“As if,” Law snorted. “I was helping to host the martial arts tournament last night. It went on way longer than I thought it did, so by the time I got in I realised Chase was actually free. We talked for hours.” He picked up the coffee pot and shook his head. There was a time when he hadn’t needed to rely on stimulants to get up early in the morning, but university had long since put that to rest.
“Aw, that’s cute. How is he?”
“Still busy,” Law shrugged. He had to smile at Echo’s insistence to ask after his boyfriend each time Chase was bought up, even if she’d only met him once, and briefly at that. Chase came back most holidays and split his time between Law and his Aunt, and each time he left Law counted down the days until he returned.
“That must be hard,” Echo said, pushing her thick skirt closer to her thighs to keep some of the heat in. The benefit of the old stone building was that in the summer it was always cool; sadly, this was not a perk in the Winter. Even now they were edging further into Spring, the building was often too cold even with the dusty heaters trying their best.
It didn’t bother Law, who was used to the central heating in his childhood home being lacklustre at best, but the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the flat. Blankets were often abandoned on chairs or sofas after an evening’s use.
It was a lovely apartment despite this. Law loved the brick façade, he loved the character in each room, he even loved the old poster marks and pen scribbles on the wall of their dining-come-study room. Eilidh and Echo had really thrown themselves into decorating the place once they’d joined Law and Rhoan in Glasgow. It felt more like home than ever before.
Law swirled the coffee in the pot around and around, desperately inhaling the fumes. “It is,” he said, finally answering Echo’s comment. “It is,” he added with a sigh.
“Everything okay?” she asked, which of course she did. Echo was one of the most thoughtful people he knew. And he also knew that if he gave her a clear indication that he didn’t want to talk about it, she’d drop it quickly.
But Echo was always a good sounding board, so he turned around to face her.
“I don’t want to be with anyone but Chase,” Law said, gaze trailing up to the ceiling where it was easier to bare his feelings. “But it’s not the same for him. And I don’t think he’d ever cheat on me or anything, but… he’s already run into openly gay guys at pride and stuff who even had their parents with them, and.. ugh!”
“Still an issue, huh?” Echo asked, wincing.
“I thought that since I don’t live at home anymore, it wouldn’t be!” Law exploded. “But every time he meets someone like that he drops the hint and every time I tell him that it’s not happening.” He deflated, feeling more exhausted then before. “Eventually he’s going to move on.”
Echo pursed her lips. “He’s stuck with you so far,” she shrugged. “But… that’s not a forever solution. You know that, right?”
Law’s shoulders dropped. He was reminded of that each time he talked to his father, who would often find his way around to a question regarding Law’s relationship status. “I know,” he said quietly. Echo nodded and slipped out of her seat, giving him a quick hug before taking her study notes into the next room. Law stared after her with a complex collection of emotions twisting in his chest.
The flat was full of life, if only because Eilidh was there to shine brightly at each opportunity. Law was envious of her relationship with Rhoan in a way he’d never expected; he hadn’t once heard them argue, since any debate was often settled by Eilidh shoving out her bottom lip or Rhoan being far too laid-back to give a damn about the outcome. They could be silly together, they could be silent together, they could be serious together – the important thing was that they were together.
Rhoan was a good influence on Eilidh. Where she’d be more inclined to be lazy and let talent carve her path instead of hard work, Rhoan was there to coax her back on track. There wasn’t much else to do while he was studying anyway, so they often worked alongside one another in companionable silence. Rhoan’s coursework was the heaviest of them all as he was studying law and specialising in cybercrime. Meanwhile, Eilidh was taking various performing arts classes, while Echo studied several aspects of the behind the scenes of theatre, from prop making to outfit creation.
And then there was Law, who was working with Luke alongside his masters. Even now he was eagerly looking into PhD classes – he still loved to learn.
It was peaceful most days, even with Eilidh bouncing around. Echo loved to paint while Law typed up another chapter of his project. She hummed broken tunes as her brush slid over the canvas, completely lost in her own world, and sometimes Law would take a break from typing to watch her body sway slowly from side to side to the tune in her head.
Often his gaze would fall to the chair opposite him, where Chase had sat the last time he’d visited, bringing with him a robotic fish to swim aimlessly around their vase. He’d chat about all the exciting things he was doing in America, from the gaming society to the ‘soccer’ match he’d played, and then he’d try to explain yet again what he was learning in his physics course (physics in cyber security made even less sense to Law than plain old physics did).
