Chapter 1: The Broken Ampoule
A hiss and a muttered curse preceded the sudden sweet tang of blood in the air. Try as he might, Jonathan could hardly stop the turning of his head as he tracked the smell. An open ampoule stained red was the cause, and Edgar (who was now sucking on the fleshy heel of his palm) the victim.
The vampire doctor sighed and rolled his eyes in mock annoyance as he set down his test tubes and crossed the lab, chiding his fellow doctor, "Honestly, Edgar, how difficult can it be to open an ampule?"
Edgar removed his hand from his mouth, a hint of a sulk on his face as he said, "Surprisingly hard, Dr Reid."
Jonathan snorted with amusement, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he teased, "The great Edgar Swansea, the man who can administrate a failing, understaffed hospital, but can’t open an invention that has existed for centuries safely." He took the senior doctor's hand, and before he even knew what he was doing, he was licking the blood off it, instinct overriding sense and propriety.
The blood hit him like a blow, the taste rich and filling in a way that rat blood never was, a feast set before a starving man. Jonathan couldn't help closing his eyes to savour it, the hints of sweetness in the blood accompanied by little flickers of thought and memory like fireworks in an ink black sky.
He opened his eyes, only to find Edgar in a similar state of absorption, their eyes meeting in a brief, intense moment, before Edgar gave a nod, not speaking. Whatever this was before them, it wouldn't be ruined by words.
Jonathan pressed his mouth to the open wound, and fed.
It felt like mere seconds when Jonathan felt a tug to his lapel, then another, more insistent. With a reluctance borne of both instinct and emotion, he stopped, looking up at Edgar, who was watching him with an arched brow.
"I-" He began to attempt his apologies, but Edgar grabbed his tie and pulled him into a kiss. Again, the taste of the older man's blood in his mouth, tantalising hints of Edgar, of what made him tick, flashing in Jonathan's mind, teasing at him, but nothing more.
"If you're going to feast on me, at least have the courtesy to give me something out of it." Edgar chided, when they parted, drawing a surprised, relieved laugh from his colleague. Edgar wasn't angry, or repulsed. But why would he, when he nurtured an obsession with vampires?
"You tread a dangerous line, Edgar." Jonathan rumbled quietly, even as he moved closer, pressing Edgar against his workstation.
"Of us both, I'd say you were more in danger from me." Edgar scoffed, his uninjured hand moving to run his fingers through the perfect coiffure that Jonathan sported, messing it up. "Don't forget who holds more knowledge of vampires, and their inner workings."
"Theoretical knowledge, Dr Swansea, is no substitute for experience. You know that." Jonathan dealt his repartee, hardly missing a beat as he returned his attention to Edgar's hand, licking at the slowly congealing blood to coax more out, flowing hot and fresh over the warm skin.
"It sounds like you're offering." Edgar's voice was quiet. He watched Jonathan feed from him with a warm affection. There had always been a tension between the both of them, the desire to know more about each other, tempered by a respect for position and social propriety. Now, this taboo was broken, and it seemed they intended to reap as much as they could from it. Edgar pulled at his tie, undoing it, then unbuttoning his collar, tugging it aside as he removed his hand from Jonathan's grip. "If you wish, consider me a willing donor for your appetites."
"Of which appetite do you speak?" Jonathan leaned in, nipping at his lip before claiming them. "A man sometimes has many."
"Must you make me be vulgar in my proclamations?" Edgar rolled his eyes at the vampire.
"I'm a gentleman, I wouldn't dare proceed without your enthusiastic consent." Jonathan's hands bracketed his hips.
"And I assumed baring my throat to you was enthusiastic enough." Swansea said acidly. "Yes, Jonathan. All your appetites, though if you insist on being pedantic, you might ruin the mood entirely."
Icy blue eyes met hazel, and Jonathan remembered briefly how Edgar had always had the advantage on him. He knew so little of his colleague, even now. The elder man was genial enough, even solicitous over Jonathan, but he had always kept his own counsel.
Yet his actions sometimes spoke loudly about him. He was bold, daring to take the risk to allow a young Ekon into the hospital, even hire him. He was resourceful, able to turn a situation to his advantage. Jonathan had Edgar pressed against a desk, but he had no doubt that the senior doctor was actually in control, turning an accident into a temptation, and dangling it before Jonathan like meat before a tiger. The warm pulse of blood at the man’s throat beckoned to Jonathan like a lighthouse to a ship at sea; both promise of land, and warning of danger.
Edgar let out a quiet breath as Jonathan moved to press his face against his exposed throat. He mouthed at the sensitive skin, and Edgar found himself stroking the short hairs at the back of Jonathan’s neck, patting gently as though to reassure a skittish creature. “You’re welcome to me.” He said quietly, dropping the sarcasm for a more reassuring tone. Jonathan’s fangs scraped at the skin, and Edgar panted softly, oddly unsurprised at how it affected him, causing his desires to stir.
The sudden sharp pain had Edgar instinctively gripping Jonathan’s lapel with his bloodied hand, opening the wound again. Jonathan nuzzled deeper into his skin, sucking at the wound he made, while his hands moved to remove Edgar’s lab coat, then fumbled blindly with his jacket and waistcoat. He gave a growl of contentment, and Edgar let out a low groan.
