Every skal in the sewers knew how to watch for Jonathan Reid’s approach. He didn’t like to dehumanize them any further, but when the echoing of his footsteps started getting joined by their scurrying, whooping voices, he was acutely reminded of dogs; like how dog-breeders open the pen and dump kibble on the floor to watch them fight over it.
He made his way down the metal stairs from Sean’s office and into the sewers, trying not to let the approach of excited voices worry him. He had done this twice, now. Bridget told him that this might be the last time, or at least one of the last, before every willing Skal in her care was sated for the foreseeable future.
Was it fun to play lunch buffet for these unfortunate people? No, he wouldn’t say so. They smelled bad. They looked bad. Some of them seemed to take a downright erotic pleasure in nibbling his wrist, and frankly, he did not care for that shit at all. He was just glad some of the sewer skals found the idea as uncomfortable as he did, because he didn’t know if he had the moral fibre to feed every creature in this place. A good third-or-so of the skals had politely declined their invitation to a Dr Reid Dinner, and the doctor himself suspected Sean Hampton might have talked to them about it.
Ow. Twinge of guilt. He swung the metalbar door open and stepped into the main sewers, letting the rotting-flesh smell distract his thoughts. Sean had suggested this service to the skals might be Jonathan’s version of penance, with a bit of icy edge folding around his usually empathic voice. “Look, I am sorry,” Jonathan wanted to say, all though he hadn’t. “I’m sorry I force-fed you blood, that was very strange. I’m sorry I brought up your past. I don’t know why I did that. I have no fucking clue why I made you kneel, that was extremely odd of me and I should not have done it.”
He had said none of this. Jonathan Reid had simply nodded in agreement (“You might be right”, he said, because he was born an idiot and would continue being one) and stepped past the sad saint. Behind his bookshelf. Into the morgue and into the sewers.
Bridget greeted him in front of the door that had once belonged to Harriet’s private room, but now belonged to no one in particular. She smiled, and Jonathan smiled back. Sincerely.
Bridget had been his first customer and she was still his favorite. She was kind to him, she smelled a bit better than the rest, and she had lost a lot of her teeth, which was a huge comfort for someone about to get bitten by her. Also, at least Bridget asked him.
“Hello Doctor Reid, it has been very long since I tasted vampiric blood and I fear my will might be waning; could I have a sample of yours to avoid needing to hunt?”
It really was that easy! Of course, he said! No problem! “I am a doctor after all, helping is my instinct,” yadda yadda, Bridget had drank his blood and they had both been happy about it. Then, on his next visit, she had asked in one of her oldest skal friends might partake in the same pleasure, for he was about to lose his mind with hunger but his empathy kept him from hunting.
And what did Doctor Reid, the champion of Myrddin, cleanser of catastrophes, what did he say? “Yes, of course. In fact, why do we not inoculate as many of your friends as I can, while I’m here? I am sure there are many here who could benefit from ridding themselves of hunger for a while.”
And so, Doctor Reid, now officially the stupidest intellectual on earth, had promised his veins and their limited supply to every willing drinker underground. He had been a blood donor before this affliction, and so he tried telling himself that there was no difference. On one hand you gave your blood away to a needle so that a needle could put it into someone else, and on the other hand, you… You, uh, slit your lower arm with your own teeth, so that a filthy and possibly deranged undead could clamp onto the wound and sup. That was totally the same thing.
Bridget lead him into Harriet’s old room. It felt strange to be so vulnerable here; the place had been scrubbed and Harriet was dead, he knew, but there was still some lingering scent of infection in the air. Bridget had insisted on using it because it was the closest thing to “private” one could find in this place, and that only made his discomfort worse. If what he was doing was as innocent as a blood donation, why did he need a private room to do it? He sat down in the very chair Harriet had used some odd month ago and tried not feeling like a lady (lord?) of the night. A blood hooker with Bridget as his pimp. He wondered, would it make him feel better or worse if he started taking payment? Maybe he could ask?
“I have to admit,” he said out loud as Bridget rolled his sleeve up, “this does sometimes make me uncomfortable.”
Bridget nodded and tugged at his shirt to make sure it wouldn’t unroll.
“You are here on your own altruism, doctor Reid. You can leave right now if you wish.”
That helped a little. He mumbled something about duty and oaths and avoided her sly smile.
“Are you ready?”
“As ready as I can be.”
“And you have fed yourself?”
“Yes. I fed this morning, and I brought four serums in my medical bag should I need to speed up the regeneration process.”
“I will keep them in mind. You did a good thing, coming early tonight.”
He tried treating the skals like his patients. Many of them knelt by his chair in a wholly uncomfortable mirror of Sean Hampton, except they reached for his wrist on their own accord and closed their lips on his wound with delight where Sean had not.
While they fed he was counting seconds - thirty each with five second allowances for slow or quick drinkers, an additional twenty-to-sixty seconds if they needed recovery time afterwards. Some of them kissed his hand after. Some of them cried. Bridget had simply turned away, collected herself, and thanked him when she took his blood; her centuries of isolation and caring had taught her nothing if not composure. Her twisted flock knew nothing of such control.
His first problem patient was a large man whose turning had disfigured his face a bit. He came in and stood by the door with his eyes down. Made no attempt at going to Jonathan.
“Jimmy,” Bridget called, and the gentleness in her voice reminded Dr Reid of the way he talked to dying patients. “Jimmy, come over here. You have been looking forward to the doctor’s visit all week, you told me yourself.”
Jimmy made no motion. His eyes were down, his mouth was open. Petrified and gnarled hands ripping loose threads out of his apron.
Jonathan noticed the bleeding of his arm had stopped coagulating, indicating that the blood loss was affecting his regeneration. After Jimmy, he might need to use a serum. Maybe the smell of blood was unsettling him?
