Tuesday night sets over Pembroke Hospital with a curtain of heavy rain as Jonathan Reid wakes up just in time to stop himself from faceplanting the floor.
He feels like he has barely slept at all.
As he drags himself around his room, getting ready to work, the darkness that looms over him feels thicker, the thunders rolling outside a perfect reflex of his heavy heart. The rain and wind whip the hospital windows and Jonathan has to reminds himself that it’s over.
The Morrigan is asleep. His Maker is asleep. The Disaster has been stopped.
And yet, as he examines Geoffrey McCullum’s blood sample, he can’t understand it.
It seems normal, the sample. But it doesn’t feel normal.
With no idea what to do with this, Jonathan goes downstairs to do his rounds, but his mind is somewhere else. He is somewhere else, thoughts of water and his name on the hunter’s lips looping through his head.
It comes as no surprise, then, when Strickland tells him to go check on the Priwen leader since Jonathan is obviously not being that useful at the hospital. Jonathan is not even offended.
Later, he will not be able to recount which streets he takes to the headquarters, raincoat and umbrella not nearly as effective as they should be against the raging storm. The moment he is back inside McCullum’s room, he feels as though he has never really left in the first place.
He can tell the hunter has been moved since the night before, probably by one of the guards who were watching Jonathan work. They did a decent enough job of it, even if they aren’t lingering around Jonathan tonight. McCullum is not in pain. His face is completely relaxed, lips parted slightly as he breathes in and out, slow and easy.
Seeing him fills Jonathan with conflicting emotions: an odd type of relief on one hand and, on the other, apprehension at seeing how nothing has changed. For better or for worse.
Jonathan leans over the unconscious man, grazing his face with light fingers. He tells himself he is trying to feel his temperature, but the truth is he just wants to make sure he is really there. That he is not an illusion, some creature born of Jonathan’s haunted thoughts.
It feels like he’s dreaming. Since he came back to London, things haven’t had much solidity. But the hunter’s skin is warm. No more than normal, just warm and soft to the touch, the scruff on his cheeks not nearly as rough as Jonathan expected.
“What are you doing, sir?” A soft voice inquires and Jonathan withdraws his hand in a rush. He looks around and sees a red-haired guard staring wide-eyed at him. It takes the doctor a second to understand the reason behind the uncanny perception he has when he looks at the guard. Then he blinks, eyes widening in realization.
All the other Priwen guards are male, but this one…
“Johnson, get your scrawny ass out of there…” Someone calls from outside the open door and Johnson rushes to obey. The guard that called sticks his head in and says: “Sorry, doc, he’s new. How is he doing?”
Jonathan stands up from his crouched position beside the bed and responds:
“Not much seems to have changed.” The guard’s casts an unhappy look towards the bed, as though he thinks this is their leader’s fault, that Geoffrey is doing this whole ‘being buried into the deepest slumber anyone around them has ever seen’ thing just to be inconvenient. “You moved him.”
“Sure did.” The guard replies with a curt nod and gestures awkwardly toward the unconscious man on the bed. “I’ll let you…”
“Thank you.” Jonathan quickly says, turning his back to the closing door.
Jonathan proceeds to try everything he can think of in order to awaken his patient, from ammonia salts just short of slapping the man across the face — but he’d bet his medical license the guards have tried that approach before, so he controls himself.
The point is: nothing works. And being unable to help Geoffrey makes Jonathan want to scream and punch something, so, naturally, he leaves before he ends up doing just that. He tries to put on a brave, optimistic face when he’s asked about the hunter’s progress, but he knows the guards can see right through him.
He’s a mess, through and through, and absolutely helpless.
Sun is just about to rise as Jonathan makes his way back to the hospital, steps lagging as if daring the light to catch up. As if he wants it to, as if it’s a game, because, well… he certainly feels he deserves some sort of punishment for his sheer incompetence. He is crossing a bridge near the hospital, drowning in self-pity, when he hears a female voice coming from the side, weak and shaky as she sings to herself:
“Do you love an apple? Do you love a pear? Do you love a laddie with curly brown hair?” The melody is familiar like a lullaby and Jonathan’s steps slow to a stop as the woman turns towards him, bright white hair glimmering under the fading moonlight. She’s sitting on the rail, but looks definitely too old to be able to get there without help. “Oh, but still I love him, I can’t deny him, I will go with him wherever he goes…”
“Can I help you, ma’am?” Jonathan asks, approaching her with a sudden fear she loses balance and falls from her perch.
