I don’t know how long it took me to pull myself together. I think it wasn’t until my runaway thoughts got through despair and came out on the other side. It was a bizarrely peaceful feeling. I was in a situation so crushingly insurmountable that all the fears and anxiety my brain usually used to keep me alert for danger had just gone away.
It was like my poor overactive survival instincts had just gone: ‘fuck it. You’re on your own for this one.’
The first thing I did was blink slowly to clear some of the gunk out of my eyes. Then I shifted around and tried to get myself sitting properly. I moved slowly because I didn’t want to make Mr. Salvatore think he needed to lash out at me again. And to keep from aggravating my various hurts. I wasn’t sure how well my brain was doing after that bounce off the window, but when I brushed my bad foot against the seat I was informed in sharp clarity that pain still worked even if panic had taken a moment off.
I sucked in a startled gasp and blew it out slowly. The pain subsided to a slow ache as I did. Slow. That was the key. I took a few deep breaths. I had no idea how long this resigned tranquility would last, but if it was anything like the exhausted calm after a good old freakout then I needed to make the most of it while I could. Before my instincts lost the zen of ‘fuck it’ and started twisting me up again.
I thought about making a ruckus and trying to signal for help, but discarded that plan as a bad one. Best case, Mr. Salvatore would beat me in the head until I passed out. Worst case: I’d succeed, people would intervene – and Mr. Salvatore would throw their corpses off the side of the road before going on his merry way. No, I needed a real plan. And for that, I needed to know Mr. Salvatore’s.
I slowly fastened my seatbelt. That helped a little.
When I was as steady as I thought I could be, I turned toward Mr. Salvatore. I sucked in another startled gasp – but this one was just surprise, not pain. Mr. Salvatore had been messed up. His suit jacket was torn in more than one place and someone had managed to claw his face. He wasn’t bleeding anywhere, but that had to be a vampire thing because I could see bone through the gashes over his temple.
“So,” I said because I am utterly devoid of subtly, “What’s the plan?”
Mr. Salvatore turned to glare at me.
Watch the road! My survival instincts were psychically screaming at Mr. Salvatore. A knot twisted in my stomach. Well, that hadn’t taken long.
But instead of paying attention to his driving, Mr. Salvatore continued to stare at me.
“Gotcha,” I said. “No plan. Okay, I can work with that.” Actually, it was probably good for me. I’ve had to deal with off the cuff impulses in the place of decisions my entire life, but as an immortal and a general I was willing to bet that Mr. Salvatore usually laid things out in advance. When it came to improvisation, the advantage was mine.
I tried to take some cheer from that. It was probably the only advantage I’d find.
“You don’t need to concern yourself with that,” Mr. Salvatore said flatly. “You won’t survive the night.”
I gulped. It was one thing to think you weren’t going to make it. It was another one entirely for your murderer to agree. “What, no details?” I protested. “Hans practically got an arch-villain soliloquy. I mean, I get that he was your friend, but still…. If you’re going to go around trying to murder people you should at least treat them equally. Otherwise it’s just rude.” And seriously, what kind of monstrous villain doesn’t take the excuse to go on a hubristic harangue? “Besides,” I added, “If you do have a plan, maybe it has some flaws I can point out.” Or exploit.
Mr. Salvatore started to laugh. “Do you think I’m stupid?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I’m not psychic,” I confessed. If I were, he’d be paying more attention to his fucking driving. “But it seems to me that your plans aren’t really that great, so you could probably use all the help you can get. I mean, you didn’t get Megan last year. You didn’t kill Katherine. And as for asking Hans to step in for her and keep you under control if shit got out of hand…” I shrugged again. “How’s that going for you?”
Mr. Salvatore smiled. Holy crap, he had fangs. How come I’d never noticed those before? “Better than I’d hoped,” Mr. Salvatore said. “Thanks to your interference, in fact. You see, I did not choose Hans for his role because I thought him capable of keeping me ‘under control.’ I chose him because he doesn’t have a pack to ask annoying questions if he disappeared while ‘shit got out of hand.’ And now, even if I am questioned before an oracle I can honestly say that he died because you lured him into a fae ambush. Or do you honestly think those trolls didn’t turn back and snatch him up as soon as they realized we were away?”
I hugged myself and tried to ignore the way Mr. Salvatore’s question stripped my self-assurances off of my fear for Hans. I tried to remind myself that Hans was okay. Since Mr. Salvatore had escaped, I’d technically won that fight. Those fae owed me, and I’d declared Hans as my boyfriend. They wouldn’t hurt him.
