Negative Space Ch. 14by_bloom_©
I'm trying as desperately as possible to get these to you quickly, but you know how life is. Still--here it is in all its glory--chapter 14! Please let me know what you think. I'm really looking forward to writing the next few chapters. It looks like we're getting closer and closer to figuring out just exactly what is going on. Leave comments--tell me what you think, what you want, how I can make your wildest dreams come true, anything. And don't forget to favorite me!
My body was heavy, big, rubbery, almost as if it weren't my own. The air around me felt thick and each breath I took was full of it—I felt like I was suffocating. Drifting back to sleep was easier than fighting though, and the steady gravity of sleep pressed me back into the mattress. Again, maybe hours or minutes later I understood myself as existing in a space other than my mind, and tried to push back against the unconsciousness. I was trapped, drowning. With a sudden bloom of fright in my core, strength blossomed down my arms and I pushed myself away from the mattress. A distant rumble sounded familiar, swirling around me and holding me up. Slowly things in the distance began to make sense. That wasn't a glowing silver rectangle, it was the moon's light pouring in a window by what I now recognized was the bed I shared with Theo. The rumbling organized itself into distinct sounds that fitted themselves into words I could barely make out. Theo's voice.
I pressed my palms into my eye sockets and rubbed vigorously. Moving my body around to find the door I saw dim light filtering through the open doorway. A pair of yellow eyes focused on me. They blinked, disappearing entirely in the darkness, and then opened again, low to the ground at the end of my bed. The dipping and swaying as they came closer was an unusual, lilting motion, and I scrambled backward, grabbing at the lamp by the bed. Light flickered and filled the room and showed me a beautiful black and yellow jaguar at my side. A low growling emanated from his tensed body, his muscles rippling and rolling as he landed silently on my bed. I gasped and scrambled backward, but before I could get away he put one massive paw on my chest, pushing me back down onto the bed. I could feel my blood pulsing frantically through my veins, my heart thudding valiantly against the gentle pressure of his paw. His head dipped down so close to my face that I could have kissed him, but instead of biting my face off, he licked my cheek. I just stared as he nuzzled my face and lay down next to me, purring happily. I stayed perfectly still, terrified that this crazy animal would change his mind again. After a moment he huffed, almost as if in annoyance, and hopped off the bed, graceful as ever. He stalked over to the long curtains that hung on either side of the window by my bed and slipped behind them. The curtains moved and the shape that had been the jaguar shrank and lengthened and all of a sudden Aurelius' head popped out.
"Oh my god, Aurelius, you almost gave me a fucking heart attack!" I shouted.
"Well I couldn't very well shift back in all my naked glory right in front of you. Not that I wouldn't love to, but Theo is right outside." Aurelius had wrapped the curtains around his waist and was perched lightly on the window sill.
I shook my head. My heart was still pounding furiously and I imagined how satisfying it would be to throttle Aurelius.
"Okay okay. But what are you doing up anyway? Shouldn't you still be in bed? You've just had a major abdominal surgery!"
"Weres heal fast. Not to mention that you've been out for almost a day and a half."
"Really? Oh god. I'm going to be so behind when I get back to work." I started to try to get dressed, looking for something I could wrap myself in.
"Wait a second though, Dr. Crane. Um, there's something going on in Theo's office. You might, uh, find it interesting." Aurelius looked away from me, studying the floor.
"What do you mean?" I tossed him a pair of shorts I found on the floor, and he grabbed them out of the air without even looking.
"I just...I don't know what's going on. They were talking about you and I thought maybe you should listen a while before you let them know you're awake."
I studied Aurelius for a moment and decided he was telling the truth. There was no reason he would have to lie to me right now. I pulled a robe on and walked as quietly as I could out of my bedroom and down the hall to Theo's cracked open office door. My toes sunk into the thick carpet as I lay my head against the cool stone wall so that I could hear as much as possible. I shivered. Aurelius was right. They were definitely talking about me.
"I'm just saying, Marked or not, she's living with you," a man insisted, "so I thought I'd pay you the courtesy of checking with you first."
