[TRIGGER WARNINGS: Harm to children, Physical Abuse, Suggestion of Sexual Abuse] Oh, and Bad Language!
(Songs: Having Lived, Moonwisher, Born a Stranger, Lament of a Stranger, Once Upon a Memory– Ken Gao)
You can only forget a nightmare once you’ve woken from it, and sadly, sleep was an escape from the nightmares I faced. Sleeping alongside Merris and his daughter was a much needed respite from Deveraux and his particular band of “needs”, but it was never going to last, as much as I tried to kid myself that it would.
He called me early in the evening, demanding to know my whereabouts. He was too angry for me to be able to reason with him. To be honest, I don’t think he wanted to reason anyway…he’s like that. He shouted down the phone about the dishonour I had brought on him; that he knew I was involved in the coup and how he couldn’t believe I had “disregarded etiquette” and “swanned off on my own” to aid “a savage and his piece of meat”. I bit my tongue, as I have learnt to over the years, and promised that I would be on my way. His parting words made my heart sink in a way I had not experienced for five years. “Meet me in the main hall. Do not keep me waiting. You know what to do.” Shaking, I composed myself. I couldn’t let Merris or Lucy see me so rattled. Merris would more than likely take it on himself to defend me, and Lucy would seek to do the same. I did not wish for them to get into harm’s way on my behalf.
Apparently Merris had read my mind, though. As I returned, he asked what was going on, and I decided it was easier to tell him than to hide it. In that place, apparently “privacy” was the bathroom, as Merris and I sat there as I explained. I didn’t tell him everything; just enough that he would understand why I needed to leave. By the time our conversation had ended, he had told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t returning to Clive on my own. I didn’t argue. Why would I? I loved being with he and Lucy. If I got the chance, of course I would want to stay by his side, looking after Lucy with him.
Merris made a call of his own, and explained afterwards that the Hound would be joining us all on our trip to Deveraux. I’m not entirely sure I can explain how I felt. I guess I felt unwilling to allow her to join us; she had sided with the Roses and caused Lucy to endure even more trauma and injury through her actions, but at the same time, she was following orders that would have meant her suffering punishment had the orders not been followed. I guess I was more worried about how Merris and Lucy would cope with having her joining us.
When she arrived, Merris went to speak with her. I watched as Lucy walked down the stairs and spat something out to her. I almost wanted to rebuke her, but I couldn’t help but feel that maybe that was the start of her healing process with that particular aspect of the trauma she had suffered; being able to respond to her injurer may have started her on the process of potentially accepting what happened, even if she never quite built bridges following that…
We got into an old flatbed truck and headed off. The Hound chose to sit in the trailer while the rest of us sat in the cab. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more frosty space. Conversations between Merris and the Hound were icy and clipped, barely more than four sentences long each time. Merris refused to tell the Hound any information at all, which ended up prompting me to respond with some basic information. Merris asked to borrow one of Lucy’s flick-knives and our driver seemed so focussed on recreational drugs that I doubt he heard much else.
We reached the estate, and everyone prepared themselves. I told everyone to wait outside while I entered; there was less chance of Deveraux jumping on the defensive if we surprised him. He was expecting me. That much was known.
As I removed my jacket and placed it in the van, Merris transformed into a robin again, and sat on my shoulder. He weighed next to nothing, yet his presence calmed me so much.
I walked in and called out to Deveraux. Merris went and sat…somewhere. I wasn’t looking as I was focussed on my domitor descending the stairs. He slapped me for my insolence in undermining his authority, and I looked at the floor. My thought was that if I accepted it; if I allowed things to continue as they normally would, he would be lured into a false sense of security. I hoped he would send me to his room with one of the children, which would enable Merris and the others to surprise him as his back was turned.
That didn’t happen. He slapped me again and asked where the other kindred were. I suppose when you’ve lived around vampires for so long you almost forget they create that uneasy feeling when they’re around. Merris leapt into action at that point and things suddenly began to get messy.
