A moment seemed to stretch toward infinity while Melvin stared at me. I stared back, trying to divine the thoughts hiding behind his cat-slit eyes. Had I been alive and paranoid, I would have been convinced that he was about to kill me. Since I was dead rational, I had to admit that I couldn’t read Melvin’s expression. I braced to fight if it came to that. If I had any chance to surprise him, I would take it.
Then Melvin blew out a long, exhalation that ended in a sigh. “I don’t trust you, monster,” he said as though he begrudged thinking I might have a point.
I exulted: As long as he was talking, it meant I still had a chance. “You shouldn’t,” I agreed. “But do you trust Abigail?” Referring to myself and my vampiric personality as though we were two separate people was stupid, but if pretending there was more duality in my nature than there really was helped convince Melvin to let me survive, then I would do it.
“I do,” Melvin admitted. “I know her too well. Erratic though she may be, she would never voluntarily hurt her friends — any of them. And that, I believe, means she will never voluntarily let you out again, vampire.”
Melvin knelt down beside me. I could grab him easily now — but he could still just as easily run me through. I kept still. The time to pounce wasn’t here — not yet. I needed him more distracted, first.
Then Melvin reached out with his free hand and ran his palm along the edge of his sword. Abruptly, I was the one distracted.
I felt my one good eye try to widen. All thought of attacking Melvin vanished. My every attention fixated on the slash in his palm.
Melvin curled his hand into a fist, closing his fingers over the cut. I instinctively tried to sit up and reach for it, only to freeze as the movement made his sword’s blade dig at my ribcage. I trembled in frustration.
Melvin rose to his feet — keeping me held down at sword point as he did. I opened my mouth and strained toward his fist, stretching as far as I could without impaling myself on the blade.
Melvin held up his fist; regarded it like he wasn’t entirely certain what he was doing. My jaw worked wordlessly. I whined like an animal being taunted with a treat. Melvin looked at me and scowled with disgust. Thin tendrils of black shadow — faerie blood — had begun to leak between his fingers.
“So, vampire,” Melvin asked harshly, “will this bring my Abigail back?”
“Yes,” I hissed greedily.
Melvin reached his fist out over me. I tilted my head back eagerly.
Melvin’s fingers flexed, squeezing tightly into his fist. Black droplets of faerie blood dripped free as those fingers dug into his palm. The blood unravelled as it fell — like they were droplets of food coloring in water, leaving trails of smokey shadow that dissipated into nothingness behind.
I caught the first on my tongue like I was catching a snowflake. Then I nearly collapsed as a shock of ecstasy surged through me.
Melvin’s blood was bliss. I caught another droplet, and another. They fell in a patter like drips from a leaking faucet of ambrosia. I caught them all. They were everything that Megan’s had been when I’d tasted hers: Love and excitement and joy and laughter and bliss and all of the exuberance of life. Sure, the proportions were different. The taste was of Melvin — but there were none of the fears that came along with the rush when I fed from Hans or Emma.
Pain shredded my senses as my sun-flayed skin healed. I didn’t care. I barely noticed: I certainly didn’t register that the pain hurt, only that it had been there. I surged up to grab and lick Melvin’s hand, paying no regard to the sword at my chest. Melvin jerked both sword and fist away — he leapt back into the shaft of sunlight pouring through the still uncovered window.
I sat up properly. My heart pounded. I almost pursued him. He kept his sword up to keep me at bay, so I just sat instead. I gasped for breath while blood pounded in my ears. How had I not realized what was going on with Megan sooner? I was a new vampire, and that meant my craving for blood was supposed to be at its lowest. And yet I had been feeding two, three times a day from Hans or Emma — while just licking Megan’s cheek had given me the strength I needed to face the sunlight. And now, after just a few drops of Melvin’s blood I felt like I’d been brought back from the dead.
In fact, I sort of had.
