I didn’t get a chance to react. The same could not be said of Melvin. However, Melvin’s reaction was limited to a squawk of protest — that ended in a yelp of pain — before he was bowled over by Hans.
I gawked. Mentally, I think I was in shock. Emotionally? Well, my initial emotional response was to picture them in Japanese school uniforms and start adding subplots to my Hans/John/Melvin/Salvatore doujinshi.
They tussled on the ground — or rather, Melvin tussled; Hans dominated. Melvin was on his back, the wolf planted firmly on his chest. Somehow Melvin managed to get his sword out, but there was really no room for him to use it. Hans pinned that hand down with one massive paw, anyway, raking open Melvin’s skin and sending shadowy blood wisping into the air. Melvin tried to get his hand free, but Hans was already shifting back to his human form — Hans caught Melvin’s wrist in a steel grip and slammed it against the floor until the sword bounced out of the fae’s grasp.
I was still staring. Hans had shifted fast. Faster than I’d ever seen him shift before — the sound was something like a gunshot being shattered, if you can imagine a sound shattering. He hadn’t taken the time to take his clothes off before shifting, either, and they reappeared when he shifted back — but they reappeared in mangled, bloody tatters that clung to Hans’ body. Worse, something was off. Maybe it was because of the speed with which Hans was transforming, but one of his arms hung limply from his shoulder, as though it were dislocated. The skin, muscles and flesh at that joint spasmed as though still trying to settle on a form. Hans snarled as though he still wasn’t wholly human again — or maybe that was just anger and pain.
Melvin tried to shove Hans off of him, but Hans’ arm fixed itself with a loud pop, and he caught Melvin’s free wrist and slammed it onto the ground, too.
Oh yes, this is going in the slashfic, I thought dumbly. Stop fighting and kiss!
Then Hans headbutted Melvin hard enough to make the fae’s skull bounce off the floor.
Somehow, Melvin’s tophat managed to stay on his head. He groaned in pain and while he was stunned Hans rolled off of him — but didn’t let him go. Instead, Hans yanked Melvin up, wrenched him around by his arms, did something I couldn’t see and then slammed Melvin into the bar. Just like that, Melvin was bent over, his arms pinned behind his back, and his sword kicked away. I heard something crack and realized it wasn’t Hans shifting again — and Melvin wasn’t just pinned anymore. Hans had broken his arm.
I blinked a couple of times to clear my head. This was serious. “Hans!” I shouted as I scrambled around the couch. “Stop it!”
Hans glanced at me over his shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I think this part is just about done.”
Melvin’s breath came in pained gasps. “You’d better listen to her, puppy. You don’t want to kill me or I’ll just be back and you won’t catch me by surprise again.”
Hans snorted, pulled Melvin away from the bar, and then bashed him into the counter top again. I’m pretty sure I heard something break. “I’m not going to kill you, Melvin. Weren’t you listening? I’m going to destroy you.” He sneered. “Besides, if you weren’t expecting to be attacked when you decided to show yourself in my house after mistreating someone I care about and taunting me over it, then I don’t think it’ll be that hard to catch you off guard again. Really, you should’ve thought that through.”
Faerie blood rolled out of Melvin’s nose like a cloud of smoke. “You’re right,” Melvin growled. “Next time I won’t overestimate your intelligence so much.” He twisted his head around as well as he could to glare at Hans — which wasn’t much. I caught his glare, though, and between the narrowed eyes and smoky blood Melvin looked like a pissed off dragon in human form. “Or do you really think your mistress will let you hurt me? I own her.”
I stared at both of them, wide-eyed. My heart was starting to hammer, because there was truth in Melvin’s words: I’d already shouted for Hans to stop, for no reason I could think of. Wait, no: now that I was thinking about it, there were reasons. Melvin was bound by a geas to protect Megan. I needed him for that, because god knew that was something I obviously couldn’t do myself. But I hadn’t been thinking that when I’d tried to interrupt them. I hadn’t been thinking at all! What the hell was I doing, trying to interfere with that kind of violence?! By all rights I should be cowering in the corner, praying to god that Hans didn’t decide to tear me apart when he was done with Melvin!
