Lee Colgin © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Elbow deep in test tubes and chemicals at his state-of-the-art laboratory, Doctor Benjamin Arleth startled when his alarm went off. Time for patient rounds. He hated to abandon his work when he was making so much progress, but duty called. The long sought-after drug to render a vampire resistant to sunlight would have to wait another night.
The supernatural realm’s most accomplished vampire doctor had no surgeries on his docket this evening. What he did have were several recovering patients to check on: a grouchy were-leopard who’d been impaled by a hunter’s arrow, and a friendly young Living vampire who’d undergone corrective surgery for metatarsus varus, or in layman’s terms…pigeon toes.
Benjamin went to check on the young vampire first. Knocking on the open door, Ben stepped inside the generic white hospital room. “Hello, Olivia, how are you feeling tonight?”
She grinned at him from under her nest of blankets. Olivia was small for her seventeen years, partially due to rotated tibias, but she had a big personality. Blonde curls spilled over her shoulders, and an incorrigible sense of humor sparkled behind pale golden eyes. She was fully grown, a condition that had to be met before her legs could be fixed and, more importantly, before she could be Turned. The poor girl was bored, stuck in the hospital recovering, and eager to get back to her life.
“I’m good, Doctor Arleth. I’ve been walking without any help. Can I go home today?” She looked hopeful.
The doctor tutted and shook his head, approaching her bed. “It’s too early for you to be walking unassisted.” She started to protest, but Ben continued, “You could do damage and set back your healing if you aren’t careful. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.”
Olivia groaned. “But it’s so dull here.”
“Tell me about it. I’ve been stuck here a lot longer than you.” He made a face at her, and she laughed.
“This sucks,” Olivia said with typical teenage angst. “You’re cute though, in that tall, dark, and handsome sort of way. You could get a life outside this place if you wanted.”
“How do you know I don’t have one already?”
“Call it a lucky guess.”
“Moving on.” Ben reached for her blankets. “Let me examine your legs. Then you can walk with me and show me how you’re healing.”
“Deal. Anything to get out of this room.”
Ben picked up her left leg gingerly. The flexible cast allowed him to take her knee through its full range of motion. He flexed and pointed her foot.
“How does it feel? Any sensitive spots?”
She shook her head. “Nope, I’m telling you it feels great. You must have done a really great job.”
“Good.” He put the other leg through the same exercises, watching her face for a reaction. If there was one, he didn’t catch it. Either she healed quickly or she’d mastered hiding discomfort. You’d expect the former of a Turned vampire, but a Living vampire like Olivia would take longer to heal. The girl was either lucky or deceptive; he’d find out as he watched her walk.
“All right.” Ben set her leg carefully back onto the bed. “Time to boogie. Show me what you’ve got.” He reached for her hand and helped her to her feet.
She took a step forward. So far, so good. After walking several laps of the medical center’s recovery floor, Ben believed her progress genuine. He’d miss her. Olivia was pleasant when she wasn’t busy teasing him.
The were-leopard, however, he’d love to get rid of.
The cat had been on a drunken joy run when he’d crossed into unprotected forest, human game lands. Shot through with an arrow, not only did he almost die, but the human who’d shot him had to have his memory wiped after seeing a leopard turn into an angry, naked man. He was lucky the hunter kept his shit together to call for help; otherwise he’d have died from internal bleeding. He’d been a terrible patient, complaining about everything from inadequate pain medication to the lack of decent food. What did he expect? A steakhouse?
Ben walked into the leopard’s room, eager to be done with him. “Jason, how are you tonight?”
The cat scowled as he scooted upright in the bed. “How do you think? I’m in pain. This place is stingy with the meds.”
“Pain medication is often ineffective on were-creatures. We simply have nothing else to give you.”
“A drink wouldn’t hurt.”
Ben clenched his jaw. “Still against hospital policy, I’m afraid. Let me check your wound, and I’ll see about releasing you.”
Jason pushed the covers down, and Ben got to work. The wound, though still inflamed around the edges, had closed nicely. Ben palpated the were-leopard’s abdomen, checking for signs of swelling or bleeding. Jason complained but didn’t seem overly sensitive. It should be safe to release him. Thank god.
“Good news, you’re healing well. We can send you home tonight. How about that?”
“About damn time, I’m ready to get out of here,” Jason said. “I need some real food and a good screw.” He added an obscene gesture Ben found distasteful.