"And again, I have to respond to that by asking if you are threatening me somehow, Mr. Eaton. I'm not sure how else to take it." Theo's voice was unusually chilly, and I thought of the times his eyes turned hard, his face rigid. I was glad not to be at the other end of that stare right now.
A woman began to chuckle. Softly, exquisitely femininely, but with a very clear cruelty behind it. "Theo, darling. I don't think I've ever seen you so riled up about a human before. Have you, Miles?" Mr. Eaton agreed, and the woman went on. "Think about it this way. We're not here to take away your perfectly good toys. We're just working in your best interest, cleaning up after you. She's making too much of a mess, and it's time for you to let us do our job and take care of her."
My stomach flipped. 'Take care' of me? That could only mean one thing.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Reemes, but I disagree completely. The doctor is my find, and works within my territory, and I have a very close eye on her. Do not consider me 'done' with her simply because I removed my mark."
"Oh but that's the thing, Your Majesty, it doesn't even matter what you'd like. Our orders came from the Top."
Theo was silent then, and even though it had sounded innocuous enough, I could tell by his tense response that it was a very serious situation. Whoever was at "the top" were far and above more powerful than Theo, someone I had thought was almost at the top of the food chain himself.
"Thank you for your visit, Mr. Eaton, Ms. Reemes. I always delight in the comfort you bring me. Please let your boss know that I will have an answer for him by the end of the week."
"You're not being given a choice, Theo." The man said gruffly.
"Excuse me, Mr. Eaton?" Theo's voice became not only cold but loud and cruel as well. "How did you want to address me?"
Mr. Eaton sputtered and apologized. "I'm so sorry Your Majesty. Please excuse me."
"Perhaps. You two may come bringing a message from the Top, but you have NO authority in my house and in my territory. Get out before I change my mind and decide to make an ashy example of you."
I rushed back to my room as I heard their chairs scraping and the door opening. I saw Aurelius eyeing me warily. I had forgotten that he listened to the entire thing also. I held my finger up to my lips and he nodded. Walking back down the hall to Theo's office I mimed a yawn as I opened the door.
"Good morning schnuckums." I said, smiling broadly. "I bet you missed me!"
"Don't even try it, Lana," he sighed, "I know you were listening." He didn't even look at me, just hung his head between his shoulders, elbows propped on his desk, and his hands trying to rub away the stress from his forehead. I swung one leg over the back of his chair and sat down on it behind him. Wrapping my arms around his front I laid my head between his jutting shoulder blades and just held him a minute.
"Thank you for trying to defend me. I don't know what any of that was about, but I'm glad I have you on my side."
Theo chuckled a little. "I don't know what I'll be able to do for you, to be honest, if they're telling the truth. If the Top wants you, they'll get you." He leaned back into me, laying his hands on top of mine where they clasped his front. "The Top is exactly what it sounds like. The three oldest and most powerful vampires alive. But it just doesn't make sense! There's no reason why they should want you. They have more pressing things to deal with than a pseudo-human doctor fixing a few broken bones and stitching up gashes."
I suddenly remembered my other patient. "Is the vampire still here?"
"The one with the funky eye? Yeah. In fact, I tried to get him to leave but he wouldn't go until he had talked to you."
I kissed Theo three times on the back of his neck. "We'll figure this all out, don't worry. Is he in the 2nd floor guest room?"
"I expect so."
"I'll see you later. Don't leave without telling me."
"Yes ma'am!" Theo chucked again, pulling my lips to his for a kiss. I leaned my forehead into his and sighed. He always tasted so good.
"Hello there, friend. How are you feeling?" I asked as I poked my head into the library. My guest hadn't been in his room, the dining room, or any other place I looked. Finally a rather unsettled maid pointed me in the right direction and I found him hunched over a book in Theo's grand library. The moment I spoke he whipped his head around and glared until he realized it was me.
"Dr. Crane," he said as he stood, "It is good to see you again."
