Negative Space Ch. 13by_bloom_©
Thanks for bearing with me everyone--I know I just keep getting slower and slower as I write these, but I promise I'll keep working! I want to know as badly as you what is going to happen to Lana next. Many thanks to my step-in editor GimletEdge for the wonderful encouragement and suggestions, and thank you to all of you for your fantastic comments. As always, please leave more! Tell me what you want to hear, and I'll do my best.
I walked out of my office one morning about a week later, the clinic quiet and dim so close to sunrise, and I laid my head on Sandy's shoulder. She smelled like unscented lotion, warm and motherly.
"I feel like a vagrant."
"What?" she absentmindedly responded, alphabetizing files without pause.
"A vagrant." I sighed and let myself curl up on the ground next to her chair, leaning my cheek on the soft fabric of her slacks.
"What on earth do you mean?"
"I have no home. To be honest, it is really amazingly lovely to be living with Theo again, but it's not my home. I have nothing there except for a pile of clothes at the foot of his bed that I couldn't be bothered to fold for the life of me."
Sandy chuckled gently and I pulled back so that she could spin her chair around to face me. "So why don't you convince your royal boyfriend to buy you a home that YOU can be in charge of?"
"Oh, that'd be silly. His fortress should be good enough for me. I mean, it IS a fucking castle." Sandy watched me as fiddled with a spot on my pants.
"Hmmm, okay. If you say so." She finished putting away the 'L's and then turned around again. "Oh Lana—I forgot to tell you. Elke called around midnight, she wanted to check in with you about something for Alma's care. You were in with Mr. Andrews, and I didn't want to bother you."
"Thanks. I'll get back to her later on. Maybe I'll actually stay up till 7 or 8 this morning and give her a ring then."
"Good. Here are your other calls," she handed me a list of phone numbers and messages, "and here are your appointments for tomorrow night. There are no appointments until later, around 1am. After talking to Elke I figured you'd probably want to head out to the compound a little while, so I kept that time free."
"Oh my goodness, Sandy, you are amazing. Have I ever told you how amazing you are? You are the best." I scanned the appointment book and made some notes in my own notebook. I wanted to remember to get all the supplies for the appointments I had coming up. I knew I'd need a couple of vaccines, some new bandages for a patient I knew had a major wound, and the ultrasound machine for another patient with a curious mass in his abdomen. It was funny to be my own nurse, medical assistant, counselor and technician, but I felt so much better here, really knowing my patients, knowing what they would need, and providing it for them, than I ever had when I was working in a hospital or a private practice. The way the medical system is set up there I was required to be ONLY a physician, and stay away from anything other than diagnosis and prescribing. I wasn't allowed to spend the time to chat with my patients, to center the assessment around them. I had to ask them the questions on the sheet, check off the boxes that applied to them, and then give them a solution and send them on their way. I actually got in trouble once from my professor for following up with a patient on the phone when I was worried she hadn't quite understood my instructions.
After Sandy, Elliott and the research crew left for the day I stayed to clean up the exam rooms, do some paperwork (I still found it really hard to get rid of the habits of recording everything. I wasn't entirely sure I COULD be sued by a non-human, but I didn't want to risk it), and make some early morning phone calls. Elke, it turned out, was worried about some potential contractions that Alma was having, and I had wanted to go out to visit Nora anyway, so I packed up my nifty little doctor's bag and headed over. The compound was as idyllic and welcoming as always, and as I walked through the gates and over the hill I felt a little bit of longing. What a wonderful thing it would be to have such a huge family. The fact that they would even taken in this unknown pregnant woman and care for her and offer her home and protection without even expecting her to give back was amazing. I had been working on a contract with Theo and Elke, working some sort of peace treaty with them, and the whole time I was so amazed by Elke's graciousness and her willingness to forgive. Millennia of confrontation, fighting, and cruelty have passed between the two groups, and there she was, shaking Theo's hand, preparing to sacrifice the actual blood of her people to save those who had been hunting them since they could remember. Theo, on the other hand, was clearly a business man in all aspects. He was certainly interested in a truce of sorts, but much more interested in the possible financial gain. Although it disappointed me a little to think of it, I understood that for him, the state of his Kingdom outweighed all else, and if benefitting it meant amassing more finances, he would do what he had to.
