tagNonHumanNegative Space Ch. 15

Negative Space Ch. 15

by_bloom_©

I woke up to the clacking of typewriter keys echoing down Theo's castle's stone hallways. I rolled over to my stomach, pushing up from the mattress to stretch my arms and my back. Looking up over my shoulder to the ceiling I saw the painting Theo had above his bed—a small farm house on a grassy hill, the paint thick and textured, the sky dark and grey. I could practically feel the gusts of warm wind that were flattening the tall grasses, warning of a storm. I wondered why Theo would have this painting over his bed. Was it some place special to him? A painter somehow connected to him? He didn't seem the type to decorate based on appearances alone. Even though I had essentially moved back in with him, I still knew so little about his past. He was always quite generous with me, sheltering the people I brought to his house—Julian, the FBI agent, as well as Aurelius, the jaguar. He had even invited Aurelius into bed with us. I shivered and smiled, rubbing my temples and coaxing myself awake.

Slipping out from beneath the covers, I pulled a thin cotton robe around myself and followed the sound of the typewriter down the hall, passing under the wooden cross beams, through the heavy doors.

I sat down at Theo's desk and gazed at his furrowed brow while he scribbled furiously with a quill. After a moment he looked up at me.

"What?" He asked, playfully.

"What do you mean, what?"

"Why are you smiling like that?" He leaned back in his chair, dropping the quill back into the ink well.

"You use a quill! You're darling."

"Honestly, you have no idea what you're missing. Using a ball-point pen is like trying to carve stone with my fingernails. There's an art to quilling."

"I believe you," I smiled. Theo smiled back, his golden eyes crinkling at the corners.

"Okay," he sighed, setting the inky feather in its well. "Let us talk."

"I'm related to Prometheus, aren't I?"

Theo's Sire, Prometheus, was a mystery to me. After showing up in my mind at the apartment where I had been staying, he had made me a gift of one of the most valuable magical artifacts in existence, the Norse goddess Freyja's necklace. Since then I hadn't heard a thing from him, but I had the chilling feeling that he was quite aware of what I was up to.

"Yes. Before he was turned, my sire was the only male member of Frejya's family. He was born after a major attack on the Vala, the supernatural descendants of Frejya. They had been so scattered and so many had died, that one, Birna, decided to hide herself and her future children. The way she contrived to do that was by mating with an incubus. His name was Sylvans. When Birna went into labor, instead of giving birth to a baby, she birthed a single, large white egg. When it cracked open, out came a baby girl, Kata, and a baby boy, Karl. Both had powers from each side of the family—Incubus and Vala. Kata continued the Vala legacy, but when Karl was 26 he was bitten by a vampire. That's when he changed his name to Prometheus."

"You knew this," I said, stating it more as a fact than a question.

"Only in the last few weeks."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Prometheus required my silence. He—he has some sort of plan, I am led to believe."

"And you just do everything he asks you to?"

"He's a very powerful vampire. And he's my sire."

I shook my head. "Theo, you deliberately kept this information from me. Why?"

"I believe I made it clear," he grunted, angry now. "Prometheus asked me not to!"

"Ugh, Theo come on. You know how important this is to me. I need to know this stuff. Not to mention the fact that I deserve to know that I've been fucking my great- great-great-cousin!"

"It would require a few more 'greats' than that. Kata existed thousands of years ago. With her Vala powers hidden by her succubus powers, she managed to live a long life with many children, all of whom were hidden equally well. We don't have record of any Vala since the 1300s. You're from an incredibly powerful family, Lana. Prometheus wanted to be very careful with all of this. He needs you on his side."

"Then he shouldn't lie to me!"

"He wasn't lying, Lana. He just needed to be careful."

I rubbed my eyes. Theo was in a hard position right now; I got that. He had to do what his sire asked of him, but that didn't mean he got to be an ass about it.

"Theodore, please. I know this is difficult, but I need to find my mother. Dead or alive, I need to know what's happened to her. If she's alive, you need to bring her here."

"I can't just up and run off to search high and low for your missing family. I have a Kingdom to run."

"So send someone else. Someone you trust."

