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Mirror, Mirror, on the wall...

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They return to London two weeks after the death of William Marshall.

Elisabeth had been reluctant, still mired in her grief and guilt as she was. Killing her father had broken something inside her - a resolve that had always been there that Jonathan can no longer see. She is so many centuries older than him and now he can truly see it in her, that pain and heartbreak. The weight of mankind resting on an immortal too compassionate not to care.

But she agrees. She burns everything but some precious paintings and tomes, history being eaten up in flames in just a matter of minutes when it’s all said and done. William Marshall’s body disintegrates into ash along with everything else she held dear, and when the deed is done, she is left with only a single box of belongings.

One box to describe all that she had been. One box to illuminate the history of William Marshall and his miraculous tales of sacrifice and torture. If he hadn’t been there to see him first hand, Jonathan isn’t sure he’d believe any written word Elisabeth had chosen to keep that day. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, anyway.

London is much the same as they had left it weeks ago, still cold and crowded and sick and dreary. The epidemic has ebbed - hospitals are less crowded and the streets are more lively with chattering couples walking to see films and families returning from dinner and school and work. Priwen patrols seemed to have disappeared, and in their place are police checkpoints and signs pointing to dispensaries for prescription pickups and follow-up appointments for those that had contracted the flu during the epidemic.

All in all, London seems… normal . Albeit a little dirty and tense from all those weeks spent terrified of what could be lurking in the night, but healing and lively all the same. Coming together as a community, looking after each other as they should in the absence of authority that should have done it for them.

He’s proud of them. He really is.

The areas surrounding Pembroke are less lively as they approach the hospital, the evening groups thinning to just the one or two passerby. Elisabeth grows visibly uneasy as the bridge from the West End connecting to Whitechapel becomes visible, and Jonathan, tuned to her fluttering heartbeat by now, turns to acknowledge her as he mouth twists into a frown when she speaks.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Jonathan grimaces. No, this isn’t a good idea , he wants to say. This is awful. We were safer back in your crypt with the body of your dead father on the floor. At least there, Priwen isn’t swarming around London like an especially nasty plague hellbent on eradicating all that they are. All that they have tried to fight against to be better than what they’re perceived to be.

He clears his throat, trying to hide his expression in the collar of his coat. “It’s the only idea that doesn’t include starving in the wilds of Scotland,” Jonathan says. A truth, sure. But not a straight answer.

Elisabeth, to her credit, doesn’t laugh at him. She does, however, smirk and roll her eyes, all traces of her previous reservations gone. “If I remember correctly, you still haven’t eaten from anyone that was alive or healthy. You actually used it as an argument to get me to come here.”

“It worked, right?”

“Yes,” Elisabeth laughs. The sound is like bells in the quiet evening, and despite the eerily empty streets, it makes Jonathan smile.

Despite her hesitations, Elisabeth follows him to Pembroke. They encounter very little human life, and the Ekons they find along the way flee as soon as they’re seen. Not in any one direction, but they seem to avoid crossing the river to Pembroke and Whitechapel, as if they’re hesitant to escape the cleaner, quieter West End. Also not overly unusual, but the citizens in West End aren’t too easy to hunt, so there could be only one reason they’re all hanging around prey too smart to bait them.

Jonathan avoids thinking about it. He’s done and over with the Ascalon club now, no matter what mischievous activities they may be up to here.

The red walls of the Pembroke peek over the outlying buildings around it as they cross the bridge from the West End, an imposing building in profile against the haze of light pollution against the low clouds clinging to London. Old and Gothic it may be, but Jonathan calls it home, and as they venture closer, the quicker his undead heart flutters in his chest.

Pembroke. Home . Edgar Swansea, Pippa Hawkins, Gwyneth Branagan, and so many more - his colleagues and his friends. People who protected him, and whom he protected - people who worked so hard to support not only himself, but each other and the community during the epidemic. Walking under that iron wrought archway sets his skin alight, and seeing the clean plaza, empty of tents and coughing patients, sets his heart racing even faster.

The doors of the hospital are, for once, closed, but not locked. Jonathan opens them and allows Elisabeth in before him, the both of them sniffing the air for blood and pathogens like cautious animals entering a new home for the first time. But instead of the stink of death that usually accompanies the foyer of the Pembroke, the smell of cleaning alcohol and antiseptic smacks Jonathan in the face instead, along with the pleasant, sharp tang of women’s perfume.

