A hand at my shoulder filled me with anxiety. I instantly swung away from the touch and put my back to the wall, holding my arms up, fists ready.
"Don't!" I shouted. My instincts had me baring my fangs at him, a nasty hum vibrating through my throat.
He winced and stepped back, his own arms raised with his hands open. It took a moment for the man's name to filter into my chaotic mind.
I blinked and the red began to fade from my vision. My chest hurt as it heaved, trying to draw in enough air to keep me from passing out from the surge of adrenaline that had spiked so fast and then abruptly faded.
I slumped against the wall and my arms fell to my sides. "Sorry," I muttered while staring at the floor.
"No, I'm sorry for invading your personal space, Dade. I didn't," he paused and shook his head, "I know you don't like to be touched but I didn't think. I was afraid you'd hurt yourself."
My hand was already throbbing and I could tell I'd cracked at least one knuckle and maybe broken another one completely. I'd felt it before. "Too late." Embarrassment made my voice rough. I flexed my hand and winced.
Larede sighed. "Will you let me fix it?"
"There won't be any pain. I won't hurt you."
I wanted to roll my eyes. Pain wasn't a big deal. I could handle pain. I stood up and pushed away from the wall. The sheet around my waist started to loosen and I grabbed it, wincing when I closed my fist around the soft fabric. I was quiet as I considered going to the medical wing.
"Dade." The break in Larede's voice made me look up at him. His eyes looked darker since his face had gone pale. "I feel responsible for upsetting you. You wouldn't have punched the wall if I had kept my mouth shut. I’m a doctor; please let me help."
I didn't like the expression on his face, or the note of guilt in his voice. "Not your fault." My emotions were all over the place all the time. It had only been a matter of time before I would have snapped and I knew it. "Do we have to leave my room?" I asked him.
He seemed to consider my question carefully. "Ideally, yes. I could fix that really quickly in the medical wing. However, I can have my assistant bring a portable unit. It will take a bit longer to heal it though. If you're okay with him coming here, I’ll message him."
Another person in my room wasn't ideal, but it was better than leaving. I was on edge and I didn't want to hurt anyone else if I snapped again. It could so easily have been Larede's face. I had just met the man but out of everyone I'd met so far, I was the most comfortable with him. He was the first person who seemed to really understand my need for space and he didn't look down on me or seem to fear me.
"Okay," I said. "Go ahead and call him, or whatever. I'm just going to go put on a robe."
Larede paused on his way to the door. "Do you need help? Your hand has to hurt and you really shouldn't move it."
I shook my head. "No, I'll be fine."
I went to my closet and grabbed some clothes and then went into the bathroom. It was really huge, the biggest I'd ever seen, and included a deep tub. I wished I had enough time to take a bath. My body wasn't hot or cold but some of the chill I'd felt, and then the burning pain, lingered in my mind. A nice soak would help but I wasn't willing to spend any more time naked, especially since Larede might come in if I didn't come out.
The pain in my hand distracted me from my anxiety of another person near me and in my personal space. It took a struggle to tie the belt but I put on the dark red robe hanging on the back of the bathroom door anyway. I looked at my chest in the mirror, pushing the sides of the robe open. The skin on my chest was unmarred by anything but the strange blue swirls that had shown up after my latest volunteer fuck up had gotten me strapped to a lab chair. They were strangely jagged, almost barbed, unlike the smooth curls and waves I'd seen on most of the others.
I traced my fingers over them on the side of my chest where the man had put the weird stick device but there wasn't anything there. I shuddered, wishing again that I could take a bath, but I settled for running my hand under the warm water in the sink and then splashing my face. I scrubbed my good hand over my head and the back of my neck.
The bathroom door slid open and I straightened, jerking my robe closed. I hissed in pain as I used my broken hand.
I glared at the other man. Locks. The doors needed locks.
"I just wanted to let you know we were ready." Larede stepped back out of the bathroom and the door shut again.
I could feel all the tension that had faded rising again. My jaw ached from clenching it shut so hard. I closed my eyes and focused, trying to relax all the muscles in my face. It didn't work very well, I could still see the line between my eyebrows and the edges of lips looked white.
Sighing, I turned off the water and then dried my hand. Might as well get it over with.
