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I walked with you (once upon a dream)

Chapter Text

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.

-x-

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.

Fire.

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.”

Chapter Text

As soon as Jonathan Reid lays eyes on Geoffrey McCullum, he knows the hunter is in pain. He strides into the room with enviable certainty and kneels by the bed, setting his suitcase on the floor next to him. McCullum’s heart beats steadily as if he is asleep, his breathing calm and slow, but Jonathan knows better than to believe that this is a natural type of slumber.

“Has he been moved at all?” He asks aloud. He does not really need the confused silence that follows to have his answer, though, or the soft ‘no’s’ he hears seconds later.

McCullum is in pain.

“Goddamn it…” Jonathan swears, approaching the bed, taking the hunter’s arms in his hands and massaging him in order to get his circulation going, movements a lot surer than he feels.

Three days, he’s been like that. Jackasses, he thinks at the guards, but says nothing as he moves from one limb to the next. He proceeds turn the man’s body over until he is lying on his back instead of on his stomach.

Three days. On his stomach.

Jonathan grimaces. If he wakes up…

When he wakes up, the doctor corrects himself.

When he wakes up, Geoffrey McCullum is going to have the stiffest neck in recorded history.

As if his body is doing nothing more than to follow his thoughts, Jonathan’s hands find the back of Geoffrey’s neck, pressing into the tense muscles. Geoffrey is warm and pliant as people generally are when they are asleep and Jonathan finds himself biting his own lips as he moves down to press his hands over the man’s shoulders, trying to loosen the knots he finds there.

As he works for countless drawn-out minutes, all his senses focus on the hunter, searching for something. Anything. And all the while, the guards keep talking about comas and paralysis and Jonathan’s can barely hear them over his own racing thoughts.

It’s nothing more than a deep slumber, as far as he can see. He sniffs the air, leaning down closer to his patient until he has his nose an inch from the man’s face. Jonathan can smell the musk of Geoffrey’s sweat, the prolonged sleep in his breath and a confusing note of sandalwood and incense that he cannot quite place.

The doctor’s eyes roam the sleeping man’s placid expression and he is so frustrated he wants to punch himself in the face. He looks and looks and has absolutely no idea what is wrong with Geoffrey McCullum.

“Why is he wearing this?” Jonathan points at the man’s uniform. That can’t possibly be comfortable. Horace shrugs as if he has just noticed it and says:

“He was like that when we found him.”

“This is going to chafe. He needs softer clothing. Cotton, preferably.” The doctor explains, barely able to repress his frustration.

“That’s his drawer, right there.” Johnson points at the piece of furniture next to the window.

Jonathan wants to roll his eyes, rub a hand down his face in annoyance, but he settles for a noncommittal sound as he understands he will have to do everything himself.

He would normally argue that he is not a nurse, but he is also very aware that these hunters, who are a lot of brawl and very little brain (case in point), are currently all around him; moreover, in all honesty, he doesn’t want to get out of there just yet. Not without proper answers.

Whatever is going on with McCullum is gnawing at the corners of his mind and he knows it will continue to do so until he finds some answers.

“Get me some warm water and a washcloth. And some towels.” Jonathan demands, undeniable authority in every syllable, and the guards rush to oblige. They whisper among themselves wondering about Jonathan’s intentions, but Jonathan is not offended. Not really. Horace stays behind after the others leave, looming over the doctor with his arms crossed and an unreadable expression on his face as if he does not trust Jonathan to be alone with Geoffrey. Maybe he is right, Jonathan wonders as the sounds of Geoffrey’s blood rushing through his veins overtake his every sense.

“Is he okay, Dr. Reid?” Horace asks, tone much more polite and respectful than Jonathan would have expected. Jonathan nods, thoughtfully, but after a moment or two ends up begrudgingly admitting:

“He seems okay. But I’m not sure what’s wrong with him…” I can’t detect anything off, he doesn’t say. “I’ll take a blood sample to analyse back at the hospital as soon as he’s cleaned up.”

Horace nods and moves to the dresser by the window. He goes through the drawers, picking out clothes before laying them on the bed. Soft, worn-out cotton pyjamas. Perfect, Jonathan thinks as he carefully lifts the hunter’s head to take his scarf off. How can someone sleep with a scarf on is beyond him, but the fabric is so soft and warm against the doctor’s fingers that he finds himself playing with it for a few seconds.