Ever the inquiring scientist, a part of Edgar was detached from the situation, noting various details of their encounter. Jonathan’s body was cool, his skin slightly below the average temperature of a human, although in London it was easy enough to pass it as a consequence of the chilly weather. The wound he inflicted stung initially, but now it did not. Perhaps there was an analgesic component to an Ekon’s saliva? He felt a little light-headed, but also slightly euphoric, and he wondered whether the latter was due to the blood loss or the sensual, sexual element of feeding.
Jonathan reluctantly pulled away from Edgar after a few (barely satiating) mouthfuls. As an Ekon, he knew he could easily drain a human of their blood, and the temptation was strong, especially on his mostly rodent-based diet. He licked the skin clean of traces of blood, languid and content. Edgar was deep in thought, Jonathan knew, and it amused more than annoyed him that the other man seemed unable to switch that analytical mind off, even when engaging in intimacy.
It was intimacy, especially to a vampire. It was the greatest intimacy and the highest high they would be allowed to have. Even sex paled to pleasure that feeding invoked. When the blood was taken in the heat of battle, it inflamed the martial joy of the conqueror. When willingly shared, it bred passion and intimacy.
Edgar barely noticed Jonathan working at his clothing until a jolt of coolness brought him back to the present. Jonathan’s fingers traced over his skin, tentative and exploratory. It amused Edgar, a little, to see Jonathan hesitant. The other man always seemed to know his own mind, and learned at an astonishing capacity. Even becoming a vampire didn’t throw him for much of a loop; it was the mystery of his maker and their motives that had been the sticking point. To know that some experiences were new to Jonathan was a novelty.
Jonathan could see the tiny hint of a feline smirk on Edgar’s lips, smug and knowing. It should have been infuriating, as it often was when Edgar stymied him or obscured truths, but to him it was oddly endearing, much as Edgar’s enthusiastic behavior had been when they initially met (although he was rather curt with Edgar on hindsight, but that was due to the trials he had endured rather than anything on Edgar’s part). He leaned in, wanting to turn that smirk into surprise or the beautifully glazed expression of enjoyment that Edgar had moments ago, but the senior doctor stopped him with a finger pressed to his mouth. He frowned.
“Are you sure?” Edgar asked, as though Jonathan’s clothed erection wasn’t pressed to his hip.
The vampire regarded Edgar with some amount of curiosity at the change in demeanor.
Edgar’s mouth quirked as he bit the inside of his lip, then released it and sighed. He then asked, “How old were you when Wilde went to trial?”
“When was it?” Jonathan asked, and Edgar struggled not to roll his eyes at his younger colleague. Of course Jonathan wouldn’t have known. He had probably been sheltered from the indecency of the unfolding scandal by his parents.
“ ‘95, but if you don’t remember it, you must have been quite young.” Edgar said, unable to prevent his voice from becoming a little tart. Wilde had been the most flamboyant and open about his sexuality, and in the end, he had paid the price for it. Edgar had been on the cusp of twenty, or slightly over it, barely on the fringes of it, but it taught him important lessons on discretion.
“That was more than two decades ago.” Jonathan’s baritone voice was a lovely thrum, but Edgar would not be distracted.
“And circumstances are much the same regarding the treatment of homosexuals.” Edgar arched a brow. “This is not something I would enter lightly into. The consequences of being caught extends far beyond a stint in prison. Our reputations, and the reputation of the hospital-”
“We have just barely ended a war, only for us to be plunged into the midst of an epidemic. I hardly think that the police will arrest us when they have much more on their hands than two men entertaining themselves.” Jonathan said in wry observation.
“And this is- what? Mere entertainment to you?” Edgar asked. “If so, I rather avoid the complications that are sure to result-”
Jonathan’s hand closed around Edgar’s wrist, fingers encircling it easily. “No.” Jonathan said, simply. “You’re not just entertainment to me, not just a way to while the hours between experiments and being called to one task or another like fate’s own errand boy. You’re-”
He paused for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts, wondering how best to express himself to Edgar. He saw the rationale behind the other man’s caution. They were colleagues, and Edgar was his superior. Edgar belonged to the Brotherhood; although the implications of that weren’t entirely clear to him, he surmised that fraternisation with a vampire (at least to the degree that Edgar was) wasn’t encouraged amongst them. And Jonathan- Jonathan was dead. Jonathan was dead and Edgar was alive. An immense gulf, both natural and preternatural, stood between them. Jonathan took a breath, and let it out slowly. His grip loosened. Any of those would have been reason to hesitate. All of them-
“My apologies.” Jonathan backed away, leaving Edgar in confusion. “I let myself be carried away- The bloodlust is still new to me.” Each word seemed only to distance Jonathan further, and Edgar felt suddenly powerless to draw the other man back. Edgar reached out, but as his fingers brushed against Jonathan’s, the vampire reacted as though he had been scalded.
“We should return to our work, Doctor Swansea.” Jonathan looked down, and away. A muscle jumped as he clenched his jaw, and returned to his tasks, leaving Edgar in disarray, leaning against the workstation, a smear of blood congealing on his palm.
Subsequent nights found Jonathan Reid increasingly busy. The incident between them had been mutually placed aside. Yet while the cut that precipitated it had healed over days, the gulf between the two men had remained.