Pippa stands behind the admittance counter, and when the door closes behind Jonathan, she snaps her attention to them with wide eyes. Her face brightens with a smile, and before either Elisabeth or Jonathan can get a word out, she’s across the room and hugging them both with more enthusiasm than Jonathan has ever seen from her.

“You’re alive!” she exclaims. Jonathan wants to laugh - they’re not - but Pippa continues before that dark thought can settle any deeper. “Doctor Swansea has been so worried for you both - you disappeared after that night he came shambling in looking like the losing end of a betting ring. But you both…”

… Look just the same hangs in the air between them. But Pippa doesn’t know the half of the weight those words carry, and moves on to looking them over like any good nurse of Pembroke does. She smooths Jonathan’s lapels and dotes over Elisabeth’s pale complexion before wringing her hands in front of her, looking more worried than she had during the epidemic.

Jonathan has missed that worry. Being out there in the rolling Scottish hills has instilled in him an even stronger need to protect these people, this ragtag group of earnest, dedicated people that took him in when he had nowhere else to go.

He reaches out to her and brings her back against him, appreciating the warmth that bleeds from her body to his and the affection that comes along with it. They weren’t on this physical level before - were barely friends at all before his leave - but seeing her still here, worried for them, when before all she wanted to do was flee means so much more than his own return to this old building he loves.

“We are back,” he says quietly. She pats his chest and steps away, turning her face to possibly hide tears. He pretends not to see, turning his gaze upward, searching for a familiar heartbeat in the office above. He finds it, along with many familiar and unfamiliar ones. It gives Pippa time to recover, and when she turns back to them, her eyes only a little wet and red-rimmed, he knows he is home.

“Let me show you to your rooms,” Pippa says after a moment, all poise and grace now. Jonathan gestures for her to lead the way, and with Elisabeth on his heels, Pippa leads them up the stairs and to his office at the end of the West wing. Edgar is asleep, his heartbeat slow and even behind his office door, so Jonathan does not ask after him when Pippa opens the door to his own rooms when they arrive.

“We left it how it was,” Pippa says as they step inside. She’s right - except for the balcony Jonathan used to enter the hospital discreetly. It’s boarded up with a proper door now, and all the windows have proper blackout curtains pulled closed despite the late hour. Courtesy of Edgar no doubt, and when Jonathan runs his hands across the nearby bookshelf separating the office half of his rooms from his testing tables, his hand comes back clean.

“Thank you,” he says sincerely. This hospital, this room - “Just… thank you.”

Pippa dips her chin, hiding a smile. “Of course, Doctor. We knew… We knew you’d be back.”

She leaves them then, ducking away as if to hide from her own admission. The door clicks shut behind her, leaving Elisabeth to circle around Jonathan with the biggest grin on her face he’s ever seen.

“What?” he asks.

She shrugs. She spins around, taking in his office for the first time. The cluttered desks and bookshelves filled with medical journals and Latin texts, the ordered chaos of his medical tools and Lisa tucked away in the corner, her leaves broad and green next to a small window left open for her. Jonathan follows Elisabeth as she circles back around to his meager wardrobe shoved against the wall at the foot of his bed. She smiles, half a millennia of sadness weighing in those eyes as she looks at him with a fondness only a mentor could feel.

“I want to thank you,” she says. Jonathan raises a brow, a question on his lips that she stops him from asking with one delicate hand raised. “Not just for me. But… for these people. What they do, they represent. You told me back in Scotland that you haven’t taken a single life for your hunger, and now I see that that hard work has truly paid off in the end.”

Jonathan can’t stop the scoff that escapes him. “I… I didn’t do it for me, Elisabeth. I didn’t do it for what they could give me. I did it because they’re people , like you and I. Just… more frail.”

She smiles wider, this time with something like regret in her eyes. “I knew you would never be a good Ekon. Always turning your back on the danger to lift the hand of the poor, you poor mortal heart, you.”

“Guilty as charged, my Lady.”

She laughs and shakes her head. “Alright, Doctor Reid. I should take my leave and let you rest. I’m sure Nurse Hawkins has already roused the staff to your presence.”