He looked over at Bridget, who looked over at him, and they both looked at Jimmy, who had now looked up. It was a crossroads of looks.
As Jimmy took his first, uneasy step towards the doctor, Bridget leant in an whispered a quick warning that Jimmy was a strong sort, and they might need to work together to get him off. Jonathan was about to reply something along the lines of “maybe you should warn me before letting an actual troll at my body” before his vision was interrupted by large, grey fingers, attached to a large, grey hand, and following the arm with his eyes he was met with a large, grey face. Jimmy was waiting in all his large-greyness. Dr Reid did not like the hunger in the man’s eyes.
“All right then, Jimmy,” he said, putting on his best “I am a physician and that demands respect” voice.
“Let’s get you what you need, hm?”
He tore at the half-formed scabs of his lower arm to reopen the wound, and his “patient” took the opportunity to pull his arm so hard towards his hungry mouth that it nearly left its socket. Jimmy had not knelt, the doctor noticed. Jimmy was also a biter. He could take the pain of gnashing teeth for exactly five seconds before motioning to Bridget for assistance and together the two of them tried to separate Jimmy from the doctor without separating the doctor from his arm, a task that proved impossible. Feeling the energy shift from “blood donation” to “combat”, Dr Reid used his powers to create a small bomb of shadows on the floor between his feet, sending all three people backwards, sprawling.
Bridget scuttled to her feet, cowl blown back to reveal her bald head. The doctor was still standing with his arm gushing. Jimmy, mountainous as he was, had hit the stone floor hard and was still on his back.
“Get him out!” Jonathan commanded, and Bridget made a run for the door. Then she fell, having had a large, grey hand clasp around her ankle.
For the first time, Jimmy spoke.
“I ain’t had my fill, doctor,” he snarled.
“You’ve had quite enough,” Jonathan retorted.
“No,” the large man answered, eyes wild and face bloody, “I don’t think I ‘ave.”
With that he launched himself forward, and Jonathan instinctively folded his arms against his body, serving the dual purpose of cushioning the impact and protecting the source of blood. Jimmy did not make a pass at his bleeding arm, however; Jimmy had the brilliant idea of mashing his face into the good doctor’s neck, unprotected as it was, and two seconds later Jonathan Reid was paralyzed with pain. And fear. And rage? No, not rage, even though it would have been justified, because Jonathan could still see Bridget at the other end of the room, hitting the door open and running for help.
He thought about Sean and William Bishop. He thought about the sad saint letting the madman feed on him, gently talking to him, pleading and coercing even as his life left him through a gaping wound. He thought about patience, and patients.
“Jimmy,” he hissed, knowing the brute could hear him. The slurping noise was starting to get deafening against the ever-paling landscape before him. Jimmy was a quick drinker, but ultimately innocent. Driven mad by hunger and thirst.
Jimmy was a patient, and Jonathan was a doctor.
He tried to find his bedside voice in a sea of pain.
“Jimmy, listen to me. You’re not thinking straight. If you kill me here, you cut off the supply for everyone else, all the people you live with. Don’t you care about them?”
That gave Jimmy pause, and he blocked the wound with his wet, cold tongue to stem the flow of blood, but he did not let go. His grip was vice-like on the doctor’s arms.
“Please, I know it’s hard to stop. I know it from experience. You have to… You have to find your heart, you don’t want to-”
Jimmy let go with a resounding smack which interrupted whatever Jonathan was going to say. They were so close now their noses were touching. For a bizzare, fleeting moment, Jonathan thought the other man was going to kiss him.
“Been waitin’ for my turn…” Jimmy mumbled, barely audible. Flecks of blood flew from his lips with every syllable. “I’ve been waitin’, all right. Told her I needed this. I’m hungry, doctor. I’m hungry all the time. And you… You taste better than those colds at the morgue.”
He leant in again, but did not bite this time. Jonathan shivered as a broad tongue went up his neck. God… Licking, biting, kissing, men on their knees, desperate noises from desperate mouths, lapping up the nectar of life- all this erotic imagery was killing him, and he said a silent prayer for whatever was left of his soul. Once he got back to the hospital, he decided, he was going to figure out a less personal way to get fresh blood to these people.
Still, his patient seemed to have calmed. Blood loss had slowed his regeneration considerably, so doctor Reid did not have to re-open his neck wound to let Jimmy lap at him. The air between them, what little there was, was getting warmer. He let himself lean against the bigger man for support while waiting for help.
Help came in the form of Bridget and three of the largest, meanest-looking skals Jonathan had ever seen. He didn’t have time to explain the situation to them before they wrenched Jimmy away and got him on the ground. Deprived of his support he stumbled back and fell into his chair.
“I am so sorry, doctor,” Bridget whispered in his ear. He hadn’t even noticed her approach.
“‘Tis okay,” he mumbled. “I talked him down. I… I’m tired. I think I have to come back tomorrow.”
She nodded. She understood. He panted, watching as Jimmy, suddenly calm and complacent, was led out of the room.
They sat in silent for a long minute.
“Thank you,” Bridget finally said. She squeezed his hand.
“For not killing him. It is rare that our struggle is understood, even rarer that it is understood by someone like you.”
“... Like me?”
“No offense, doctor Reid, but us skals have had to fight for every scrap of food and shelter since the day we were reborn. I will not deny that you have had your hardships, but you are still a young vampire. You have no idea what decades, centuries of famine does to one’s mind. I was… I was not surprised that Jimmy attacked you. I am pleasantly surprised that you helped him regardless.”
With those encouraging words ringing in his head, Jonathan injected himself with a regeneration serum and started a slow walk back to the asylum.