He sniffs the air with a frown. There it is again. The smell. Sandalwood. He lifts the scarf to his face to inhale the scent that seems to be coming from it. He can smell Geoffrey’s skin on the fabric, something woodsy and undeniably masculine, but also incense.

It feels incredibly wrong and Jonathan doesn’t know what to think as he wraps the scarf around the bed post. Horace, by the window, also does not know what to think as he sees the leech doctor smell his leader’s scarf before putting it away, but he decides it might just be one of those eccentricities Ekons tend to have.

The freaks.

Only when the water and washcloth are there and the guards leave the room does Jonathan continue to undress the hunter. It is standard procedure to preserve the patient’s modesty, but Jonathan also does not want anyone to see the worried look on his face as he finds no recent injuries on the hunter’s body, no marks beyond where his belt was almost cutting into the soft skin around his hipbones, the skin angry red and probably sore as Jonathan rubs the damp washcloth over it.

As he washes his skin, Jonathan can feel the sheer bulk of McCullum’s strength even though the hunter is unconscious, can smell the clean and masculine scent of his sweat. Jonathan makes a conscious effort not to stare at the naked form of his patient, tries to remain professional: washes him and gets him clothed with quick, practiced movements, but by the end he has etched into the back of his eyelids the vivid image of the hunter’s naked chest rising and falling as he breathes.

The strong heartbeat behind his ribs.

He remembers feeling that pulse on his tongue when McCullum came to confront him at the hospital what feels like a lifetime ago, hell-bent on the idea that Jonathan and Swansea were behind the epidemic.

Well, he ended up being half-right…

As Jonathan pierces McCullum’s arm with the syringe’s needle to get a blood sample, he has to press his lips together and breathe shallowly. He remembers all too vividly having drained the hunter’s blood using less traditional methods. If it had not been for King Arthur’s blood on Geoffrey’s body that night, he honestly doubts he would have been able to stop himself from drinking much more than he should. He had truly intended only to weaken the man, but the taste of his blood…

Jonathan shakes his head in an effort to clear these disturbingdistracting thoughts and presses a cotton ball to McCullum’s skin before withdrawing the syringe, but all the way back to the hospital he’s still thinking of the hunter’s blood. His taste. His strength.

The case has bothered him so much that he ends up stopping by the hospital director’s office before heading to his room. It is something he used to do when Swansea was around, whenever he needed guidance or just a colleague’s presence to get his mind on the right track, but Strickland is not Swansea. Therefore, the man eventually interrupts Jonathan’s preoccupied ramblings with barely contained impatience.

“Sleep, Jonathan.” He says. “He’ll still be there come morning.”

Jonathan frowns. He wonders if he has overstepped somehow, but follows the suggestion. When he reaches his room, he understands why Strickland was so blunt when telling him to get some sleep. His face in the mirror is not one to inspire confidence, the dark circles under his eyes speaking of one too many nightmares.

When Jonathan sleep, he does so with no hopes to find comfort in his subconscious, but Geoffrey’s face is right there in his dreams, gruff Irish accent calling his name with exasperation other than worry.

Jonathan! Jonathan!, time and again like he has something important to say and Jonathan just isn’t paying enough attention.

Then, all of a sudden, bubbles spill out of the hunter’s mouth instead of words, dark blue eyes widening in shock, and Jonathan realises they’re underwater, forever sinking, forever drowning. Jonathan reaches out, pushes at the water with his feet, hands outstretched, fingers reaching, but he can’t seem to get close enough.

He’s almost falling off his bed when he wakes up.

Chapter Text

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.

-x-

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?”

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.

Chapter Text

The first thing Jonathan thinks come Wednesday night is that, if Elisabeth were there, she would know exactly what to do.

She always knew what to do.

He is so lucky to have known her, to have had her support, her guidance.

Her friendship.

But as it is now, Jonathan is completely alone.

That is the reason why he does what he does or at least it is what he will tell himself later. He is alone.

He is lost.

He does not know what to do.

So he takes the blood sample he’s been working on for what feels like the last month and tastes it.

