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the woodsman

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"You look absolutely exhausted, my friend."

Jonathan looked up from his desk, eyebrows furrowed. Had he really been so focused on his research that he hadn’t heard Edgar sneak up on him? A quick glance showed that only a dim, barely there light shown from under the doorstep. It wasn’t the first time he had evaded sleep in favor of working through the day, but the habit was beginning to catch up to him. Edgar was right; for the first time in his newly immortal life, Jonathan felt exhausted.

“Edgar, you know I appreciate your company. Nonetheless, I would appreciate it even more if you knocked next time.”

“I did, actually,” Swansea chuckled. “I’ve been standing here for a couple of minutes now.”

Jonathan didn’t know how to respond to that, really. He ignored the older doctor for a second and sat up instead, stretching backward like a cat and wincing at the loud crack that sounded through the room as he reached upwards. His neck ached from leaning over his desk for hours on end, and black ink stained the bottom palm of his hand. A quick roll of his neck resulted in a few more accompanying cracks, and the look of concern etched across Dr. Swansea’s face only deepened.

“Now really, Jonathan, this is getting ridiculous. I understand that you’re trying to find a cure for Lady Ashbury, but you still need to rest. Even the dead need sleep. Have you moved from that desk at all today?”

Jonathan leaned back in the chair. “Of course I have,” he replied defensively. “A couple of hours ago I got up to water Lisa.”

“And?”

“...That’s it.”

“For the love of God, Jonathan!” Edgar cried out. “You’re pushing yourself too hard! You haven’t left this room in days. You look like death, and I can’t even begin to imagine how hungry you must be. It isn’t safe to keep going like this, my friend. You didn’t even give yourself time to recover after defeating the Morrigan, and that was almost three months ago.”

“Edgar, I assure you that both my mental and physical states are still in working order,” Jonathan tried to reassure his friend, standing up as he talked, but his legs were so unaccustomed to standing after having sat for nearly 10 hours straight that he was sent stumbling into the bookshelf instead.
“That’s it. I am forcing you to take time off. The epidemic was my fault, Jonathan, not Lady Ashbury’s. While curing her would certainly put everyone at ease, it by no means needs to be your top priority.”

“And what is my top priority exactly, Edgar?” Jonathan snapped. He was back in the chair, now, not willing to risk another stumble. Not while Edgar was still mother henning over him, at least. “ I promised Elisabeth that I would find a cure. These months of work haven’t been entirely useless, despite what you may think. I’m so close to a breakthrough. I know it.”

“I’m positive if Elisabeth knew just how hard you were pushing yourself she’d be mortified, my dear Jonathan. As your friend - and as your boss, quite frankly - I order you to take a break. The hospital is doing fine enough now that the epidemic is over that we won’t miss your presence for a night, and come morning you are going to sleep .”

Jonathan looked down at his notes. Though they had made perfect sense in his mind when writing him, what he saw written down on the paper was absolute gibberish. He couldn’t discern any meaning from it, and most of the words were just frantic scribbles that he couldn’t even read. “Maybe you’re right, Edgar. It would do me some good to go outside, I think.”

Edgar clapped one of his hands over Jonathan’s shoulder. “That’s the spirit, Jonathan! The night is still young. Go and visit some friends. I’m sure Elisabeth would enjoy your company, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see what Sean Hampton and Nurse Crane are up to, either. It’s been so long since you’ve checked in on any of them that I’m surprised they haven’t come to the hospital themselves.”

Jonathan stood once more, steadying himself this time by leaning against the desk. It wasn’t just exhaustion causing his weakness, apparently. He could only vaguely remember having fed a few days ago, which was admittedly not a good sign. Hopefully, there would be a couple of rogue Skals patrolling the streets. A few shaky steps brought him to the coat rack, and after wincing through the soreness in his shoulders he was able to shrug it on over his shirt. “I’ve been absent for too long, I suppose,” he mused. “Let’s see what the city of London has kept waiting for me.”

 

*~*~*

 

“We’re not doubtin’ your abilities, sir, honest. It’s just...we’re worried about you, is all.”

