response.

Something was wrong.

"Pub's a bit of a funny place for a leech, isn't it?" McCullum still didn't look up towards Jonathan as he spoke, eyes still glued to the full mug before him. His hands were clutched around it tightly, almost desperately, yet he did not bring the glass to his lips to drink. "Not much for you to do here, after all."

"I could say the same for you," Jonathan replied, eyes still narrowed but the emotion behind them slowly turning from suspicion to concern. The hunter's broad shoulders were slumped as if he wished he could collapse in on himself then and there, and the dark circles under those deep blue eyes seemed...heavy. "Men usually drink when they visit these sort of establishments."

McCullum let out a laugh, harsh and bitter, and that's when Jonathan knew his worries were confirmed entirely.

Something had happened.

"Oh, I know that, Doctor Reid," he continued to chuckle, eyes never once leaving the mug in his hand. Jonathan knew it was impossible, but he imagined McCullum holding the glass so tightly it merely burst, glass scattering over the two men as the mug's contents spilled across the table and dripped uselessly onto the worn wooden floor beneath their feet. "Believe me…I know."

"Yet you aren't drinking."

"I don't intend to."

Jonathan wondered briefly if this man would ever stop being such an enigma. "Then my curiosity as to why you are here is justified."

"Do you often wonder what I'm up to, Doctor Reid?"

"More often than I would like to admit, hunter."

That response draws another laugh from McCullum's chapped lips, though it isn't any more cheerful than the first one had been. "A man is allowed his sorrows, Doctor, and mine are my own."

"Sometimes the weight of those sorrows can be relieved by sharing them," Reid disagreed. "It would certainly be more productive than sitting in a pub and wasting coin on alcohol you have no intention to drink."

"Like you'd fucking know," McCullum snarled, voice suddenly turning from distant to irate in an instant. "Tell me, Doctor Reid, how do you drown your sorrows? By sinking your fangs into the nearest street rat's throat?"

He is upset and clearly grieving, Jonathan reminded himself when his fingers' grip on the bartop tightened. He does not mean his words. "You know fully well that I would never do that, McCullum. Let's not be ridiculous now."

"Ridiculous? This is fucking ridiculous! " McCullum seethed, spitting the words through gritted teeth and tightening his grasp on the glassware. "Here I am, a grown fucking man and leader of The Guard of Priwen, sitting here in a shithole pub feeling bloody well sorry for myself."

"Did you not just say a man is allowed his sorrows, McCullum?"

The hunter has no response to that.

This...whatever this was, whatever was troubling the hunter so greatly, clearly was not some recent occurrence. No, there was a biting bitterness in his voice alongside the sorrow, an ancient regret that could not have possibly happened in the few days since Reid saw the man  last. McCullum looked unkept, hair hanging off the side of his forehead and causing stray strands to get in the way of bloodshot eyes. If Jonathan looked down, he would see that the hand not gripping his drink was shaking ever so slightly.

Reid knows this sorrow. The same sorrow had gripped him when his father had abandoned them. It had gripped him in France when he received news of his brother-in-law's death, and then once more in the same country but a different location when he had heard of the death of his nephew from the flu. Little Emmet...named after him. A namesake he would never get to meet.

It was a sorrow that still gripped him in between day and night when his mind was the most distracted and he somehow let his thoughts slip to his Mary. A sorrow that clung to him, feeling like both a suffocating embrace across his chest and a heavy fog over his mind, a sorrow that made him want to lash out and scream and bite. A sorrow he kept chained up with lock and key.

He was really no better than McCullum in that aspect, he supposed.

Yet still, his own demons brought around a rather curious train of thought. Reid had only seen McCullum in a state similar to this once before when the man had finished exterminating a group of Skals in the cemetery and had kneeled before a gravestone. Those shoulders had been slumped before he realized Jonathan was in the cemetery with him. The meeting had taken place only a few nights following their fight in the hospital, and McCullum had still been rather...sore. His words felt as heavy as the fog that surrounded them, as heavy as the blows he had struck Jonathan with.

"Were your parents killed by vampires?" Reid had asked, wanting to switch the subject to anything other than the brawl that had taken place nights before.

"Yes," McCullum had replied, drawing in a shaking breath like he hadn't been expecting the question. The same shaky breath he had drawn in when Jonathan chose to spare him. "And yet worse. My father returned to Dublin a vampire and tore out my mother's throat. Carl Edlritch, one-time lead of Priwen, killed my father in front of me. Helped me hunt my brother Ian after teaching me how to kill leeches ."

The dots were connected in Jonathan's mind. Now he understood .

"Do you do this every year, then?" Reid asked softly, unsure of what reaction his words would garner. "There are better ways of honoring their memory."

McCullum finally looked up at Jonathan then, emotions flashing so quickly through his eyes that the doctor was barely able to acknowledge them. Surprise, firstmost, a surprise that confirmed Jonathan's suspicions to be correct, followed by a brief snap of anger before settling on exhaustion. "It's pathetic, I know. You don't need to remind me of it."

"I do not think it's pathetic for a man to seek comfort in his grief."

"It's been over three decades."

"You'll find sadness is a fickle thing, McCullum," Jonathan sighed, sliding the chair outward and making to stand up. "It seems to care little for time. I shall leave you to your bottle if you wish. Good evening, hunter."

"Wait." The intensity of those spoken words caught Jonathan by surprise, and even more so when he felt a strong but shakey grip take hold of his forearm. "I - you don't have to leave. You… you can stay. If you want, I mean. I could...I could use the company."

Jonathan was able to compose himself enough to stop an obvious smile from spreading across his lips, though his eyes lit up at the unspoken reason behind McCullum wanted him to stay. "Only if you insist," he agreed, taking back his seat.

The two of them sat in silence, and McCullum didn't protest when Jonathan edged his stool closer to the hunter's so that their shoulders were touching. And when the hunter leaned into the touch...the movement was so slight that the vampire was able to convince himself it was merely his imagination.

 

*~~~*~~~*

 

“And you’re positive you want to go out with the lads tonight, sir?”

McCullum ignored the question in favor of loading up his pistols. “This song and dance is growing old, Douglas.”

“Sir, we need to have a talk about this. I’m gettin’ worried, s’all.” The shorter man sat down in the seat by the desk, taking his hat off to scrunch up in his hands. Douglas was older than McCullum, but at that moment he looked like a schoolboy called into the head office. “You’re strong, sir, but you aren’t givin’ your body time to heal. S’not healthy.”

The ammo box was slammed back down on the desk with enough force to make the medic jump in his seat. “I am a grown man and leader of the Guard of Priwen. If I say I’m able to go out and patrol than I am bloody well able to.”

To McCullum’s surprise, Douglas stood up and faced the taller man instead of shrinking into the chair. “Forgive me for saying this, sir, but you’re being a right fuckin’ prick! I’m not going to argue about this as your captain anymore. I’m going to talk to you as a friend . Bloody hell, Geoff, I was by Carl’s side as he raised you! I patched up your scraped knees when you were just a lad! It’s tearin’ me up to see you like this, Geoff, it really is. You’re gettin’ scarred all over, throwin’ yourself at leeches like you’re a bloody Sunday roast, and it’s like you don’t even care! Every one of them scars is a time you almost died , Geoff.  I know you love to play the hero, but these men don’t need that right now. They need a leader.”

McCullum was speechless. He wanted to be mad - he should be mad - but it was impossible when everything Douglas was saying rang true. With a deep sigh, he leaned against the desk, shoulders slumped forward and brows furrowed deeply. “What else am I supposed to do, Douglas? I have to lead these people by example. You know as well as I do that not a single one of them would step a foot outside at night if I was just holed up in my office. I couldn’t live with myself, knowing that they’re risking their lives out there while I’m having tea.”

Douglas sighed. “You really are Carl’s boy, are you? A right stubborn bastard. That was Carl’s end, Geoffrey, and you know it. He was a good man, and a great leader, but that hard head of his brought him to an early grave. He’d still be here right now if he was just willing to listen to us for a bloody second . I can’t -” Douglas swallowed, and he sat back in the chair. “We can’t lose another good man to something so preventable. And believe it or not, Geoffrey, you being an absolute git is entirely preventable.”

“So what? You want me to stop going out on patrols?” McCullum laughed at that. “That’s not going to happen.”

“Cut me a deal then, Geoff.” Douglas begged, “The next time you get hurt, give yourself some time to heal . I’ll drag Patel down here from Manchester if I have to. Maybe she can talk some sense into you.”

“Patel wouldn’t be able to convince me either, Douglas. But you do make a fair point. From now on, when I get injured, I’ll take a break. For as long as I think I need to.”

“Bloody fuckin’ Christ,” Douglas muttered under his breath, pinching the bridge of his nose. “In all honesty, you’ve listened to me tonight far more than I thought you would. We can continue this conversation later. The boys are about to head out, and I want to give them a once-over before they do. McCullum...just be careful , okay? Will you promise me that?”

“I promise you I’ll be careful, Douglas, but that’s the most I can do.” McCullum agreed gruffly. The medic smiled, considering even the slightest admittance from the Irishman a victory, and left the room. McCullum went back to preparing his weapons for the hunt when something hidden in the corner of his desk caught his eye.

It was the flask filled with King Arthur’s blood. He had almost entirely forgotten about it once Reid returned it. There had been so many other things on his mind, what with trying to get the Great Hunt started back up again, and keeping tabs on Patel’s satellite operation in Manchester. He remembered how powerful the drink had made him feel. How quickly even the deepest wounds had healed when the blood of King Arthur was flowing through his veins. His hands twitched, and it seemed like the setting sun outside all but disappeared.

“You’re going to kill yourself if you keep going on like this, Geoffrey.”

“We can’t lose another good man to something so preventable.”

“There are better ways of honoring their memory.”

“Priwen must prevail.”

Before he could change his mind, McCullum screwed the lid off the flask and took a quick sip, letting only a drop trickle down his throat before quickly setting it down. Even just a minuscule amount was enough to light up his body, and he could feel the liquid burning away his aching muscles and heavy wounds. He opened one of the desk drawers and carefully placed it inside, making sure nobody would be able to find it underneath the stack of papers.

“Priwen must prevail,” McCullum muttered to himself, and with that, he was gone.

Chapter Text

After the incident in the bar, Geoffrey didn’t see or hear anything from Jonathan foralmost a week. It was a reality he was grateful for. He’d had a moment of weakness in the Turquoise Turtle, and it was a series of shitty events that led to him asking Jonathan to keep him company. Under normal (and sober) circumstances, he would never dare confide in the leech. The alcohol had muddled his brain; it made it so easy to forget what the doctor actually was.

And is it the alcohol that makes your spine shiver at his touch?

The thought was entirely unwelcome, and absolutely not true. “Bloody leech, getting in my head,” McCullum growled, kicking at a stray brick littered on the sidewalk. It was still early, only a little before midnight, but he was already restless. He had taken another sip of King Arthur’s blood before this patrol, his promise to Douglas ringing through his head the entire time, and the abundance of energy was making him incredibly antsy. These days a patrol was lucky to come across a couple of skals a night, and that was only in the shadier boroughs. The Guard had completely stopped patrolling in the West End and other well-off districts. It wasn’t just a matter of hunting all the skals down, either. With the influenza over, police officers were beginning to return to their own nightly routine, and they didn’t take too kindly to Priwen wondering the streets of London with flaming crossbows and gas grenades. Thankfully, Geoffrey hadn’t run into any of London’s finest that night. The Turquoise Turtle was only a few streets away, and while the bar was still plenty lively the rest of the streets were nearly deserted.

There was nothing worse than a fruitless patrol. “God, what I would give for a leech to appear right now,” he muttered under his breath. Just then an all too familiar whoosh sounded beside him, and McCullum swore aloud. “Oh, for fuck’s sake…”

“Speak of the Devil, and he shall appear,” Jonathan smiled, clasping a hand onto McCullum’s shoulder. He shrugged it off immediately, but it didn’t seem to damper the doctor’s mood. Something was...off. Jonathan demeanor, usually deathly serious and even a little somber, seemed almost excited.

“You’re in a good mood tonight,” McCullum accused. In the back of his mind, he desperately hoped that Jonathan wouldn’t bring up the night at the Turtle. It would be best for the both of them to just forget about it.

