The Vigil

 

He didn't seem to sleep anymore, just doze fitfully in a chair or at a desk, jerking awake at the least little noise, his heart pounding in his chest as if he had just run a race.

It was the sound of footsteps this time that brought him out of his nap. His eyes felt gritty and his neck ached from the awkward way his head had dropped as he dozed. A nurse appeared by, checked the softly bleeping monitors above the bed and gave him a slight smile.

"You really should go and get some sleep, Mr. Sheppard. He's resting comfortably at the moment." Cameron just shook his head, weary of the same comments and replies. The woman hesitated a moment longer and then left. Cameron returned to his vigil.

The next time it was cool hands on the side of his head that woke him. He sat up with a panicked gasp, his eyes flying to the monitors, his hand groping for the frail fingers that had, only a few minutes before, been lying beneath his.

"Easy, Cameron. I didn't mean to startle you." He blinked blearily up at Jemma Varil, the only one of his friends who still came to the hospital every day.

Cameron had always thought of Jemma as a quiet, rather shy young woman, who hovered on the edge of his group of friends. It wasn't until after his grandfather's stroke that he had realised the value of her loyal companionship or the depth of her support. Behind the serene exterior lay a surprising strength of will; stubbornness some might have called it. She would entice him to eat, sit with his grandfather while he showered and changed and then drag him outside for some exercise. Most importantly of all, she would listen while he talked, never interrupting or offering counsel, just listening and occasionally making an encouraging comment when words failed him. He felt better just knowing that she was there.

"You look terrible," she continued bluntly. He smiled wryly, his lips curving stiffly. Jemma returned the gesture and turned towards the bed. "Any change?" she enquired softly.

"No." His voice sounded gravelly and Jemma leaned over him to pass him the glass of water that stood on the bedside table. He sipped at the warm liquid and grimaced.

"Go and take a shower, Cameron, you'll feel better. A shave too," she added, eyeing his stubbly cheeks. He rubbed a hand over the bristles. A part of him wanted to make a light comment about how a beard would suit him, but conversation seemed to be a forgotten skill; along with an easy smile. He caught Jemma's worried look and realised that he had sat for too long in silence. He rose stiffly to his feet.

"Jemma..." he broke off, a little embarrassed by what he was about to ask.

"Yes?" He cleared his throat awkwardly,

"Would you... would you talk to him?" He watched her eyes fly to the still form, startled by his request.

"Yes, of course, if you think it would help." His shoulders sagged with relief that she had agreed so calmly.

"Thank you." He gathered the bag that contained his towel, clothes and toiletry things and made his way towards the bathroom.

He felt better after the wash. It was amazing how clean clothes and freshly-shaven cheeks made a man feel more human, even through a haze of exhaustion. His name, heard through the half-open door to his grandfather's room made him pause. Jemma's voice.

"... I'm really worried about Cameron, Mr. Sheppard. He's so tired he looks ill. I don't think even he can remember the last time he slept properly. There's so much that I can't say in case he asks me to stop coming. I want to say, ‘would your grandfather want you to be doing this to yourself?' or ‘how can you help your grandfather if you collapse from exhaustion'. There's no point though, he doesn't listen."

Cameron felt his teeth grit together, his feeling of well being, however faint, evaporating. He had thought she was different, that she understood. He stepped forward and stopped again at the sight that met his eyes. She was crying.

A noise in the corridor behind him caused her to hastily wipe at the tears with the back of her hand and look up. Colour flooded her cheeks as their eyes met and she retreated to the window, her back to him.

Cameron entered the room, quietly pushing the door closed behind him and dropping his bag to the floor.

"Jemma?" She said nothing, made no movement. The sun glistened off the damp on the back of her hand. He tried again; moving closer and for once his eyes didn't instantly stray to the monitors to assure himself that the quiet beeps were telling the truth of his grandfather's condition.

"Jemma?"

"I'm sorry," she said quietly, "I didn't mean you to hear that." There was a slight wobble to her voice, but otherwise she sounded perfectly composed. Cameron searched for something to say.

"I thought..." he hesitated.

"You thought that I was different?" She turned to face him, allowing him to see the damage that her weeping had wrought on her face. Her eyes were still red-rimmed, though dry now and her cheeks were blotchy. "You thought that I would stand by and say nothing while you made a martyr of yourself?" There was no censure in her voice, only weariness and her expression was bleak. A sense of panic rose within him; was she getting tired of coming to see him? Was she going to stop and leave him to go through this nightmare alone? She turned away again, back to the view outside the window.

"I know what you thought," she continued, "and so I said nothing. Perhaps it was cowardly of me."

"No," he rasped. The strength of his emotions, of his worry was disconcerting. "You can't know how much I appreciate your visits. How much I need them." He hesitated a moment and then, putting a hand on her shoulder, gently tugged her around to face him.

"I need you, Jemma," he said awkwardly. She looked up at him for a long moment before nodding.

"I should go," she said finally, "I shall come again tomorrow." She moved past him to the door where she looked back over her shoulder. "Try to get some rest, Cameron. Please."

He stood for a long moment just staring blindly across the room. His need for her was so strong it bewildered him. He had never felt that way about anybody before, not even his grandfather. He shivered slightly at this thought and returned to his bedside vigil.

"Cameron? Cameron, wake up." He groaned and tried to bat away the insistent hand that was shaking his shoulder. Memory flooded through his sleep-deprived brain and he sat up with a jerk.

"Granda," he gasped.

"Cam." The voice was weak and shaky, but unmistakably that of his grandfather.

"Granda?" He tried to focus his eyes on the bed, passing the back of his hand across them, but his eyelids seemed glued together. Cool hands caught at his,

"Just hold on a moment, Cameron."

"Jemma?"

"Yes, hold still." A damp cloth was applied to his face and the sticky remains of sleep were wiped from his eyes, enabling him to open them. Jemma smiled at him and then gestured unnecessarily towards the bed.

"Granda? How do you feel?" The old man had watched this interplay in silence, a slight smile curving his lips.

"You look terrible." His words were slow, deliberately spaced and slightly slurred, but perfectly understandable. Relief flooded through Cameron making him feel dizzy. Jemma's hands gripped his shoulders, supporting him and he saw that his grandfather had closed his eyes after his pronouncement.

"He's sleeping," Jemma murmured softly. Cameron turned in his chair to face her, catching at her hands as she moved them from his shoulders.

"How long have you been here?"

"Just a few minutes. I saw that he was awake as soon as I came in, which is when I woke you." He nodded and gently tugged her closer until she stood between his legs. He moved his hands so that they rested lightly on her hips for a moment before he pressed his forehead against her stomach, his body shaking with a silent release of emotion. He felt her hands gently stroke through his hair and smooth down his neck and back.

"Things will be better now," she told him when he pulled away again. She reached for the cloth she had used earlier and wiped his face again. When she had finished, she cupped his cheeks with her hands and bent to press a kiss to his forehead. "It's time for you to get some sleep now, Cameron. The nurses will look after your grandfather. Let me take you home." He allowed her to tug him to his feet, but then stood looking down at her. There was so much he wanted to say to her,

"Jemma?" She looked up at him inquiringly and all the words that had been crowding to his tongue vanished at the expression in her eyes. His hand raised of its own accord to gently caress her cheek. "Will I see you tomorrow?"

"Oh yes." Her response was as warm as her smile and Cameron smiled back, the response feeling natural and easy on his face for the first time in days. There was plenty of time for what he wanted to say, for now he could be content in the knowledge that tomorrow he would see her again.

 

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