I had to believe that.
“Huh,” I said. “And here I was kind of hoping that there was some sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on between hungry you and sated you. But I guess you really are just the self-serving, creepy-ass predator I’d always pegged you as.” Okay, so goading the monster wasn’t a great idea and he’d still be a freaking jackass if he went too far and gorged on me – but I was down to hoping he would cripple himself with guilt for the night and give Katherine and Megan time to get together and flee the city.
Mr. Salvatore laughed. “That’s rich, coming from the bitch who started all this.”
I blinked. How the hell did he figure that? I couldn’t bring myself to ask, though – I was too afraid he’d say something I couldn’t deny. So I turned flippant instead.
“Bitch?” I snarked. “Only if things work out with Hans and he asks real nice.” That gave me pause. Would I make as pretty a wolf as Hans did? But no, that didn’t bear contemplation. I had enough issues already. “But seriously, I’m sorry if it hurt your feelings when I bite-blocked you last year.” That had to be what he’d meant by me being the one who’d started this. “Except, no, I’m not, because Megan is my best friend – not a mother fucking juice box, you undead asshole. So if you’re going to kill me just get it over with. And if not, do us all a favor and go stake yourself. Or at least watch the fucking road!” I yelled.
Mr. Salvatore’s eyes narrowed. His lips pressed into a thin line. He turned to watch the road. “I’m not going to kill you,” he said. “You’re not the one I want.”
“Bullshit,” I snarled. “I won’t let you kill Megan. Not while I’m alive.” Either he’d kill me, or I’d kill him. And chillingly enough it wasn’t bravado talking for me. I genuinely meant it.
Mr. Salvatore snorted derisively. “I don’t think you’re in a position to stop me,” he said. “In fact, you’re going to help me.” He smiled to himself. “But if it makes you feel better, I’m not going to kill Megan, either. Not permanently. A woman like that should be made into a consort, not a meal. And when she comes back from the grey realms and hungers for life, she will be the one that extinguishes and consumes yours.
I swallowed. Consort? Megan deserved to be a queen. Also, the knowledge that Mr. Salvatore’s survival instincts encompassed more than fear and hunger was, in this case, both gross and terrifying. Also, Megan would make a fucking sexy vamp. Also, I could not let myself get distracted by that fantasy. It would be a bad thing.
“I’m not going to help you,” I stated as firmly as I could while trying to ignore the image of Megan in her gothic party girl clothes sucking rapturously on some blond woman’s neck. Not mine – I’m not in those kinds of fantasies. Emma’s, then.
“And you don’t even know where Megan is,” I said. Emma had to have a thing for being bit – why else would she have consented to being one of Mr. Salvatore’s chew toys? In my head she was moaning and tangling her fingers in Megan’s hair the way she had mine at the club.
“And if there’s a rehab center for vampires,” I said roughly, “then there’s got to be someone who hunts down the ones that need admittance. So you can’t stick around and look for her or you’re going to get caught, locked up, and force-fed until you weep from grief at the realization of what a fucked up douche you are.” In my head Megan had fallen back, sated, and Emma had undone Megan’s top and was licking syrup and whipped cream off her breasts – breakfast in bed, for both of them, with a side of eros.
I knew I was just distracting myself from a very stressful situation, but still – god damn it, Fumiko! I had enough messed up fantasies already.
Mr. Salvatore laughed. “I won’t run,” he said, and it shocked me out of my pseudo reverie. I’d been right about the vampolice?
“When they come,” Mr. Salvatore said, “I will explain to them how I discovered you were a fae collaborator. How you betrayed Hans to an ambush, and how you had to have been the one who drugged Katie last year so I would lose control and you could have room to operate freely. And when I tell them that I confronted you and killed you – and was so injured in the process that I was forced to feed on Megan – and was so grieved by her death that I had to try and bring her back – they will believe me.”
I shivered. The only way Mr. Salvatore’s plan would work was if there was no one around to contradict him. But right now I wasn’t having any trouble seeing him hunt down Katherine, and Emma, and Hans and putting them all in shallow graves.
“You still don’t know where Megan is,” I said. If Katherine found Megan first, they’d go into hiding. I had to hold on to that.
“I don’t have to,” Mr. Salvatore said. “I have you. And that’s all I need to lure my intended to be into the open.” Mr. Salvatore turned away from the road and smiled at me – all pearly teeth and fangs and terrifying evil. “After all,” he added mockingly, “She loves you.”