I am tossing and turning at night, finding no sleep. Finally I sit up in my damp nest, trying to catch my breath. I must have been sleeping after all, for I’ve been dreaming, and the dream is still lingering with me. Yet it was not what I had expected or at least intended to dream. When I drifted off, at the end of a long night, I had Daedalus on my mind. The man fascinates me, all about him intrigues me, he is a mystery – in short, he is as exotic a friend as can possibly lure me into his web of sin. What is more, he doesn’t look even half human, but to my mind he behaves more human than most of the people I’ve ever come across. I wanted to think of his strange face, his voice that calms me so, his dangerous hands that, used to defend me, can be most reassuring. Defend me? Against what? And this is where the nightmares must have come in.
The ghosts of the past won’t sleep. The ghosts of this recent past, here in this eerie ward, seem to call the other ones to the present even more and keep them alive, nourishing them with the negative reverberations each and every wall is still giving off. I take another deep breath and reach for the water bottle. For a moment, I feel as if he is watching me, trying to guard my sleep, and I find myself smiling. Then I realize that I am definitely on my own, and I recall that I still know nothing about him, and my half-hearted offer to make him kind of an informal “colleague” in order to keep an eye on him seems utterly unprofessional and negligent. It must be an excuse for something else. And yet...
Be honest to thyself, Callum: You do believe that this man is harmless. He is nothing like a madman, no more than yourself, and he does help you, and you need him because you have always needed a father figure to help you out and to guard you. You know that, and all you have to do is accept it!
Yes I know. But my conscience hasn’t talked to me that loudly in months.
And I can’t possibly be falling in love now, not under these circumstances, and not with this guy. As if I haven’t promised myself to never ever fall in love again. As if those kinds of promises have ever been useful. As if I wasn’t a psychologist. But I’m also human, and at the moment very vulnerable and yearning. I lean back and let myself drift off again, this time into the caressing arms of desire.
Coming to again, I realize that it is five minutes before my usual getting-up time. I switch off the alarm clock before it can cut through my morning stupor, and get to the shower straight away. I can feel the depression coming on strong, and I have to fight it back before it consumes me. The warm water running over my head and body is somewhat comforting, but, as always, it also opens mental passages that wanted to stay closed.
While I hold my face up into the jet, the memory washes over me again. Johnny! He wasn’t innocent, but he was cute and he wanted to stay, and we had some kind of future plans going on. Then some of the boys got sick with this new kind of horror illness called HIV, and suddenly they started dying. Johnny was the first among them. I asked myself again and again why it wasn’t me, why I stayed unharmed, maybe I was a bit more cautious, maybe simply lucky. But that’s the way it was. The memory of him is as vivid as if it was just yesterday: I remember the day we met in that London club, I see his smile, one tooth missing, his spiky hair, and his wiry body when we made love. And it was love.
Then, like a different piece of scenery that falls over the nicer memories, I see his lean face, pale with emaciation, his eyes dying, dying while watching me cry, and I try to fight back the tears, but like then they won’t be fought back, and here they come running, pressing out of me, and I cry, first sad and soft, and then more and more full of rage, until I realize the water has gone cold and my knuckles are hurting from hitting the tiles.
I step out into the steamy bathroom and have to lean on the wash basin, slowly getting my breath back to normal. I am here now, I am in charge. I have to be in charge of myself, too. I will call Sean in the afternoon in order to talk to someone who really knows me, and he will make things better, as always. And then, of course, I will see Daedalus in the evening. It is a reassuring prospect, and I feel much calmer now that I am thinking of him, again.
And duty is calling. I dress, pour myself one, two cups of coffee, and force Dr McKay to be his merry self for the rest of the day.
We can say good-bye to two of our children today, like always with mixed feelings, for I’ve really grown fond of them, and am also proud of myself that I’ve made them “run” again. Then I drag myself through my daily routine, caring a bit less for everything than I’d be supposed to, and being a bit more occupied with myself. The phone talk to Sean has to be postponed, he won’t be home before Monday. Well, at least there’s the weekend right in front of me, and I promise myself that I’ll indulge in something nice this time, relax, get some fresh air, sort of thing.