It is just… the next best thing he can do. If there is something in the sample, he will be able to taste it. It sure smells okay enough, but the blood does not taste the same as when Jonathan drank from the hunter the night they fought.

From time to time, Jonathan starts wondering where exactly it was that everything went wrong. When he came back to London after the war, when he woke up that first night as a vampire, when he failed to convince Elisabeth to let him save her… He never reaches any sort of conclusion from these thoughts, but the thinks about the night he fought Geoffrey a lot.

Jonathan swirls the blood around his mouth thoughtfully.

That taste

It might have something to do with the fact that it is not a very fresh sample, but he knows there is something else that is different, a tickle on his tongue after he swallows.

Jonathan tries to ignore his hunger and focus only on what it feels like to have McCullum’s blood in his mouth again, but the way his fangs throb as he breathes in and out slowly, mouth open in a silent, involuntary snarl… well, it is quite distracting.

When Jonathan asks to be excused from the hospital in order to check on Geoffrey, Strickland does not even blink nor does he ask what Jonathan plans on doing. His obvious disinterest would be outrageous were it not favourable to Jonathan’s dark intentions.

All he needs is a fresher sample.

Maybe then he will be able to understand.

“Dr. Reid!” A surprised Horace says as he sees Jonathan walk into the headquarters. “We… didn’t know you were coming back so soon.”

The older guard is surprised, but also relieved; Jonathan does not take notice, though. He cannot really see past the urgency tinting the corners of his vision a bright bloody red.

“Is he there?” Jonathan asks, motioning towards the ceiling. He knows Geoffrey is there, of course, a couple of floors above them. He can hear his heartbeat, slow and steady. That’s not what Jonathan is asking, but Horace understands it. The guard just steps aside, gesturing to the stairs with a defeated:

“Where else would he be?” Jonathan takes a deep breath. “I’ll be down here if you need anything.”

Jonathan nods and ascends the stairs with a heavy feeling in his chest.

As he enters Geoffrey’s room, he feels all the drive that took him there escape him like water between his fingers. He is wearing different clothes, today, but the dark scruff on his face speaks of how long he has been out of it. Jonathan closes the door behind him and comes to sit on the bed next to the hunter. He lets his head sink into his own hands for a minute or two, trying with all his might not to lose his mind as, right behind him, the hunter sleeps his life away.

Again, it is as if Jonathan has never left the room. Geoffrey is just the same, even as his limbs have been rearranged, body shifted a little more upward.

Jonathan is not sure if he has gotten himself completely under control as he reaches inside his bag for a syringe, but he could fill volumes with the amount of things he is not sure about anymore. The moment the needle pierces the soft, tantalising skin of Geoffrey’s arm, Jonathan regrets using the syringe.

He regrets it because what he really wants is to put his mouth on the hunter’s skin, to suck the blood straight out of his veins, but he knows that is the hunger talking.

He hopes that is the hunger talking.

Instead of giving into his instincts, Jonathan presses a gauze onto the small bleeding wound as he withdraws the needle, his entire body lighting up as the air fills with the metallic tang of Geoffrey’s blood. Then, Jonathan stands up on unsteady feet and moves to the open window. He rests his back against the pane and promptly empties the syringe inside his open mouth.

It is still warm, but it is not the warmth or the sustenance that makes him shiver from head to toe. This is not what it normally feels like to feed. There is something else. He is now sure of it.

It’s the hunger, he repeats to himself as he fights contrasting impulses. Devour, worship, harness, confine, vomit.

Fuck.

Arousal so sharp it hurts spreads through his veins, overtaking every single one of his senses. He has to reach down to palm himself through his trousers. He’s so hard it almost hurts and the pressure feels so good he has to stop himself from moving his hand. He takes one, two, three deep breaths and opens his eyes.

His gaze zeroes in on the red spot where the needle went into the Geoffrey’s arm and feels his mouth water. But it’s only when his eyes reach the hunter’s face that Jonathan feels his control start to really slip.

McCullum’s lips are a soft pink, slightly chapped from being asleep for so long, but, fuck

Jonathan wants to kiss him.

Just… fit his lips against the hunter’s, lick into his mouth until he responds. Until he has no choice but to kiss back.

The urge is so strong Jonathan tries to step back, but he has nowhere to go but out the window. It doesn’t matter if they’re on the third floor. He jumps out, terrified of what he might do if he doesn’t.

