Human Shed Skin: Inhuman | Vers. 5 (Jan 2021)
Chapter 2: Intermission
Word Count: 1,661
Content Warnings: Mental angst
With a gasp, Jean jolted awake. Pain ran through the left side of his body, causing him to grimace and place a hand over his heart with a hiss of discomfort. There were leads on his bare, scarred chest, and he scratched at them as a man came to his side.
"Jean?" The man placed a hand over his, urging him to stop and look up.
The man was familiar, older than him with grey hair, his brows furrowed with concern. He wore a long white medical coat, typical of his status as a doctor.
"V-Verne...?" Jean murmured, only to wince at a sharp twinge of pain in his throat. His voice was scratchy, deeply hoarse. It was barely recognizable as his.
He quickly glanced around but calmed not a second later. The blank white walls, familiar double doors down an aisle and the smell of rosemary helped calm him further in recognition. The beeping of ECG monitors reached his ears, and he realized a needle was in his arm, feeding him liquid from an IV. He was in the sickbay of his home outpost, the Cellar.
Yet something was wrong. His vision was darkened from his left side as if something covered his eye. With trembling fingers, he reached up to touch it, only to meet the feeling of a bandage.
"Wh-what...?" He began to sit upright, but Verne ushered him back down into what was a hospital bed. "What...happened?"
Calm remorse formed on the doctor's face. "You've lost sight in your left eye, Jean."
Jean stared forward as the words set in. He recalled his memories: The discovery of Celezar's inhumanity. The bizarre tentacles, the tendrils that came out of his back. Their confrontation. The pure look of pained anger upon a face he loved. Then, blackness.
He attacked Celezar.
Celezar attacked him.
Blinking, he realized another medic was in the room, the same man who was on the previous hunt with him named Musa. "What—" He briefly closed his eye with another wince.
A lever on the side of the bed was cranked, putting him in a sitting position. Verne then moved to the bedside table to pour him a glass of water from a pitcher. Jean drank the gloriously cool liquid while beckoning at Musa.
"Tell me...what happened," he managed. "Start from the beginning."
Musa nodded, then glanced at the floor. "One of the drones was attacked, so Trevor lost sight of Celezar. After you went flying, we called for you for a good ten-odd minutes. We managed to get the demoness taken care of, for the most part. After you went after Celezar, we found you and..." His face twisted into a look of pain. "We...thought you were dead, Boss. All that blood, your body like that, practically cut in half..."
Jean could almost vividly picture what he must have looked like. Everything was hazy after the darkness took him, but a few particular things stood out, including the pain. It had felt as if he was dying; there was no other way to put it. He was certain, in fact, that he had died.
Such a thought jarred him, and he swallowed with some difficulty. Lowering the empty glass, which Verne took from him, he asked, "Is everyone alright?"
Musa motioned to the bed beside Jean's which was a few feet away. Looking over, Jean spotted the form of his injured comrade, Calvin, lying asleep in it.
"His chest wound was deep but thankfully away from his heart," Verne explained, moving between the two beds. "Butch, on the other hand, was up in less than a day. That man's durability continuously astounds me."
At the thought of his axe-wielding companion, Jean cracked a small smile. Looking back at Musa, he asked, "And the island?"
"Augusus won't easily recover from the inferno." Musa leaned against the bed's footboard. "As Ulrich explained, half—if not more—of the island was in flames. Your family sent some donations over to help with the recovery."
Exhaling softly, Jean softly prayed for the victims. Augusus Island was one of many near their isle. Just as he began to open his mouth, Verne gave him a look.
"The update on what happened to Augusus can come once you've recovered, Jean," the doctor said, his voice stern. "You've been asleep for roughly four days, not counting the majority of today."
Jean glanced past the doctor and medic at the window on the other side of the room. It looked as if it could be late afternoon. He looked back at Verne. "Four days?"
"Yes. You were careless."
Musa winced, whereas Jean closed his eye.
"Whether you thought it was someone you knew or not, you went after an unknown inhuman alone," the doctor continued.
Jean's jaw locked, and he had half a mind not to glare at the older man. Verne of all people would know exactly why he went after Celezar when he did.
