Negative Space Ch. 16by_bloom_©
Wonderful friends!! I am so sorry I have been totally absent since last spring – things have been so crazy around here. I'm sure you're not surprised. This is the LONG awaited chapter 16, which I hope will both soothe your desires for more and excite you once again about our intrepid doctor, Lana, and all the trials she must go through. Quick refresher: Lana was a nanny who completed medical school, but never finished her internship because she was tired of the rat race, the distrust of patients, and something else, deeper, that nagged at her. She moved to the city, left her cheating fiancé, and worked as a nanny until one day she was drawn into the world of vampires. Prince Theo of New York asked her to be his vampire physician, and after working with both vampires and werewolves she is thoroughly embroiled in the controversy about a mysterious plague that is killing vampires, the involvement of the FBI Shadow Division, and the involvement of one honest agent, Julian, with whom she has traveled to DC. There she has begun to discover the involvement of certain Ancient Vampires and their vendettas. Please please let me know what you think, and leave me many comments, send me many messages, and vote!! Xxoo _bloom_
It was hot. The air was full of the crooning of the crowd, the syllables and coughs and gasps all surging together into a single moan that grew louder and quieter as if conducted by a single invisible baton. They were my own clamorous orchestra, chanting along as I built up the nerve to follow Julian's instructions and break into the lab he had traced the plague back to. He had pulled a few strings and gotten me an access card to the building, but I'd be on my own once I got inside. I wiped sweat away from my eyes, unsure whether I was perspiring due to my anxiety or the fact that I hadn't actually been out in the sun in weeks. Julian and I had decided that it made the most sense to break in during the day when I could hide in plain sight. I thought back to all the spy movies I had ever seen, and tried to emulate those suave and collected spies. I started giggling, the absurdity of my situation showing itself in this small moment. Catching my reflection in the window of a shop I stopped for a moment, looking at my drabness, my long, limp hair, the basic khakis and button up I was wearing, the darkness under my eyes. When had this happened? Halfway between pretending I was a nanny before I even met Theo and pretending I was a superhero-spy-goddess? I shook my head and kept walking, feeling the stretch of my muscles and the rush of adrenaline surging up between my breasts, threading itself around my lungs and up into my throat. I took a deep breath and stretched out my lungs, pushing everything out of my chest. My watch read 2pm, and I walked up to the door of a non-descript office building. Nothing set it apart from any other downtown building on this street close to the center of DC, except for the fans and exhaust chimneys that scattered the roof. No one would have noticed that, though, unless they had been doing research on the building for the past few days like I had been.
After we discovered that the plague that had been killing vampires up and down the east coast was most likely started by Iskur, an ancient vampire sired by Anu (who himself was one of The Top, the most powerful vampires alive), Julian used his FBI contacts to follow the link to Ishkur and find the building where the bacterium was being crafted. So here I was, supposed to get in somehow and put an end to all of this with enough data to prove Ishkur's guilt, as well as all the info we needed to craft an antidote. Sure. And then I'd solve world hunger, while I was at it.
The door was heavy, and when I swung it back it rushed out to me in a wave of air conditioning. I flashed my card at the main desk and walked straight to the elevators. Okay. I stood anxiously, trying to push calmness into my body. The elevator carried me quickly to the seventh floor, which stretched out to my right and left as an empty marble hallway. The walls were a latticed pattern of steel and smoked glass, and each of my footsteps echoed terribly. I fingered a crumpled post-it note in my pocket—Julian had scratched onto it the number 7783. When I found door number 7783 I knocked twice, but there was no answer. I knocked a third time, but when no one answered, I let myself in.
Immediately I felt like I was in another building entirely. Maybe another world. Instead of the same marble, glass, and steel design of the hallway outside, this room was entirely paneled in an auburn mahogany. Hanging by copper wires were clear glass globes which in turn connected to long tubes and beakers bubbling with substances of all colors. A giant black table stood waist high in the middle of the room, covered in what seemed to be a menagerie of mechanical creatures. Vellum accordions wheezed air through brass canisters, strings of leather hung vials from the ceiling, twisting and untwisting to dip the vials repeatedly into pots of boiling water. One entire wall was covered in shelves crowded with bottles of strange powders and herbs.