I start getting a bit nervous around eleven at night. Daedalus hasn’t arrived yet, and for the last two hours or so, I have repeatedly looked at the door handle, waiting for it to move, waiting for the door to give sight to my odd friend. But nothing happens. So, more than slightly disappointed, I make my rounds alone, feeling more and more deserted and utterly lonely, in spite of the children's presence, most of them being sound asleep anyway.
I know what it means to wait for someone, even for a close friend. I’ve done it so many times in my life. And I am sick and tired of it. This kind of thing always feeds my depression, I can’t keep myself from thinking it has something to do with my imperfection, or maybe simply the fact that the others are aware I’m so nice and good-natured that it is easy to let me wait, because I won’t chide them. I don’t think that Daedalus is like them. In fact, my anger soon gives way to serious worrying.
Around two o’clock in the morning, I go back to my quarters, hoping to find him there or on his way, or at least somewhere around. But he won’t appear. I lie down on my sofa, unwilling to go to bed, filled with worry and deeply pitying myself. Suddenly, the phone rings, and disturbs my soft slumber. I pick it up, disregarding the fact that the desk clock shows 4.48 am, and Julian Luna’s voice rings in my ear. He sounds very different. He actually sounds hurt, and worried, and exhausted, and the words he says will stay in my memory for a long time: “Dr McKay, you must come immediately. Daedalus is dying.”
Luna’s car is waiting for me at the side exit. He hasn’t told me what happened, but then again, I wouldn’t give him much time to explain, because the words “deadly wounded” and “blood loss” are enough to make me work on auto pilot. So I come out there loaded down with my physician’s bag enriched with whatever surgical stuff I could grab, a blood transfusion kit, an infusion kit, and a bag full of – well, stuff to use with the kits.
I don’t even take notice of who is driving me where, but then I come to and realize that we have stopped in front of some dark alley, just in front of Luna himself. He is surrounded by a couple of sinister guys, and he doesn’t look so well himself. I step forward, dragging my equipment behind me, “Mr Luna, you look as if you’ve been hurt, too.” But he just raises his hand to show me that there are things more pressing than his own well-being. I obey, and follow him into the alley. I feel watched, not in the normal sense, but more – as grandma would put it – scrutinized from above ‘n below – and what is more, not by the usual all-in-all human category. But then I see Daedalus, and I am too distracted to take notice of anything else, my thoughts filled with the deadly fear that I might be too late to save him.
He is lying in a corner on top of some rubbish sacks, with more guys by his side, but I ignore them, as one look at my poor friend tells me that I might indeed be too late. His clothes are burnt away, his upper body has been torn open by something like a mega-calibre shot. The edge of his wound looks like it's been cauterised, and the tormented flesh smells of something chemical. I take his hand in mine – and am interrupted by a rasping voice, saying: “You shouldn’t do that.” I look up and into a pair of yellowish eyes that now turn towards Julian, and the rasping voice asks: “What's this man doin' here?” Julian, his face shining almost white in the light of his car, answers, “I called him here. It is all right, Frederick.”
I take that as a sign to carry on, and try to find Daedalus' pulse. Actually, I cannot find any pulse at all. Then I look into his eyes, and I know, I know now that this is not a human being I have in front of me. I look at Julian Luna, my mind racing with things I must ask, I must know, yet knowing there is no time for questions of any sort. So I settle for asking the only question left at the moment: “Has anyone of his kind survived this before?”
Luna just shakes his head and then turns away abruptly, mumbling, “Do whatever lies in your power, Doctor. You shall be rewarded adequately.” I carefully approach him and turn him round again to face me. The fact that he lets me do this tells me how much he is suffering. His eyes are brimming with some kind of tears, blood-red though, but this is also just a minor fact that won’t keep me from my duty now. “You must listen to me, Julian. There’s no time to lose. What kind of weapon did this?”
He pulls himself together. “It was a gun shell filled with phosphorus.”
“Which means he is being burnt alive by acid. Nice.” I take a deep breath, urging myself to go on. “Now, please: Get me two big bowls, tubs preferably, and lots and lots of water. Do you hear me? And then get some thugs to hold on to him, because this will hurt. Right. Anything else? What does he need?”