Larede had a rolling black table with a small clear panel on the side of it by the bed. I'd seen their medical wing once, but their technology still floored me. I couldn't believe that was all the equipment they'd need to heal me.
His assistant was standing with his back to me. He was slim and even shorter than Larede, his bare back tapering down to slim hips covered in a pale green wrap. I took a quick glance around the room, ensuring that no one else had entered, and then my gaze settled back on the stranger. My nostrils flared as a fresh scent floated over the sweet scent of the flowers outside my window.
"Ready?" Larede asked me when he stopped fussing with the panel.
A nod was all I could manage. I was too focused on the other man, the small one, to really think about what Larede was asking me.
"Oh, sorry! Dade, this is my assistant Yaseki."
My breath caught when Yaseki turned around. I stared into his eyes. I'd never seen such a color on a person. They weren't yellow; they were a glossy amber color with a rich depth that faded around the edges. The dark gold color dominated his face. I realized that his hair matched it, all different shades streaked together into a beautiful spill that fell across his forehead. I watched his lips move.
A touch near my injured hand sent a jolt through me and made me jerk back. My knees flexed as I dropped into a crouch and brought my hands up. I breathed through the surge of concern.
Larede stumbled back.
My nostrils flared and I jerked upright. "Sorry," I mumbled. The skin on my face and neck prickled with heat as I blushed. I looked back at Yaseki.
"No. My fault again," he said. He cleared his throat. "I was asking if you're okay."
"I'm fine," I said.
"You didn't answer my question." Yaseki’s voice, quiet but firm and certain, fit the man perfectly.
I looked over at him. "I'm sorry," I said again automatically. "What did you ask?"
"I asked how you hurt your hand." His head tilted to one side. "You were just fine when we brought you back here earlier. I know, I checked every inch of you."
Oh man, my blush just got worse. I looked at my feet. "I lost my temper."
"Well that was silly of you. Do you often go about bashing things when you get angry?"
I looked over at Larede for rescue. Yaseki's scolding was delivered in a mild voice but it was scathing nonetheless. I felt like a giant oaf, and I had no idea how he did that.
"If you'll come on over here, we can fix your hand. It won't take too long but you’ll be more comfortable sitting down."
I sighed in relief at the distraction. "Sure." I settled gingerly on the edge of the bed.
"Just put your arm here." Larede indicated a depression in the middle of the pad on the top of the table.
I winced a little as I stretched my fingers out. A sharp pain lanced through my hand and up my wrist. The middle knuckle was swelling fast too.
"Stupid hurts, doesn't it?" Yaseki said.
My mouth dropped open. I snapped it shut and glared. "Excuse me?"
He approached the table just as the bio net shimmered over my arm and locked it into place. I snarled at the sensation and Larede took a step back, throwing up his arm to push Yaseki back. It took everything I had not to fight the field holding me in place. A knock on the door distracted all of us.
A guard poked his head in. "Larede? Dr. Handiburge just messaged for you. He needs you down at the medical wing."
Larede looked at the panel on the table. He hesitated.
"Go." Yaseki waved a hand at me. "I can take care of this. I'll have him right as rain in no time."
I gave him a short nod. "Go ahead." I wasn’t afraid to be left alone with Yaseki but I did like Larede. He treated me with more courtesy than any one alien I'd met so far, and better than most humans I've been around too. "I'll see you sometime later, right?"
Larede raised one eyebrow. It was amazing how similar the Caeorlieans were to humans in terms of behavior. It wasn’t the first time something had made me think that. I couldn’t help but wonder if humans had landed here in the past. The evolution of our species had exploded once we spread out through space. It wasn't the propaganda that the masses were fed about the pure human race spreading through the planets but I'd been sent to enough back when I was a soldier to recognize the truth.
"If you like," Larede said slowly. I think I’d surprised him. "We could have lunch tomorrow. I will not be on shift."
"That sounds good, but I will have to bring a guard." One slim hand waved that consideration away. The guard at the door cleared his throat. "Yaseki? A moment?" Larede asked him as they walked toward the door.
