Before I could go into my contacts, I noticed that I had a text message. I hadn’t noticed when it arrived because it had arrived while I was still asleep. It was from John, and said that he had gotten to Megan’s without incident, and that Melvin had excused himself from their company with his arrival. On the one hand, I had to admit I was a little relieved: apparently Melvin hadn’t been doing anything nefarious during the entire time that I was unable to get to Megan’s. Or at least, he wasn’t doing anything nefarious with Megan and Fumiko.
On the other hand… yeah. What has he been up to? He was supposed to be protecting Megan. I liked the thought of him reneging on his promise almost as much as I liked the thought of him just going invisible and lurking around after John showed up, and pretending to leave.
Actually, I liked the invisible lurking less. Okay: protecting Megan was good, but… invisible lurking was creepy. In any case, there wasn’t anything I could do about whatever he’d been up to, or was up to. I tried not to think about it too much and called Fumiko.
She answered pretty quickly. “Hi! Abby?” I was a little astonished at how chipper she sounded. Usually Fumiko was the more stolid of the three of us, with the exception being when she was in costume for a convention and could show off her work.
“Hi,” I said. “Is it still okay if I come over?”
“Of course,” Fumiko replied immediately. “We’ve just been hanging out, practicing some things Jack was showing off. Well, Megan’s been practicing. I’ve mostly just been observing and offering creative input.”
I turned Fumiko’s statement over in my head and decided that I had no idea what to make of it. “Okay,” I said as though nothing weird could possibly be going on. “Um, I’m going to need a ride. According to Linda I’ve really messed up Hans’ and Emma’s auras from feeding on them, which makes being around fae dangerous for them. And while I still trust Megan not to do anything to hurt them on purpose, accidents do happen…” I didn’t mention it, but I was still very aware of Megan’s accidental draining of me this morning. I was pretty sure we all were. “…and I don’t really trust Melvin to stay away if he sees an opportunity for payback on Hans.”
“Yeah, okay,” Fumiko said. “Except it probably will just be me. Jack did some fancy warding thing that prevents other fae from just sensing where Megan’s home is — apparently he’s been working on it for about as long as she’s lived here — but they’ll be able to find her if she leaves home for more than a few minutes.”
I bit the inside of my lip. “Do you trust Ja… Melvin’s word that his spell will keep Megan safe?” I was pretty sure I did. Or, at least, I trusted that his intent was to keep Megan safe. Whether or not he could achieve that I was more dubious of. Especially since the last time I’d seen him try to make a stand he’d gotten shot in the face. It just didn’t inspire confidence.
“Oh, heck no,” Fumiko answered. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s even money whether or not this spell is meant to protect Megan, or that its just a protection racket setup to keep her in one place while Jack isn’t around to keep an eye on her. I mean: he’s shown her some pretty neat tricks, including how to call for him psychically or something if she needs help — but none of that really helps her stand up for herself on her own, should the need arise. That’s why I think I should ask John to stay with Megan while I come get you. It’ll give her a line of defense that doesn’t rely on Jack.”
I found myself scowling. Given how Melvin had tricked me into falling under his geas, I was significantly less than thrilled about the idea that he was setting Megan up to depend on him. On the other hand, I was really scared of what could happen now if any of my friends were caught off guard without their disbelief to protect them. Between the assumption that Archarel’s fae were after Megan and the general knowledge that Fumiko was one of Megan’s closest friends, it seemed like it was way too dangerous for Fumiko to come pick me up alone.
Who knew what might happen between Megan’s apartment and Hans’ house? One stop at an enspelled traffic light and Fumiko could end up ambushed by more goblins than Mr. Eyelids had thrown at Mr. Salvatore.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t like the idea of you being out by yourself, either. Maybe I should just stay here tonight.”
“Yeah, no,” Fumiko said. “Look, I get the danger — but I think if we let that dictate how we live our lives then we’ve already lost them.” I should have known Fumiko wouldn’t go for my idea. It wasn’t that she wasn’t appropriately cautious, but given who her dad was she’d never been one to let fear, intimidation, or bullies push her down. She probably considered the fae to be just a different breed of terrorist, which meant she was going to just be that much more stubborn about not letting them ‘win.’