He would have to find a cleaner way to feed them, no doubt about it. He had originally tried transferring his blood to a cup before giving it to the skals, but something about the second-hand nature of it had lessened its effect. The original five people he had done this with had returned in less than a week complaining about hunger. It could be that oxidation somehow affected the chemistry of the blood, in which case he would need the transference vessel to be air-tight.
However, having just endured Jimmy’s draining compassions, he was starting to suspect there might be a psychological aspect to it as well. As he rested in the morgue below the asylum, he made a list of facts in his head.
- Something about the composition of vampire blood sated skals for much longer than the flesh of humans did.
- The duration of satisfaction varied from skal to skal, but seemed to somehow be linked to willpower. Bridget claimed she could go years between each time she sought out blood, and only needed to eat flesh every two weeks or so. Sean was unwilling to describe his eating patterns, but didn’t seem to have needed any kind of sustenance since his unwilling conversion.
- Blood not taken directly from the body had a significantly lesser effect.
- After drinking vampire blood, skals became gentle, drowsy, almost comatose if they had a lot.
- Bridget had suggested that a skal’s need for ekon blood was somehow linked to the power difference between the two.
- As far as he could gather, a skal’s original purpose was as a puppet or a slave to an ekon.
He couldn’t think of any more facts relevant to his situation at the moment, but, somehow, he felt that he had hit on something important. If the skals were designed to be - and he shuddered at the thought - some kind of biological slaves, it made sense for them to be physically motivated to seek out and appease an ekon. If a skal needed ekon blood to function at top efficiency, they would stick by that ekon. The need for a direct source even fit into this theory; it made sure the skals were motivated to keep their ekon source alive and healthy, and not be tempted to simply kill their way to freedom.
As for the psychological aspect, he had noticed the skals becoming more compliant during and after feeding. He thought about how he had talked Jimmy down, and knew for a damn fact that no one would be able to talk him down if he was fang-deep in a victim. He could still feel the ghostly pressure of Jimmy’s tongue on his neck. Gentle. Lapping. Almost comforting in a twisted way. He recalled his childhood dog using the same body language to say sorry many years ago, and shivered.
Skals became animalistic when they were starving, and seemingly returned to that mindset when they were newly sated. It felt wrong. It also meant that he would be unlikely to find a way to supply them with his blood without being so up-close and personal.
On his way out he passed by Sean in his office, who looked up from his plate of meat with a neutral expression (for he was never obviously hostile) which quickly turned to alarm.
“Why, you’re covered in blood, doctor!”
Reid nodded and tried to not obviously pant.
“I was attacked by one of the patients.”
“... Patients, are they? And why would you be attacked, doctor?”
Reid noticed the passive voice and flinched on the inside, but kept outwardly calm.
“If I am performing a blood transfusion for them, then they are my patients, yes. And I believe my assailant had gone hungry for a long time. It was likely desperation.”
Sean let his watery eyes sink back to the plate, face relaxed and mysterious, as calm as an anchor below storming seas.
“You have an interesting way of looking at the world, doctor. You willingly give of yourself to those less fortunate, and yet you call it by a medical name, so far removed from the act that it might as well be a machine doing it. Forgive me for asking such a personal question of you, but tell me; how do you sustain yourself, doctor? Through blood transfusions?”
If Reid had the blood to spare he would have blushed.
“I… Uh, I…”
God damn it. Sean was looking at him, innocent and open, like a holy father waiting for confession, and Reid could do nothing but stumble and stutter. It was not like him to falter in the face of questions, but he had had one hell of a night.
There was silence, hanging between them like saliva had the night Sean was turned, and the shared memory of injustice made the silence even heavier, and heavier, until Reid was willing to tell the truth just to break it; lord knows Sean would do nothing to spare him.
“Rats, mister Hampton. I… I eat rats.”
It surprised both of them. Sean’s fork clattered to the plate and Reid could finally breathe, but with the following exhale he was talking, spilling this lowly truth to the only man in London who might not judge him.
“I’ve tried to drink from people. I know I can. When the guard of Priwen leave themselves open, or when the patients at Pembroke are knocking on death’s door, or, or… Or one time, when a friend of mine offered his blood to comfort me, completely consensually. I can, but I cannot. I did it once, and I killed once, and the act is forever tainted. So I eat rats, Sean. I sustain myself on rats.”
And that was that. He was ashamed of this truth, yes, but he was also just a little bit satisfied with the momentary compassion that filled Sean’s face. Maybe he had finally become human again in the sad saint’s eyes. Wouldn’t that be something?
He always left the door to his office unlocked. There was an unspoken agreement between him and his staff; he was allowed to hoard the ingredients he needed for his experiments in his workbench, as long as they were allowed to walk in during the daytime hours and get what they needed for medical purposes. He didn’t keep anything private on his desk anyway. His journal, his blood samples and his trinkets were kept in the locked cabinet by his bed, and the key was firmly around his neck at all times.
Tonight, however, he was woken up by the shuffling and rustling of hands by his head, and the groggy doctor Reid slowly opened his eyes.
Nurse Branagan was standing with her back to his bed, rummaging through the papers on his desk. He groaned, and she turned, not even a little bit flustered.
“Good evening, doctor. Sorry to wake you up before your shift, but I was looking for sedatives. We just had a patient committed to this floor.”
Reid sat up and patted down his nightgown to make sure the key was still where it should be. As his senses returned to him, he could smell a new presence on the second floor, which had stood mercifully empty of beds since his appointment at Pembroke; skal. It reeked of skal.
“New patient?” he asked, getting up to get dressed. Nurse Branagan politely averted her eyes.
“Yes. A young man by the name of Perry Morales came in barely ten minutes ago. He says he got stabbed in the street but refuses to let us look at his wound. Poor man is delirious with pain. If you’re awake anyway, would you mind coming with me? The other doctors have their hands full.”
So he did.
