It is evening again, and I can hardly remember what I’ve been doing over the day; it was just too much. I stare at the paperwork in front of me and wonder how the small amount of documents was able to grow into such a fully-grown capital pile in less than nine hours. In order to get my mind clear for the next round, I look at the monitor that shows me images of the rooms where my little charges are staying, all of them, one camera per room. I lazily switch from one to the other, watching the children read, play, eat or sleep. Nothing out of the ordinary. Yawning, I turn to work on my papers again, leaving the monitor set to show Daniel’s room, where the boy is deeply involved in drawing some ancient hieroglyphs.
I did not dare let more than two nights pass. Callum's memories are altered – he will not remember me. Returning to the hospital may be a risk, but the children need me. And I have another, more selfish reason: I don’t want to be deprived of their company.
That’s the most confusing thing about this whole situation: I was right. He did not scream in terror. He looked at me, and I mean right at me, he saw me with his transcender's eyes and looked beyond my hideous exterior. I'm sure of it. The moment our eyes met is burned into my memory.
He saw me, and he looked at me with empathy, even compassion. He offered me his hand as if I was just like him. The look in his eyes warmed my soul.
I headed back for my haven, and during the long walk though the sewers that moment stayed with me. I hugged it to myself during the day's rest, and during the next night I painted him, driven by the need to take his image with me to my sanctuary and make it permanent.
Painting, for me, is an almost subconscious process. I never think about what I do when I paint. I hardly think at all. Surrounded by the soothing smell of linseed oil, I can disengage totally from what my hands are doing, or from what’s going on inside my own mind. It’s a testament to the trust I put in Julian and his security that I allow myself to reach this state where, most of the time, I become completely unaware of my surroundings. There is only colors, shapes, and the strokes of brush on canvas. And whenever I come back to myself and look at what I’ve painted, I am surprised.
This time, I was not. Taking a step back from the easel, I smiled at my own folly.
Callum, of course. Warm colors, for once nothing menacing or ugly about the painting. Just Callum, wearing a little less clothing than I’d seen him in. Breathtakingly beautiful. I’m setting myself up to be hurt again, I realized. And I knew there was no way I was going to stay away from the hospital, or from him.
Now I’m back in the children’s ward, obfuscated. Despite my longing for his company, I have to be careful not to show myself to him again. Deleting an imprint once is simple. Repeated imprints leave deeper marks, and I may not be able to dominate him into forgetting me again so easily. Admiring from afar – that’s all I’m going to do, all I’m going to have of him.
But first, the mystery of the boy who paints hieroglyphs and speaks ancient Greek. Maybe, if I talk to him a little more, I can find out why he won't speak the language his parents used. I've gone through his file, so I know that his parents were archaeologists, a fact that explains his aptitude with ancient languages. If I can get him to speak English again, it will be a help for Callum, who then can take over.
It's a way I can do something for him without being noticed.
I wait until Callum is busy in his office before I enter little Daniel’s room, now exposed to normal sight. He is sitting at the table, drawing, but he looks up as I enter.
“Good evening, child,” I greet him in ancient Greek.
“Good evening,” he answers solemnly. “Where have you been, Daedalus? I missed you.”
For a moment, I am speechless. “You missed me?” I repeat stupidly.
He nods in that earnest way only eight year olds can nod. “You weren't here yesterday.” He has to think a moment about the preterit tense, but he chooses the correct one.
“But the new doctor, Callum, is here.”
“But he can't speak our language,” he says in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Daniel, you will have to speak English eventually. If you don't, the only one you have to talk to will be me.”
He looks away.
“Don't you like Callum?”
“Yes, I like Callum. But I don't like English. I never want to speak it again. I'd rather only talk to you my whole life.”
The sound of the door opening makes me move to the wall in an instant. But I know there’s no way to avoid another confrontation even as I seek the shadows that are not there. No way to hide, no way to disguise myself; not in front of the child.
And there he is, blue eyes blazing with fury. “Stay where you are, and don’t you try this hypnotizing shit on me again!”