Edgar leaned against the window frame, idly watching the movement of staff and patients alike in the courtyard below. He could usually have counted on spotting Jonathan amongst them, the doctor offering advice or his expertise to the overworked staff, relying on his easy charisma to smooth over any awkwardness. The haematologist was conspicuously absent this night, and had been for more than a week prior.
Edgar had known that Elisabeth had taken notice of Jonathan, but he hadn’t noticed how deeply rooted her attentions went, until he got the letter from her to be passed on to his- (what was Jonathan now? A friend? An acquaintance? Better to stick to what was factually true)- colleague. In their years of acquaintance, Lady Ashbury had kept matters strictly business between herself and Edgar, and Edgar had respected it, thinking her to perhaps be a little more old-fashioned in this regard.
Apparently not. Apparently vampires had secrets that could not be shared with a human, however long the relationship might be.
Perhaps that was what Jonathan had realised that night.
Their interactions had been stilted since then, and even when he returned to announce that he was taking a leave of absence to care for his mother, even when he slipped and referred to “Elisabeth”-
That slip had him clumsily apologising, and Edgar was sure that if he had fed, Jonathan might have turned red. He had cut the apology off, teased him about it, and done the right thing, showing the man he had no hard feelings. A careful drop of the words “friend” and “colleague”, and Jonathan was back to normal.
Edgar dealt with the disappointment in the usual way, by masking it behind his usual smile, and burying himself in the paperwork. Jonathan had been too young for him anyway, and it was an infatuation between intellectuals.
There was a brisk knock on the door, and it was bound to be Nurse Branagan. “Yes, come in-” He called out, not bothering to turn around. Perhaps she would just drop the papers on his desk, and leave, instead of fretting about the dwindling numbers of staff, like she did on an almost nightly basis. Her relentless optimism was a front for the younger staff, in front of him, she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, stretched to the brink like Edgar felt consistently.
So preoccupied was he that he didn’t notice the footsteps sounded odd, heavier and longer in stride. The cloth soaked in chloroform was pressed over his nose and mouth, and he was quickly overwhelmed.
Chapter 2: The Broken Shell
Edgar woke to a slap of cold, gasping and shuddering as he opened his eyes to the sight of a Priwen guard lowering a bucket. Then came the dull, wrenching pain in his shoulders. He dangled just off his toes, strung up with ropes that were slowly digging into his wrists. The sound of laughter came from outside, footsteps and joking as a group of young men talked and made jests. Their booted feet stomped on the wooden floors. “Wot we gonna do wiv ‘im, Cap’n?” The guard asked a man sat at a table.
“You heard McCullum. He wants the doctor to talk.” The Captain said, lighting a cigarette. “We'll make him sing like a fucking canary.”
“If I recall, the Guard of Priwen expressly prohibits the killing of humans.” Edgar said wryly. “You proclaim to be the defender of humanity, do you not?”
“Mate, no one who fra’ernises wiv leeches willingly is properly human no more. That's wot I reckon anyways.” The guardsman retorted, “An’ I reckon McCullum thinks the same.”
“Pity.” Edgar smiled thinly.
“Now, McCullum knows what you've done. So you bet’er confess. You and that leech-doctor, you're in it together, ain't ya?” The man before him picked up a baton.
“Doctor Reid and I? No, of course n-” He had hardly finished his words when the blow came, stunning him and knocking his breath from him.
“Wrong. Answer.” The young man had a vicious grin on his face. “We know you are, just wan’ed to see if you're a fucking liar.”
“Stole bastards always are, lad.” The Captain rumbled, exhaling a mouthful of smoke. “Get it on with.”
“Righ’. That woman, bird wiv the red hair, she's your ‘ospital benefactor, yeah?”
“Is she a vampire?”
“No-” Another stunning blow, this time higher than before, catching him in the ribs.
“We know she is, Stole bastard. Got men all over investigatin’.” The young man laughed, and Edgar wanted to be sick all over him. Sadistic little bastard- “She and ya Doctor Reid, they're a pair?”
“No-” This time the young man punched him, knocking the glasses off his face. He could taste blood in his mouth.
“Ain't you never read the Bible, mate? Lying’s a sin.”
Edgar spat the blood out and smiled at them, an unsettling sight with his blood-tinged teeth. “Then I guess I'll join you in hell, my good man.”
The Captain roared with laughter as the rookie spluttered. “You've got quite a sense of humor, Scholar.”
“I find it helps to while away the hours.” Edgar said, glibly. “And yourself? What do you do to while away the hours aside from abusing civilians?”
“Anything else you do, good doctor?” The Captain ignored his question, asking his own. “You and that Lady Vampire spend a lot of time in that hospital attic space.”
“I'm not sure what you're insinuating. In any case, what is discussed between patient and doctor is kept in strictest confidence.” Edgar replied calmly.
“Even upon pain of death?” The Captain arched a brow.
“My oaths are sacrosanct.”
“You broke your oaths long ago, Swansea.” The Captain rumbled, and beckoned the rookie. The first blow stole the breath from Edgar, and the second brought with it a sharp pain. The third heralded the crack of a rib as it landed on his ribcage. Edgar heaved as nausea overtook him, but nothing emerged. He let his head dangle for a moment, wishing the world would stop spinning. The young guardsman yanked his head back, punching him.
Well. It was going to be a fucking long night.
“Edgar? Edgar!” Lord above, it hurt, and Jonathan's voice was so loud- so panicked. He had hoped the younger man would come for him, but was it too much to hope that he could expire immediately, and be spared the indignity of having Jonathan view him as a broken sack of flesh and bone?