My hip bumped a rickety side table, knocking off an oily notebook filled with brown ink scribbles. The author's pen had dripped and sprayed making it difficult to read, but I was able to make out one entry a few pages in.
'May 23rd. I was shown a photo of Elke today, hunched over her desk, writing with focused anger on her face. Today's paper sat on the table next to her, the date clearly visible so as to assure me it is a current photograph and they haven't killed her yet. But as much as it was meant to soothe, it was also meant to threaten, as the panes of the window the photo was taken through were clearly visible. Just remember, it seems to say, even though she's not dead yet, we could make it happen.' Here there was a section completely scratched out, but the entry continued on the next page. 'I've decided to think about Elke, though, instead of their threats. What is she working on there? A treaty with a nearby pack? An apology to another alpha for the foolish mistakes of a young wolf intent on proving himself? Not a single year goes by when one of the young males doesn't do some idiotic thing he thinks will make him daring and attractive to the others. It never works. I remember when—'
The next page was torn out. I ran my fingers down the fringes. Questions began to arc through my brain, building tiny bridges between my thoughts and memories and all this new information. I flipped forward to the next legible page.
'June 7th. Messrs. H------- and E------- visited me today to politely encourage my work. It's not enough, they imply, that I have already crafted a virulent virus that is flooding through the city as we speak. No, it seems it is not moving fast enough. They want more volume. I explained the' ...footsteps shook me from the stranger's craggy handwriting. I tucked the journal into my pocket and crouched down behind a towering pile of books. Two loafer-clad feet entered the room, padding toward the center before pausing. Immediately I tried to pull on my magic, my Khrusos, to make myself invisible, but the loafers crossed the room in two strides and the books in front of me flew against the wall with a smack, a giant hand hanging in the air where they had been. The man towering above me had a solid, broad face with three white, fleshy scars that ran from left his ear to his chin. His eyes were feral and he panted, virile and eager to destroy. I leapt back, knocking into a table and sending a stack of glasses hurtling to the floor. The shattering triggered a shift in the man's face, and he stepped backward, his hands suddenly awkward.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to break anything—" I started, my mind frozen.
"Who are you?" The man growled, the ferocity back in his eyes.
"I—I—" Something stuck in my throat. I could see nothing but this man's furious eyes, deep green and gold, a vein pulsing in his temple, his lips gently parted as he panted. His massive hand was still hovering in front of me, and I noticed a familiar brown ink smudged on his thumb and first two fingers. A part of me fell loose, deep within my chest, and I suddenly felt as if my soul was rushing out of that new hole, that chink in a wall I didn't realize existed. I gasped at the sensation—I had never felt so open, so full. The man's eyes darkened, and as his mouth opened to say something to me, but he snapped his head toward the door instead.
"There's someone coming," he growled, and pushed me toward a closet. "Get in there and stay quiet." I pulled the doors shut on myself and tried to calm my pounding heart. I pulled my Khrusos back out, struggling to control it as my world was unleashed, my body was new, and a deep desire I had never experienced before threatened to collapse me into myself. It sucked the oxygen into itself in between my breasts, pulling on me, my consciousness, my Khrusos, the closet around me. I had never desired, needed, yearned quite so fervently as I did now. I took another deep breath and focused on being quiet. I could deal with these emotions later. The door to the room swung open.
"Dr. Sterling, there's an intruder. You need to go straight away to the safe room on Sublevel 3."
"No." This was the voice of the man who had hidden me.
"Not an option, wolf," came a third voice. "Get down there now."
"No." The silence was full and heavy.
"I said, that's not an option, wo—" there was a shuffle, a thud, and a strangled cry. The voice of the man who hid me came back again.
"I have been holed up here in this godforsaken prison long enough, forced to do your bidding. First you tell me I'm not working hard enough, fast enough, and now you say I need to stop working and go sit underground where I'm surrounded by blood suckers? No."
"You'll be in danger," the first voice came back, hesitant and distant.
"I can handle myself."
There was a shuffle, and then the door slammed shut. The room was silent. I released my shield and collapsed to the floor of the closet. The door swung open and there was the man, Dr. Sterling, staring at me again. A familiar coil of attraction pulled tight in my core, surprising me. This was not the moment to be thinking about getting laid.
