Maxime was drowning in blood.
It was in his mouth, his throat. The very smell made his eyes water and churned his stomach. He was trapped wherever he was, standing in a warm pool of blood that he couldn’t avoid getting into his mouth.
He wanted to scream. But he didn’t dare open his mouth, for fear of all of it flooding it into him. Then, much to his horror, he could feel it creep up his face. Into his nose, leaking into his mouth past his lips and clenched teeth. It stung as it got into his eyes, warm and salty as tears.
He was fully swallowed in it before he finally decided to just open his mouth and let it happen.
Maximilien woke with a gasp.
He failed under an unfamiliar weight. Something was covering him from neck to feet and he couldn’t claw his way out from under it.
He wasn’t aware of how loud his breathing was until a light flicked on and it was like the breath was stolen from his lungs. Maximilien’s eyes snapped shut, despite the relatively low level of the lights.
“Hang on, hang on,” a woman grumbled near him. “Try to take a deep breath through your mouth and out your nose,” the voice told him sternly. “In and out. In for a count of five…four…three…two…one. And out for three…two…one.”
Maxime shuddered but tried to do what he was told.
“You have to slow down and think of what you want to say first, Camille.”
“B-but M-maxime! I forget and th-then-“
“Non, you must breathe.”
“That’s it, just breathe. This will make it easier,” the woman said and pressed something to his neck, making him stiffen and his skin break out in goosebumps.
But within moments Maximilien could finally catch his breath and he sagged in relief.
“Make a note, we’re going to have to get on top of his asthma. Okay, back you go, come on,” the voice said. He was falling back, back, back into the blackness.
Leonardo shifted uneasily.
In retrospect, I liked working with the bodies much more.
Robespierre hadn’t been awake and coherent since Aspen Strong had brought him back two days ago. He seemed to wake up and fall asleep, all without ever recognizing where he was or what was happening to him. Typically, these included screaming nightmare or wild fits of sobbing hysteria that would force Dr. Russo to sedate him again.
Leonardo was still unclear on what exactly had been done to Robespierre on the Bastille but he was intelligent enough to draw his own conclusions from the green-brown bruises on his arms and neck, his elevated blood pressure, the raw scraping on the back of his throat.
Previously Leonardo had been politely dubious of Richard’s dire mutterings of what the future would try to do to them. He felt secure in his position, certain that this enlightened world held no threat to him. But now…
Leonardo helped Russo rearrange Robespierre on the temporary cot they had set up, automatically moving to check his pulse, with two fingers under his jaw, then making sure he hadn’t knocked the thread thin IV needle loose, again.
“You’re getting good at that,” Russo remarked. Leonardo nodded his head, pleased. Russo wasn’t one to be free with her compliments. She stretched and sighed.
“His blood pressure is slowly dropping. Soon we’re going to need to work on keeping him awake, to try and help him re-acclimate. It’s not good for his muscles to go straight from artificial gravity to natural gravity without exercising.”
“Because of the atrophy?” Leonardo asked. He was still going over the medical texts Russo had given him.
“Among other things yes. It’s also detrimental to his mental health. He needs sunlight-“
Leonardo snorted. The winters were long and apparently sunless in England. Richard had informed him over breakfast that he didn’t remember them being quite this long, however. Another mystery.
“You know what I mean,” Russo snapped. “We’ll also need to work on a PT regiment for him.” She cast a dubious look over Robespierre’s prone form. “Lord only knows what though. He looks like a stiff wind would snap him in half.”
Leonardo laughed slightly. “Si. Alright then. You want me to stay, and watch?”
Russo nodded. “Aspen wanted to see Jones and myself, privately. Just keep watch on him but let me know if there’s a sudden drop in his vitals.”
As she walked out of the modified kitchens, Leonardo settled back with his tablet, but stared at it absently. What could Strong want with both of them?
“We need a therapist.”
Aspen said it all in one breath, very quickly. Then she sat back and looked at Magpie, arms crossed over her chest.
Magpie blinked. They glanced over to Primavera Russo, sitting to the right of Aspen. The doctor shrugged, gesturing lightly. “Why?”
“Look. Look, look, look. Here are the facts. We have four white men out there who never had proper access to mental health care when they were alive and are now in a strange time that they can barely comprehend. They aren’t toy or museum exhibits. They’re people, with lifetimes of trauma behind them.” Aspen let out a frustrated huff. “I saw what they were doing to Robespierre on the Bastille. And if the psychedelic they gave him was half as effective as Doctor Russo thinks it was, then he’s absolutely going to need help.” She hesitated. “And I think we’re,” she waved a hand around the room, “going to need one too. I’ve been having nightmares since the Bastille. Kami and Harm are already freaking out. Magpie we need to bring some sort of medically licensed therapist on to this show we’re running.”
Aspen sat back as if her explanation had drained her.
Looking closer at her, Magpie did realize that under her carefully applied foundation and mascara, Aspen did look tired, eyes slightly red and face thin.
Despite this, Magpie folded their hands on top of their desk and sighed. “I see your points, they’re good ones. But we’re risking a leak already, since Julia knows and we’ve also had Doctor Russo here.”
The doctor raised her hand. “Yes, I have decided to go with the term kidnapped,” she said. “Since seeing what they did to your white man, I have officially decided that if we are ever caught, you people kidnapped me.”
Magpie didn’t know Primavera Russo well enough to tell if she was joking, but Aspen let out a startled bark of laughter before looking back at Magpie, sobering.
