The office felt too full and cramped. Rhia's chair was a hard-plastic folding thing they must have pulled out of her old high school auditorium. Her ass was already going numb. Sitting across the desk from her was Lieutenant Carla Davis, Maddox's immediate supervisor. She was a good woman, a little young for most officers in her position. Maddox liked her, and she was one of only two people he fully trusted to take care of Nova when he couldn't. The large animal was currently laying beside her, loyally waiting for a command.
Sitting next to Rhia was a tall elven lawyer. Her traditional name from her clan was so full of soft vowels it made her feel like she was chewing on marbles. She tried to pronounce it out of respect, but quickly reverted to what the elves called their "mortal names". Ethel Powell sat impressively graceful in the uncomfortable plastic chair with one long leg crossed over the other. Her faintly olive-green skin was paler than that of some of the rest of her clan, which was probably why she had taken a position within human relations. Easier to work with humans if you looked like them. There was little she could do about the sharp point of her ears or the earthy green of her hair to make it look more human. She kept her hair pulled back in a professional bun, and Rhia tried to imagine what it looked like when it was loose. Elves were everything every story had ever said about them. Tall, intimidatingly ethereal, and arrogantly intelligent.
It was the third participant that had Rhia on edge. Captain Mark Landon. Carla's boss's boss. Rhia and Maddox's godfather. Compared to many of the humanoid Ancients, Mark was old, grizzled, and past his prime. But Rhia had known this man most of her life. He was a lot stronger than he looked. Besides physical strength, he was politically connected and motivated. He could ruin any human life and make a serious dent in an Ancient's. He had a temper constantly bubbling just under a surface of calm that he had spent decades perfecting. Rhia had seen that side of him blow up. He had no love for Rhia in that cold heart if his. He scared the shit out of her.
When she finished telling the small group hat happened the night Maddox was shot, she waited for the questions to start. They were going to pick her story apart until they had every detail. Carla would look for the truth, as it was her department under fire, and she was a genuinely good person. Mark would look for anyway to blame it either on the Ancient or the E.M.S. staff, as long as it wasn't any of his precious officers, even a no-name rookie like Brown. And Ethel would look for any way to make the cops to look and sound as racist as possible and get her client a nice payout if they ended up in court. It was a game that no one wins.
"Alright, Rhia," Carla said with a poorly concealed sigh. "Just a few questions for clarification. Sergeant Kincaid called for E.M.S. backup. Did he call you specifically?"
"No." she answered immediately. "Ma- Sergeant Kincaid called dispatch, dispatch called the nearest station, the station sent out the first team ready to go. That just happened to be me, Ian, and Lisa."
"Ian McSorley and Lisa Germaine?"
"How long have you been working with them?"
"Lisa; on and off for about three, maybe four years. She mostly drives. Ian has been my partner for two years. Before that I trained him, and I vouched for him when he decided to take his paramedic certifications."
"You're awfully invested in this kid." Mark said emotionlessly from his spot in the corner. "Something we should know about your relationship?"
Rhia bristled defensively. "Ian is a friend and a colleague." her voice bordered on disrespectful, her eyes focussed on Carla's desk. "He is someone I can trust, and he can trust me in return. Just like the police, we can't work with someone we can't trust."
"Are you sleeping with him?"
"Jesus, Captain." Carla snapped, looking around at him.
"Ian is gay." Rhia snapped, finally looking up to meet his eyes challengingly. "I get that you think I'm doing a man's job, but I'm really not his type."
Ethel chuckled while Carla let her head fall into her hands. Mark's eyes narrowed dangerously, and a chill ran down her spine. She looked away again. "Suffice to say," Carla really did sigh this time. "You've been working together for a while. Is that why you gave Mr. McSorley point?"
"No. I gave him point because he's half fae. He has Ancient status. He could establish a rapport with Matron Landgren much faster than I or either officer could."
"Did you explain this to Officer Brown?"
