Chapter 29: Elena
“So…explain to me again how this is going to help, Lauren?” Ethan says through a scrunched face as he lays into a face cushion, his back exposed.
“I’ve told you already. Thomas is going to take a sample of your spinal fluid. We found nothing in your blood itself. We’re trying to rule out possibilities,”
“Still not sure I’m on board with him touching me at all,”
“Afraid you’ll have to get over that, Ethan,” Thomas says as he steps towards the examination table, a large needle in his hand.
I stare at the needle, an involuntary grimace creeping into my expression.
“What? Why are you staring like that?” Ethan says as he looks at me, face lifted from the cushion.
“Lie back down,” Lauren orders.
“You’re going to want to hold on to something,” Thomas suggests.
I reach out my hands to Ethan’s dangling arms. He takes them into his own, already squeezing them firmly in nervousness.
He takes a deep breathe “Ready when you are,” He says, his voice unsure.
“Just focus on me. It’ll be over before you know it,” I reassure.
Thomas places the needle on Ethan’s back “You’re gonna feel a pinch,” He says before pressing the needle into his skin.
I feel Ethan immediately tense up, gripping my hands so hard I can feel the circulation cut off.
“You call that…a little…pinch?” Ethan says through groans.
“Just about through now. It’s imperative that you don’t move, Ethan,” Thomas stresses as his focus doubles.
“Almost there, Ethan. Just a few more minutes,” I say, trying my best to alleviate Ethan’s stress.
I notice his grip continue to tighten until my hands begin to hurt from the pressure.
“Ethan..I need you loosen up your grip. You’re starting to hurt me,” I request.
“I…I can’t…something doesn’t feel right,” He says as if he’s attempting to hold something back.
I look down at his face, taking note of his eyes.
Fear grips me.
“Lauren. He needs to finish. Now. His eyes are starting to change,”
“Shit. Thomas, hurry it up. Otherwise we’re going to have ourselves another incident,” Lauren says trying to hurry Thomas’s pace.
“Calm down. This isn’t a procedure you can just hurry through. Not unless you want me to sever something accidentally and paralyze him,” Thomas replies, continuing his original pace.
My hands begin to tremble as the pain seeps into them and only continues to worsen.
“Extracting fluid now,” Thomas says as he slowly pulls up on the plunger of the needle.
A green liquid starts to fill the syringe, prompting Thomas to cease his action.
“Well…that’s not supposed to look like that,” He says in surprise.
“That’s…fascinating…but could you please…finish?” I say through pain and gritted teeth.
“Oh, right,” He says as he pulls the plunger the rest of the way, filling the syringe to the level he needs.
Ethan gives one more hard squeeze as Thomas stats to pull up on the needle. My fingers pop under his strength, forcing a wince from me as the pain jolts up my arm. There’s an instant release as the needle is removed from Ethan’s back. He lets go of my hands, his arms falling limp.
I lift my right hand, taking stock of the damage. My fingers are bruised, one of them crooked.
“Um…Lauren?” I lift my hand to show her “Little help?”
Lauren steps over to me, examines my hand momentarily. She nods, takes hold of my finger, and jerks it in an intended direction, setting it back in place. I grunt as the pain radiates, causing me to instinctively pull it into my chest.
“Try not to use it for a few days,” Lauren passively suggests as she steps over to Thomas.
They murmur amongst themselves as to the nature of the sample they took.
I kneel down next to Ethan “Are you okay?”
“Yeah…yeah…I’m just…exhausted,” He says, barely audible enough for me to hear.
I run a hand through his hair “It’s alright. Get some sleep. You need it,”
His heavy breathing is all I receive in response. I stand up and make my way towards the two scientists as they ponder what their eyes are beset upon.
“I’m assuming that’s not what spinal fluid looks like?” I ask.
“Quite the opposite. Spinal fluid is typically a clear liquid. This looks like something you drain out and replace in a ship,” Lauren explains.
Thomas drains the syringe into a sample tube, then removes a small sample from that, placing it on a slide and fitting it under a microscope. He looks briefly, then snaps his head up, staring at Lauren wide-eyed. He waves her over.
Lauren looks at him confused as she steps over to the microscope and looks.
“This is…impossible,” She says as she brings her head up.
“What is?” I question.
“There are no cells in this indicating that it’s spinal fluid,”
“So, it…replaced them?”
“Not replaced…changed,” Thomas corrects me “Whatever this infection, it completely repurposed the cells to fit its needs. I’ve never seen a disease do anything like this before,” Thomas elaborates in fascination.
“What I’m wondering…is how it changed the spinal fluid without affecting the blood cells,”
“Actually…let’s test something,” Thomas states as he grabs a petri dish.
He takes another small sample of Ethan’s spinal fluid. He then takes a small needle and pricks his finger. A droplet falls from his finger into the dish. Thomas presses his eye to the viewing lens. I watch the blood inside the dish starts to, what looks like, boil and multiply until it grows over the dish. Thomas quickly steps back as Lauren moves forward with an aerosol can and torch, using it as a makeshift flamethrower to burn the specimen.
“Hm,” Lauren verbalizes simply.
“Amazing. So that’s what causes the mutation. It comes in contact with red blood cells. Spinal fluid on the other hand, it just repurposes. The fact that the virus can discern between different cell types is extraordinary,”
“So, it’s smart?” I ask.
“Well, most viruses have some level of intelligence. But not like how a brain is intelligent. Usually comes down to them targeting, say, the organs, or the blood, and damaging them until the body fails completely. Whatever this is, chose to ignore Ethan’s bloodstream entirely and go straight for the spinal fluid. I would say it’s another variant of the virus but the problem with that is this is an isolated incident and everyone here was infected by the same source,”
“Could he have some kind of immunity to it? As least as far as his blood composition is concerned?” Lauren presents.