“Yes, I know that but, Mags, but the further we get into this project the more we’re going to need one. What happens if we get survivors from the American Civil War? Or from one of the world wars? Or if the Federation gets to another one of them before we do? History isn’t pretty and none of us,” she waved her hand around the room, “is properly equipped to handle that.” She straightened up, a steely look in her eye. “And nor should we. This is going to be hard enough.”
Magpie sighed and rubbed two fingers into their temple. “Hypothetically, let’s say I agree. Do you have someone in mind? Like you said, none of these men are from a time period when mental health would have been understood. It’ll have to be handled delicately.”
Aspen smiled slightly, teeth glinting against the red of her lipstick. “Uh, yeah. Actually, I do.”
Rome, in over three thousand years of existence, had changed a lot.
Thank gods for Roman stone, Aspen thought, taking a bite of her panini. The buildings around her were historical, carefully maintained by the Historical Reclamation Society, but built on the bones the city was re-skinned in glass and metal. Carefully surrounded by levys and with long bridges connecting it to the mainland, Rome was hanging tough in the encroaching sea.
It was mainly an attraction now, more tourists than citizens and there were aliens everywhere. One of the few exceptions were those who still lived and worked within the Vatican, itself a slowly crumbling relic. But the additional exception to that was sitting across from Aspen right now.
Robin Varma had known Robin since she was eighteen, sitting in intro to Psych, working as the TA. A decade later and very little had changed about Robin. Still grave, with dark brown eyes that seemed to stare right through you. Soft spoken but Robin had never had a problem getting people to pay attention to him. His back hair and beard were neatly trimmed. The only real difference between then and now was the vitiligo around Robin’s hands and mouth had expanded, as had the crow’s feet around his eyes.
“I’ll admit, it was a surprise to hear from you, but I’ll never turn down a lunch from Kerr’s.” He wiped the napkin around his mouth, scrutinizing Aspen. “How’s working for Magpie Jones? They’ve done good lobbying for the Town,” local lingo for Rome, “but recently they’ve dropped out of the news.” He leaned back and stroked a hand over his beard. “So has Doctor Miller, but everyone thinks that maybe her assistant has finally killed her.” He laughed lowly.
Aspen choked on her beer. Her laughter came a beat too late.
Robin leaned forward. “Aspen. I know you. You’re not the most magnificent at hiding your feelings. What happening to you?”
She had to bite her tongue to keep her emotions in check. “Can we go take a walk?” She asked quietly. “I can’t…”
“Can’t talk about it here?” Robin nodded and raised his hand for the waiter.
The whole story came out as they walked around the villa Doria pamphili. Near the brackish green lake, they sat down on a bench and Aspen even took her arm off to show Robin the scuffs along the fingertips where the metal grooves of the garbage chute had marked them up.
Robin let her get through the whole thing without interrupting, just looking at her calmly and placing his hand on her shoulder when she faltered. When Aspen finally finished, Robin leaned back and sighed, looking over the still and murky lake.
“Let us say I believe you. You have joined a conspiracy to help save dead men from our own government and the mad scientist who crated them. Now you and Jones are so far in over your heads you’re drowning. You have a one, maybe two who could be considered comfortably adjusted, one who is uncomfortable, and one who had been severely damaged by his time here. You cannot take them out in public because no one will believe that white men simply popped up from the ground, so your entire life has been thrown into disarray. Now you want me to come with you and add to the complications.”
Aspen opened her mouth but then slowly shut it again.
Robin turned to look at her. “Why did you recommend me to Jones?”
Aspen, taken aback, sputtered for a moment. “You’re the only trauma certified therapist with a background in religious study that I know? You helped pull me out of my depressive slump when I lost my arm? You don’t work for the Federation?”
Robin stroked his beard thoughtfully. “All true.” He held up a finger to her. “However, that’s not the only reasons.” He turned his hands over in front of her face. “You also need someone that the white men are going to look at and see something familiar, don’t you?” His tone wasn’t cruel but it vivisected Aspen right open.
“Maybe,” she admitted, looking down at her own remaining flesh and bone hand. “And for us.”
“How do you mean?” Robin asked.
Aspen took a deep breath. “I know, it’s not them, well except Napoleon, I think? But sometimes I look at them and I remember that oh yeah, these men wouldn’t have considered me a person in their own time. And then I went through all that shit, for Robespierre and I’m like what the fuck am I doing this for?” She took another breath. “And I don’t bring it up to Mags, since they’re blinded by their own love for history and Jerome didn’t have any trouble going to bed with one of them. Kami and Harm fucked off so I think they get it, but I know it’s only going to go deeper. And what if we end up with something real bad?” She looked over at Robin, who was still watching her stoically. “Does that make sense?”
Robin smiled. He heaved himself off the bench, brushing splinters off his cassock. He offered his hand to help her up. “Aspen. Everything you said is understandable. I’d say reasonable, even. Jones would be a fool to dismiss them. You should tell them what you think.”
“Yeah?” Aspen asked, fixing her arm back onto her shoulder. It snapped in neatly and she flexed the fingers.
“Yes.” They walked along for a moment. Aspen considered it a thoughtful silence.
“I will come up to Middleham to help you. I’ll find my reasons to get away and I’ll help you get these men back onto their feet.” Robin sighed. “It’ll be more complicated than Jones thinks, but you are doing the right thing. And I think the instinct is right. They won’t respond to just anyone you brought in.”
Aspen blew out an enormous breath, feeling her shoulders untighten for the first time in a week. “Thanks Robin.”
He braced her shoulder again. “As always, Aspen. As always.”
A/N: This is the episode I have been waiting to write since I began this whole thing in 2017. It’s also been the one I’ve been most nervous about posting.