-x-

He wanders aimlessly through London, heart pounding in his throat and a haunted look in his eyes that makes passers-by cross the street when they see him even though he’s well-dressed, well-groomed. A fine catch, his sister Mary used to say when she wanted to make him feel good about himself.

“I don’t know what is taking you so long to find yourself a pretty little wife and give me some nephews and nieces, brother.” She would say, hands on her hips just like their mother used to do, and Jonathan never knew how to answer.

As his feet take him towards the east docks, towards the safety of the Turquoise Turtle and its drunk hopeless patrons, Jonathan wonders if he would be able to answer now.

He is in no shape to go back to Pembroke Hospital, so he sits at the bar as Tom Watts expresses his surprise at seeing him there.

“I see you’re still up and running…” Jonathan offers in response. Watts does not seem put-off by the wild look in his eyes and Jonathan wonders if his occupation has made him more tolerant of the lost souls wandering around town.

“Of course, there’s never a bad night in this business.” Watts replies. “What can I get you?”

“Ah… bourbon, please.” Jonathan vaguely replies.

“Rough night?” Watts asks, pouring him a generous dose and sliding the glass across the bar. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Jonathan sniffs the drink thoughtfully, bringing it to his lips just enough to feel the alcohol burn against the soft meat of his lips, but not enough for him to have to swallow. He sets his drink back onto the bar as a sudden idea occurs to him.

“No ghosts, but… let me ask you something.” He begins and the barkeeper leans a little closer to hear him. “Have you by any chance seen an old lady around town? White hair, grey eyes? Singing lullabies?”

Jonathan is almost expecting the barkeeper to look at him the same way Strickland did: as if he thought Jonathan should lay off the heavy drugs. But Watts just stops for a second, considering the question before saying:

“I’m sorry, Dr. Reid. I can’t say I have, but you know I don’t go out that much. I’m pretty busy.” He gestures around the bar, considerably full in contrast to what it was like during the epidemic. “I’ll keep an ear open, though.”

Jonathan allows himself a small smile that does very little to convey how much it means to have someone really listen to him.

“Thank you, Tom.” He says. The barkeeper nods, moving onto get the orders from the other customers. When he goes to ask the doctor what the hell he is doing in this part of town at this hour, he finds only the man’s barely touched drink and a few coins on the otherwise empty bar. Tom narrows his eyes, but shrugs it off. Reid is not even one of the strangest customers he’s had tonight, so he eventually forgets all about the doctor and old ladies singing lullabies.

Chapter Text

It seems like the more he pushes himself, the more difficult it is to move.

Jonathan is paralysed. Completely alone in the dark until the very moment when he no longer is.

From ten feet or so away, Geoffrey McCullum walks towards him, handsome face frozen into a thoughtful expression, his dark eyes just as uncomprehending of Jonathan as Jonathan is of him.

The gleam in his eyes… It is not the suspicious look he gave him the first time they met at Swansea’s office. It is not the betrayed, sorrowful glare from when they fought nor the distant, hopeless gaze from when they met at the cemetery.

That gleam is not one Jonathan has seen before, but it feels familiar.

What is more: it feels right.

It makes Jonathan feel at once worried and expectant, similarly to the first time they met: the cold at the back of his neck, his heart ready to jump out at any second. But it’s different. Now, Geoffrey could do anything he wanted and Jonathan would not even be able to offer resistance, which is thrilling in a way Jonathan is not ready to examine too closely.

Geoffrey does not say anything as he approaches, slowly as if he is not sure he should be going near Jonathan at all. There is nothing else around them, though.

And the truth is: there are two reasons why Jonathan does not move. Firstly: he can’t.

But he also does not want to. In this moment, there is not a single place in the entire world he would rather be, lovesick butterfly caught under the scrutiny of an entomologist.

When he is close enough for Jonathan to feel the tickle of his breath, Geoffrey’s lips part, his eyes an almost physical sensation as they roam all over Jonathan’s face before zeroing in on his lips. And the kiss… Jonathan can see it coming, but he is not ready.

The Ekon wants to lift his hands to touch the other man’s face, wants to wrap his arms around him and pull them flush together. Wants to feel the solidity of the man’s presence. Wants to devour him, but the only thing he can do for a while is receive the kiss, mouth wet and pliant.