I face the young doctor impassively, admiring his passion and the fact that he overcame my effort to dominate his memory. Even more beautiful in real life! I resolve to let him make the next move and see where this situation takes us.
He looks over to Daniel. “We’ve got to talk,” he continues much calmer, “but not in front of the boy. Follow me, now, if you please.” Without waiting for a response, he turns and leaves the room.
I look at Daniel. The child looks less disturbed than I expected, which is encouraging. The most important thing now is to contain an escalation, so I do as I am told and follow the physician. There are still a few alternatives open to me, and only one of them includes killing this man – a thought already too horrible to contemplate.
I am waiting for him in my office. To my slight surprise, he follows me, enters stiffly and takes a hat stand pose near the door. I feel inclined to beg him into the room, for the last thing I would want to is intimidate him, and I can’t have him standing by the door, actually. I am still not sure if he is a madman, or an idealist, or something else I wouldn’t have dreamt of, so I ask him as nonchalantly as possible to sit down. He declines, his face remaining still, his eyes avoiding me. So I stand up and walk to him.
Whatever is going on inside him, he is very good in hiding it, but he turns his head towards me, at least, saying, “You are a remarkable human being.”
“As are you,” I reply. “Nevertheless, I need a real good explanation for your being here, in this house.”
His face is like that of a statue. “I can give you none, except that the children need me.”
“Insufficient.” I try to swallow my up-surging anger, and manage to remain calm, although he isn’t making it easy. Then I decide to treat him like I would treat any of my patients. After all, he definitely could be one of them. Hence, I explain in a professional, calm tone of voice: “See, I’ve been in charge for a week now, and these children are sick. They are very sick. And now I meet, in the middle of the night, a complete stranger who comes out of nowhere, enters their rooms and talks to them as if he was authorized to do so! What would you expect me to do?”
“I would expect you to do exactly what you are doing. In fact, I would not stop at interrogation. Fortunately for you, this situation will end differently: you'll let me leave unmolested, never to see me again. Now.”
His answer surprises me, but if he can hide his thoughts, so can I. Before any second thoughts can interfere, I take hold of his arm. “Wait.” I realize that his biceps is like steel. I realize, even more aware of the fatal mistake I might just have made, that he is, in fact, quite a bit taller than I am, and in very good shape. And his teeth are very… strange… He looks down at my hand, then up into my eyes, still expressionless, but he tenses. Besides my understandable worry to be beaten up the next moment, or at least shoved away brutally, I still detect something else behind the dark veil of his glance, something – good. My voice softens, and I add: “Please,” and there the magic happens: he hesitates.
Small victories make little heroes bold, so I can hear myself saying, in the same sweet voice as before, “I will see you again, because there is a camera in every room, tapes are being made…”
Whatever else it does to him, at least it puts a smile on his face. “Of course. Clever.”
In spite of this obvious lack of fear in front of the observer, I feel inclined to press on, adding, “And the matter won’t be settled that easily.”
There he regains his former posture, his voice as cool as his eyes. “There is no matter to settle. I've committed no crime. I will leave, and that will be the end of this. Unless you wish to hinder me…?”
I feel beaten, but I can’t go back now. What do I have to lose? So, I stake everything on my last card. “Yuh, in fact I do. Because, as my grandmother put it, there’s always anaither chance.”
“A chance? For what?”
He falters. And I feel relieved. “Look, would you sit down please? It’s the wee sma hoors already, and I’m tired.” There now: He hesitates, then moves to sit down. Feeling much more confident now, I dare sit down on the desk in front of him. I don’t want anything to be between us now, and if I am going to go through with this, I have to take a chance and face the walls around him. Preferably in order to pull them down.
But there it is again, this unblinking stare, the stiff demeanour. And he is persisting. “There is no need for discussion of any kind. You may have your say, and then I will leave.”