“As it were, I am in a fantastic mood!” The smile on his face only widened, and Geoffrey had to give him a harsh nudge when they passed by a man heading in the opposite direction.

“Watch the teeth, leech,” Geoffrey warned. “I don’t really care about what’s got you in such high spirits, but I also have a sneaking suspicion you’re going to tell me anyway.”

“Your powers of deduction are truly remarkable, Geoffrey,” Jonathan teased. Geoffrey furrowed his brows at the jest, and Jonathan softened his smile. “After months of what I had feared was hopeless research, I’ve finally found a cure for the blood of hate.”

“The blood of what? What kind of vampire bullshit is that?”

“I agree that the name is a bit archaic. Nonetheless, I suspect you’ll be just as happy about the cure as I am. Despite having such a mysterious name, the blood of hate is nothing more than a disease, and like all other diseases, it can be cured. It turns vampires mad with hunger, and they become mindless beasts. When Edgar administered vampire blood to Harriet Jones in his attempt to cure the influenza, he didn’t realize that the vampire whose blood he used was a healthy carrier for the blood of hate. But now that I have a cure for her, and now that Priwen is in the process of eliminating Skals off the streets…”

McCullum hummed. “It means that we won’t have any more frenzied Skals in London. I must admit, I’m almost impressed, doctor. But why are you telling me this?”

The smile on Jonathan’s face now turned sheepish. “Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to boast a bit. I’ve spent months on this cure, and there are so few people who I can even tell about it. But I also need your help. My friend, the vampire I made this cure for, lives by the gates leading to the West End. You still have heavy patrols on the East End side of those gates, and I would appreciate your help in passing them.”

“Ha!” McCullum scoffed. “Why don’t you just sneak past them, leech? Surely it can’t be that difficult.”

“Under normal circumstances, I would, but…” Reid rubbed the back of his head, and as they passed underneath a streetlight McCullum could see just how dark the bruises under his eyes really were. Concern managed to worm its way onto his face for a brief second before he replaced it with his usual scowl. “I’ve been working diligently these past couple days. I haven’t gotten a lick of sleep, and more importantly, I haven’t fed. I’m hardly in the state to sneak past your guards.”

“Alright,” he agreed gruffly, steering them in the direction of the Finsbury gates, “But only because it’s a chance to learn the location of another leech lair.”

A strong hand grab hold of his arm and McCullum looked up at Reid with an arched brow. “I know you’re only saying that to get under my skin,” Jonathan began, voice so low McCullum had to strain to hear it, “But let’s leave it at that, yes? Elisabeth is a very dear friend to me. I would appreciate if the Guard stayed away from her.”

“You’d appreciate it, huh?” McCullum snorted.

“I’d appreciate it in the sense that I would rather not kill your men, Geoffrey.”

They stared at each other for a second, icy eyes challenging dark ones. McCullum noted absentmindedly that there were flecks of green speckled throughout the vampire’s irises. He finally turned away with a snort. “Fine. So long as she’s on her best behavior, Priwen won’t actively hunt her out. But the second she returns to her beastly nature - and I have no doubt she will, because that’s just how your kind is - I won’t hesitate in ordering my men to eliminate the threat.”

The smile returned to Jonathan’s face as they began walking. “Thank you, Geoffrey. It means quite a lot to me.”

“I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it because the Guard needs to recover before we start up another Great Hunt,” he snapped. For some reason, hearing Jonathan speak so fondly of this other leech had put him in an agitated mood. “Why are you getting so defensive about her anyway? Is she your girl or something?”

Jonathan’s eyes almost popped out of his head. “Oh, no no no - I could never - she’s not -” He took a  deep breath to compose himself. “No, we’re not romantically involved. Elisabeth is a beautiful, generous woman, and I hold her in the highest regards, but she is just a very dear friend. She took the place of my mentor and guided me through my first few weeks as a vampire. If it weren’t for her, it’s entirely likely I would have succumbed to the bloodlust. She’s too humble to claim otherwise, but I owe her a great deal. That is why she is so important to me, and that is why this cure means so much.”

The tension building in McCullum’s chest released upon hearing Reid say he and the lady leech were just friends, though he couldn’t figure out why. “Is she like you, then? A leech with a conscience?”

Reid shrugged. “She’s like all of us, I suppose. There’s blood on her hands, but then again there’s blood on mine as well.”

“Wait a minute - are you telling me you have killed before?” McCullum spat out, hands instinctively going towards the gun holstered at his belt.

“There’s no need for that, I assure you, ” Jonathan replied quickly, moving McCullum’s arm away from the gun. “I fought in the Great War, Geoffrey. I...I had to kill to survive. It haunts me.” Jonathan didn’t tell him the whole truth, of course. No matter how close he was starting to get to the hunter, at the moment it still felt dangerous sharing what happened with Mary to anybody but Lady Ashbury.

Geoffrey frowned. It should have been obvious - he had known Reid fought in the war, but for some reason the thought that he had been forced to kill even as a human didn’t cross his mind. Deep down, he couldn’t help but feel grateful that it was those men that died instead of the doctor, even if the thought made his stomach churn. “I fought in the war, too,” McCullum started. “And I wasn’t thrown right into some fancy officer’s clothes like I’m betting you were. I had to work my way up to that position. Wasn’t happy about it, seeing how there’s a more important war going on here, but...the conscription was a bloody fucking pain.”

They were almost at the gates, and Jonathan could see the torchlight from the patrols blocking the way. “I signed up for the war, personally. Truth be told, I’m almost surprised you didn’t jump for enlistment the moment the Germans published their declaration.”

Geoffrey scoffed at that. “The Germans may be bad, Dr. Reid, but leeches are worse. I already told you. It was annoying being sent off to fight when I was already doing my share here .”

“Hm. I’m surprised.”

The hunter furrowed his brows. “At what? The fact that I wasn’t clambering to go off to war like every other man in London?”

“No.” Jonathan gave him a strange look with those icy blue eyes, and Geoffrey felt gooseflesh forming along his arms despite the warmth of the night. “That’s one of the first times you actually answered one of my questions about yourself.”

He didn’t know what to say, so he just ignored the doctor as they finally made their way to the patrol on the bridge. This group was nearly all rookies, with a slightly more experienced Guard member leading for the night. “Good evening, sir,” the oldest one said, though his tone immediately turned hostile and he lifted up a crossbow once he caught sight of Jonathan. “Wait a minute, that’s a bloody leech!”

“I can see that, Smith. Put your weapon down.” McCullum ordered. The leader, Smith, followed without hesitation, and the other recruits soon followed, though all of them were sharing weary glances. Jonathan was impressed that their loyalty towards their leader was stronger than their hatred for vampires. “This is the one we struck up a deal with, remember? The one from the hospital. He may be a leech, but you know as well as I do that the Guard is in no position to turn down medical expertise.”

“Well yeah, sir,” Smith began, shooting an anxious glance towards Jonathan, “But he-”

“But nothing, Smith.” Geoffrey barked. “So long as he keeps up his end of the deal, we don’t touch him. But rest assured lad; as soon as he sets a hand on an innocent, his head is ours.”

Jonathan smiled slightly at that. McCullum had talked about killing him for months, but Jonathan was getting fairly certain that if it came to that point the hunter wouldn’t be able to go through with it. He couldn’t decide if the thought was comforting or unnerving. “I’m merely passing through,” Jonathan tried to offer a reassuring smile. This proved to be a fatal mistake.

One of the youngest recruits yelled as soon as they caught a glimpse of his fangs, and before he knew it there was a smoking pistol pointed in his direction and a burning pain in his left shoulder. Jonathan’s reaction was immediate and instinctual. He closed the distance between himself and the boy that shot him, grabbing him by the throat and lifting him up in the air, fangs bared in a savage sneer.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Somebody called out, most likely one of the other recruits.

Several guns were cocked back at once, and he felt the cool metal barrel of one press against the back of his head. “Put him down, Reid!” McCullum shouted, using that same commanding tone of voice. “He didn’t mean anything by it! And you lot had better set your fucking weapons down!” The other recruits followed the instructions and lowered their guns, although it wasn’t without a couple of seconds of hesitation. The hunter’s own gun was still pressed to the back of Reid’s skull.

“Didn’t mean anything by it? That bullet almost went through my heart, McCullum!” Jonathan hissed, not taking his eyes off the terrified face of the young man in front of him. His vision grew red, and a loud pounding noise rang through his ears like a drum. The boy was squirming in his grip, heart beating deliciously fast within his chest, and Jonathan was so tempted to bring the neck to his mouth and bite, to taste the adrenaline and fear rushing through his veins, to silence that bloody call -

“I said put him down , leech!” McCullum shouted again. Then, in a tone so quiet the vampire wondered if the hunter meant to say it out loud, he added, “Don’t make me shoot you, Reid. Please.”

Jonathan’s gripped lessened. With a deep breath, he finally let go of the boy, who fell to the ground and immediately scurried backward. “Fucking leech!” He shouted out, finally standing once he was safely positioned behind the other patrolmen. Jonathan only hissed back in response, letting go of the last bits of anger still flooding his vision red.

“You lot are coming back to headquarters when the night’s over,” Geoffrey seethed, barely restrained anger pronouncing every word as he faced the group of young men, “Before any of you can even think about going to sleep, you’ll be running suicides until your bloody feet fall off. When I say a leech is off limits, I expect you all to listen to me. Is that understood?”

“But, sir, it bared its fangs at us, and-”

“That’s called a fucking smile you prick!” McCullum growled. “You know why this one’s fangs are always showing? Because he doesn’t eat people, that’s fucking why! You’re a smart kid, Lowry, but you’re too damn trigger happy. Don’t let something like this happen again, or I’ll let the leech sort it out next time. And I doubt he’ll be as forgiving as me.”

Lowry swallowed heavily at that. The other members of the patrol were still glaring at the youngest boy, clearly angry that they only had exercise to look forward to once they returned to headquarters. “I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again. I swear it.”

“Damn right it won’t. C’mon, Reid, let’s go before somebody else tries to blow a hole through you.” McCullum turned and stalked off, and Jonathan followed after one final glare at the boy who had shot him. The entry wound still burned; this patrol must have coated their bullets in phosphorus. Thankfully Elisabeth’s house wasn’t too far from the bridge, and he should be able to remove the bullet then.

“I am grateful for your protection back there,” Jonathan began, wincing as he took his hand off the wound to inspect the damage done to his shirt. The bleeding was minimal - the gun had fired close enough to him that the bullet had still been hot when it entered his body, and the wound was mostly cauterized. Healing would take a little longer than usual, but at least for the short term, it made the bleeding stop. In all honesty, he was more upset at the loss of another perfectly good shirt. “Though next time I would rather not be shot by one of  your men, regardless of your presence.”

McCullum scoffed. “Next time I have half the mind to just let them shoot you.”

“When will you stop this act?” Jonathan demanded suddenly, once again staring at the hunter with an icy scrutiny.

“What act?” McCullum bit back.

“This act where you pretend to not care if I get hurt or not. This act where you pretend we’re not friends. That’s two times you’ve saved my life now, McCullum, despite constantly proclaiming your wish to end it. I think it’s obvious to the both of us at this point that you don’t actually wish to see me dead, and I would go so far as to suggest the thought of it even saddens you.” Reid looked away for the briefest moment, tongue flicking quickly across his bottom lip. “I know the thought of your death saddens me.”

McCullum could feel the heat rushing to his cheeks again. He remembered the brief second of panic that had overwhelmed his mind when he heard the gunshot ring out. It was something that didn’t happen often, but at that moment McCullum felt true fear. He had been terribly, truly scared that the bullet would prove true, ripping its way through Jonathan’s heart, leaving the man nothing but a crumpled corpse on bloodstained cobblestone.

This is ridiculous! McCullum thought to himself with a shake of the head. He’s a bloody leech. Why should I care if he lives or dies?

Because he’s saved your life? Because you’ve saved his?

That means nothing, he argued, angry that he was even having these thoughts. I owed him a debt. That’s the only reason I saved him.

Then why did you save him just now? Is it because he has proven himself useful? Or is it because you’ve grown to care for him?

“I could never be friends with a leech,” Geoffrey scoffed. The words were missing the venomous bite he had aimed for, and instead, he sounded uncertain.