Perhaps it was his calm demeanor, or perhaps it was that when he wasn't cowering in pain my patient stood much taller that he had originally seemed, but there was something much more intimidating about him now. I stepped closer and stuck out my hand. We shook, formally, and he waved to a seat beside his, indicating that I should sit. I felt as if I had just interrupted him in his office.
"First, I must thank you for treating me and offering me asylum. Your care has been excellent." I nodded my thanks, and he continued. "Secondly, I made you a promise. There is some incredibly important information that has been imparted to me, and I intend to relay it to you, as I believe it will affect all your future actions. Are you interested?"
I took a moment. My life was certainly getting weirder and weirder, but that was no surprise. What was strange here, though, was the complete change of attitude my patient had shown—while I could tell it was the same man, his entire personality was so changed that I couldn't recognize him.
"Before we get to that, sir, do you think you could tell me your name?"
"My apologies, madam," he said, actually looking quite upset by his mistake. "My name is Julian Rowlands. I am an agent with the FBI within the Criminal Investigations Division, and I swear fealty to Prince Theodore Wagner."
"A vampire FBI agent?" I asked as I inspected his badge—not that I knew what I was looking for. "No body minded that you only signed up for night shifts?"
"It's.... It's more complicated than that. But you might be surprised to find out that there are quite a few of us within the government's employ. Usually only for 20 years or so, but we watch each other's backs. Cover for one another. We fly under the radar."
"No," I shook my head. "It doesn't surprise me at all. You always manage to be everywhere you want to be."
Julian Rowlands looked at me strangely and leaned back in his chair, folding his hands across his abdomen. "I've been working within a small task force within the larger Criminal Investigations Division that focuses on illicit non-human activities. We report directly to the Shadow Director of the Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch. For the past—"
"Wait, the Shadow Director? Who's that?"
"The Director of the FBI is a human, as you know, who is aware of the number of non-human species within the United States, their status, numbers, and events occurring within or between the species. However, he has too much to do to monitor that directly. Instead, he nominates a Shadow Director for each of the branches of the FBI who may or may not be human, and who works directly with issues concerning the non-human communities. Since it is such...sensitive information, the existence of these Shadow Directors and their taskforces is shielded from the public, and actually from most of the government employees as well."
I nodded as he drew out a diagram showing which divisions responded to whom about what and who responded directly to the director of the FBI.
"The unusual thing is that my task force was recently shut down. I haven't been able to figure out who gave the order yet, but we were told that if we didn't stop our investigation immediately, our contracts would be terminated and we would only have one chance to evacuate the premises."
"What were you investigating?"
"That's the thing. I was part of a three-man op looking into suspicious money funneling within the FBI shadow divisions. There were signs pointing to the involvement of a number of high ranking human officials, making it a more complicated situation."
"Who initiated the task force?"
"It was actually originally intended to investigate the financial dealings of certain well-to-do vampires and witches. There has been some peculiar activity in the DC area recently, and as soon as the normal human ops teams followed the money back to non-humans it was transferred over to our division. We followed it even farther, to a few extremely high ranking vampires before getting shut down."
"What kind of peculiar activity?"
"Disappearances, bribery, cooption of corporations, large amounts of Class A chemicals being imported to local laboratories, all sorts of shady things." Julian leaned forward a moment, and I was caught by the silver glint to his good eye. The rest of his face was broad with high cheek bones and a flared nose. His hair was military cut and his brow was prominent. His shoulders were wide and strong—all these things I hadn't noticed about him at all last time. His wounded eye was still grey and filmy—it probably wouldn't heal for a number of months, if not a year. He was an imposing figure and the eye only added to it.
"So when were you attacked, Mr. Rowlands?"