McCullum didn’t have it in him to be mad. Not while he was in the process of getting stitched up, at least. “I’m starting to get tired of these lectures, Douglas,” he sighed, wincing only slightly as the needle wove in and out of his arm.

Douglas, Priwen’s resident medic, set the tools in his hand down on the table. “With all due respect, sir, so am I. Not a week has gone by without you comin’ in to visit me. And they’re not minor scrapes you’re gettin’ either, sir. This is the third time this month I’ve had to stitch you up.”

“Call it an occupational hazard, if you will,” McCullum replied with a wry smile that quickly turned into a grimace as Douglas resumed the stitching.

“I’m being serious, sir.”

“So am I, Douglas. What we do is no joke.” McCullum’s voice began to take on an edgy tone that always appeared when he was talking about vampires. “The epidemic may be over, but our work is far from complete. Now that there are fewer Skals roaming the streets, we have the resources available to start going after bigger threats. I have half a mind to get a Great Hunt up and running again.”

Douglas set the needle down once more, but this time it was so that he could tie off the ends of the thread. The medic sat in contemplative silence for a moment. “It’s just not a habit you should keep, sir. Visits with me, that is,” he replied, reaching over to grab a roll of gauze off a nearby chair.

“What else am I supposed to do then? We’re vampire hunters, Captain, and as much as I hate to admit it they’re tough bastards.”

“You could always take a break from patrolling for a few nights,” Douglas suggested, quickly wrapping gauze around McCullum’s arm. “You said it yourself, sir. The epidemic is over. We don’t need every man out on the streets anymore.”

“How can I expect others to put their lives on the line if I don’t do the same?”

“You have put your life on the line, sir. Bloody hell, you’re the only one that’s ever gone toe to toe with that doctor leech and come out alive, and that was only because you had King Arthur’s blood with you. You’re only human, Chief. You gotta start actin’ like it.”

McCullum only hummed in reply, gazing blankly at the wall on the other side of his office. Priwen’s main headquarters may be larger than the outposts stationed around the city, but it still wasn’t large enough to warrant having a room solely dedicated to dealing with injuries. Douglas provided treatment wherever there was space available, whether that be in a storage closet or in the training room upstairs. It was due to this lack of space that he was one of the few people ever permitted inside of McCullum’s office - not that it was anything exciting, really. The leader of Priwen could hardly be called a sentimental man, and without a real job to speak of it wasn’t like he could afford hanging up pictures anyway. The only personal artifacts kept in his office were his weapons; a crossbow, a pair of pistols, and of course the huge broadsword leaning against the desk. Papers were scattered about everywhere, with the majority being recent field reports from his men. McCullum started to sort through them before his eyes widened in realization.

“Son of a bitch ,” he swore, standing up suddenly and grabbing his overcoat off of a nearby chair. “Don’t worry Douglas,” he reassured the other man, “I’m not going out patrolling. You just reminded me that there’s something very important I need to get back.” McCullum hastily gathered his weapons, hand thoughtfully resting on the hilt of the broadsword before he decided to leave it.

“Just promise me you’ll stay out of trouble, sir.” Douglas pleaded. “Those stitches will tear if you strain ‘em too much.”

“I can’t make any promises, Captain,” McCullum replied. “Knowing who I’m going to see, this night could turn out violent.”

 

*~*~*

 

Reid had to admit that it was good to feel London’s cool night air again after spending days locked up in his office. The night was unusually warm for February in London. Reid wouldn’t feel the chill either way (not feeling the cold was one of the more convenient aspects of his condition, although it did arouse suspicion) but even the few human travelers he saw were only wearing light jackets.

It was almost ethereal, walking around the city at night. Though treatment had been discovered for the influenza (an achievement Jonathan could not take credit for), and Skals were no longer reproducing at such alarming rates (an achievement Jonathan could take credit for), many citizens were still too paranoid to roam about the streets of London in the dead of night. Jonathan was almost entirely alone walking down the cobblestone alleys. The city had just begun its endeavor to get the streetlights back in working order, and in many of the districts only main roads had any sort of lighting. Jonathan didn’t mind the darkness, still being able to see in it thanks to his condition, but that along with the incessant London fog provided a rather haunting atmosphere.  An atmosphere that was completely shattered when a crossbow bolt zoomed past Jonathan’s head, digging deep into the wall beside him.