Cool hands cupped his face, “Can you hear me?” Jonathan's face was close, his eyes searching for the signs of a concussion. The possible concussion was the least of their worries currently.
“Jonathan, is it you?” He croaked out through cracked lips. There was a sudden release as Jonathan cut the ropes, and to his mortification, Edgar found himself too weak to stay upright, collapsing in a heap. Damn it. Couldn't he at least have a last shred of dignity be preserved before he went into that good night? He clenched his jaw and tried to struggle to at least a sitting position.
“Easy, easy.” Jonathan reassured him, “Save your strength. I'm getting you out of here.” There was no out. Not for him. Jonathan somehow picked him up, and shuffled the chair over so he could collapse in that instead, pathetic as a rag doll that had been in the losing end of an encounter with a dog.
“Don't try to spare me. As a physician, I know all too well when it's too late.” Edgar said wryly, looking away. “Punctured lung. Broken ribs. Internal bleeding. An accurate diagnosis, wouldn't you say?”
The world was trying to slide out of focus, but he blinked. He was weary, but letting himself rest now would make it permanent. He swallowed, though it did little for how parched he felt. He met Jonathan's eyes.
How ironic that their situations would be reversed thus. On the night that they met, Jonathan had been the one who had been bloodied and in disarray, afraid and alone. Edgar had been the one to judge him then, to find something worthy of saving and to take him to the Pembroke. Now the man stood before him, while Edgar sat bruised and broken, gasping for air.
If he knew it would have ended thus, would he have pursued Jonathan with greater fervor that night Jonathan tasted his blood? Would he have fought for the scraps of Jonathan’s affection? He loathed the very beat of his tell-tale heart, the way it stuttered and struggled even as he neared the edge of the abyss. He had never truly believed in God-
He struggled against the current of time and the grasp of impending death, each word a labor to match Heracles’ tasks, watching as Jonathan’s agile mind pieced together a truth so terrible, so terrifying- then reveal it as a grotesque monument to his name. All those nights they had chased every thread that unraveled through the city, all the research that he had assisted Jonathan with, everything came back to this, back to him.
He was the cause.
Jonathan found himself reeling by the end of the conversation, unable to countenance- unable to believe that McCullum's accusations had basis in fact. That Edgar had done something so against his hippocratic oath-
Edgar- the man who had been his first friend in this new world, who took him in and gave him shelter and a sense of purpose. The man who had gentled the beast within him and gave of himself.
Edgar who had always been positive, and determined, but now was broken and defeated, horrified and destroyed by the true consequences of his actions. The sweetness was gone from him now, bitter resignation was beginning to take over. His eyes were the only human quality about him now, looking up from the face of a corpse as he awaited judgement.
“Yes, Edgar. You're about to die.” His baritone gave a sepulchral quality to his words, the way they echoed oddly made it sound like a condemnation rather than a statement of fact. “I won't say it's fair, but I can't say you don't deserve it.” It hurt to say that, the words were bitter, and they were cruel. Edgar shrunk away as much as he could, as though Jonathan had struck him physically.
“Your words hurt deeply, Jonathan, for they come from a friend.” They both heard the hitch in Edgar's voice on the last word. Friend. Was that all that they were, all that they could be? In the moments when they were in each other’s space, when Jonathan could feel the warmth of Edgar’s skin, taste of his blood- A scant few weeks ago they had been strangers, then confidants and comrades in a futile war, then-
The liveliness was leaving him now,
the charming smile,
the ridiculous fondness he had for his skulls,
the gentle compassion of his voice when he told Jonathan about Mary,
the hand that reached out for him that first night-
“In the end, life betrays us all.” Edgar murmured, letting go of his hope, the very last thing he had to relinquish, closing his eyes as his breathing became labored and his heart-
Jonathan made his decision.
Chapter 3: The Broken Trust
The click of footsteps on tile and the constant background murmur of voices had become so familiar to him in his years as a doctor. The thin mattress and the uncomfortable, scratchy sheets even more so, especially as he rose through the ranks and found the entirety of his life consumed by his chosen path.
So it was understandable, if a little odd, that the afterlife would sound exactly like the Pembroke. Nurse Branagan talking to Doctor Tippets, insisting for him to rest came from the next room over. The argument continued into the corridor and then out, Edgar hearing the door to the staff wing thud shut. Perhaps exhaustion had killed the man… but what had killed
The Pembroke was the scene of his crime, his greatest mistake. But it was also the stage from which he had proven himself as more than a mere man, a mere administrator. It was for the Pembroke that he had worked the hardest, the longest, in the service of humanity. It was in the Pembroke that he had unexpectedly fallen in love.
It was right, then, that he should return here as a spectre for the accounting of his life.
He opened his eyes, ready to face his judgement.
The world was entirely in grey, like a black and white motion picture.
He closed his eyes, then opened it again, in disbelief. No, everything was still in grey.
Was this some strange nightmare? A hallucination or delusion? He closed his eyes again, curling up.
There was a strange sound that started off in the distance, a rhythmic drumbeat that seemed to grow gradually louder, accompanied by footsteps, then the opening of doors. A growing sense of unease filled Edgar, and he put his hands over his ears, feeling like a child who was afraid of thunder.
