Disclaimer : I don't own any of the places or characters. They are property of Leigh Whannell and James Wan, as well as anything belonging to the Saw movieverse.
Usually, when they heard the bad news, they just couldn't handle it. Most of them had been expecting it, preparing for it, gathering their last remnants of dignity in order not to break when the fatal word fell from Dr Gordon's lips. But they couldn't cope. Couldn't keep their faces straight. "Cancer", the doctor said, without a trace of compassion, and the fear distorted their features, filled their eyes with tears.
The women would cry a little, sometimes sob in his arms for a while – Zep didn't mind much, it was part of the job – and then they would get up and walk away, thinking of their husbands and children and all the people they had to remain strong and alive for.
The men, most of the time... The men would get very stiff, very silent. But eventually they would let it go as well. Watching them, you could see the tension, the violence, the rage. They were angry at their own fear, angry at their weakness, angry at the failure that the disease represented. Angry at the pity they knew would drive them to hate those who loved them the most. Angry at the counterperformance – cancer. Cancer. A tumor. A little bundle of cells that refused to understand they were supposed to die.
It was all such a waste.
Zep watched them, comforted them, wiped their tears and their blood and their bodily secretions, helped them back up when they fell, supported them, covered up their dead faces with immaculate sheets. All day long. No surprises. He couldn't remember the last time he'd actually felt something more powerful, more significant than the usual vague, weary pity.
And then John.
John had received the news with a straight face, but Zep knew better – why would the man be any different? He would break eventually. The doctor had offered John his sweet-sad-"I'm sorry" smile, calculated and designed for the circumstance, and had left Zep alone with the dirty work as usual.
John was certainly used to disease, Zep thought. For over ten years, his file said, he had been fighting against cancer – but now it had reached his brain, and he was going to die. He had certainly placed much faith and hope in his last chemotherapy. It had failed. John had asked Dr Gordon for a precise prognosis about the amount of time he had left – six to eight months, a year at best.
The doctor's cold, blue stare stood in ridiculous contradiction with his smile. The smile was a facial reflex. Usually, the patients pretended not to see that. They were already discovering denial, clinging to any trace of support they could find, even when it was so blatantly fake. But Zep had seen something like icy hatred burning in John's eyes when Dr Gordon had given him the smile. John knew, and faced the truth. Zep had been intrigued. But now the doctor was gone, and he was waiting for the usual – violence or tears.
He slowly walked towards John, who was sitting on the edge of the hospital bed.
"Is there anything you need?"
The protocol question. John looked up. His eyes were so pale. His skin, too. Everything in him was cold and still. And yet he looked more alive than any patient Zep could remember.
"No, thank you."
They all answered that, but usually their voice would break at that point. John's tone had been polite and elegant, perfectly balanced, as if he'd been declining a waiter's offer in the middle of a fancy cocktail party.
Zep had turned to leave, trying to let the surprise sink in. A different reaction. An interesting patient.
John's voice was rich and deep, still so steady – Zep felt something stir within himself, something like fascination. Already.
"...I would like a glass of water, please - and the X-rays of my brain tumor, if the doctor would be so kind as to let me see them."
"I will bring you some water, but I'm afraid you won't be able to see the X-rays without Dr Gordon's consent."
"And are there any chances that you could obtain his consent for me?"
John gave Zep a polite smile.
"I... I'll ask him."
"Thank you very much..." A pause. John's cold eyes were fixed on Zep's nametag. "Mr Hindle."
Call me Zep. Everyone does.
No. The words wouldn't come out ; there was no point in trying. Zep turned to leave for the second time, but something stopped him.
"You... Are you sure everything is all right?" he asked, turning back.
John eyed him. His smile was gone.
"I was just told that I had less than a year left to live, and that the decade of painful, straining treatments against my cancer had been utterly useless. I am not what you would call all right, no. But if what you meant to ask me was whether I was planning to burst into tears or destroy the hospital's equipment in a fit of rage, the answer is no – I will try to control myself."
Zep nodded with some hesitation.
"I'm sorry...," he began, like a scolded little boy. He had no idea what he was saying or why. John kept catching him offguard.
"Please don't be," John interrupted him. They exchanged a look that would have seemed strange to any exterior observer – Zep stared down at John with timid interest, lips slightly parted, while John merely mirrored his gaze, calmly, his face an unreadable mask.
"I hate to sound rude," John said at last, "but could I please get a glass of water?"