A/N: So I've successfully gotten out of my writing funk. First finishing and publishing a 12k story in about a month, and then this. I'm quite proud of myself.
Please review at the bottom. If you see any mistakes, tell me!
"...Finally, we look to the future of genetics. We ask questions about the advances we'll make based on the work we've already accomplished, like GFP being injected into a hundred rabbits! We can analyze what we've done, and compare it to what we want to do, consider methods used for different projects and apply them in ways we hadn't even considered. For your paper on this unit, you are to research a possible innovation that could be created in your lifetime. Miss Luna here will pass out the instructions and what not."
I rose from my seat, grabbing the stack of papers he had indicated. Then, under that stack was another one, a yellow stick-it note that had the word Finished! on it.
"I have their analysis projects graded, Dr. Norton, I can pass those out too," I said. He nodded for me to do so. I picked up the second stack, removing the rubber band that held the papers together.
"You'll also be receiving your projects back. If you have any questions, you know my email and office hours," the professor added. I walked forward to the stepped seats, handing out the first grade, a solid C to someone I knew barely cared about the class. He didn't even look at the grade, instead choosing to eye the paper instructions. Maybe he'd put more effort into this assignment.
I passed out the papers as Dr. Norton continued to explain the paper. I tried to hide my grin as I listened to his explanations. He wasn't going into detail, and kind of winging the whole thing. The truth was, I was a teacher's assistant for a professor teaching a brand new course. While he had the outline of the course, I was the one creating the tests, projects, and practically half of all of the assignments, along with grading most of it. Dr. Norton did some grading, but mostly he offered his "excellent companionship and commentary" while I did the work. It did actually make spending so much time on other people's work easier.
The half-tail quivered and stuck up in the air as it the body attached ran and sniffed along the ground. While most rats had a long and flexible tail that curved and changed positions, this particular rat lost half of her tail during birth. There were no health-related reasons for this event, it was just unfortunate. Technically she was just a lab rat and there wasn't supposed to be any attachment to the lab animals- but she had such a fantastic personality. All of the scientists loved her, and so she was affectionately called Half Tail. While I participated in that, I also called her Belle, short for Hell's Belle.
"How is our favorite subject?" Dr. Dragomirov asked. He was one of the few doctors that was leading the experiment, along with Dr. Norton. I smiled.
"She's inspecting the ground for any new smells, I think. It's a rodent thing," I said. After I spoke Belle stood up on her hind legs and sniffed the air. Her little nose twitched adorably.
"And the dopamine levels?"
"They've remained stable."
"Fantastic! The others?"
"Six of the rats in total have gotten to a point of balance in favor of our hypothesis, four have increased balance significantly in dopamine levels, three have begun to plateau, and the last seems to have conflicting results." Harris nodded.
"Promising results. Have we begun analyzing potential causes for the one negative?"
"Mel and I have been assigned to that, I think the difference is based on an individual level." Mental illnesses are always specific to the individual that has it. Introductory pamphlets that describes symptoms will only list a few, but there are always dozens that could be applicable for each illness. That's one of the reasons mental illness can be so hard to diagnose and treat. This is true for rats as well- every rat is unique and has its own personality. Mr. Bear (the negatively affected rat) surely just needed adjustments on his external environment. (I called him Mr. Bear because he looked like one, and also looked constantly rumpled and grumpy.)
Again, Dragomirov nodded. He picked up a clipboard that had been left on the center counter.
"How were the classes today?" he asked, flipping through the pages and pages of data.
"Dr. Norton got called to an emergency meeting with the supervising pharmaceutical company, and I was left to finish the lecture. I must admit, I envy his patience," I joked. My hands were twitching to pick up Belle and play with her, give her a couple kisses on her head. She'd try to squirm out, but only to return the affection. That's how I'd always known rats to be.
"Has he gotten back?"
"He's almost here. He hasn't let me know about what the conclusion was, and I'm getting rather antsy."
This final trial with the animals (mice, rats, and rabbits, oh my) was close to finishing. Our leading doctors, Norton included, had been communicating with the pharmaceutical company about allowing us to pursue and conduct the earliest human trials. Being at a research university, we had good reason to be doing it.
"I am too." I looked up at Dragomirov and as I did so he immediately looked down. I wasn't sure if that was coincidence or not, but I was inclined to trust my gut that it wasn't. I didn't say anything.
Then the door to the lab room opened and Dr. Harris entered.
