“I think we’ve got a nutter in cubicle seven.”
Senior nurse Charlie Fairhead glanced up at that somewhat less than professional assessment from Cal.
“Cubicle seven? Isn’t that the kid who nearly drowned?”
“Yes. But the more I talked to him, the more I think he didn’t so much ‘fall’ as ‘jump’. From a very high bridge into a very deep river.”
“Suicide attempt?” Charlie asked.
“From some of the things he’s been muttering, he’s either off his head on drugs, or he’s several sandwiches short of a picnic. Possibly both. I’m still waiting for the tox screen to come back. And if he doesn’t calm down soon I’m calling psych.”
Cal dumped the files on reception, and moved off to another one of his patients. Purely out of curiosity, Charlie picked up the file.
A few minutes later he was standing outside the curtain to cubicle seven. He wasn’t sure what it was that made him want to see the man for himself, but Charlie’s gut instinct was telling him this was not a patient who should be left alone for too long.
He pulled the curtain aside and went in.
The young man was sitting up on the bed, his legs pulled up and his arms wrapped around his knees. He looked up when Charlie entered and closed the curtain behind him.
“Hi. I’m nurse Fairhead,” Charlie said with a smile.
The man watched him through narrowed eyes and said nothing.
He was in his late twenties, and Charlie suspected that he might be quite handsome if he cleaned himself up. As it was, his hair was a matted tangle of curls, and what Charlie could see of his body that wasn’t covered by the hospital gown, he was covered in bruises and cuts and scrapes. He was also quite dirty, despite his impromptu dip in the river.
“Looks like you’ve had quite a night,” Charlie observed. “Jason? Isn’t it?”
“When can I go home?”
His voice was surly. Cal had mentioned trying to make him calm down, but to Charlie he seemed perfectly calm. Dangerously calm, perhaps.
“Probably not for a while yet. The paramedics told us you’d been underwater for some time. We need to make sure there hasn’t been any lasting damage.”
Actually, the paramedics had been reported as saying they had no idea how the man was even still alive, let alone conscious, when he had been dragged out. The fact that he had been fighting so hard that it had taken two paramedics and three firemen to get him into the ambulance was also commented on.
“I want to go home.”
“Is there someone we can call for you? Family? Friends?”
The young man, Jason, looked away, but Charlie had seen something in his eyes at that.
“You shouldn’t be alone after something like that.”
Jason gave a harsh laugh.
“You won’t get any of my friends on the phone.” He looked back at Charlie and his expression twisted into something that might have been a smile, if there hadn’t been so much anger and pain in it. “In fact, most of my friends wouldn’t even know how to use a phone.”
“Okay,” Charlie said, amiably. He was beginning to wonder if Cal might have been right, and that by itself was a scary thing to admit.
He tried a new approach.
“Can you tell me what happened tonight?”
“I nearly drowned. Apparently.”
“I would have thought you would be more careful of large bodies of water. After what happened to you.”
Jason looked up sharply.
“Who are you? Really? Because for someone who says they’re a nurse, you sound a hell of a lot like another fucking psychiatrist.”
“I read your medical notes,” Charlie said without rising to the challenge. “It mentioned another near drowning incident last year. That’s all. You don’t seem to have much luck with open water.”
“Maybe next time I’ll do better. Third time’s a charm. Isn’t that what they say?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He was beginning to think that Cal might have been right about the attempted suicide part as well.
Jason sighed. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Do you want to tell me what really happened tonight?”
Jason glared at his hands.
“I’m not here to judge. I just want to help.” Charlie watched him for any sign of reaction, but there was nothing. “Last year you had a terrible accident. You almost died, isn’t that right? It’s no surprise if that has had an effect on you. But there are people who can help.”
Charlie suspected Jason already knew all of this. His medical file had listed numerous counsellors and a couple of psychiatrists in the last year after what sounded like a serious diving accident. His file had also used the phrases ‘PTSD’ and ‘possible delusions’ on more than one occasion. But prior to the accident there had been very little of note.
Jason slowly turned and stared at Charlie. Charlie waited him out.
“You don’t have a fucking clue what has happened to me.”
“I’ve worked in A&E for over thirty years. There’s very little that surprises me any more. And there’s no need for swearing, please.”
Jason finally looked away. He breathed deeply, and then went back to staring at his hands.
“I just want to go home.”
“We’re waiting for some test results to come back from the lab. Once we get those we can talk about getting you home. Although I think someone should be with you.”