Julian Luna appears to be as distrusting as I would have thought he is. “What do you intend to do, McKay?” he says without looking at me.
“I intend to save Daedalus’ life, Mr Luna,” I retort, adding in a slightly more polite tone of voice, “I will wash it out. That’s the only thing we can do now, clean the wound, get out as much of the phosphorus as possible.”
Julian, who has already started to give orders to some people somewhere in the dark, turns to look at me again, this time slightly amazed. “You are amazingly nonchalant about this whole situation, Doctor McKay,” he says.
I explain: “Well, I’m no idiot. In his case, feeding probably doesn't require using the usual kind of nourishment, am I right? So, what does he need? This?” I show him a blood bag.
He looks at the reddish baggy, and then gives a slight nod. “The danger is the phosphorus mixing with his blood. It’s going to kill him if we don’t get ready before the sun rises...”
I follow his glance to the sky, where the first pink traces of dawn start colouring the grey of the night, my mind racing. Blood, sun, claws, teeth... Well, I won’t jump to conclusions here, but there are some commonplace thoughts that scream at you at times like these. So, he is a vampire. So what. I’m involved, and what is more, I’m still alive, and he needs me, so I’ll help. And that’s it. If somebody small and green asked me to help him surgically remove a piece of kryptonite from his four-toed footie, I’d probably help him just the same.
In a hurry, I start preparing the blood transfusion. Luna seems again unwilling to help me, so I merely ignore his presence. Meanwhile, the tubs have arrived, one of them magically filled with water, together with loads of towels. Ordering two of Luna’s people (who, to my slight surprise, obey) to hold on to Daedalus, I sit down by his side and cut away the rest of his clothes. His wound looks dreadful, even to the eye of an experienced surgeon, and it reminds me why I didn’t want to go into forensics. The flesh has been burnt away, and what is left looks more than anything like some kind of yellowish pudding. Whatever I’m gonna do, if this doesn’t kill him, nothing will.
So, in order to keep him alive before exposing him to my unconventional methods, I set to start the transfusion. His veins are hard to find, they seem to be as empty as those of a corpse prepared for Situs, but I finally find one and ram the cannula in. Seconds later, the first blood preserve is on its way into Daedalus’ maltreated circulation. The effect is astounding: after the first seconds his eyes open, blazing red, and without recognizing anyone around him, he grabs the blood preserve, rips it from the valve and sucks it dry.
I must admit that this is not something I would ever have thought of witnessing, and it does take me aback. The effect the blood seems to have on his skin, his veins, the coordination of his movements, though, convinces me that this is what the patient needs, thus this is what he’ll get. Trying hard to remain cool, I take another blood bag and push the valve between Daedalus’ lips. The look Julian gives me (and the bag) doesn’t really make me feel better, but those thoughts will have to be postponed until later.
So, without hesitating any further, I announce action, take the first of the towels, soak it to dripping and plunge it into the wound.
Had I still thought that my friend was human, I would certainly stand corrected now. He behaves like nothing human, more like a wild animal, and “reptile” is again the most apt comparison I can think of. In other words, the two men who try to hold him down just can't manage, and the fact that my patient is indeed armed with imposing talons and a set of teeth Dracula himself would have sold his cloak for, has already led to some collateral damage.
This is where Julian finally gets out of his funk and rushes to help. He holds Daedalus’ head in his hands and talks to him soothingly, with the astonishing effect that my patient calms down as fast as he had his fit. I grab the soaked towel, which now has a yellowish tint, and drop it into the empty tub. Then I grab the next one and continue washing out the deadly acid.
While going on with my dreadful task, I find some time to have a closer look at my two assistants who are still holding on to Daedalus, obviously because our lives are depending on it. They look a bit like him, one of them (the one with the yellowish eyes) being smaller and leaner, with the exception of his head, which seems to be held up by sheer power of will. The other one is about my size, but much stouter, and covered with greenish abscesses wherever the skin shows. The smaller one takes notice of my questioning glance, and looks at me shyly. For a moment, I hesitate, asking myself if they need my professional help, too, but some inner voice tells me that this is their normal complexion. So I just smile back at them and go back to work.