Branagan did not need to lead him into the patient’s room, but he let her anyway to keep up the impression that he couldn’t smell blood from miles away. Truth be told, his short conversation with Sean the night before had put him off his rat diet for a bit. He was a gentleman; born and raised in the west end, cushioned and protected from birth, and he had returned to this country as a war hero and revered medical professional. His vampiric condition would have been enough to strike any gentleman down a few pegs, but it seemed even his fellow ekon had not fallen as low as he. His mouth watered when he heard the squeaks in alleyways. He was a rat-eater, now. The lowest of the low. He felt despicable and shameful when he snatched them up and broke their necks in his mouth, no matter how satisfying the little crunch was, and so he tried not to do it so often.
The consequences of his partial fasting was that the scent of blood hit him hard when he entered Morales’s room. Nurse Branagan walked before him, oblivious, but doctor Reid had to take a second to lean in the doorway and collect himself lest his thirst overwhelm him. God, it was dizzying. The air had a red and heavy tint to it as he walked forward, trying his very best to look normal.
Perry Morales was a young and slender man with a very forgettable face. He was a newborn skal, Jonathan noticed, for the only marks of immortality on his face were a few dark veins on his neck and a pair of curiously piercing eyes, and he was sitting upright under a blanket that had grown heavy with blood. When their eyes met they recognized each other; not because they had met before, but on some deeper, primal level. Two predators in the same territory. Jonathan nodded and picked up the clipboard hanging off the end of the patient’s bed, where his name and age had been scribbled, but not much more.
“Mister Morales!” the nurse scolded. “I told you to lie down!”
“Sorry, nurse. My back’s gettin’ stiff. Did you find a doctor in this god-forsken hospital, then?”
“I did. Mister Morales, this is doctor-”
“I know who he is. Aint’ a damn soul in this town who don’t know who Jonathan Reid is, now. Say, doctor, how’s the sad saint doing these days? I heard you kicked him out of here real quick.”
Nurse Branagan looked too shocked to be offended right away, but Reid put a hand on her shoulder and nodded.
“I’ll take it from here.”
She left in a huff and Jonathan could hear her return to his room, looking for the sedatives she had wanted to begin with. He closed the door and locked it. Perry’s smile turned to a frown.
“What’s that for?”
“Privacy, mister Morales. And for your information, no one kicked Hampton out of Pembroke. He left of his own volition.”
“Yeah? That ain’t what I heard. This place is a fucking morgue, they say. You’re pumping out dead bodies faster than you can get living ones in. It’s all over the papers.”
“I am aware of what the press claims. Pembroke has come under fire because we were, and still are, the only medical facility willing to take in spanish flu patients despite the survivability of such patients. Our death count has nothing to do with our quality of care.”
They talked a bit. Reid learned that Perry was a vagrant with a past in the Wet Boots who had recently gotten kicked out for stealing, and that he had heard of Reid through the night asylum he slept at. When asked about his condition, the patient either feigned ignorance or had genuinely no idea what he was. This was worrying.
“Perry, do you know what a skal is?”
“Skal? That’s what the scandinavians say when they toast, right? Heard that once over at the turtle.”
“It might be, but that’s not what I am referring to. Perry, if you would be so kind, what is your diet like?”
Perry’s eyes shifted from the locked door to the covered window. Reid could hear his heartbeat quickening, his blood rushing to his face, and for a second the heavy air felt like liquid in his lungs. God, he needed to sew this man up, but that would require sticking his face near the wound, and the blood that had been calling out to him was cacophonous now.
“My diet, doctor? Meat, mostly. Drink when I can get it.”
“Do you feel hungry often?”
“Why? What’s this? You know I’ve been fucking stabbed, right?!”
“Yes, I know, and I’m sure you’ll live. Skals have an extremely quick regeneration process, all though it can be quickened by blood.”
Doctor reid pulled his sleeve up, exposing the smooth, pale skin where a gaping wound had been last night.
“You’re a skal, Perry. Probably turned by the madman that attacked you. You weren’t stabbed at all, were you? You were bitten. And you bit back.”
He lifted his arm to his mouth and, with a quick glance to make sure the windows were covered, he ripped into the flesh right below his inner elbow. His own blood did not excite him like others did, but the second it flowed he could see that it excited his patient, who, forgetting about his injuries, sat upright and alert the way dogs do when they hear their bowls being filled. Those piercing eyes grew wide with terror and lust.
“Wh- T-the fuck are you doing?”
“Helping you, Perry. I am a doctor after all. I promise I’ll explain myself later, but for now you are bleeding heavily, and I know how to stop it. Don’t fight me.”
With that he stepped towards the terrified and allured patient. Perry grabbed his arm when offered and tried to push it away, but Reid had expected as much and coated his left finger with his blood, which he then jabbed inbetween the patient’s teeth. Unsurprisingly this caused Perry to bite down, releasing more blood. Then the spell fell over him.
Like Jimmy had the night before, and like Sean had months ago, Perry’s reluctance gave way to a sort of violent trance once his first mouthful was down. When wrenched away from the finger he growled, but when offered the arm he grabbed it happily. This was meant to be impersonal (as impersonal as these things get), but Reid was drawn so close that they ended up in an awkward sideways hug, with the doctor’s left arm firmly held in place by the skal, forcing him to put his right arm around his shoulders. The position had something nurturing about it. Comforting, almost. Doctor Reid has a strange instinct to stroke his patient’s head as he fed, like a mother might with her child at the breast.
Jonathan hated himself for this. He had become a physician knowing full-well that the treatment a patient needs is not always what they want. During the war he had held men’s desperate arms down as their legs were severed without anesthesia to save them from infection. He had ignored cries, of pain and pleading, as he disinfected and sutured wounds, as he popped joints back into place. Doctors were figures of horror and help and he knew this. That didn’t mean he didn’t hate himself fully every time he hurt someone to save them.
