With the epidemic eradicated, London slowly returned to its former glory. Which means drunk bohemians were back at stumbling across the city in the dead of night completely unaware of the fact that creatures deadlier than the Spanish flu still linger on the alleys. Fucking leeches, like Geoffrey McCullum groans to himself repeatedly as he makes his way across town.
The more they kill, the more show up. They’re worse than the rats, if you ask him.
As if trying to keep up with the city’s night life, daytime activities slowly return to normal as well and even though Geoffrey’s routine doesn’t really allow him to enjoy the sunshine, every now and then he takes the long way back to the headquarters. Right on time, usually, to see the fishermen bringing their merchandise over to the market, fruits filling up the stands and the buzz of busy voices fill the streets.
He likes the market. Likes how lively it is, when everything else he sees is death end violence. Johnson, the rookie who’s accompanying him this morning, knows it. That’s why he doesn’t complain that they’re taking their time, walking leisurely as the sun starts warming up their cold bodies.
Johnson is young, face way too bright and full of hope for a Priwen guard. He’s barely out of his teens, acne still itching on his cheeks, and that’s why nobody realises he’s not really a boy. Luckily, the rookie has a chest as flat as a cutting board, so, yeah, adapting to living like a guy was easy on that front. Still, he’s young. He can go to sleep later than usual after a night of patrolling the docks like it’s noting. McCullum, on the other hand, is already feeling sleep tugging at his eyelids.
“I’ll go check the knives over there, see if they have anything interesting.” Geoffrey says as they reach the flea market behind the fruit stands. “We’ll go soon.”
“Aye, aye.” It’s the only reply he gets before the rookie saunters off to look at some antiques.
Geoffrey has a small dagger in his hands, metal shiny under the pale morning sun, when he notices the soft sound of an old woman singing quietly nearby.
“The sun comes up at the end, at the end, at the end of the seventh night.” She recites as the guard looks over. The song feels familiar, maybe a nursery rhyme? The old woman is dressed in dark clothes, milky white hair peeking out from under a richly embroidered shawl. Dark blue eyes meet milky grey ones as the woman drawls out: “Bonded by death and destiny, they are. By blood and faith, yes, they are.”
McCullum is sure he hasn’t seen her before, her sharp features too remarkable to be forgotten, but there’s something so familiar about her.
“Death awaits with the rising sun, the wait for love forever stopped.” The woman recites, approaching the hunter. The dagger McCullum was examining slips between his fingers and clatters against the cobblestone beneath his feet. He quickly crouches to retrieve the weapon and returns it to the stand. When he looks over again, the woman is holding a dark grey scarf between her skinny fingers. She asks: “Priwen Guard, is it?”
McCullum dumbly nods as she the scarf to his eyes. It looks soft. Too soft to be something he’d wear, but he takes it from her hands anyway.
It’s made of wool so smooth and fine he can barely see the stitches and he finds himself wanting to feel it against his face. Fortunately, he stops himself before he does it and just runs the fabric between his fingers thoughtfully.
“Try it on.” The woman encourages him, reaching out to adjust the angle of a small mirror she has hanging from her stand. Geoffrey adjusts the scarf around his neck and looks into the mirror. “It brings out your eyes.”
She might have a point, McCullum considers as he looks at himself. It looks good on him, seriously good. Not nearly as delicate as he thought.
“You should keep it.” She says.
He agrees. And he’s about to ask how much she wants for it when he realises she’s nowhere to be seen. Vanished as though she’d never been there in the first place. Geoffrey looks around the market. Behind the stand. He even considers asking around, but then Johnson comes back waving a silver cigarette box.
“Look what I found, boss!” He exclaims. “Do you think Horace will like it?”
McCullum shakes his head, but he’s smiling. Just a little.
“What? You’re getting him presents now?”
Johnson has the gall to look offended before explaining:
“Well, he was the one who, you know…” He rubs at his forehead, thoughtful. Geoffrey knows. Horace was the one who took Johnson out of his house before the guards took down the Vulkod who killed the rookie’s family. He was the only other guard to know of the recruit’s true gender. “I never thanked him...”
“You don’t have to. He was just doing his job.” McCullum quickly replies, walking out of the market with the rookie right behind him. He represses a yawn and complains: “Goddamn it, I’m tired…”
“We’re almost there, old man.” Johnson teases him, the mess of curls he calls a hair shining bright red under the sun. McCullum would reply if he weren’t so tired.
Johnson is right, though, and soon enough they are dragging their feet up the headquarters’ stairs.
“G’night, boss.” Johnson bids, even though the sun is shining bright through the windows.