Some time later (time hasn’t had any meaning to me from the moment I received that phone call), the towels are gone, the water tub is almost empty, and three more blood bags have been disposed of. Julian is still sitting by Daedalus’ head, but he is watching me now. I return his gaze and smile. He can’t bring himself to smile back at me, but at least I know he is as relieved as I am. “Will he live, then?” I ask him.
Before Julian can answer me, Daedalus opens his eyes again and says: “You did good, Callum.” His voice is still weak, and his face is smeared with the leftovers of his bloody meal, but I recognize his smile and answer it warmly, taking his hand. The other two let got of his arms now and literally start licking their wounds.
Disregarding this as minor, I look back into Daedalus’ face, note that his eyes are back to normal, and give a sigh of relief, “You know, you shouldn’t do that to me too often, it’s doing nae guid to my heart.”
“I'm sorry you have to see me like this,” Daedalus answers.
Before I can answer something soppy, Julian interrupts harshly: “I am sorry to intrude, but we are on a schedule.”
Daedalus seems to take notice of his friend only now and replies: “Julian, I'm glad to see you're okay.”
Although he is still weak, I cannot miss the irony in his voice. I also perceive a slight change in Julian’s expression, so I take it the sting hit home. Looking from one to the other, I add two and two together, and it dawns on me that it should really be Julian lying there. So, this is what it’s all about. I could have guessed that Daedalus has something to do with Luna, or at least something in common, but I wouldn’t have thought that he is working for him as his bodyguard.
I have to say something. And I hear myself say, “Hey, folks, the sun’s coming up.” And with this I try to help Daedalus to his feet. His wound hasn’t healed after all, and he doesn’t half manage to get up, and then his friends/relatives/whatever step in, saying, “Maybe it would be a good idea if you let us do this.”
Watching them do so, I come to stand by Julian’s side. Julian, turning to me, says: “We’ll take my car.”
And I can’t keep myself from replying, “Your place or mine?” And then, before he can come back with an adequate answer, I add: “I am sorry, but my patient isn’t well enough for me to desert him now. Besides, a simple thank you would have done nicely.”
He seems unruffled, “You will have an opportunity to continue his treatment, doctor.”
“Good. But I’ll stay with him, in whatever car he goes.”
They carry Daedalus into one of the two cars while Julian keeps glaring at me, and ignoring him, I get in beside my patient, placing his head on my lap. The two who have been carrying him say something like, “So long, Excellency,” and melt into the shadows. Some guy in a leather jacket I hadn’t noticed before takes his place at the driver’s, then Julian gets into the other car, and we start.
This time, I am more observant as to where we’re going, and we are entering a part of San Francisco I haven’t been to before. Through a huge iron gate, up a driveway, and we stop in front of an imposing building, presumably Luna Manor. The master gets out of the car and strolls to ours as if he is hesitant to see me again, whereas the other two (the ones that were helping me before) turn up from somewhere, quickly open the door of the car we’re in and help me get Daedalus out. Then Julian takes the lead, and we follow him to the gatehouse.
We go through a couple of aisles and down a few steps until we arrive in what seems to be Daedalus’ private quarters. The air is thick with a mixture of dust, turpentine and something else, some vaguely familiar sweetish smell I slowly identify as rat. They round another corner and lay him down on a bed, and now Julian realizes that I will indeed attend my patient and not be moved. He seems on the verge of saying something, but he swallows it down whatever it was to be, and turns on his heel and exits without further comment.
As I sit down by Daedalus’ side I notice a change about his complexion and pose. Whereas he seemed merely weakened and sore in that dark alley, he looks very close to real death now. I put my hand on his forehead, saying under my breath, “Don’t you dare die on me now, old man.”
Then one of the other guys, the one with the hydrocephalus and the rasping voice, steps forward and says: “The boss is gonna be all right, Doc. Thanks to you.”
