Echo unloaded every word that she’d heard Lukas and Law say, and then every thought and worry she’d had following that moment. In a panic she had greeted Law as if she hadn’t heard a thing, and the dishonesty sat uncomfortably within her, like a too-full stomach. Naturally, she went to the one person in the world that she had no secrets with; her father.
Her father, who was called Felix but went by Fox since primary school (an old story that always made Fox smile, but as with all nicknames it was given out of necessity because there were two other Felix’s in his class, and since then the only things that ever used his given name were official documents), was Echo’s greatest role model. An endlessly kind man, given to watching people and then exhibiting an unnerving insight into their character, he played several instruments and toured with an orchestra. Faye often travelled with him, and Echo sometimes believed this was because Faye couldn’t bear to be alone.
Her relationship with Fox was simple. At eight, when Fox had been asked to start touring more consistently, he had asked her to make the choice for him. And even then, Echo had known that he would never have resented her for choosing to have him stay, because Fox didn’t have the capability for resentment. He focused instead on the things that made him happy, and being with his daughter made him endlessly so. It was because she knew he truly meant the question that she told him to continue his job, but it didn’t stop their long conversations into the night, or Fox’s gentle music playing in the background while she read or gardened – it was just over an internet connection instead of right next to her.
Fox rubbed at his scruffy beard idly. “I told you,” he said, frowning, “that Glasgow is a strange place.” His eyes were twinkling as he said it, not at all as displeased as he’d pretended. “Strange indeed. I assume Uncle Loxley doesn’t know?”
Echo shook her head and indicated to the waitress she would like another tea. They were secluded in their corner and far from prying ears – not that she suspected it would matter anyway – but the noise covered up their conversation well. She was aware that it wasn’t her secret to tell, and usually she would never have dreamed of sharing information like that. This time, though, she needed some guidance. And Fox was the best person at keeping secrets that she knew.
“No,” she said, running her hand down her plaits. “And I think we should keep it that way. He doesn’t stop when he has a mystery. We don’t need to dangle this in front of him again.”
Fox pursed his lips as the waitress set a new cup in front of Echo. For a moment Echo thought he would ask her if she was serious, if she’d fact-checked this strange story, and it occurred to her wonder why he hadn’t even blinked when she’d mentioned vampires. “So what did you hope to realise by telling me this story?” he asked instead.
Echo considered this question carefully, using the string of the tea bag to stir her drink. The liquid turned from caramel to bronze, and so she squeezed the teabag with the tips of her fingers and then placed it carefully on the saucer – avoiding any spills – and waved her fingers in the air to dry and cool them.
“I think it’s something that we should know more about,” Echo said finally. “But I shouldn’t have overheard, and I pretended that I hadn’t at the time.”
“Better to admit a lie sooner rather than later,” he father advised. “But I have a feeling this is bothering you less than something else.”
She indicated with a smile that he was right, as usual, and returned her tea to a paler shade with a healthy dose of milk. “I feel awful for Lukas,” she murmured, her chest constricting at the memory of pain in his words. “I want to help him, but I don’t know how.”
“You could ask,” Fox suggested, lifting up his own almost-empty cup to his lips. “Law is a smart lad. And I don’t think he would hold your small lie against you.”
Echo nodded in agreement, relief warming her just as her sip of tea did. “Why weren’t you surprised by any of this?”
Fox glanced over to the side, where a floor to ceiling shelf held an abundance of eccentricities. Echo noticed he looked at the small model of the Eiffel tower with distant eyes.
“I’ve travelled a lot,” he said, neatly tucking his rolled sleeves in. “And back home, my mother would tell me stories of dragons and demons at night, and when I was older she confessed to me that although those weren’t true, she’d known and befriended a faerie once.” He smiled and shook his head. “Then as I travelled before and after university, across all of Europe and some of Northern Africa and Eastern Asia, I met some strange folk. Once you get into that circuit and become known as someone who can keep a secret and help solve bizarre problems, you tend to get a lot of offers to stay at houses for reduced prices or get given food. It made travelling cheaper.” He shrugged as if to say it hadn’t been a bad deal. “Nothing was ever confirmed to me, but those memories do have the sort of fantastical leanings that you would expect in a story like this. So, vampires. I am not so surprised.”
“Do you know anything about the vampire council?”