“Hold off for now. I’ll send a nurse to fill you in on the physical restrictions until you’re completely cleared. Come back in a week for a final check to make sure there’s no lasting damage. Until then, be careful not to aggravate the wound.”
“Right, I get it. Careful when I’m screwing. Noted.”
Ben schooled his features to neutrality. It would be unprofessional to lecture manners to a patient, even if they deserved it.
When Jason didn’t get whatever response he’d been hoping for, he changed the subject. “Are you going to the Peace Conference this weekend? The nurse said they were bringing in extra doctors. Could get rowdy!”
“I am. I’d have gone, even if I wasn’t on call.”
“Shitty thing they’re considering. Breaking the Edict of Secrecy. Stupid idea,” the leopard huffed.
Ben did not point out that the very reason the were-leopard landed in the hospital to begin with was because he’d broken the Edict of Secrecy. Allowing a human to see him shift was against the law.
Supernaturals kept themselves hidden from humanity, but was that wise in light of the technological revolution? It was a matter of time before a human filmed something on a cell phone, and they’d be exposed. If they chose to reveal themselves, the narrative could be controlled. If humanity found out by accident, it could all go terribly wrong. Many in the community had strong feelings on the subject, including this exasperating were-leopard.
“Perhaps you should come and listen to the presentations. I’m sure there’s more to it than we know.” The Edict of Secrecy had served its purpose. They must let it go. Knowledge was power and all that.
“I’d rather stab my eye out than listen to that horseshit,” Jason said.
“To each their own, but continued peace is in everyone’s best interest. We don’t want another Great War.” He glared at the cat, daring him to disagree. Vampires and were-creatures were historical enemies, but a Peace Accord maintained armistice between the species. Battle surgeons told nightmarish tales of the Great Wars.
Ben jotted down his final notes in Jason’s file and left the clipboard for his assistant, Amelia. “Take care Jason and heal well. I don’t want to see you here again.” Usually that statement was more a joke, but this time, he meant it.
“The feeling is mutual, Doctor.”
Ben hadn’t been expecting thanks, but the were-leopard’s complete lack of self-awareness annoyed him. Glad to be done, Ben made a quick trip to the nurse’s station to leave his patient updates so he could return to his research, his life’s work; a drug to allow Turned vampires to walk in the sunlight again…his holy grail.
Ben lost himself in the research.
He had dozens of theories to deliberate and countless components to try before he’d risk another test of the drug’s efficacy. Sunlight could reduce a young vampire to ash within moments, and an ancient would be dust in less than an hour, so each failed test proved lethal to some criminal soul.
The Vampire Council provided test subjects from their prisons, but Ben wouldn’t take a life lightly, no matter their crimes. As the death toll added up, guilt sat heavier in his chest. The formula had to be right before he’d ask for another trial.
Another alarm rang, jarring him from work. Only a few hours remained before dawn, and he had to leave now if he was going to meet Samuel for smokes. He’d told Samuel he’d be there. Benjamin hated to leave his research—had to tear himself away from it—but Samuel wasn’t the kind of vampire you wanted angry with you, so Ben wouldn’t stand him up. He cleaned and stored his equipment, turned off the lights, locked up the lab, and headed for their favorite haunt, the Eternal Knight Club.
See Olivia, I do have a life.
Staring at the pair of jeans in his hands, Nathan tried to make a decision. He hated packing, always forgetting something important or taking too much, never the right balance. The process wasn’t any easier with Eleanor talking his ear off. He shoved the extra pair of jeans in his duffel bag along with more socks while half listening. She talked fast in general but even more so when excited, and she was thrilled to be attending the Peace Conference.
“This is a great chance for us to meet wolves from different packs, Nathan. Don’t you get it?” Eleanor asked from her seat in his desk chair, one leg tucked beneath the other. “Everyone is invited to this thing, and all of the continental wolf packs are sending representatives. The dating pool here at Borson is shallow, if you know what I mean. It’ll be good to expand our horizons.”
Nathan did know what she meant, his dating pool even smaller than hers. Gay wolves weren’t numerous. She had it easy by comparison, and he’d said as much before. They knew every wolf on Borson University campus, and neither had found a match among them.
“Let’s not get our hopes up; this is a serious conference. I doubt the other wolves are going to be scouting for mates while we’re there.”
“You’re wrong about that,” she argued. “All unmated wolves over the age of twelve are constantly on the lookout for potential mates. It’s in our DNA or something.”
“Twelve, really?” His eyebrows lifted. At twelve, he’d been more concerned with video games than cute boys.
“Sure, except for you maybe, but someone had to be the late bloomer.”