“No. That’s just a flat. It’s just a building, it’s not home. Home is where my friends were. Home is... a long, long way from here.”
His voice wavered on that last bit, and Charlie began to wonder what this could possibly have to do with the diving accident that had so obviously been the catalyst for whatever was wrong with this young man.
“My son lives overseas,” Charlie said. “I know how difficult it can be-”
Jason’s harsh laugh cut him off.
“Overseas? Gods, if it was as easy as getting on a plane to be with them again I wouldn’t be here.”
Charlie suddenly had a terrible suspicion about what he really meant. Before he could say anything, though, the curtain was pulled aside and Cal came back in. He glanced briefly at Charlie and then turned his attention to their patient.
“Well, the good news is your test results all came back fine.”
“So can I go now?” Jason said with all the bluntness of a brick in a sock. Without the softening of the sock.
“Not just yet,” Cal said, obviously stalling. “There’s someone I’d like you to talk to first.”
Jason’s eyes narrowed. Charlie mentally cursed Cal for being... well, for being Cal and not thinking before he opened his mouth.
“You man another psychiatrist, don’t you?”
It was an accusation, not a question. Cal was still stumbling over his reply when Jason jumped off the bed and grabbed his clothes.
“Woah, wait, you’re not going anywhere.”
Cal tried to grab his arm but Jason reacted faster than Charlie would ever have believed possible. Before Charlie even knew what happed Cal was on the floor with blood pouring from his nose.
Jason glanced at Charlie for a second. Then he ran.
It was cold on the rooftop. It was raining heavily, and he was soaked through in seconds. All he was wearing was the thin hospital gown and his underwear; he ought to have been freezing.
Jason felt nothing.
He walked to the edge of the rooftop, barely noticing the rough surface beneath his bare feet.
It was a long way down. A crazy, ridiculous memory came to him of another time, another world, another rooftop a lifetime away. A hand reaching for him, a man catching him. The kindest, gentlest man he had ever known.
There was no one to catch him here.
He looked round, not entirely surprised to see the old nurse had followed him. He had that same air about him; a kindness, a compassion, even though he knew nothing about Jason.
“Don’t come any closer,” Jason warned.
The old nurse stopped several paces away.
“Your friends. They’re dead, aren’t they? That’s what you meant.”
Jason closed his eyes. He saw The Oracle, turned to stone. Medusa’s severed head. Ariadne bleeding. Atlantis falling apart under the onslaught of the waves.
“I killed them. It was my fault.”
“Jason, survivor guilt can be a terrible thing, but it’s not-”
“SHUT UP!” He opened his eyes and looked up at the nurse. “It was my fault. All of it. They’re all dead and it’s my fault. I can’t... I don’t want to be here any more. But the gods... I don’t think they will let me die.”
The old nurse held a hand out towards him.
“Please. Just come back. We can help you. I promise, you don’t need to talk to any more psychiatrists, not tonight. Not if you don’t want to.”
Jason gave a choked laugh.
“They don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about anyway.”
The nurse gave him a wry smile. “I’ll agree with you on that one.” He took a step closer. “Please, Jason. Just come back inside.”
Jason shook his head.
“Tell me about your friends.”
“Tell me about them. They were obviously important to you.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. How could he put any of it into words? The hours laughing and joking and talking with Hercules and Pythagoras. Medusa’s kindness and bravery. Ariadne’s strength and determination. Hercules’ loyalty, his humour, his great big heart. Pythagoras’ kindness, his intelligence, his constant support.
They had all followed him, and they had all died because of it.
“You cared about them. I’m pretty sure they must have cared about you,” the old nurse said. “Do you think they would have wanted you to do this? Don’t you think they would have wanted you to live?”
Jason closed his eyes again and felt the tears come. He didn’t even bother to hide them.
Too many images, memories, threatened to overwhelm him, but in the end it was only ever the same two moments in time. Two moments that happened three days apart in the last terrifying days of Atlantis. Two moments that were the last things that held any real meaning for him in the days before Poseidon took back what was his and Jason woke, coughing and choking and somehow alive in a boat surrounded by lifeguards.
In the first, Jason saw Pythagoras holding Hercules’ broken, bleeding body, the tears running silently down his face as he rocked his old friend in his arms.
In the second, Jason saw Pythagoras turn and walk away from him back into the doomed city, even as the waves crashed around them, because in the end, after everything, Pythagoras chose to die with the man he loved rather than live with Jason.
Jason opened his eyes to look at the nurse.
“I don’t deserve to live.”
He turned. He ran.