Distantly, it felt as though someone was speaking to him, but the sound was muffled under the beat of that unceasing drum. Edgar opened his eyes to the nightmarish sight, a tall silhouette before him, and in the center, a beating heart. He stared, mesmerised by the blood that pulsed at the other’s throat.
Edgar was curled up, trembling, and the feelings the sight provoked in Jonathan were beyond the vocabulary of a gentleman. He wanted Edgar, the desire for the other man building in him since the day he had denied himself. He wanted Edgar in primal, visceral ways, and he was ashamed of the images his mind put forth; images of Edgar under his fingers, of Edgar surrendering himself. It was the predator in him speaking in such foul imagery, and he tried to ignore it.
He fought with the possessiveness that the sight of Edgar’s vulnerability evoked, and spoke softly and gently, “Edgar-”
Edgar stared blankly at him for a moment, before he suddenly pounced, uncoiling from his huddled, vulnerable position with unnatural feline grace. The momentum sent Jonathan back to the floor and he landed heavily, cracking his head off the tiles as Edgar straddled him. His progeny watched him, looked into him, and Jonathan saw the mindless predator a hungry fledgling could be. Had he been this way with Mary too? Had he looked at her with blank, starving eyes?
Edgar bent, nuzzling against his neck in a way that was surprisingly affectionate, gentle. His breath was cool against Jonathan's skin. His fangs sunk in with sudden, surgical precision, and Jonathan jerked a little, but did not push Edgar away or attempt to tear his progeny off. With a mix of shame, guilt and self-recrimination, Jonathan cradled the back of his head, running his fingers through those short, auburn strands. Even in feeding his progeny was surprisingly gentle, considerate. Jonathan had mauled poor Mary.
It felt like a peaceful little bubble that they were in, a moment in time where they could be simply Jonathan and Edgar. Edgar had stopped his feeding, and Jonathan continued to stroke his hair as Edgar nuzzled at the healing wound. Edgar seemed to relax, and he spoke quietly in Jonathan's ear, “You decided to let me die.”
“I couldn't-” Jonathan replied, holding Edgar close, his hand splayed over the middle of the other’s shoulder blades. “After everything you've done for me-”
“You said I deserved to die.” Edgar's voice was strangely devoid of emotion.
Jonathan was quiet, then tried to speak. “In that moment- I had lost my head-”
But Edgar was standing, his expression cold and distant. “I will never forget how you felt about me, Jonathan. Please leave.” He went into the bathroom, the door shutting with finality.
The silence was unnatural, but when Edgar finally heard the close of the door, he let himself sink onto the white tiles of the bathroom floor. It hurt- it hurt beyond sense, beyond hope. He buried his face in his hands, curling up tightly as the fugue cleared, the blood bringing back memories of his last moments as it settled in him.
He had deserved to die
Jonathan had pushed his hand away, denied his last attempt to reach out to someone- anyone. Jonathan had condemned him, then changed his mind. It wasn’t friendship or affection that had brought Edgar into this new life, but a sense of guilt, pity, some misguided need to repay past favors. It was cruel, but Jonathan was cruel in so many ways, even as he tried to be good.
Edgar felt hollowed out, emptied of everything that defined his identity, scrabbling for the fragments that remained, hoping to piece together the man he thought he was.
Jonathan found himself leaning against the wall outside Edgar’s room as a wave of emotion overcame him. The sense of anguish that Edgar suffered cut Jonathan to the quick, and not for the first time since his decision, he questioned the wisdom in making Edgar into a being like himself.
Would it have been kinder to let Edgar go into that good night? His words that night were harsh, cruel. How could Edgar have gone peacefully? The way Edgar had reached out to him, afraid, alone… Jonathan hated the way he had removed Edgar's hand, folding it back into Edgar's lap like he had carried Mary back to her coffin.
Perhaps in the end, it was not that Edgar had been afraid, pleading, desperate. It was that Jonathan himself was terrified, in the seconds when he watched Edgar die. Terrified beyond reason that with Edgar's death, some strange connection he had to the living world in this new existence would be severed. As Edgar gasped out his last, Jonathan slit his wrist and spilled his blood into his mouth.
But how could he regret a man that he had somehow developed feelings for? Jonathan knew that the affection he felt for Edgar, the hunger for him that burned like dry kindling, crackling in his mind and his veins… All of them were as real to him as Clarence’s foolish, single-minded love for a woman who was poisoning him. He could have lived without Edgar; he wasn't a hopeless romantic. But his life would be lacking in some way, a pale existence.
He would make things right with Edgar, somehow. He had to.
In the end for all that had changed, surprisingly little did. Edgar threw himself headlong into work, picking up the slack of his former self. Exhaustion had started to catch up with him and though he was loathe to admit it, age. He had let many things slide in the crisis, focussing more on triage, running the hospital more like a battlefield medic station than an actual institution.That would cease immediately. He was acutely aware of where he and the other staff had fallen short, and the various abuses that had taken place in this critical period.
The makeshift morgue received a nightly inspection, he spent more time with the doctors and nurses, and completed his administrative duties before the sun rose. He had a quiet word about bribes with Milton Hooks and Pippa Hawkins. He worked on resolving the growing gulf between Ackroyd and Strickland, and spoke to Branagan and Tippets about the medical error made by the aging doctor. He put Jonathan firmly out of his mind.
