Negative Space Ch. 11by_bloom_©
Author's Note: Thanks so much for all your comments and suggestions! I wanted to get this to you a lot sooner, but life did what it always does and got really really busy at just the right time. Again, please let me know what you think, I love to have your input.
When Elliott returned to the clinic, he and I worked steadily through until dawn. During his little trip about he had found out that more and more vampires were experiencing similar symptoms to Helena. They couldn't quench their thirst, no matter how much they drank, and as they withered and wasted away sores were opening up over their body. Vampires, who had never had to deal with anything like a wound before were suddenly finding themselves prone to some sort of infection that seemed eat away at their flesh. In fact, in the first hour of contacting friends and talking to acquaintances, Elliott found that everyone knew at least one person with the sickness. It had been slow at first, but vampires were showing the first symptoms in alarmingly high numbers, even within the past week. He counted 45 of his personal acquaintances (and their acquaintances) who were infected. I was amazed. I had Sandra begin contacting these people once more to get information from them—the time frame of the symptoms, the intensity, the patients histories—so that I could attempt to make some sort of database out of the information. From there I hoped to find a general pattern that could point to a cure or at least a cause. Elliott and I studiously set up a number of different tests for the infected tissue samples and were working our way through them when the sun snuck up over the buildings and pushed her first rays into the lobby windows. I pulled the curtains shut and closed off the doors.
"I'm feeling so close right now that I don't want to leave," I said to Elliott who was already slipping out of his scrubs and into a t-shirt and boxer shorts to sleep in.
"Keep working then—I won't even notice you, I'm so tired."
He must have been, since the minute he finished talking to me he slid into the cot, pulled the blanket up tight, and passed out. I smiled. I hadn't known what to think of Elliott at first, but I could tell now that he was incredibly dedicated to healthcare. He kept working, constantly coming up with new and fascinating ideas and techniques, and it was because of him that we had made any progress at all. I was beginning to get a sense of the disease, but even though we still new very little I felt like I finally knew where to look. We had been able to identify the bacteria that seemed to be causing the infection, but so far we had no idea what was actually going on. In fact, we merely identified the fact that there were unknown bacteria in the infected tissue—something that could or could not have been actually related to the symptoms. I rubbed my temples and went back to using an eyedropper to put a controlled amount of a solution infused with the bacteria into test tubes containing pieces of vampire tissues taken from various volunteers from the clinic. It would be a rough study, but we didn't have time to make a well researched, perfect clinical study. This was just to figure out whatever we could as soon as possible and hopefully save a few lives.
I worked for another hour and a half before feeling the indisputable pull of sleep at my eyelids. I finished up my round, shut off the machines, and crawled into the cot alongside Elliott. I was too tired to go anywhere, and I hoped Elliott wouldn't mind. As I lay there, feeling his warm body pressed against mine, I felt a thrill of attraction. My core began tingling. I shook my head with frustration. What was this? Any time I found myself in close proximity to a vampire I began to feel totally overwhelmed by attraction to them. First Theo, then Elliott, then Knox—even when Inga drank from me at her birth, I was overwhelmed by the sensations. It was almost like I needed something from them. I needed the touch, I was almost hungry for them. I thought back to Elke, the werewolf Alpha's words to me, insinuating that I might not just be human. Well, at this point I figured that I certainly couldn't be generic variety human because of all the messy powers I had. I just...I didn't feel any different than normal. Should I have been feeling suddenly superhuman? Should I be craving blood or invisible to others? Was I always like this?
A memory struck me suddenly. I hadn't thought of it in years—maybe it was one of those self-protective denial things—but now it rushed at me, filling my mind. I stood, as a four year old, in the hallway of the house I grew up in. I was wearing footie pajamas, and I remembered hoping that my parents wouldn't be able to hear the sticky soles of the feet sucking gently at the floor as I took each step. I had wanted someone to help me fall back asleep, but my parents were talking in that tone of voice I knew was serious and not to be interrupted.
"—but why now?" my mother was saying, fear and anger in her voice.
"I don't know. Isn't it her right though?" my father paused, I imagine leaning forward in his characteristic way to touch my mother's shoulder. "You have to give some weight to the fact that she gave birth to the girl."