The two of them huddled together and I watched them suspiciously. The hum of the bio net holding my arm down drowned out the vibrations as they spoke so I couldn't hear them. Yaseki moved his hands a lot as he talked. He nodded his head, brushing his hair back with one hand and then gestured toward the door.
Larede turned toward me and raised his voice. "Yaseki will take good care of you. I will see you tomorrow, Dade." With that, he followed the guard out and the door shut behind them. Just like that, Yaseki and I were left in my room. Alone. My heart sped up a little as the small man came toward me. He began to check the information on the panel, his fingers tapping it a few times.
The quiet began to get to me and I was trapped by the bio net around the table, unable to pace. My free hand fisted against my thigh. I stared down at Yaseki. He had really long eyelashes that were dark at the end and almost white at the tips. The same scent, like warm grass, filled my senses. It smelled good.
"You seem young to be a doctor," I said.
Yaseki glanced up at me. "I'm not."
I frowned. "But you said that you'd checked me. Every inch of me, you said. Why else would you have done that?"
His face flushed a little and I got the sense that he was a little embarrassed. "I'm in training, but I’m not a doctor. I did check on you though. I stayed with you most of the time while we were warming you."
"Why would you do that?"
Yaseki looked up, giving me another glimpse of those amazing eyes. "The oreil would not have killed you but warming you could have caused damage if your temperature was brought up too quickly. You had to be monitored very closely. I have certain skills that made it logical to make me lead on your case." He looked back down and tapped the screen again and I felt the buzzing increase around my hand.
I sensed a mystery around the way he said skills but I hesitated to ask him. In my own experience, when someone was less than upfront about themselves they didn't tend to welcome personal questions.
I knew how that felt.
"Well, thank you," I said. Still, I couldn't help but wonder if he had been responsible for the coolness that had finally soothed the burning that had engulfed me. I glanced down at my hand frozen on the table, the buzzing like an itchy vibration just under my skin. "So how much longer should this take?"
Some of the swelling had already disappeared.
"Not much longer. The bone is knitting now." He turned the screen so that I could see. It showed an internal image of my hand. The break in my knuckle was highlighted. I could see it growing shorter as the ends healed together as it was happening at a vastly accelerated rate. “The muscle and tendon damage will take a bit longer to heal.”
"Bizarre." Knowing that my bone was fusing together in my hand at the same as it was on the screen was very strange. It couldn't be comfortable at all. I was thankful for the effect of the bio net that was keeping me from feeling it.
“Yes. You have our fangs, but you don’t have the claws.” Yaseki cocked his head again, looking down at the blood on the knuckles of my hand. "I find the color of your blood to be very strange as well. Human blood is red, correct?"
"Very peculiar. This mixing of the blood seems to have altered the shade of yours to a darker color, but not a true blue like my kind."
"I guess so." I shrugged my shoulders.
"I wish I knew how it was done, what else they'd given you. Their methods were obviously crude, but blending two alien species like this ..." he paused. "Amazing."
My muscles tensed as he stared at me. I didn't want Yaseki looking at me like that. "It was sadistic as fuck!” I snarled, my fangs bared. “They injected us full of chemicals and Seral's blood. It was the most painful thing I've ever been through. And I've been through a lot before but never anything like that."
I had the scars to prove it too, though most of the really bad ones were hidden by my robe. If he'd tended to me, he'd have seen them.
"Most of the other guys died. Some went nuts. They made us watch as they dissected one guy and we had to wonder if we would be next, if we would be on that table. When we did survive, it didn't get any better. He's still alive, but they did things to Nicklaus that are so far beyond humane I wonder how he kept his sanity."
I snorted and said in disgust, "Amazing. The only thing that was amazing was the miracle that allowed some of us to survive that hell at all." My free hand was clenching and unclenching.
Yaseki had paled, the lines of his isitziu markings stark against his cheeks and neck. Even his chest markings were darker around the pale white space over his heart.
"I'm sorry. I didn't think of how my thoughts would sound to you, I really didn’t mean it that way. I primarily do research for just this reason." He briefly met my eyes. "I really am sorry about what happened to you." He reached out and touched my fist with the tips of his fingers before I could pull it back.
I gasped. Shock sent my pulse racing as my heart began to pound like a drum in my chest.
I'd felt nothing.