This had been the justification he used when forcing Sean on his knees to feed; the man was a skal and skals could go mad with hunger. A man in Sean’s position could not afford to lose his mind so close to vulnerable people, and so Reid had done the right thing. At least he told himself that. He had shattered a potential friendship that day along with any trust Sean may have had in him, and now he had forced himself on a different patient, a different skal, bearing those same noble intentions like the flags he bore in the army. All in the name of healing, wasn’t it?
He shuddered as Perry’s hunger abated, desperate drinking slowly turning to a sort of gentle, sleepy sucking, and then to nothing as the patient let go and fell back into bed. His eyes were closed. Feeling satisfied and guilty and extremely hungry, doctor Reid finally lifted the blood-soaked blanket and saw Perry’s stomach wound already closing rapidly thanks to the vampire blood. He wouldn’t even need sutures.
He wrapped a single layer of bandage around his arm and rolled his sleeve down to conceal it. Then he wiped mister Morales’s mouth off with a handkerchief and pulled his blankets up to his chin for him. Right before he left, the patient made a mumbling remark.
“You’d make a great fuck, doctor Reid.”
Reid practically fled the room.
(I promise we are getting to the plot here any second)
He informed nurse Branagan that he had fixed the patient up and administered a sedative after getting some food into him, and it would be best not to disturb the man. Then he made a couple of rounds, advising a little here and there, he spent an hour or so at the workbench to cook up some makeshift antiseptics, and then he couldn’t take it anymore.
He was a doctor, yes. This was the hospital he worked at, for sure. He should be at work , definitely, but if he stayed cooped up inside these sterile walls any longer he was going to go clinically batshit insane.
He entered Edgar’s office while pulling his normal coat in place for the clean white one, and announced that he needed the rest of the night off for crucial business. Edgar looked surprised.
“Why, leaving already? I gave you last night off to visit the skals!”
“I know, Edgar, and I thought I could hold it off, but I need to drink. I am starving.”
“Starving? For blood? My dear friend, you won’t find a place in London more well-stocked on that particular drink than the Pembroke! Why, Miss Sailsborough in the western tent has been dying since this morning, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you-”
“No. Absolutely not, Edgar.”
They stared each other down for a hot minute. Edgar was annoyed, Reid was desperate. Finally, his administrator spoke.
“Very well. You’re no good to us in this state. But I am warning you, Jonathan, as a friend, and more importantly as your supervisor; you’re a brilliant man, but even brilliant men can fall to their own carelessness. Look at me! Ever since you gave me immortality I have managed to wholeheartedly embrace what that means. I feed when I need to, and the hospital is better off for it. You should consider doing the same.”
The night air offered a welcome chill as he left the building from the window in his office. He was so hungry now that it was difficult to make the world remain in color; everything was greyscale except for the few, glowing red pinpoints in the distance, marking beating hearts of mice and men, and their drums were calling to him. He darted from shadow to shadow towards Whitechapel, keeping his hat down over his eyes lest he be recognized.
Edgar was a young fool, but he was not necessarily wrong. How was a surgeon supposed to do his best when the mere thought of blood put him in such a state? Blood, blood, blood and more blood, it always came back to blood , didn’t it?
He was a creature of it. He was a slave to it. He gave it away, to willing and unwilling, as if he was trying to get rid of that part of himself. He wondered about the effects of blood drinking on the different strains of his curse as he pulled into an alley, eyeing the rat’s nest there. Did vulkods feed on blood or flesh? Did they experience the same euphoria as skals did when drinking from ekon? Could an ekon sustains itself on either vulkods or skals, instead of hunting human prey? A rat tried zapping past his feet but he snatched it up quick, and broke its little bones between his teeth while thinking. Could, theoretically, ekon and skals live in perpetual symbiosis, drinking from each other when need struck? Did ekon even really need blood or was it just an addiction that could be overcome? Elizabeth had told him, when leaving the hospital, that she was planning on not sustaining herself at all until the plague passed. He could do the same. In fact, he should do the same, he thought, while picking ratfur out his teeth.
This should be his real goal. He was already a doctor catering to those less fortunate, and what fringe group was more medically discriminated against than vampires? If he utilized his time and resources, then surely he could come up with some kind of substitute for them. Something to ease, or even cure, the addiction they all suffered from.
Yes. This seemed worthy. It was his next mission, clear as the day he feared.
Mind slightly eased and stomach full of rat, Jonathan started his round in Whitechapel. Christina smiled when he approached but did not try to entice him into her business any more, as he had firmly established himself as a homosexual in her mind. She had told him this the fourth time they met, as it was apparently the only reason a rich man like him could refuse her allure. They chatted and he gave her something for her headache.
“The town is growing quiet now,” she remarked, blowing smoke away from him out of courtesy. “The dead have stopped screaming and the flu has taken many. Not enough people left to make noise any more.”
After Christina he went to Benjamin and his son and shamefully slipped Benjamin the opium he had started craving. “Medicine, right?” the man grinned through broken teeth, “for the whatchamacallit? Shell shock?” and he was right. Self-medicating was a medicating of sorts. People like Benjamin had little else to help them sleep at night.
After Benjamin there was Joe and Harry Peterson, both deeply unhappy but physically healthy, and after them he went to knock on the door of Mason Swanborough. He was doing fine, as fine as a man in his position can be in a neighbourhood like this. On his way back Jonathan met the journalist, Darby, who almost caught him in the act of snatching rats but was otherwise bored.
Jonathan found a dog on his way back to the hospital. It was a massive grey beast, laying on its side and panting. It would remind him of Jimmy if not for the steel pipe sticking out of its ribcage. The dog whined, oblivious to its impending death. Or maybe it knew? Could animals feel the reaper approaching the same way people could?