Sudden panic obliterated further thoughts of relief. Melvin — the jackass! — saw it and actually relaxed slightly. But I was too busy freaking out to tell him off like he deserved — and I had a lot to freak out about.
Megan was a changeling? I’d attacked her! I’d been in her mind without even biting her… I’d tried to make her help me kill Katherine! Oh, and I’d almost been murdered again, twice. And Katherine was in cahoots with the fae, and in the past ten minutes I’d made serious plans to kill just about everyone I knew. Sure, they hadn’t been detailed plans: really, just ‘grab the first unfortunate soul to get close enough to grab and gorge until they died’, but the intent had been there and lethally real.
And the thing was: I wasn’t even freaking out about any of that. Not yet. I was freaking out about Melvin.
His blood had been amazing. It had been just as good as Megan’s. It had been everything Megan’s had.
Everything. Exuberant life. Excitement. Joy. Bliss. Love.
“Oh no,” I moaned in distress. “Fuck no. You’re in love with me? What the fuck, Melvin? I know you’ve been stalking me, but I thought that was just because I smelled like faerie pie or some bullshit!” I did not need this. Hell, I didn’t even want this. My stomach roiled so hard I almost puked. I could get that Megan had a secret crush on me — at least she and I interacted with each other. But I hadn’t even known Melvin existed until a few nights ago! How the fuck long had Melvin been following me, spying on me, letting his creepy obsession turn into an infatuation, and then into something he thought was love?!
Melvin recoiled as though slapped. Then he recovered and burst out laughing. “Abigail,” he protested, “you think rather too highly of yourself. Love? I think not, my dear.”
Bullshit, I thought.
Melvin casually leaned on his cane. “I haven’t been following you, as you assume. My charge is Megan, and has been for longer than you’ve known I existed.”
Bullshit, I mentally reiterated. But I didn’t say anything. If Melvin wanted to be in denial, I’d let him. I wanted to be, too, but too many things made that impossible. Chief among them was my paranoid imagination, which thought this was just too horrifying to let go. It blasted me relentlessly with all the incongruities in Melvin’s claim, because apparently I hate myself.
He said he’d stuck around to deal with me because I was a threat to Megan — but he could have just left me to Mr. Eyelids, instead of dealing with me himself. And he’d shown up out of no where to save me the first time we’d met, too.
Hell, he’d kissed me the first time we’d met, and tried to the second! Oh, god: I’d thought he’d been using all those pet names for me just to be an annoying dick, and that his suggestions that I give him a call if I ever wanted to be tied up and violated were just things he said to scare me. But had that genuinely been his screwed up idea of flirting?
I swallowed. I had to get out of my head. I plunged blindly back into the conversation. “Okay,” I said. “Sure. You’ve just been keeping an eye on Megan. Because she’s a changeling. So, what the hell is up with that?”
Good question, verbal autopilot.
Melvin shrugged. “She’s a changeling,” he said easily. “What’s left to explain?”
I stared incredulously. “Um, everything?” I said. “Like: how? I was told changelings are only born every few centuries — and what’s-his-butt, the local fae king, lost his daughter in the last war. So what’s up with Megan being a changeling? And why are you keeping an eye on her? And how…” I swallowed again. “…How the fuck long have you been spying on her?” On me?
Melvin smiled. “Why, Abigail, although it is true that Lord Archarel’s daughter was tragically lost to the ravages of war, I can’t imagine what you think that has to do with our Megan. She’s no child of his — or are you forgetting that this is not her home of birth? She came to the city for college, just like you, and stayed…. well, for you again. But she was not born here.”
It took a second for Melvin’s words to sink in. Then my heart flip-flopped in relief. Megan wasn’t related to Archarel. If the Directors tried to put me in charge of this city like John had speculated they wouldn’t be setting me up to be her enemy. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
“As for my presence, I hardly think it should be any wonder that a princess has an escort when she ventures abroad.” Melvin snorted at my earlier reasoning. “Stalking you? Really? Do you think I would be so uncouth?”
Yes, my brain silently opined.