“No, I doubt you could ever be friends with a vampire,” Jonathan admitted, “But...that doesn’t mean we have to be enemies, either. Do you think you could be friends with a doctor? A soldier? A son?”

A strange emotion shone through those icy blue eyes, and it was one Geoffrey couldn’t place. Sadness? Desperation?

….Hope?

McCullum swore under his breath. They had reached what he assumed was the lady leech’s house, although Jonathan made no move to open the gates and head inside. Looked like he would have to provide an answer, then. The thought sent another shiver down his spine. How the hell was he supposed to answer that question? In all honesty, the hunter didn’t even know exactly how he felt about the leech.

That’s a lie.

He swore again. Alright, so maybe he did know. All his life, Geoffrey had been taught that every single leech was a bloodthirsty monster. It didn’t matter who they were before the change; once their soul was corrupted they killed indiscriminately, and as soon as you let your guard down they wouldn’t hesitate to rip out your throat. Carl Eldritch had made sure to drill into his head that under no circumstances was a leech to be trusted. And for so long, Geoffrey had no reason to doubt those beliefs. He’d seen it himself, the beastly nature that overtook all vampires; first in his father and brother, and then with every single leech afterward. Never before had he met a leech that wasn’t rotted all the way down to the core. The whole lot of them were soulless, evil demons who could only survive by taking life from the innocent.

But Jonathan….Jonathan was different.

Geoffrey didn’t know if it was only because he was still so recently turned, but Jonathan had still managed to keep a strong hold on his humanity. He somehow fought the hunger, contained the beast within, all so that he could continue being the person he was before. Geoffrey had never seen that type of perseverance in any of the leeches he had encountered, though truth be told he had also never put much thought into how hard it may be to keep hold of your humanity after the change. He had always assumed that once you were turned into a vampire you just wouldn’t want to. Yet here was Jonathan, still putting his duty as a doctor above all of those base instincts. It was a kind of strength and determination Geoffrey admired, in truth. It reminded him of Carl. Any other man would have his respect for it.

What makes him different, then?

A frustrated growl worked it’s way past the hunter’s lips. Jonathan was a vampire. But… he was also a doctor. He was also, somehow, incredibly human, perhaps even more so than most of the actual humans Geoffrey had met. Perhaps the lessons Carl had taught him were wrong? Perhaps….not all leeches had to be the enemy?

Perhaps some leeches could even be friends?

Perhaps even more than friends, the voice in the back of his mind taunted. Do you think he doesn’t notice the way you look at him? That he simply ignores the way the blood rushes to your cheeks? To your -

Shut the hell up.

“Not enemies,” Geoffrey finally managed to let out in an exasperated chuckle. “Maybe that is so. But friends….well, you’ll have to keep up your good behavior, Dr. Reid, or I may change my mind.”

Jonathan smiled then, and although it was a sight Geoffrey had seen countless of times before, this time was different. This smile wasn’t a sneer, or teasing, or sad. It seemed strangely….happy. It caused Geoffrey to break into a small smile of his own, although he quickly turned away so that Reid couldn’t see it. “Thank you for the escort, Geoffrey. I’m sure you’re anxious to get back to your men after what just happened.”

“Aye. Don’t worry, they’ll answer for that,” McCullum reassured glancing briefly at the bridge before turning back towards the other man. The light from the streetlamps danced across Reid’s features, making him look younger. Making him look human. “When I give my men orders, I expect them to listen. I’ll be sure to let the rest of the Guard know that you’re off limits.”

“And Elisabeth?”

McCullum frowned. “Reid, I already told you that we wouldn’t actively hunt her, but I can’t just go offering her the same protections. My men would get suspicious.”

Reid grabbed his shoulder, and McCullum was uncomfortably aware of the weight of it. Those icy eyes bore into his own, and the hunter wondered if he would ever be able to stare into them without the blood rushing to his cheeks. “Please, Geoffrey. For me. For a friend.” His voice was so low, barely more than a rumble.

Am I really willing to compromise the Guard’s mission for the sake of one leech? Geoffrey thought to himself, still encaptured by those pale eyes. Am I willing to just throw away everything that Carl taught me? Everything I was raised to believe in? Everything I’ve seen? Can I really do so much for one man?

Yes.

McCullum finally let out an exasperated sigh. “Right, then. You have my word, Reid.”

Another smile danced across Jonathan’s lips, and this time Geoffrey didn’t turn away when he returned it.

 

*~~~*~~~*

 

Elisabeth greeted Jonathan at the door with a smile that quickly grew into a concerned frown. “Jonathan, my dear, you’ve been hurt.”

The doctor only offered her his own curt smile as he was ushered inside. “It’s nothing to worry about, I assure you. It’ll take me all of a minute to remove if you’d be so kind as to hand me a mirror.” He shrugged out of his jacket, grateful that it had been spared by the bullet. Replacing shirts was no issue, but he had grown rather fond of the coat.

“And how did this happen, exactly?”

Jonathan debated for a minute about whether or not he should tell the lady the truth. She was his dearest friend, but as a fellow vampire, she wasn’t exactly fond of the Guard of Priwen. “I had an encounter with a Priwen patrol on my way here,” he admitted, opting for honesty. “If I hadn’t been with Geoffrey McCullum, the situation likely would have been much worse.”

Elisabeth’s eyebrows furrowed together as she led Jonathan into the side room they had taken to performing his experiments in. It wasn’t terribly big, but it was clean enough and didn’t contain any valuables that the lady would mind losing if something went wrong during their experiments. Working with blood tended to be a messy business. Jonathan rummaged through the drawers in the large oak dresser and pull out the case that contained most of the medical equipment he kept stored there.

“I trust you’re going to tell me why exactly you were with Geoffrey McCullum? Did the two of you get in another fight? I thought you were on better terms with him.”

Jonathan looked up from the drawer, eyebrows practically in his hairline. “Oh, heavens no! There was no violence on his part. Not towards me, anyway. I already told you he was the only reason I was able to get past the Priwen guards without any unnecessary bloodshed.” He dug out a pair of forceps from the medical case and walked over to a mirror in the corner of the room, taking a seat on the stool. “Besides, I am here for far more pressing manners. I have excellent news, Elisabeth.”

“This is about your research, I imagine?”

“Not just research anymore, my dear friend! My work wasn’t for naught. I think I’ve discovered a treatment, Elisabeth.”

Elisabeth immediately straightened up in her seat. “Jonathan, are you being serious?”

“You know I would never joke about something like this. Just let me remove this bullet, and we’ll start immediately.”He started going digging through the wound with his forceps, though he removed them almost immediately with a sharp his. “ Damn. Bloody phosphorus. It stings like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Do you need any assistance, Jonathan?”

Jonathan shot her a sheepish smile, holding the forceps out in front of him so that Elisabeth could take them. “If you wouldn’t mind, please. The bullet’s in a bit deeper than I thought. I don’t think I’ll be able to remove it myself.”

The lady chuckled as she grabbed the forceps from Jonathan. “Don’t worry; this is hardly my first time removing a bullet.” Steadying a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder, she dug around for the object as gently as she could, wincing in sympathy whenever Jonathan let out a pained hiss. There was a soft clink noise as she finally retrieved the bullet and dropped it into the tray on the table. “There. All done. You should have some extra shirts in the dresser if you want to get out of that.”

Jonathan looked down at his shirt. The wound had reopened during the extraction, and quite a bit of blood managed to seep into the fabric. “Oh, Right.” He opened up the dresser and rummaged around some more before finally coming up with a dark shirt. He stood there for a moment, not making any move to change.

“Jonathan, what are you doing?”

“I - well,” he cleared his throat, “I would hardly be a gentleman if I were to just change my shirt in front of a lady.”

“Jonathan, the first time I saw you, you were covered in guts and gore, and you’ve walked in on me feeding on a dying man. I had assumed we were past archaic modesty.”

“...That is a fair point.”

He quickly pulled off the dirtied shirt and tossed it onto the table before changing into the new one. Once that was done with, he began setting up everything he needed to begin the transfusion process.

“It should be rather simple, really. This is the treated blood right here. If my theory is correct - and by the grace of God, they usually are - then introducing this blood in your system should eliminate any remaining traces of the blood of hate.” He finished setting up the apparatus. “One line is going to be used to drain some of your own blood, and the other is going to introduce the treatment into your system.”

Elisabeth listened patiently while Jonathan explained all of this. She had lived with this curse for hundreds of years; a few extra moments spent listening to Jonathan ramble would hardly matter. “I can see that you’ve dedicated much of your time to this. I don’t think words are able to express how truly grateful I am, my dear.”

Jonathan smiled softly. “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. I didn’t have any guidance my first night as an immortal, and people suffered for it.” A shiver went down his spine; not just at the thought of his poor Mary, but also for the Priwen guards he had injured and potentially killed in his confused haze. “If you hadn’t taken me under your wing, I’d still be that mindless monster. You have shown me that our eternity doesn’t have to be one void of compassion. For that, you have my eternal gratitude. This is the least I can do to repay you.”

Elisabeth smiled back, even as Jonathan inserted the IVs into her arm. “I don’t give a damn who - or what - your maker is. To leave your progeny to fend for themselves...alone, defenseless, afraid...protector of Britain or not, I truly believe Myrddin Wilt is a monster for doing that to you. William Marshall was like a father to me, and when I took you in I was simply following the most important lesson he ever imprinted on me.”

Jonathan finished inserting the second IV. “And what was that lesson?”

“That helping those who cannot help themselves is the only way we can truly make up for this cursed life.”

He only gave Elisabeth a warm smile in response. She knew the meaning behind it; Jonathan may not be very good at expressing his emotions with words, but at that moment he didn’t need to. “Right, so. This first one is in your ulnar vein. Veins lead oxygen-poor blood back to the heart, so I inserted the drainage tube through here to ensure that only your blood is leaving your body,” he explained, voice taking on a slightly enthusiastic tone as he explained the process. With a light tap on the upper IV, he added, “And this one is set into the brachial artery. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, meaning that by inserting the line into here, your body will do the rest of the work by naturally carrying the treatment through your blood. The whole process shouldn’t be long, although I must admit that I’m not entirely sure what will happen. I imagine if it doesn’t work, your healing will get rid of the foreign blood and nothing will change. However, if the treatment does take, it’s likely you’ll feel some adverse side effects.”

“Side effects like what?”

Jonathan shrugged. “I’m...not entirely sure. When I tested the treatment on a sample of your blood back at the hospital, it did successfully clear out the infection in your system. In any normal human, this process is what causes the symptoms of an illness like the common cold. However, vampiric white blood cells are both stronger and more numerous, so it’s a bit tricky to predict what your body could experience. I would prepare for nausea and headache, and due to our condition you’ll probably be a bit hungrier than normal, but it shouldn’t be anything worse than that.”

“This is truly amazing, Jonathan. If this cure works, do you know what other floodgates it could open? What else you might be able to accomplish?”

Jonathan’s face darkened. “I know what you’re trying to get at. I’ve studied our kind’s blood extensively, Elisabeth. There’s a reason so little people survive the change if their sire doesn’t know what they’re doing. Becoming a vampire….it transforms us completely. Asking me to try and turn us back into humans would be like asking me to try and turn a dog into a cat.”

She tried not to let the disappointment show. “Right. I see. I was getting ahead of myself, I suppose. The discoveries you’ve made are still no less extraordinary, Jonathan. Don’t forget that.”

They sat in silence for a moment. Elisabeth had learned long ago how to appreciate the quiet moments as much as the spoken ones, but the tenseness in Jonathan’s soldier betrayed is discomfort. “Let’s move on to a better subject, then, while we still have time to spare. You said Geoffrey McCullum escorted you here? As in, the head of the Guard of Priwen? The man that’s sworn to hunt down every last vampire in England, from the Ekon to the Skals?”

“Yes, that is the one,” Jonathan replied, fiddling with one of the buttons on his shirt. Elisabeth noticed that he had a tendency of fidgeting with his hands whenever he was thinking about something. “We’ve been on better terms since that night at Pembroke. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we’re even on good terms.”

“And yet you’re uncertain about something. Why is that?”

Jonathan’s brow furrowed at the accusation. “Why would you suggest that?”

“You play with your hands whenever you’re thinking deeply about something, and you only ever think deeply about questions you don’t have the answers to.”

