Negative Space Ch. 08by_bloom_©
So sorry for the wait with this one--so has been going on. I just graduated college, and I'll get back to work on the story now, I promise! Thanks so much for all the encouragement, it's been really great in helping me to get back to work. Enjoy!
"I'm heading to bed, then." He said, turning away from me. "And I'm sure your Keeper will be wondering where you are."
I flared in anger. I did not have that type of relationship with Theo. "He is not my keeper! I am my own woman--he may be my boss, but he has no claims to my body."
"Well actually, he does. I didn't mean to be crass when I called him your Keeper, but that is the name for a vampire who marks a human. Soon enough you'll hear other vampires talking about the humans they Keep, either for feeding or fucking, and you'll know what they mean."
"Well, I have an agreement with Theo. I can do what I like with whomever I like, and his only claim to me is as a prince and an employer."
"That's not what that mark means, though. When taking blood from a human you don't have to mark them. Marking a human usually means that the vampire and the human have entered into an agreement together in which the vampire will provide for the human in exchange for "keeping" them. Which really means owning them."
I shook my head, growing angry to hear that Theo not only marked me without my permission or knowledge, but also kept the rest of this information from me.
"In the vampire legal system, you belong to him." Elliott continued. "If you did something he was unhappy with, he could bring you before any court in the country, and demand that you be killed or punished as per his preference. And it would be done."
"This is true?" I asked, certain that it was. Elliott nodded. I was horrified. I walked out of the room and sat down in the early morning sunlight of the lobby. What would I do? I could confront him, but I knew his temper, and it could quickly flare up and make him much more dangerous than he already was. On the one hand, his mark on my body kept me protected from potential threats, but it also kept me from doing as I wished, if he were not in agreement. I could hear Elliott getting onto the creaky cot in the lab, and I felt a huge wave of exhaustion hit me. My whole sleep cycle was entirely thrown off, and the constant adrenaline rushes I was receiving kept me from feeling the gradual build of tiredness. Instead it came in a huge wave, and I'd have to find a bed as soon as possible or risk falling asleep on my feel. I didn't want to return to Theo's house, though, the weirdness of being at the beck and call of another had just been doubled, knowing now that I honestly had no choice. I pulled out my cellphone and scanned through my contacts, trying to figure out where I could go now that I had left my old life behind. I paused as Sandra's number came up. I didn't want to impose, but I didn't know where else to go. I texted her, hoping she was still awake, and closed my eyes for a moment while I waited. I had seen the beginnings or ends of days as I switched over into the vampire lifestyle, but hadn't been awake in such full sunlight in a while. It felt wonderful on my face, and I stood up to look out the window. The whole city was there, as it had been this whole time, but I felt like I had left it, moved into another country, another dimension, when I moved into Theo's house. My cellphone vibrated and lit up, startling me back to the office. Sandra had texted back, inviting me to stay as long as I'd like, and giving me her address.
I went out to the street, carrying my med pack and coat, shocked by the number of people bustling about in the day and the feeling of sun on my face. I hopped in a cab, gave the driver Sandra's address. As we pulled up to her apartment I paid the driver from the allowance Theo had given me and rang the bell. The door buzzed and I tramped up five flights to her door. She had unlocked it already, but ducked back behind the curtain in her hallway so that she'd be protected from the sun. I slipped in, locking the door behind me, and a stepped past the curtain to find a small but sweet apartment. Sandra was sitting at the kitchen table and looked up, excited to see me. I hugged her and dropped my bags, slightly winded by the steps. She laughed.
"That's something that's just fantastic about being a vampire," she said, grinning. "You don't get tired! No huffing and puffing as you climb a million steps."
I laughed, and gulped down the glass of water she handed me. So early in the morning and it was already dripping hot. "Thanks," I panted, wiping the water off my lips with the back of my hand when I caught sight of another woman leaning against the counter in the semi dark of the kitchen. I froze as her beauty washed over me. She had olive toned skin, completely unblemished, dark, entrancing eyes with long black lashes, and the biggest, most beautiful lips I had ever seen. As I stared, the lips pulled back into a big, easy smile, and she moved forward, holding her hand out to me.
