"It's Hebert" The man replied, more out of reaction than actual thought.
Danny Hebert was a mess. Bloodshot eyes stared blankly through large thick-framed glasses at the doctor who had called for his attention. What little hair he had left was an unkempt mess, much like his stained clothing. His body curved over, as if unable to bear the burdens placed upon its shoulders. He had been holding a vigil over his daughter for the past three days. Silent save for the occasional bout of curses or tears. Commonly both. His daughter lay below him, unnaturally pale, unnaturally frail. Connected through all manner of wires and tubes to the medical devices arrayed around her bed, a few emitting a beep or boop every few seconds.
"I'm Dr. Zaidi. If you have a moment, I'd like to talk about your daughter. There have been some complications."
A poor word choice. Danny shot out of his seat, chair toppling as he did so, and let out a cry. It was a loud pathetic sound that echoed in the small room. His eyes went wild, pleading. The doctor flinched back and hastily corrected himself.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have startled you. It's nothing serious, don't worry. I should have phrased that better. Please sit down."
The doctor moved around the bed and sat down on a chair next to the man, motioning for Danny to do the same. It was a comforting gesture, one he had done hundreds of times before. After a moment of hesitation Danny Hebert picked up his chair and sat, resuming his hunched over posture. One hand going up to rub at his balding head.
"Well, to begin with some good news, we expect your daughter to wake up within the next few days. The antibiotics have been doing their job and any blood toxicity should be cleared up soon enough. After a day or two of observation, we expect we can leave her in your care."
Danny breathed in deep and let out a long sigh, slowly letting his face morph into a smile. It wasn't quite a happy one, but a smile none the less. His body stood a little straighter and his eyes roamed over his daughter's placid face. She looked more relaxed than he had seen her in years.
"And the complications?"
The doctor fidgeted a bit before gripping his clipboard for support. "Yes well, while your daughter's more pressing medical problems have begun to clear up, her overall health has deteriorated quite a bit. We're not entirely sure whether some of these problems were caused by this whole incident, worsened by it or were already present and only discovered because of it, but your daughter has begun to showcase symptoms for a variety of illnesses. Asthma, anemia, vitamin deficiencies. Compounded with a weak constitution, likely from the contamination she was subject to…it isn't something that would require keeping her confined in the hospital, but it may heavily impact her quality of life."
"Christ." Danny let out. His hands rubbed over his face, passing over the stubble that had come in.
The doctor pressed on, ignoring the man's distress with practiced ease. "At the moment most of the symptoms have had a somewhat chaotic ebb and flow and haven't responded well to treatment. Not to mince words but your daughter may be very sick, possibly for the rest of her life."
"Oh Taylor…what do I do?" The question was directed at the room's sleeping occupant, but the doctor responded anyway.
"Right now? Ha ha, well I think the most important thing you can do is be her father."
His attempt to add a little levity to the situation fell flat. The words struck Danny worse than a physical blow.
"Other than that, some rest and relaxation will do her body some good. Give her time to recover. Also a proper diet will be crucial to help her gain back most of the vitamins and minerals her body needs. She may be quite weak for some time after this, just something to keep in mind. I would also advise possibly taking your daughter out of school until her health begins to recover."
The obvious "if it recovers" was tactfully left out.
"This ordeal has severely weakened her immune system, and that isn't even counting the rest of her maladies. It would be best to give her some time to recover if we want to avoid some sort of a relapse or worsening of her conditions. Perhaps have her take online classes to finish the school year, or just repeat the grade entirely. If she isn't happy with that, we should at least wait until she feels that her health has begun to stabilize. We can go over her vitals again and reconsider things from there."
Danny was not opposed to this. His conversation with the principal of Winslow had gone…less than well and he had responded in a manner...less than courteous. He was almost glad that Taylor hadn't been awake to see him that day. His temper had been a burden he had gotten from his father; best if it stay dead with him. He had still been forced to accept their deal. The family finances had not been doing particularly well, and he wouldn't be able to afford the hospital bill.
It didn't mean he had to enjoy it.
The doctor talked for a bit more and excused himself. There was nothing that could be done. He was incredibly sorry. This was Taylor's life now. Danny had stopped caring by that point. The point was made clear enough. There was nothing this doctor could do to help his daughter. After he had left, Danny grabbed his daughters hand and held on like a man drowning.
Her hand seemed so small in his. Just like when she had been a child. So small. So fragile.
"I'm going to be here from now on Taylor. I'm always going to be right here."
Taylor Hebert dreamed, unaware of the worries of her father. A lone tree sat on an azure earth, water springing forth from its roots. Round and round it spun, a dragon clad in white rising from the depths, muttering words of flame before bursting into a million burning lights. The night sky became a fireworks display of light, and then nothing, as it all vanished back into the aether.
Her father shot up as Taylor gripped his hand back.
And then, she smiled.