Something was off. He could feel it as he walked back to the offices from his most recent soul collection. The texture beneath his feet was ever changing; one moment he could tell it was the stone path and the next it was squishy and soft, the neatly trimmed grass that surrounded the path. Sometimes it was both his feet that felt one surface or the other. Sometimes only his left foot felt the grass or the stone, other times it was the right foot. Strange, he thought the path was a bit wider than this. He knew fully well where he was and where he was going even if he couldn't quite see it. He's taken this path too many times- it's been fully etched into his mind to where he can go from the field and back to the office with his eyes closed walking backwards. So if he knows the path so well... why did it feel so different?
He heard shouts right after he felt his shoulder bump into a solid blur. He didn't understand what was being said and he didn't care to be frank. If it was important it would have repeated to his face. A few more bumps and shouts, every single one ignored. The only thing that mattered was getting back to his office and turn in his death scythe. Why? Why was that important again? This was all routine but what was behind it? Surely he had some motivation to return to this bleak building day in and day out.
A shaky hand grabbed hold of the rectangular door handle, pulling it open and stepping inside the mono colored room. There were no more shouts, only gasps now. There were a few calls of a name- his name? They sounded frantic, important. What was going on? Did he do something wrong? He was sluggish in his movements, making his way to one of the windows on the opposite side of the room. He felt nothing bump into him here.
His saw was placed down onto the small counter, his hand lingering there longer than it should. It was a rest but from what? Why was he so tired? If this was his job then shouldn't he always be awake and ready to work? He didn't yawn, his eyes weren't closed, but his body was heavy. Another head went to the counter, his weight resting more on the smooth, granite surface. Another call of that name much closer to him now, the same from before. A bit louder now, more concerned and frantic. He mumbled something, just what he couldn't recall. He was tired and the room around him all blurred, making his head sway and spin. When did his head start hurting?
He stepped back, forcing himself away from the countertop to stand on his own. So difficult, why was that? He took more steps, each one harder to take than the last.
Silence. Black mixed in with the white, slowing overtaking everything he knew and saw. The shouts came back. All of them was that name. Some were frantic and getting closer to him, others were distant, but the most were right in his head sounding angry and desperate. Whose name were they shouting? Was it his name? It didn't sound like his name, so unfamiliar to him. He swayed, finding it a challenge to keep himself upright. Maybe if he moved away from the center and headed somewhere safe. But where was that? He tried to remember a place- one where he could go.
A face. A warm and gentle one appeared against the blurred white and black. Was that it? The safe place he needed to be?
He stepped forward, wanting to be closer to that haven.
Nothingness, darkness. The haven was gone.
Alan lifted the tap for the water on the sink, letting the slightly warm but mostly chilled water rush over his hands. Water droplets scattered over the pale hands before being hidden away by the layer of bubbly soap. The brunette reaper lathered the cheap soap over his hands, making sure he didn't miss a spot. There was a problem with washing one's hands in the winter season. The air was cold, the wind would blow harshly, and even the offices were below a standard, warmer temperature to save money. Alan's hands would dry out horribly, even if he did wear gloves. He would receive a few snickers when people saw the bottle of lotion on his desk and it was honestly getting annoying. That's why he hated having to use the restroom at work. He would have to wash his hands with the cold water, be in the chilled building all day, and have irritatingly dry hands. It couldn't be helped though, a little too much warm tea and water would send him to the restroom in the middle of the day. That alone he didn't like; they were dirty, far from his office, and made him uncomfortable. Others enjoyed it somehow, even coming in together to have full conversations and debates.
"Hey Malcolm, did you hear about the reaper from Collections?"
"No, I haven't. Why? Did something happen? Anything juicy?"
Two reapers, Alan recognized to be from the Personnel Department, walked into the restroom, striking up a piece of gossip conversation. Normally, the brunette reaper wouldn't care much about the pieces of gossip floating around the offices, but this did have to do with his his Department. The odds of it being important, however, was highly unlikely. It was probably going to be about some scandalous affair or being put on extreme overtime because they provoked the department's manager, William T. Spears. That was something even the newest reapers wouldn't dare try, maybe someone did something interesting like a practical joke toward the emotionless reaper. Either way, there was no harm in listening in.
