Friday, August 26, 2016

Only With The Heart - Chapter 9 - A Paranormal Romance story by Kallysten

If you are new to this story, you can find chapter 1 here.
If you missed chapter 8, it's here.


You can right click these links and use the save option to download the file as epub, mobi/kindle or PDF, or you can read straight from this page.

ONLY WITH THE HEART
CHAPTER 9



In retrospect, it was nothing short of a miracle that Lance didn’t crash the car. His mind had fully disengaged from what he was doing, and he drove on automatic all the way back home. Even after he parked in the driveway and killed the engine, he remained seated behind the wheel, feeling…

He wasn’t even sure how he felt.

Numb was probably the best word for it, but there was also a dull ache in the center of his chest, as though a weight pressed there, making it hard to breathe. Although in truth, he didn’t think he’d taken a proper breath since Taylor had taken her last.

Taylor…



Just thinking her name made her face flash in his mind, her burns all too prominent even after they’d started healing. How long would it take until there was no trace left? Days? Weeks? Months? Years, even? Would he see her again before that?

And what did it mean that she didn’t want to drink human blood at all? At the Academy, they’d learned that vampires could subsist on animal blood if they needed to, but it wasn’t something Taylor had to do. It was, as she’d made it very clear, her choice. Why was she making that choice, though? And how much difference was there between subsisting and thriving?

So many questions, and once again he’d barely been able to talk to her at all.

Two light knocks on the window startled him and he jerked out of his daze to find Ellie standing outside the car, looking at him with a mix of worry and exasperation. Wondering how long she’d been there, he opened the door and started getting out, only to duck back in again to retrieve the cooler.

“Are you all right?” she asked him, giving him a once over.

“Fine, fine. I was just thinking.”

He noticed the leather bag hanging from her shoulder, its wide strap weathered and slightly too long for her. It had belonged to their grandfather, who had spent forty years as a mage in a Special Enforcers agency. Neither of them had enough magical talent to be full-fledged mages like him, but they could both work out small spells when needed.

“Going out? Need back-up?”

“Nah, it’s just a disinvite spell. Slow night.”

Lance grunted. Most of their nights were pretty slow. The few that weren’t more than made up for it.

“All right. Give me a call if you need help.”

She took the car while he entered the house. Light shone through under the closed door of Evan’s office and for a second Lance was tempted to knock and have a chat with him. They’d always been each other’s sounding board, relationship-wise, but there was no denying that things had changed. He walked on without announcing his presence, passing into his side of the house and all but jumping in surprise when, out of the darkened foyer, rose James’ voice.

“You left and you didn’t even tell me you were leaving.”

Reaching blindly for the wall, Lance flicked on the lights. James was sitting on the third to last step of the staircase, facing him, his eyes darker than ever as he stared at Lance, unsmiling.

“I wasn’t gone very long,” he replied. “Did you get something to eat?”

Rather than answering, James continued to stare. His hands were clenched on his knees, bone-white from gripping so hard.

“You were with Ellie,” Lance tried again. He felt vaguely uncomfortable under that reproachful stare, although really, what had he done wrong? “It’s not like I left you alone. And even if I had, at your age I’m pretty sure I don’t have to worry about you sticking forks in an outlet.”

His attempt at humor was met with silence. Shrugging, he walked over to the kitchen and set the cooler on the table. Before he’d decided between the fridge and the freezer—he wasn’t even sure why he even wanted to keep the blood; it wasn’t as though he was going to need it—James followed him into the kitchen, his hands still closed tightly. He was shaking, Lance noticed with some surprise.

“You left,” he said again. “Without telling me!”

It was more than reproach, more than sulking Lance could hear in his voice now. His pitch was rising until it was almost shrill. His breathing accelerated as he stood there, staring at Lance again as though telling him a lot more with that stare than he had with those few words.

The wild look in his eyes was the last clue Lance needed to realize James stood on the edge of a meltdown.

Or was that, he stood on the trailing edge of having had one while he sat alone in the dark?

“I’m sorry,” Lance said in a slow voice, not quite certain what to do. Even if he was right about how upset James was, he couldn’t fathom why he would be. When he’d been James’ age, being left alone had always been a treat.

“You can’t do that!” James said, his voice still higher than normal. “You’re responsible for me, you can’t just leave!”

Then again, Lance realized grimly, he wasn’t particularly well equipped to guess what might set off someone who’d experienced what James had gone through.

