Tyrant s Blood - By Fiona McIntosh

"Hello, Reg," she said as she approached. What an old-fashioned name Reginald was for someone his age; it didn't suit him at all.

"I thought you'd come," he said, not looking up.

She loved his voice and his economy with words. Reg had always been able to comfort her even when he was silent, which was most of the time. "Can I sit with you?"

She knew he smiled but he wouldn't face her. Her question did not require an answer, nor would he waste the breath to give her one. "How are you?" she said, sighing as she lowered herself next to him.

"Same as yesterday."

"Grouchy, then."

"Not for you."

"I'll take you in any mood, Reg, you know that."

He looked around at her and after the unhappy morning she'd just had, which included watching a patient die, she felt instantly comforted and secure to see his sad, gentle face, buried beneath his straggly beard and the grime of his working day. She had long suspected that Reg liked to hide behind his longish, nutbrown hair, his hat, even that wretched beard, but try as he might, he could never hide his eyes. Intelligence - far more than he let on - lurked within those gray-green eyes that noticed everything and yet invited few people into his life, for he kept them mostly lowered when others were around. Now they looked at her; vaguely amused but above all knowledgeable. He had secrets, but then he was a secretive sort - everything about Reg was a mystery. The nurses cringed whenever she mentioned him, variously describing him as rude, deranged or creepy. He was none of those things. Not to her, anyway.

"A death?" he asked as she was staring at him.

How could he know her that well? It was infuriating sometimes. The tide of emotion she'd kept at bay rose but she wouldn't cry. Couldn't cry. If her training had taught her anything it had taught her to hold part of herself back from patients, or risk being swallowed by misery. But there was more to not showing her sorrow. In her quietest of moments she worried that she was a cold person; someone who let few past her guard. The truth was, she didn't particularly want to share her life with anyone. Reg didn't count, of course. He was a stranger she'd befriended so many years ago she couldn't remember her time in the hospital when he was not roaming the botanical gardens, ever near, always available to give her a few minutes, always able to say the right things...even when he wasn't actually speaking. Something was missing in her for sure - the lonely gene, perhaps...the one that triggered normal people to go in search of others and make friends. She obviously didn't possess that gene. It was as if she were a misfit, walking around a world of people she didn't feel she was a part of. She looked like everyone, talked like everyone, even to some degree acted like them. But there was a hole somewhere - a divide she couldn't bridge between herself and everyone else. Reg was her curious lifeline, for he too was a misfit and seemed to understand even though they never discussed such intimacies.

And so she went through the motions of life - always had...even with her parents. For many years she'd thought this was simply because she was adopted. It bothered her to the point where she'd even taken some therapy for it but she knew in her heart that this was not a learned response - something she had reacted to on discovering her adoption. No, this was deep. It was in the blueprint that had made her who she was. And its particular presence in her DNA or what ever it was, meant she didn't feel fully connected to anyone except Reg, the hospital groundsman.

"Yes," she answered, finally able to accept that Jim Watkins was no longer of this life.

He said nothing.

"Mmm," she confirmed but it came out as a soft groan, hugging herself as another pang of guilt reached through her body and twisted in her gut. She was answering a question he hadn't asked and yet they both knew the question existed, hanging between them.

She began to explain, even though he hadn't requested any further information. "I try not to choose, Reg. I have to be careful."

"Save all."

"I can't. I'm different enough already; can you imagine what the media would do if it cottoned on to this?"

He shrugged.

She gave a mocking half-smile.