"No. I trusted Officer Brown's training. The training the was supposed to teach him that there is an Ancient on every E.M.S. team. I also trusted Sergeant Kincaid's judgement. If he had faith in Brown's abilities, then it wasn't my place to question it."
"Would you have questioned it if he weren't your brother?"
Rhia sighed and pressed her fingers into her aching temples. "No."
"How did Mrs. Landgren react when Mr. McSorley began the calming spell?"
"She didn't. She was manic. She didn't notice the rotting garbage in her kitchen. Had Officer Brown kept his mouth shut, we…" she stopped, seeing the look in Mark's eyes.
"We're done here." The captain said coldly. "Lieutenant, go print off the statement for Miss Kincaid to sign."
The lieutenant glanced at Ethel, who nodded, before standing up and walking out of the office. Ethel closed her notebook and rose to her feet to face Mark. "Well, Captain," she said evenly. Her voice was musical and much deeper than Rhia expected. "This was, as always, enlightening, to the processes of human law enforcement. I will admit, however, that Sergeant Kincaid's actions were commendable. You should strive towards training more personnel to be like him." She turned to Rhia. "I hope your brother finds a speedy recovery. I hear that Nolan Wes has taken a personal interest in his care."
"Uh," she stammered, quickly standing to take the elf's hand. Her stomach did backflips when she heard the mere mention of the vampire. For three days she hadn't been able to get the man out of her head. "Yeah. He… He's been a great comfort to our parents."
"As he should. He is, as the elves would say, Yfeerie."
"I'm sorry," Rhia frowned. "I don't understand what that means."
Ethel smiled. "I commend your and faeling McSorley's actions. You acted with Matron Landgren's best interest at heart. Not many would do that." She glanced meaningfully at the captain, whose eyes narrowed even further.
"Is the Matron alright? I know Ian was a bit… rough."
Ethel laughed. "She is getting better every day. Back to her old self, according to her daughter."
"Good. She, uh, called me a 'cursed fire head' before everything went to shit- shit, sorry."
Another laugh. "Nothing to apologize for. I cannot think of a dwarven reason to fear red hair. It could have been a memory brought on by her manic state, or perhaps the manic state itself that made her fear you. I will make a point of asking her when I see her next."
"Lieutenant," Mark snarled as Carla returned with two copies of the statement. "Thank god."
"Here, Rhia," She handed Rhia a copy. "Read this over. Once you sign it, it's on the record."
Rhia skimmed over the document, nodded, and signed her name at the bottom of both copies. "Right." She managed a polite smile. "If anyone needs anything, I'll be with my brother."
"Rhia." Mark's cool voice froze her in her tracks. "A moment." He waited until Carla left, grumbling that this was her office. Ethel gave Rhia a look that might have conveyed concern, but it was hard to tell with her lawyer mask on. The door closed with a quiet snap. Rhia gripped the back of her chair to keep her hands from shaking. His cold grey eyes drilled into her. "Your disrespect has not gone unnoticed." He said in a low warning. "You will watch your tone."
"Yes sir." She muttered.
"You will also watch how you speak about my officers. You are right about one thing: It is not your place to question them."
"And stay the hell away from the Ancients. Request a new partner. A human partner. I don't know who or what this Nolan Wes is, but if those mongrels are complimenting it, it is a terrible sign."
"I can't just ask for a new partner." She gripped the chair tighter. "That's not how it works, that's like-"
"Rhiannon Meredith Kincaid," the police captain took a step towards her, pronouncing every syllable of her names with a snap to his voice. "I will not repeat myself. Your father and I have tolerated your fascination with the Ancients long enough. Do. You. Understand?"
"Yes sir." Her voice was barely a whisper now.
"Good." He turned to the door. "Now go be with Maddox. I'll be dropping by the hospital later tonight."