Law would chip in with his own anecdotes, or discuss the latest part of his research, but he preferred to listen as always. But this time listening left him with a weight in his stomach. Every time Chase was home, he sounded like the only thing he wanted to do was leave.
“Why’s my favourite and bestest friend being all grumpy this week?” Eilidh asked, hooking her chin on Law’s shoulder and peering up at him with wide, earnest eyes. He folded his arms in protest but couldn’t help but smile at her as she wrapped her arms around him. Trying to sum up all of his tumulus thoughts and emotions was an exhausting prospect, so he decided to answer her question with a question.
“Do you and Rhoan ever argue?”
Eilidh blinked, and then comically pursed her lips as she thought. “Uhh, like real argue? Because we fake argue all the time. Like when he leaves his socks at the end of the bed each night. Who does that? And who wears socks during sex –“
“Gross,” Law interjected, wrinkling his nose.
Eilidh giggled. “But… I mean, sometimes he really does annoy me. And then I ignore him for half a day until he tickles me, or something. We try to talk about it, since it would suck to have to argue lots.” She blinked up at him. “Everything okay?”
Law looked at Eilidh with a mix of respect and appreciation. She had always been one of his favourite people, but since moving to Glasgow had picked up a maturity he’d never expected of her. And of course she was still every inch as compassionate as Echo – no easy feat.
“I don’t know,” he confessed. “It’s always been hard to have Chase so far away, but now more so than ever. I want to just lie down next to him without counting down the minutes, I want to study with him and listen to him play music again… When we catch each other we talk all the time, but it feels like nothing gets said.”
“Hmm,” Eilidh said, screwing up her mouth. “What needs to be said?”
“I don’t know!” Law groaned. “I’m terrified that it’s that he’s moving on, or he doesn’t want to move back to Scotland, or he’s fallen in love with some American boy…”
Eilidh pecked him on the cheek. “If that happens, you’re better off without him. You’re too awesome to settle for anything less than perfect.”
“Perfection is a fallacy.”
“Ugh,” Eilidh said, wrinkling her nose. “You’re a fallacy.”
“Hey dad,” Law said, moments after sliding his still damp finger over the lock screen several times to no avail. It was amazing how far technology could go, and then how easily it was thwarted. He chucked the dish cloth over the back of a seat and wiped his other hand on his jeans.
“Hey Law,” Kane said. “How’s uni going?”
“It’s fine. Same old.” He looked down at his fidgeting feet. “Um, how’s Jas?”
“Good, good. We’ve just done some wedding stuff, so I thought I’d give you a call.”
Law inhaled through his nose slowly, trying not to give away any stirring irritation. “Oh?”
“Well, we’re doing the table arrangements, and I wanted to check if you were bringing a plus one? I know Eilidh is, of course, but are you?”
Law pulled the phone away from his ear for a moment, squeezing his eyes shut and exhaling until his lungs were empty and screaming for air. Once he’d satisfied that urge, he put the phone back to his ear and spoke through gritted teeth.
“No,” he said, his tone flat. He could have brought Echo, and had almost suggested it out of spite, but common sense prevailed. His father had never taken that part of Law’s life well, and it was cruel to do such a thing on his father’s wedding day.
“Oh.” Kane tried not to sound disappointed and failed. “Are you sure? We can keep one just –“
“No,” Law snapped. The well of bitter frustration that had been growing inside him for the past few weeks threatened to overflow, but he could remember all too well what had happened the last time he’d let that happen.
“You tracked down your mother after I explicitly told you not to?” Kane shouted, his face growing red. Law had only walked into the house a few minutes ago, but the argument had been brewing over the weekend. Law wasn’t sure if it was a good thing that’d he’d retreated as soon as he’d let slip about Echo.
“You didn’t so much as explicitly tell me not to,” Law seethed. “You just said nothing, and told me to stop asking. So I stopped.”
“I am your father,” Kane said firmly. “You should do as I say –“
“Are you seriously-“ Law broke off and scrubbed his hands over his face, but it did nothing to stop the red mist from settling over him. “You have no idea what it’s like to grow up without knowing about your own mother. Whatever problems you had back home didn’t give you the right to keep that from me. And the worst thing is you standing there pretending you were right to do so!”
“I had good-“
“Bullshit!” Law yelled. “Utter, fucking, bullshit. I don’t care that I’ve never met my mother, and probably never will. Not since I got to know my sister, and my grandfather, and my aunts and uncles. Did you just want to keep me all to yourself, or something? Were you afraid that I’d see how amazing they were and would want to stay with them instead?”