At that moment I felt a tingling under my skin that started at the nape of my neck and rushed forward around my face and down my spine. It felt like I had just stepped under a shower of electricity. I stopped walking down the path to the compound and took a deep breath, allowing the rush to move to its completion. The woods were quiet but every chirp and rustle of leaves felt magnified, intensified at that moment. I could smell the moist freshness of the earth, the warm dustiness of a nest above me, the green leafiness of the baby trees struggling to grow up into the sunlight. The rush didn't abate, though, so I closed my eyes, and explored it. There were new emotions in me, strange ones of determination, focus, and self-preservation. Where did these emotions come from? Thoughts popped unbidden into my mind. 'The sun's already up, I should go to sleep,' I heard myself think. 'I thought Lana would be home by now. What's she gotten herself into this time?' My stomach cramped suddenly, and I became overwhelmed with a hunger I had never felt before. A deep, needy, soul-hunger filled me, and my thoughts spoke without me again. 'Ugh, I'm hungry. I wish Lana were here. She tastes so damn good.'
I shook my head vigorously moved away from the spot I had been standing in, rubbing the back of my neck and trying to get the sensation to stop. It wouldn't go away though, and instead it almost started to come on more intensely. I knew it was Theo, from the way he'd been thinking, and it pissed me off that he would think about me just as a tasty but mischievous pet. And why wouldn't the damn feeling go away? I didn't like being in his head and I just wanted it to STOP!
I felt a little pop and the electric humming under my skin went away immediately. The super sharp senses dulled back down again, and I felt content in knowing that I was the only one in my head. I scanned the area—no one had been watching. It was warm out still, even though fall was finally beginning to creep up, and I realized I had been sweating. I took a deep breath and felt the stretch in my lungs—it was calming enough to bring down the thudding of my heart to a more reasonable rate. Just another side effect of drinking so much of his energy, I had to tell myself. Must have been. Another deep breath and I continued down the path. I had work to do.
As if in a fairy tale, the front door swung open before I even reached the steps. The beautiful Were guard who had escorted me to the house the first time stepped out.
"Dr. Crane. Welcome back."
"Thank you so much, Elli! It is so good to see you again. Can I ask you a question though? How did you know I was here?"
"The way you stomp along? Ever Were from here to Kansas could hear you. And not to mention the fact that you smell so particularly. I noticed it the moment you got out of the car."
"Oh man. I'm always out done by you fantastical creatures. How are you?"
"Creature? Hmph. Not even," Elli said, feigning anger, but her lips twitched into a smile nonetheless. "I'm fine really. Things have been slow around here, and the inaction is making me weak."
"Do you have some sort of crazy training regimen that all you guards do together?"
"Of course. Every morning at 5am."
"But you're still feeling tired?" I couldn't help but say something—there's a look people get when they say something in front of a doctor on purpose, something they wouldn't mention outright, but they secretly hope the doctor will hear.
"Oh, I'm fine, Dr. Crane. Honest. Thank you though." Elli ushered me into the house and began leading me to Elke's office. When I saw that no one else was in the hallway, I turned around.
"Are you sure you're alright, Elli? You seem a little off."
"Really, I'm fine. Thank you though." Elli was determined not to talk about it though, so I figured I'd leave it be for the time being. I could always ask her again later.
"Well you let me know if you want to talk about anything. Or even if you have a small question. I'd be happy to talk to you any time."
Elli nodded and opened a door, indicating for me to enter. I thanked her and walked into Elke's office, admiring the simplicity of it. I eased myself into the plush seats she had set up facing one another and let my body sink into the cushions. The light pouring in the window was bright and I realized it had been a couple weeks since I last stayed up past dawn. No wonder Theo had been so curious about my absence. I shook my head again, still annoyed at his comments. After a few moments Elke walked into the small room and leaned over to shake my hand—always the perfect business woman.
"Thank you for coming out. Alma has been having contractions since last night around 11pm, and is nervous they might be the real thing."