It is very slowly that Jonathan becomes able to kiss Geoffrey back, curious tongue searching, touching, teeth biting over soft lips.

It makes Jonathan want to scream, how good it is, electricity buzzing under his skin, his heartbeat rumbling like thunder behind his ribs. Geoffrey kisses him in a tortuously slow fashion, at once dirty and careful as though they have all the time in the world. His big strong hands lay almost soothingly on Jonathan’s waist, thumbs rubbing slow circles, not pushing or pulling. It is unhurried, unmooring, almost too much.

Jonathan, on the other hand, is hanging on by a thread, undead heart singing in his cold chest. When his hands are finally released from their invisible shackles, he grabs the hunter with one hand at the back of his head and another on the small of his back, kissing him with intent and bringing their hips tight together, searching for friction, heat, release.

Geoffrey smiles into the kiss, finding Jonathan’s desperation amusing, but he returns every kiss, every sharp thrust and grind of their bodies as they part and reconnect in a dance never rehearsed. But then Jonathan makes the mistake of opening his eyes.

-x-

Jonathan blinks at the ceiling of his room inside Pembroke hospital as if it has the answers for the frustration eating at his loins. His throat closes with annoyance, but his body is still on fire with a desire that allows no space for refusals.

Jonathan kicks his covers off the bed and pushes his clothes away just enough to expose himself to the cold night air. When he wraps long fingers around himself, he promptly chokes on a moan. He is so sensitive, wet and sticky against the palm of his hand.

He tries to drag the sensations out, tries to make it last. But it is too good to last. Biting his lip to muffle the keening sounds that threaten to escape his throat, Jonathan thrusts erratically into his fist and comes long and hard, splattering thick semen against his abdomen and nightshirt.

As he lays there, feeling like an absolute creep for thinking about an unconscious patient while masturbating, he cannot help but wonder how long it has been since he had any type of release. He can’t remember having indulged in such practices since his turning, but even before, he has never been this frantic, this raw.

-x-

Driven half of his mind by his general sense of incompetence and helplessness in addition to how depraved he has proven himself to be, on Thursday night Jonathan tells Dr. Strickland that the director should probably check on McCullum himself.

“Maybe you will see something I haven’t been able to.” Jonathan explains as he faces the director’s unhappy glare. Strickland huffs an annoyed breath, but relents:

“All right. I’ll stop by the headquarters tomorrow.”

With a relieved sigh, Jonathan nods.

He goes through his rounds as usual, if a tad gloomier than usual. He has never been particularly cheerful, though, so no one seems to notice anything off about him. The following night, however, as Strickland leaves the hospital to check on the sleeping hunter, Jonathan positively sulks.

He still has to do his job, though. He checks on patients, fills out prescriptions, administers treatment here and there, but Geoffrey does not leave his mind for even a second and when a mysterious visitor has Nurse Branagan taking him out of a consultation, he immediately thinks the worse.

His heart is just about to break when he smells it.

Sandalwood.

At the front desk, looking just as out of place as she would anywhere else in the world, is the white-haired lady Jonathan met at the bridge. As Jonathan approaches her, he has the clear impression that she is not old at all, just very small, very unthreatening. But he can still see the wrinkles on her face, the eerie milky tone of her hair and eyes.

“Ah, my dear Ekon, you have not retrieved your present, have you?” She singsongs as the vampire approaches. Jonathan looks around in alarm, but no one is paying them any attention.

Jonathan narrows his eyes.

“A present?” He parrots as a sense of dread looms over him. “What are you doing here, ma’am?”

“My, oh, my…” She breathes with a soft smile. Pearly white teeth peek from between her thin lips, but they are very small and so numerous. “Even when they’re smart, men are so stupid.”

Jonathan takes a step back as he realises:

“You’re not human.”

The woman laughs at the shock in his voice, the same melodious high-pitched laughter from the other day, but lower in volume.

“See, I knew you were smart!” She mocks him as he tries to make sense of her. With a frown, Jonathan states:

“You’re not a vampire, though.”

The humour on her voice dies a little as she asks:

“You really thought your kind was all the supernatural there was on this beautiful world of ours?”