He knew Jonathan hated him. It was him that had caused the plague, that had stolen Jonathan's life and his family away. The chain of events after Jonathan's arrival had all been a result of his experimentation, his hubris.
Every night as he stepped out of his office, he confronted the consequences of his actions, and sought to do better. But it was too late for him to cherish hopes of anything like forgiveness. He wouldn't be forgiven.
His sire had little to say to him, embroiled in the thick of the unfolding apocalypse. Edgar had nothing in return, all his words had been heard and summarily dismissed as lies and evasions. For a sire-progeny pair as young as they both were, they lived oddly separate lives, and Edgar was left to fumble his way through the initial nights of being an Ekon. It stung a little to know what a sire-progeny bond was supposed to be like through his extensive studies, and to be denied it. Again, a question he had no answer for; why create him as a progeny if Jonathan had no intention at all of pursuing any bond? Even Jonathan had found a mentor in Lady Ashbury.
The only thing Jonathan had for him were words of censure. Early one morning, as he returned from one of his absences, they had run into each other. His harried sire had merely stopped, regarded him with cold disapproval, and said, “You’ve been feeding on patients.”
The assumption was a slap in the face. Jonathan thought so little of him that he assumed that Edgar would succumb to the bloodlust as soon as his back was turned, glutting himself on the patients. For all the faith Edgar had put in him, he had gotten nothing back.
Jonathan then asked something else; perhaps it was something about his plans. Edgar babbled something out; something cursory and stupid, it did not matter to Jonathan what he did. Edgar was already a failure in his eyes. Jonathan only seemed to grow more disgusted and contemptuous at him, and left.
He really shouldn’t have woken up from the eternal sleep.
Chapter 4: The Broken Hope
Jonathan was appalled. For the first time in a week he had the time to return to check upon his progeny, only to see the red-rimmed eyes of a vampire who had been actively feeding. It seemed as though his impulsive decisions had begun to reap undesirable results.
To be honest, it was disappointing. He had hoped for Edgar to follow his path, to make amends, but had received a slap in the face in return. Edgar had avoided his eyes, his emotions securely locked away so that Jonathan had received nothing, not even an echo, and it felt suspiciously like guilt.
His other questions had drawn flippant answers and Jonathan felt the same anger rise in him, anger fueled by the knowledge that all he had suffered was due to the mistakes of the man who was only alive by his blood. The destruction of his career, his life, his family, his future, all laid at Edgar’s feet.
In his obliviousness, Edgar spoke effusively about experimentations, of furthering medicine, of testing the boundaries of the vampiric body, and it drew no pleasure, no pride from the sire. Instead of lashing out like he did that night in the basement of the theater, he turned and walked away.
Removing his coat and draping it over the scapula of a skeleton that stood near the door, he sank down on his bed, burying his face in his hands. In these scant weeks, he felt like he had aged decades. The battlefield felt an eternity away, the memories of his human life beginning to blur and fade as he adapted to the demands heaped upon him by a blood entity that could be god or demon, or both.
The hunger was all he knew now, the need to consume and feast, to tear and rend. Each human was a beating heart and throbbing veins, every night a battle against the beast that paced the cage of his morality.
He had hoped he wasn’t alone. Grief and loneliness surfaced so quickly from the depths of his being that he was taken aback by tears he never meant to or wanted to shed. He found himself gritting his teeth, trying not to make a sound as the shattered remnants of his life demanded for him to mourn them. He hadn’t allowed himself to grieve the loss of Mary. He hadn’t allowed himself to grieve the loss of himself.
Night after night, he returned to his childhood home to play a role he no longer fit. How could a dead man be the son that his mother dreamt of, or give any scant comfort to a mother’s heart that already knew he was long gone? How could he walk past the door of his beloved twin, his partner in life, knowing that he was the one to strike the final blow, that he was why the roses wilted at her door and in the neglected gardens?
Edgar had stemmed the pain in him by giving him some stability, a foundation with which he could have built a new life. But even Edgar was gone now. And he had spoken to Elizabeth about the truth of her blood only to have her vanish.
Who was he, this marooned sailor hoping to see the dawn, hoping for the first rays of sun to reveal a shoreline? Where was he, cast adrift in a sea of blood, his raft rocked by forces beyond his comprehension, forces of occult and eldritch origins?
Jonathan wiped the tears away, ashamed of himself for indulging in weakness he could not afford. He had lived through the Great War, saving lives and performing surgeries in the very worst of conditions. He would not weaken now.
Washing his hands, he retrieved the blood samples from William Marshal and King Arthur, swirling the vials and watching the thick red fluid flow sluggishly. And yet as he continued to agitate them, like the blood of Saint Januarius, they seemed to become more fluid, moving as easily as blood drawn from veins mere minutes ago. It was an interesting phenomenon to observe, and he wondered if the blood relics of the Vatican were samples of vampire blood. If so- that was quite the twist on the concept of sainthood.
He smiled, knowing that Edgar would appreciate the observation, his eyes bright and sharp like a crow or raven spotting something interesting. He would have, in life. Edgar’s eyes now were anything but. They were dull and filmy, as though the first stages of decomposition had taken hold. Tinges of red had crept in, a sign of his progeny’s feeding habits.
