I felt a little strange going downstairs with Emma on my arm. It wasn’t that I’d never been on someone’s arm myself — Hans had popped that particular cherry on our first date — but in this case Emma was pretty clearly on mine, not the other way around. When we got downstairs we found John and Hans in the front room. I still felt intensely uncomfortable being there, but I put up with it.
When we came into the room, Hans and John weren’t talking. When Hans saw us he cleared his throat. “Are we ready to go? Sorry, just give me a moment to grab my jacket.”
“Uh… okay?” I said. I couldn’t remember Hans ever wearing a jacket that I’d seen and it wasn’t exactly colder today than it had been in the last few, but whatever. Emma and I made room for him to go into the hallway.
“So,” John said once it was just the three of us. “How are… things?”
The question made me pay John more attention. He was wearing a suit, like he had been the last time I’d seen him, but with one noteable alteration:the jacket was folded in the crook of his arm, and that revealed the pistol he had in a shoulder holster.
Emma snorted. “Less than perfect,” she said. If she thought there was anything odd about the presence of a gun in the room, she didn’t show it. “But that’s par for the course, I think.”
“Ah,” said John. “And the three of you are going out…?”
I shook my head. “Yeah. I heard Hans telling you about it.” I sighed. “So now we’re going to meet my parents, and then his friend Linda, and then… I don’t even know. Thanks for coming over, though. If the world isn’t destroyed by a black hole, I’ll totally owe you when we get back.” If it was destroyed, well, then it wouldn’t matter.
John’s eyebrows rose. “Er. Sure, think nothing of it.” He fidgeted for a second and then gathered himself. “Are you sure you won’t reconsider staying home?” He asked. “You were attacked, Abigail. I really don’t like the idea of you being out and about in daylight after they already showed the gall to assault you in your own home.”
Emma stiffened beside me and I glared at John. “Yeah,” I said. “If anything, I’ll be safer ‘out and about’ where the people who don’t believe in faeries are.”
John didn’t look happy, but he nodded. Emma clutched my arm a little tighter. “Abby?” she asked. “What happened?”
I looked at her and bit the inside of my bottom lip. I did not want to have this conversation. Again. Especially not while I was too alive to keep from embellishing so I wouldn’t dwell on what actually happened and freak out. I let go of her arm and walked over to the table. The cloak Fumiko had left for me was folded in half and draped over a chair. I picked it up and looked at it. It was heavy, with dark cloth on the outside and lined with some kind of fleece on the inside. It also seemed to have a very deep hood. It looked like it might actually be practical — and it wasn’t really ostentatious enough to have been from a manga costume. Maybe Fumiko had made it for a college play or something. I could see one of Macbeth’s witches wearing something like this.
“The fae invaded Abigail’s home this morning,” John answered for me. “Twice. The first time, they attacked her. The second, they went after Hans.”
“To be fair, he started it,” I chimed in. Hans had been on top of Melvin almost before the fae had finished speaking, and I didn’t want Emma thinking that random people around me were getting attacked. I frowned. Fuck me: even if Melvin was the random person instead of Hans, it still came out to ‘random people around Abby are getting attacked.’
“I prefer to think that he started it when he tried to put you under a geas,” Hans said from the hallway door. “So, since I presume I’m driving, where’s this restaurant your folks picked out?”
I looked over at him. “Fair enough,” I agreed about Melvin. “And it’s by my old apartment. You just head there, but drive past it to the next major intersection and turn right. It’s about a block down on the left.” While I was talking I took in Hans’ change in wardrobe. I wasn’t sure how to take it: It was the first time I’d seen him in more clothing than a tee shirt, jeans and sneakers.
Hans’ ‘jacket’ was a long, leather trench coat. I personally didn’t think it suited him. It covered up his muscular arms and obscured his trim waist. Plus, after this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder why he would want to wear something with that much bulk. If extra mass made his shifting more difficult — and just jeans and a tee shirt had left him pretty messed up this morning — then shifting on the spot while wearing that coat would suck.
I wanted to kick myself for being dumb almost as soon as I had the thought, though. I’d heard Hans go down to the basement to get his coat — not up to his room. And in the backroom of the basement was Hans’ gun cabinet. I looked him up and down again. He could probably fit a lot of guns under that coat. And ammo in the pockets. And… I dunno. A sword or something.