I was still in a stunned state of disbelief. Shock at the speed and violence with which Hans had taken Melvin down — and not just that, I realized. I was shocked that Hans had taken Melvin down. Melvin had gone toe-to-toe with Mr. Salvatore. Sure, Melvin had been losing — but Mr. Salvatore had beaten Hans like it wasn’t even difficult. I swallowed. Of course, Mr. Salvatore and Melvin had been fighting with blades — speed had mattered most, and Mr. Salvatore had been faster. Mr. Salvatore had been faster than Hans, too, but he’d also been stronger than Hans as well — and Melvin clearly wasn’t. It was stunning what a difference that made.
“It’s okay,” I said, trying to calm Hans down. “He’s on our side, sort of. I need him to protect Megan, right? I can deal with the other stuff on my own.”
Hans shifted his grip on Melvin so he could angle himself to look at me. He shook his head. “Sorry, Abigail. You’re under a geas and that leaves you biased, so Melvin and I are going to go ahead and keep this between us.” Hans gave me a brief smile. “Besides, I’m sure Melvin wouldn’t want to embroil you in something as petty as this difference of opinions. Where would the fun be in winning like that?” He turned back to Melvin. “Don’t worry,” he said to me. “I’ve got it in the bag.”
Melvin snorted. “Except for the part where you can’t actually do me any lasting harm, yes, quite. Bravo.” Melvin rolled his eyes before fixing them on me. “But do be a dear, Abby, and sit this one out. If your puppy wants to try matching wits with me, I could use a new cur in my kennels.”
I twitched in place, suddenly unable to step further forward. Unable even to voice a protest. I felt a spasm irritate my eyebrow. Was Melvin just playing with Hans? I was starting to not feel so bad about how Hans had stomped his face in. Especially since I did not appreciate being compelled.
Hans turned his smile on Melvin, and it became feral. “Oh, I wouldn’t count on claiming me, Melvin. I know how you fae work. And right now you’re thinking: ‘Oh, the big dumb wolf won the physical contest. How droll. Now I’m going to win the match of wits. Borrrrrring.’ But: I also know how long you live, how bored you get, and the stupid games you play to keep yourself entertained. I know that you’re one of those bored fae or you would’ve escaped my grasp already — and you wouldn’t be playing games with a vampire. So, what, you’ve put a geas on yourself to only operate within certain limits? No turning immaterial while someone has a grip on you, something like that? ” Hans snorted dismissively. “Good for you, Melvin: you’re probably tougher than me in a no-holds-barred contest. But the problem you have is: in order to have some fun you have put yourself under limits that I have no problem taking advantage of — and you keep underestimating me. I can remove you from this ‘game.’ Permanently.”
“Puppy,” Melvin chimed in.
“What?” Hans snapped. I was a bit incredulous that Melvin would interrupt him like that, myself. But then, Melvin was clearly antagonizing Hans — which meant Melvin had to think he had the upper hand, somehow, or he wouldn’t be pushing Hans’ buttons. And I couldn’t make myself do a damn thing about it.
“You were right about what I was thinking, except I was thinking ‘puppy,’ not wolf,” Melvin said with a shit-eating grin. “But please, entertain me by elucidating on my misconception: how on earth do you think you can do more than inconvenience me in the long run?”
“All I have to do is feed you to a vampire,” Hans growled, “and you’ll be pretty permanently ‘inconvenienced.'”
Melvin closed his eyes and groaned. “Oh, there I go: overestimating your intelligence again. Abigail is on my side, dolt, and we’ve already agreed to leave her out of this. Or do you think you can keep me prisoner until your precious Directors arrive?” He actually laughed at that. “Oh, I hope that’s it! You do realize that I have saved Abigail at least as many times as you’ve shown up too late to help. Please, let us contest your competence against mine and see who comes out ahead.”
Hans leaned in over Melvin. “Who said anything about Abigail or the Directors?” he said softly. “I happen to have a dead vampire near to hand, and absolutely no compunction against pinning your sorry, bleeding self against his corpse until he wakes up and finishes things for me.”
My breath caught. Mr. Salvatore. Was he watching this, in some creepy omniscient fashion? Would Hans actually bring him back like that?
“You wouldn’t dare,” Melvin protested — but some of the mocking humor had fallen from his tone. “One geas is much less trouble than an off the rails vampire,” he hastily pointed out.
“Really, do you think so?” Hans asked. “I don’t know if you want to gamble on that: apparently I keep making stupid decisions.” Hans chuckled, and there was a bit of viciousness in it. “Besides, a fed vampire is a reasonable vampire. If it comes to that, Mr. Salvatore is my friend. He’ll let me stake him after he’s done with you so he can be transported to the center safely. And if I’m wrong? Well, that’ll be found out too late for your sake, either way.”