As I won’t reply at once, he just stands there, watching me. He seems unworried, so whatever it is that makes Daedalus look so strange, it obviously isn’t terminal. I look from him to my patient, and back to him, and his huge dark unblinking eyes make me smile. He stands there like a child, unsure how to deal with me, a bit shy maybe, and yet I have seen him act, I see his talons, I know how strong he must be. My smile seems to irritate him even more, but then he just sits down by Daedalus’ other side, and sets his face to what looks to me like dutiful attention.
Again, I look at the unfamiliar yet somehow likeable face. „You do care for him a lot, don’t you?“
He turns away, mumbling something like, “’Course I do, he’s the boss’n all…” his voice even hoarser.
Here’s emotion on the go, and I don’t know how his kind reacts, so, in order to simplify matters, I switch to the objective level by asking him about his name. He tells me that he’s called Frederick.
“Are you brothers?” I go on asking.
Frederick looks at me wide-eyed (something he’s really good at). “What? No! He’s way older’n me. His Sire must’ve been, like, ancient. No, I’m of the brood of Gary.”
“Brood,“ I repeat. “Ah. And a sire is... something like a father? Or, like a… begetter?”
Now, Frederick seems to become suspicious. “Listen, is it okay for you to know all this? I probably shouldn’t even talk to you, man.”
I give him an agreeing nod. “And yet you are. And as it happens, I am quite happy to be in this position. You know, I won’t leave Daedalus alone, and sitting here on my own wouldn’t improve my disposition. Now that we’re talking, I can at least start to learn something about him. About you. That helps.”
This seems to suffice for Frederick to go on talking. “Oh, okay. Well, if you’re here, I suppose it must be okay…” He looks at Daedalus with a slightly scornful smile. „And he can’t tell me not to either, right now.“
“Riotous, huh?” I comment on his momentary position.
Instead of an answer, he gives off a noise that clearly indicates he isn’t familiar with the more complicated vernacular. Somehow, I am relieved that here is someone who I can talk to in however basic way I like, and after the horrible night, that’s just what I need. So I explain to him politely, “I mean, now that the boss is unconscious, you can have a little game of your own.”
In spite of his rhetorical ignorance, he is well aware of what I’m implying, and his tone of voice is very specific now. “I’m not playin’ games. I just meant that, if the Prince says it’s okay, and the boss won’t contradict him, then it’s okay. Besides, I like you.” Without warning, he leans over Daedalus’ unmoving body, his face only an inch or two from my face, and looking me deep in the eye he repeats, "Yep, I like you.“
I have to hold that stare, but it’s hard. Anyway, I still don’t fear this man. So I simply exhale and reply, “That’s nice. And as for the Prince, he’s pissed. But don’t tell him I told you so. But if you like, I will explain everything to Daedalus once he’s come to again.”
“He won’t be doin’ that before dusk, yanno. And the Prince is plenty pissed, I noticed that all on my lonesome. But, fact is, if he didn’t want you here, you wouldn’t be here.”
Remembering the last glance Julian threw me, I agree. “Right. Suppose you’re right.“ Then I remember that I’m soon due for work, and I add: “Does the boss have a phone around here?“
Frederick stands up in one swift movement. “Sure. Hang on.” He opens one of the drawers somewhere and takes out a very modern-looking cell phone. „Here ye go.“
“Great,” I say while trying to find out which key is which, and finally being able to call the hospital. While I listen to the ringing tone, I remark casually, „Like to share a fag?“
This doesn’t have the desired effect. In fact, Frederick looks as if I’ve said something forbidden. “Nope, and you shouldn’t, either. Inden... incent… burnin' stuff, yanno.”
I don’t get what’s wrong with that, and distractedly say something like “Because of the paint?” Then I hear the ringing voice of nurse Julia, and signal him to hang on. Julia seems to be relieved to hear my voice, hence I guess they found out that I’m not in right now. I make something up about a sick uncle and take the day off, but I promise I’ll be back for the night. After exchanging some niceties, I hang up again, turn to Frederick and smile.
Frederick just stares at me for some time and finally says: „What now?“
I dare to imitate the movement he made before and stare back at him. „We talk.“
„About what? I don’t know too much about small talk stuff.”