"No. No. That's it. Lana is my baby girl, no matter who she grew inside. Kate may have been my friend once, but after abandoning her own child, I have no interest in her anymore."
"Are you sure? I'll support your decision no matter what, but do you really want to lie to Lana for her whole life?"
"It isn't lying if I tell her that I'm her mother and you're her father. It's true. We're the ones who stepped up to take the baby in when Kate disappeared when no one else in her family bothered to."
"All she wants to do is visit with Lana though. She doesn't want to take her back."
"No. I won't confuse my daughter with that. No."
Whoa, I thought, my breath suddenly coming fast and hot. Whoa. The impact of that experience had been so soul-shaking that as a four year old I just couldn't handle it. I'd tucked it away so well that I hadn't thought of it again until just now. I was adopted? What a cliché! I could have laughed, but the feelings of betrayal started to creep over me almost immediately. I was suddenly unmoored—everything I knew about myself and my history was a lie. Well, not everything, I reminded myself, trying to not be overly dramatic. But certainly a few very basic, important things were withheld. Who was my mother? Some woman named Kate. I'd never heard my mother, my adoptive mother, talk about any friends named Kate. My mind was running overtime thinking about every aspect of the conversation I overheard, and all at once my extreme tiredness crashed over me. Within moments I was fast asleep.
I opened my eyes slowly to see Elliott...dancing. Little white earbuds were wedged into his ears and his eyes were clenched shut as he shimmied past the microscope, dipping and spinning and flailing around the table. I could hear a very distant thudding of the beat coming from his head, but other than that and the sound of his breath, the room was silent. I chuckled, laughing harder and harder as I watched him. Finally he spun round to see me laughing at him, and turned bright red, pulling the headphones out of his ears immediately.
"I didn't know vampires could blush," I giggled, sitting up out of bed.
"Yeah, well, they don't. I don't. I'm just red with, with, uh, viciousness! Yeah!"
Elliott gave up being serious and laughed with me. I walked up to him and pulled him in tight for a hug. Again I noticed the sweet smell of him and suddenly how intensely hungry I was.
"Oh my goodness, I don't think I've eaten in at least a day!" I said. "How on earth could I have done that?"
"You're on a vampire sleep schedule now—maybe you're eating like one now too."
The hunger was intense and I felt like I had an idea of what it must be like to be a vampire—the hunger was all mixed up with pain, desire, and deep, deep need. I held my stomach and closed my eyes.
"Whoa, Lana, you okay? I'm going to go get you food. I'll be right back."
Elliott whooshed away and I sat down at his bench. Take deep breaths, I told my self. I breathed slowly in my nose and out my mouth, calming my body down. When Elliott reappeared a few minutes later he found me totally immersed in the notes he had been working on before I awoke.
"Elliott—this is brilliant! Do you think you have enough evidence to be sure this is how the bacteria replicate?"
"Why don't you eat a little something, doc," Elliott chuckled, handing me a carton of Pad Thai, "and then we can chat."
I devoured the food, quenching the hunger, but not the need. I wasn't sure what that emotion was, but I didn't say anything to Elliott. Instead I asked Elliott to explain his notes to me, because if what he wrote was true, I could begin to craft some sort of antibacterial that would fight this specific infection.
After about an hour of working in silence I suddenly remembered him dancing that morning. I chuckled and looked over my shoulder at him.
"So why were you dancing with such exuberance when I woke up?"
"Well, I had just figured out the last of the bacteria's transduction period, and it felt," he blushed again, "it felt good to be working on something so meaningful. I mean, we're really going to be helping people here. I hope I didn't wake you up."
"No, I think I would have woken up anyway. And actually, it was quite nice to start my day with so much laughter," I smiled at him, tapping my pen on my forehead. "And you're right. It does feel good to be doing something worth while. But you know, I'm worried that we're not going to be able to keep going at this rate. I have to keep seeing patients, and it makes it a hell of a lot easier when you're around to help me take care of my patients. I think I need to talk to Theo, and ask him for some more employees."