Merris blinded him in one eye, a gash straight across his eyeball. I felt my urge to defend him rise in the pit of my stomach, but I forced it away. After all he had done, I was not about to turn on Merris to defend the bastard. The words of my physician’s oath ran through my mind and I threw it to the back of my mind. “I’m not on duty” I began to say to myself. “I’m not on duty, he is not my patient.” It became a kind of mantra; a reason for not interfering as I normally would.
And then he called the others…and they came. There was a large quantity of them but two caught my eye: Alice and Tyler. He had called the children too. I was almost too angry for words. He had brought my children into the battle, to fight me.
Things seemed to go from bad to worse. I summoned the local dogs to join me, and Lucy did her best to incapacitate Clive further…and then the Hound threw something. At Alice. I…in all my years of practice…have never seen something do so much damage in so little time. It almost looked like parts of her were melting away, as if her flesh was butter on a hot pan. I froze, shouting at them to not hurt the children; pleading with them to not hurt the children. I couldn’t take my eyes off her…the pain she was in; the damage that had been done…
And then he called more of them. Rory and Ellis came into view. I ran over to Alice with my medic’s bag and tried to do my best to stabilise her. Her breathing was ragged and laboured, and I did what I could. Slowly, her breathing calmed and her pulse began to settle back down. I could hear fighting behind me, and I turned to look. I sent my dogs to protect the children and I sent a few to engage with the adults so they couldn’t engage with anyone else. In the doorway I saw the Hound’s companion summoning cats, and I hoped he would aid me in my attempts.
The rest of the battle passed by in a blur. Something happened to Deveraux, though, as the rest of the ghouls stopped to look. He was lying on the floor, torpored, Tyler, Ellis and Rory were sat sobbing around his body. Merris was kneeling down with Lucy, a knife in the leg of the ghoul near her, holding her tightly. I looked back to Alice, who, while no longer bleeding, looked in a hellishly bad way. The Hound told the ghouls they could go; they were now free, and when no-one moved, I looked over to my children, sobbing over “Daddy’s” body. I felt numb. All I was to them was a slave; someone to be waited on by, someone to order around. I was done with it all. I had gained my freedom…but I had still lost my children. I walked out, and saw the others follow me.
While they walked off, all a little shell-shocked, I imagine, I sat by the door. I felt empty. I felt lost. I felt alone. I could hear Merris and the Hound inside. Rory was shouting at the Hound, and then Merris and the Hound were arguing about who was going to send Clive to Final Death. As the argument prolonged and prolonged I found myself wanting to scream at them both; to stand in the doorway and shout “Fine! Fine! If neither of you want blood on your hands, I’ll take the fall! I’ll finish it! Now get out and let me do what neither of you will!”
The more they argued the stronger that image got. Eventually the Hound came and sat with me for a moment. She told me I was free. I wanted to tell her to piss off. “Free?” I thought bitterly. “Free would be leaving this place with my children and having the chance to be a mother; to be their mother. Free would be knowing I was seen as what I was, not as what they had been told I was. Free? Pah.”
I tried to explain. Eventually she walked back in, and the conversation continued. By this time…I was done.
I stood up, and mentally apologised to myself. I was going to break my physician’s oath and lose all right to call myself a paramedic. I was going to end another person’s life not out of necessity or the impossibility to save them, but out of revenge. Out of spite. Out of hatred. Out of anger, betrayal, sorrow…grief.
Neither of them noticed me. Neither one of them batted a single eyelid until I had already picked the knife up from the now-dead body of the other ghoul. Merris tried to reason with me; tried to get me to hand the knife over so I didn’t have to do it. I wanted to laugh in his face; a hollow, empty, dead laugh. “Why?” this dead shell of a person thought. “Why do you want me to hand the knife over? So you can “save me from myself” by doing it yourself? Why, only a minute ago you were arguing with the Hound, explaining why you wouldn’t do it yourself…why do I make the difference?”
I asked him to leave with Lucy. She was traumatised enough without seeing what was about to be done. Yet he refused. There must have still been the tiniest of sparks of life in that cold mind of mine, as I almost felt a weak smile. He still wanted to save me. He still wanted to be there for me…even when I couldn’t be there for myself.