I heard her breathe in, and then out as she considered something. “How about this: it’s still early, and Zane is downstairs. Since he was useless earlier, I’ll just grab him so I have someone riding shotgun who doesn’t believe in magic, okay? And then we’ll come and pick you up, and Megan won’t self-implode because she hasn’t gotten to see you after all.”
I couldn’t come up with a problem with that plan, other than my general dislike for Mrs. Butterson’s nephew. Despite my unease, I had to gave in. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll see you in a little bit, then.”
While I’d been on the phone, Emma had led me into the basement, where she had found Hans and started getting ready for their movie night. After Fumiko and I hung up I joined Emma on the couch.
“And you’re really okay with me heading out tonight?” I asked her. I wasn’t sure if I wanted her to say yes or no — there were distinct positive spins, either way.
“It’ll be fine,” Emma said. “Right Hans?”
Hans looked slightly disgruntled, but he nodded from behind the bar and started emptying a bag of popcorn into a bowl. “I can’t say I like the idea of you being out and about without a donor,” he said, “but from what Linda told us it wouldn’t be a good idea for Emma or I to escort you.” He hesitated. “Do you need to feed before you leave?” he finally asked.
I shook my head vehemently. “No,” I said. “I’m fine.” My fangs had almost completely receded from the time I’d spent with Emma — they were down to tiny little nubs that I wouldn’t even have noticed if I weren’t so familiar with how my teeth were supposed to feel. Maybe that indicated that things were just a little dangerous, but I couldn’t justify feeding on Hans or Emma. I would figure something else out. It made my stomach turn uneasily, but worst case scenario: I would call Melvin out and beg a drink off of him. At least he was already screwed up in the head.
Hans looked dubious, so I held up my hands defensively. “Honest, I’m okay,” I said. “I drank your blood earlier, and I’ve managed to stay out of the sun almost all day. I’ll have to remember to thank Fumiko for that cloak, and see if she has any more wardrobe ideas for me, heh. But the sun is the real kicker — I went all of last night without needing to feed until the next morning because: no sun. So since I managed to stay out of it today, I really am good.”
Hans continued to stare me down, and I continued to meet his gaze. This contest was one I could win: I was a life long liar with more experience spouting off even more crazy things than this than anyone needed. Finally Hans sighed and took me at my word. “Alright,” he said. “But make sure you come home if you are feeling even the slightest bit peckish — and with plenty of time before sunrise.”
I nodded. “I will,” I promised. Then I fidgeted. “Well, I’m going to go wait for Fumiko upstairs. Enjoy your movie.”
“We will,” Emma answered for Hans.
I took a moment to go over and give her a kiss, and then I caught Hans on his way to the couch and kissed him, too. I felt a little guilty about that, since I knew I had lied about not being the slightest bit thirsty, but… What else could I do?
Maybe John would have an idea. He had rather bizarre dietary restrictions himself. I really didn’t want to rely on Melvin, but now that I’d had the idea I was seeing fewer and fewer other options. I sighed to myself and went upstairs.
Sitting in the front room, waiting for Fumiko, was strange. I took comfort in being able to hear Hans and Emma downstairs. It made me feel like I wasn’t really alone up here, which was good because the last time I’d felt like I’d been alone I’d freaked out that the fae were coming to get me. I closed my eyes and put my head down on the table, and imagined I was downstairs instead of up here, waiting on Fumiko. It was nice, but as with all fantasies it was eventually ruined by reality.
I didn’t get up when I heard the car pull into Hans’ driveway, but I did when I heard the knock on the front door. “It’s open,” I called while I looked around for Fumiko’s cloak and Hans’ headphones. The cloak was on the other chair at the table, with the headphones wrapped up in it. While I shook out the cloak and started fastening it — not because I thought I’d need it, but just because I thought Fumiko would appreciate getting to see it in use — Fumiko came inside.
“Hey,” she said. “Ready?”
“Just about,” I answered. I glanced up and saw that Zane had walked her to the door, but he was bouncing back and forth on the porch, clearly impatient.
“Great,” said Zane. He jerked his head in the direction of the driveway. “Shall we?”
I scowled at him. I still thought he looked like a weasel. “I’m sorry,” I said, “did we interrupt something terribly important in your evening?”