She almost ran for the door. Her heart was like a jackhammer against her chest and there were tears in her eyes. Distracted as she was, she got all the way to the hospital before noticing a small business card tucked under her windshield wipers. It was a thick card with a glossy Lifetree pressed into the center. The words Powell Burnet & Wes, Partners of Law reflected the sun brilliantly. On the back was Ethel Powell's details with a neatly handwritten note: Call me if you want to talk.
Rhia sighed, hunched over, braced her hands on her knees, and forced herself to take several deep breaths. Why was her life like this?
Nolan walked down the hall of the intensive care unit. It still felt strange walking to a patient's room. As the head of his department, his work was mainly administrative. He managed budgets, hired other doctors, techs, and administrators, and arranged for interns and residents to continue their education. Then there was the transition of blood from human donors to be processed for vampire consumption. He spent a lot of the time on the phone or in his emails. Even when he was a "real" doctor, as his day-shift assistant liked to tease, he had his face stuck in a microscope, or in charts. He didn't see patients. They were just names on a file.
Maddox Kincaid was different. Not his case. Alloimmunity was rare but not so uncommon that the attending couldn't handle it. The only reason he'd been there to explain it to the family was that the attending was dealing with another emergency, and the explanation wasn't something he was willing to leave up to the surgical resident. But then he'd met her. Rhia Kincaid. The adopted sister of his patient.
She'd caught his attention the moment he stepped in the room. Tall for a human female, somewhere around five-seven, with a long ponytail of shockingly red hair. Not a normal dark orange or reddish brown that was usually attributed to red-headed humans. No, hers was a rich ruby red, almost the colour of blood. It reminded him of a kitsune, fox shifters from around Asia, or a salamander, a half-lizard, half-humanoid creature that lived in volcanoes. But Rhia was all human. And what a charming little human she was. Exhausted from her work and worry for her brother, she still managed to find the energy to ask him for more information. To laugh. To tease him.
She'd offered up her blood freely, even though she knew it wouldn't be needed. Blood that had him watering at the mouth while he drew it from her. Putting a sing drop onto a slide to examine it had nearly sent him into a ravenous state, and for the first time in this career, he felt like sinking his fangs into the PVC bag and drinking until there wasn't a single drop left. He had it tossed into the incinerator. He didn't know if it was just his reaction to her blood, but he couldn't take the chance. He carefully vetted every vampire that worked in his lab, but when he was about to lose control there was no telling what might happen.
Between the smell of her blood and the simple allure of the woman, he kept going back under the pretense of checking on Maddox Kincaid. The first day after the accident, she was there, tiredly bantering with her father, who gave him the same disgusted and distrusting look as before. There was something off about her father, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. There was a scent of magic. Not good magic. Like it was rotting away. It was… unnerving.
The second day she wasn't, and he didn't dare ask her parents where she might be. The third day, the mother was alone. He casually brought up her husband and daughter, and she told him that Rhia was staying overnight. So, instead of managing the ever-growing mountain of paperwork at his desk downstairs, Nolan was walking the halls of the third floor to check on a patient. Or rather that patient's sister.
Gods, Nolan, he thought bitterly. What the fuck is wrong with you?
He stopped a few feet away from the door to Maddox's room. Rhia was sprawled across the small couch. A pillow padded the armrest she was leaning against while her legs, crossed at the ankles, were stretched across the other arm. She had traded in the boxy scrubs for a plain black tank top and a thin grey cardigan. A hospital blanket was thrown over her legs. A laptop cast a dull glow across her features, and his eyes went straight for her brilliant green ones. There was something faintly familiar about those eyes. A long-forgotten memory from a time long before the concept of any specific god.
At her feet lay an enormous silver German shepherd dog. A vest with the words L.A.P.D. K9 UNIT – DO NOT PET written on it was dropped in a chair with Rhia's purse. Big, intelligent brown eyes met his and he felt a little uneasy about the animal. They were just rumors, but he had heard of the police training their animals to attack Ancients on sight. As if sensing his thoughts, the dog thumped her tail and let out a small woof. Nolan started walking before Rhia could see him staring at her. Her smile was beautiful and warm. "Doctor Wes," she stood up to shake his hand.