"Who are you?" he asked me again. His voice was so soothing I had to fight to focus—something was going on with me that I had never experienced.
"My name is Lana Crane. I'm here to help you."
"Who sent you?"
"I did. I'm a healer. And you're a mass murderer." I braced myself as his muscles tensed, and he leaned in close to me.
"What the fuck," he said in a low voice, "are you talking about?"
"You have crafted a strain of bacteria that is killing hundreds of vampires at random."
The scientist closed his eyes and sighed, leaving me in the closet as he walked across the room. "You have no idea, do you?" he muttered.
I scrambled out of the closet and followed him. "Yes, I do. I know that you're being forced to. But now you can stop. I'm here to get you out."
He looked at me with pity.
"I can't leave until you can assure me of the safety of my family. At this point anything I do assures their deaths."
Slick, scaly tendrils of jealousy crept around my heart when I heard him talk about his family. The emotions were so strong and sudden I almost said that I didn't care if his family was killed. I shut my mouth forcefully and pushed those words away. Why was I so angry that this man would have loved ones? Of course he would. He was a handsome, brilliant man, it's no surprise he'd be married with children.
"Tell me who they are so I can do something about it. I need to get you out of here, so tell me what I have to do so that you'll come."
"You won't be able to do anything about it. The vampires who have me here more ancient and powerful than you—"
"—Than I could even imagine, yes, I know. But I have vampires on my side too. You tell me who to protect and I'll do it, while we're sitting here."
Dr. Sterling snorted and hung his head, chuckling at his shoes. I watched the three scars on his face glint silver in the low light, and as his head swung up I realized I had unconsciously moved closer to him. Our eyes were now a mere foot and a half away from each other. The scientist's words died on his lips, the sneer dropped out of his mouth, and he shivered almost imperceptibly. I waited, but he didn't argue, and didn't look away.
He was still looking at me when he finally whispered, "My sister's name is Elke. She's the pack master of the Noje-Whelan clan. My parents and my brothers Alder and Henric are there too, with their mates and children. I don't know if they'd try to punish me by hurting anyone else, but those are the specific people they've threatened me with so far."
I was loath to break our eye contact, but work needed to be done. I stepped back into the closet for a little sound protection and called Theo. The phone rang three times before I heard his groggy voice.
"Lana, are you okay? What's going on?" My guilt washed over me immediately. I forgot it was still day, so of course Theo would be asleep, and here I was, about to ask him to go against his own kind in order to save the family of a stranger. A werewolf stranger I was suddenly and intensely lusting after.
"Lana, are you there? Dear girl, what's going on?"
"Theo, good. Thanks for picking up. I need a huge favor." Telling the story took less time than I had expected, and Theo was hugely gracious, as always. Before we had even gotten off the phone he had already sent people to the Noje-Whelan pack lands.
"Just, Lana?"—I could see the wolf through the crack in the door, rushing to pack up important documents—"Promise me you'll come home safe? I've been thinking a lot about the argument we had"—Dr. Sterling caught me watching him and looked away quickly—"before we left, and I feel really bad about it now. Do you think we could have a lengthier conversation about our relationship when you come back?"
I watched the wolf's muscles shift under his shirt as he lifted a box crammed with books, and I wondered what he planned to do with them.
"Lana, are you there? Are you listening to me?"
"Oh Theo, yes. Of course." What had he been talking about? Coming home? "I'll be back as soon as this is taken care of. You just give me the signal when Dr. Sterling's family is safe, and I'll have him out of here lickety split. Thank you, Theo. You are such an amazing help."
I stepped out of the closet a second time, and Dr. Sterling looked up at me.
"Who was that?" he inquired, his face cautious, guarded.
"My secret vampire brigade," I said, smiling shyly. "I've been um," I did not want to tell him that I'd been 'seeing' the Prince of New York, but suddenly I didn't know how to get around it. "I've been living with Theodore Wagner, and he has just sent a crew out to the wolf pack to protect your family."
Something huge and strange was going on in the scientist's head, and it betrayed itself as a major confusion. He began to shake his head.