"Where is Dr. Norton? He said to be here," he said.
"Exactly right, Harris, I did. I have some news to share," a voice from behind him said. Dr. Harris moved to the side and allowed Dr. Norton to enter.
"As you know, lady and gentlemen, Pharm Core called me in this afternoon to discuss our future with this project. I'm pleased to say that once they receive our completed report with the expected and promising results, we can begin to design and conducted a small clinical study." The three of us listening to Norton cheered and clapped, relieved and excited to hear the news.
"The team will remain the same?" asked Dragomirov. Norton nodded.
"There will be two more people added, not necessarily doctors, just whatever we need. They've given us the option to recommend who we want," he added.
"We'll probably need more psychiatric nurses," I suggested. Norton nodded.
"And I've already predetermined that you would be the one making the hiring decisions," he amended his earlier statement. I grinned, appreciating the leadership task. I needed it to be a Clinical Nurse Leader.
"Our participation in the first human trials for this drug is probably the best news I've heard in my entire life, and when I got accepted into college I actually cried for two hours," Mel said when we finally reached our shared apartment.
"I don't think I can relate to that," I joked. She shook off her white medical coat and put it on the hanger by the door, and then tossed her bag onto the chair just under the hanger.
"Well of course not, your emotional capabilities are basically completely atrophied," she said back. I laughed, but then I stopped when I saw her freeze completely.
"What?" She turned to stare at me, narrowing her eyes a little bit.
"I know something you don't know," she said lowly. I couldn't help but laugh again, because that picture looked absolutely ridiculous.
"And am I allowed to know what you know?" She grinned mischievously, and I gave her a side look.
"Dragomirov likes you." That's a lot less shocking than I thought it was going to be, but I still had to press further.
"...And why do you say that?" She sighed dramatically and collapsed onto the couch.
"Selene," she said with a huff, "I don't know how you can be so blind to this!" I rolled my eyes and sat on the chair opposite the couch.
"I see the man a few hours a week, Mel, and when I do we discuss work," I reminded her.
"Well I see him every single day, and I happen to see certain things that I believe are pretty obvious," she said, a highness to her tone. 'This woman is ridiculous,' I thought.
"Well tell me what your big eyes see," I dryly remarked. She suddenly sat forward and stared at me rather intensely.
"You know how I sometimes TA for him?" I nodded, and she continued. "Well, his lectures, for a guy whose native language is Russian, is amazingly articulate, and when he's around you his vocabulary is out the door. I mean, when the guy talks about pharmacology, his English is, like, perfect. When he's around you, it's like he just moved here," she babbled. I shook my head.
"That doesn't necessarily mean that he likes me. For all you know I could be making him nervous in some weird way. I've been told I can have that effect on people," I said with a grin. It was her turn to roll her eyes, because to her that could never be true.
"He looks at you a lot."
"...You have me there," I conceded. "At first I thought he was unsure about my competence, but that didn't really make any sense."
"Exactly, he clearly likes you. Try to feel it out tomorrow, I'm serious. He totally has a thing for you."
If I were more competitive, had more ego, I wouldn't be willing to admit that I had sadly gone without noticing something that was certainly not inconspicuous. Instead, I had to be told by my roommate, a beautiful and smart girl who has lifetimes more experience in certain areas than I do. I may not have the ego to go without admitting my blindness, but I still had one, and it was wounded.
Levi Dragomirov was definitely more articulate when he was not around me, that much was true. I asked Mel for a sample of his lectures, and I was genuinely shocked at the ease of which he spoke English, and the strong grip he had on not just English grammar, but the style he spoke was fitting. It was like he had lived in America his entire life. I could count on just my two hands how many words he used in sentences around me.
I was pleased to find that he was not micromanaging my work from afar. In the beginning I was painfully aware that he seemed to look at me while I was working with relative consistency, and in the back of my mind, I worried that he doubted me. I wouldn't have been surprised if he was unsure of me, a small female, working in a delicate work setting. While the Soviet Union had encouraged equality amongst men and women especially in the workforce, the idea of work equality has fallen along with the communist government. I didn't know the intricate details of his culture, but it couldn't be any better than the one I had to live with.
"Good morning Selene, Half-Tail," Dragomirov greeted when he came into the lab. I looked up and gave him a greeting smile, and I showed him the little rat he had addressed. He stepped forward, face pinched with adoration as he rubbed Belle's head with his finger.