He can hear their heartbeats gathering downstairs, familiar tempos he never knew he would miss. And while he wants to greet them all in the warm fashion they deserve, he knows Elisabeth is fleeing him out of guilt.

He approaches her cautiously, his hands at his sides and his voice low. “You don’t have to carry it around, you know. That guilt of your bloodline.”

She shrugs. Nonchalance - the only way she can protect herself from it when faced so plainly with it. “I simply need to see my daughter, Jonathan. And I need time to grieve.”

That, he understands. Killing one’s Maker - one’s father - even after everything, could not have been easy. Is not easy. She’s had so long to mourn those mistakes and still it wounds her so much she must flee. He does not blame her even as he hurts for her, and gestures to the door leading out to his balcony.  

“Tell Charlotte I said hello,” he says in farewell. She smiles again, this time in gratitude, and does not waste time in taking her leave. As the door shuts behind her, Pippa and the other Pembroke staff emerge from behind Jonathan, their voices loud in enthusiastic greeting. He receives them with fond hugs and firm handshakes, taking in their healthier complexions and relieved faces. Ackroyd and Tippets are good surgeons, talented surgeons, but Jonathan sees their need for him, and thanks them for keeping his position open for him while he was away and their hard work in keeping Pembroke afloat during London’s recovery. They truly are what this city sorely needed, and when they retreat to rest before the day shifts begin, he wonders how he would have ended the epidemic without them.

“Not very well,” he says aloud, this time to no one but Lisa in the room. Sunrise starts to peek through her window, so he shuffles towards his bed and kicks off his shoes once he collapses on it. In all the ruckus of returning to this place, his hunger hasn’t bothered him once, not even when he was surrounded by the beating hearts of his friends. Now, though, it surfaces, a gnawing at the edge of his existence that will not let him sleep so easily.

He sates it by biting his own lip, the taste of blood on his tongue enough to curb the beast inside him from seeking a more fulfilling meal. Even though he does not need to kill to eat, he does not want to traumatize a life just to keep his own - so this little part of himself will have to do. It makes it easier to sleep, anyway, and when the sun starts to truly rise and the noise of the city starts to close in around him, his body finally succumbs to his exhaustion. He dreams of nothing, even as the hunger inside him lies unsatisfied just under his skin.

 

***

 

With the end of the epidemic comes the end of the Great Hunt.

Pulling back on Ekon and Skal hunts is only partly because of the epidemic, however. The police start to flood the boroughs as the sickness infecting them starts to disappear, making it harder for Priwen to operate freely in the streets. His men are restless being cooped up in safe houses during the day, but the cover of night is the only way they can manage to operate without being stopped. Breaking and entering to eradicate Skals and rogue Ekon isn’t exactly high on the priority list of the men in blue - or even remotely on their radar, anyway.

So with begrudging patience, he shifts all work to late night rounds through the boroughs. And while his men fucking hate it the first couple weeks, he knows somewhere down the line it’ll all pay off.

Tonight is the night it does.

“Report’s in from the last rounds,” a voice says from beyond his office doors.

Geoffrey scrubs his eyes and sits up straighter behind his desk. The heavy ache behind them doesn’t go away, but at this point, he doesn’t really expect it to.

“Come in, Arthur,” he calls.

The doors open and Arthur comes in, raindrops sticking to the wool of his coat and his dark hair slicked back out of his weathered face. He carries in his hand a sheaf of papers, and when Geoffrey takes them from him, they’re still warm from the typewriter.

“Anything out of the ordinary?” Geoffrey asks as he flips through them. From the sparse notes taken under each patrol name, he doesn’t expect an affirmative answer as Arthur sits in one of the chairs in front of his desk.

“Actually, yeah,” he says. Geoffrey looks up from the papers in his hands, a brow raised. Arthur just shrugs and grins. “That Ekon from a couple weeks ago. The doctor. He was spotted in the West End going towards Pembroke earlier this evening.”

Geoffrey sits up straighter. Their - well, his, mostly - interest in Jonathan Reid extends farther than most Ekon in the area, but to see him so quickly after he disappeared two weeks ago? Where had he been, what had he done, and why?

“Knew that’d get your attention,” Arthur laughs.