"Hi, I'm Knox, Sandy's roommate." I moved forward as if in slow motion and placed my hand in hers, unprepared for the entirely new sensation of lust that came over me. Unlike when I was touched by one of the male vampires, I didn't feel hot and dirty so much as entirely overwhelmed by excitement and interest. I caught myself staring at her lips--big, beautiful, perfectly shaped--and I shook my head, stuttering a moment.
"I--I, uh, my name is Lana Crane. Sandra works for me." I took a deep breath and told myself to get it together.
"Yes, I know. She told me you were coming over." Knox paused for a moment,running her hand through her hair, a short, asymmetrical fauxhawk of some sort. The front of it stuck almost straight up, and she tugged on it thoughtfully before swooshing it out to the side. "Can I ask the impertinent question?"
I would have answered anything she asked me if she bit her lip and winked her eye the way she did just then. "Sure," I said, sitting down at the kitchen table beside Sandra.
"Why are you here? We all know about your torrid romance with the prince--why aren't you over there with him?"
I laughed. "Impertinent indeed. Well--" I stopped myself. Even though this woman was beautiful, charming, and incredibly sexy, I needed to start being a little smarter about how I interacted with others. I had no idea who she really was, or even, to be honest, what Sandra's deepest loyalties were. "I was working late at the office, and I didn't want to go home and bother him. I know that he has an extremely important meeting to prepare for, and I didn't want to disrupt his beauty sleep." We all chuckled, and I used my chance to change the topic of conversation. "Did you know," I leaned in conspiratorially, "that he wears concealer and sometimes even lipstick?"
"What?" Sandra laughed, shaking her head. "No way. He would never need it!"
"It's true! I'm not even kidding. If he's afraid that he'll look overly tired before a big council meeting or something like that, he puts concealer under his eyes!"
"Okay, but when does he wear lipstick?" Knox joined in, sitting next to me.
"Same time! He thinks it makes him look imposing." The ladies shook their heads disbelievingly. "Honest! He borrowed mine just the other day. He had a meeting with Russia and Germany, and he put just enough on to make his lips look bloody. I mean, it actually did look like he had just ravished someone."
Sandy poured us each a glass of wine, and before we knew it we had finished off two bottles, it was almost noon, and we were laughing so hard at Sandy's impression of Theo that I was having trouble breathing. I dropped my forehead to the table, still hiccuping with laughter and Knox let her hand rest on my back. I giggled and shivered, sitting up as my core began to warm and loosen. She left her fingertips touching the skin above the collar of my shirt, and traced them back and forth along the edge. I closed my eyes, opening them again to see her staring intently at me, eyes deep and focused. Sandy smiled knowingly, and excused herself for bed. I closed my eyes again, feeling how light the wine had made me. Knox's fingers kept contact with my skin, tracing my neck to my hair line, then over to the soft indent behind my ear. I opened my mouth to breathe, suddenly warm and wet between my legs. Her fingers were so light I couldn't be sure they were actually touching me, but they had my skin burning. I looked up and Knox was much closer to me, her lips almost touching mine. I leaned away from her a fraction, but she followed me and scooped in to press her lips against mine. The warmth of her kiss burned through my body but I pulled away, nervous. It wasn't that I wasn't interested, or that I hadn't slept with women before, but the strange burning at my neck reminded me of Theo's control over me.
Anger curled deep in my belly, tightening and growing, filling me quickly. Knox just winked, her hand on my cheek. She traced my lips with her fingertips, fighting off the anger with gentle kisses to my jaw bone and earlobes. I was aching for her, but the burning in my neck grew stronger. It worried me. What if he decided to hurt her, or imprison her, or kill her for it? He had nearly torn Anya's face off for just touching me, even when he had sent me back to my human life with no protection. His possessiveness soured in my mouth. I sighed. I put my hand up to Knox's face sliding it to hold just under her chin. She smiled and closed her eyes--an invitation. I leaned forward and kissed allong her chin, biting gently at the joining of her jaw and her neck. She drew in her breath, haggard.
"I can't," I whispered in her ear. "Not while Theo has such strong control over me. Just give me a little while to get rid of this mark. I won't be his for long."
Her eyes opened, and the dark, clear green of her eyes held me, paralyzed as she thought. "How can I wait?" She finally asked me, "if you'll be sleeping right here on my couch?"