“You’re a tough one,” I retort as jovially as I dare. “Has the thought ever crossed your mind that I might think you’re – well – a bit of a chancer?” I realize that I have started using words from my mother tongue without thinking of the consequences, and I silently hope that he doesn’t know them.
Obviously, I’m at least right about that, for he replies: “Whatever that may mean, you have no way of knowing what I am. And it’s not the point, either. Say what you wish to say.”
“And you will listen.”
He inclines his head.
I can’t keep myself from adding: “You’re good at listening, aren't you.”
Again, he gives me a graceful nod. And out of a sudden, everything seems clear and easy. I just need to go on. “The children trust you.”
“What about… an agreement?”
There, I have him now. For the first time since I’ve met him, he looks puzzled. “What kind of agreement?”
I smile at him conspiratorially. “Well, to be honest, you seem to be doing a jolly good job here. And I could use some help.”
His eyes grow wide. “You need my help?”
“Actually, well, yes.” And I can’t keep myself from winking an eye at him, as I often do with children and colleagues alike.
My strange guest seems to slowly start something I would call relaxing, compared to his former posture, and says, “From what I’ve seen, you seem to be doing a very good job – for one so young.”
“Thank you. I think. For one thing, I’m no good at – what was it, ancient Greek? And then, I need some sleep eventually. And there’s all the cameras about, and if you make a wrong move, you’re out.” So, finally, the cards are on the table.
He won’t commit himself that easily, though. “Need I remind you that I was never ‘in’?”
“But you are, dear,” I reply cheerfully, “and now you must take responsibility for what you’ve started, and not just run away. Think of the children. They need you.”
“If it weren’t for the children, I wouldn’t be here!” Suddenly, his eyes become quite lively. “There have been crimes committed in this ward, and what dues need to be paid I'm here to pay - I was here to pay. Now you’re here, and the children need someone like you. You will take over from now on. You don’t need me.”
“But I do. I… need you.” And that’s a fact I come to believe while listening to my own voice.
In contrast to me, he doesn’t seem to believe me that easily. “How can you say that? You don’t know me…”
It’s one of the commonplace retorts I’ve heard so often in my life it makes me angry in an instant. “Yuh, that’s right. I know that you’re one devious son of a bitch, that’s why I had the cameras installed. But now, we’ve talked. That’s the only thing I wanted you to do, talk to me. But now I’m pretty sure that it might work. You could do one part, my humble self the other.” I try to catch my breath and calm down again. “It could work fine… if I only knew your name.”
“What are you saying? I can’t continue to be here, now that you know. It’s impossible.”
“Know what? That you look a bit different? That you talk ancient babble like an actor? That you might be a colleague, apart from the fact that your looks need some getting used to? Well, the children don’t mind, I don’t mind. What’s your point?”
“You… want me to be here?”
As we are talking, I can feel quite different feelings growing inside of me, feelings that I wouldn’t in the least call professional. I see his eyes again, looking at me now, sad, almost imploringly. I know my voice will falter if I try to put into words what I’m thinking right now, so the only chance is to stand up to it with another commonplace. “And would you deign tell me your name?”
He is still flabbergasted. “I’m Daedalus.”
“Okay. Daedalus. Please.” And with this, I offer him my hand. Daedalus looks at the hand, then takes it.
I have to admit that this was the strangest situation I found myself in since Archon Raine asked me to take care of Julian after Manzanita some twelve years ago.
Then, I was overwhelmed by the trust he invested in me, a Nosferatu warrior, to watch over and comfort the Prince's childe so soon after a clan war - with nothing to go on but faith. And now, this mortal doctor also accepts me on nothing but faith. He saw me, he must have noticed my monstrous looks, and yet...
Of course, it could still be some elaborate trap, the paranoid part of me whispers, but I pay it no heed. All my instincts, woefully inadequate though they may be where mortals are concerned, tell me that this man is no enemy. If Callum McKay wished me ill, he would have acted by now. Instead, he welcomed me as a colleague, and asked for my help.
I'm still speechless.