"How far apart are they?"
"They're coming every 10, 15 minutes or so."
"And can you tell how long they last?"
"No idea. I can bring you up to her, if you'd like?"
"Yeah, thank you Elke. I would like to just check her out." The line of Elke's mouth was rigid and I realized suddenly how worried she was. "It might be practice contractions, or it might be the real deal, but either way it should be fine," I added, and she looked at me closely, carefully evaluating how honest I was being with her.
"Really? She's almost a whole month early."
"I know, but at this point her baby's lungs should be almost fully developed or already developed, and although it would be ideal for her to stay inside her momma's womb longer, we can definitely take care of her out here too."
Elke calmed a little bit. She nodded and waved me over to a door behind her desk. "Come on, I'll take you up to her."
Alma's room had two beds—the pack currently had so many youth that they were beginning to double up and almost every one had a roommate by now. Alma was leaning back on a pile of pillows, her eyes closed and her belly jutting out into the air. I hung back a moment, watching her body, her movements careful and gentle. Her shoulders were relaxed, but her eyelids fluttered—I could tell that she was not able to concentrate on her meditation. This told me more than counting contractions or measuring dilation.
"Hi there, Dr. Crane," she said, eyes still closed. "I figured you'd be here today."
"What makes you say that?" I asked as I walked up to the bed.
"Elke was so worried about me!" She finally opened her eyes, smiling and waving that I should sit on the bed next to her. I did.
"Yeah, it seemed like it. But I'm not worried. Do you mind if I place my hands on your belly a moment?"
Alma shook her head, so I pulled up her shirt and gently touched her taught, warm skin. Pressing a little harder I felt through the skin and muscle and make contact with the little baby butt poking up to the top of her uterus.
"Great! Your baby is head down, which is how we like them. Here, feel that little nub?" I took Alma's fingers and pressed them in to a lump under her muscles. She nodded. "That's your little girl's butt. And over here—" I moved her hand, "those are her feet." She grinned.
"Do you think I might actually meet her soon?"
"Well, could be. I was thinking that if you're going into labor now, it'll be fine in the long run, but we'd like you to stay pregnant for a little be longer. Sometimes this happens when you're body is trying to get your attention about something. What do you think about that?"
"Oh, that sounds like me, for sure. My body is always giving me messages. When I get stressed I get all sorts of rashes, or if I'm really nervous, my stomach gets really upset."
"That's exactly the sort of thing I'm thinking about. Can you think of anything that might be prompting it?"
Alma was quiet for a moment, but she came to a conclusion, it seemed, and she looked at me, slightly nervously. Her cheeriness seemed to dissolve, and her bottom lip began to tremble in an entirely too-young way. This poor girl, I realized, has been completely on her own trying to figure this all out. I thought I might know what she was about to tell me, and I didn't want her to think I was blaming her. I smiled, pulled down her shirt, and squeezed her arm.
"I've just been trying so hard, and I know you said I could call you, but I was so ashamed." Alma's eyes began to fill with tears. "I just had to get high, and I heard one of the other kids here talking about some coke they had, so I bought it from them. I tried really hard not to do it, I swear. I thought maybe just a little bit would be enough to get rid of the craving and wouldn't hurt my baby."
I could hear Elke gasping and pacing behind me, but I knew how difficult admitting something like this and getting help for it could be, so I ignored her and focused on Alma. "Yeah, that sounds really difficult. You're lucky, actually, since cocaine doesn't have much research history to show that there's actually any long term affects to the fetus to using cocaine during pregnancy. What it can do is cut off oxygen, at which point your baby sends out a stress signal that starts a feedback loop with your body, getting it to go into labor. That might be why you're having contractions now. I have some meds I brought with, especially for this purpose, that might be able to stop your contractions and dilate both your blood vessels and your baby's. Let me take your vitals first, so we can make sure that's what's going on."