"You're seeing someone?" It seemed to slip from his mouth by mistake, and immediately he was embarrassed and shook his head. "I meant, you're seeing the prince of New York?"
"Yes. He, um, he sponsors my clinic." It sounded frail and almost incestuous when I said it. I had meant it to be a validation of our relationship, but it made him out as my Sugar Daddy instead.
"I've been away a long time, then, if a human is treating vampires in Prince Theodore's court. What day is it?"
"They grabbed me when I was on patrol of the eastern border sometime in early May. It must have been the first week of May, since the daffodils were still blooming."
"What's your name?" I asked him, my eyebrows furrowed.
He looked at me strangely and chuckled. "Luca, after the town my parents met in."
A warmth filled me, a soft endearment. "Bringer of light," I spoke softly.
"What did you say?" Luca stepped closer to me, inclining his head.
"Luca. It means Bringer of Light. A beautiful name."
"So what does Lana mean?" Luca rested his hip on the center table, one arm propping him up and the other clasping the back of his neck, his elbow jutting out into the room.
"Oh, it has a myriad of meanings. My favorite is the Hawaiian. To them it means 'afloat, calm as still waters.'"
Luca's eyes had lost their previous fervor, and now they were soft, calm, and crinkling as he smiled at me. For a moment we were both quiet, feeling comforted by each other's presence. Arousal began to curl its way through me again, and I blushed and looked away.
"Why is your last name Sterling, if you're Elke Noje's brother?"
"When I became a biologist back in the '40s I realized that I should distance myself from the pack in case I ever got involved in anything that would bring them undue attention. I took my father's name from before he joined the pack."
I was about to ask which '40s he meant when a noise sent us crouching to the ground and watching the door. A second buzzing reminded me of the phone in my pocket.
Theo's voice was scratchy and garbled, but I understood him when he told me the entire pack was under close vampire guard. I nodded to Luca who grabbed his pack, and we walked to the door.
With my ear pressed up against the wall I listened for footsteps, slightly distracted Luca's warm breath on my neck as he waited behind me.
"There's something I have to tell you," he whispered, his voice scratchy and hoarse. I looked back over my shoulder at him.
"I think you're not going to like it, but I should tell you before we go out there."
I sighed, listened a moment more at the door and as I was sure no one was coming, I turned to face him. "What is it?"
"Your vampire prince. I've heard his name around here."
"Well of course you have. They're trying to kill him."
"No, I mean, I think he has been here."
I was silent a moment, confused. I could see the blue-grey of Luca's five o'clock shadow sprinkling his cheeks. I gazed at his scars again, the raised silver flesh slinking down his face like a cat.
"I think you must be mistaken," I responded finally, my heart quiet now, the thudding and pounding and pouring and flowing from earlier reduced to a soft whoosh. Luca watched my face, and even as I tried to keep myself neutral, I could tell that he saw me, and in that instance, he knew me, my deep feelings for Theo, and my confusion. His eyebrows shrugged slightly, pulling down on the corners of his eyes, offering me a look of pure self-sacrifice.
"You must be right, then, Lana. Excuse my hasty assumptions." His voice was quiet, the echo in it matching the sound of my heart, the ocean of my love filling this room quickly enough we could drown in it. I looked away quickly.
"Let's go while we have the chance," I murmured, and cracked open the door. Luca followed me out, and we walked quickly, purposefully down the hallway. Adrenaline spiked through me—I could feel every inch of my skin prickling and sensitive, my eyes wide and my hearing focused. But as I marched around the corner I came face to face with two tall, dead-eyed vampires. Fright spiraled up through my core and my mind went blank—I almost lost control of my bladder. The form of the vampire in front of me blurred and suddenly he was behind me, clasping my wrists with iron-like, clammy hands.
I gasped and the sudden oxygen reminded my lungs of what they could do. I screamed, the terror flooding my head, and someone nearby chuckled. When I could finally stop myself from screaming, I looked up to see a vampire watching me, smirking, and I knew immediately that it was Ishkur. His face was sallow and his skin clung to him, sunken in and leathery like the hide on the face of a drum. Time seemed to roll off him. I could almost smell his age.