While Emma hadn’t been fazed by the fact that John was carrying a gun, she did look a little worried now. Maybe even scared. I couldn’t tell for sure because her face was still a little strained from crying. I didn’t want her to be worried or scared, though. And the sooner we were out in public, the sooner she’d be able to relax a little.
“Come on, let’s go,” I said. I swung the cloak around my shoulders and fastened it. Then I crossed back to Emma and took her hand. “I’ll fill you in while we’re in the car,” I promised. I pulled her toward the door, and after just a second she fell into step behind me. I stopped at the front door, though, and turned back to John.
“John, seriously: thanks,” I said. “I don’t know how late it will be before we get back, but call if you need us to hurry. Otherwise, just put some salt across the doors and all the windowsills, maybe pound in some iron nails, too, and think unwelcoming thoughts at any fae that wander by, okay? But don’t do anything stupid, and don’t get yourself hurt.”
John arched his brows, but he grinned. “Don’t worry, sis. I’ll have this place locked down tight.”
Hans shook his head in bemusement, and I wondered what I’d missed. Probably something they’d talked about while I’d been talking with Emma. Or some past anecdote you just ‘had to be there’ to get. Whatever. I was anxious about going outside and didn’t want to let that make me grump out at John or Hans over an inside joke I wasn’t a part of. I ignored it.
“Okay,” I said, and I let go of Emma’s hand so I could pull the cowl of my cloak down low and close the heavy fabric around myself.
Yeah: I felt really stupid going out like this. I steeled myself, turned, and forced myself to go out anyway.
With the hood of the cloak pulled down over my face, all I could really see was the ground near my feet. The hem of the cloak hid my feet themselves. The glare from the sun made my eyes water, and I ended up squinting while I made my way to the driveway. At least I could remember roughly where Hans had parked last night, and my hearing easily picked up the click of the door locks when Hans thumbed the fob on his keyring. Hans, the sweetheart, opened one of the back doors so I wouldn’t have to reach out of the cloak to get it, and then helped me into the seat. Emma went around and sat in the seat next to mine. Hans, of course, got in the front.
I didn’t bother with buckling up. I didn’t want to pull my hands out of the cloak for that, either. And really: what was the worst that could happen? If we got into a wreck and my spine shattered as I was flung out the back window, I’d just pick myself up in a few minutes after the vertebrae popped back into place. Honestly, getting thrown out of the car before it turned into a Hollywood fireball would probably be better for me than being strapped inside and reduced to charcoal. Yay, magic.
I did surreptitiously check that Emma buckled up, though, and I clutched the edge of my seat through the cloak’s fabric.
“So,” Emma hesitantly said once Hans had backed out of the drive and started picking up speed, “Is one of you going to tell me what happened after I left?”
Not being able to see anything while sitting unbuckled in a moving vehicle was its very own special sort of hell. It went on my list of nightmare scenarios right above disarming a nuclear bomb and just below finding out that a chupacabracorn had joined the hobgoblins for speed date night. Being able to hear everything made it even worse: the enhanced road noise made even a light breeze sound like the howl of wind as we tore along at hundreds of miles an hour, and a car honking in the distance sounded just like one right behind us would have when I was alive. At least last night I’d been able to see, my hearing hadn’t been set to ‘enhanced’ constantly, and there hadn’t been as much traffic! It took less than three seconds before so much sheer panic welled up inside of me that I actually thought talking about this morning would be preferable. I threw myself into recounting everything that had happened after Emma and John had left this morning.
Maybe it was crazy, but I quickly realized I was trying to use the sheer horror of everything that had happened — almost killing Megan, almost being killed, facing down Melvin, all of it — to force my utter terror over how I imagined Hans was driving into submission. As it was, neither was able to take over my mindspace enough to make me do something certifiably crazy, like throwing up, going fetal and crying — or hurling myself out of the car and praying we were on a street where that wouldn’t mean diving into oncoming traffic.
Between the two freakouts that were battling for dominance, I almost wasn’t even paying attention to the story that was spilling out of my mouth: I just let my autopilot rip and hoped if I started to get too far away from the facts Hans would correct me. Or, even better, wouldn’t correct me because he was paying attention to the road and not driving like a fucking maniac!
But that meant that when Emma suddenly said “No!” I had to yank myself out of two simultaneous reveries and backtrack the conversation to figure out what she was protesting about.
I was given a big context clue when Emma gasped: “A traitor? Katherine can’t be! The Directors will kill her!”