The doctor let out a laugh. “You’re right. I should’ve known your centuries would have made you observant. I suppose I’m worried, is all. McCullum….he’s a bit of a mystery still.”

“But the two of you are on good terms now, are you not?”

Jonathan nodded. “Yes, I think so, even if he’s damned to admit it. A few weeks ago, I was caught outside during sunrise while evading a Priwen patrol. McCullum found me huddled underneath a dock. He could have ended me, right then and there. By all accounts, I thought he was going to. Yet….he didn’t. Instead, he helped cover my body from the sun and escorted me back to the Pembroke. And then obviously you know about the alteration that occurred tonight. He ordered his men not to shoot me, but I made the mistake of smiling and one of the younger ones got a bit trigger happy at the sight of my fangs.”

Concern etched its way across Elisabeth’s face. “Jonathan, you didn’t tell me how dire the situation was! You were wounded and completely surrounded by Priwen guards! That easily could have been a trap, my friend. I worry that you’re trusting this man too easily.”

“I know,” he sighed, a low growl rumbling through his chest. He sounded almost like a disgruntled cat. “I admit before tonight I felt the same way. I’m glad that we’re allies, but there was always this underlying worry at the back of my mind that he was simply biding his time. As much as I hate to admit it….that betrayal would sting. But tonight….well, I do admit that I lost control of my temper when the boy shot me. I grabbed him, and the rest of them pointed their guns at me almost immediately. Even McCullum. But they didn’t fire. McCullum ordered his men to put the gun down and then asked me to put the boy down. He was almost….begging. He said he didn’t want to have to shoot me.”

The news shocked Elisabeth. “I’ve known of McCullum since Carl Eldritch took him in all those years ago. He was raised to hate our kind, and he is an arrogant and prejudiced man. Never have I heard of him showing any sort of mercy to a vampire, nevermind leading one back home during daylight or sparing its life after attacking one of his men. This news is….intriguing.”

“What do you think of it, then?”

She glanced at Jonathan. He was still nervously wringing his hands, and his hair was sticking up in places from all the times he ran his hands through it. “I think,” she began with a small smile, “That you are a truly incredible man to bring about such a change in him.”

“Hah! He hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still bloody stubborn, not to mention hellbent on destroying vampires. He’s still planning on starting up a Great Hunt.”

“Yet he’s seemed to have made an exception for you. McCullum has never managed to look into a vampire’s eyes and see the person behind them, but with you….he has.”

“I imagine it’s only because I’m as persistent as he is stubborn.”

“And why are you so insistent on the two of you being friends, my dear?”

Her words hit their mark, and Jonathan’s cheeks flushed a pale shade of pink. Instead of answering, he looked up at the now empty transfusion bag and began the process of removing the IVs from Elisabeth’s arm. “The blood should be fully integrated into your system with a couple of hours,” he informed her, choosing to completely ignore the prior question. “Within that time, you may experience some of the symptoms I mentioned before.”

Elisabeth lifted her arm with a wince, rubbing gently at the healing insertion wounds. “Don’t worry, my dear. A couple of side effects won’t deter me from the miracle you’ve just performed.”

Reid stood up and lifted the drainage basin off the ground. “I figured as much. Either way, I would prefer staying and watching over you during the process. It’s nearly sunrise. I imagine you won’t be able to get much rest; I, on the other hand, haven’t slept in a week.”

“You know the guest room is always open for you when you need it, Jonathan.”

“Thank you. If your symptoms become too much to handle, or you’re experiencing something I haven’t described, wake me up immediately and I’ll run some tests to see what’s going on. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll examine your blood 24 hours from now and see if it matches my sample from the hospital. If it does...then I do believe you will be cured, my lady.”

She stood up, so suddenly that Jonathan almost dropped the bag in his hands, and pulled Jonathan into a hug. “I know I’ve said this already,” she said softly, faced pressed into Jonathan’s chest, “But I cannot thank you enough. I can’t explain how much this means to me. You don’t know of the awful things this disease made me do, Jonathan. Curing me doesn’t lift the burden of guilt off my shoulders, but at least now I can start on a new path.”

Jonathan returned the hug after a moment, resting his chin on the top of the lady’s head. “Doing this is the only way for you to understand how grateful I am for your guidance and friendship. Eternity is a long time, Elisabeth, and I want to ensure that I can experience it with people I cherish.”

She pulled away from the hug with a soft smile. “Try to get some rest, my friend. You’ve earned it.”

“Promise me you’ll wake me up if you start feeling sick?”

“You have my word, Jonathan. Now get to bed.

Vampires very rarely dreamed in their sleep, and for that Jonathan was grateful. He had lived through a great many horrors during both his mortal and immortal life, and they weren’t experiences he wished to live through again. Yet this time was different. This time, Jonathan dreamed of the Great War.

When he was still a mortal, this was one of his most common nightmares. He was reliving one of the most brutal shellings to take place during his time in the war; the bombs were a never-ending rain pouring down from the sky, and Jonathan was so sure he would die in that filthy trench. He was working on a soldier whose leg had been taken off by one of the blasts. Reid knew the man - no, the boy, he had only turned 18 just before being sent off to France - because they had spent many nights patrolling. His name was Richard Simons, and he helped out in the medical bay whenever he had free time. The other boys called him Ricky. He wanted to go to school and study medicine after the war. The only family he had back home in England was a mother and his sister.

The boy reminded Jonathan so much of himself that it almost made him sick.

Simons had lost a lot of blood already, but Reid was certain that he could save him at the pace he was working at. Then two men dragged over one of the commanding officers; shrapnel was embedded deep within the man’s chest, and his odds of survival were entirely dependent on how well the objects were dealt with. The only other doctor on site was a green boy, fresh out of medical school, who had only been on the front for a couple of weeks. In other words, their captain would surely die under his hands. But if Reid stopped working on Simons to help their superior, the boy would die in his stead.

It was an impossible decision, and it was one he had to make in a split second.

Reid’s brain had blocked out the words he spoke when he ordered the young doctor to continue his work on Simons, but he could never forget that finally bloody cough he let out before finally succumbing to his wounds. The sound of it still haunts him, and when he was mortal this nightmare always ended with that cough. This time, it was different. He looked over at the other cot, and instead of Simons, Mary was lying in it with the wooden cross he had stabbed her with sticking out of her chest.

“I can forgive you, Jonny,” his sister spoke through bloody lips, “But can he?”

Jonathan looked down at the cot in front of him, but it wasn’t the captain lying in it.

It was Geoffrey McCullum.

Chapter Text

King Arthur’s blood was beginning to feel heavy in his pocket.

McCullum had made a habit of bringing the flask with him during his patrols now. He still started out each night with a sip, but if he actually managed to come across any infected Skals he would take another one, just to be safe. That was the only reason. He could go a night or two without it if he really wanted to, but the promise he had made to Douglas rang throughout his head before every patrol, and the call of the liquid in the flask was just as strong. Though, he was worried that he had picked up something during one of the patrols; he hadn’t been feeling like himself the past couple of nights, and he vaguely considered talking to Reid about it before quickly tossing the idea aside. The last thing he wanted to do was clue the leech in on another moment of weakness. He didn’t want those icy eyes boring into him with concern, didn’t want to undergo that intense scrutiny, didn’t want Reid to examine him with those strong hands -

McCullum reeled back his thoughts, cheeks blushing despite the fact that he was alone and the night was warm. Ever since his talk with Reid outside of the Lady’s mansion, his unwelcome thoughts about the doctor had become even more intrusive. McCullum had even made a point of spending less time around Reid; it was so difficult to keep his focus when the vampire was around, and the fact that one man could have that kind of influence on him was a bit disturbing.

It’s those leech powers, McCullum reasoned to himself, the mesmerization. It’s in their nature to make themselves...appealing. It’s how they lure their prey in. It’s further proof that they’re nothing but beasts.

But you are able to resist a vampire’s mesmerizing stare, are you not? So why do you fall so readily into this one’s eyes?

The streets of Whitechapel were quiet. Unlike the East End docks, Whitechapel had never been a lively district. A patrol through here was almost always without incident now that the epidemic was over, and for once Geoffrey was grateful for that. In his current state, with the sickness, and with Reid’s vampire magic messing with his head, Geoffrey didn’t really trust himself to be able to take down a group of rogues even with Arthur’s blood coursing through his system.

“Bloody fucking leech,” he growled, reaching into his coat pocket for the packet of Gauloises he always had on hand. He searched deeper for the box of matches and fished it out, aggressively striking the head of one against the side of the box. “Always getting in my fucking head,” he mumbled around the cigarette, shielding the flame from the wind with his hand before he carefully shook it out and tossed it onto the ground. A deep inhale pooled the smoke into his lungs, and he let it sit there for a moment before exhaling through his nose.

An all too familiar whoosh sounded right beside him, and although he didn’t turn around he could see the puff of black smoke in the corner of his vision. “Those are awful for you, you know,” Jonathan greeted pleasantly, adjusting his tie as he settled from the jump.

More smoke bled from McCullum’s mouth as his lips broke into a brief smile. “Fuck off, no they’re not. Every bloody doctor in the city swears by them. Haven’t you seen the signs?”

Jonathan laughed, a deep, pleasant noise, and Geoffrey casually rolled his shoulders to disguise the shivers running down his back. “Oh, I’ve read the papers alright. But I’ve also looked at the tobacco underneath a microscope, and let me tell you, that’s a nasty concoction of chemicals you’re smoking right now. You’ll find the doctors that recommend cigarettes have lined their pockets with bribes from the manufacturers.”

“So having a smoke’s bad for you, is it?”

Jonathan nodded, a sly smile dancing across his face. “I’m afraid so. Would you mind if I stole one?”

Another low laugh escaped from Geoffrey has he dug back through his pockets for his stash. He tapped on the side of the box and Reid took the cigarette that popped out with a gracious nod. He glanced at McCullum with the cigarette dangling from his mouth, eyebrows raised, and the hunter struck up another match to bring to the doctor’s lips. Jonathan hummed in thanks and a second later breathed out a small plume of smoke. His eyes reflected the burning cherry of the cigarette, and for a second Geoffrey was entranced by the image orange fire surrounded by an icy blue sea.

“Gauloises?” Jonathan asked, more smoke trailing from his lips. Geoffrey managed a nod in response. “I used to smoke these back in the war.”

“I thought smoking was bad for you, Dr. Reid?”

Jonathan let out another laugh at that, a genuine one that crinkled the corner of his eyes. McCullum noticed that his nose scrunched up the tiniest bit when he laughed. It was almost….endearing. “They’re bad for humans,” he pointed out, “Which I do not have the luxury of calling myself. Besides, everybody smoked in the trenches. It was a terribly easy habit to pick up.”

“I’m surprised you even can smoke. How does it work? Do you still get cravings for them?”

The questions brought a smile to Jonathan’s lips, and his next exhale released little rings of smoke. Though McCullum still stubbornly held on to his hostile exterior, Reid could tell that the hunter had a genuine curiosity about some aspects of vampirism. Geoffrey still hated vampires, of course, but the doctor considered learning more about your enemy a step above just blindly killing them. “My body doesn’t suffer the physical side effects, no,” he explained. “But addiction is a mental affliction, so I crave them anyway. It’s a blessing, really. This addiction is far more benign than my other one. It serves as a good distraction.”

McCullum wrinkled his nose at that. “Oh, please. Addiction is a terribly human thing, Reid. It’s too innocent a word to describe a vampire’s bloodlust.”

Reid let out a deep sigh, shoulders slumping forward. “I’m not in the mood to argue with you about the nature of my condition, Geoffrey. Let’s agree to disagree, yes?”

Geoffrey scoffed and turned to face the doctor, entirely prepared to get into an argument when his foot kicked off something he hadn’t noticed on the ground. It hit the opposing wall of the alley with a soft thud before rolling back to Geoffrey’s feet. “Well, would you look at that. Some poor little tyke left their football.”

“God, I haven’t even thought about football in ages. All the matches stopped completely after the war started.”

McCullum’s brow furrowed. “I didn’t peg you for a fan, Reid.” The doctor just looked too proper to enjoy any sports. Still, when McCullum allowed himself a better look at the man, he supposed there were several hints that betrayed the gentlemanly exterior Reid liked to put on. There was that scar on his left cheek, and a nose so crooked it had to have been broken at least a couple of times, and those broad shoulders -

That’s enough of that! McCullum snapped at himself. What had gotten into him?