Elliott eyed me covertly, but I caught him. "Oh come on now, it'll be fine. I'll go to him in peace. In fact," I checked my watch. "Why don't you keep working, and I'll go to him right now. You can see the first patients that come who just need basic check ups and anything else you think you can handle. We're outside of the jurisdiction of the AMA now, so you do what you feel capable of doing, but know that if you injure one of my patients I will hurt you very badly."
"Yes ma'am," Elliott replied, pretending to act scared, but clearly thrilled.
"I'll be back as soon as possible."
The big old building was so familiar, and yet within the space of about a week it had become entirely unwelcoming. The gothic decorations I had found so cute and quaint when I first arrived now felt intimidating and medieval, and the previously refreshing coolness of the stone now chilled me deep within my core. I waited for half an hour before the door swung open and Theo strode through, looking impressively royal. His hair had been combed back into a coif and his typical rumpled shirt and tie was replaced with a fine silk suit and shining black loafers. Even his eyebrows gleamed in the beams of blue light that fell across his face from the stained glass windows.
"Dr. Crane," he boomed, his voice smooth, deep, and distant. "What can I do for you?"
He stared at me while I stuttered for words. I realized that I hadn't thought this visit through at all. Maybe this had been a bad idea. I started to stammer and apologize, trying to pick up my belongings and get out as soon as possible. I had forgotten how golden his eyes were.
"I'm sorry, ex—excuse me. I'll get out of your way," I looked up just as I was getting to the door, and I saw his perfect royalty crumble just for a moment.
"Lana! Wait." He sighed deeply. "Tell me what's up." He came to the front of his desk and sat down in one of the leather chairs, pointing to the other one for me to sit down again.
When I hesitated he pulled out a small, wavering smile, and gazed at me. "Come on now, let's talk. We need to talk."
"Theo, I'm sorry," I said as I sat down, suddenly finding I had much to say to him. "I'm sorry about all of this. I came here for two things. No, three. No, well, maybe more. But three specific things." Theo chuckled and his smile steadied a little bit. "First," I continued, "I want to thank you so so much for providing me with such an amazing clinic and such incredible employees. And thank you for coming to my aid when I needed to perform emergency surgery on Nora, the werewolf. You saved her life without even thinking of it, and I have to admit I don't think I would have been so generous and, not, well, petty."
"Of course, Lana. You know you can ask for whatever you need. At this point you're my only healer, and you do an amazing job. I have nothing but positive reviews from your patients."
"Well, thank you. I guess that brings me to my second point. Can I have more employees?" I smiled shyly, knowing how transparent I sounded, but wanting to show him that those two points were not linked. "I need help doing research."
"What research?" he asked, leaning forward.
"Well that's my third thing. It seems as if there is a disease that is speedily infecting vampires and causing what may end up being the True Death for many."
"What are you talking about?" Theo's eyes widened and his eyebrows furrowed. "This cannot be true."
"Well I've got some print outs here," I pulled some slightly wrinkled papers from my bag and handed them over to him. "These are graphs Sandra, Elliott and I have been working on in which we've collected data from as many infected vampires as we've been able to locate. At this point the number is 45, but that is only by contacting our own personal acquaintances. I'm certain there are many more beginning to exhibit symptoms even as we speak."
Theo was quiet as he studied the tables I had passed him.
"These are my subjects. How could I not have known?"
"It seems to be coming on very quickly, and most people only acknowledged experiencing the symptoms when Elliott outlined it for them. They hadn't been putting much stock in their unsatiated hunger or weakness."
"We'll need to do something about this immediately. I'll send envoys out to other heads of state and individual messengers to every registered vampire in my kingdom to find out who has it. What do you need for your research?"
"I think I need at least 4 or 5 more assistants who can be constantly working in the lab, and access to a few specific chemicals."
"Certainly. I'll have assistants sent to the lab as soon as possible. Do you have a list of supplies you need?"
"Yep." I handed him another sheet of paper. "And another thing, even though it seems like I shouldn't be thinking about this during such a crisis."
"What is it?" Theo asked, his voice softening, as if he knew this was hard for me to ask.
"Well, you know about these powers I've been discovering in myself?"
"Do you think there is anyone you know of, some sort of teacher, who would be willing to help me learn to control them?"