“Then we’d better have it big, huh?”
He doesn’t seem to find this funny. “Like what?”
I take a deep breath. Stay objective, Callum. Emotions can wait. “Like, what are you? Where do you come from? What do you do for a living? That kind of stuff.”
This time it works and he answers: “I see, the basics. Okay. I’m Nosferatu. I was human once, then Gary offered me a way out of the dump I was livin’ in and the shit hole of my life. I took it. I eat rats and a street bum here 'n there, and I’m second to the boss.” He grins at me. „Got all that, Doc?“
Obediently, I restate: “You were a human once, and now you are a Nosferatu. This circumstance helped you out of your misery. You live on a healthy, if a bit unbalanced diet – in accordance with your heritage, I presume – and you have the position of a lieutenant general. Yes, I think I’ve got that in one.”
Frederic rewards me with a mock-respectful bow. “Wow, it sure pays to go to college, don’t it?”
“Well, at least it pays the college,” I can’t keep myself saying that.
“Smart ass,“ he retorts. “I can see why the boss is so obsessed with you, though. You understand him.“
This catches me off-guard. “Obsessed?” I remember my own reactions to Daedalus, my dreams, and suddenly I realize that I’m not the only one of the two of us who feels this way. “Oh.” What is more, I can feel the blush rising in my chest.
But Frederick isn’t finished yet. “Well, as they say, you can’t fight true love.” In another mock gesture he covers his mouth with his hand. „Oops.“
I have to get up and walk around the premises a bit before he can detect anything else beside the blush. It’s not that the blush in my chest is wandering up to my face only, it is also wandering downwards... Strolling along the aisle that leads to the entrance, I see strange paintings, and I guess that Daedalus has painted all of them. Unexpectedly, I find one with myself smiling back at me, and I suddenly feel I should sit down again. This is too much. Trying to cover up my excitement, I close my eyes for a moment, feeling utterly exposed to the only other conscious person in this room, and sadly think back of the days bygone, the happiness that will never come back again. I feel Frederick’s eyes on me, and say: „Yes, you’re right. If it’s true love, you possibly cannot fight it.”
Frederick doesn’t cease to look at me, and I’m not quite sure he has grasped the true meaning of my words. At last he says, „I sure hope he didn’t hear that. Sorry, boss… I didn’t mean to spill the beans like this.” He comes to stand by my side and scrutinizes the painting. „Oh well, you’d’ve gotten it anyway, I s’spect.“
I hurry back to the bedstead and sit down again. „I didn’t know.“ It’s more a statement to the general world than to anybody in particular. I touch Daedalus’ forehead with my fingertips and tell him, whether he can hear me or not: “I should have known.”
Frederick is by my side again without a sound, but his voice sounds soothing. “Don’t worry, Doc. He ain’t exactly the outgoin' type. And I’m glad to see that you like him, too, a bit. The boss needs that,” Once more slightly embarrassed, he makes a hole in his black jeans with one of his talons. „It’s what keeps the colour in our cheeks, know what I mean?“ It’s more what he doesn’t say that tells the rest of the story.
I know what he means. And, it’s been a long time since I had that special “colour” in my cheeks, too. But right now I’m too tired to go on talking, so I just say: “Yeah, right.” I feel the night weighing down on me, and have to stifle a yawn. “It must be what, seven or so? God, I’m tired.”
“You could crash for a few, Doc. I’m keepin’ an eye on the boss for you.”
I’m even too tired to think straight, so I just ask him: “Got a pillow?”
This seems to take him by surprise. “You’re not going upstairs?”
“I told Julian I won’t leave Daedalus until he comes to,” I mumble, “and that is what I’m gonna do.”
“Suit yourself.” Frederick looks around, stands up, grabs Daedalus’ tuxedo and rolls it into a kind of pillow. „Here, take this.“
I gratefully grab the jacket. “Just as well. I’ve been sleeping in haystacks. This is much nicer.” And it smells of him, too. So I lie down on the floor next to Daedalus’ bed, put my head on the tux pillow and am instantly carried away by the gods of sleep.