“No, my lovely, not me, not me…” She singsongs, eyes directed at Jonathan but looking right through him. Blind?, Jonathan wonders as he stares into the milky greyness of her gaze. “But help… yes, you can help, surely!”
Jonathan has seen dementia and all its horrible faces before, but never before had felt this unsettled and he is not entirely sure that is what he is seeing on the old woman’s face.
“Can I?” He asks himself, so lost. McCullum needs his assistance, but he feels like he is the one in need of help. “Can I really?”
Help him, he does not say. The old woman seems to hear it anyway, because she answers:
“Yes, but beware of the rising sun. Beware of the seventh day.” There’s a melody in her every word and it brings a peculiar sort of comfort to the doctor before she goes back to her nursing rhymes. “Kiss him or miss him, the stars and the moon; for the world would be empty so soon, so soon…”
“You shouldn’t be out here at this hour.” Jonathan quietly warns her. “It’s not safe.”
“Oh, but it is for me!” She cackles loudly, eyes bugging out as her high-pitched laughter echoes around them. Jonathan takes a step back. “Your sister, mister, had it right, you know?”
“Mary?” Jonathan inquires, but the lady does not seem to notice it the alarm colouring his late sister’s name.
“The tales of yore, the ‘happily ever after’s.” She sounds out, dreamily. “Once upon a time…”
“I really have to go.” Jonathan quickly says, looking around in apprehension. There is a bright golden line shining above the buildings, slowly spreading, and he knows he is cutting a little too close to his bedtime. He can’t help it.
“Yes, you do.” The woman says, vowels long enough to be something other than words, but not exactly a song. She turns her back to the doctor, dismissing him.
The hospital’s morning buzz has already started when Jonathan makes his way in, doctors and nurses running around tending to their rounds, their patients. Dr. Strickland stops Jonathan before the vampire reaches the stairs, asking for updates, face stern and tired.
Jonathan shakes his head in defeat, words failing him. Strickland offers him no guidance, though, and no comfort, face twisted in frustration that makes Jonathan’s chest ache, empty and cold.
“Something weird happened on the way back here.” Jonathan offers softly. Strickland raises an eyebrow and doubtfully asks:
“Yeah? What was it?”
Jonathan clears his throat, hesitating. He needs to speak with someone, though, just to make sure he is not losing his mind. Maybe the other doctor will have heard of the old lady. Maybe he will have seen her too.
“There was an old lady on the bridge.” Jonathan says, struggling with his words as if he is back to his teenage years, all restlessness and uncertainty. “She was… she was just sitting there on the railing, singing to herself.”
“There are a lot of strange people roaming our city at night, Reid.” Strickland dismissively considers. “You should get some rest. You’re not going to be of much use exhausted the way you are.”
Not that he has been that useful when not exhausted, Jonathan considers, even though he does not feel exhausted. There is something prodding at his brain and he doubts he will have any luck trying to sleep, but he goes to his room anyway, kicks his clothes away and falls into bed.
It takes him a long time to sleep and, when he does, he dreams of Mary and their childhood bedroom. Their house felt so much bigger back then, filled with treasures and secrets all around. Their father was still there. Jonathan does not see him in his dream, but he feels his presence.
When they were kids, Mary used to drive Jonathan out of his mind asking him to read her bedtime stories. Her favourite were the princess ones, but Jonathan preferred the old tales. Greek myths. Legends of heroes, monsters, gods.
But for her, he would read about the princesses and princes and evil witches. And, at some point, it was not even reading anymore. It was reciting.
He still knows the stories by heart. Once upon a time, as it starts, Mary’s eyes lighting up with fantasy and glee in both his memories and his dreams as she waits for the eventual ‘happily ever after’ just as Jonathan did.
Does, still, regardless of how little hope he sees lately.
When he wakes up, the smell of sandalwood lingers in the air of his room, but he cannot find its source.