If Edgar had set the stage for Jonathan’s death, Jonathan had repaid him in kind by delivering him to an eternal life of politics and hunger. In each other’s destruction, they were both culpable. He should have known that Edgar wasn’t strong enough to resist the taste of human blood. Edgar hadn’t been able to resist crossing the lines of occult study and science.
Perhaps Jonathan had expected too much of Edgar. He was stuck in the hospital for entire nights; perhaps temptation called too strongly, and Edgar had not been able to refuse. Jonathan made up his mind to enquire about the hospital. If he had a better idea of how much Edgar had indulged, perhaps he could plan how to curb his appetite.
The next night, Jonathan found himself utterly stymied. The records all matched up, neatly. No one had died of a suspicious death; in fact, more patients had been released in good health in the weeks after Edgar had become a vampire than before. Those who had passed on had been flu victims or of such ill-health it was almost foreseeable. The rosters were neatly scheduled and for once it seemed as though the nurses and doctors could take their breaks. Edgar was doing ward duty once again, and he conducted nightly inspections of the morgue. He had even been speaking to Rakesh about opening up the old morgue.
Nothing added up. Where were the bodies with uncharacteristic pallor and no lividity? Where were the delays between time of death and their logged arrival at the morgue? Had Edgar been stealing from the already scarce blood supplies?
A quick look told him otherwise. All the blood was again neatly logged and did indeed go to the patients they had been withdrawn from.
A cardinal had begun to sing a hopeful song in the barren winter of his chest. Edgar hadn’t been feeding off his patients. He hadn’t been stealing blood. Jonathan looked up to see Edgar walking towards him, expression grim and cold, like the frost-rimmed blue eyes that the change had given him.
He felt a sudden pang, missing the warm hazel. Yet another thing he had stolen from Edgar, the expressiveness of his eyes that sparked with life and curiosity of the world. Edgar's eyes were now empty and bleak, wintry.
“Scrutinising hospital records, Doctor Reid?” Edgar’s voice was faux-cheerful, but the hollowness in the sound made Jonathan ache in the memory of who he used to be, genuinely happy, even in the darkness of the disaster.
“Catching up.” Jonathan replied.
“We both know otherwise.” Edgar’s tone was so cold as to be glacial. “Your faith in my administrative capabilities is touching.”
“I have always-”
“Don’t lie.” Edgar cut him off.
“Edgar, we should talk.” Jonathan let his voice be calm, soothing.
“You’ve already made up your mind about me.” Edgar said curtly. “There’s nothing else to say.”
?” Jonathan’s tone was a mix of frustration and genuine desperation. Edgar’s gaze fell, and he glanced around, his gaze fixing on Pippa Hawkins nearby. Pippa’s sharp eyes and ears missed nothing, and her eager tongue would spread rumors before the night was done.
“Five minutes. No more.” Edgar started striding towards his office, and Jonathan followed.
The way back to his office felt like an eternity. Edgar could feel the weight of Jonathan’s gaze on him, and it felt like too much, crushing him with judgement and recrimination. He entered his office, but even in his domain the uncertainty did not ease.
He had not done anything to deserve this suspicion from his sire, and yet he felt as anxious as a child who had been caught stealing.
The sound of the lock turning only made it worse. Edgar wondered if he would walk out of this room alive. He kept his back to Jonathan, not wanting to see his death coming. Each step was muffled by the carpet, but Edgar heard it anyway.
“Edgar.” Jonathan said quietly, a hand wrapping around Edgar’s wrist, stilling the nervous movement of his fingers tracing the wood grain of the desk he had used in his entire time at the Pembroke. Jonathan was pressed against his back, caging him in. Edgar felt as though all the air had vacated the room, leaving a ringing vacuum. “Please look at me, Edgar.”
His voice was a command, even if it didn’t have the velvet-clad steel of a Mesmerise behind it. Edgar turned, and they were chest to chest, Jonathan looking down at him with blue eyes. Blue eyes that almost matched his. Edgar’s eyes were bloodshot, but the indication of having fed on human blood was fading. “ Who?” Jonathan asked, quietly.
“A Priwen Guard.” Edgar said. “He had already been bitten by skals. As much as I loathe those oafs, wouldn’t it be cruelty to simply let him endure the transformation into a skal only to kill him then?” His jaw was set, as though daring Jonathan to question his judgement further.
“I see.” Jonathan said. “I’m sorry I accused you of feeding on patients.” He spent a moment checking on Edgar’s eyes, even as Edgar felt an immense weight lift from him. He was many things- unscrupulous, unethical, reckless, perhaps- but he would never have fed on his patients. He was still- still human. Still humane?
“I accept your apology.” Edgar said, looking away again. He twisted his wrist and broke the contact between them. He wished he could put more distance between them, so that he wasn’t suffocating in Jonathan’s scent, the heady cologne of citrus and spice.
“Edgar, are you still upset?” Jonathan’s voice was quietly distressed, as though he had met a mystery he finally couldn’t solve.
“No.” Edgar said, truthfully. He wasn't upset at Jonathan, nor was he hurt anymore that the man only seemed to see the very worst in him. He was exhausted from trying to defend himself, trying to eke out a living as a sire-less progeny. A month ago, he would have seized the opportunity of immortality with both hands. Now, he wished he had the chance to refuse it. He felt so alone, so isolated.
Had he been in love with Jonathan? Truly? He couldn't tell, as numb as he was now. “I'm fine, Dr Reid.”