“As it were, I enjoy football immensely. Back when I was in school I even played for a few clubs.”

“Pah! Anybody can squirm their way onto the club teams if their parents have enough money. You should see how me and the lads play. I swear, most of them wouldn’t turn down a game even if a bloody leech asked them to join in.”

A mischievous looked passed through Reid’s eyes. “I was actually rather good if my memory serves me correct,” he purred, slipping out of his trench coat and rolling up the sleeves of his shirt.

McCullum was initially caught off guard by Reid’s playful mood swing, but he quickly returned the look with a competitive sneer of his own, foot resting on top of the ball. “Ha! I’m supposed to believe that some prick from the West End is any good at football? You probably spent more time in the tearoom than you did on a field, Reid. Football was our only source of entertainment back home,” he taunted, shrugging out of his own jacket and laying it on top of Reid’s. “And I hated being bored.”

They only stared at each other for a moment, each man not wanting to be the one to make the first move. Just when McCullum allowed his posture to relax, sure that their jeering wasn’t actually going to go any further, Reid struck his foot out and kicked the ball out from his feet. McCullum was swept off balance and let out a startled yelp, which got him a laugh from the other man. Reid stood in the center of the alley, facing the end that opened to the street. “That end’s my goal,” he claimed, gesturing towards the McCullum, “And yours is behind me.”

McCullum strode forwards to meet him in the center. “Bring it on, Reid. And no cheating, you bastard. Not like you could beat me even if you used your powers.”

The two of them were surprisingly well matched. Reid managed to pull off some fancy footwork, but McCullum was better at predicting his next moves and where the ball was going to go. They were nearly the same height, with McCullum being just a fraction taller, so neither man could claim the advantage of having longer legs. McCullum was broader than Reid, and his kicks held more power to them, but Reid was quick enough to make up for that. Finally, after the better part of a minute, McCullum managed to break the ball through and kick the first goal.

The brunet raised his fist into the air and let out a victorious yell. “Ahaha! Looks like Ireland’s going to win the cup again, huh Reid?”

“Don’t get cocky now, hunter,” the vampire scoffed. The mischievous grin never left his face. “After all, England’s won nearly every other time.”

Their impromptu match continued, and though both of them were skilled players, the small confines of the alley meant that scoring happened frequently on either side. They were tied when Reid pulled a tricky move with his feet, rolling the ball behind him with his toe and then bouncing it off the wall with the heel of his other foot. McCullum almost stumbled past Reid after the trick managed to escape his sweep, but he managed to shift his balance in time and keep his body in front of the man. He lunged forwards again, but once again the ball evaded his feet and instead his kick made contact with Reid’s leg.

Reid stumbled forwards with a soft umph, and the vampire’s momentum caught McCullum off guard. Both men went tumbling to the ground, laughing the whole way, and Reid ended up in a pile on top of McCullum.

“Talk about cheating!” Reid laughed, nose scrunching up again. “You’re supposed to kick the ball , not me!”

McCullum was about to bite back with a snarky response of his own when he suddenly became uncomfortably aware of how close he and Reid were. The doctor had him pinned; their legs were tangled together, and Reid was only propping himself above McCullum by keeping a hand on either side of his shoulders. Their faces were only inches apart; Reid’s hair, which was usually meticulously styled back, now hung down his forehead in messy strands. Geoffrey had to stop his own hand from reaching up and brushing those midnight locks back. At this distance he realized that the immortal’s eyes weren’t blue at all, but rather a pale sea-green that became silver around the edges. Those aren’t leech eyes. They’re too beautiful to belong to a monster.

Jonathan tensed up as well upon the realization of their current position. McCullum was beneath him, mouth hanging open just slightly and eyes wide with surprise. He found himself staring at that mouth, despite his best efforts not to, and he was acutely aware of how frantically Geoffrey’ heart was beating. It would be so easy for him to meet those lips with his own, then slide down towards the strong, supple flesh of his throat and just sneak a taste -

Before either man knew what was happening, both of them began leaning forwards, closing the distance between their faces until their lips were only a hair's breadth apart. They stayed there like that for a moment, not daring to move any closer but also entirely unable to pull themselves away. Reid could hear McCullum’s frenzied heartbeat, could practically smell the blood rushing to the hunter’s cheeks, and his own heart was beating much faster than it’s usual lazy thud. He tentatively reached his hand upwards and gently traced the strong curve of McCullum’s jaw with his thumb, moving slowly in fear that any sudden movement would scare the hunter out of the haze they were in. The hunter’s deep blue eyes, usually so steely and cold, seemed almost molten, like melted metal being poured into its mold.

A loud clanking noise from somewhere on the street shook the men out of their trance. McCullum shoved Reid off of him, sending the leech sprawling on the ground, and quickly stood up to look for his coat. “Let’s just call it a tie, then,” He stated, voice completely void of the teasing tone he had been using earlier. “I had better get going.”

Reid scrambled to a standing position. “Geoffrey, wait -” he began, reaching out to the other man with a tentative hand.

McCullum wanted to grab that hand, wanted to take it into his own and bring it to his lips and continue what they had started on the ground. But he couldn’t.

And why not? You feel for the vampire. The vampire feels for you. There is no need to make things more complicated.

Oh, how he wanted.

He’s a beast. One day, he’s going to lose grasp of what little hold he has on his humanity, and people are going to get hurt by it. I can’t let myself be one of them.

The hunter shoved the hand away. “Leave me be, leech ,” he snapped, knowing that the insult would hurt the vampire after being on such good terms. “I need to tend to my men.”

The words did sting - more than Jonathan wanted to admit, even - but he was still persistent. “Geoffrey, wait, can we please just talk -

“Get away from me, beast!” McCullum snarled. “I won’t let you use your mind tricks on me anymore!” He refused to entertain the idea that he was feeling these emotions of his own free will. How could he even feel so strongly for a vampire ? He would never have wanted to press Jonathan’s body closer to his, to breach the distance between their faces and meet those lips with his own, to feel the scrape of those wicked fangs against his tongue -

Get out of my fucking head!

Jonathan only furrowed his brows in confusion. “Mind tricks? Geoffrey, I assure you that I have done nothing of the sort!”

“Don’t lie to me, Reid! It’s what your kind do!” McCullum’s tone softened, but its venom was no less potent. “I have first-hand experience with the games you kind likes play. My family was so happy when my father came home to Dublin. We had thought for sure that he was dead, but there he was, alive and well! He managed to convince us that everything would be okay again. That was the only time in my life I’ve ever let my guard down around a vampire, Jonathan, and it tore out my mother’s throat. ” His voice cracked at that last part and he turned away for a moment to compose himself. When his glare returned to Jonathan, the molten eyes had become solid metal once more. “Well, I’m not as naive as I was back then, leech. I won’t be fooled by honeyed words or charming eyes.” McCullum wouldn’t let vampires ruin his life again. He wouldn’t let them take away the people he cared about. He couldn’t.

But what do you do when the person you care about is a vampire? How do you save him from himself?

I can’t save him, McCullum admitted, answering his own question. All I can do is save myself while I still can.

Reid was looking genuinely upset but this encounter, but McCullum knew better. Leeches couldn’t feel emotions. They couldn’t care for people. All they could do was destroy. “Leave me be, Reid,” the hunter repeated, voice gruff with emotions he didn’t want to be feeling but could no longer hide. Before Jonathan could let out another protest, he stormed out of the alley, leaving the doctor alone with his thoughts.

Reid didn’t go after him, knowing that neither of them was in the proper state to be around each other. He should have known. What he and Geoffrey shared was a hesitant camaraderie at best. The hunter was simply too prideful to attempt to pursue anything with, and he had, at last, come to the realization that he did want to pursue something with Geoffrey McCullum. Here he was, a vampire, a beast , chasing after the leader of the most dangerous group of hunters in all of Britain.

Jonathan felt like an absolute idiot.

Yet….for a brief moment, it seemed like his desires would come to fruition. When they had been tangled together on the ground, their lips had been so close to brushing against each other before McCullum had shoved him out of the way. What if McCullum did share his feelings? What if the hunter’s emotions were simply more complicated than he thought?

That could never be possible, Jonathan reminded himself with a low growl. He was caught off guard, is all. All those looks he’s given me, the glances, the stares….it was all because he’s constantly on edge by just being in my presence. He’ll never trust me completely.

With an aggravated snarl, Jonathan drew back his leg and kicked the soccer ball into the opposite wall with as much force as he could muster. It ricocheted off with a loud thud before rolling off into the street. “Elisabeth warned me about how strong my emotions could be now,” he sighed aloud, leaning against the edge of a trash can with the bridge of his nose pressed between his thumb and forefinger. “How could I have been so foolish?”

His eyes noticed a soft glint on the ground, and Reid got up from his position as he strode over to inspect it. Bending down to pick the thing off the ground, he noticed that it was nothing but a large metal flask. He unscrewed the cap and took a sniff of the contents, and eyebrows immediately rising up to his hairline in surprise. The container was filled halfway with blood . But not just any blood; he recognized that smell from somewhere. It drew up vague memories of his fight with Geoffrey in the Pembroke.

“Do you know what this is, beast? This is a drop of King Arthur’s blood. The blood of a true defender of Britain, stronger than your evil powers!”

“Oh, no….Geoffrey,” he groaned, hurrying to shrug his coat over his shoulders. He had to talk to go talk to somebody that could answer the questions running through his head. “What have you done?”

 

*~~~*~~~*

 

“Why hello, Jonathan! I wasn’t expecting you. Please, come on in. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Jonathan rushed past Elisabeth into the house, not even bothering with the usual pleasantries, face set in a grim frown. Elisabeth easily noticed the young Ekon’s sour mood and matched it with a concerned frown of her own. “Jonathan, my dear, what is wrong?”

“How much vampire blood is needed to initiate a successful transformation?”

Elisabeth’s eyebrows arched together in a confused glare. “Jonathan, tell me you didn’t -”

“No!” He nearly yelled, startling both the Lady and himself with his intensity. “Forgive me. No, I would never do such a thing - not after what happened to Mary - but this isn’t about me. Just please, Elisabeth, answer my question. Time may be off the essence.”

Elisabeth quickly led Jonathan into the parlor and sat him in one of the chairs by the fireplace before sitting in the one beside him. “Well, only a drop of vampire blood is needed to begin the transformation, but the progeny must drink quite a bit to ensure that it’s a successful one. Not giving your progeny enough blood is one of the most common mistakes a sire can make, and it results in their scion either dying or becoming a Skal.”

Nervous hands made their way through Jonathan’s hair, which had already been messy to begin with. “Say the person has only drunk a few sips of vampire blood. What would happen?”

Once again Elisabeth’s eyes narrowed. “Well, it’s impossible to know for sure. Like many aspects of our kind, vampiric reproduction is not an exact science. A good rule of thumb is that the more blood the victim drinks, the quicker the process. I have seen some transformations last weeks, although it’s worth noting that none of those poor souls survived the process.”

“And if the blood is old? Diluted?”

The question caused Elisabeth to furrow her brows even further. “I...I’m really not sure, Jonathan. Whose blood are you talking about, my dear?”

A low groan escaped from Jonathan’s lips, and he reached into his coat pocket and threw the flask onto the table in from of them. “That,” he said bitterly, “Is the blood of King Arthur. Centuries ago, he was chosen to be London’s champion, just like I was. Unlike myself, he was unsuccessful, and this flask of his blood is all that remains of him. It’s the Guard of Priwen’s most sacred relic. They’re able to drink just a drop before fights against powerful vampires and it will grant them incredible strength.”

Ashbury gasped lightly and turned towards the burning fire. “As terrifying as the thought is…” she turned back towards Jonathan after a deep breath. “It’s also fascinating. I’ve never heard of humans being able to drink vampire blood without turning afterward. I imagine it’s only because Arthur was a champion, not to mention the blood is very old and most likely diluted.”

“But there’s a problem. Geoffrey drank a drop before our fight and I thought nothing of it. He gave it to me so that I could make the serum needed to fight the Red Queen, and I only just gave it back to him a few weeks ago. Elisabeth…. I think he’s been drinking more from it.”