Reid wasn’t surprised and didn’t even need the aid of his vampiric senses to know the presence behind him. “I suppose I should have known we would run into each other sooner rather than later,” the vampire sighed, turning around to face the hunter behind him. “Suffice to say, I’m still not exactly thrilled to see you, McCullum.”

“Nor I you, leech.” McCullum sneered. “What are you doing prowling the streets? Hunting for your next meal, huh?”

It was too dark for McCullum to see Jonathan roll his eyes, but the hunter could hear the annoyance in the other man’s voice. “Is it illegal, now, to go out and enjoy a nightly stroll?”

“You and I both know that your kind rarely ever take innocent walks in the park, Reid,” McCullum growled. “Either way, I’m not here for a chat. You still have something that belongs to the Guard.”

Reid’s eyes suddenly widened in understanding. “Ah, yes. I had almost forgotten about King Arthur’s blood. You’re lucky; I only needed a drop of it to make my serum.”

“Hand it over, then.”

“I don’t have it on me right now. What, do you think I walk around London carrying a flask filled with the blood of King Arthur?”

“I’m not leaving until I have that flask bag, beast.” McCullum insisted. “The only reason I forgot about it was because the Guard’s been busy cleaning up all the Skals around the city. It’s a shame, really, that none of my patrols have come across you during their hunts.”

Reid began to walk down the street, ignoring the insult. “Luckily for you, I was on my way back to the hospital. We’re only a few streets away.”

McCullum followed the other man, and the two journeyed towards the Pembroke in an uneasy silence.

“I’ve noticed fewer patrols as of late. Have you called back the Great Hunt?” Reid asked, attempting to break through the tension.

“Aye. I told you I would,” McCullum muttered, “But it wasn’t because you asked me to. We were losing too many men. Priwen needs to recoup before the Hunt is started again.”

Reid only hummed in response. Moments later they turned onto one of the side streets in the back of the hospital, and the vampire made his way towards a wooden outcropping that stood out from the building. “Stay right here,” the vampire commanded, disappearing in a puff of black smoke only to reappear on the balcony a moment later.

McCullum stayed below and tapped his foot along the sidewalk, waiting impatiently for Reid to return from inside. Another sudden whoosh and puff of smoke announced the doctor’s presence.

Reid tossed the object in his hand towards McCullum. “There you go, then.”

McCullum made the mistake of catching the flask with his bad arm. He winced, and a look of concern was suddenly plastered on the doctor’s face.

“Are you injured, McCullum?” Reid asked earnestly. Or at least, what sounded earnest. McCullum knew all too well the games vampires played, and he wasn’t one to be tricked.

“I’m fine, leech. It’s none of your concern.” He began to move away, but Reid only followed.

“Maybe I should have a look at your injuries,” Reid insisted, “Just in case.”

“I have my own men, Reid.”

“That’s fine and all, but I doubt your men are able to spot the signs of potential Skal infection as well as I can.”

“I said I’m fine, blood drinker.” McCullum snapped. He looked upwards towards the sky, which had turned from an inky black to a smoggy gray. “Looks like the sun’s rising, doctor. You’d best head on inside. It’d be an absolute tragedy if you were to burn to a crisp.” Reid looked up at the sky as well, swearing under his breath as blooms of smoke began to rise from his coat. He hadn’t even noticed the sun beginning to rise. He shifted back up towards the balcony, careful to stay in the shadows of the building.

“Until we meet again then, hunter,” Reid called out. McCullum ignored him and quickly made his way back towards Priwen headquarters. The patrols were just returning from the night’s hunt, and from their excited conversations, it seemed to be a successful one. They could report to him come nightfall. As of right now, he was too exhausted to deal with field reports.

Exhaustion had found its way back into Reid’s state of being as well. He wasted no time taking off his jacket and shoes before changing into a soft cotton nightshirt. His research lay on the table on the other side of the room, calling to him, still left largely unfinished. That can wait for tonight , he thought sleepily.

The sun rose in a sea of red, bleeding over the city of London, and both men drifted off to sleep.