Battling with his shame and need, Jonathan took a quick look around his darkened London streets, and then pulled the dying animal under the bridge. It left a shiny trail of blood, not unlike the slime of a snail.
“I don’t want to do this,” he told the dog as he unbuttoned the top of his shirt to prevent obvious stains. The dog didn’t answer. He devoured it then, from the chest in case its jaws could still snap, and although it made his self-hatred blossom like nothing else it did give him the fullest stomach he had had in a good long while.
He returned to the hospital just in time to be whisked away by a nurse needing his professional guidance, and he worked his shift to the end at 5am, at which time the sunrise was barely an hour away. Fighting off supernatural sleep he sat at his workbench, trying to isolate his own blood into its components. Then he had an idea.
“Perry? Perry, I’m coming in.”
The room was cleaner now and Perry himself looked five years younger. He smiled wide when doctor Reid entered, and even scooted over a bit to let the doctor sit on his bed with him. Jonathan did not.
“Are you feeling better?”
“Oh yes doctor, I am feeling downright marvellous, I am. The nurse said I could go home if I wanted, but you promised to explain yourself, yeah? Ain’t every day I have a fella shoving his blood down my throat.”
Jonathan winced visibly.
“I am sorry I had to do that.”
“Did you, though? Did you have to? Stitches stopped working suddenly?”
“Not only for your injuries, though I might well have saved your life-”
“No you didn’t, I would have lived-”
“-not only for your injuries , Perry. You are a skal now. You’ve felt it, have you not? The world looks different, people smell different… The hunger never went away, did it? Normal food was nothing to you. Now you are sated, thanks to my blood, and you will remain so for a long time.”
That gave the patient pause, and Jonathan had time to collect himself. He hated that Perry said he had “shoved his blood down his throat”, and he hated that he was right. He was a doctor. Doctors had to do what was right. Skals were better off not being hungry. These were facts and he had to stick with them.
Then mister Morales spoke up, quieter.
“What is a skal?”
Jonathan tried to fill him in as quickly as possible, watching the absent sun turn the windows outside grey and misty. He closed the blinds while talking. Perry was a skal now, which was like a vampire. Jonathan was also a vampire but not a skal. That is why he did what he did.
Skals eat human flesh, but can abstain from it for long if they have access to vampire blood, which Perry now had. If he wanted to keep his access he should go to the night asylum and seek the sewers there. There were others like him.
While spewing all these facts and closing the curtains, Jonathan tried his damndest not to look or sound guilty, for sending Perry to the asylum would also send him to Sean Hampton, who would undoubtedly hear about this. Discomfort was welling up his throat like tears, now. Was he going to make a habit of this?
“I know this is a lot to process, but you have a tough day ahead of you. I will inform the nurses that your medication is making you sensitive to light and that they should not open these curtains. If you are exposed to the sun, however, seek shelter in my office; the door is always open. I have to retreat now, but I have one final request…”
He bent over the other man, speaking quickly and quietly.
“I need some of your blood, Perry.”
Perry’s confusion for these last ten minutes blew away to horror.
“My blood? What, to drink?”
“No. I am currently working on finding a substitute for people like you and me; something to distance us from our hunger, but I need to observe what effects ekon blood has on skals. The key is in there somewhere.”
“I, uh… Don’t get me wrong here, I’m glad you’re helping me and all. Thanks for the history lesson and the meal, but I don’t wanna give you a sample.”
Jonathan didn’t think. He turned and said, louder now, clearer, charging his words with power to jam them in right where they belonged; “And why not?”
As expected, Perry told the truth instantly. People always did.
“Scared of needles. Always have been. I keep imagining them getting stuck and breaking off and festering, or going right through me. I hate them.”
That gave Jonathan pause for a moment. He could always return to the sewer skals and ask for a sample there (surely they would oblige their savior) but he had unfinished business in the darkness, and the whole situation from last night had put him off his altruism. It was practically impossible to communicate with the feral skals he found out and about. Christ, he was a
, right? He dealt with fearful patients every single day. Sedatives were usually the answer but he didn’t know if skals handled them the same way, and he couldn’t justify wasting precious drugs on a little needle fear.
He steeled himself and repeated the mantra of “do what must be done” in his head. Then he started readying a syringe.
“Hey, did you hear me?” Perry protested. He was drawing back in his bed.
“I heard you, mister Morales,” (weird how he stopped being “Perry” when Jonathan had to hurt him) “And I am deeply sorry, but I absolutely must draw this blood sample. It is for the greater good.”
“You can shove your greater good up your-”
The doctor turned around and grabbed the other man by the head, so supernaturally fast that neither of them had time to reconsider before the mesmerization hit them; the world was fog now, Reid’s words were the only landmarks, and casting aside his perpetual guilt, the vampire spoke with authority.
“You will sit still. You will not be afraid. Afterwards, you will forget this.”
And so it was.
He drew his blood sample and bid mister Morales goodnight, taking his treasure to the office and locking it up for safety. Then he bid the stars goodnight too and went to bed.
His dreams came in surreal shocks. One moment he was back in the war and elbow-deep in a man’s broken ribcage, manually pumping his heart to get the adrenaline through his veins, trying not to listen to the death moans of his fellow doctor who was succumbing to sepsis in the other room. Then he was a vampire at the top of a cliff, staring at the kraken stirring below him. He was a bird, he was a willow tree, he was pushing both thumbs into Sean Hampton’s eyes while Sean remained stoic and compassionate, he was pulling Elizabeth’s scorched form from the flames, he was-
He was in a boat, in a lake. The waters were endless and ichor-black. His reflection remained perfect in the stillness of the surface, and he could see the blood running streams into his beard.