Kane’s hands fisted at his sides, but he forced himself to blow out a calming breath. “Law,” he said, struggling to keep his words even, “I know what it’s like not to be wanted by your parents. I didn’t want you to feel like that too-“
“That’s an incredibly bad reason for keeping an entire family from me,” Law said flatly. “And the fact that you’re still trying to excuse it is shocking.”
“I’m – I’m just – Faye ruins everything she touches, Law! She would have changed you –“
“You’re wrong,” Law interrupted. “You’re wrong about so many things, dad. Why should I obey your rules, or trust you, if you don’t see me as an independent person who makes their own decisions and forms their own opinions. If you don’t respect me, why should I give you the same courtesy?”
At that, Law had turned on his heel and stormed into his room. Kane had stared at the floor for a long time, breathing through the screaming rage in his ears, until finally he’d drooped as it had fled him.
He’d said nothing to Law that night, and it was the first of many arguments and stony silences.
“Heeeeey genius!” Chase’s tinny voice brought a smile to Law’s face. Chase waved eagerly into the camera, as he always did, and Law laughed. “I had an absolute bell-end while I was coaching today,” he began. “Little seven year old shite tried to bite another kid’s ear. I mean, what the fuck?”
Startled, Law burst into laughter. “Eventful morning for you, then?”
“Oh yeah. I’m all sweaty still. Shame I don’t have you to be sweaty with,” Chase said mournfully. “How’s your day?”
“Fine. Tutoring biology for some cash, same as usual. Eilidh managed to trip the switch earlier. It’s the second light bulb of the week, so she thinks we’re haunted.”
“Let’s be real,” Chase said, “you’re in an old building. Someone has definitely died there.”
“Don’t encourage her. Her ebay history right now is just ouiji boards. I keep telling her that they were first Victorian games for children but she doesn’t believe me.”
“Oh, sweet, sweet Eilidh. I hope she gets to see a ghost one day. I also hope I’ll be there to see her face.”
“Well,” Law began, needing no other prompting, “Spiritualism – the idea that we can contact the dead – was started by the Fox sisters as a hoax to make money. I think the majority of mediums and the like are just capitalising off people’s wish to believe.”
“Only the majority? A controversial opinion! Lay the facts on me, sweetcheeks.”
Law snorted. “Well, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence. Far more for ghosts and spirits than for other myths, like werewolves and vampires. Maybe this is because ghosts are a far more ‘accessible’ myth, since they can be pretty much anywhere.”
Law glanced over at the large window which dwarfed his left wall. The sunset – although blocked by another building – bathed his room in a warm orange glow. “But the idea of speaking to ancestors, and of dead land being cursed or sacred, are beliefs that predate many others. So maybe there’s truth to that, or maybe it’s placebo. I admit that most mediums are just good at reading people, but there have been some not-so-dubious scientific research where information has been gathered from supposed ghosts.”
“Okay, so if you could speak to one ghost, who would it be?”
“I’m not sure we get to pick and choose,” Law said as he smiled. “But probably Darwin.”
“Of course.” Even with the poor picture quality Law could see Chase’s lips curling up with amusement. “I’d pick Mercury. Or maybe the dog that died in space. Wasn’t there a dog that they sent to space?”
Law laughed. “I think so. Maybe it was a monkey.”
“Hmm, maybe both.”
“That there are a lot of good explanations for supposed sightings and sounds.” He missed a beat. “But also that there’s way too much to explain away. Myths have grounding in reality; they always have. I don’t think I’d be surprised if somehow scientific evidence came to light proving the existence of some sort of ghost.”
“Why stop at ghost? Let’s have all the supernatural creatures real. I’d make friends with an incubus.”
“You know that they just exhaust people to the point of death?”
“Hell yeah! Sounds like a great way to spend some final hours.”
Law shook his head. “Well, it seems hard to believe that if they did exist, they’d be so good at hiding in this day and age. We’d probably know about them by now.”
“I suppose,” Chase agreed sagely. “Anyway, I gotta get back to studying. You take care of yourself and text me if you want to have some fun before you sleep,” Chase said, wiggling his eyebrows.
“I’m not sexting you,” Law joked back, and moments later the screen went dark to Chase’s pout.
