The sound of the cold early spring rain showering down over the city of Baltimore, rang throughout the shared house of two world renowned surgeons. Everything else was silent - the sun was still hours away from rising, and the entire city layed resting under a cold, dark sky full of stars.
Markus awoke abruptly, a migraine dominating the back of his head, a burning sensation flared up behind his eyes as he was overcome with a wave of nausea. He sprung up from his bed subconsciously, throwing his half of the duvet onto his sleeping partner. He wiped beads of sweat from his forehead, trying to distract himself from his now pounding heart.
He slowly got up, not before looking over to see if his partner was still asleep, staggering out of the room. The surgeon couldn’t remember how many nights he had stolen from him like this, his already scarce amount of sleep disrupted by nightmares of the incident which sent his whole system into panic.
When it first started, he would go into their ensuite and wash his face with cold tap water, but the sound of continual running water forced memories of the storm drain at Kidman’s - locked up and left to drown - to reemerge, sending shockwaves throughout his body, subconsciously attempting anything to remove himself from what had reminded him of the whole ordeal.
He slowly staggered out the bedroom, down a hallway that appeared to sway in sync with the throbbing in his head. Despite his blurred vision he managed to find his way to their couch, before collapsing onto it. Nausea tore up his insides, overwhelming him to the point that he wished for his body to allow him to throw up already.
Markus sat up and faced ahead, staring off towards the center of the room. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in. He casted his thoughts back at med school, sitting at lecture after lecture on stress and coping mechanisms, and the one thing that was regurgitated with every public speaker was the power of meditation - and so anytime he felt an episode come on, he’d attempt to use the healing touch. He found that the focus required to trigger it alongside the world around him slowing down for those thirty lengthy seconds helped him get a hold of himself once more.
He closed his eyes, attempting to concentrate on the image of a star, following the lines, imaging as if he were drawing it onto a piece of paper, from one point to the next, over and over, without breaking a line. Markus kept repeating the process in his head, with long, deep breaths, until he felt the air around him shift, and he opened his eyes to realise it had worked, the world was moving at quarter speed.
A deep sign filled the room, Markus managed to put his mind slightly at ease, at least temporarily. He gazed at the world around him, it felt as though the world had come to a halt. He was free to live in his own perfect universe. A paradise where he could clear away any memories of Kidman or his guilt for Stigma. Where he, Valerie and Elena could live out the remainder of their lives, oblivious to all the suffering they had experienced last year, instead saying the lives of countless people like they had before.
But that wasn’t possible, Markus knew he just needed to learn to live with that.
He sat still, staring off around the empty room. The burning feeling in his eyes faded somewhat, the pounding of his heart dwindled slightly and his breaths started to make their way back into his lungs. The feeling of time almost at a pause always seemed to put this body at some peace.
The darkness around him felt serene, the silence made his ears relax, settling the migraine a small amount. He sighed again, enjoying the stillness of the night, the softness of the carpet under his feet, the cushioned couch beneath him, anything to remind him where he really was, not trapped in the basement of Kidman’s - where the three of them were essentially tortured - but instead in the safety of his home home, far away from the horror of his nightmare.
He then remembers he has a job, one where he saves countless people everyday from horrific ailments. He’s currently a place where he is both needed and admired. Without him, hundreds of people would suffer, some probably would’ve died. Thanks to his surgical skills and his healing touch, he's irreplaceable. The world needs him to be around, and the knowledge that he is so vital gave him some peace within his heart.
“Hey Markus?” Valerie’s soothing voice cut through the depressing silence. Markus awoke to his surroundings, his mind finding its way back to reality, and shifted to look at his partner. He mustn't have noticed his healing touch had ended a while ago. “Are you okay?”
Markus swallowed deeply. No, he wasn't okay. He assumed it would've been obvious to her through his behaviour, but decided to attempt to play it off. “I'm fine Val.” he barely managed to cough out, his voice dry and sobering.
“Bullshit Markus.” A reassuring smile crawled onto her face, he knew it was pointless to lie to her, that knew his attempts at suppressing his problems wouldn’t slip by her. “You know you can be open with me right?” sincerity rang throughout her voice.
He groaned, dragging his eyes away from her. He didn’t want to depress her with his issues, wishing instead that she could live in blissful ignorance of his misery - but he knew there was no way she would turn a blind eye to it.
“I just have trouble sleeping.” he barely managed to stammer out. “That’s all-”
Valerie sat still, pondering his response. “How many hours this week?”
“Dunno…” his tone was hardly above a whisper. “5 maybe? 6 if I'm lucky.”
She sighed. “And why is that?”
“I don't know-”
“Markus.” her tone was stern, the hairs on the back of his neck rising from it. He glanced over to her to see the smile from earlier had been replaced with a grimacing stare. “Why can’t you sleep?”
Markus took a deep breath in, wanting to avert his eyes away from her, but something inside of him rejected the action, and forced him to stare back into her overcast eyes. “I keep reliving those moments back at Kidman’s.”
Valerie shuffled over until she was alongside him on the couch. She reached up her arm and placed it on his furthest shoulder, messaging it slowly. “It’s okay, we’re all safe now. Kidman is dead and his affiliates are in prison.” His heart bounced for a second, Valerie's heartfelt words and soothing hands, gave him some peace, reminding him that they were safe, their freedom was no longer under threat with Kidman six feet under and the rest of Parnassus being incarcerated.
But it didn’t bar the fact that he relieved those moments of torture in his dreams some nights.