Theo stopped for a moment, thinking. Then he nodded. "I could send Florence. She knows the history and is adept at ferreting things, and people, out."

"Thank you. Please do send Flo. She was great at helping me to figure out what I was—I'm sure she'd be great at figuring out other mysteries." Theo scribbled down a note to remind himself. I continued, "In the meanwhile, I'm going to figure out what the fuck is going on with the government. I'm going to go back to the clinic for a week to finish up all the appointments I had to put on hold, but then I'm going to go to Washington, DC with Julian. We're going to figure this out. I'll come back when I'm done."

Theo glared. "That is idiotic. You're merely putting yourself in danger."

"Think about this: Hundreds of vampires are dying from a mysterious plague; a vampire FBI agent lands in my lap with a knife through his eyeball after following a lead here to NYC; and directly after that, two messengers come from "The Top," a mysterious band of ancient vampires who suddenly want me dead. Do you think I should just sit around here and be waiting for you to screw whenever you want?"

"At least if you were here I'd be able to protect you. You won't even let me mark you."

"We've talked about that."

"I know. I just can't stand that you won't let me protect you. I'm not trying to own you."

"But by vampire law you would, and you know it. I know it's hard," I leaned over and put my hand on his, "but you just have to accept it. I accept you when you go off and do things without telling me. It's frustrating for me too, but I understand that you have your own life. Come on, you're always goading me for being so much younger than you, but YOU'RE being the immature one right now."

Theo's eyes flashed in anger, but he calmed himself down. He picked my hand up and kissed it. "You're right. You just make me want to protect you. You drive me crazy!"

"Don't blame me for your inability to control yourself. That's your own problem."

Theo rolled his eyes. "All right, feminazi. Let's go burn our bras, why don't we?"

I took a deep breath to calm myself. "You cannot speak to me like that." I tried to keep my voice neutral, but my fury was close to the surface. "I am going to talk with Julian, and then I'm going to head over to the clinic. You have one week to apologize to me before I leave for Washington."

I turned on my heel and was halfway down the hall before I remembered to breathe. I was so furious that after everything we had been through already, he would pull the oldest trick in the book. It's easy to drive someone over the edge if every time they say something you don't want them to, you make them feel like they've overreacted or said something crazy. I'd had men doing it to me my whole life, any time I called them on their behavior they'd say, 'Jeez Lana, you don't have to get so intense about it,' 'You know I was just joking,' or 'You're really making a big deal about that? God, you're more dramatic than I thought.'

I couldn't take it from him too. If he didn't apologize soon, I'd— I didn't know what I'd do. Theo was such a mixed bag. Sometimes he was sweet, loving, adoring, and other times he was arrogant, angry, and patronizing. I knew a lot of it was the vampire culture he'd been in for the past five hundred-odd years, but he would just have to get over that if we were going to be together. I forced myself to take another deep breath and slow down my pulse.

***

I found Agent Julian sitting on his bed, the door to his room hanging a jar.

"Hey," I called out softly, leaning against his door post.

"Hey," he responded, looking up from his book. He was leaning back against the headboard, knees akimbo and feet bare. He smiled.

"I've been thinking about your predicament. I think it has a lot to do with my predicament."

"What do you mean?" Julian closed his book and sat farther up on the bed, patting the blanket beside him to encourage me to sit.

"Well, I think it's all connected." I explained what had happened with "the Top" right after I had brought Julian back to Theo's, as well as what I had been working on at the clinic with the plague. He chewed carefully on his fingernails, working his way down his hand from one finger to the next.

"So what are you planning on doing about it?" he asked, finally. He gazed at me for a moment, his face unreadable, his eyes blank.

"Let's go to DC. Let's just buckle down and figure out where all this is coming from. My research crew that's working on the cure also spends time each night trying to locate where the outbreak started. We've narrowed it down to the DC area, but maybe they can give us a few leads to follow up on. Maybe we can find something substantial?"