“You were with Ellie, I thought you’d be fine with her. Didn’t she give you some dinner?”

James shook his head, the movement jerky and tight.

“I said I’d eat with you. I didn’t know you were gone. I didn’t know when you’d come back. I didn’t even know if you’d—”

His voice broke in a gasp and he started breathing faster and faster, his eyes even wider and wilder than before. He looked like he was suffocating; there was only one thing Lance could think of doing.

“Evan!” he yelled. “Get in here, quick!”

As James seemed about ready to collapse, Lance drew a chair from the kitchen table and helped him sit down. He was still drawing in big gulps of air that came out again in shuddering gasps.

“Evan!” Lance called out again, turning his head to the hallway, but finally Evan was hurrying in, worry inscribed on every inch of his face.

“What is it?” he asked. “Is it Ellie? Did she—”

He cut himself short when he saw James sitting there and struggling to breathe. Lance could have sworn he saw his friend change right in front of him, no longer taking on the role of scared husband to slip instead into that of skilled doctor. When he asked, “What happened?” his voice was as steady as his fingers as they wrapped around James’ wrist, presumably to take his pulse.

“I don’t know. We were talking—well, arguing really, I suppose, and he just…”

Unsure how to finish, he merely gestured at James. He seemed paler, much paler… was he turning blue or was that Lance’s imagination?

Already Evan was letting go of James’ wrist and striding around the table. He opened a few cupboards before finding what he wanted—a paper bag. He shook it open as he came back to James’ side and held it in front of his nose and mouth.

“Breathe in here,” he demanded in a calm voice when James tried to turn his head. “It’ll help you get your breathing back to normal. There you go. Just like that. Can you hold the bag yourself?”

Though his hands still shook, James took hold of the bag and held it in place as he continued to breathe too fast.

“Try to calm down,” Evan said in that same soothing tone. “You’re safe. No one is going to hurt you, nothing is going to happen. Breathe in. And out. In. And out.”

Little by little, James’ breathing started to follow, more or less, the rhythm Evan was setting for him. Lance had rarely felt as useless as he did now, watching them with no idea whether he could help or would only get in the way if he tried. After a few more moments, Evan looked at him.

“Do you have something sweet for him to eat? Cookies? A candy bar? Orange juice?”

Lance started shaking his head but a thought came to him and with a quick, “Be right back,” he left the kitchen to go into the office across the hallway. He didn’t bother turning on the lights; he could see enough of the room to get to what had been Taylor’s desk. He pulled the bottom drawer open and reached in blindly to the very back for the bag of wrapped mini chocolate bars she’d always kept at hand. He used to sneak into her drawer now and then to grab one and she’d always give him a reproachful look the next time she opened her drawer; he’d never figured out how she could tell.

He brought the half-full bag to the kitchen, where James was now breathing without the help of the paper bag. Evan was pouring him a glass of water; he gave the chocolates a nod of approval when Lance showed them to him.

“That’ll do. Have him eat a couple and drink some water. I won’t be long.”

He strode out of the kitchen while Lance came to take a seat near James and upended the bag of chocolates on the table.

“Any preference?” he asked, more to say something than because it really mattered. “I’ve always been partial to the crisped rice ones myself.”

He pulled one of the blue-wrapped chocolates from the pile and pushed it closer to James, who picked it up listlessly, his eyes dull now that they weren’t so wide anymore.

“I can’t remember the last time I had chocolate,” he said, his voice raw as though he’d been shouting. He turned the small bar between his fingers for a few seconds before tearing the wrapper open and bringing the chocolate to his mouth.

Rather than saying something stupid, Lance pulled another one from the pile and opened it. He popped the candy in his mouth and regretted it instantly when memories of Taylor rose to the surface of his mind.

A snort brought his attention to Evan, who shook his head as he walked back in.

“The candy was supposed to be for James, not you.”

In response, Lance lobbed a candy bar at him. Evan caught it but soon set it back on the table and showed James the stethoscope he held in his other hand.

“Do you mind if I listen to your heart for a moment?”

James, who had been opening a second candy bar, eyed the stethoscope warily.

“I’m fine now,” he said. “I swear. It just happens sometimes, but I’m fine afterward.”

A frown flickered on Evan’s features.

“How often does it happen?”

James shrugged. The chocolate was starting to melt between his fingers.