“It’s just sometimes I feel like I'm back there, and it’s all my fault.” he spoke with heaviness in his voice. “And that hundreds of people were hurt, some had even died and it’s all my f-”
“No-” Her harsh tone cut Markus’ ramblings on the spot. “None of it was your fault.”
The two sat in the sobering quietness, Valerie’s arm wrapped around the trembling Markus, his lungs drowning in fire, every breath sent agony through his body, setting his nervous ablaze. Tears pricked at his eyes, sending a biting pain across his temples. His stomach convulsed as his lips started to quiver before he attempted to speak up again.
“I created Stigma”
“But you didn’t create it on purpose, we all know it was just an accident.”
“Doesn’t matter,” his words barely audible, “If it wasn’t for that one accident none of this would've happened”
There was silence between them. Markus could hear his heart beating heavily, the speedy, rhythmic beat blaring in his ears, before he chose to speak up again. “Had I just not been such an idiot, Stigma would’ve never happened. The world wouldn’t have lived through this disaster if it wasn't for my mistakes. I ruined everything.”
Valerie once again shifted, moving her body up against him, before tightly embracing him. “Don’t you ever say that Markus.” Her voice was wavering, like she was on the edge of tears. “You haven’t ruined everything, and had you not been there the professor would've still made the same mistake, or anyone else really. It wasn't your fault and you shouldn't feel guilty over it.”
Markus sighed, her words appeared to have made a dent in his depression, but she still had a lot of work left to get through.
“Tell me-” her darkened eyes shifted to stare into his. “Who was it that dealt with Cardia, and in turn destroyed Stigma?”
A grunt was all Markus responded with. “Markus.” Her tone was stern, so much so it had surprised him, he hadn’t heard her speak like that since Vaschukti. “Who was the one to get rid of Stigma?”
He sighed, knowing how persistent she is that there was no way he could get away from this. “We did…” His words were soft, barely audibly against the rhythmic beat of the rain outside.
“You did Markus” the tone of her voice was harsh, cutting away at the silence Markus attempted to keep. “You were the one who got rid of Cardia, Elena and I only assisted.”
“Still,” his tone sounded slightly more cheerful, Valerie’s attempts to help seemed to have worked to some extent. “I couldn’t have done it without the two of you.”
Valerie chuckled. “And we couldn’t have done it without you. Elena and I would’ve never been able to achieve that on our own, you can't deny you were a huge help in this.”
“And even without Stigma, you have still saved a countless amount of lives. You’re an amazing surgeon and I’m always grateful for you for teaching me everything you knew back in Alaska and helping me for realising my ability to use the healing touch.”
A small smile made its way onto Markus’ face, sending waves of happiness through Valerie’s body, her nerves burning with the feeling of bliss. Knowing she helped him leave that feeling of desolation gave her hope that there was something that could be done for him.
“I guess so-” The first words to come out of his mouth that night that were clear, not muddled with despondency or drowning in misery. “Thanks Val.”
She smiled at him, beaming with optimism, a look of Valerie’s that Markus grew to cherish. “So how about we go back to bed?” she questioned, softly grasping his hand before getting up.
She took a few steps towards the bedroom, before noticing a tugging feeling, turning around to note Markus remained on the couch, not having even flinched.
“Do you not want to go back?” she asked softly, puzzled by his actions, or lack thereof.
“No, it’s just-” his gaze fell to the carpet beneath his feet, “I’m just scared of the-” his low voice slowly trailed off.
“The nightmares?” Valerie attempted to finish, which was followed by a nod from Markus to confirm she was correct. She pondered his statement,realising there was more to this then what she first suspected, a vague suspicion on what the underlying issue could be.
“Markus.” She spoke softly, Markus raising his eyes in response. She sighed, attempting to word her thoughts in an inoffensive way. “I think we need to get you help, this isn’t normal.”
He sighed at her, “yeah I know.” His gaze breaking contact from her, roaming around the room in an attempt to find anything else to settle on.
“I just want you to be happy y’know” the smile on her face conflicted with the sadness in her eyes. “I won’t force you to do this, but I do want you to get help.”
Markus exhaled audibly, “nothing would be open at this hour”
“There’s always the hospital.” she explained, his wide eyes shooting at her in response.
“We’re not going to work-” he pleaded, his breathing getting caught in his throat at the thought.
“No-” Valerie cut him off. “Caduceus isn’t equipped to deal with that kind of stuff, you know that.” Markus’ shoulders fell in relief, “Even if it did, I won’t put you through that. I’ll take you to a different one.”
She stepped over to the coat hanger, which was stuffed into a dimly lit corner of the room, removing one of the coats off it and slipping it on herself, before spinning around to look at Markus, “Do you want to go?” her voice ringing with sincerity.
He groaned, slowly getting up from the couch, before wandering over to the same area of the room as her, also grabbing an overcoat to slip on. “Let’s go then.”
She smiled at his response, bouncing over to the shelf that housed the car keys, waving at him to come follow her as she opened the front door and stepped out.
As he moved past her, she got behind him and patted him on the back. “I'm proud of you for doing this.” Her radiant smile lit up the street ahead.
Markus awkwardly smiled in response. They stepped down their stairs from the front door and onto their lawn, Valerie mumbling out “even the best doctors need extra support somethings, and I know how stubborn you can be-” as they walked over to their car.
“Yeah, I know.” He insisted, rolling his eyes in retort.
“Hey-” Valerie stopped dead in her tracks, grabbing Markus’ hands, and spinning around to directly face him. “I love you Markus.”
“I love you too Val”