“I may have spent enough time around you to gather a sense of your habits,” Melvin continued, oblivious to my opinion, “and you are certainly an interesting diversion, with your erratic behavior and perverse logic… but any time I’ve spent being amused by you has been purely coincidental to my pursuit of my duty.” He sniffed loudly, just so I would know how affronted he was that I had believed otherwise.
“Yeah, whatever,” I said. “I’m just relieved that Megan isn’t some pawn of Archarel’s.” Relieved, and starting to get squicked out by the condition of my clothes. My body had healed but my clothing was still a mess of blister stains and smoldered edges. My stomach turned just thinking about it.
“Oh, heavens no,” Melvin said. “Not yet. But now that she is no longer immune to the presence of fae, Archarel will move to claim her soon.”
Melvin’s nonchalant statement jerked me out of my growing squick. “What?” I shrieked. “But she’s not part of his family. He can’t use her if she’s not family. He can’t use her if she’s not his child!” John had said Archarel needed a changeling from his bloodline in order to act as an embassy on Earth.
Melvin chuckled dryly. “I think there are more ways to join a family than to be born into it, Abigail. Marriage, for one.”
My eyes widened. “What… no. We have to warn her… we have to do something to protect her!”
Melvin snorted. “Oh, no,” he disagreed. “We have nothing to do. It’s broad daylight out: you would be worthless outside this house. I will seek her out, and should she already be in unfriendly hands, I shall call upon you to free her.”
I blanched. “I — what?”
Melvin laughed at me. “I am but a single retainer, a lone knight in what will soon become enemy territory, my Abigail. But you are a vampire, and that should make up the difference should it come to the threat or employment of brute force. Besides: The geas you placed on me is to defend Megan from harm as you yourself would. I needn’t do anything you aren’t also willing to do for her sake.”
I swallowed again. Fuck. “Alright,” I said. I felt defeated. Or just worn down to nothing. All I’d wanted to do was come out to my friends so they would be safe. And all I’d done was make everything worse.
I hauled myself away from those thoughts. Only depression lay that way, and that wouldn’t help anyone. “Get going, then,” I ordered Melvin. Then I hesitated. “How… how will you call me?” I asked before he could actually leave. I couldn’t quite picture him producing a magic cellphone to match his magic cane.
Melvin laughed and glanced over his shoulder at me. “Why, Abigail, you gave me your name last night. Of your own free will. What’s more: we have our deal. With those, it is but a simple spell to find you.”
I frowned. “How does your being bound to protect Megan help you find me?” I asked. Was magic really that nonsensical? I wasn’t going to argue if it was, but with Megan’s safety on the line I didn’t want to make any more stupid mistakes; didn’t want to overlook any other little detail that tweaked my paranoia.
Melvin turned around to face me and grinned widely. “Not that one,” he said. “The other.” When I stared at him in confusion, he stepped out of the light, into my space. “My blood,” he said, “In exchange for my Abigail. That geas has had plenty of time to settle, my Abigail. Or have you not noticed that you no longer deny that you’re mine when I make the claim?”
A brief spike of terror shot through me. “I’m not… I…” I couldn’t say it. My tongue wouldn’t form the words.
Stunned, horrified, I sank down to the floor.
Melvin’s laughter mocked me. He leaned down, caught my chin with his unscathed hand, and tilted my face back up toward him. I stared at him. What… what just happened? How…?
He leaned in close — too close, like he had last night. “Abigail,” he said, “my dear, sweet, poisonous Abigail, did you really think I would save you without ensuring a return on my investment?” He laughed, and his lips approached mine — then slipped to the side, over the cheek he had kissed the first time I’d become aware of his presence. I froze. My heart pounded, but I was paralyzed with panic. “I don’t know what you thought you felt when I gave you my blood, Abigail, but I do not love you.” He leaned closer, but did not kiss me. Instead, his breath caressed my ear as he whispered: “My vampiress, I own you.”