"I have an idea," Julian added. "We can start at the FBI's adjunct building, where the most influential people in the organization have offices. It's set up so that they don't have to go in and out the same doors as everyone else, but it also makes it easier to conduct meetings out of the public eye. It's really just around the corner from the Hoover building where the rest of the FBI is headquartered, but no one really knows it's there."

"But why go right to the big names? I'm sure we can find plenty of info by just going through the archives."

"There won't be any record of any of this. The whispers that I picked up about you and your work on the plague were all communications between the Science and Technology Branch and the Office of the Deputy Director of the FBI. I don't know why they were talking about you, but it makes it quite clear that there's not going to be any info about those conversations left behind. I'm sure that since I've been missing, all the data my partner and I compiled has been burned."

"Are you sure it's safe for you to go back, then?"

"No, it definitely will not be safe. But if I were to just disappear right now, it would give them everything they want." Julian's voice settled into a steely, cold tone. "And I will not tolerate being attacked and having my partner killed."

I shivered a moment at the ridges and lines that had deepened in his face while he spoke. He was terrifying. He saw my fright, however, and shook the anger away.

"We'll leave in a week." I said as I left, glad that his anger was focused at someone other than me.

***

The week went quickly. Elliott and I must have made the world record for numbers of patients seen each night. I had injuries, check-ups, plague victims, and silver allergies. I even had one female vampire come in thinking she had the plague, but none of the symptoms were quite right. When I questioned her a little more closely, I had an idea of what it could have been the sudden change in her bearing. I asked her to get me a urine sample, but she laughed at me.

"You think vampires urinate?"

"Well you drink blood, don't you?"

"Yes, but every iota of that is converted into energy that is used by our bodies. There is no extra to waste."

I was stuck. I was pretty sure the woman was pregnant, but if I couldn't do a pregnancy test, I didn't know how I would prove it. I thought of taking a blood test, but I didn't even know what I would be looking for from a vampire. Did they have the same hormones that humans tested for? Neither did I have access to an ultrasound to look for a pregnancy. The idea of trying to create an image of what was inside her gave me an idea, though. I asked her to lie back on the examining table and I placed my hands side by side over her uterus. Closing my eyes I funneled my concentration through my hands, feeling down through her body and into her uterus. Was anything there? I felt the changes in tissue consistency—here was blood, and here muscle. Finally I came to a small pocket, no larger than lentil, of rapidly dividing cells. I pulled back. The woman was staring at me intently, the light behind her causing her dark brown curls to glow.

"You're six weeks pregnant," I said. No need to make any great statements on top of that—I had no idea how she would take it. She let her head fall back on table behind her.

"How?" She asked, quietly.

"It can happen for some vampires. Usually the particularly old bloodlines are more fertile than others, but one can never be sure." I was quiet for a moment, and so was she. I didn't want to alienate her since I didn't know what her politics were, but she seemed surprisingly unenthusiastic about this pregnancy. I decided to remind her of what was possible, and let her know that I would be there as a care provider no matter what.

"Now that we know you're pregnant, we have a few decisions to make. Don't stress about it since you have plenty of time to make them. I'm just going to put this out there, and you'll come back for an appointment in two weeks, if not sooner. To begin with, you need to decide if you'd like to carry this pregnancy to term or not. If not, I can provide you with those services. If you do want to, I can provide you will all the prenatal and birth services you'd need for that too. If you decide to carry to term, you then need to decide if you'd like to parent. Otherwise, I can arrange plans for possible adoption. If so, we'll find you some support networks, like a postpartum doula, someone who can help out around the house after birth. All of these things are a million miles off right now so you don't have to worry about it yet, but I just want you to know what I can do for you. And most importantly, I want you to know that I will always be available to answer any questions, listen to anything you have to say, and help you to follow through with any decision you make."

The woman smiled slightly, still staring up at the ceiling. She slid her hand off her abdomen and placed it on top of mine, squeezing my fingers.

"Thank you," she whispered. She did not let go. I sat with her until she was able to get up.

"Can I make another appointment with your receptionist?"

"Of course. Whenever you'd like. I'll be away for a little while, but I'm always available by phone."

Right before she left, the woman turned to me one last time and hugged me before slipping out the door.