"I have to admit, she's my favorite patient of all time. Then, maybe, Mr. Bear," I said, partially to myself. Dragomirov and I looked at each other, and I blushed a little bit as he tilted his head.
"Mr. Bear?" he questioned.
"It's short for Grumpy Bear. I've named him, because, well, I thought it was fitting," I admitted. I hadn't actually told anyone about my names for them. It was unprofessional to give animal lab subjects names, because it was a sign of emotional attachment. I was capable of separating my actions from my emotions, and didn't change my treatment of any of them, I just watched a couple rats more often than others.
"It is fitting," he agreed with a smile. I had to smile back because there was no judgment there. It was easy to tell that the more we talked about the rats, the more we seemed to get along.
"He's actually responding to the treatment better. I did my best figuring out the problem without altering the variables, and I think I did pretty well. I think his particular condition caused him to be a little bit more sensitive to the surrounding environment, so I had Mel move his cage between Half Tail's and Subject B-5's. In short, he's less grumpy now," I told him. He laughed.
"That is excellent. We have finished with completely agreeable results," he said. I nodded enthusiastically, putting Belle the Half Tail back in her cage, where she immediately picked up a piece of food and moved into the typical rat-eating position.
"I'll miss the rats terribly, but I suppose it has been a while since I bonded with actual human patients," I said, looking at the entire group of rats. All of them were sweet, not just Belle.
"You have a surprising affinity for rodents," he noted. I shrugged at the statement, accepting it as it was.
"I always have. I wanted a lab rat when I was little," I grinned. For as long as I could remember I had wanted a mouse or a rat. The lab scientist part wasn't always there, but science in general always held my interest.
"And you didn't mind the tails?" he asked, surprised. I laughed.
"Never. The more I spent time with them, the more I appreciated them." As I said that, Norton and Harris walked into the room, casually discussing something in low tones. Then, Norton looked up at us.
"Nurse Luna," he said, and I knew he needed a favor immediately. I said when I met him that I didn't need to be addressed by my profession, "miss" would work just fine. He only called me Nurse when he needed something.
"Dr. Harris and I will be finalizing the preparations for the human trial, and so I won't be able to teach my last class. It's a simple lecture and then they'll be reading. Would you mind covering for me?" he asked.
"Of course, Dr. Norton. Aren't their papers due today?" I checked. He thought about it, and then nodded.
"They are indeed. Would you also mind sending out a reminder?" I nodded, already pulling out my phone. As I sent out the message, I checked the time.
"I should probably go. The rats need to have their levels checked in about ninety minutes," I reminded the room. I walked towards my bag so I could grab it.
"Do you have your hiring recommendations?" Norton checked. I pulled out the paper and handed it to him with a smile as I left the lab.
Days like this were what I lived for.
The rats left and the real patients came. As much as I lived to treat and help people, it still took me a while to adjust. I didn't have as much experience being a typical nurse as I did being a researcher, but the muscle memories from those months I worked in a hospital were still there. Working in acute care kept me in shape.
The study of dopamine treatments served to help patients with various forms of psychosis, specifically disorders like schizophrenia. While working with the lab animals, we also conducted individual case studies focusing on psychotherapy and the effect it has on patients suffering from the same disorders. With the human trials beginning, we would be combining both methods of treatment, and would compare those outcomes with our control group. Research and application was fun.
It was the first human trial ever for this medicinal treatment and its therapy companion, and so the amount of patients we were actually seeing was quite limited. We did our best to vary the severity of psychosis, age, and previous response to other treatments. This put to use my training as a psychiatric nurse, and my leadership role gave me the more complicated cases. To say that I busied myself immediately was an understatement.
Then March 8th came. March 8th was the day that everything came together in the best way possible.
It started with my day off. Mel had chosen to go out with who she called her "whitey girlfriends" which made no sense because she was also white. She said something about Starbucks or Panera, or some local cafe, but I stopped listening when her voice got that high pitched girly quality that it gets when she hangs out with them. I was happy to stay in our apartment and curl up with a book while music played in the background.
When I heard the knock, I groaned. I loved my job and almost all of the aspects of it, but after several days of working with people nonstop, the last thing I wanted to do was interact with another person. Because I lived with Mel and she was closest to me, she was the closest thing to an exception- but no one else.
I changed my mind when I saw what was on the other side of the door.
Levi Dragomirov stood there, a cage handle in either hand, and a rat within each said cage. They weren't just any rats, they were my rats.