Thomas takes another petri dish. He then steps over Ethan, pricking his finger, letting the blood drip into the dish. He takes the dish, setting it beneath the microscope lens, then takes a smaller amount of the spinal fluid than last time, mixing it with the blood. He quickly takes a step back, just in case. We wait for a few moments. Nothing happens. Thomas steps forward and looks through the lens.
“What happened?” Lauren questions.
“Nothing,” Thomas answers curtly.
“That’s what’s weird,”
“The viral cells aren’t reacting what so ever with the cells in his blood. It’s like they’re…ignoring each other,”
“Does that mean he’s immune? At least in the sense of his blood being concerned?” I ask.
“This virus has been in his blood. Even if his blood didn’t mutate, the cells in his blood should have reacted in some way. This…doesn’t make any sense,”
Thomas looks up from the viewing lens, clear frustration on his face “This just got a lot more difficult. We’re going to need some time to mull over this,”
“Well…you go ahead and do that. I’m going to take Ethan back to his room,”
I gently wake Ethan from his exhaustion, informing him that we’re leaving. I cradle his arm around my shoulders as we walk through the door and into the hallways.
Considering all of the time we were going to be spending in this lab, we all agreed it would be a good idea to isolate a pathway from the mutants. We managed to gather a large bit of debris, not that it’s hard to find right now, and blocked off crossroad points, creating a linear pathway from the Security Center to the medical lab.
Every so often we have to patrol the path and finish off any of the monsters that managed to impale themselves on the sharp bits.
Traveling with Ethan like this wouldn’t be possible otherwise. His gradually degrading state is beginning to seriously worry me.
I stare at Ethan as he wakes with a groan, holding his head.
“How long was I out this time?” He asks, holding his face in his hands.
I walk to Ethan and sit on the side of his bed “About twelve hours,” I say as I use a hand to rub his back.
Ethan looks up at me, fatigue still in his eyes.
“Why are you doing this?” He asks suddenly.
“Doing what?” I ask, confused.
“Taking care of me like this,” I stare at him bewildered.
“I thought we made it abundantly clear that we cared about each other, Ethan,”
He looks away from me “I know but…what if…I’m not worth caring about anymore?”
“What are you talking about, Ethan?”
“I remember everything,”
I’m taken slightly aback when I realize what he means.
“How could you? But the fact is that I do. I remember staring through my own eyes as I nearly choked my brother to death. I remember tearing that woman’s spine through her stomach...” Ethan looks at me with tears in his eyes “I remember the feeling of taking that young girl’s heart in my hand. How good it felt watching her body seize in sheer terror. It was like ecstasy when I tore that psychopath in half and felt the warmth of his blood on my skin. How…how do I in all good conscience live with that, Elena?” He finishes as the tears turn into sobs.
I take his face in my hands “That wasn’t you,” I say simply.
Ethan remove my hands from his cheeks, looking down.
“That’s no excuse. It’s still my body being used,”
“It isn’t an excuse, Ethan. It’s a matter of fact. We don’t understand what this virus is yet. But one thing that is clear, is that you can not be blamed for anything it forces you to do. To me, you’re stronger than anyone here. The fact that you’re able to resist it, even now, with how exhausted it has made you…it just attracts me to you all the more. And for those times when you feel like giving up…I’m going to be the one that lifts you back up again. I will drag you to the end of this I have to. Because I know you’re going to make it,”
“Thank you…” Ethan says quietly, his voice trailing off.
He slowly looks up, locking eyes with me, our faces close.
“It takes a scratch or a bite, right?” I ask.
“Yeah, wh—” I don’t allow him to finish as I give in to my desire to kiss him.
I give myself over to the rush of chemicals like an addict as I finally give in to the emotions I’ve tried so hard to stifle. The kissing becomes deeper, causing me to move myself on to his lap. He wraps his arms around me, running his fingers up and down my back, sending tingling waves through out my body. I run my fingers through his hair as we both begin to get lost in each other.
My hips instinctively start to grind against him, causing moaning whimpers to pass through both of our lips with every thrust. I feel his body tense before he ever so slightly pushes me away, forcing our kiss to cease. We both sit there for a moment, foreheads pressed against one another’s, breathing heavily.
“What’s wrong?” I ask him between breathes.
“I…really want to do this but…what if…” He pulls his face back, looking me in the eyes “If not the kissing then…you know?”
“Right…I suppose you have a point,” I say, my expression turning to one of disappointment.
“But…” Ethan places a hand on my face, kissing me again “As soon as those mad scientists get this garbage out of me,” He says as he pulls away, a smile at the corner of his mouth.
I can’t help but smile “It’s a date, Blake,” I say as I slide myself off of him, laying down on the bed.
He follows me, allowing me to place my head on his chest as he embraces me with one arm. I get lost in my thoughts a moment as I go over the events that have gone on recently.
“You should make amends with Damien,” I say out of the blue.
I feel Ethan shift “Where’s that coming from,”
I pull myself closer to him “I had a conversation with him not too long ago. He’s going through a lot. Just like you. I think you two need each other. Underneath all of that fire that you two like to feed so well, he still loves you,”
Ethan sighs deeply. “I know you’re right. So much has been going on I’ve just been…putting it off,”
“Bad things happen on this place every day. I don’t want anything happening to either of you and in turn living in regret of what you didn’t say while you had the chance,”
“That’s not going to happen. We’re all going to get out of here, Elena,”
I lift my head to look at him “I think so too,” I say before placing another kiss on Ethan’s lips.
I lay my head back down, closing my eyes, allowing the rising and falling of Ethan’s chest to lull me to sleep.