Jonathan’s frown deepens. He feels utterly stupid. Through the whole ordeal he lived with the Morrigan, the thought had not even once occurred to him.

“Who are you?” Jonathan demands in an effort not to look as caught off-guard as he was by the woman’s words. “What are you?”

She seems positively joyous to be asked, smile widening into inhuman proportions as she says:

“Oh, they call me many things, but, if you want, you can call me Aradia.”

Aradia. The names sounds familiar, but he does not know where he knows it from.

“Dear Ekon.” She calls and Jonathan raises his eyebrows. “If you want to save your human, you have to act fast. I am afraid you’re almost running out of time as it is.”

Jonathan takes a steading breath and stares at her at a complete loss. She knows what to do, he realises.

“But… How?” He asks while despair eats at his insides. Aradia again smiles her dark knowing grin, too many teeth, way too many teeth, and calmly says:

“You already know how.” Jonathan blinks, understanding next to nothing of what is expected of him. “Go, Ekon! Now! You don’t have much time...”

He nods gravely. He thinks he knows what to do.

He only hopes McCullum doesn’t hate him for it.

Chapter Text

“He’s deteriorating. Rapidly.” Dr. Strickland gravely explains to Horace, one of the senior guards and the only person in the entire headquarters besides the doctor who does not seem to be on the brink of losing his shit.

The doctor grimaces as Horace sniffs loudly, rubbing at his reddened eyes. He can’t believe this is happening. And out of nowhere. Geoffrey McCullum has a the most impressive body count out of all the guards. Dying in his sleep is definitely not how anyone would imagine him going.

“I’m sorry but there’s nothing we can do but wait it out. Make him comfortable.” Strickland adds, raising a hand as if he means to comfort the other man, but he changes his mind halfway.

“What are you even doing here, then?” An annoyed Johnson demands from behind Horace, who turns to glare at the rookie.

“Go back inside,” the older guard orders and stares at Johnson until the rookie goes back inside McCullum’s room. To Strickland, Horace offers: “Sorry about that… the boy is really messed up by what’s happening. We all are.”

Strickland nods.

“I understand.”

It is very late, way past five in the morning, and Thoreau Strickland has already stayed longer than he expected to. He is about to excuse himself when he hears the sound of hurried footsteps coming from the narrow stairway at the end of the hall followed by one or two voices calling out that whoever was coming up is not supposed to go there.

When Jonathan Reid appears at the end of the hall, Strickland immediately inquires:

“What are you doing here, Dr. Reid?”

If Reid was going to come anyway, what was the point of having the Strickland leave the hospital in the first place? The director arches an eyebrow, irritated, but Reid ignores his question in favour of asking:

“Is he there?”

He is looking at Horace when he asks, but it’s Strickland who replies:

“It’s not like he has anywhere to go, is it? Oi! Reid!”

Ever since Strickland took over the hospital direction, he is unused to being ignored. Nothing he could have said or done would have stopped Jonathan, however, as he rushes past Horace and him to enter McCullum’s room.

With an aggravated huff, Strickland follows him inside with Horace at his heels. He stops by the doorway, though, unable to comprehend what he is seeing straight away.

The guards inside the room shoot confused glances at Strickland and Horace as Jonathan sits on the bed next to the McCullum’s sleeping form. Jonathan does not have his suitcase or any instruments with him. But he moves with such certainty that no one dares stop him. That is, of course, until he decides to do the strangest thing, reaching for McCullum’s throat as if he is going to feel for his pulse, but the touch just lingers there for an instant as Jonathan stares into the hunter’s relaxed face with a concerned look in his eyes.

Murmurs erupt from around the room as Jonathan’s long pale fingers run through the week-old beard across the hunter’s strong jawline until he has his face cradled in the palm of his hand.

Beside Horace, Johnson asks:

“What is he doing?” Horace, in turn, looks at Strickland for an answer. The older doctor just shakes his head in disbelief.

Jonathan takes a deep breath. He sure hopes this works.

Decided to make it a worthy attempt, Jonathan leans over the hunter and presses his lips to Geoffrey’s.

He hear the gasps and outraged exclamations that surface around the room, but does not register them, overcome with how soft Geoffrey’s lips feel against his, how easily they part under pressure for the kiss to be more than a peck. Jonathan moves his chin, thumb digging into the man’s cheek, and is about to deepen the kiss when more than a few pairs of strong hands pull his off and away.