If the Lady’s face could get paler, it would have at that moment. “Jonathan,” she began, tone deathly serious, “I trust I do not have to explain to you how important it is that you tell Geoffrey immediately. So little is known about the blood of Myrddin’s chosen….there’s no way for us to predict what might happen to him.”

“Whatever does happen, I doubt it’ll be any good. I saw him earlier and thought he looked a little paler than usual, but that can be explained by so many things that I didn’t even spare it a second thought. We had been smoking cigarettes, so there was no way for me to smell any sickness on him. God, how could I have been so foolish -”

Elisabeth set a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Geoffrey McCullum has always been….unpredictable. If he doesn’t want you to find out about something, you won’t. All we can do now is find him and try to figure out what’s going on.”

“I….I don’t know where he is,” Jonathan admitted sheepishly. “We got into an….argument, earlier tonight, and he ran off. He dropped the flask during his rush and that’s how I came to possess it in the first place.”

“You have to find him, Jonathan, and soon. Do you have any idea where he could be?”

“No!” Reid’s eyebrows furrowed in frustration, and then his face cleared with a tired sigh. His hands had gone from sweeping through his hair to clenching tightly in his lap. “Actually….I might have an idea of where he could have gone. But it won’t be an easy place to get to. Hell, I’m not even sure where it is, but I think I could find it with the right methods.”

“The Priwen headquarters, you mean? It’s dangerous, Jonathan,” she warned, taking his hands into her own to still them. “The Guard may not be as strong as it was a century ago, but McCullum has been hard at work rebuilding it. His men are still a force to be reckoned with.”

Jonathan hummed in reply. “I know. But I think I have an idea of how to get in.” A slight smirk made its way across his face, and he bared the slightest hint of fang. “There’s somebody who owes me a favor.”

 

*~~~*~~~*

 

From his current position, Reid was entirely hidden in the shadows of the rooftops. It was only a little after midnight; if his plan went well, he should have plenty of time to talk some sense into McCullum before the sun came up. Facing the hunter again so soon after what had happened in the alley sent a nervous pang through Reid’s stomach, but he valued Geoffrey’s health far more than his own comfort. So he sat, crouched on the rooftop, waiting and hoping that his suspicions were correct.

“This is bloody fuckin’ ridiculous,” a voice growled from down below on the streets. A small smile broke across Reid’s face at the sound of the voice, and he leaned over the edge of the building to catch a glimpse of its speaker. It was the Priwen cadet that had shot Reid a couple of nights ago, and he was angrily ranting to himself as he patrolled the streets alone. “All fuckin’ week this has been going on! The rest of the lads are down in the tenant houses, clearin’ out the last of the leech nests, getting some real action , and I’m stuck doing bloody supply runs. I swear, the next time I see McCullum I’m going to -”

Reid shadow jumped down to the cadet’s side, standing lightly behind the younger man. “You’re going to do what, exactly?”

The boy let out a high-pitched shriek and jumped a couple of inches into the air, quickly turning around and pressing his back up against the wall of one of the buildings. The gun was out and pointed at Reid in a flash.

“Now, now,” Reid purred, stepping closer to the cadet and pushing the gun to the side with his index finger, “There’s no need for any of that. I’m off limits, remember? McCullum’s orders.”

“You’re still a fucking leech! And when McCullum finds out you attacked me first, I doubt he’ll care about that deal you struck with him!” The boy was trying desperately to not sound afraid, but the false bravado was betrayed when his voice cracked at the end of the sentence. Reid was close enough to the boy that he could practically feel the blood beating in and out of his heart. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath through his mouth. If the vampire wasn’t careful he’d be at the cadet’s throat again, and this time there was no McCullum to stop him from doing something he’d regret immensely later.

“I’m not here to kill you, you fool. Lowry, was it?”

The boy nodded and slid further up the wall in an obvious attempt to separate himself from the leech. Reid took another step forward, closing the distance between them even more. “I need your help, young man. I need you to take me to Priwen headquarters so I can speak to McCullum. Immediately.”

“Ha! I don’t care what deal you have with McCullum, leech; there’s no way in hell it includes knowing our locations.”

The boy was trying patience Reid did not possess. “Listen to me, boy,” he growled, closing the distance between them and harshly grabbing the cadet’s chin to force him to look at his face. “I don’t have time this. The news I must share with McCullum concerns life or death. Do you really want your leader’s blood on your hands?”

Lowry swallowed, still desperately trying to avoid Reid’s eyes despite the iron grip locking his face still. “I - I can’t just tell you where headquarters are. McCullum would kill me, and then the other recruits would dig up my body and kill me again.” He protested, voice wavering.

A deep chuckle sounded deep in Reid’s chest, and he narrowed his eyes into a predatory stare. “I could always make you tell me the location,” the vampire purred, leaning in to whisper into the poor boy’s ear. “But to my understanding, it is a very unpleasant process….who knows what could happen? It would be far easier for you to just tell me.” Reid moved his head down from the cadet’s ear towards his throat, fangs bared in a savage sneer. His hand had moved from the young man’s chin to the back of his head, and a sharp yank turned it to the side

Lowry had completely frozen in fear the second the vampire leaned towards him. Reid knew it was a dangerous move he was making; in this position, the cadet’s blood was terribly tempting, and he had no clue if he was going to be able to pull himself back. His gums ached at the thought of how easy it would be to just bite into the recruit’s neck.

“Wait! Don’t fuckin’ bite! I’ll tell you where it is, just let me go! please!” The recruit pleaded.

Jonathan didn’t move. “Where is it, then?”

“Whitechapel!” Lowry all but shouted. “We fixed up one of the warehouses. It’s on one of the side roads that lead to the cemetery. It’s easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Now please, just let me go!”

Reid quickly shoved himself away, taking a few moments to breathe deeply and compose himself. “Thank you for your cooperation,” he finally said pleasantly, baring his fangs in a harsh smile that drew a whimper from the cadet. “Do not breathe a word of this to anyone and I will ensure that McCullum never finds out it was you that revealed the location.”

“Wait,” the rookie shouted as Reid turned to begin his journey to Whitechapel. Reid turned back towards him with a raised brow, surprised at the boy’s sudden spike in courage. “Before I let you go….promise you won’t do any leechy shit on him, alright? He thinks you’re different from the others. I’m not so sure.”

As stubborn as the man was, Jonathan knew that there was no way he could ever hurt Geoffrey McCullum. “I know it doesn’t mean much to you, but you have my word regardless.” Jonathan turned around again with a deep sigh. “McCullum may not always see it, but I’m trying to help him. I really, truly am….I just hope it’s not too late.”

With a soft whoosh, Jonathan disappeared from the cadet’s view, and the young man struggled for a couple of moments to get his breathing back to normal.

“Guard of Priwen, working with bloody leeches….never thought I’d see the day,” Lowry finally muttered. He glanced at the list in his hands, detailing supplies he had to pick up from the warehouse, before crumpling it in his hands with a laugh. “Fuck this. I’m going to the Turtle.”

Chapter Text

Priwen headquarters were harder to locate than Reid had anticipated.

The doctor had come to know the backstreets of Whitechapel like the back of his own hand, and yet after almost two hours of searching, he still hadn’t managed to find the building. He was suspicious from the start; there were warehouses, yes, but if Priwen had set up any sort of shop in one of them Reid would know. To set up their main headquarters in one of the buildings seemed nearly impossible. The rookie’s words kept repeating through his head;

“It’s easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for.”

What did that mean? It wasn’t like Priwen could hide an entire building from somebody’s point of view….

….could they?

As a last-ditch effort, Jonathan jumped up onto one of the buildings near him. At first the streets below him seemed entirely normal, but after a few extra moments of searching he spotted something off. There was a building a couple of streets down, one that he was certain hadn’t been there before. He focused in on his senses, sure that this was some sort of ruse, but sure enough, he was able to sense dozens of people within this new mysterious building. With a jolt, he realized that one of the pulses belonged to McCullum. It was in one of the rooms on the top floor, and he seemed he was talking with somebody. A young woman, from what Reid could tell. Now that his senses were clear, it was easy to tell that something was….off, about the hunter. Reid couldn’t sense any manifestations of human illness, but McCullum’s heart was beating just a tad bit too slow for his comfort. He had to tell Geoffrey what he had done to himself. Immediately.

Reid braced himself, preparing for another jump onto the Priwen roof. To the vampire’s surprise, he collided with something solid. He fell to the ground with a loud umph, landing gracelessly on the ground in a crumpled heap. He stood up, grimacing in pain as his knee made an unpleasant popping noise. It had dislocated during the fall, but luckily his healing had kicked in quickly. Reid looked up at the roof, lips drawn back in an aggravated scowl.

“Now what on Earth is that about?”

He would need to find another way in, then.

Jonathan quickly jumped onto one of the balconies across from the Priwen warehouse, surveying the area with his vampiric senses to try and find any cracks in the apparent barrier that surrounded the building. There was no balcony adjoining the room McCullum and the woman occupied - no doubt a strategic defense on McCullum’s part - but the window ledge looked wide enough. If he were just able to keep a good grip….

This jump made his head spin, something that hadn’t happened since his first few nights as an immortal, and he attributed that fact to the lack of solid ground beneath his feet. Reid’s hands struck out, looking for something solid to grip onto, and a brief yell escaped his lips before he managed to grab the sides of the window, digging his claws into the weather-worn wood and bracing his feet on the flat brick surface of the wall.

The inhabitants in the room immediately ran over to expect what just happened, and Jonathan almost fell off when the window was yanked open.

“Reid? What the bloody fuck are you doing?” Thankfully, it was Geoffrey that opened the window and not whoever else was in the room with him. The hunter was certainly not looking his best. His skin was pale, and those dark blue eyes had circles under them that rivaled Jonathan’s own. Something shone through those eyes for the briefest second, something molten and warm, something that reminded Jonathan of their encounter in the alley just a few hours ago. It was gone in a flash, and the longing look was quickly replaced by a steely glare.

“Geoffrey,” Jonathan breathed out, muscles tensing from holding such an uncomfortable position, “I would appreciate if you’d let me in -”

“Bloody hell, Geoff! Step back! It’s a fuckin’ leech!” The woman behind Geoffrey let out a warning before she reached towards the holster on her belt, taking an aggressive step towards the window. Jonathan heard the all-too-familiar sound of a gun being cocked back before Geoffrey moved back in front of her.

“Patel, don’t you fucking dare!” There was evident panic in Geoffrey’s voice, and he all but sprinted across the room to the woman with the gun. She was short - Jonathan guessed that he had to be nearly a foot taller than her, even with the boots she was wearing - but even from outside the room he sensed the same dangerous aura he picked up from Geoffrey. Her hair was long and as dark as Geoffrey’s, tied up in a messy braid to the side of her head, although her skin was a deep russet as opposed to Geoffrey’s current sickly pale. She walked with the same swagger as McCullum, the same confidence; this woman was another natural born hunter, and unfortunately for Jonathan, he wasn’t on this one’s good side.

Hell, he didn’t even know if he was on McCullum’s good side anymore.

McCullum roughly grabbed the woman’s arm and turned it towards the side. “I told you about this leech, remember? We struck a deal with him! And it didn’t include shooting him out the bloody fucking window!”

The huntress yanked her arm out of McCullum’s grasp and shoved him to the side. “Yeah, and I’m sure his end doesn’t involve sneaking into our fucking base!”

Jonathan still clung to the outside of the building. “I’m not sneaking in,” he insisted, leaving out the part where that had been his original plan. “I am quite literally hanging out of the window in front of you.”

“Geoff, I swear to God, I’m gonna shoot him -”

“No you’re fucking not -”

“Can somebody invite me inside, please?” Jonathan shouted over the arguing of the other two. It was amazing, really, how quickly they could forget that he was hanging on the walls outside of their window and go back to yelling at each other. It reminded Jonathan of the fights he and Mary used to have as teenagers. Who was this woman, exactly?

Jonathan’s interjection returned the hunters’ attention back towards him.

“Your kind aren’t allowed in here, leech.” The woman - Patel, McCullum had called her - snarled.

Jonathan scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Geoffrey, invite me in, please.”