"I wouldn't exactly call it juicy, it wasn't like he was caught having sex with his coworker or anything. No, this was pretty bad- everyone was freaking out for a while. Personally, I'm pretty concerned. Most people are saying that a demon did it, few others say he was being careless and fell against something blunt, and a couple of kids think Spears finally whacked him good," the first reaper, Alan recalled his last name to be Jones, began to tell the story.
"Well what happened to him? Did he get hurt?" Malcolm questioned, clearly intrigued by the tale.
"Getting hurt doesn't exactly sum it up. What I heard from General Affairs was that he walked into the front lobby, ready to turn in his scythe and everything but he looked really messed up. He was walking really weird, kind of sluggish, and some said it looked like he was drunk the way he swaying around."
"Was that it? He was drunk and he got hurt somewhere? That doesn't sound all too bad Jones."
Alan's eyebrow perked up at the new information. For once the gossip seemed to be like a reasonable topic, however tragic it might be. The brunette sincerely hoped that the reaper was going to be alright, it already sounded like he was hurt somewhere pretty badly. That, or the reaper had thought it a brilliant idea to start drinking at eleven o'clock in the morning. Alan lathered more soap onto his hands, washing them over again so he appeared to have some purpose of still being in the restroom.
"Let me finish Malcolm, it doesn't stop there. Anyway, so he's pretty bad on his feet right now and no one can really tell why yet. He didn't look hurt; his suit was fine, no cuts or scratches or blood stains or anything. It wasn't until he walked up to the one of the girls to turn in his stuff did she see that his head was bleeding and he really looked unfocused- like he was going to collapse any second! She tried to get him to sit down and get him to the Infirmary but he kept going on about how he was alright and to leave him alone. As he was walking away, he just stopped where he was, swayed in the spot for a while like when you're really dizzy, and BAM! He fell right then and there, left a nasty stain on the tile too. Took him strait to the infirmary after, he's been there for about two hours now."
The brunette reaper's hands froze, the water washing the soap away without a care. Did the reaper really get that hurt? Exactly... how much of the truth was Jones saying? What if it was someone Alan knew? A friend? A face he simply saw around the office everyday? Someone close like Grell? Mr. William? Ronald? Gods forbid it be Eric!
"Woah, is he going to be alright? Have you heard anything on how he's doing?"
"He's a Supervisor, one of the older reapers so he should be fine. If it was one of new kids I'd be a bit more concerned for them."
"So why did you say you were concerned before?"
"Well think about it! A demon who could take down one of best Dispatchers like that! Most likely it's still running around London! Dispatch is going to have to deal with it now and be extra careful you know? Thank Gods we won't have to run into that thing, got to hand it to them for being able to fight off demons on top of collecting the souls. They got a pretty rough job."
"True, I don't think I would be able to do that. But Jones? How is he? Have you heard anything about that?"
"Oh! Right! I heard from Sofia that he may not be as okay as one would think. After he fell over, she ran over to check over him, really sweet girl who would have done great in the Medical Department. Anyway, she checked out his head and found a pretty nasty gash next to this giant bump! It was pretty swollen and looked terrible according to her. She even said that he might get amnesia from where the injury was and how bad it was. She wasn't too sure but-"
"His name! What was the reaper's name?" Alan couldn't take it any longer, anxiety building in his chest the further the story continued on. Most likely the man injured was somebody he knew and he had to know just who it was exactly- no more guessing games with himself. He couldn't stand back and listen anymore, he had to see things for himself or at least get some more information on who the victim was exactly.
"Um, give me a second..." Jones responded, tapping his finger against the sink counter. "Let me think... he's got blonde hair, really tall with a strong build, facial hair, glasses, doesn't wear a waist coat-"
"Eric! Eric Slingby!"
"Yeah! That's him! Do you know the man? Eh? He-hey! Where are you going?!"
Alan ran strait out the restroom, drying his hands on his slacks as he sprinted in the direction of the Infirmary. He didn't bother with the lift, instead he went strait to the stairwell and quickly made his way down each flight as fast as he could. He didn't care if he stumbled a couple of times or if he accidentally bumped into other reapers along the way. He shouted apologies to the reapers behind him, who were most likely on the floor picking up scattered paperwork. He ignored the shouts, the angry calls of his name, everything directed towards him. The brunette jumped down the last few steps and into the front lobby, his feet sliding across the freshly cleaned tiles as he headed to the front door. The Infirmary was the building right across from the Main Branch offices, only a small garden, fountain, and pathway sat between the two. The brunette was out of breath by the time he passed through the double glass doors of the other building. He leaned heavily against the front counter, trying his best to get out Eric's name to the receptionist. "Er-eric... Eric Slingby... is he- is he alright?"
