Test Case

Written by Glassdarkly, August 2007

"How's he doing, Doctor?"

Dr V'Harg applied the suckers of the slender tentacles surrounding his mouth to the underside of the cup Nurse Jones held out. A certain delicacy of touch was required so as not to spill its contents, a lesson he'd learned the hard way after that slight unpleasantness when his nutrient tank had been contaminated.

He inhaled the strong aroma through the scent glands in his skin and sighed with satisfaction. Human preparations in general didn't please him, but he enjoyed the occasional cup of coffee.

Nurse Jones, meanwhile, was staring through the little window into the dank tiled containment area where Patient X was currently pacing up and down, muttering to himself in his usual disjointed fashion. Green light that blinded him to their presence if he looked through the window from his side lit his features from below and accentuated the gauntness of his face – the spectacular flare of his cheekbones. He was thin, Dr V'Harg reflected with a sigh – far too thin for a vampire.

"Not good, I'm afraid," he said, in answer to Nurse Jones's question. "So far, he's completely rejected the sustenance provided, though he must be ravenous by now."

He'd put Patient X onto the starvation regime three days ago but so far it showed little sign of stimulating his self-preservation instinct.

Looking up at the monitor screen above his desk, Dr V'Harg surveyed the rest of Patient X's quarters. The door to the padded cell where he was confined during the day stood open and Patient X would glance into it longingly whenever his endless pacing took him past it. Sometimes at daybreak he would go back inside it of his own accord and huddle up in a tight knot in the corner, the pale curve of his bare buttocks - like a folded shell - and the vulnerable upturned soles of his feet making him seem somehow childlike and innocent.

At other times, in spite of the tight leather straitjacket he wore at all times to prevent him harming himself he would have to be held down by three or four orderlies and tasered into submission. There was simply no knowing what mood would take him.

But right now he was pacing and that was something he did all night every night, from the moment the cell door sprang open on its timer– up and down and up and down on the cold white tiles, his bare feet leaving dark prints behind them on the floor. The containment area was rather damp unfortunately, being below sea level and prone to flooding.

Nurse Jones often said somewhat disparagingly that it reminded her of a swimming pool but Dr V'Harg thought it rather homey.

At one end of it was Patient X's little bathroom, the place Dr V'Harg most wished he would pace towards and from which he was currently staying well away in spite of all inducements to the contrary.

This was most frustrating, not to mention wasteful. A little earlier, just before Patient X had been let out of his cell for the night, the orderlies had placed the unconscious body of a nude young woman, all ready for him to feed on, in the large metal tub that stood in the centre of the bathroom floor.

Putting her in the tub would of course make the eventual clean-up so much easier, Dr V'Harg thought, but even so there was some amount of mess from the opened vein at the girl's wrist that was busy dripping its contents onto the floor, the pool of blood diluting as it spread due to the amount of condensation on the tiles.

One would think the tableau an enticement that no vampire worth the name would be able to resist. Yet Patient X was doing so and the girl was bleeding to death unaided, the steady drip-drip of good blood going to waste clearly audible through the hidden microphones, as was her increasingly laboured breathing.

Of course, Patient X hadn't begun by ignoring her. Instead, he'd hovered over her, an anguished expression on his face, muttering to himself and shaking his head. "No," he'd said repeatedly, "No, no, no!"

Unable to use his hands, he'd nudged her with his foot, trying and failing to rouse her, and almost overbalancing in the process. And then a single drop of bright red blood had splashed onto his foot and he'd frozen, staring at it as if it were the most horrific thing he'd ever seen. Then he'd slowly backed away out of the bathroom and down the tiled corridor and now he was pacing by the little viewing window and the drop of blood was a dry brown speck on his bare foot.

Nurse Jones shook her head. "It's so sad," she said, in a sympathetic voice. "He hasn't been fed for days and yet he's not taking an easy kill? The poor creature's not right at all, is he?"

"I fear not." Dr V'Harg sipped his coffee, straining it through his mandibles to extract the maximum flavour. "However nurse, never say die, that's my motto. We'll have him killing again one day or my name's not V'Harg the Healer."

"I know you will." Nurse Jones's eyes when she looked at him were full of confidence and Dr V'Harg reflected that she had very nice eyes for a human – almost fish-like. "I have full faith in you, doctor. You've never let a patient down yet and -"

" – and I don't mean to start now," Dr V'Harg finished and he waved his outer tentacles at her, while she smiled, which was the human way of doing the same thing. It was an old joke between them because of course they both knew the price of failure if one took on research and development work for Wolfram & Hart.

"He's a little beauty too," Nurse Jones went on. Then she looked embarrassed. "I mean, he's handsome by human standards, Doctor, obviously – though I know that's not important to his diagnosis."