Fox shook his head, though his eyes narrowed. “Nothing was ever mentioned aloud, nothing that would confirm my suspicions. I didn’t ask questions. But,” he said, tilting his head to the side, “there was a reason that they were so paranoid and secretive. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t just because of us humans.”
Echo blew out a breath and swallowed the last of her tea, the liquid still slightly too hot. She had a theatre performance to get to, as it was their first dress rehearsal and she was sure that one of the costumes would need to be rethought, and she also knew that her father had a plane to catch as he went to Italy to visit old friends.
“Be careful, Tesoro. I love you with all of my heart.”
“I love you too, dad,” Echo said, embracing her father tightly.
Eilidh had spent the morning tidying their room, which was more her room than Rhoan’s, because of the simple reason that she had so much stuff and Rhoan could pack his in the boot of his car. Most of her things were often strewn around the room, which was only a problem when Rhoan hid them with his own discarded clothes or moved her well placed items an inch from their normal spot. Eilidh had lost her favourite foundation for a fortnight, once, and it had turned out to be on a shelf in the other corner of her room. Why Rhoan would put it there, of all places, she didn’t know, but he had made her promise to clean the room for a change and so now her things were shoved on top of shelves and drawers rather than on the floor. It was close enough, wasn’t it?
Not a moment after she’d finished, Rhoan had swept into the room after losing to Law in a game of chess and had tackled Eilidh onto the bed. She giggled furiously and wriggled so that she was at least next to him rather than squished under him, and as soon as the bed had settled she snuggled up to his side.
“How is Law?” she asked, rubbing her nose against his.
“Depressed,” Rhoan claimed dramatically, tilting his head up to peck the tip of her nose in response. “He took half an hour to cream me, rather than his usual ten.”
“Ooft,” Eilidh said in reply.
“Ooft indeed. This is bad. This is catastrophic. He needs an intervention.”
Eilidh’s eyes lit up. “An intervention like parent trap but where Law and Chase are the parents?” She groaned as her boyfriend stared blankly at her. “Really? You don’t even know parent trap?”
“I know the general gist, and that Lizzie Mcguire played twins. Right?”
Eilidh groaned again and didn’t rise to his bait. “What intervention were you thinking of?”
“I don’t know, the ice cream and film sort while we talk about our feelings?” He rolled his eyes when Eilidh levelled him with a stoic look. “Okay, what was your idea?”
Eilidh stretched and sat up on the edge of the bed with feline grace, and like a magnet Rhoan followed her hopelessly. He cast his fingers around the skin of her lower back, groaning at the thought of moving after getting so comfortable.
“Where’s your phone?”
Obediently, Rhoan slid it out from his pocket and raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, step one, go to your contacts and press on Chase’s number. Step – jesus, Rhoan,” she laughed, seeing his previous texts.
“I had Law’s best interests in mind!”
“Step two,” she said, around her bubbling amusement, “text Chase and tell him that Law told his father that he’s gay, and that they had been going out for four years.”
“Step three, profit?” Rhoan asked dubiously. “I’m almost surprised that you haven’t done this yourself yet, you meddling meddler.”
“I thought you would have told me off,” she admitted, as Rhoan pressed send. Her boyfriend barked a laugh at her and pulled her back down onto the bed, tossing his phone away.
“Too right, you pest.”
“I have something to confess to you,” Echo said, raising herself up onto her elbows. Law – who had been staring at the ceiling, lost in thought with a brooding frown – blinked himself back to the present and glanced over to her, an eyebrow raised. “I’m afraid you’ll be angry,” she said in a small voice.
“I can’t imagine being angry at you,” he shrugged, returning to stare heavenwards. “And I’m too preoccupied with being a heartsick scientist anyway,” he grumbled.
Echo tried to smile, and failed miserably. Luckily her brother wasn’t paying attention. She took a deep breath and blurted it out. “I overheard you and Lukas in the lab the other day. When he told you about… about who he really was.”
Law blinked again. “Oh,” he said, “Well.”
She cleared her throat and fidgeted as Law continued to frown. “Are you angry?”
Law rolled over to face her, propping his chin on his closed fist. The grimy brick of the building next to them reflected the sunlight dimly, and without Echo’s light on they might as well have been sitting in the dark.
“No,” he promised. “What do you think?”