"Please call me Julian. I expect we're going to get to know each other well in the coming months," he replied, flashing me a rare smile that transformed his face into that of a boy's, but in an instant it was gone. "I know that a lot of my colleagues in the shadow divisions are simply serving their time, working their way up into the top so that they can move from there to the top positions of their own locality's Kingdom. I really believe, on the other hand, that we are in a privileged position to make changes in the patterns of abuse against humans and lower ranking species that occurs at the hands of those in control. Even just within the vampire communities there is a huge discrepancy between the rich and the poor, the old and the young—but ALL consider humans to be way below any of them. So you can imagine that when I was told I had to stop the operation I had been working on for months for an unknown reason, I didn't take the suggestion. I decided to go to speak with an informant that had just called in from NYC about Delgarth Hubbard, the Shadow Director of the Critical Incident Response Group. One of my colleagues decided he didn't want to risk it, so I went with the other, Amanda Helling, a vampire I have been working with for the past 12 years. We took the train up here from Washington DC and waited at the meeting spot for 15 minutes, after which we were summarily attacked and Amanda was murdered." Julian's face was blank as he recounted the events as though he were giving report to a senior operative.
"A vampire put that knife through my eye without even touching it—it flew out of his belt the minute that my attention was caught by Amanda being killed. There are a lot of vampires with special abilities, I know, but none of them have the power to make that happen. They had to have been working with witches. I ran away as fast as I could, and finally lost them somewhere in Chinatown. From there I ran to your building, and I'm so glad you decided to see me. I was honestly about to collapse. And if I had, the next human who woke me would have ended up as dinner."
"Did anyone here get you some sustenance?"
"Yes, they've been incredibly considerate. His majesty did at one point try to convince me to leave, but only because I think he was worried that I would do something to you."
I put my hand on Julian's and squeezed a moment. "Thank you for telling me this. I know this has been an incredibly difficult time for you. Do you need anything right now? Do you need to contact someone? Let them know you're still alive?"
"I don't think so. I don't think I'm going to tell anyone at my job that I'm alive, since I don't know who I can trust. If there's any way that I can stay here a little while? I just don't know where else to go."
"Of course, we'll find you something. I'll talk to Theo and we'll figure this all out." I was going to get up and leave him then, but I realized that I still didn't know what it was that had brought him to me. Why had he come to me, and what did he think it was that would change all my actions?
"But why me?" I asked, sitting myself back down in front of him. He sighed and hung his head a moment.
"Well, thing is, I heard your name only a little while into the investigation. There was chatter about what a threat you were. I did a little research on my own and figured out who you are. At first I thought they were interested in you just because you were related to Prometheus, but—"
"Wait, what? Prometheus?"
"Yes, please elucidate," came a voice from the door, "What were you about to say to my friend here?" Theo looked as cold as I had ever seen him—angry and excited to take his frustration out on this man.
"Excuse me, your grace," Julian stood immediately and fell in to a deep bow. "I have spoken out of turn. My lady," he turned to me, "please forgive me. I will take my leave now."
He rushed to leave and Theo just stood aside to let him pass.
"Theo, what was that about?"
"I don't like that man. He gives me the creeps. I think he has lived among humans for too long."
"And what's so bad about humans?" I huffed. I knew it was a petty come-back, but I was frustrated that Theo had just scared of the only person who had been speaking honestly with me. Theo just snorted and turned to leave, waving over his shoulder.
"Come talk to me when you've grown out of your petulant teen-age phase. I have some info you'll be interested in."
God that man irritated me. There was simply nothing I could do about the fact that he was a good 500 years older than me. I couldn't age on command just to stop his endless belittling comments about how young and inexperienced I was.
I sat back down in the library. First things first, I had to make a few calls. I spoke with Elke and gave her a run down on important things to watch out for with Alma, and ways to help her cope with detoxing. It would be painful, and scary, and difficult for Elke, but if Alma did coke again this close to delivering, she could tear her placenta right off the wall of her uterus, cutting off all blood and oxygen supply to her baby. Not to mention that she might bleed out then as well. I was satisfied to hear that Elke had put together a group of supportive Were adults who would all take turns being with Alma at all times. I checked in with her about Nora, who was doing incredibly well, it turned out. In fact, she was really looking forward to helping Alma with detoxing and childcare after her baby was born. It was a huge relief to hear it.
I put the phone back down and rubbed out a crick in my neck. These were easily the weirdest hours I had ever kept, even compared to college. At least then I could always be counted on to be awake for a few hours each day. Now I went days awake, days asleep, and as often as not, I wouldn't see the sun for weeks.