I made my way through the vitals, taking temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure. As I expected, her blood pressure was quite high from the cocaine use, and I decided to try to give her a medication to help dilate her blood vessels, bring the pressure down, and allow blood to get out to her baby's entire body. While we were waiting for the medication to kick in I had her lie on her side with a pillow between her legs, under her neck, and squeezed on either side of her to support her. I showed Elke a few massage techniques, and instructed her in how to help soothe Alma. It would end up calming them both down, and that was exactly what they needed. I stepped out of the room for a moment and leaned against the wall. Something had caught my attention while I was in there talking to her. I'd been worrying about her drug use and whether or not she had any diseases I hadn't originally tested for. If she had been sharing needles she could have a whole host of diseases—and that was when it clicked. The plague had to be transmitted via blood, because vampires could only contract diseases if they ingested the human's blood. Of course, viruses like HIV or Hep C weren't lethal to vampires, it would merely make them sick until they could fight it out, but that was the only time they really ever got sick.
The plague must have been transported by humans. I had a new idea—I'd get all the sick vampires who still could help out to find the humans they had drunk from in the weeks before they got sick. We'd take samples from them and wipe their memories, sending them back out on their merry way. Theo had said something about how vampires could track humans they'd drunk from, even if it was just once. I flipped open my phone and called Elliott at once, waking him up to impart the news and ask him and Sandy to get to work making phone calls to the infected. After a moment, Elke came out into the hall. She looked tired.
"Alma fell asleep. I have a lot of work to do, tracking down the kid who sold her coke and any other Weres indulging in illegal drugs, so I'm going to have to excuse myself now."
"Elke, thank you so much for your help here. I know you think of your pack as your family, and I can imagine how distressing this would be. It is more helpful than you know to have you being supportive of Alma and massaging her and soothing her. She really needs that right now. Once this is all under control we need to chat about getting her to detox and also about the blood we've been taking from your pack. Some new things have come up, so let's just make a plan to chat sometime this week, okay?"
"Of course. Thank you." Elke turned and walked away, her whole body sagging. It was going to be hard for her to discipline her pack, but that was what being an alpha entailed. I went back into the room and tried to take Alma's blood pressure without waking her up. It wasn't possible, but Alma stayed relaxed and we chatted lightly while I took her vitals and administered some more medication. After about an hour of taking her vitals every 15 minutes, Alma's blood pressure was back down to normal and her fetus' heartbeat was once again within normal range. The contractions had petered out, and I felt pretty confident that things were going well. I decided to let her sleep for an hour and went down to the big family room I had seen earlier. There were a number of Weres hanging out, watching tv, chatting, and reading. It only took a moment for them all to smell me and look up, curious and cautious. I smiled and waved, feeling a little like I was walking into the cafeteria at a new high school and acting like the shy new girl. I picked a table and began to set up my laptop and paperwork, writing up notes from my interaction with Alma and sending a quick email update to Theo to let him know about my thoughts on humans as vectors for the bacteria.
I had only been working for about 10 minutes when a young man came up to me. He was tall, lanky, and had a mischievously charming smile to him. There was something definitely un-human about him, but at the same time, he didn't seem wolfy in the way that the others all had. Not that any of them looked like wolves, or even looked the same—I wasn't sure what it was that gave me that sensation. He sat down on the table I was working at and leaned on one arm over toward me.
"Hey. You're the doctor, aren't you?"
I nodded. I couldn't tell if his obvious self absorption was obnoxious or cute, so I refrained from making any judgments about him.
"Could you give me a check up, doc?"
"I'm a little busy, buddy. Are you sick?"
The boy just laughed, and I felt something tighten in my abdomen when he did. He was so carefree and his laugh was catching.
"Oh, I just wanted to get a chance to show you my sculpted abs," he winked at me. I decided to play along.
"Well, go ahead, but let me warn you. I'm currently sleeping with Prince of the Vampires, and if I had to pick perfect abs, well, to be honest I haven't ever seen anything quite like his."
All the other Weres in the room were watching, not even blinking, but this young man didn't seem to think anything of it.
"Hmm, well I'll just lie down here," he did as he said, pushing my computer out of the way and lying over all my papers. "And you just give me a little physical assessment and tell me what you think. His can't be quite as warm as mine." I grinned.