“I think he’s lonely,” she confessed. “I think he needs more than just a cure to turn him back to human which – do you think you can do it?”
“Yes.” His answer was instant.
“Okay,” she said, nodding. “And what about this vampire council, should we be worried?”
“I don’t think so,” Law said. “Lukas is an honest person. He wouldn’t withhold information from us. If he doesn’t think the vampires will come after us, I believe him. He’s managed to stay under their radar for years now, anyway. It won’t be much longer – I’m close.”
Law contemplated this silently, watching Echo’s faraway gaze. “Not much,” he finally admitted. “I know he lives alone, and I think that – well he’s mentioned friends before, like the headmaster to my old school, and someone who used to be a research assistant for him back when Uncle Loxley was working for him… but I don’t think he’s close to anyone. I don’t think he’s let himself be,” Law shrugged.
“That must be a sad life,” Echo murmured, her grip tightening. “What I’m worried about, Law, is that it isn’t just a physical readjustment of his body to being human. There’s more to it than that. I don’t think he realises.”
“Well,” Law said, narrowing his eyes in thought, “he did ask for help becoming human again. If you think he needs more than just a cure, why don’t you do it?”
Echo nodded slowly, glancing to the side as her phone chimed; a picture of a flower from her father to identify later. She smiled. This was what being human was, to her; taking joy in random things, allowing yourself to experience the unique pleasures of living. In her mind Lukas spent hours a day in his laboratory, and then went home to a quiet shadow of a life to wait for his next day at work. She didn’t need her father’s intuition to know that she was right.
And so after explaining to Lukas that Echo had overheard their conversation, and that she wanted to meet him, Law settled down by his microscope and a prepared slide of Lukas’ blood. He observed it while, in the background, Echo drifted in nervously to meet Lukas. For Law there was nothing else to focus on but the blood cells magnified before him. He reached out to adjust the focus as Echo introduced herself, the words distant and unimportant to him at that moment in time.
All that mattered was the virus, and his proposed cure. If the virus in Lukas’ blood was close enough to the mice, then Law would see if it also reacted the same to his antiviral that he had injected the mice with. After several samples, Law believed he had a safe medicine, as none of the mice had died within his any of his latest tests and had in fact made the transition from diseased to healthy with relative ease. But humans – and vampires – were not the same as mice, and so there were many precautions Law would take before even considering giving Lukas the cure.
Echo stood before Lukas bathed in the golden light of the rising sun. She had been born with an unending well of compassion inherited from – and then encouraged and tended by – her father. She remembered from the ages of four to seven nothing more than an unfathomable loneliness, one that did not come from any lack of love from her father or family, but which came from being left wanting when it came to her mother’s love. Echo had realised two things, at the age of seven; first, a lesson from her father when he explained patiently to her that people loved, showed love, and accepted love in different ways, and second, that it was better to embrace what you had than lust after what you did not. The former brought contentedness; the later unhappiness.
When she had first seen her half-brother, without knowing who he was, she had unconsciously recognised the need for acceptance that she had passed many years ago. Her compassion had been awoken at the thought of Law’s life, and even if James had not shared the same desire to bring Law into their family then Echo would have desperately tried to contact him anyway, to try and alleviate the suffering she saw within him.
And soon enough she would grow to adore Law; often it was the people who craved love and acceptance that blossomed the most when they were given it generously. When Law was quiet or alone he melted into the walls; when someone unlocked the life within him and he reflected their own passion, it was hard not to notice him.
And so when Echo had listened to Lukas’ words that afternoon, cradled as they were in melancholy and the desperate loneliness of one facing an overwhelming life with no one standing beside them, that well of compassion had once again opened and yearned to help.
It was not so much a conscious decision to offer a hand of friendship to Lukas as it was a realisation that she could take no other path. Lukas live a life splintered by fear and guilt and suffering, taunted by the memories of simple happiness, and Echo knew that he could not live as a human again without a guide. After all, he had lived separate but within the human world for so long, surviving without any hope of living. How easily could one cross that barrier after the threat had gone? Since Echo suspected it would be done with great difficulty, or possibly never, she took it upon herself to help.
“Morning,” she said, her nervousness echoed in her piercing eyes. “I’m so sorry for eavesdropping. I really didn’t mean to.” Without realising, Echo hung her head. She was not someone who enjoyed dishonesty, even less when there was no real reason for it.