Jonathan seemed taken aback, then hurt, “You've never called me that in private, Edgar.”
“What should I call you? We are no longer friends.”
Jonathan looked devastated. “Edgar, why would you say such cruel words?”
“Friendships are built upon trust. You don't trust me.” Edgar said, kindly. “You have other friends, do you not? Lady Ashbury, perhaps Usher Talltree. In time you might even convince Geoffrey McCullum. What use do I have in this world of yours? Where do I fit into your narrative?”
“You're my-” Jonathan stopped. “You're my progeny.”
Edgar smiled, “I don't want to just be your progeny.”
Chapter 5: The Forging of New Ways
Jonathan sucked in a breath between his teeth, “Edgar-” The smile was fragile, like a sheet of ice that had formed over a window pane, melting in the sunlight, fragmenting between his fingers.
“I know your opinion on the matter. You’ve made it abundantly clear to me.” Edgar cut him off. “I don’t intend to blight your days with my continued presence.”
“Edgar- you misunderstand me-” Jonathan took Edgar’s hand, running his thumb over the scar on his palm. The wound that had incited this all. What would he give to see Edgar smile again? To hear him being facetious or sardonic, excited and clever- anything but this pale spectre who was fading away in front of him-
“I think I understand you too well.” Edgar pulled his hand away again, balling it into a fist. He did not meet Jonathan’s eyes. “I think I understand you better than you understand me.”
“Then help me, Edgar. Please .” Jonathan said, the edge of despair cracking his voice on the last word. He was losing Edgar, and he didn’t know how to fix it, how to bring him back. “Help me understand. I need you. ”
The silence that fell between them was absolute. Edgar felt utterly crushed by the words, and he whispered, “ You can’t. ” This was the thing that he had wanted to hear, the very thing he had yearned for from Jonathan when he was alive, when he was ignorant of who he was and what he had done. He had wanted to be loved, only to be told how utterly in contempt Jonathan held him in the final moments of his life.
When he had resigned himself to Jonathan’s antipathy to him, the indifference and disgust, Jonathan- It was agonising, like being an insect pinned alive, held in place by self loathing and the weight of a love that he could not bear. “How can you stand there and say that? When you’ve told me exactly how you feel?”
If this was Jonathan’s love, it felt like cruelty.
“Please let me go.”
If there were words more crushing in that moment, Jonathan didn’t know what they could have been. The request was so simple and yet it felt so final. He moved back, and Edgar stepped past him.
Edgar took a deep breath and his jaw tightened, only to relax a moment later, like he had come to some decision. In that moment he was inscrutable- and yet Jonathan could see he was drawing upon the core of his willpower to speak.
“I will be resigning from Pembroke Hospital, effective immediately. In lieu of this, I appoint you as acting administrator, pending the approval of Lady Ashbury.” He took a slow, shuddering breath, as though he was dying anew. Or perhaps coming back to life-
“You don’t need a person, Jonathan. You don’t need me. You need a purpose, and I hope the Pembroke will fulfill that role. The hospital solicitor will contact you with the details. You should find everything in order; I was already preparing to step down.”
He gave a wry smile. “I’ve felt the hospital needed fresh blood for a while now, and this seems as good a time as any. As used as you are to cleaning up the aftermath of my bad decisions, I’m sure you’ll find this less of a challenge than the previous one.”
There was a strange blossoming in that moment, as incongruous as the word seemed when applied to the situation and the subject. It was as though the life was returning to Edgar, the vestiges of who he was waking to the clarion call of something new, something different. Possibility had burst into lush verdant life, and stretched out in all directions. The pain that had surrounded them both, that choked them and threatened to drive them into inescapable corners had eased.
Jonathan had seen that too, in Mary, when she exerted her will. He tilted his head in an aborted shake, finally, finally understanding. Perhaps this was how his own sire felt, stymied at every turn by Jonathan’s sharp words and little rebellions. Frustrated, amused, and yet somehow proud. With the man he was, perhaps he shouldn’t have expected his progeny to be any less difficult than he could be.
But now he was in the position to give Edgar what he so desperately wanted, and needed. Trust Edgar to be a maverick to the very end, find them both what they desperately needed. Jonathan shook his head and chuckled, hope dawning in him.
“You had best be on your way, if that’s the case, before I change my mind and shackle you to this desk.” Jonathan leaned on the desk in question, and picked up the skull, tossing and catching it in a hand, then lobbing it to Edgar, who barely managed to catch it. “Please remove your macabre trinkets from my office by the end of the week.”
Edgar smiled, his face lighting up with delight. “Don’t you want something to remember me by?” He teased.
A growing joy lit up a sun in his chest at the easy banter, and Jonathan quipped, “I would rather see what you might bring back for me.”
“I suppose I could bring myself to think of you, once in a while.” Edgar said with a mockingly coy tone. “But I would be occupied, gaining the experience to supplement my theoretical knowledge.”
“Get out.” Jonathan said, with a roll of his eyes and an exasperated smile, turning to the desk that was now, ironically, his. “And do try not to start any new plagues.” How odd that life came back in circles, that he was the Administrator of the very hospital that had rejected him years ago. How odd that Edgar who had defined his life by this hospital would now find a new one free of it.
Edgar laughed, "I make no promises, but for you, I'll at least try." The door shut between them, and Jonathan sat with a fond smile, listening to his progeny’s steps growing softer as he walked away.