Next thing he knows, his back hits the wall on the far end of the room with a heavy thud. Around him, the guards demand to know what the hell he thinks he’s doing, molesting their dying leader. They yell at Jonathan, at Strickland, at each other, but Jonathan hears nothing.

He is distracted, after all, by the tiny movements on Geoffrey’s face, a confused expression forming as his eyes open for the first time in a week. It is the first time since he fell asleep that anything other than oblivious peacefulness has appeared on the man’s face and even though the emotions he sees there (confusion, astonishment) are not the most positive, Jonathan will take what he can get.

“Look!” Johnson calls out.

Breathless with relief, Jonathan smiles.

It worked.

Geoffrey McCullum, taken aback for the commotion around him — he can’t recall a time anyone was this happy to see him awake — slowly moves to lay on his side for a second, face twisting into a pained grimace.

“Jonathan?” He calls, but Jonathan does not dare move as the guards rush to their leader’s side. “Fuck, my head…”

For the following minutes, the men whisper in rushed tones as they try to make Geoffrey more comfortable, helping him sit up, bringing him water. Jonathan stays put against the wall enjoying the waves of relief and incredulity that wash over him as the sky outside slowly becomes brighter.

It worked. He can’t believe it worked.

Geoffrey drinks greedy gulps of water from a glass as Strickland checks on him, remarking how completely astounding everything was.

“I could feel myself dying.” Geoffrey says after he finishes his water, voice rough from disuse. He looks around the room dazedly. “What day is it?”

“Saturday, sir.” Horace responds. “It’s been a week since you fell asleep.”

“Shut the fucking window…” Geoffrey orders as the rising sun threatens to reach Jonathan across the room. Their eyes meet, then, and for an endless moment, they just stare at each other.

Stubborn as he cannot help but be, Geoffrey stands up and bats his men’s hands away as they reach out to support him. Then, step by torturing slow step, he approaches Jonathan.

It’s like he’s dreaming again, unable to move as he takes in the image of Geoffrey. Awake. Walking around and swearing like a sailor. Have the hunter’s eyes always been this beautiful? They seem to eclipse everything else that is in the room, the entire world and the sun in the sky; Jonathan can barely think.

“Leave us alone.” McCullum barks when he is close enough to touch, dead-serious eyes never leaving Jonathan’s face.

Jonathan finds himself relaxing against the wall, posture going open and pliant. He wants to reach out, but worries that the guards will jump on him if he dares move at all.

“Sir?” Johnson asks in confusion. McCullum inhales noisily as if gathering patience and insists:

“Leave.” He sounds mad, but the huskiness in his voice does very peculiar things to Jonathan’s stomach. The Ekon is almost expecting a punch when he finally recognises what he is seeing in Geoffrey’s eyes as he barks a final order, “And close the goddamn door!”

Desire. Spine melting, mind-blowing desire like Jonathan has never had directed at himself before.

Jonathan is expecting a punch, but what he gets is a kiss.

It is nothing like the one he dreamt, though. For one, he can feel so much more. He can feel every breath Geoffrey takes, hear every beat of their galloping hearts.

The kiss starts in an agonizingly slow manner as Geoffrey touches his face, rough callused fingers grazing his eyebrows, the broad expansion of his forehead, down his temples until he finds the dark hairs of Jonathan’s beard. He looks at Jonathan as though he is seeing him for the first time ever. His touch then becomes more firm as their lips press together with the sort of care that makes Jonathan weak in the knees.

Jonathan lets out a sound that can only be described as a whimper, high pitched and desperate as he opens his mouth to receive the caress. Geoffrey’s lips are dry for no more than an instant before Jonathan eagerly licks at then. Geoffrey does not let him deepen the kiss, though, instead softening the contact so that their lips meet very delicately over and over again.

Meanwhile, Jonathan finally finds it him himself to reach out and touch the hunter, long fingers exploring the man’s strong neck as he feels his pulse hammering under tantalising skin. It makes him greedy, how open Geoffrey is to his touches as he smooths his palms over broad shoulders, down the soft shirt that covers his strong chest. There, he flattens his hand just to feel where Geoffrey’s heart is fluttering like a hummingbird inside his ribcage.