Zane gave me a toothy grin. “Yeah. My evening.” He snorted. “Nah, but seriously: I just don’t really like to leave Auntie alone. She only cooks on my visiting evenings anymore, but that doesn’t mean that if I’ve stepped out she won’t get it in her head to make some muffins and forget to turn off the oven again.”
I sighed and picked up my headset. Some worrisome thought tickled the back of my head, but it wasn’t coming into focus so I blamed it on general anxiety. The last thing we needed was for a house fire to burn down Megan’s warded sanctuary! And really, I knew I should try to be nicer to Zane. I could remember the way he’d blushed when Megan had kissed his cheek on New Year’s eve. He clearly had something for her, and I suspected she was going to end up relying on his and Mrs. Butterson’s ignorance of all things magic as an extra layer of protection that didn’t come with a debt to Melvin.
Fumiko, of course, didn’t have time to bother with our back and forth. Once she saw that I was ready, she turned around and went back to her car. I picked up Hans’ headphones and tried to think of something non-antagonistic I could say to Zane. He waited for me on the porch, so I guess that — general sleaziness aside — he was at least going to pretend to be a gentleman and walk me to the car. That was nice, right? I mean, he had to know the lie about what had happened with Megan being stalked by Mr. Salvatore, so it was nice of him to be playing up the ‘big man’ role and protect the poor scared women, right?
It still rubbed me the wrong way. Or maybe it was the way he was leering. I tried to ignore that, too. “How’s your hand?” I asked, since it was the only thing I could come up with that didn’t involve pointing out I had a boyfriend loudly enough for Hans to hear and come upstairs and make Zane stop being a sleaze.
“What?” Zane asked.
“Your hand,” I repeated. “Last time I was over it was burned.” Zane self-consciously crossed his arms behind his back. If I hadn’t had vampire night vision I might’ve missed it, but there was no bandage on his hand tonight. I frowned. There weren’t any marks, either.
That worrisome thought from earlier started to spin up into something major, too big to be ignored. I did my best to pretend like I wasn’t having it, anyway.
“Oh, it’s fine,” Zane said. “You know Auntie. She overreacted when I said ‘ow’ and tried to turn me into a mummy even though I wasn’t really hurt, you know?”
Alright, that made sense. But for some reason I wasn’t buying it.
Actually, for a lot of reasons that were all swirling together in one big not quite formed hypothesis. I walked up to the door and tried to act casual. “Ha,” I laughed. “Yeah, my grandma was like that.”
Zane grinned and continued to leer. I tried to get all my thoughts in order: if they were wrong, then I was going to feel really stupid in just a few seconds.
But no, despite my best efforts everything continued to add up. Two people with a bandaged hand? Okay, coincidence. But one of them hadn’t been wearing it earlier today, and now Zane was missing his, too. It didn’t help that they both gave off the sleaziest vibes out of anyone I knew — or that Zane had ‘gotten lost’ and couldn’t pick up Megan at the same time the other had been in my basement getting shot in the face.
“I really should thank you,” I said from the door — but I didn’t step outside. I’d come up with an easy way to get proof. “I mean, I know this is going to sound rude of me, but I always thought you were kind of sleazy.”
Zane sputtered, but I didn’t give him a chance to make a reply. I remembered what Hans had said about Melvin limiting himself from using magic to escape when someone grabbed him, so I lunged. I grabbed Zane by the front of his shirt, and his eyes shot open in surprise.
“Kind of like this other guy I know,” I grated. “Melvin.” At the name, Zane jumped like he’d been jabbed with a pin. Inside, I started to freak out. Honestly, that was all the proof I really needed. But I was in survival over-ride, and throwing out Melvin’s name hadn’t been my original plan. I yanked Zane forward. He hit the threshold of the house like it was a solid wall.
The threshold that had been re-warded against fae by John’s coroner friend while I’d been at lunch.
My eyes went wide as Zane seemed to waver in front of me like a mirage. I shoved him away from the house instinctively, just to get some distance between us — but he didn’t dissolve into a puddle of acid or anything. Instead, his appearance resolidified. Only now he wasn’t Zane.
“Oh, fuck me,” I whispered. “I hate being right when I’m being crazy.”
Melvin groaned and covered his nose with one hand. It was leaking shadowy tendrils that dissipated into the air until he covered them up. He looked down at himself and then back up at me. “Honestly,” he said through the muffling hand, “I’m a little annoyed myself.”