“I don’t know. Two or three in the past few years. But I’m fine. It’s nothing.”

“A panic attack isn’t nothing,” Evan said in what Lance had privately dubbed his ‘doctor voice,’ gentle but still firm. “It’s not very worrisome, but I still would prefer—”

“Can this wait?” Lance interrupted with a half smile and a significant look from Evan to James, who had turned utterly still on his chair, the uneaten candy abandoned on the table in front of him and his hands gripping his knees like earlier. Triggering a second panic attack didn’t seem like the best follow up to the first one. After a long look at James, Evan seemed to reach the same conclusion and nodded, wrapping the stethoscope around his neck with practiced ease.

“Sure,” he said with a too bright smile. “We can do that tomorrow, or another time. It’s just a precaution, really. And then we can talk a bit about what to do if it happens again.”

The last, Lance guessed, was directed at him, and he gave Evan a slight nod. Only after Evan had excused himself did James finally eat the piece of candy he’d already opened.

“Hungry?” Lance asked as he pushed away from the table. “I’ve got a frozen pizza in there I think.”

He opened the freezer to find the pizza in question, along with half a dozen more frozen dinners. Cooking had never been his forte. With no protest rising from James, he quickly put the pizza to cook. While the oven warmed up, he opened the cooler and transferred the blood bags to the freezer. James watched him intently enough that Lance knew a question would come, though when it did it wasn’t the one Lance expected.

“Is Evan a doctor?”

“He is, yes. Well, he’s a surgeon, but I suppose he didn’t forget how to use a stethoscope when he started using a scalpel.”

His pitiful attempt at humor once more went entirely unnoticed by James.

“Did he give you the blood, then?”

Lance stilled halfway through placing the last bag in the freezer. Forcing himself to complete the motion, he closed the freezer door then the cooler, which he set on the floor.

“He did,” was all he said.

“Is it for your vampire friend? To help her heal, like I said?”

“That was the idea, yes. But she didn’t want it.”

James stopped sorting the candy bars in little piles and gave Lance a puzzled look.

“She didn’t want blood? Why not?”

Apparently, it seemed just as strange to him as it did to Lance.

“I don’t know. She didn’t really explain.”

He turned away to check on the pizza. He knew it was too early, but he needed something to do.

“That’s where you went, then,” James said quietly. “Why couldn’t I come with you?”

The true answer was that it simply hadn’t occurred to Lance. James, a few moments ago, had said Lance was responsible for him, but Lance wasn’t used to being responsible for anyone but himself. Lost in his concern for Taylor and the mixed anticipation and dread he felt at the thought of seeing her again, he’d all but forgotten about James. It didn’t seem like the best thing to admit under the circumstances…

“I didn’t think you’d want to,” he replied instead. “I just dropped by and came back, that was all.”

Eager to drop the subject lest his mind threw more questions at him regarding Taylor for which he had no answer, Lance switched gears.

“I didn’t mean to upset you. But honestly, like Evan said, you’re safe. Whether I’m here or not, you’re safe.”

Back to making small towers of candy, James didn’t reply. A few minutes later, when they were both burning their fingers and tongues on the piping hot pizza, James set down his food to take a drink of water and said in a very cam, almost formal tone of voice, “If that’s all right, I’d rather you take me with you when you go somewhere.”

“Well, when I can, sure, but if I’m going out for work, that’s not possible.”

“Why not?” James asked guilelessly.

“Because,” Lance said with an exaggerated sigh, “being around vampires is no place for a kid.”

“I’m not a kid,” James said at once. “And I bet I’ve spent more time around vampires than you have. I can even teach you things, like I told you how human blood helps them heal faster. I could work with you. Train to be a Special Enforcer. You could show me how to use a sword!”

The last edge of dullness that had framed his gaze since his panic attack ebbed away as he spoke, but Lance still had to stop those thoughts right way before they took roots.

“No. I’m sorry but that’s not happening. I could lose my license if I took you with me on the job. And worse than that, you could get hurt.”

Not to mention that Ellie would probably tear his head off if Lance so much as mentioned it.

Still, in front of James’ dashed hopes, he found himself adding, “But maybe we can see about teaching you to use a sword.”

Ellie wouldn’t like that either, but it’d be worth that argument if only to see James smile.



Chapter 10

No comments:

Post a Comment

I always love to hear what you think!