The Hound moved and I looked at her, coldly. I told her in no uncertain terms that if she intended to finish Clive off she could leave. Much like Merris, I felt angry that she might be thinking of such a move after proclaiming how she was so unwilling. She began to spin a spiel about Doctor Who and teleportation and stuff. It was only when she left and Lucy started shouting about the TARDIS that I realised what she had done. As Lucy ran, the children followed. She had provided the perfect diversion for the children.
Merris and I were the only ones left in the room, and I gently pushed him aside as he reminded me, once more, that I didn’t need to do what I was about to. I ignored him. As I bent down to do the deed, I felt that pang again; telling me not to, rising up inside me, trying to force me to stay my hand. I fought it. I fought it time and time again as I slashed and stabbed and hacked. Every time it reared up I fought it back with another thing he had done. The list was endless.
No matter what I did, it just seemed like I wasn’t doing enough to bring it to an end. Then I felt him kneel down behind me, and wrap his hand around mine. Merris guided my hand adding the tiniest amount of extra force; extra direction…extra strength of will. Slowly but surely, Deveraux eventually succumbed to our strikes, and crumbled into ash. I was drained of energy, and I didn’t even have the strength to laugh or weep.
Merris picked me up, carrying me to the truck. Had I been in a better state of mind I might have made a comment about brides and thresholds, but I was too exhausted and emotionally drained to think in that usual, joking manner. He sat me in the truck, and then turned into the wolfen form I have seen him take previously. I used my powers with animals to converse with him and hear his words, and explained to the Hound exactly what he was after. He eventually returned (after I had to ask the Hound to let him back out (the scratching on the door was almost (not quite) intolerable)) and the children quickly leapt at the thought of having this stray dog join their games. Merris gambolled around with them all for a while before leading them back to the van. I returned to the house and picked up Alice’s comatose body. I think we all refused to leave her. I got the Hound to wrap her up in my coat to keep her warm in the truck bed.
We split into two groups as we left: The children stayed in the truck with the Hound and her companion, while Merris, Lucy and I got in the taxi together. The Hound had found a place for the children to live, and we made our way to James Avery’s home.
Ellis, Rory and Tyler went in with the Hound, her companion and Lucy. Merris and I were made aware of a room we could operate in, and we took Alice upstairs. The Hound offered to help, and while I was loathed to have the woman who did so much harm to my daughter in the room helping me save her, I almost wanted her to see the time and precision required to save her life. I wanted her to see the results of her actions.
We were up there for two hours. I saved as much as I could. Alice’s arm was non-existent and after many stitches, she would have huge scars and perhaps muscle weakness for the rest of her life, but, damn it she was alive. We left her sleeping, and I placed a note next to her bed. I don’t know if she will read it, or if she will believe it…but it’s there.
We left shortly after that; I didn’t want the pain of saying goodbye to get any larger. On our way back, I offered Merris and Lucy the option of staying with me for the future, rather than living in the dilapidated pub they had come to call home. After some deliberation, it was decided that they would join me, and we popped back for a short time to the pub so they could collect their things. I stayed in the car, and after a few minutes we were back on the road.
Merris kept catching my eye in the reflection on the window. He offered me the chance to talk if I wanted it. I thought about it, but then thought of Lucy. I glanced at her and then shook my head. He seemed to get my meaning, and we agreed to chat about it later.
When we arrived home, I set about making the house sun-proof. Thankfully, and that’s not a word I often use in conjunction with Deveraux, Deveraux had based himself at mine when renovation work was undertaken on the estate and he required somewhere safe to stay. I’d had to buy blackout material then, and there was still plenty leftover. We settled Lucy down to bed and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt; I was tucking someone else’s daughter into bed while mine were with a stranger.
As Lucy began to sleep, I invited Merris to sleep in a bed, rather than on the floor for the day. He seemed rather taken aback, but assented. It was when I offered him a choice of joining me in my room or using the spare room that he seemed to have the most issues. Eventually he decided he would share with me, and I threw him some old clothes to sleep in that I hoped would fit. As we both settled for the night, I began to open up about what I had done, how I had felt…everything. I found myself sobbing on his shoulder as he held me. We stayed like that for some time, and eventually I found myself drifting to sleep. The last thing I thought, as my eyes began to droop was soothing.
“At least my nightmare is over now. Now I can dream again.”