I scowled to myself, but my autopilot was in control and I couldn’t curb my tongue. “I couldn’t care less,” I declared. “After the way she treated you, Katherine deserves the worst the Directors can…” I trailed off. “Shit,” I muttered as an errant thought interrupted my angry tirade.
Emma didn’t notice. “Maybe the fae she brought with her wasn’t one of Archarel’s,” Emma babbled over me. “Katie could have taken on a familiar after Salvatore abandoned us. I should have known if she had, but maybe I just didn’t notice because I was so messed up…”
I probably should have been paying more attention to what Emma was saying, but I missed all of it. The thought I’d had refused to be dislodged. “Dammit!” I yelled.
“What?” Emma asked a little desperately. She sounded a little angry, too. And hurt, and frustrated. I reminded myself that deep down, even after their fight, she had to think of Katherine as a friend. Just like how Megan had finally snapped at Katherine over her casual verbal abuse of me, Emma couldn’t like the way I had been so flippant about the danger to Katherine. Plus…
I sighed. “The way Katherine treated you,” I said. “She had to know we’d realize she was a traitor. She had to know the Directors would come after her when they found out, too.” I bit my lip hard and my fingers sank deeper into the edge of my seat. “You didn’t know anything yet, though, so when she threw you out she was protecting you. As best she could, anyway. I mean, she was probably angry, too, because she just hates me, but… do you really think the Directors wouldn’t have thought you were in on her treachery, if you’d still been living with her after she was caught?” Hans had pointed that out, too, when he’d found out that Katherine had thrown Emma out. I glanced over at Emma, despite the sun’s glare. In hindsight, it was so freaking obvious.
Emma’s lips parted. She didn’t look angry anymore, but she looked a lot more hurt. “But… she could have just told me to go,” she said.
I snorted. “And you would’ve insisted on staying, right? Or trying to help her out on your own somehow?” Dammit! I’d been really looking forward to writing Katherine off as an irredeemable villainess I could freely despise and/or maybe kill if I went off the deep end and needed to sacrifice someone to sate my unholy desires. “And how likely is it that trying to help her wouldn’t have come back to bite you in the ass?” Or jugular, I thought. Who knew how the Directors would execute someone they considered a traitor? Exsanguination made good sense, though: they could interrogate an enthralled person with ease, and if their victim happened to be, say, an undercover changeling it would permanently remove them as a threat.
Emma looked more than a little sick. “We have to…”
“No.” I shocked myself by interrupting. “She cut ties with you to keep you safe. Maybe. I could be wrong, you know. I almost hope I am! But if I’m not, we’re not going to waste that by seeking her out to do anything. Besides, if she knows that the directors are going to be after her, what do you think are the odds that we’ll be able to find her or get in touch with her? She probably isn’t at her house anymore. And if you try to figure out where she went to hide out, something bad is going to happen: you won’t find her, but the Directors will get suspicious, decide you’re a risk and come after you — or you will find her, and the Directors will be able to use you to find her, too. Or something.”
I shook my head again. “I’m just guessing. If I’m right about it, then Katherine has a plan and if we jump in after she got you out, we’ll mess it up.” Which might be a good thing, since I figured there was a good seventy-eight percent chance any plan of Katherine’s would involve vengeful murder of me. But I wasn’t going to put Emma at risk just for my sake. “And if I’m wrong, then she’ll use you and throw you away again. In either case: I think you should let it go for now, Emma.”
Emma didn’t look happy. She didn’t look like she agreed. But she didn’t protest. She did shift away from me in her seat a little, though, and turned to look out the window instead of at me. I watched her and wished I’d kept my mouth shut. Hell, any idea that came out of my mouth was probably made up bullshit courtesy of my autopilot’s blathering, anyway, so it was probably just cruel of me to give Emma this particular piece of crap to think about.
I didn’t know what to do, or what to say, or… Now I kind of felt sick, and kind of wanted to cry, and it didn’t have to do with this morning or Hans’ driving. I reached out and took Emma’s hand and squeezed it gently. The sun hurt my exposed fingers and knuckles. I couldn’t bring myself to care, though. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I didn’t want Emma to be mad at me.
Emma didn’t look back at me. But after a moment she did curl her fingers around mine. And a moment later she reached over and covered my exposed skin with her other hand.
No one said anything else for the rest of the drive.