“Look at yourself,” the reflection beckoned.
“Look at the leech that has replaced you. What are you now, a tyrant? Am I a tyrant? Would you force yourself on other men, too weak to defend themselves?”
Somewhere in the distance, Dorothy Crane was screaming that she only wanted to help. His own cool voice told her that this conversation was over, and that she was to forget everything she thought she knew. He was angry . Angry at his reflection, angry at nurse Crane. He was absolutely livid and he wanted someone else to suffer. He wanted to go back into the sewers and let Jimmy have his fill, drain him absolutely dry, and then live on as a calm ghost in someone else’s shell, far away from the rage and guilt that haunted him every waking moment. He wanted this life to stop being so fucking difficult. The thought of “if everybody just agreed with me there wouldn’t be a problem” drifted through his brain, but it was said by another man, someone bigger and meaner than him, and the reflection was now drained of humanity.
He woke up in a sweat.
A short one this time to act as setup. I have a plot in mind I swear
The Ascalon club felt empty these days. Redwood stood, still king in his well-furnished kingdom, alone except for his doorman, whose respect for ancient rules forbid him from joining his lord in the parlour.
He got cocky, he’d admit it. His own powers might have been overhyped, but the lords he surrounded himself with were all old and powerful, and so he sent them after Reid in a cool rage after the doctor refused his bidding. Now they were all dead. The two he had left died when Reid forced his way back into the club to ask for the blood of William Marshal, and now there was practically no one here.
He sipped his glass and winced, reminding himself for the billionth time that blood does not need to air like wine does.
What he really wanted was revenge. The hit to his social circle and bank account following the plague was a drop in the ocean for a man like him, but his pride had been mortally wounded. Really, what possesses a gentleman to act like that? Storming in and spilling blood like some… Some axe-wielding maniac? No, no this wouldn’t do at all. He didn’t want Reid dead , per say; he was an interesting man and probably too powerful to defeat on account of his lineage (stupid fucking lineages), but he absolutely needed to feel some consequences for what he did. Another sip, another wince.
What Reid needed was a lesson. A blow to his pride or morals that wouldn’t be met with apocalyptic rage in return, because frankly, Lord Redgrave didn’t know if he had the assets to protect himself in case Reid came for him. Maybe a strike at the hospital? Did Reid have a favorite patient, maybe? A lover? He thought there might have been something between him and that Lady Ashbury figure, but she had not been seen since she left the country. His ex-wife-now-skal seemed to be on good terms with Reid, but even Lord Redgrave’s extensive contacts had no idea where she was hiding her ugly face. Sip. Wince. Repeat.
Although neither of them knew it, Jonathan Reid and Lord Redgrave had exactly one thing in common: both men found comfort in making lists. Redgrave was making a list right now over things that might hurt Reid with minimal backlash.
- Kill his dog (the man does not have a dog)
- Kill his mother (terrible idea. nothing could backfire more.)
- Kill his butler? (keep as an open option; gather intel on the butler to see if he has any emotional connection to Reid)
- Burn his house down with him in it. (really?)
- Challenge his morals by putting him in a situation where he has to choose between saving a patient or a friend. (has potential; difficult to execute. Look into the Pembroke.)
- Serve him poisoned blood (as if he would take any blood that was served to him)
- Force the blood down his throat
- Make the ratsucker drink something other than ratblood for a change.
Redgrave leaned back from his desk and smiled a satisfied smile to himself. There it was, clear as the night sky. How does one harm a bleeding heart? By getting to the artery, of course. Jonathan Reid was known for two things in the immortal underworld; ending the plague and bleeding himself dry for the benefit of humans, both in the literal sense and in his line of work. His preference for rodent blood had been one of the main hurdles Redgrave had to overcome before inviting him to the Ascalon club to begin with, and it looked like it might be of use to him now.
If he wanted to punish Reid he had to strike where it hurt, which was his humanity. His contacts had informed him that the good doctor refused to drink from his patients (unlike his supervisor) and only attacked animals when he was outside of the hospital. Ergo, voila, eureka, et cetera.
He was going to make Reid hate himself.
It had been four days since he last visited the sewers, and doctor Jonathan Reid was standing in the west end, about as far away from the docks as he could get, looking at a woman.
She was a small creature. Thin, pale, long-fingered and strangely delicate despite her squatting position in the gutter; her hair was fighting its way out of a bun and pulling long, dark strands down her face, and the portion of it that Reid could see was angry red. She was ekon, without a doubt. Why would a west-end ekon be on her knees in the streets eating rats?
He approached her slowly in case she was a danger in any way. Every erratic movement she made was accompanied by a sharp crunch and the unmistakable smell of blood. When he came within speaking distance he tried calling out to her, but whatever frenzied state she was locked in either prevented her from hearing or occupied her so that she couldn’t answer. He took another step.
She kept moving, kept crunching.
“Miss? Miss, I am a doctor,” why was that important? “Miss, can you hear me?”
She spat out a mouthful of fur and answered, but her words were garbled by guts and he didn’t understand.
She spat again.
“I hate this. I hate this, I hate- what?”
They finally made eye contact, and she stood up with what seemed to be great effort. Her lips were streaked under a strong nose, pointing to the sorry remains of her dress collar, also filthy with blood. He had never seen someone eat with such visceral need before; his own feedings were quick and simple and he only got the blood, whereas this woman seemed to consume the whole rat, blood and bile and fur and all.
Their conversation was brief due to her difficulty communicating. He learned that she felt she “had” to eat the rats, but she was unable to tell him why. When he left her a couple of minutes later he watched her unlock a grate, lock it behind her, and then resume her eating habits in the corner of a small garden. He wondered if he should go to the docks and ask Sean to help her, but decided against it.