"On the contrary," Dr V'Harg assured her. "Physical beauty is a very desirable trait in vampires, nurse. Those who have it use it as a means of luring prey. I would imagine that this one, when he was sane, was quite the hunter."

Nurse Jones nodded with enthusiasm, her eyes on the pacing vampire. The dear woman was so interested in the patients, Dr V'Harg reflected – not to mention full of intellectual curiosity that he found was rare in humans. She'd been known to take work home with her and keep it for weeks in her refrigerator. Frankly, she was a pleasure to work with.

"Of course," he said, "we've done our best to maintain his physical appearance as best we can, as you know, and to keep him well-stimulated. I think he is perhaps a little less disturbed than when he came here."

It was an optimistic assessment at best and Nurse Jones nodded dubiously.

"Maybe," she agreed, though she couldn't help letting a note of doubt creep into her voice.

They turned their eyes back to the pacing vampire and both sighed simultaneously. Patient X was still muttering to himself - something he did all the time. For the most part, what he said was arrant nonsense – snatches of human poetry mixed with appalling childish gibberish, to do with lists and checking people's authorisations. Occasionally, however, he would make what almost seemed like sense and those were precious moments indeed.

Now he paused in his pacing, staring up again into the tiny window as if trying to see what lay beyond it, while the dull light cast a greenish pall on his features. In the gloom, the black straitjacket that encased his torso from neck to thigh, the arms wrapped across his chest and tightly strapped behind him, gave him the appearance of a disembodied head floating on darkness – a head crowned with a glorious profusion of tiger-striped curls.

Intellectually, Dr V'Harg could see what Nurse Jones had meant about him being a 'little beauty.' His stature was nothing remarkable for a human but he was neatly made and his facial features were pleasingly irregular.

With a pang, he remembered what a state the poor creature had been in when the Wolfram & Hart operatives had brought him to the clinic – filthy and with his clothes in tatters and stinking to high heaven. It had taken a particularly prolonged tasering to calm him down enough to be stripped and cleansed and that was when the terrible gouge marks on his chest had come to light.

Dr V'Harg had been appalled and even now the memory made him shudder. A vampire self-harming? It was a first – and he hoped an only – in his experience. Patient X had been confined to the straitjacket ever since.

Mostly, it appeared that he had no idea who he was or even what he was. He hadn't shown his vampire face at all for many weeks and when he'd first been brought to the clinic had refused to drink blood even when it was offered to him in a mug. In the end, most distressingly, he'd had to be strapped down and force-fed by a tube into his stomach, though Dr V'Harg had done his best to alleviate his discomfort by stimulating other parts of his body to distract him from the process.

Eventually, after weeks of struggle, he'd accepted the cup and after that the occasional dead rat and it had been a day of triumph when he'd actually vamped out and killed a rat for himself – not an easy task when confined in a straitjacket. However, beyond rats he would not go, in spite of all inducements, and very rarely did he say anything intelligible.

Dr V'Harg had compiled a tape of those instances in an attempt to build up a psychological profile, but beyond a great deal of raving about angels, who Patient X seemed to have a particular grudge against, there wasn't a lot to go on.

"Not supposed to be here," Patient X said, suddenly. "Wrong basement."

He cast a wild look down the length of the containment area towards the bathroom where the girl lay dying and for moment, hope bloomed in Dr V'Harg's heart, only to fade at once as the vampire went on, "M'supposed to save the girl, not kill her."

Nurse Jones frowned. "That doesn't sound right at all."

"Well, no." Dr V'Harg sighed again, more disappointed than he cared her to know. "He's very confused, poor creature."

"I wish we could just take the wretched soul out of him," Nurse Jones went on. "I know you said it's better for him this way in the long run but it does seem a little – well, cruel."

"Nonsense!" Dr V'harg touched the very tip of a tentacle to her hand – humans didn't care for the feel of his suckers, he knew, not even Nurse Jones– as both reassurance and mild reproach. "Even if we could get hold of a competent enough shaman, you know quite well it'll be better for Patient X in the long run if he learns to overcome his disability and be true to his nature even with a soul."

He didn't add - though he thought it - that of course it would suit Wolfram & Hart much better too if he, V'Harg the Healer could prove to their satisfaction that a vampire with a soul could be taught to kill as easily and freely as its more fortunate unsouled brethren, given the right treatment. It would solve what he understood was an intractable problem for them.

But it wasn't Nurse Jones's job to remember where their funding came from, it was his – and Wolfram & Hart or no Wolfram & Hart, he wouldn't even consider the current course of treatment if he didn't believe it wasn't in Patient X's best interests in the long run.

After all, he was a doctor, not a torturer, though of course torture was a respectable and ancient profession and he had nothing against properly licensed practitioners.

"He's crying," Nurse Jones said, suddenly. "Oh, poor thing! What's he saying?"