She was wearing a pair of knee-length tights that seemed to be painted onto her body. He met her smile. It seemed so easy with her around. "Rhia, please, you can call me Nolan."
To this, something in her eyes flickered even though her smile remained. Oh, fuck, he hoped he hadn't been too forward. "Of course, Nolan." She nodded.
To hear his name on her lips sent a thrill through his body. The same thrill he had when she asked him to call her by her first name. Their hands parted, and he stepped over to Maddox's unconscious form. She followed to stand on the other side of the bed. He checked the monitors, knowing what they meant even though he didn't need to for his work. Maddox was breathing on his own now, which was an excellent sign. The tube that had been placed to keep his lung inflated was also gone. That seemed fast. Even if he was breathing fine, a collapsed lung usually took longer than three days to heal. "What on earth are you doing here so late" he tried to sound casual, and not like he had planned to be here right when she was.
"I work nights." She shrugged. "So I told my parents I would be here for him overnight. My boss gave me some time off, considering the circumstances."
She reached out to smooth her brother's hair. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you! He almost screamed to himself. The girl was standing watch over her comatose brother and here he was hoping to… what? What did he even want from her? That was a dumb question. The raging erections he'd been dealing with lately answered that.
"You work every night?" he asked stupidly. He desperately wanted to keep the conversation going. "Don't you miss seeing the sun?"
She gave him that skeptical eyebrow. "I see the sun." she almost scolded him. "All the freaks come out at night. Those are my people."
"Some of those people are my people." He smirked.
"Some of your people are assholes." She retorted with a playful smile. Then she sucked her bottom lip between her teeth and looked thoughtfully at Maddox. "Honestly, I feel safer around the people who lurk in the dark. You always know what you're going to get with them."
She wrapped her arms around herself and turned to go back to the couch. "As opposed to people during the day?" he was tempted to follow her, sit next to her, but was carefully aware of the powerful dog watching him.
She laughed bitterly and dropped back into the cushions. "The people who walk in the daylight belong somewhere. They fit in." she met his gaze before looking away quickly. "Sorry. I didn't mean for that to get… whiny."
"Don't worry about it."
Nolan stepped around the dog, careful not to get anywhere near that mouth full of teeth, and sat next to her on the small couch. She shifted, bringing one foot under herself so she could turn her whole body to face him. "I met the lawyer representing the woman who shot Maddy today." She said slowly. "Her mortal name is Ethel Powell. She called you, Yfeerie." He burst out laughing and she smiled at her poor pronunciation of the foreign word. "What does it mean?"
He leaned into the couch and rested his arm along the back, his fingers an inch away from her shoulder. "That is," he hesitated. He wanted to stay with her. Talk to her. Get to know her and let her get to know him in return. But there were things he hadn't talked about to anyone. Not even Constantine. "A longer story than can be told in one night. And not one I would like to tell sober."
"It sounded like she had a great deal of respect for you." She urged gently. When he still didn't answer, she tried a different approach. "Alright, if you won't tell me that, will you tell me why you became a doctor?"
A much easier question, but the answer was almost as complicated. "I got tired of what I was doing before."
Rhia's expression went blank, and he knew instantly that he fucked up. She looked down at her hands twisting in her lap. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Doctor Wes," he winced at her formal usage of his name. "But you don't need to be here for Maddy. Hematologists, excuse me, hematopathologists," a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "Work in labs. You don't see patients." Deep, emerald eyes slowly made their way up to his. "I… want to get to know you. I… I can't do that if you don't let me."
Despite the tremor in her voice, it soothed the ache building in him. He reached out with his free hand and took hers. Her palms were calloused from years of hard work, but her knuckles were soft. "I was Constantine's right hand." He said quietly, watching her carefully. Her eyebrows shot up, and he could hear her heartrate rise at the mention of the vampire king. "I had my own seat on the Counsel. I was there for… a long time." He almost told her just how long but decided at the last second not to. His age was yet another long story, and she was in for enough earth-shattering revelations for the night. "I just got tired of the politics. I got tired of walking into that room with all those other representatives just to argue the same thing we argued last week and still not come to a decision."