“He’s only the most powerful young leech around here,” Geoffrey grits out. He slaps the papers down on his desk, careful of the piles of other reports, and rubs his face. “Was Lady Ashbury with him?”

“Yep. Couldn’t get close enough to hear what they was talkin’ about, though.”

Geoffrey waves his hand. The night is nearly over, and rushing Priwen through the streets to confirm sightings isn’t a great idea, anyway. He trusts Arthur’s reports even if he itches to see the man - creature? - that spared him only a short time ago.

He resists that urge and forces himself to relax. If Jonathan has returned, he’s staying for good. He wouldn’t leave Pembroke a second time, that, at least, Geoffrey is sure of.

Arthur’s smirk is still amused when he clears his throat to get Geoffrey’s attention. Geoffrey glares, and Arthur raises his hands in mock surrender.

“Orders, then?” he asks instead of whatever smart remark Geoffrey knows was on those lips. Arthur’s his best captain, one of the oldest members of the Guard since before Geoffrey assumed control of it. He’s been hunting Skals and Ekon since before Geoffrey knew how to wield his own crossbow.

Still, the knowing look on his old face is enough to annoy him. Geoffrey stands and motions for Arthur to as well, and when they’re both at the doors to his office, he looks at Arthur with as much conviction as he can muster.

“Leave him alone for now,” he says. Arthur’s expression doesn’t change much - only a minute uptick in his grin that Geoffrey hates. “He saved my life when he shouldn’t have, Arthur. Tell the men to leave him alone.”

“You can’t keep an acquaintance with one of them,” Arthur says, suddenly serious.

Geoffrey can’t stop the scowl from forming on his face. “Just tell them to leave Pembroke - and their resident Ekon - alone. They haven’t hurt anyone, and the last I checked, the epidemic ended the moment they left.”

Arthur raises a brow.

“Final warning,” Geoffrey growls.

Arthur mumbles and shuffles out the door and down the stairs to relay his orders. Geoffrey shuts the door behind him, cutting off the noise of his men as they get angry. They can be that way if they want, but they don’t have to live with the nugget of guilt burning in Geoffrey’s gut at the reality that his life had been spared by a goddamn vampire .

Because he does feel like he owes Doctor Reid. Jonathan had beaten him black and blue, and was, by every right, willing and able to kill him despite being hesitant to do so before. They were enemies now, no matter what Jonathan had been before - their blood demands the other be bled. But that evening…

He collapses in his chair and wonders just where the hell he went wrong. He swore to Reid that the next time they met, it may not be so friendly, but after seeing London heal as a direct response to whatever Reid had done, he doesn’t have it in him to send a party after him. Jonathan hasn’t hurt anyone, and as far as he knows, he hasn’t eaten from anyone, either.

It’s hard to separate what he knows about Ekon and what he’s starting to see in Jonathan. A leech he may be, but respect deserves respect, and hunting down the one Ekon that managed to end the epidemic doesn’t seem like good luck in Geoffrey’s corner no matter how he spins it.

Morning comes, and with it comes some downtime. Skals can tolerate the sun, but the Ekon can’t, so Geoffrey assigns skeleton patrols through the docks and West End to mop up any Skal brave enough to wander into the daylight. He manages the chaos in his office for a few hours before retiring, counting on his captains to run the Guard for him during the day. They don’t let him down, and when evening comes, he wakes to reports of fewer Skals in the docks and a more comprehensive list of known Ekon on the London area.

And Arthur standing at his office door holding a report detailing a sighting of Jonathan in the West End area ear the Ascalon club. Which has gone eerily quiet after the end of the epidemic, their building empty and their senior members nowhere to be seen.

“Fuck,” he groans as he reads it.

“Gonna check it out?” Arthur asks with a note of hope in his voice.

Geoffrey rubs his face and scrubs his fingers through his hair. He’s doing that a lot, lately. “Yes. Let me eat and change clothes and I’ll be downstairs to lead a small team over.”

Arthur nods and leaves. When the sounds of heavy footsteps down the stairs cease, Geoffrey washes his face in the basin in his room and changes into warmer clothes to battle the drizzle drenching London just outside. He meets Arthur and one other Priwen captain, Rachel, in the hallway downstairs, just before the door leading outside.