"Oh my gosh," I muttered. Dragomirov's shoulders hunched up and I could have sworn that he blushed.
"You said you would miss them, so I asked for them." This was an insane gift, because after an experiment was over with animals, the scientists need to examine the brains of the subjects. This was best done when the brains were outside of the bodies.
"...H-how?" I gasped, stepping to the side to let him inside. He stepped forward to go and put the cages on the kitchen counter.
"The experiment was final conclusion, these rats weren't necessary." I rushed forward to confirm that yes, these were my babies. Hell's Belle and Grumpy Bear were in fact in the cages, and my Belle was eager to see me, having stretched both her nose and one of her little arms out of the cage. Mr. Bear was sleeping and his fur was extra fuzzy.
"Is he okay?" I asked, pointing to my little boy.
"He was neutered. He is still drugged." Well that makes housing them easier- she can't get pregnant if he's got nothing to offer.
"I can't believe you did this Dragomirov, thank you," I breathed. I opened up Belle's cage and she immediately jumped up and began crawling up my arm, coming to a stop at my shoulder. She stuck her cute little nose in my hair and her little tail quivered in my peripheral vision.
"You are welcome. And please, call me Levi," he said. I looked up at his face and I couldn't help but notice his eyes. I had always thought that they were just big, but then I realized that I just perceived it that way because they were innocent, like a child's. He had a very shy smile, something that I think came from the culture shock of America. I knew that in public Russians tended to have on their "serious" faces, and he probably wasn't used to putting on a smile with every interaction.
"You are very generous, Levi. Thank you," I said warmly. I reached up and grabbed Belle to hold her, and I smiled at her little face. I showed it to Levi, who again creased his face into one of adoration. He reached out and tickled her stomach with his forefinger. Slowly, a grin came on my face as I realized something.
"Miss Belle, I think Levi is omitting something," I teased. His face went into one of surprise, and I laughed. Handsome men were the most adorable.
"What do you mean?" he asked, his jaw still slacking
"I'm not the only one who would have missed them, am I?" I guessed. His mouth clamped shut and he blushed again. He looked down like a child caught doing something they knew they weren't supposed to be doing.
"It's a possibility," he confessed smoothly. I laughed again.
"Well, I have to admit, this does making things easier," I hinted. When he looked up at me, his face betraying his confused thoughts- had he always worn his emotions on his sleeves?- I found it was my turn for my cheeks to turn red in color.
"It would seem, Dr. Dragomirov, that we've bonded over these precious creatures, and I've come to know you as a true friend. A very handsome friend." That last note seemed to get his attention and he stared at me, waiting for me to say something else. He was wary, and it seemed he was expecting me to start laughing like I was just making a joke. He really was too sweet.
"Drago- sorry, Levi, I'm just going to ask you this once- was the saving of these rats and bringing them to me really just an act of kindness? Or were you hoping to earn my affection?" His eyes grew even wider and he looked down. He started fidgeting with his hands, and he glanced at Belle, who was currently just getting out of my grip and crawling back up my arms.
"I… I, well, you see… you are a very pretty lady," he started. He had already said ten words, including both I's, which is the most he had ever said to me at one time. "You are very pretty and very smart, and I found that it is hard to get you off of my mind. I noticed that you really liked spending time with the rats, and I thought with this mutual feelings for them…" he trailed off. I smiled.
"You thought it was your best chance of getting an in with me," I finished. He nodded, grateful for my articulation. I grabbed his fidgeting hands, and held them in mine.
"I have to give you points for that, it was definitely a good way to go. Quite effective too," I said calmly. He looked up, startled, and my smile couldn't help but widen.
"Effective?" he questioned. I nodded. His shoulders slumped in relief, and he let out a breath.
"It was very well done," I commended, and then added, "so, if there's anything you would like to ask me…" He quickly got into his most gentlemanly stance and squared his shoulders.
"Miss Selene Luna, would you like to go to a dinner with me?" he asked politely.
"Why yes, Doctor Levi Dragomirov, I most certainly would." I reached up and kissed his cheek, and Belle took this opportunity to jump from my shoulder to his. This caused us to pull back and laughed.
I guess drug labs don't just benefit patients.
A/N: This is probably my most innocent romantic story. Actually, this is probably my most innocent story period, because the other genres I've dabbled in have been a bit dark. But that's besides the point.
Thank you for reading, and if you could, please review. If you have the time, I'd also love it if you voted on the poll that is on my profile.