"You'll have to. He's..." I stopped what I was saying. I understood it only as I said it to her---Theo was dangerous. He was an unknown force that I could not control, nor could I understand. "He's wild," I told her. "I never know what he will do to whom, or why. I cannot trust him. His mark burns my neck each time I touch you."
Knox's brow furrowed, and she growled, her face turning not-quite-human. "He has no right to use you in this way. I-- I will not stand for it."
I felt like I was in a movie, suddenly. The vampires, the mysteries, the magic, none of it had made me feel so fake, so surreal, but now, with people fighting over my virtue, my freedom, suddenly it all felt silly. Like a farce. I turned away.
"It'll be fine, Knox. You're tired, I'm tired, and we've all got to be up in only a few hours. Go to bed and we'll chat later. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow. There's a woman dying."
Knox shook her head, but she backed off, the angry lines in her face smoothing out, the rigidity calming down. I smiled at her and she sighed, smiling back only slightly. I walked to the couch and lay down, blowing a kiss to Knox and pulling a blanket from the back of a chair over my body. She sighed again, but walked out, shutting her door quickly. I didn't want to have to deal with any more drama like this--I felt like I'd been on a roller coaster all night. Now it was almost afternoon and I knew I'd be woken up by Theo as soon as the sun set, so I closed my eyes. I slept immediately.
My head was pounding so loudly it drew me from my dream. I rolled over to press my face back into the pillow when a crash awoke me fully, and I was lifted by my armpits before I could focus my eyes. I squinted into the darkness before me as a hand grabbed my face, squeezing.
"Aghh! Who is that?" I cried, tearing my face away from the hand and pushing the body away from me. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw the familiar build of Theo outlined in the hallway's meager light.
"Ugh, Theo. What are you doing?"
"You didn't come home," Theo said, his voice low, hard, and sharp. "And all day, all I could feel were the pangs of you being unfaithful. I could not sleep, the pain was so sharp and drawn out." His voice grew steadily louder, and his face glowed red. "Who did you have sex with?"
"No one, Theo. Not a single person." I looked around and saw Knox and Sandra standing in their pyjamas at the doors to their rooms. "Jesus, how can you storm in here, burst into someone else's house, and begin shouting and yelling? How can you touch me like that?"
The anger in Theo's bearing broke suddenly, and he looked away, rubbing his eyes. "I've been awake all night. Come home and let's get some rest."
"No! Not without some answers. How come you never told me that you have legal authority over me? I told you I wanted to be an autonomous entity, and you assured me of the fact that I was only marked by you for protection. Do you--" The breath was torn from my lungs and I cried out, grabbing my head. The sensation of a vampire rifling through my thoughts was usually gentle, almost ticklish, as they tried to do it subtly. This time I could feel every move, as if Theo were actually pulling my brain apart with his hands. White pain burst in front of my eyes and I screamed, pushing reflexively against it, against the fingers tearing through me. I pushed again, moving by instinct alone--I needed to get him OUT. I leaned into the pain, letting it explode inside me and suddenly it was dark again, the ringing in my ears that must have been my screaming was replaced with the buzz of silence, and I felt deliriously light and pain-free. Theo staggered backward, fingers to his temples.
"Aargh! What have you done, you bitch?" His words came out strangled and stunted, as if each one cost him great effort. In fact, I had no idea what I'd done. I leaned into the space where the pain had been once more, and as Theo cried out, I began to see flashes of the room, but from his point of view. Through his vampire eyes I saw everything clearly--the dark was no problem. I could smell everything, even my own terror. I had a sudden inspiration and began to push backward in his mind. Suddenly lights and color were flashing before me, and as I tried to pull back, they slowed, transporting me entirely so that I was sitting at Theo's desk, signing documents with his huge hands. Then I was sitting on the subway, noticing for the first time a sleeping woman across the car from me who was startlingly beautiful--I realized it was myself, as seen through Theo's eyes. I gasped, and the touch of a hand to my face, my real face, brought me back. I realized just then that Theo was on his knees, holding his face and head and moaning. I must have been causing him the same pain he had caused me when he thrust himself into my mind without warning or finesse. And I certainly had no finesse.