I wish there was someone I could ask for advice. The fact remains that even letting a mortal see my face constitutes a breach of the Masquerade – a transgression I have already committed. Going through with this proposal would mean compounding my crime. I know this, and still I feel no compulsion to keep myself from this chance.
To talk to someone, to even work with someone who isn't Kindred – it would fulfill a dream I didn't even know I had. That this someone is a transcender makes my situation both easier and more complicated. If I do go through with this, how much will he guess about me, how much will he learn about what I am?
And on the heels of that thought follows another: Maybe he would even agree to be Embraced...
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I have to see how this strange arrangement will work out. Therefore, I'll be here again tomorrow at sundown. How will it be? Will we talk much? He'll probably want to get to know me. What should I tell him? Mortals nowadays have so many means of information at their disposal. If I make up some story to explain my strange looks, he'll probably see through it. There are some things about me that our favorite standby, the porphyria story, will not explain, least of all if told a physician. But, of course, I can't tell him the truth, either, not that he would believe it.
All complications aside, the mere thought of spending time with this man, of talking, no matter what about, fills me with joy.
But first, there is another complication I'll have to take care of. It goes without saying that I can't allow this mortal to make and possess videotapes of me. I fade from sight, wait until Callum has left his office, and begin a search.
It doesn't take long to find out that there are no recorders in his office. None. The cameras, one in each room like he said, are connected to a monitor (password-protected at that), but there's no means of making recordings, not even the necessary cords. The mortal bluffed me!
I don't know whether to be annoyed or amazed, but then, amazement wins out. Truly a remarkable man, this Callum McKay. Shaking my head, I leave the hospital and head for the nearest manhole.
I will have to be careful on another front. Julian may have need of my help during the night, and if I’m not in my haven, and no one knows where I am, it may result in problems. After all, I am his Enforcer. This would mean being – what do they call it – AWOL, away while on leave. And I certainly feel no inclination to tell him about my new position. I already know what he’d say, and I don’t want to hear it, even if he’s right. Especially if he's right.
I shake my head. A position at a hospital. Treating children. Me.
I still can’t believe what I’ve done. I am lying in bed, and the few hours that remain to find some sleep will surely pass – well – unslept. My mind is in quite a euphoric state, although it can’t be just because of the discussion we’ve had. I should be used to confrontations, and I can’t remember a single one that has ended in – this: pretending to have employed a New Colleague in order to save my life. I don’t know him, he has no references whatsoever, I’m not even sure he is human (wondering how I come to think that thought again and again, but nevertheless thinking it), and yet I had to go and make him believe that he is of help. Why?
First and foremost it is because of the children. They seem to really need him. They seem to trust him. They talk to him. Why, of course they have found a great deal of confidence in me now, and maybe see something like a saviour in me, but the real guarding angel of this ward seems to be Daedalus. Or else, they are so afraid of him that they don’t want to risk antagonizing him, which would mirror my own suspicions, and I may turn out to be wrong after all in trusting him. Which I still feel I should.
And that’s about it. Tossing and turning and finding no sleep, I see his image floating in front of me. I am not really afraid of him, in fact, I think he is rather nice. I can hear my grandma chiding me for this word, saying something like “A nice person is someone who can bore you through an evening. Don’t say that about someone you really care for.” Okay, grandma, point taken. He is more than that. I feel… safe with him, although I shouldn't because I don't know him and he looks quite a bit like a madman after all, and he has no right to do what he is doing. And so on. And yet. Under his constant stare it wouldn’t be easy even to stagger. And I like his hands. They are strange, yet they are honest hands, and sensitive, like those of an artist.
No, Callum, don't go there.
It must be past seven. Maybe I did fall asleep for a moment there. Anyway, I have to get up, and I can still feel his presence, even in the shower. The thought of him is quite distracting, and I try to get my mind away from it, urging it towards more pressing matters. Like the ward, and the money, and the annoying “state visit” tomorrow morning, including the big boss, the general hospital manager, and Julian Luna.