Just a little fic in response to this challenge - "Humane"
Me? I'm no one
“You can get dressed now, Mr Ellison.”
He sits up, automatically reaching round to drag off the surgical gown. The machines have stopped beeping, and now he's pretty much stopped caring. He had come into the hospital with a determination to get answers, but the non-committal shrugs and kindly smiles of the various technicians have pretty much squashed any optimism that he’s going to find the answer here – the answer to whatever it is that’s slowly and steadily destroying his life.
As he drags his shirt back on he surveys his torso dispassionately. He knows people look at him admiringly, but he’s not fooled. He's felt so long like he’s a shell, disconnected from the rest of humanity, that his body looks to him now like some kind of artificial device, perfectly moulded in plastic, not flesh, and filled with imperatives and instructions that he no longer controls. He's a real-life, full-size Action Man by Mattel; there’s a string in his back, somewhere, and if anyone pulls it, the right things come out of his mouth.
Hold your fire until I give the order!
Freeze! Cascade PD!
Gimme a Wonderburger to go!
Except right now, not even the standard programming is coming out right. His colleagues, co-workers – he can't talk about friends, he doesn't really have any - look at him like he’s the freak his childhood told him to fear. They keep away from him like he's radioactive. Like he’s not safe to be around. Like he’s gone wrong.
And what do people do with things they can't fix? The job is the one thing that holds him to any kind of human contact. If he can’t do that, if he loses that, he knows with absolute, cold certainty that he is lost, too.
Human contact – not his specialist subject. It’s always been easier to stop people getting too close, to avoid the searching questions and dangerous commitment. Because other people break too, go wrong, go away…..
And not just people. He’s thought a lot in recent days about his childhood, and one image keeps coming back. Betsy was very old when he was very young – Steven still in the baby carriage. She was rheumatic and wheezy and he loved her warmth and loyalty and stability. He would sit for hours with the dog’s head in his lap, pulling gently on her soft ears and running his hands through her thick fur while she happily dozed her elderly years away, or gazed at him adoringly with her cloudy eyes. It was to Betsy he ran when the shouting and the sniping got too much, so he could bury his head in her warm flank and concentrate on her gentle breathing, blocking out the adult arguments circling round his head.
And yet one day she was gone. No preparation, no farewell. Sally had been crying – Betsy had been her dog far more than his parents’ – and trying to tell him that Betsy had been so ill, so old, that everything was going wrong with her, that she was suffering…. And then his father had simply swept into the kitchen where Jim had been bawling his eyes out and told him sharply that it had been the humane thing to do, and Jim should quit his blubbering.
He had looked the word up in the dictionary a few years later, when Stevie was still too little to understand but Jim had been old enough to listen unwillingly to those adult arguments and flinch vicariously with every cruelty inflicted. When he had heard his mother hiss:
“You know, if this marriage was a dog, it would have been put out of its misery years ago!”
he had looked it up then. Humane: Pertaining to kindness to other persons or animals. Funny, that people used that word, that concept, as a justification for their actions when kindness seemed so very far from their aim.
What would be the humane thing to do with Jim Ellison now, this malfunctioning piece of kit? He reckons that the medical world’s opinion would be to say as little as possible and render him as harmless as possible; therapy, exploratory surgery, disability. Jim Ellison is suffering all right, and that’s the medical fraternity’s best approximation of kindness when faced with something they don’t understand. But he’s not ready yet to be tested to destruction, thanks all the same. Though his options right now seem as dead and grey and featureless as this tiny hospital room.
So when the door opens to admit not a Marcus Welby clone but the smiling, antsy guy with the too-big white coat and the trainers that squeak on the polished laminate floor, why is it that colour and light seem to flood in? Why do all his too-active senses reach out for the contact even while his cop’s logic and cynicism keep his outward reactions severely in check? And even while’s he’s snapping at the perceived intrusion, part of his troubled brain is listening hard, picking out those words with the little bits of hope attached:
“You don’t need medicine, you need information!”
“Me, I’m no-one, but his guy, he is…. The only one who can truly help you.”
“You’re too far ahead of the curve for this techno trash…”
And when the real Marcus Welby clone brushes past the fleeing imposter, Jim is still holding tightly on to the little business card. The words are ringing in his ears:
“You’re a detective. See the man!”
Someone who has a real interest, finally? Someone who cares enough to listen? No, don’t get ahead of yourself, Ellison. The world doesn’t work like that. You know that for a fact.
But Jim’s going to see him, anyway.