The hunter didn’t meet his eyes, and the words that he spoke next were clipped and cold. “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. Kendall Stone had this building blessed over a century ago. It isn’t just your curse that keeps you from entering, beast. It’s divine will.”

A low growl escaped Jonathan’s lips, caused by both his failing patience and his aching muscles. “Geoffrey, my patience was running thin long before I came here. I have spent the last four hours searching for you and this bloody building, and I’m not going away until you listen to me.

“I’m not listening to anything you have to say, leech! Priwen will keep our end of the deal so long as you keep yours, but that is all.”

A wicked smile ran across Patel’s face as she stalked over to the two. She leaned out the window a bit beside Jonathan with a low laugh. “You had best scram, leech. It looks like the sun is rising. Although,” she mused, pulling out her revolver, “It would be a pleasure to watch you burn to a pile of ash.”

Once again McCullum yanked the gun from Patel’s grasp and gently pushed her away from the window. “I already told you he’s off limits!”

“And why this one, then?”

“Because I fucking said so, that’s why! Get out of my office. We’ll discuss this later, after we discuss you abandoning your post.”

“I didn’t abandon my post!” Patel protested with a scowl. “I came to make sure my stupid brother isn’t -”

“Get out , Lila,” McCullum growled. She shot him a look and then glared over at Reid before exiting the room and slamming the door.

“Geoffrey, please. The sun is rising. Let me in.”

McCullum scoffed. “I already told you I can’t, Reid. That wasn’t a lie.” He placed his hands on the bottom windowsill, leaning down to get a better look at Jonathan.

The vampire’s grip was slipping. Immortality granted him several powers, but unfortunately, supernatural strength was not one of them, and his endurance was quickly waning. “Geoffrey, it is imperative that we speak, and away from prying ears. Time is of the essence.”

“Why would I want to talk to you, leech? So that you can entrance me again?”

The words stung more than Jonathan liked to admit, especially because for all he knew they could ring true. He was of powerful blood, but he was still new to immortality and had barely begun exploring the extent of his new abilities. Mary….his poor, sweet Mary had gone mad because of his voice in her head. How could Jonathan know he wasn’t mesmerizing the hunter on accident?

“This isn’t about what happened earlier, Geoffrey, if that’s what you’re worried about. It’s about the -”

McCullum sharply turned his head, cutting Reid off mid-sentence. Several sets of footsteps were sounding down the hallway. “Damn,” McCullum growled. “Damn. You can’t be here with my men around, Reid. They’re suspicious enough about you as is, You have to leave.

“Geoffrey, it’s about King Arthur’s -”

McCullum leaned down and grasped the back of Jonathan’s head with his hand. “ Go, ” he growled, bringing their foreheads together in an intimate embrace. Before Jonathan could get another word in, the hand was pushing him out the window and he fell to the ground with a harsh thud .

Reid didn’t break anything during this fall, but his head was still reeling. Their foreheads had touched, and although it wasn’t a kiss, the gesture as Reid understood it was still rather…. intimate . And then, immediately afterward, McCullum shoved him out the window. But still….that short moment had felt exactly like when they were in the alley. Reid’s heart raced just at the thought of it.

This man is going to be the death of me, he thought with the faintest smile.

Jonathan didn’t have time to ponder the events that just transpired. It was nearly April now, and the sun rose much quicker than it did when Geoffrey saved him from it’s burning kiss nearly two months ago. The sky was already turning to an alarmingly light shade of gray, and Reid began to run towards Whitechapel proper. If he could just make it to Nurse Crane’s dispensary in time, he could spend the day resting there before meeting with Geoffrey at the Pembroke later.

Time wasn’t on the good doctor’s side. He was already beginning to feel heated, and he knew the sun was only minutes away from rising above the tops of the buildings. He had made it to Whitechapel, but Dorothy’s dispensary was still a couple of streets away and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to make it in time. He was only by the church, and even cutting through the graveyard to his right wouldn’t be enough to spare him from the sun.

“Damn, damn, damn, ” Jonathan muttered to himself, frantically searching for any sort of shelter. There was none. The tenant houses had quickly filled up after the plague passed, and all of his old hideouts were now filled with families. The only thing in the near vicinity was a flower shop to his left, directly across from the cemetery.

The flower shop.

Jonathan remembered the woman that owned the flower shop. He had only spoken with her a few times, partly due to how busy he was with trying to save London , but mostly due to the fact that she was entirely mute. Her mind was an interesting one, though. Jon was no telepath, but he could somewhat sense what people were thinking if he probed hard enough. Some humans were easier to read than others. Hell, he could even tell what emotions McCullum and other Priwen guards were feeling if he concentrated enough, and they trained their minds to be able to resist a vampire’s charms. But Camilla…. she was a different matter entirely, the doctor found. There was nothing but a strong, unyielding wall where her thoughts should be. She wasn’t disguising her thoughts like the Guard did. She was protecting them.

A quick survey with his senses confirmed that there was a woman inside, though except for steady heartbeat, he wasn’t picking up anything else. Usually, he was able to determine any illnesses a person had, and what their approximate age was, but once again Camilla proved to be a mystery.

The streets were beginning to fill with people, and Jonathan quickly ran over to knock on the door. She didn’t answer, and the person inside didn’t move.

“Please, open up! I know you’re inside. I mean you no harm.” The last part may not of been necessary, but Jonathan had suspicions that the florist knew of his true nature, and it was better to be safe than sorry. “Dawn approaches,” he whined, the urgency in his voice rising with the sun. “There are people out already. I beg of you, let me inside!”

The door opened so suddenly that Reid almost fell into the woman that opened it. Camilla looked up at him, eyes as emotionless and stony as ever, but he could’ve sworn there was a slight smirk on the florist’s face. She stepped back and beckoned with an arm, leaving the doorway open. Reid took a tentative step inside, unsure if a non-vocal agreement would be accepted by whatever force kept vampires from entering homes without invitation. His foot passed through the threshold with ease, and he all but jumped the rest of the way into the shop. It was still dark, and all of the flowering plants were making his nose itch. He had been sensitive to them since his rebirth. It was a good thing Lisa didn’t flower, or he would hardly be able to keep her in his office.

“Thank you,” he sighed with a tight smile. “I….trust you know how dire that situation was.” Camilla only responded with a curt nod, but the reaction still caught Reid by surprise. It was the only acknowledgement the woman had given him so far. “Do you remember who I am, then?”

He didn’t receive any response this time. Instead, the woman began to walk around the store, checking on the plants and watering the ones that needed it. Jonathan stood awkwardly in the middle of the store, unsure of what to do with himself, and decided it would be best to observe his surroundings.

Camilla’s flower shop was much like herself. On the surface, it seemed an entirely normal storefront. Green filled every available nook and cranny, with a couple of early budding flowers providing a splash of color here and there. Some plants even hung from the ceiling, and Reid had to duck frequently to avoid hitting his head on them. But something seemed…. off . There was a charge in the air, a soft tension that raised the hairs on his arms and kept him from relaxing entirely.

“I would hate to intrude on you and your work. If there’s someplace I could rest, you won’t hear from me for the rest of the day.”

Still no response.

“I - I would offer to help you, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be of much use. I don’t know a thing about plants, and I won’t even be able to go near the windows soon.”

He felt... something , at that, although he wasn’t sure what. Camellia’s mouth hadn’t opened, no sound escaped from her lips, but he could sense a slight twinge of amusement coming from her.

“I am grateful for your help, but if your generosity is only a way to mock me then I would rather go outside and test my chances against the sun.”

His words only seemed to strengthen the amusement she felt, and Jonathan ran his hand through his hair with a soft hiss. “Miss, my patience is utterly spent. I’ve spent half the night a wild goose chase, I am exhausted, and I am hungry. Now is not the time to tease me.”

The electric charge in the air increased, and he could sense Camellia’s emotions change. The amusement was gone, replaced by...fear? Suspicion? Anger? He couldn’t tell. She looked up from the flower was had been watering, and those icy eyes bore into Jonathan’s with an intensity that forced him to look away.

“I apologize. I lost my temper. It’s been an...all too common occurrence, as of late,” Jonathan admitted sheepishly, leaning against the wooden counter. “But you needn’t worry. I would never harm you.

The emotions calmed, and the electricity stilled. “How do you do that? I can get a good sense of a person’s emotions, but never like this. I could never get a reading off of you before. Why now?”

This time Jonathan knew he saw a soft smile play across Camellia’s lips, even if it was gone in an instant. Still, her eyes remained soft and playful, and he had a sneaking suspicion that his questions weren’t going to get an answer anytime soon. The florist would remain a mystery, for now.

Camellia set down the watering can by the fern she had been tending to and began to make her way towards a flight of stairs behind the desk. She looked back expectantly when Jonathan didn’t follow, eyebrows raised, and gestured for him to join. He did, ducking his head under the various plants that hung from the ceiling rafters, and growled softly in annoyance when he realized that the upstairs was not built with somebody of his height in mind. He had to keep his head ducked as they made their way to the upper apartment level. The air up here was even more charged than downstairs in the store, and Jonathan could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise along with the ones on his arms. Camellia continued forward, seemingly undisturbed by the increasingly electric atmosphere.

“These are your quarters, I take it?”

This time, the florist allowed him a curt nod, and Jonathan returned it with a smile. Just as he suspected, the sight of his fangs didn’t seem to disturb the woman one bit. Who is this young woman, exactly? How much does she know?

The top of the stairs opened up into a small living space. The kitchen was rather sizeable, given how cramped the rest of the apartment seemed, and several pots were scattered about. Reid sniffed at the air, noting that the smells coming from the pots didn’t smell like food, and his eyebrows furrowed a little. The contents inside smelled like the air right before a thunderstorm, nearly metallic in its strength, though there was also an undertone of something….sweet. Something floral. In corner of the room was a small bay window filled with several potted plants, and beneath it stood a rather worn-looking couch. The window let in an alarming amount of early morning sunlight, and Reid carefully stepped through to the safety at the other end of the hallway.

This hallway was even shorter than the first and had a door at the end. Camellia open the door and stepped inside, holding it open for Reid to walk in after. This room was clearly the bedroom, and was even smaller than the one they had just left. There was only enough space for a bed, a dresser, and a rather sizeable bookshelf that was practically overflowing with books. Another window faced the door from the opposing wall, but thankfully this one already had it’s blinds shut.

“I’m to rest here, then?”

Camellia nodded once again.

“Thank you. I know I’ve already said it, but I trust we both know how disastrous it would have been for me to stay outside. You know of my….condition, yes?”

Another nod, this one more curt.

“I figured as much. I most certainly have my own suspicions about you, although I would assume I’m also correct in thinking that you won’t reveal your own secrets so easily.”

The smile stayed on Camellia’s face this time as she went for the door, and Reid was willing to bet it stayed there even as she left the room.

 

Chapter Text

The knock on his office door came no more than an hour later, just like McCullum knew it would. Although expected, he still let out a heavy sigh ,  weary hand scrubbing the side of his face perhaps a bit rougher than necessary. “Come in,” he called out, knowing her response was going to be the same no matter what he said.

The door opened, and Patel took a single step into the confines of the office. Her features were calmer, now that there’s no leech hanging from the outpost window to draw the hunter out of her. She looked at Geoffrey with crinkled green eyes and a gentle frown, hand coming to lay lazily on her hip. She looked at him with worry .

“You look like shit,” she said simply, far softer than McCullum was expecting from her after what had just happened. It wasn’t until she said those words that McCullum realized he felt like shit, too.

“Yeah, well, so does half of London,” the hunter grumbled, resting his chin on his fist. He felt far more tired than he had any right to feel, like every blink was a gamble over whether he would fall asleep then and there on his desk or not. “I don’t have the flu if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Sure fucking look the part,” Patel scoffed, finally moving further into the room and shutting the door behind her. There were a couple of chairs in front of her, but she paid them no heed. The conversation was not going to be comfortable, so there was no need to try and make herself so. Her words weren’t false, either; Geoffrey certainly looked as if he was getting sick. His skin had become an almost deathly pallor over the course of a few weeks, veins and eyes both slightly bloodshot. Every now and then a series of coughs would wrack through his chest, awful, wet-sounding ones that made it seem like he was hacking up a lung, ones that caused any recruits nearby to share a worried glance. Truth be told, he had absolutely no business going out on patrols in the state he was in.