I felt a shiver run down my spine. Hans had a point. Melvin saw it, too.
“Well, what say you we don’t find out?” Melvin suggested. He sounded like someone who’d just realized he was gambling for higher stakes than he’d realized. He actually sounded worried, now. “After all, even if I’m more screwed than you are should you be wrong: you’ll still be screwed.”
Hans grinned toothily. “I suppose it’s possible that killing you permanently would be more trouble than it was worth — except that as things stand now, the hold you have on Abigail is not acceptable. Now, should that change then I suppose I won’t have to go to such drastic measures to deal with you — but if it doesn’t, then I’ll just have to take the risk,” he said. Somehow, most of the barely controlled anger had dropped from his tone.
I felt my jaw drop. Had Hans just set Melvin up? Engineered the whole ‘I am a violent, jealous boyfriend who isn’t thinking things through’ bit to maneuver Melvin into underestimating him and falling into a position where he’d have to make some sort of concession to avoid a fate Hans had no real desire to follow through on?
Melvin saw it, too. His eyes narrowed further. They glinted angrily, but I saw the corner of his mouth twitch up ever so slightly. Then he started to laugh. “Oh, well played, puppy. You’re right: I can’t make that gamble, but I can make that deal. You agree to release me, and I agree to release Abigail. And, of course, you never threaten me with a vampire again.”
“Done,” Hans said. He pulled Melvin up from the counter and shoved him away. Melvin staggered a couple of steps before catching his balance. I almost fell over as the compulsion that was holding me back abruptly vanished. Hans grunted as he found himself standing without Melvin to lean on or adrenaline to keep him focused. He slumped toward the bar, but caught himself on the counter. Then he slowly walked around it. Once Hans was behind it, he pulled a glass out from under it and placed it on the counter. Then he started looking for a drink.
I breathed shallowly through parted lips while I watched him. My fangs were out – just the tips. They scraped my bottom lip when I swallowed. Suddenly, I was parched, too. And maybe it was the fact that Hans had just stood up for me, maybe it was the fact that he’d won — hell, maybe it was the fact that his clothes were a bloody mess and he was obviously hurting from those split-second shape shifts, and I was a predator inside — but Hans looked positively quenching.
Melvin stalked over to pick up his sword. Then he spun around, a grin on his lips — a grin that I noticed disappear when he saw how I was looking at Hans. Whatever taunt he’d been about to hurl went unsaid. Instead, his smile curled into something angry, and his words were vicious. “Of course, you do realize that I had no intention of demanding anything of Abigail that she would not volunteer to do herself. You haven’t saved her from anything, because she’ll still come when I call — I don’t need a geas to control her through Megan.” He smiled cruelly. “In fact, all you’ve done is throw away the one method you had to threaten me, and given me the pleasure of catching her again. What have you to say to that?”
“I haven’t given up anything,” Hans said wearily. “Next time it won’t be a threat. Now get out of my house.”
Melvin drew himself up to his full height — which only matched Hans’ because of his hat. “No,” Melvin drawled. “You’ve had your concession from me, and it didn’t involve my departure. Worse, you’ve tried to embarrass me in front of…” He choked and stumbled over the word ‘my.’ “In front of Abigail,” he grated out instead.
“Succeeded,” I chimed in. I couldn’t help myself. “The word you’re looking for isn’t ‘tried.’ He pretty much succeeded.”
Melvin stiffly ignored me. “I’m in the mood to save some face, cur,” he snapped at Hans. “Perhaps by carving off some of yours.” He raised his blade and settled into a fencing stance with his bad arm held behind himself. “I’m ready for you, puppy — you won’t take me by surprise this time. So what say you we see how well you fare at forcing my hand again?”
Hans looked at Melvin impassively. Then he snapped his hand up from behind the bar — but he wasn’t holding a bottle of liquor. The small pistol Hans held barked four times — the first three rounds caught Melvin in his center of mass, blasting billows of shadowy mist out of his back. But Hans rode the recoil of each shot, marching them up Melvin’s chest, and his fourth round wiped the shocked expression — as well as everything else — off of Melvin’s face. The fae’s head exploded in a cloud of black just a second before the rest of his body collapsed into tendrils of dark fog that faded out of reality.
Hans held the gun up for a second more, then put it down on the bar. He took a deep, pained breath — then let it out slowly. “Done,” he said on the exhale, followed by something in a language I didn’t know. I could guess, though: Hans never cursed in English.