It smelt like dried blood and something else that I couldn't quite put my finger on. The windows were barred with wood, leaving the dying sunlight to stream in through cracks and small spaces. The floor was dirty; stained with the dust and grit from outside and God knows what else. Sickly-seeming people sat scrunched together in every corner I looked. One man caught sight of me, his old eyes going wide and crazy for a moment before some woman hushed him, offering reassuring words. He whimpered, closing his eyes and dragging the rag of a blanket closer to him before brushing closer to the white wall.
The woman gave me an uncertain, pinched look, traveling from my tired face to the obvious sidearm strapped to my hip. I didn't try to hide it; it kept a few eager hands away from my pockets, but then and there, I felt a little ashamed. What kind of person brings a gun to a hospital? Even if it wasn't one anymore, it was still a refuge to some degree.
She stared for another minute, before she opened her mouth and a thick southern accent welcomed me. “Are you friendly, girl? Or looking for a handout?”
“By handout, you mean robbing you at gunpoint? No. I'm looking for someone, actually.”
She scowled, folding her heavy arms over her burly chest. His red hair matched her rising temper. “Military?” she asked. She could probably smell it.
“Me? Yes. Although the person I'm looking for his is about as anti-military as one could be without taking arms against the army.”
She snorted. “We've got plenty of those.”
“I see...” My fingers fumbled into my back pocket, grabbing at the folded picture. It was of Jon, just before Rachel was born – beardless, raven haired, and green eyes. He was looking right at the camera, barely smiling as the English winter snow surrounded him, hands tucked carefully into the pockets of his coat and a scarf wiping along with the wind. He was my exact copy, in a way, or some would tell me. I couldn't see the resemblance, seeing as he was Jon, ambitious, bright, and thoughtless. And me? I was Gwen – a little modest and a little quiet.
The red-haired woman eyed the photo skeptically, taking it from me and mumbling something to herself. “Name?”
“Jon. Jon Churchmen.”
“You should check the roster then,” she said, pointing to a board overflowing with missing person notices, pictures, and hopeless pleas for help. “We keep a list of the dead. In case, you know, anyone comes looking. You'd be surprised how few come out this way, though. You're the third this month.”
A list of the dead? From where I stood, I couldn't read the names clearly, but I stared nonetheless, catching blurs and bits. Alexandra. Ben Smythe. Emilio. There were a few descriptions too; no names, just a set of details. Hair color, height, facial features – that kind of stuff. But I refused to believe that Jon managed to get himself on that list. This was my brother we were talking about here. My Jon.
“No, um...I'm looking for a doctor.” I said slowly, swallowing thickly. “Well-experienced, grumpy, around thirty?”
“Be more specific, darling. We might be short on doctors, but they're all alike to some degree. Grumpy as hell because they don't get any sleep, probably.”
“Um...he has green eyes, a cleft chin...” I mumble. “British! He has a British accent, like mine, but a little thicker, I believe.”
“Oh! Oh, you mean Joe! Yeah, yeah. Dr. Handsome as he's known by some of the younger girls around here. Yeah, he's here. You his wife? Girlfriend, or something? You look a lot like that daughter of his. What's her name? Rochelle, Rebecca?”
“Rachel! You mean Rachel, right?” Oh God, this could've been what I was looking for. He could be so close – both of them.
“Yeah, yeah. Rachel.” The woman smiled. “That's the brat's name. He's here – both of them. So you his wife? He has a ring, so I'd guess as much,”
I smile. It's sad and slight, but it was still a smile. “No,” I said. “I'm his sister. Gwen.”
The piercing first sound of a newborn child welcomed me as the woman lead me to the east wing of the crumbling hospital. Squatters and the sickly lived in the halls, moving slowly amongst themselves, only taking a moment to look my way when the redhead lead down one corridor and the next. There were other people like her there too; helping and calming the helpless anyway they could as I interrupted the usual somber atmosphere.
The squatters were kept out of the main rooms, meant for the wounded and the worse off. It surprised me how a hospital could still run, despite being cut off from military support and perhaps any other kind of support. She lead me until we reached the maternity ward, a little more intact than the rest of the building. But it was cramped. Mothers walked around aimlessly, carrying little bundles while the infants cried and sobbed the only way they could, while (who I supposed could be called) nurses ran in different directions, trying to control the sheer number of pregnant women and newborns. Then there was that sound. That little cry of a human meeting the world for first time behind closed, blue curtains. I may have not had any kids of my own, but anyone could separate that single outcry from the rest of the rabble.
“Ah. Another one,” the woman to my side muttered.
“I didn't realize there was such a...baby boom.” I replied.
“Wouldn't exactly call it that, sweetie. We just keep them safe here, you know?”
“Yeah...” I whisper. The hospital seemed like a haven in disguise, even if it didn't seem to be much.
Behind the curtains, there was another muffle of noises and of the child crying, before the blue drapes were parted open, and I sawhim. The back of his head to be exact, and his hands, out stretched to close the curtains again. When he turned to me, I nearly fell to my knees. Jon didn't look like Jon...expect it was him. It was my brother, even if his hair was graying and there were wrinkles I didn't remember. My stupid, short-tempered, pig-headed brother was right there.
He didn't see me, as his eyes were dropped to the chart he held, but bloody hell, it didn't matter. The woman smiled secretly, looking at me as I fought to scream out his name. From the corner of my eyes, she disappeared and left me to myself, a hand clasped over my mouth. Crap, I was going to cry. I was going to cry, and Jon would look up from the chart, and then he would see me. For the first time in what felt like a lifetime. My brother was going to look at me, tears nearly falling and silent sobs wrecking through my body, and he wouldseeme. Actually see me.
I'm barely able to take in a breath, but he stopped reading and fell deathly still. His head remained bent hunched down, but his eyes – those glassy, green eyes – looked up. “Sweet Jesus,” he whispered. “Gwendolyn?”
I laughed, the sweet little sound coming out muffled behind my hand. “Yeah. Hello, Jon.”
His hands and the chart fell to his sides with a quick fluster of movement. He stared. “Bloody hell...You're gone for a year and a half then you just pop by here to say “Hello, Jon”? Frackin' hell, Gwenie.”
Something between a sob and giggle escaped me. “Screw you,” I simply say. And then I'm off. I hug him as tightly as I possibly could. And he held me to him, his entire body towering me, but I didn't mind, it was so familiar and so warm and I refused to let go.
“Hi, baby sister.” Jon whispered.
I found what I was looking for.