It’s good to know, Jonathan thinks.

He’s not the only one affected by their intimacy.

Tired of being teased, Jonathan grabs Geoffrey around the waist and spins them around in one fluid movement, pressing the hunter against the wall so that he can kiss him like he wants. It is easier than he expected and Geoffrey lets out a low chuckle before readily parting his lips for Jonathan’s eager tongue, a satisfied purr that sends a warm shiver down the Ekon’s spine.

Geoffrey is a good kisser, but the way he just lets himself be kissed makes Jonathan’s toes curl.

Geoffrey’s scruff tickles Jonathan’s lips in the best possible way and his mouth is deliciously hot. Jonathan wants to climb inside him and never leave, feeling more alive in this moment than ever felt.

And, technically, he’s not even alive.

When Geoffrey bites his lower lip, Jonathan starts:

“Geoffrey…” but he is not sure what he is asking. Not really.

Geoffrey chuckles again, dark and low, and rests his head against the wall, looking at Jonathan through clouded stormy eyes. Jonathan licks his lips in expectation, but is still too surprised to see Geoffrey awake after the past days.

“I can’t believe it worked.”

What worked?” Geoffrey deadpans. He’s still smiling, unhurried and indulgent, and he looks so good Jonathan has to steal a quick peck.

“The… the kiss.” Jonathan whispers against his lips. “You don’t remember that?”

“Oh, I remember the kiss, all right. But I have the impression that I missed a couple of things…” Geoffrey elaborates in between lingering kisses, hands going around Jonathan’s slim waist. “One week, I’ve been out, they said…”

“But you’re all right now.” Jonathan says in a hurry. You are all right, his mind echoes. Everything is all right.

“Yeah, that I am. I’m guessing thanks to you…” He punctuates the sentence by bringing their bodies flush together. Jonathan lets out a shaky breath as their hips align, legs moving to tangle with Geoffrey’s. “So… what happened?”

Jonathan swallows thickly. Dizzy with blooming lust, he summarises:

“Ah, you know how the story goes. A witch, a sleeping hunter, true love’s kiss…”

“True love, huh?” Geoffrey mocks him, but his eyes are soft. “I fall asleep with a new old scarf and wake up with, what?, a boyfriend?”

Jonathan blushes. Can’t help it. He has Geoffrey’s hard-on pressed against his own and it’s the word boyfriend that brings all the blood he hasn’t been drinking rushing to his face.

“If… If that’s, you know, something you want.” Jonathan stammers and Geoffrey’s lips part against his in a pleased smile, but before they go back to kissing, Jonathan asks: “A new scarf?”

“I got it from an old lady at the flea market…” Geoffrey explains, hands pressing harder on the doctor’s waist as he circles his hips in a dirty roll that makes Jonathan’s eyelids fall to half-mast. If the hunter only knew the effect he has on him…

“An old lady?” Jonathan breathlessly asks as one of the hunter’s strong thighs fits right between his legs and presses in. “White hair? Grey eyes? Singing nonsense?”

“That’s the one. You know her?” Geoffrey’s mouth slides across Jonathan’s cheek until he reaches his ear, warm breath tickling as he teases: “Should I be jealous?”

Jonathan does not remember his ears ever being this sensitive back when he was just human, but the same could be said about the rest of his body. Maybe it’s Geoffrey, the masculinity that pours out of his every pore, something Jonathan’s never experienced before, had no way of knowing it would feel this… good. This right.

“Yeah, I know her.” Jonathan grunts, hands moving to slide under the soft pyjamas Geoffrey is wearing.

Aradia.

Sneaky little witch, that one.

“Still can’t believe you’re okay.” Jonathan whispers as Geoffrey’s stubbly chin drags over the sensitive skin of his neck. His throat catches as he tries to articulate, “I thought, for sure...”

Geoffrey lifts his head until they are face to face again, intense blue eyes tearing into Jonathan’s soul.

“There’s a lot I can’t believe here.” Geoffrey says very seriously, but then the corner of his mouth trembles towards a self-satisfied grin and he offers: “But kiss me again, and I might start to…”

Jonathan smiles back and acquiesces. Once. Twice. Until he loses count, until there is nothing left but who they are and what they are:

Happily ever after.