“Goodnight…” Geoffrey replies before walking slowly towards his own room. Johnson shares a room a half a dozen other guards, but Geoffrey is lucky enough to have his own space, a mix of bedroom and office with piles of paper stacked all over and a messy bed set against the window, clothes scattered here and there, most of them not clean.
It is strange how he didn’t realise before how tired he is. Now that his bed is in sight, however, messy sheets and all, he feels almost dizzy with exhaustion. He barely has time to wash his face, close the curtains and kick off his boots before falling face first into his pillows and promptly falling asleep.
Jonathan Reid has the strangest dreams.
Not that he’s never had strange dreams before. After being turned, though, he’d spent weeks dreaming of absolutely nothing. All black. Void. He falls asleep like he’s dying, nothing but darkness all around him.
After he came back from the Ashbury estate, though, another element joined the darkness.
Licking at the inside of his eyelids as he twists and turns in a restless sleep, feeding on his guilt and loneliness.
There is plenty of those to go around, anyway, so the fire never really goes away.
Elisabeth is dead. Swansea is dead. And the last time Jonathan slept Geoffrey fucking McCullum decided to pay his unconscious a visit, distrustful face staring at him like he wants to make sure Jonathan feels just as shitty as he deserves to.
He’s not angry, though. McCullum. He’s just there, between the darkness and the fire, looking just as confused and suspicious as Jonathan feels at having the hunter in his dreams.
He tries to blame it on him being hungry. He’s never gone this long without feeding.
Come night, he wakes up feeling like crap, but that is how he’s been feeling since he returned. The hunter’s dark blue eyes, however, still sting long after Reid is going around the hospital for his rounds. The epidemic might be over, but the hospital is still in shambles after losing its former director. Strickland stepped up as a temporary replacement, but they are still looking for a permanent solution because nobody is looking forward to taking the job after the… reputation… the hospital gained.
Also, Jonathan might have mixed his patients up once or twice.
Maybe more than once or twice.
In his defence, he is in a very atypical headspace. So he’s not surprised when come Monday Strickland asks him to his office. Swansea’s old office. Some of his books are still on the shelves, the furniture mostly the same. It makes Reid’s skin crawl as he enters the room.
Nobody seems to notice, though, given how busy they are whispering worriedly. Jonathan raises an eyebrow at the scene. Around the desk are Strickland and two men Jonathan recognizes as Priwen guards after a look at their uniform, a red-haired rookie and an older man with a long grey beard.
“You wanted to talk to me, Strickland?” Jonathan asks loudly, bringing everyone’s eyes towards him. Strickland clears his throat.
“Oh, yeah… well, it doesn’t matter now.” He dismissively says, but seems to reconsider after a second. “But maybe you can help us with this… predicament?”
“No way in hell! He’s a bloody leech!” The younger guard says and Jonathan tries not to be offended as the older one shushes him.
“Yeah, we are aware of Dr. Reid’s… condition.” Strickland elucidates, crossing his arms. Jonathan looks over at the whispering guards. Probably think they are very discreet, the gits.
“What’s… going on?” Jonathan inquires.
“Well, Horace and Johnson here have told me quite the worrying tale, Dr. Reid.” Strickland says, somewhat detachedly. “Go on, tell him…”
The guards look at each other, unsure, but eventually Horace, the older one, starts explaining:
“McCullum hasn’t woken up for the past two days.” He scratches his beard thoughtfully, dark eyes conveying his own shock at what he is reporting. “He’s breathing. His heart is beating. But we can’t wake him up. At all.”
“He was normal when we came back to the headquarters on Saturday!” Johnson explains in a high-pitched voice. “We stopped by the market on the way back… He was normal! I swear!”
“How long has he been unconscious?” Jonathan asks, looking around him. Horace looks utterly confused, Johnson on the verge of a breakdown while Strickland looks… bored?
“Since Saturday! Aren’t you listening?”
Jonathan makes a face at Johnson’s explosion, but manages to say very reasonably:
“Well, it’s quite difficult to come up with a diagnosis without seeing the patient.”
“We’ll take you there...” Horace starts to say but Johnson interrupts him by exclaiming:
“No fucking way! A leech in the headquarters?” He looks at Horace as if the other guard has lost his mind. “McCullum would murder us!”
“You’re overstepping, rookie…” Horace calmly warns him. “This is quite an unusual situation we find ourselves in.”
Johnson still looks like he wants to say something, but he reigns himself in.
“Are you willing to come with us, Dr. Reid?” Horace asks. Jonathan nods, but looks at Strickland expecting his reaction. The older doctor doesn’t seem very interested in what’s going on in the room, though, his eyes focused on a notebook on his desk.
With an unnerving sense of solemnity, Jonathan tells the guards:
“Take me to him.”