He went out anyway, of course, because nobody was about to step up and tell Commander Geoffrey McCullum that he had to take a sick day.

“Aye, well, it’s just a cold,” he lied. “Medics said it’ll be over within a few days. Week at most,” he lied again.

“I don’t believe that for a second, Geoff.”

“Fuck off. I know you didn’t come up here to pester me about my fucking health .”

“No, I didn’t,” Patel agreed, finally sitting down in one of the wooden chairs in front of Geoffrey’s desk with a sigh of her own. Perhaps taking a seat would be for the best. Talking to the man in front of her always left her in a state of exhaustion , and she had an awful feeling in the pit of her gut that this conversation was going to be longer than she had initially thought. Her voice took on a harder tone as she continued, practically spitting out, “We need to talk about the leech .”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Geoffrey, you know Priwen’s ways -”

“Priwen’s ways are what I bloody well say they are!” He interrupted with a snap, fatigue all but forgotten as he straightened up in his chair and looked at Patel with those icy blue eyes. “I’m the fucking commander. What I say goes .”

Patel returned with a gaze that was just as hard as his own. “He’s a leech.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“Priwen kills leeches.”

“That we do.”

“Do you understand where my questioning is coming from?”

“Of course I fucking do, Patty,” he finally snapped, quickly tiring of the back-and-forth. “I’m not any more happy about it than you are.”

Geoffrey had meant that last part when he thought it, but saying the words outright still felt like a lie for some reason. His thoughts almost drifted back to earlier in the night, when cigarette smoke filled his lungs and he felt warm despite the slight chill, but he quickly reigned them in. The last thing he needed to think about right now was what had occurred earlier.

Whatever it had been.

“Then why the hell have you kept him around?”

McCullum paused for a moment, scrubbing a hand across the scruff that had started to form along his jaw as he thought of a reasonable answer that wasn’t just “I think he’s too interesting to kill.” Fucking hell, it felt like something one of those Brotherhood cowards would come up with. Was that really the depths McCullum had sunk to now? Was he no better than Edgar Swansea, willing to let a leech run loose because it was an intriguing little plaything to keep around and prod at?

“The leech doctor has proven himself more useful alive,” McCullum justifies, perhaps taking a little longer to answer than appropriate.  “He’s still trying to keep a grip on his humanity. Only feeds on Skals and rats. Helps keep the leech population in check, believe it or not. Protects my men.”

“And when he falls to the bloodlust just like every other leech does?”

“Then we’ll kill him just like every other leech.”

The words flow like tar from McCullum’s mouth, and for some reason he can’t explain he regretted speaking them aloud almost immediately. They’re followed by a comforting but equally confusing thought; that Jonathan would welcome death if he ever lost himself. That it’s what he would want .

McCullum wondered very briefly just when exactly what the leech doctor wanted became important to him.

The answer only drew another tired sounding sigh from Patel. “And how many people does he have to take out before that happens?”

Enough ,” McCullum snapped. “For fuck’s sake, Patty, it’s not like he’s a part of Priwen. So long as he keeps up his end of the bargain, we let him live. The moment that bargain is broken, he’s gone. As of right now, he saves far more lives than he takes. That’s all there is to it.”

“It don’t sit right Geoff!” She snapped right back. “I know the rest of the lads aren’t thrilled about it either, so don’t say I’m the only one! He’s a leech . Have you forgotten Priwen’s ways? Have you forgotten what’s happened to the both of -”

“Don’t you fucking dare, Patty,” he warned, voice lowered to a dangerous growl. “Don’t you even think of it.

“Leeches killed your whole family, Geoff! The killed your family, and they killed my father, and that’s why we’re both fucking here !”

“Stop!”

The words came out of McCullum’s mouth as a shout, a command, his voice nearly breaking from the strain of it. He had stood up suddenly as he said it, chair pushed back from the force and hands gripped dangerously tight at the worn edges of his desk. The outburst seemed to take Patel by surprise for a moment; she flinched slightly, hand hovering over the knife strapped to her side as she straightens up in her chair. A heavy silence settled between the two of them. A curtain. Patel seemed wary, and McCullum seemed almost ashamed.

He was the first one to interrupt the silence. “If that’s all you have to say,” he began, settling back down in his chair slowly, too slowly, as if he’s afraid any sudden movement will cause the tension in the room to overflow, “Then I think it’s best you leave.”

“I have one more thing,” she replied, words sounding as careful as his movements look. “I received some interesting news from one of the patrols tonight.”

“Why didn’t they bring it straight to me?”

“Oh, don’t fucking get like that, Geoff. They were looking for you, and you weren’t here. It’s about the sewer Skals.”

McCullum leaned back in his chair, hands folded over his stomach as he stretched his legs out in front of him. Gentle sunlight began to trickle in through the window, and it’s presence only seemed to increase the exhaustion that enveloped him. “What about? The whole lot of ‘em were supposed to be killed during the Disaster.”

“Yes, well, the epidemic seems to have complicated a lot of things.”

The hunter narrowed his eyes, sitting up in his chair and resting his elbows on the edge of the table. Reid had told him about the disaster and the way it had butchered those that lived under the city limits. Geoffrey hadn’t been able to bring himself to feel much sympathy for a group of dirty Skals, but Jonathan had seemed incredibly saddened by the loss. Geoffrey had bit his tongue, but he didn’t go out of his way to provide any comfort for the doctor when he shared the news, either. How was he supposed to tell the man that Priwen would’ve taken the group out themselves if they had known of their presence?

“Tell me more.”

 

*~~~*~~~*

 

When Jonathan came to, it was in a bed that wasn’t his own in a room he had no recollection of ever being in before. The doctor sat up straight away, hand immediately slipping towards the pillow for the small pistol he had taken to hiding ever since the war. It was dark - nightfall, at least - but he had no trouble seeing through the room. Small, slightly cramped, littered with a few strange flowering plants that itched at his nose and tickled his skin.

It only took a few more moments after waking up to remember he had taken refuge from the sun in a flower shop in Whitechapel.

Camellia’s flower shop.

Jonathan rolled out of bed with a soft groan, tidying up the sheets and pillows once his feet hit the floor. The movements were quick and methodical; a habit leftover from his not so long ago days in the army. His shoes and jacket soon found their way back onto his body, and once he peeked his head out into the small hallway to ensure the sun was, in fact, fully set, he made his way down the cramped set of stairs into the flower shop below.

There were no customers down below, and Camellia seemed to have busied herself with the process of repotting some of the smaller plants into new pots. Clumps of rich dirt and stray leaves littered the area around her, but in a rather peculiar turn of events, Camellia herself seemed to have been spared from most of the mess.

“Good evening,” Jonathan said cautiously as he ducked underneath the hanging plants on his way towards the woman, not sure whether or not Camellia had already sensed his presence. She didn’t look up from the plants or otherwise acknowledge him in any other way. “I cannot thank you enough for letting me stay the night. Or the day, I suppose.” The sentence is followed by an awkward chuckle, and still Camellia seemed far more occupied with the plants than with his feeble attempts at small talk. “….well, either way, I am gratefully in your debt. If you ever find yourself needing medical attention or supplies, do not hesitate to come my way. It’s the least I can do.”

That finally managed to elicit a response, and Camellia looked up at Jonathan with a grateful smile. She then gestured towards the dozen or so empty pots next to a rather large bag of dirt before looking up at Jonathan with expectant eyes.

“Oh,” he lets out with another nervous chuckle, “I’m afraid I won’t be of much use with plants, miss.”

She let out a dismissive scoff at that, pointing towards the bag of dirt, the pots, and then bag at him. She then pointed to herself and the flowers surrounding her, making a patting motion with her hands.

“I…. I can help with that, yes. A bit of dirt never hurt anybody, I suppose,” Jonathan conceded, hanging his jacket over the chair and rolling up his sleeves as he began to shovel handfuls of dirt into the ceramic pots. The silence between them was comfortable, but Jonathan had never been very good at keeping quiet. Still, the question that burst out of his mouth felt rather unexpected, even coming from him. “Why are you unable to talk?”

He regretted it immediately, even when the look Camellia offered him was more amused as opposed to incredulous.

“I - I apologize,” he stuttered, keeping his eyes focused on the dirt and pots in front of him, “That was incredibly beyond the pale, I had no business asking -”

Camellia cut him off with the wave of a hand, a soft smile gracing her pale features. Jonathan stopped talking immediately, and if he had been capable of it his cheeks would have been flushed a soft pink. Her eyebrows furrowed together, and it only just then occurred to Jonathan how difficult the question must be to answer without talking . She pointed to the label of the flowers she was replanting. The green stalks were tall, with long clumps of purple flowers that made Jonathan’s untrained eye think they were lavender plants for a moment.

“‘Hyssops. Perennial.’” He read aloud, reading from the label. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand how the flowers answer my question -”

She pointed more aggressively at the bottom word of the label. Perennial .

“Yes, I know what perennial means,” Jonathan said slowly, still sounding unsure. “It lasts more than one season. The flower will bloom year after year, as long as it’s taken care of. My mother taught me that, at least.”

Camellia pointed at the word perennial one last time, then pointed to herself.

“You’re….perennial? I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

The woman let out a frustrated sigh, looking around the shop in search of a way to explain whatever it was that was on her mind. She pointed at one of the larger flowers before glancing back expectantly at Jon.

“That one is blooming. It is healthy.”

She nods then points towards a smaller flower that had taken on a sickly gray color instead of the vibrant purple the other plants had.

“That one is sick. It….it is dying.”

She shook her head, pointing at it more vigorously.

“You cannot sell it. It is….bad? Is it bad?”

A wide smile spread across her face, the first of its kind Jonathan had seen coming from Camellia, and she nodded her head while gesturing back towards herself and Jonathan.

His own eyes are still narrowed in confusion. “So….some perennials are good and healthy, and some are bad?” Another nod. “And you are a….perennial?”

The smile widened, and her eyes light up as she looked expectantly towards Jonathan. He had almost worked finished packing dirt through all of the pots.

“….I apologize, but I’m still not quite sure what this has to do with you not being able to talk.”

Camellia let out a defeated sigh, and went back to repotting the purple plants - hyssops - shoulders slightly slumped.

“It’s quite alright,” Jonathan reassured her, feeling a bit sore for bringing the subject up in the first place. “You don’t have to tell me. It was just a silly question; I never should have tried to intrude in the first place. It was unbecoming of me.”

The woman allowed a soft, albeit slightly sad smile at his apology, glancing up toward Jonathan and offering a small shrug. Judging from her eyes, she almost looked to be lost in thought. Jonathan wondered for a moment if maybe Camellia wanted to tell people, and if this was one of the closest attempts she had gotten in succeeding. The thought that he had only disappointed her didn’t help the feelings of guilt for bringing up the subject in the first place; the slightly more selfish thought of living without a voice merely instilled him with fear.

He could never imagine.

The pots had all been filled with dirt, and Jonathan decided that perhaps it would be best to leave Camellia alone with her thoughts for the time being. He didn’t want to overstay his welcome, nor did he want to risk upsetting her with his ignorant questions any more than he already had. “I thank you again for allowing me shelter,” he said awkwardly, standing from the chair and sliding his jacket over his shoulders, “But I’m afraid I should be taking my leave. There’s still so much I have to do tonight, and unfortunately, time is of a rather important essence.”

Camellia didn’t seem surprised by his hurry to leave. She only nodded, still seemingly preoccupied with her thoughts and the flowers, and after a moment Jonathan ventured towards the door, once again ducking beneath all of the plants hanging from the ceiling. He stops at the door, hand hanging hesitantly over the handle.

“My offer still stands,” he called over his shoulder. “Do not hesitate to stop by the Pembroke if you or anybody you care for is ever in need of medical attention. Like I said….it’s the least I can do. Good evening, Miss Camellia.”

It felt easier to breathe - and think - once he was outside of the flower shop. The cool London air felt refreshing against his skin, and without that odd electric energy permeating the air around him, Jonathan felt as though he could finally relax .

Alas, he had virtually no time to relax. His reason for leaving the shop hadn’t been a lie , after all. There were many things Jonathan had to do before the night was over. One of which included the impossible .

He had to somehow get Geoffrey McCullum to listen to him.