"Mr. Humphries! You shouldn't do this to yourself! You know better!" the receptionist scolded, coming out from behind the desk and forcing Alan to sit in one of the poorly cushioned armchairs. "Now why the devil would you run all the way over here like that? What's the matter sweet cheeks?"
"S-sorry Miss Lynn, I won't do that again," the brunette panted out, finally gaining some control over his airways. He knew he shouldn't be running around like he had but in a moment of complete panic did he really have a choice? Sitting in the Infirmary's waiting room for a minute plus a glass of water from the honey blonde receptionist helped Alan relax and calm down greatly. He was still dead worried but not as flustered as he first was. "Thank you... I'm sorry for making a fuss like that Miss Lynn, I'm taking you away fro your work."
"It's quite alright Mr. Humphries, as long as you're okay. It's my job to help people so you really didn't take me away from anything," she smiled brightly, setting the empty glass on one of small tables covered in newspapers that dated from a variety of time periods, expect from recent years surprisingly enough. The waiting room could use some modernization; it was the last of all departments and sections to be cleaned and caught up with the rest of reaper society. The nurses who ran the front desk didn't seem to mind though, it wasn't like it needed to be modern to help with work or save reaper's lives. "Now sweetie, can you tell me why you ran all the way over here?"
"Oh yes, of course," Alan cleared his throat, straitening his appearance before continuing to speak. Oh how he hated when his appearance became flustered and reflected how he felt on the inside- quite a downfall for most cases. "I heard a rumor from some reapers from Personal that... about two hours ago Eric Slingby was brought here and I... well..."
"You were worried sick that it was true so you rushed all the way over here to make sure he was alright?" Lynn finished for him, giggling a little under her breath when the other reaper began to blush. She always thought Eric and Alan were cute together, even more so when she got to catch them cuddling on one of the hospitable beds together. It was hard to see the two as a couple or even close friends when they first met each other, always arguing over everything and never seeing eye to eye, but things have improved greatly between the two for the past decade. They've became almost inseparable, closer than any two reapers that she has ever seen before.
"Well... is he alright? Do you know? Have you seen him?" he inquired, trying to keep his voice as even as he could manage. There was no need to lash our or get upset, things would settle themselves out on their own if he stayed calm.
"I began my shift about thirty minutes ago. If he was brought here two hours ago, I wouldn't have seen him since I've been at my desk this whole time. I'm sure the doctors are patching him right now or he's recovering. I'll go and check on what's going on with him. You wait right here sweetie and don't go running anywhere," she informed, getting up from the chair and giving a light pat to the other's shoulder. "He's probably just fine, don't you worry yourself."
Alan nodded softly, watching as the curly haired blonde make her way through a set of doors into another section of the building. He had to believe her when she said Eric was just fine. He always was. No matter how many times Eric got himself hurt, he was back on his feet in a few days. He was strong like that. Even if Alan was the one who was hurt or ill, Eric was strong for the both of them. Alan could never be strong the way Eric was. It didn't matter if it was actual strength when he was out in the field or sitting by his bedside keeping the brave face for Alan's sake. He always admired that factor of the other man, even when they were just getting to know each other. Eric always held a brave and strong demeanor about him; to see him horribly hurt or bed ridden was completely unheard of. Alan knew with absolute certainty that he'll be alright in the near future. His current state though... the younger reaper was worried. Eric was just like all the other reapers, they could get hurt or... Gods forbid, killed. He wasn't invincible, none of them were.
At the sound of the doors opening, Alan quickly stood to his feet, trying to put on the same brave face Eric always wore. Soft eyes, a confident smile, and a reassuring tone were the things he loved most of that face- what he tried to recreate.
He twiddled his thumbs, his feet shifted from one to the other, his eyes were glazed over with worry and fear, his mouth in a thin line, and his voice quivered when he asked, "We-well? Is he... please tell me that he's going to be alright..."
Miss Lynn held a deep frown on her face and a clipboard loaded with papers. "Mr. Humphries, we need to talk."