Rachel is a handsome older woman with a young face and plaited dark hair thrown over one shoulder. She joined the Guard to avenge her lover’s death at the hands of an Ekon, though she hasn’t been with them nearly as long as Geoffrey or Arthur. But her gun arm is useful, and the fire in her eyes from her dearly departed Aveline is more passion than any five men of Priwen combined.

In other words, useful in a fight should Jonathan choose to exercise his left hook on Geoffrey’s face.

“We getting ourselves a powerful leech?” she quips as Geoffrey sidles up next to her.

“No,” he says flatly. Her peppy expression doesn’t fall - instead, she adjusts her equipment with a smile, glancing over knowingly to Arthur. Geoffrey ignores them both, shoving open the door to the safe house and stepping out into the crisp, wet air of the London evening.

Arthur and Rachel shut up on the walk to Pembroke, more out of necessity than regard for his patience. Their weapons are hidden, but idle chatter between them would alert anyone should they stray to sensitive topics. Experience keeps them quiet, and while on their walk, they encounter no signs of Skals or Ekon on the thoroughfares out of the borough.

While the West End is quiet in the early evening, Pembroke is a bit more lively. The tents are absent from the plaza, yet Milton, the ambulance driver, still loiters around next to his truck. Milton pays them no mind as they cross the threshold, and neither do any of the nurses when they enter the clean lobby.

“Stay close,” Geoffrey orders. Arthur and Rachel say nothing. He leads them up the stairs, following a familiar path up to Swansea’s office like he did all those weeks ago, searching for a familiar form among the doctors and nurses doing their nightly rounds.

A niggling thought in the back of his mind tells him he shouldn’t be here bothering these people, but an even deeper part of himself is curious as to what brought Jonathan back here after being gone for so long. He’d escaped Priwen only to come back and try his luck? Even with the Great Hunt called off, Jonathan is a known Ekon, a moving target that every Priwen soldier knows to look for. Returning to the place that is more likely to get himself killed doesn’t seem like the brightest idea even for the dimmest Skal out there.

But Jonathan is no ordinary Ekon, and when Geoffrey’s boots hit the second floor, he couldn’t have been proven more right.

The double doors leading to the emergency surgery slam open, startling Geoffrey and his Guard back against the wall to stay out of immediate sight. Jonathan and several nurses stumble out of the room, looking worse for wear and covered in blood. Another team of nurses roll out a gurney with a sleeping man on it, seemingly ignoring Geoffrey and his men as they wheel their patient past them and into a clean room on the other side of the wing, their quiet chatter floating behind them as they relay information between each other.

“That was incredibly close,” a nurse near Jonathan says, catching Geoffrey’s attention again. She’s an older woman with dark curly hair poking out of her bonnet and round glasses sitting on her nose. Jonathan looks visibly ill as he nods to her, the front of his scrubs splattered red and his gloved hands slick with blood. Even from a distance away, Geoffrey can see he is struggling to keep his mouth shut.

The nurse doesn’t seem offended. “I will clean up the theatre, Doctor Reid, while you go get changed. I’m sure Mister Hawkins would enjoy seeing you at his bedside when he wakes from the anesthetics.”

Jonathan manages a tight smile and nod. “Thank you, Nurse Branagan. Keep an eye on him should he need my care sooner than I can return.”

The nurse nods her head and returns to the surgery theatre, the doors closing behind her as she begins to clean up. Jonathan works his jaw before swiftly turning on his heel and retreating to a room at the end of the hall, wrenching the door open so hard it creaks and leaving it open as if in invitation for Geoffrey and his men to follow.

Against his better judgement, Geoffrey follows. Rachel and Arthur follow reluctantly, quietly passing by the nurses cleaning the surgery theatre and down the hall towards the open door Jonathan disappeared into. The sound of running water reaches them just before Geoffrey steps inside, and when he crosses the threshold of the doorway, he’s met with a rather normal-looking office with an attached lab off to the left side, where Jonathan is scrubbing his hands and face clean in a steel sink against the wall.

“You don’t have to sneak around,” Reid says without turning around. His voice startles Arthur, but only makes Rachel snort. Geoffrey closes the door behind them and steps further into the room, not bothering to hide his footsteps any longer.

“We got reports that you returned,” he says in answer. “Pretty confident of you, to return so soon after the epidemic has ended.”