“Okay, I get it. I’m looking forward to some eye candy at least,” he relented.
“That’s the spirit! Oh god, you’re not packing that, are you?” She motioned to the gray sweatshirt he’d thrown in his bag. Nathan shrugged, and she hopped up from her chair, shaking her head. “No, no, can’t have that. It’s a sack on you. You need something formfitting to show off those muscles. And blue, to go with your eyes.” She rummaged through his closet as if it were her own.
Nathan knew better than to try to stop her. Eleanor was a force of nature, best to grant her freedom.
She found a cornflower-blue Henley and tossed that to him instead. “There, casual but flattering; you should wear that.”
It did match his eyes. Nathan nodded and added it to his bag. “Thanks.”
“You betcha. Now tell me, what’s your type so I can be a good wingwoman?”
Heat crept along his cheeks. His type? Did he have a type? “Um, I don’t know. I haven’t exactly dated much. My last boyfriend was kind of a jerk, so maybe someone not like him. Someone nice?”
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, ‘nice’ is a start, but it’s also presumed. I would only look for nice men for you anyway. I meant, what do you find attractive in a love interest? Be specific.”
Nathan found a lot of things attractive; he wasn’t sure how to answer. “Friendly eyes, a sweet smile.” He felt silly when nothing else came to mind. “It’s not so much what they look like Eleanor. I have to get to know them, right?”
She sighed. “Why do you phrase answers in the form of a question? Of course you have to get to know them; you’re a sensitive person. But it should be fun to talk about your fantasy man with a friend. For me, I want someone with dark mysterious eyes and a good five o’clock shadow. Nice and scruffy. I’m into broad shoulders, you know, like lumberjack shoulders and—”
“Gross!” Charlie interrupted, peering through the open door. “Lumberjack shoulders? You’re so boy crazy it’s nauseating. Am I going to have to put up with this all weekend?”
“Yes,” Eleanor said. “So you may as well get used to it.”
Charlie made vomiting noises and walked past her toward Nathan. “Hey man, you took econ a few semesters ago, right? Can I borrow that textbook?”
“Um, yeah, but we’re halfway through this semester, Charlie. What have you been doing till now?” Nathan searched through his shelves for the book.
“Procrastinating and playing video games mostly. Failed the midterm. I need at least a B minus on the final to pass the class,” Charlie admitted.
“Geez, dummy.” Eleanor smacked him upside the head. “You’re way behind.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Charlie took the book from Nathan and turned to go.
Nathan stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “Charlie, if you need some help, let me know. I’d be willing to go over it with you.”
“Thanks man, you’re a lifesaver.”
Nathan grinned. “Any time.”
“All right, you can go back to discussing dudes now,” Charlie said as he left. “Later.”
“Later,” Nathan replied.
“He’s not right.” Eleanor flopped back into the chair. “I took that course last semester, and the final sucked. I doubt Charlie can pull off a B minus.” She shrugged. Nathan continued to pack. “Do you remember much from your undergrad classes?” They were both studying business—Eleanor pursuing her bachelor’s while Nathan was almost finished with his MBA.
“Surprisingly, yes. A lot of the undergrad info came in handy for my graduate work. You know that saying, ‘use it or lose it’? The reverse is also true. The more you use it, the easier it is to remember.”
“Good to know. At least what I’m learning now isn’t a waste of time. I don’t think I’ll apply to grad school though. I’m ready to be done.”
“I hear you. One last year.” The slowest year ever, as if time crawled. School slogged on, never ending, but the real world loomed and with it, the unknown. Nathan wanted to pursue wealth and asset management. His mind enjoyed numbers; even in grade school, he’d always loved math. Werewolves lagged behind the more corporate-oriented vampires when it came to finances, and Nathan aimed to fix it—if he ever finally graduated.
He zipped his duffel bag and threw it next to the door. “Okay, officially ready for a weekend road trip!”
“It’s about time. I’ve been packed since Monday. The way Mitchel drives, we’ll make good time to Center City.”
Their alpha wolf Mitchel Edgehill offered to escort a group from the university pack, along with his own vampire boyfriend, Sinclair Davis, to the Peace Conference. Nathan couldn’t wait to get off campus. Maybe Eleanor had the right idea.
“Do you really think I might meet someone?” Nathan asked.
“I do.” Eleanor smiled. “There’s a wolf out there hoping for someone like you right now. I’m sure of it.”
Nathan wasn’t so sure, but he wouldn’t argue with Eleanor.