***

The day before we left I sat up late—or early, as the sun was high above our heads—not sleeping. I tried to put all this information together. We had a plague attacking vampires, clearly fabricated by something or someone, and the only things that could kill off these bacteria, so far, were fire and werewolf blood. The plague acted like a vampire itself would—leeching the victim of blood and energy, eventually causing full-scale organ failure. At the same time we have suspicious, almost Hollywood-worthy, FBI scandals that lead back to high profile names on the one side, and me on the other. Only a few months before, I had been slogging through the drudgery of my life as a nanny. I didn't have anything more difficult to deal with than the drama of sibling rivalry. Not that it was any less tiring than this—the everyday things tend to be more exhausting than anything else. When I realized that I hadn't slept in a day and a half after performing a number of different surgeries and offering care to all sorts of non-humans, I realized that the sleepiness I was experiencing was that of a satisfied worker, not that of an exhausted, depressed, gruelingly tired nanny.

I let myself sink into the mattress, closing my eyes and feeling along the border of my body—letting myself hear the magic in everything I touched. Here was the pillow pushing against my cheek, the sheet pulling across my shoulder, its magic holding it tightly together, its weave defying chaos. Here was Theo's body, cool to the touch, motionless, curled away from my body. We touched only at the small of our backs, my warmth spreading out into his skin. If I could have seen it right then, I was sure it would have been easy to see that one patch of rosy lifelike-ness on his back, just there where it had been pulling from my heat.

***

Washington DC was grimy. The store windows were greasy and gray, the sidewalks were covered in gum. The expression on every face we passed seemed to have been etched onto it with acid. We walked through the downtown, passing hordes of frowning men and women hurriedly ignoring the homeless people at their feet. I snorted my distain, and Julian only chuckled.

"Every business person, politician, and journalist here thinks they're the cream of the crop. They forget that it's easy enough to just show up here in this city, but growing up here is harder than growing up almost anywhere else. You can almost taste the torment." Julian shook his head.

"Where did you grow up?" I asked him.

"Just 20 minutes south of here. Alexandria, Virginia, right on the Potomac River. It's a small city, just big enough to be lonely, but small enough to feel crowded. I got out of there as soon as I could—I graduated from high school early just so that I could go to college in California."

"When were you turned? And who turned you?"

"Didn't you're mother ever teach you that it's not polite to ask about someone's turning?" he asked, winking.

"Somehow I'm not entirely sure my mother could have even begun to fathom this conversation we're having right now."

Julian laughed. "I was turned by a low level politician when I came home from college in 1974 for Thanksgiving. I went with my father to a political rally and I really thought I was lucky when I ran into him after his speech in the back of the crowded building. He actually asked me to come to his office so that he could give me a business card—I really thought I was about to make an awesome connection. Instead he just ate me, and left me for dead. It was only when he came back in to his office later that night and saw that I wasn't dead that he decided I was resilient enough to be a vampire." Julian smiled at me, his eyes quiet and his lips thin, and then he pointed up ahead. "That's the Hoover building. Remember, the FBI headquarters?"

"Oh yeah! Wow. It's so....ugly."

"I know," he laughed, this time warming his eyes a little. "We always used to call it the FBI Hindquarters."

"You miss it already?"

"Of course. I spent all my time there. I loved my job."

I was about to respond, but I felt Julian tense. He pushed me back against the nearest building and pressed his lips eagerly to mine. Clasping my face with both hands, he sucked my bottom lip into his mouth, opening my mouth and thrusting his tongue in. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't ignore the tingling his touch sent through me—he was a vampire after all. His fervent kissing and sucking slowed and he nuzzled my face a moment before pulling away as businesslike as ever and continuing down the street. When he noticed that I wasn't following him, he grabbed my hand and pulled me along.

"Sorry. My ex-boss just walked by. He has an amazing knack for faces. I couldn't think of any other way to shield yours."

I took a deep breath and calmed my body down. "Well it seems like you were successful. Do you think he would have known who I was?"

"Yes, I do. In fact, I think he was one of the people who put your name on the investigation list in the first place. He has definitely seen a photo of you."

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