Despite all of that, Celezar, as an inhuman, shouldn't have been able to pass through the protective barrier that surrounded their home, wield blessed swords, survive dousings of holy water, or anything that would otherwise expose, if not outright kill, most inhumans.
Yet he did. He had to be something the Lowell Hunters never encountered before. From what Jean knew of inhumans, Celezar was something no modern-day hunter had encountered. Until now.
At the thought, Jean's expression darkened, and he opened his eye. The thought of such a possibility was almost laughable. Yet there was no denying what he saw.
"I understand," he said, raising his voice a bit. It still wasn't very loud. "I'm in this situation because I was brash. Angry."
"Indeed." Verne moved past a frowning Musa, whose look he ignored.
"What's the status of my condition?"
"I checked you earlier. Aside from your coma from then, your body is fatigued. Severely fatigued. I can only imagine this is from your abnormal use of stamina to recover. Otherwise, nothing else seems to be amiss. However," said Verne, his brows furrowing, "when you first arrived, you were in near-fatal condition. The cut that went through your body was broad enough that it sliced through you from your larynx and esophagus, your left lung, a part of your heart, and lower organs. Even a good bit of your head and brain.
Obviously, you should have died. Instead, you've been recovering as if you have a healing factor. Regardless, I'm certain your throat won't heal since it hasn't yet."
Jean's expression steadily worsened as he took this in. He slowly nodded. "Celezar. He...healed me."
Musa looked contemplative, and Verne arched a brow with passive interest. "Why would he do that after attacking you?"
"He said he was...sorry." Jean recalled the words said to him, dreamlike but clear.
Musa tilted his head to the side. "That's unusual inhuman behavior...But then, there's nothing ordinary about any of this. I'll inform the others you're awake." He nodded before leaving down the long aisle that led out of the sickbay.
The moment Musa went through the large double-doors, Jean's more serious demeanor lessened considerably to one of somber resignation. "Am I clear?"
Verne shifted, coming to the left side of the bed. "Yes. I checked for that immediately. Your tests came back entirely clean. You aren't tainted," he softly assured.
Unconvinced, Jean's hands clenched. Tearing his mind from the thought, he shook his head. "What are the reactions to this? The other outposts?"
Verne crossed his arms. "The Visces, Tuomas, the Echos, and the Lichts didn't know. They are all deeply disturbed to know what happened, particularly the Visces and Lichts. The Echos are rightfully confused. He received a mark, like every other hunter. It's...unprecedented."
Jean didn't press the issue. If those people and groups didn't know Celezar was inhuman, they wouldn't get answers anywhere. Everyone should have taken it into consideration that Celezar was something else, something new. He had to be.
"Fine," Jean muttered to himself. He looked up at Verne. "So. What's the verdict?"
"Your condition or Celezar?"
"The Visces put a warrant on his human form across the Hunter Underground. We're all hoping that makes finding him easier, if by a margin." Verne took a clipboard from the wall beside Jean's bed. He looked over it, flipping back some papers. "You will remain on bedrest until I say otherwise."
Jean's expression twisted somewhat. "Fine..."
"You have zero say in the matter."
"Very good." Verne took out a pen and wrote something on a page. "The hunts have increased over the past four days. Artie is currently on a hunt."
Jean looked forward, staring at nothing. He merely nodded, then closed his eye.
He heard Verne walk away, presumably to his office by the sound of it. In seconds, the sickbay was quiet, save for the sounds of the monitors examining his and Calvin's conditions. In seconds, he was bombarded with thoughts and memories.
He recalled one time he was left in the sickbay on bedrest and Celezar visited him. He recalled all the times he spent with Celezar, including the last time before their hunt on Augusus. His teeth clenched, and he tried to divert his thoughts to something else.
But the last memory stuck with him. Passion. There had been passion...so much of it, it had been intoxicating.
His right eye began to sting, his throat clenched tightly. He couldn't even allow himself to mourn. It wasn't as if Celezar was dead. Why couldn't he just be dead? It would hurt, but at least the memories would mean something.
Turning his head to the side, he tried not to let it get to him. As if to spite him, warm moisture ran down the right side of his face and into the pillow. Slowly, he reached to brush his fingers over the bandage covering his left eye.