Patient X was indeed crying, though silently, moisture seeping from the corners of his eyes and slipping down his face all unheeded. He was also banging his head repeatedly against the tiled wall. "I hurt the girl," he moaned, tossing his head from side to side.

Then he looked straight up at the little window and into Dr V'Harg's eyes, for all the world as if he could see him.

"I'm a bad, bad man!" he said.

"He's going to injure himself." Nurse Jones reached to press the call button and summon the orderlies, but Dr V'Harg stopped her.

"Wait a moment. He actually seems a little more lucid than usual. We might learn something, you never know."

He leaned forward, fascinated, searching for any glimpse of sanity in those drowned blue eyes – any sign that Patient X remembered himself. He had an overwhelming sense of some sort of crisis point having been reached.

"Buffy!" Patient X said – shouted, rather – suddenly. "I hurt you. I'm sorry. Forgive – forgive me. I wanted to be a -" He ground to a halt and Dr V'Harg saw his prominent Adam's apple jerk in his throat.

Then he went on, "Wanted to be a good man for you but now I'm here and they want me to kill her." Patient X shut his streaming eyes and tossed his head from side to side. Then he looked up at the window again and just for a moment his face turned savage, a glint of feral gold in his gaze making the tears glitter.

"I won't bloody do it, you know," he said, and it was as if he was speaking directly to Dr V'Harg. "You can't make me."

There was a long silence, during which Dr V'Harg realised he was holding his breath and then Patient X's expression changed. His face seemed to crumple, the bones so close to the surface under the thin skin that it seemed like a scull barely covered with flesh.

"But I can't save her either," he wailed. Then he slumped to the ground, back to the wall and knees next to ears, dangling privates limply on display, and wept aloud, grinding his teeth together and keening like an animal in pain.

"That's – that's horrible!" Poor Nurse Jones was so upset she had a hand over her mouth and tears on her own cheeks. "He's feeling – the poor creature is actually feeling remorse."

She turned brimming eyes on Dr V'Harg. "Oh doctor, we have to help him."

Dr V'Harg touched her with his tentacle again. Unlike her, he felt suddenly elated because he knew what they'd just witnessed.

"We will," he promised. "Don't distress yourself, Nurse Jones. He's hit rock-bottom, don't you see, and now the only way left for him is up."

He took another sip of his coffee and offered the cup back to her, though he had to wait a moment while she put on a protective latex glove before she touched it, because of the slime. However, he was too pleased at the breakthrough Patient X had just made to mind the delay.

"He's begun to talk about his past," Dr V'Harg went on, "to name names -and the more he opens up to us, the more we can break down the artificial barriers of conscience erected by his soul and help him find himself again."

"I hadn't thought of that," Nurse Jones looked relieved. She wiped her face and smiled dutifully.

Dr V'Harg waved his tentacles at her to reassure her further. "Did you hear him say that rather odd word – Buffy, I think it was?"

He repeated the word again. It was one of the sort that if repeated too often quickly became ridiculous. "It sounds like a girl's name, don't you think? I'd hazard a guess this was someone he was in love with and that he hurt in some way. Love is not unknown among vampires in nature, though it's rare."

"I remember." Nurse Jones nodded. "There was that vampire - James, was it? – who your colleague Dr Gregson treated. Killed himself for love, so it was rumoured."

"Exactly." Again, Dr V'Harg congratulated himself on having acquired such an intelligent human as a nurse. "This Buffy girl may well be the key to Patient X's emotional problems – his refusal to kill - and if so, we have a way into his psyche – a way to help him. Of course, it will require extensive – and rather invasive – treatment, magical as well as physical, along with his regular behavioural therapy."

He waved his tentacles happily. "But that's all to the good since if we tread carefully he'll end up blaming her for what he's going through."

"And it'll be worth it in the end if it helps him get better." Nurse Jones was looking at Patient X again. He'd slumped over on his side and lay, an inert heap of skinny dejected vampire, encased in black leather that restrained him tightly yet left him peculiarly vulnerable. In the meantime, the steady drip-drip of the girl's blood onto the bathroom floor had slowed and her breathing had stopped altogether. She was dead.

So once more, the vampire had failed to make a live kill. No wonder the poor creature looked abject – not in the least the magnificent killing machine he should be - and the sight only made Dr V'Harg more determined than ever to help him. This was, he thought, an unacceptable situation to him as a physician and Patient X so much more than a test case.

"It will indeed," he said, feeling truly optimistic for the first time in weeks. "Well, no time like the present." He put a tentacle to the call-button and pressed it but his eyes remained on the vampire, who lay staring wide-eyed into the darkness.

Suddenly, Patient X spoke again, his voice flat – devoid of all hope.

"I didn't save the girl," he said.