Jonathan sighs and shuts off the water. He shrugs out of his bloodstained white coat and tosses it into a wicker hamper before tugging a towel off a hook next to the sink and drying his hands and beard. He raises a disbelieving brow at Geoffrey as the hunter circles the bookcase, holding his hands out to his sides as if to say See? I’m clean, I didn’t eat a drop of that man’s blood like you think I did.

And the thing is, Geoffrey believes it. Unlike other Ekon that sate their thirst whenever they please, Jonathan’s eyes are clear, his skin pale and his clothes clean. He looks starved, like any leech would when going without, and even if he hadn't Geoffrey doesn’t know if he would really care anymore.

Well, he would. But after experiencing mercy at the hands of a creature so much stronger than him even while starved, he doesn’t know if it would matter if Jonathan had eaten. He’s still a doctor, and despite his opportunity to run, he returned to a place where he and his kind is actively hunted and eradicated just for existing when they didn’t ask to be.

Jonathan doesn’t seem to care there’s three seasoned Priwen vampire hunters standing in his office as he replaces his coat with a clean one and moves to leave. He holds the door open for them, looking at them expectantly, and when Geoffrey makes no move to leave, he sighs.

“I returned because this is where I want to be,” he says. “Lady Ashbury is still a patron, but she will be spending less time here so as not to draw attention to myself. Swansea needs experienced doctors, and my… condition allows me insight into patient’s well being that will save lives. I cannot, in good conscious, let these people die because you think I’m going to eat all of them when they die.”

Rachel’s nose wrinkles and Arthur shifts uneasily from foot to foot. But Geoffrey is not afraid, and as he approaches Jonathan to leave, he looks the Ekon in the eye, searching for sincerity.

And it’s plain there in his face, plain as the day he can no longer exist in. Jonathan does not shy away, staring back at him with clear, eerily white eyes, his jaw set and his hand still holding open the door. Geoffrey nods once, accepting his answer, and steps out, motioning for Rachel and Arthur to follow him.

“I believe you,” Geoffrey says. Rachel and Arthur reluctantly step out into the hallway, hesitating a few feet away as if unable to leave their leader in such close proximity to Jonathan despite their apparent truce. “But if I catch you - or hear of you - abusing your stay here in Pembroke, I will find you. There is nowhere you can run that I can’t follow you to.”

Jonathan nods with a smirk on his lips. “Of course, dear hunter. I expect nothing less.”

Geoffrey snorts. “And remind me to ask you about the epidemic. I’m sure it’s a fascinating story, what you did with that antidote. If it’s real.”

“I’ll be sure to give you every sordid detail when we meet next,” Jonathan says, his tone and expression amused.

Geoffrey nods and leads Rachel and Arthur out of Pembroke, careful not to make eye contact with any of the nurses they pass on the way. His Guard are careful to keep their mouths shut until they approach the safehouse, where they both round on him with fury on their faces and anger on their lips.

“You just let him go?” Rachel hisses. Geoffrey stops, looking at her with a carefully blank expression that only makes her angrier. “You realize he could have easily killed any of those people in that hospital? That he could be doing that now?”

Arthur seems to share her sentiments, but he says nothing. Geoffrey shrugs at them both.

“And yet he hasn’t,” he says easily. “He’s had plenty of opportunity during the epidemic, believe me. He has plenty of opportunity now. If he changes, we will know, but for now, Doctor Jonathan Reid is not a priority target here in London.”

Rachel and Arthur watch with disbelief on their faces as Geoffrey brushes past them and retreats into the safehouse without another word. He may be brushing off real concerns, but he is starting to believe there’s more to Jonathan than just Ekon. The man is only a month old, now, and where month-old Ekon would have left a body count by now, Jonathan has not. There are Ekon here that have much higher carnage left in their wake, making them bigger targets than the vampire doctor that resides in Pembroke.

No, there is certainly more to Jonathan than meets the eye. For now, he will leave it, and search for the answers he seeks to the epidemic here in London. The Great Hunt has ended, and their priorities must shift with its passing. His men will be angry about it, but he feels no remorse as he shifts patrols away from Pembroke and closer to the West End. There, at least, he knows there is a mystery to unravel, one that may or may not need Jonathan’s input further down the line.