Lukas fidgeted from foot to foot and eventually cleared his throat. “No need to apologise, Echo. It was my own carelessness. Law said you wanted to talk to me about it?”
Echo nodded, searching the scientist’s gaze. She didn’t know what she was looking for in there, and she was sure she hadn’t found it, whatever it was. “I think that there’s so much more to being human than just the biology, Lukas. It’s… There’s…” she trailed off under his patient gaze and wondered what she was trying to say.
Indignant, Echo threw her brother a stony look. He had already gone back to his microscope, muttering things under his breath and making notes and calculations without taking his eyes away from the plate.
“No, that’s not…” Echo blushed furiously. Dismayed at how Law had worded it, she rallied under Lukas’ bewildered expression and tried again. “There’s more to life than keeping to yourself and worrying yourself sick over being found out. I just want you to know that you’re welcome at ours, or if there’s anything we can help with…”
Lukas smiled kindly. “Law is helping plenty, Echo. I couldn’t possibly ask you for anything more than that. I’ll be alright.”
Echo nodded, seeing through his brittle smile in a second. Her father had often said you can only offer help, not make people take it, and so satisfied that she had made it clear to Lukas that they were offering company, she would leave the rest to him.
“The offer is there,” she promised, seeing herself out with a quick wave to Law.
Though Echo hadn’t spent much time in the lab since her introduction to Lukas, she had often dropped or picked Law up when it coincided with her schedule. They had seen each other in glimpses, and each time Echo had reaffirmed her offer and silently observed Lukas’ anxiety.
She came in one afternoon to find Law excitedly beckon her inside. He held a glass beaker in his gloved hand. “Just in time,” he said, beaming, as he handed it to Lukas. His movement had something meaningful about it, and Echo’s eyes widened as she realised that this was it.
Lukas took the beaker in shaking hands. “I think this would have been better in a mug,” he said, attempting to take a light-hearted tone and only succeeding in making his trembling voice all the more obvious. Law gave him a forgiving smile.
“It’s clean,” he promised. “And very exact. I didn’t want it reacting with anything in a cup.” As Lukas swirled the contents around, Law nervously glanced to Echo and back. “Please don’t sue me if something goes wrong. It should be fine – all my calculations – but there’s no human test subject –“
Lukas held up a hand to stop Law’s panicked rambling and, after a deep breath, swallowed the liquid in an impressive gulp. Law leaned forward without realising, bouncing almost on the tips of his toes, and watched.
Lukas wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and placed the beaker down carefully on his desk. “I feel fine so far,” he said, tentatively.
“Brilliant.” Law’s eyes were bright and wild. “Echo, grab my notes? I need to take some measurements. Will you write them down for me?”
“Of course,” Echo said, hoping she had paid enough money for the car park.
“So far it’s really promising,” Law enthused as they entered into the flat. It was dusk outside – this time of year, Scotland rarely became dark proper – which showed how late they had stayed at the lab, monitoring every stage of Lukas’ return to human kind. Echo had written down notes as Law had barked various numbers and observations to her, neither of them daring to suggest that they leave until Lukas’ heart rate, temperature, and blood count were all within normal range. “The only worry is that Lukas won’t be able to start making red blood cells at the necessary level since he’s spent so long not making them at all, but –“
Law was cut off by Echo’s delicate cough. He finished locking the door and then turned around, his questioning look melting into surprise and utter vulnerability.
“Oh,” he croaked.
“Hey,” Chase said, kicking off from where he had been leaning on the door frame. He ran two fingers up and down the length of his nose, his favourite habit when stressed or deep in thought, and cleared his throat. “Uh… Hey,” he finished lamely, wincing.
Law felt as if someone had kicked him in the gut. He had been wholly expecting to change into comfy pyjamas and then slob about in front of the TV with Rhoan, attempting to catch peanuts or grapes with his mouth as something inane played on in the background. He had not been expecting to come face to face with his ex, who he still thought about nightly, still ached for, still cried over.
Law couldn’t speak; his throat had constricted, blocking any words he might have said, although he was hard pressed to choose the right ones at the moment. He only stared, mixed emotions storming inside him.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” Echo murmured, slipping away and leaving them trapped together.
A/N: I’m incapable of sinking a ship once I’ve invested so much time in it, not that any of you are surprised I’m sure 😉