"Without fear in our hearts, we're little different from the beasts..."
The words of the old crow echoed within your exhausted mind as you limped through the darkened streets of Central Yharnam. The arms of the horizon embraced the set sun casting light of golden, purple, and red across the hazy sky. The outstretched shadows from the towers pointed you to the familiar lantern at the most equidistant point of the city. The heavy ringing of the iron bell announced the passing hours, foreboding the ominous night.
Having used the last of your blood vials, you desperately needed to return to the safety of the dream. At this point, even a simple, blood-crazed citizen could easily cut you down, and you cared little to lose the echoes of blood you collected to yet another death. Clutching the gash at your waist, struggling to keep your entrails from spilling over the brick pavement, you limped up the staircase, clinging to the iron rods of the gate, your only anchor to the living world.
"Please, still be alive," your gravelly whisper was drowned out by the squawking of a nearby crow.. "Please...Please..."
The distant towers slowly spun and blurred in your sight, and your ears perceived little more than a shrill ringing. A cold sweat dripped down your temples, and your muscles though cumbersome and weary twitched uncontrollably.
Then, the old bell tolled, sending its arduous reminder that the hunt proceeded on....
And your time grew short...
"A hunter must hunt."
Eileen's words always seemed to haunt you at the most inconvenient times...
As soon as you perceived the fits of rasping coughs through the candlelit window, you sighed in relief and sunk to the floor, back pressed against the bars surrounding the young man's home. The lantern seemed to flicker cheerfully at your presence, and a satisfying warmth blanketed your tachyarrhythmic heart. That violent hacking emanating from the window next to you jolted you back to whatever remained of your senses, back to reality. In this world of chaos, this slow descent into madness, this small house at the center of it all served as a foundation, a sanctuary, in some ways even more than the Hunter's dream, though you would never utter such blasphemy.
Your legs to weak to hold your weight, you picked up a nearby pebble and tossed it at the glass. The fits of hacking abruptly ceased, and the filmy curtain behind the bars of the windows were shifted just enough for you to perceive the long fingers cradling its rim.
"So, the Hunter's returned," his lilting voice felt like a breath of fresh air. "I was beginning to wonder if you would."
Your tired laugh quickly turned into a choking, fluid ridden hack, allowing blood to leak from the corner of your mouth, yet a smile still spread across your face.
"I was beginning to wonder that myself, Gilbert," you gurgled out. "I was almost torn apart there."
He took a moment to observe your condition, with a cough or two riddled in with the quietness.
"By the gods, child!" his force nearly caught you off guard. "You mean to tell me you've been running around the streets, barely hanging by a thread? Stop this nonsense at once!" the exasperation sent him into a muffled fit of coughs.
Finally, you managed a flimsy chuckle, and with every bit of strength you could muster, you pulled yourself up to the window in hopes to glimpse at his face. Sadly, especially with your vision clouding, all you perceived was the vague outline of a person.
I just....," your words trailed off into a long exhale. "I just wanted to ensure your safety, I suppose..."
He paused for a moment, then breathed.
"I have no words to express your consideration," the softness returned to his voice. "But, I told you not to worry about me."
You shook your head and swallowed the lump threatening to form in your throat.
"Your cough sounded worse last time I visited," you explained. "You know, when you told me about the aqueducts?"
He made little more than a hum as a reply. No one was more aware of his gradual decline than he, and you tried your best to pretend he would survive. But, as the night progressed, and with each insight gained, your optimism plummeted.
If only you could stay with him...If only you could stay and nurse him back to health...Could you? Or would the night ever advance? Were you wrong to wish this, being locked in time with him forever, abandon the hunt altogether?
But, what would be the ultimate consequence for that?
By the gods, did it hurt to even think right now...
Thankfully, his voice snapped you from your temporary existential crisis. After wiping your eyes on your sleeve, you peered through the window once more. Finally, you spotted the shimmer of auburn hair framed around pale skin.
Immediately, you smiled.
"Forgive me," you mumbled with a quick shake of your head. "I...I just..."
A sudden click and creaking of the window latch caused you to gasp. Slowly, deliberate, thin, bony fingers curled under the rim of the window and pushed it up, just enough for him to slink his arms through as far as his current state would allow. Though you saw nothing in his palms, you threaded your fingers between his, fighting the tears burning the rims of your eyes.
If only you could properly articulate the overwhelming, bursting sensation within your chest...A tightness welled in your throat. Your heart bounded so rapidly, you feared it would explode from the stress. You held your breath as you examined the roundness of his joints, the small, filthy bandages wrapped around his wrists and fingers.
He was more than just a voice behind a window now...
Oh, how you pined to hold him in your arms...
"What afflicted me was incurable," he coughed, sorrowful eyes meeting with yours. So much emotion, so much wisdom hid behind those apertures. "This town...gave me hope. Their strange blood bought me time..."
"Gilbert, please...," much to your shame, tears smeared down your grimy face.
"I was most fortunate," he continued. "Unharmed by the plague of beasts, I can even die human..."
"Don't, Gilbert, please..."
Bringing his hands to your lips, a sob choked you, preventing you from speaking. While you understood this inevitable reality, the thought of losing your only anchor to sanity in this damned hellhole triggered a prompt desire for death. While you lost comrades you legitimately cared for, Gilbert was the first to secure you, to remind you that you were not alone in this living nightmare. His kind words of support and guidance served as a beacon to you as you wandered aimlessly through Yharnam.
Losing him so soon....just when you needed him more than ever....
Though you stopped to question your rather...intimate action, Gilbert neither reprimanded you nor recoiled from you either, so instead, you placed another kiss to his palm, then to his wrist. Quietly, he released an airy sigh, one of contentment, as if he enjoyed your simple signs of affection. You wondered when the last time he was ever touched might have been.
When you lifted your gaze, Gilbert's eyes were closed, head resting against the frame of the window, his breathing slowed without the interruptions of his cough.
You ensured you memorized every detail of this memory, down to the golden hue of the lamp light glowing in his hair, down to the tenderness enveloping your pining heart.
"I'll return shortly," you said. "I need to patch up this wound before continuing, but," your grip tightened reassuringly. "I'll come back for you. I promise..."
With a short coughing spasm, then a tired smile, he replied,
"I believe you, lassie...I believe you..."