"I don't know exactly who would be best for you, but I'll talk to Prometheus. He'll know exactly who to ask for help."
I nodded now, and paused.
"But that isn't all you wanted to ask for, is it?" Theo said.
"One other thing, I guess. Oh, I'm sorry Theo. It must seem as if I only come to you when I need something, and I guess that's true, but I want you to know that I really do want to become your friend again. I was terribly angry at you, and for good reason, but I think we could come to a sort of relationship that doesn't just revolve around the clinic, don't you?"
Theo smiled gently and sighed. "Why don't you ask me for what it was that you wanted."
"Oh, okay." My voice sounded small and girlish. "I've just rediscovered that, I guess, I'm adopted. So I was hoping for help finding my birth parents. I wonder if they could have an idea about what my, well, what I am."
"I'll get someone on it as soon as I can spare them."
"Oh, that would be amazing. Thank you." It felt so lovely to be around Theo. I understood now how much I had missed him. I suddenly wanted him terribly, in a way that I couldn't explain.
"Now Lana," Theo leaned forward and let his hand drop onto mine. Immediately we both felt the shock and he pulled his hand away as if he'd burned himself. A look of slightly wild terror crept up into his eyes, pushing away his evident desire for me, and he stumbled off the chair and backed up to the wall.
"What was that?"
"I don't know! I'm so sorry, I really didn't mean to do anything!" I pushed my hand back down to the table even though it had seemed to follow him of its own accord.
"You need to go. You need to go now." His voice was strained and rough. "I'll get your supplies to you as soon as possible."
Even as he backed up away from me I felt that more mysterious, unsettled hunger overcoming me again. I wanted to touch him, I wanted to pull whatever it was I needed from him—I needed him, I needed something he could offer me.
The door slamming behind me cleared my mind and I realized that I'd been advancing on him. I turned around quickly. Stevens was standing there eyeing me suspiciously.
"Your car is ready, milady." Ever polite, he even bowed to me as I scrambled to grab all my things and rush out of the room.
Back at the clinic the patients were getting kind of rowdy. As always Sandra was a blessing, keeping everyone as calm as possible, but I could tell something was bothering her when I walked in. I took her aside and asked her what the problem was.
"Well, there are some people here who claim they were sent by Theo? To be your new assistants?"
"Oh yes! Already? How fantastic. Sandra, this is great. They're going to help us to work on finding a cure for that disease."
Sandra was visibly relieved, and I realized that she had thought they were there to replace her and Elliott. I laughed and hugged her. I instantly felt myself drown in hunger and desire, but I pulled myself out of it. God, what was this? I felt like I wanted to either eat her or kiss her. No. This was Sandra. I didn't even have fangs to eat her with! Without missing a beat I put a smile on my face and acted as if nothing had happened.
"You know I could never replace you! You know this clinic better than I do and run it better than anyone else possibly could."
"I mean, that's what I thought, but then they showed up, and you hadn't told me anything about it—"
"I really only asked him about 40 minutes ago. In fact I came straight here from his house. I would have absolutely told you if I'd had the time."
"That's good to know," Sandra smiled, looking quite bashful. Quickly, though, she wiped her face and set it back to its usual seriousness. "I'll get them set up then. Are you ready to start seeing patients?"
"Yes absolutely. Thank you again, Sandra, for being such an amazing assistant. Without you I don't know what on earth I would do."
Sandra handed me a clipboard and hurried back to my office where the new research assistants were waiting. I scanned the clipboard and called out the first patient's name. The patient followed me back to an exam room as I took a few deep, steadying breaths. This was going to be a long night.
Sitting across from me was a teenaged girl, exhibiting in every way the typical teen-ness one would expect. She was chewing gum, slumped backward in her chair, and picking at her fingernails.
"Look," she said, tossing her highlighted ponytail hair back over her shoulder. "Seriously. You can just fucking drop the doubt right now, cause if Prometheus sent me, he sent me for a fucking reason, bitch. I'm the best at what I do, the fucking queen. And seriously, I can read you like a fucking picture book."
She sat forward and stared at me. Although we had my desk between us I felt like we were suddenly too close for comfort and I moved backward. She laughed.