I looked up at Sandra who was holding my shoulders gently, concern outlining her face. I stood up hurriedly, and rushed over to Theo, wrapping my arms around him.
"Oh, Theo, I'm so sorry, are you alright? I'm so sorry!" Theo was panting, his torso quivering slightly. He pulled away from me with anger and something else I had never see in Theo's eyes before--fear.
"I don't know what you are, or what you're trying to do. But I won't have you in my house. And I will no longer protect you."
"Theo, wait! It was an accident. I didn't know I was hurting you!" I was panicking now--I had given up my whole life to act as Theo's physician, and now he was abandoning me? "I will not allow you to renege on our agreement. I will find Anya, if I must, and have her testify that you agreed to hire me as a physician. Just because you are too afraid to face the consequences of holding secrets from me, you may not fire me. I will not enter your home any more, but I will start seeing patients next Monday, no matter what you say."
Theo glared at me, but I didn't flinch. He could decide to kill me, if he wanted, but that would be no worse than banishing me back to the human world. I had only been here a few weeks, but I could not tolerate the thought of leaving it behind. It felt so.... natural to be in this demi-world of magic. I was in the exact same places as before, but everything looked clearer, felt more realistic, more imperative. I didn't feel like I was just dealing in what-ifs and long future plans, but instead everything I needed was immediate, important, and most importantly, possible. I had dreamed of a world like this since I was a child, but I had no idea how right it would feel. How quickly I would adapt.
Theo shook his head. He stood up. "I will think about this. You are correct in that I gave you my word. However, you are some sort of abomination. No human should ever be able to sense that a vampire is reading their mind, nor should they be able to read the minds of vampires. It is highly dangerous. When I have made my decision I will contact you. Do not come near me or my home until then."
He turned and left so suddenly, I almost missed it. I turned around and Sandra rushed toward me. She tilted my head to the side and sighed. "He's taken it away," she said. "You're no longer Marked."
I wasn't so sure if that was a good or a bad thing, now, but at least I knew where I stood. Now I could do as I wanted, but I wouldn't necessarily have the name of the Prince to fall back on. I sat back down on the couch. Knox walked over and put her hand on my shoulder, and the electricity of the shock jittered through my body, but quickly dissipated.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked.
I sighed. "I have no idea."
For the rest of the weekend I laid low, sleeping on Sandra and Knox's couch, ignoring the persistent sinking guilt in my stomach. I did everything I could to pretend that everything would be fine, so long as I just showed up for work Monday, ready to heal. I hadn't gotten a chance to keep working on the samples from the sick woman I visited, but I had to admit to myself that I was terrified to go back. What if he had posted someone outside the door? I didn't want to deal with any of that until I absolutely had to.
Monday night came faster than I wanted it to--all Sunday I couldn't sleep. The rushing of adrenaline tingled through my whole body, and I began to notice that the nervousness had expanded my consciousness to a size where I could sense not only the other people in the apartment, but the people in the floors above and below as well. Somehow I simply knew they were there in that same strange way I had noticed the light sliding off Theo on our first date. It was as if I could feel a concentration of a uniquely alive energy, whether or not there were walls in the way. I felt the slow, paced energy in the rooms beside mine that told me that both Knox and Sandra were asleep, and above me I felt the excited energy of two humans, one much larger than each other, playing a game. I had no idea how I knew it was a game, but it simply... made sense. I could also feel the cool, lifeless energy of machines--the power chords lacing through the whole building, a TV, a dishwasher, the air conditioning, but those felt very different, and were much quieter. As I paid closer and closer attention to this new awareness, I realized I could tell the difference between vampire and human and small animal.
Vampires glowed and vibrated on a completely different level than humans. As if it were an entirely different tone of colors, or a song played in minor instead of major. I couldn't exactly pin point it, but I knew the difference immediately. Which is why I found myself extremely nervous as I noticed the vampire walking up the stairs to the apartment right at sundown. My roommates hadn't come out of their rooms yet, so I sat up, anxiously testing the new spaces in my head where I knew, well, I thought, I could press to cause severe pain in any vampire. A second vampire came into my range, and I panicked, rushing to Sandra's door right as she opened it.