He looked down at their joined hands. Her much smaller hand had flipped his, so his palm faced up and her delicate fingers traced the lines. She probably had no idea how soothing that was to him. "The thing about vampires," he continued. "Is that since we came from mortals, our sense of time is… skewed. We live for eight- or nine-hundred years, but we think in terms of weeks and months, maybe a few years ahead. Elves, fae, even the dwarves who only live three-fifty to four-hundred years can't think that quickly. For them, ten years is a blink of an eye. The hardest part in revealing ourselves to humanity wasn't the if, but the when. Honestly, if it weren't for the dragonkin acting on their own, we'd probably still be in deliberation."
"The dragonkin were revealed in, what, the seventeen-hundreds?" Rhia's eyes narrowed in concentration, trying to remember her history. "How long were you…"
"Five hundred years."
"Jesus," she breathed.
Her grip on his hand tightened slightly. He tried to laugh, but it came out strangled. "Yeah. Remember that the next time your governments are arguing over something."
She gave him a weak smile. "So, what made you finally leave?"
He shrugged one shoulder. "It had been building up over the years. The final straw for me was World War Two. In the late 'thirties before the war, Constantine and I brought up the subject of the pending conflict. We were in Germany at the time, we'd seen the rallies and the marches. We had contacts in the Soviet Union. They wouldn't be ready for a major conflict for years. We knew what it meant. Given the effects even the Ancients felt after the first war, we felt like we should do something to prevent it, or at least lessen the devastation. Afterall, the Nazis weren't just planning on purging humans that didn't fit their master race ideology."
He looked away and let out a strangled breath. He should leave it there. He didn't want to scare her. Just give her some kind of insight into why. Her hands squeezed his. "What happened?" she asked, barely a whisper.
Gods… why did she ask? And was he really going to tell her? "We stopped discussing it on July twenty-second, nineteen-forty-four. We never came to a decision."
Rhia's soft gasp told him she had at least some idea of what he meant. They were quiet for a few minutes. Rhia's breathing was shallow and shaky. Were he human, her grip would be nearing painfully tight around his fingers. She anchored him in the present, keeping him from going too far into his memories. To his surprise, it wasn't hurting as bad to talk about it. It hurt more knowing that she was upset.
"After that day I couldn't face them. I couldn't just stand by anymore and wait for a decision that wouldn't come. I offered my services to the British allied forces. They couldn't put me in the military because of the politics, but their doctors were more than happy for the extra set of hands and someone who could stomach the carnage. After everything got cleaned up, I went back to work directly under Constantine for a few decades. It was the 'eighties when I told him I needed to walk away for a while. So, I came to America, went to medical school, and here we are."
"Oh, my god, Nolan." She breathed and he looked back to her eyes. They were glistening with tears. "I'm so sorry. No one should ever have to go through that."
The hand across the couch moved to touch her cheek, gently swiping at the single escaped tear. She leaned into his touch. "It was a long time ago." He sighed. His thumb moved down her silky skin down to trace the bottom of her lip. For the first time, he noticed the spattering of pale freckles across her nose. Gods, she was absolutely stunning. "All I know is that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be right now."
Her pulse quickened, and his eyes were drawn to her throat. His gums started to ache, his fangs threatening to descend. This was not the time, damnit. "Nolan," she whispered. He pulled his eyes back to hers. She had shifted closer, staring curiously into his eyes. "Your eyes…"
She didn't need to finish. He knew what she was seeing. The red, cat-like reflection was no longer just a reflection. A glowing red ring had formed around his irises. Instead of running for her life, she was leaning closer, staring at him with a child-like fascination. He couldn't stop himself. He reached up with his second hand to cup her other cheek, leaned in, and pressed his lips to hers.