By the rickety gate that seperated Whitechapel there was a giant. Reid ducked behind a makeshift wooden wall that has been put up against the harsh winds and cursed, hoping the vulkod at the end of the street wouldn’t hear him.
See, this was the problem with his attitude towards feeding; he could act as morally superior as he liked, but the second anyone decided they liked him better dead than alive he was absolutely fucked. These days he was so hungry he could barely stay awake all night, much less fight. Much less fight a vulkod. When he stared back the way he had came he could see the spindly silhouette of Carina Billow, and that gave him pause.
The woman barely knew where she was when they had spoken. There was absolutely nothing preventing her from walking this way, too close, and getting spotted by the enemy. He felt a little bit like his makeshift wall just then, separating the good from the bad.
He was about to go to her, warn her and then get out of here the way he came in, but another furtive glance around the empty, open streets made him shudder. Really, what was preventing anyone from walking into the monster? Sunrise was still several hours away and he had seen vulkods tear men’s heads straight off their necks for the offense of being seen. Did he not have a duty to get rid of this thing?
He weighed his options carefully, bringing out the hacksaw. He could become a shadow and sneak up on it, get a good hit in, maybe stun it for long enough to either kill it outright or seriously injure it. He would have to drain a good chunk of his energy to pull off the shadow stunt, though, and his energy was directly tied to how much and how well he fed, which was a zero on both accounts.
He drew a deep (unneeded) breath, and put his plan in motion.
The plan went terribly.
First off, the vulkod had clearly spotted him ages ago. When Reid jumped out of hiding with his weapon brandished he was met with a massive arm to the head, and it all just went downhill from there. The vulkod roared, bringing his boulder-sized fist down, and Jonathan had to turn to shadow to dart behind him again, but once he rematerialized he saw the world in black and white. Pain, loud and clear, made his head throb so bad it felt like his brain had liquified and was now just swooshing around in there. There was absolutely no chance of dodging the next punch, which caught him straight in the face.
A reverse big bang reverberated between his ears. The universe was stars, and then nothing. He could feel himself hit the ground but couldn’t see it, not really, as the crackling pain in his face had taken over all his other senses. Through the ringing he heard a scream, and wondered if it might be his own. Then it got louder. Louder and closer. He was just regaining some semblance of presence when he realized that it was a woman screaming with all the power her rat-filled diet allowed her.
He tried to get up, but there were still splinters of his own skull obscuring his vision. He could hear shuffling, though, and a sort of muted scraping on the paved streets, like an object was being dragged. The pain was fire on his skin when he managed to roll over, trying to get closer to the screams. They were right by him, now.
“Sorry, doc…” he heard a deep voice ring, “my instructions weren’t to kill ya. Terribly sorry. Honest mistake. Here,” and the scraping was replaced by a dull thud. The sceamer landed next to Jonathan and scrambled to get up, but then she fell again. He couldn’t see . He couldn’t see.
“You’re dyin’, doc,” the deep voice said, and Reid couldn’t tell if it was true. He knew for a fact that he had sustained damage that would leave any mortal unconscious, but he also had no real reference for the limits of a vampire body. Was he dying? was this it? He reached out and found the squirming form of Carina next to him, and on top of her, an impossibly large hand. He was holding her down. Why?
Reid tried to tell the vulkod to let his victim go, but the breath in his lungs didn’t even reach his throat. Carina was hissing a prayer into the street. Then, low and raspy, the vulkod was at his ear.
“The ascalon club sends their regards. Truth be told, Reid, I’m here to rough ya up. Not kill ya. They told me you’d be strong. We all make mistakes, ay?”
Carina yelped and was quickly silenced.
“Lucky for you, I know a pretty great trick for getting ekon back on their feet. Open your mouth.”
The smell of blood went through his thoughts like a heated needle, cauterizing anything he might have said or done. Carina was screaming but her voice was muffled; or maybe he was passing out? She sounded underwater to him now, but he knew she was bleeding. He smelled it so clearly. Unlike the rats, unlike the dog, unlike even the one time he had tasted human; this was strong, poignant. It was burning. It was consuming , true ekon, and against his will his body responded. Muscles tightening. He was a predator, now, and his legs got ready to strike even though his mind was howling against it.
“Come on,” the vulkod urged, but Reid was blessedly too injured to get up and chase his urges. Carina was bleeding. I know a pretty great trick .
“Come now, doctor.”
A thick finger pushed through his lips and pried his teeth apart. Jonathan bit down, but the vulkod’s skin was thick (or maybe Jonathan was weak?) and so he did not draw any blood. He realized too late that the finger did not need to be punctured. It was already bloody.
Exactly how and why Jonathan got up, he could not say. He just knew that the finger left his mouth and he did not want it to, and so he chased it, fragmented ribs rubbing against each other as he rose into a sitting position and followed the scent down again. He hunched over and saw nothing; he only knew, and what he knew was on the ground. She was soft to his hungry hands and he did not need his sight to find the gash the vulkod had made in her neck, which was pouring her lifeblood onto the dark, empty, London street. Had he been more conscious it would have struck him what a sorry place this was to die, but he was not. He was nothing any more.
Shescreamed when he bit her. Her hands flew up and he forced them down again. She was speaking, or yelling, but what she said could not possibly be important. The blood that flowed felt like magma in his stomach, but god, he had never needed anything more; it was life, it was vitality, how could he ever have thought that vampires were merely addicted to blood? It felt like eating for the first time in years.Her efforts weakened as his grew stronger. Jonathan Reid was wholly consumed by the beast within him, and the beast did not care for humanity. For empathy. The beast only cared about satisfaction, and not for the pleading of sheep.
He did not know how long it had been when he finally came to. The vulkod had gone, and the cold corpse of Carina Billow lay under him, face mangled by a last scream.