Law sighed at the blank screen. Their relationship was caught in stolen moments, juggled around all the other things they were doing, and each time Law got a taste he simply wanted more. It was hard to watch Chase succeed from a distance when all he wanted was to cheer his boyfriend on. It was harder still to fall asleep alone each night, dreaming of the few times when he’d been in Chase’s arms. Law couldn’t afford to go out to America, and their workload was such that neither could take a break until the holidays came around. It was like every inch of Law’s skin was itching with desperate want. Seeing snippets of his boyfriend every couple of days just wasn’t enough.
But there was no solution to it, and Law had been over this thousands of times already. He just hoped they could make it.
Viruses were defined in a few ways. One of those was that they did not live. They could not replicate on their own, and they needed a host to do so. Such was their life cycle, and it meant that they had to form a relationship with a host. It was evolutionarily beneficial not to kill their host until many viruses had replicated and could be passed onto a new host, and even then if they could keep their host alive for more resources, that was for the better.
Viruses were symbiotic, though by their very nature it was expected that they were a parasite; stealing resources and giving nothing in return.
Law had learned of viruses that were not parasitic, but that were mutualistic. Example were spread throughout the animal kingdom, though the field of study was still relatively new. And some five per cent of human DNA had once been a virus, but in time had become one of the many patches of junk code within the human system. Clearly, the presence of the virus was not a huge detriment to the species; otherwise it would not have been passed down the generations.
But this virus was odd.
At first Law had simply been following Luke’s steps. He’d injected the virus into rats, had categorised their symptoms. Reduced heme development – a chemical integral to the production of blood plasma – and a weakness to UV light, particularly UVb rays. It was passed from blood to blood contact, not orally, or sexually, though once Law had seen it express itself in an immuno-compromised rat that had mated with an infected rat. The rat had died shortly after, but the others hadn’t.
Even when Law had stopped giving them supplement blood in order to replace the lost heme. The rats had, at first, attacked those who were not infected, and then when Law had separated the groups in another experiment, they had occasionally attacked each other but more often than not had just lived normally.
The production of heme had increased slightly; the virus had decreased. But there was no accompanying rise in immune cells, no sign that the body was fighting off the virus. It wasn’t even that the lack of heme production had killed off any virus cells; they didn’t require heme at all. If Law didn’t know better, he would have said that the virus was acting intelligently, as it was against its very nature to its own immediate survival to allow the host to live.
And, after many more experiments and various biological machinery coming in to play, Law had discovered that the parts of the viruses that had been injected into the human DNA – one of the abilities that identified it as a retrovirus such as HIV – had been switched off. This was a common phenomenon; parts of the DNA were ‘switched off’ – as in not translated into various proteins – all the time.
But what had effectively happened was the virus had allowed a proportion of the cell’s metabolism – its processes – to operate as normal.
The fact that a virus could adapt so well suggested some sort of cell signalling, which Law was going to investigate next. He was waiting for the centrifuge to finish whirling around, a machine which was effectively a smaller and much faster washing machine. It broke up the cell and allowed him to extract what he needed, which would be the first step in this new line of enquiry.
But he couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing, and his gut told him Luke knew that, and was testing him. He was determined not to fail.
Lukas watched as Law swirled the beaker around slowly, staring down at the contents deep in thought. Secretly, he didn’t believe that this would be the boy who broke his curse. He wouldn’t until it happened; until he was free. But Solomon, his old friend, had promised him that one of the witches in his coven knew for a fact that Law would be the one. He’d called Lukas up the moment Law, still a child, had left his office, after Sol had promised to pay for his tuition.
And yet was it right for Lukas to ask this of Law? Soon he would have to divulge the information that Law was missing; the piece of the puzzle preventing him from going any further. His uncle Loxley had almost discovered it, but Lukas’ better judgement had prevailed at the last moment and he’d left.
Knowledge was power, and power was dangerous. Lukas risked drawing Law into their attention – after all, it was his own scientific experiments in the post-war era which had helped to doom him.
But if there was a chance that he could be free – live without fear, live like a human again… He was willing to pay that cost.
Years later Lukas would look back on this pivotal moment. He tried to tell himself he couldn’t have known – but he should have. He should have. But regrets were useless.
The truth was that this family – his family – had been dragged into hell because of him.
I love that last picture. I hope it catches the thoughtfulness and slight guilt in Lukas’ face. I have like three other versions of that picture because I was trying out different lights and stuff. This was probably too obvious, but oh well. I’ve been playing with lights a lot. It’s probably overkill. White light for the sterile lab, warm orange for Law’s room vs Chase’s room (since it’s sunset and there’s a time difference), and so on.