“Right,” I said. “Text only.” Not that a vampire wouldn’t hear a text being received or sent. And wouldn’t that mean leaving a written record of our plans for Lewellan to find? He’d grabbed Emma’s phone pretty damn quick after she’d texted me. Or was I being paranoid? After all, he’d have less reason to intrude on Linda’s privacy. Unless he decided she was one of my allies since she’d shown up when Hans called for her. Well, hell.
“Good,” John said. “Now where should we meet up?”
“Yeah… no,” I said. “Look, I’m sorry, but…” I wasn’t exactly sure how to say it, but it seemed like telling John exactly where we were when there was an ancient vampire running around mind controlling people who were known friends of mine probably wasn’t a good idea. In fact, it felt like a classic goodguy movie mistake. I bit my lip. Then I forced out: “How do we know Lewellan didn’t get to you while you were dormant and put a geas on you, John?”
Dad grimaced, but Fumiko just nodded. On the other end of the line, John was silent.
“You don’t,” John said after a moment. “You’d have to trust me, or your gut. But I can tell you that I didn’t come here on the Center’s dime. Remember: I came because I sensed dad die. I didn’t use Center credit cards or anything like that; I didn’t report to anyone that I was coming here. And while I did send some of the reports Hans asked me to about the fae ramping up, I never said a damn thing about where I’m staying in those. There was no reason to. Plus, trying to magically divine where an undead is when they’re dormant is almost as difficult as trying to scry out a fae that wants to keep hidden.” John snorted. “If it were easy, the Director would’ve just gone out and gotten you while you were dormant.”
I hesitated, glancing at Fumiko and Dad as I did. I’m not sure why: I’m pretty sure we were all in over our heads. “How likely is the Center to have been able to put a tap on your phone?” Dad asked John.
Good question, I thought. Hell, they had managed to cover up everything with Mr. Salvatore pretty easily, and Hans had been talking about them issuing police reports claiming he’d been caught once his body was handed over. The Center definitely had its hooks in the system. I frowned and tried to concentrate.
John sighed. “I wouldn’t think it likely, but it’s definitely possible,” he admitted. “They tend to recruit mortal agents pretty heavily from law enforcement and emergency response to help keep any incidents from going too public — but that doesn’t mean that’s all those agents are good for. Lewellan probably has access to as much of the city’s infrastructure as he thinks to use.”
Fumiko suddenly looked alarmed. “Sir,” she asked my dad, “How did you pay for this room? If Lewellan knows you’re in town and he thinks to have the cops call up your recent credit…”
“He’d be here already,” Dad answered. He shook his head. “Yeah, I don’t think he’s thought of that, but we really shouldn’t stick around. Abby…”
I held up my hand to stop him. “Quiet,” I said. “I’m trying to focus.”
It had been hard — hard at first, anyway. John’s thread was different from the fae who owed me, and different from the people I’d drank from, and I had to subtly shift how I was mentally looking to bring it into focus. But once I pushed all the ones I’d trained myself to focus on last night out of the way, I found it.
“Okay,” I said. “Here’s what we do. John: go somewhere random. Make it somewhere public, where there’s still people around, just to be safe. Leave your phone behind just in case they have some way to GPS it. Don’t use credit cards. Do whatever you can think to stymie divinations, too. Then just wait there and we’ll come to you.”
“Alright,” John said, “There’s a…”
“No, don’t say where in case they’re listening in,” I interrupted. That would completely defeat the point! Yeesh, what was he thinking?
“Uh… then how are you supposed to find me?” John asked.
Oh. Alright, fair enough. It’s not like he knows I can track auras. “Easily,” I answered. “Everyone keeps telling me how damn hard it is to track down a fae that doesn’t want to be found — how you’re supposed to need a whole pack of witches casting divinations and stuff. Well, I tracked a goblin down last night on my own. It wasn’t even hard once I figured out how. So don’t worry about me finding you, just worry about keeping under Lewellan’s radar.”
For a moment, stunned silence was the only reply. Then John tried to say something, but I forestalled him.
“I’ll explain when we meet up,” I said. “Just in case anyone’s listening now who shouldn’t be. Okay?” I was starting to feel antsy. All of this talk of wire taps and spy versus spy bullshit was starting to make me twitch. I would not make a good spy. God, I hoped I didn’t end up having to defuse a nuclear bomb before the night was through. That wouldn’t end well.
“Okay,” John said. “If I don’t see or hear from you within a half hour, I’ll call by payphone.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
“Be careful, sis,” John admonished me. Then he hung up.
“You too,” I said back to the dead line.
Once that was done, I stared at the phone for a minute. Since it was just texting, I was sorely tempted to abandon it to Fumiko or Dad so I could run away, hide in the bathroom, and try to scrub the stink of being dead off of myself. But that would have been horribly unfair of me, so I made myself pick up the phone despite the building urge to give up and hide. You might not be a spy, I told myself, But you are an undead badass. Get it the fuck together, Abigail.
I asked Fumiko to read off Linda’s number while I added it to my phone. Then I opened up the texting window, and then I stared at it blankly for a second. I wasn’t sure what to say or how to say it. I closed my eyes, swallowed, and opened them again. Since there was no sense in trying to delay the inevitable — not that ‘making sense’ had ever played a leading role in my life — I finally just forced myself to type something.
“Linda, this is Abigail,” I sent. “How is Emma?” After a few seconds passed, I added “Please reply. I think I know how to save her, but Director won’t let me try. Need your help.”
A few more seconds passed, and I sighed. “So, what’s the plan if Linda decides she’s too pissed to text at me?”
Dad frowned. “Well, then we try to get John to lead us to the gate,” he said. “He should know where it is, since he came here with Salvatore back when it was first used. Getting to it and getting through it would just be easier if the people currently guarding it were on our side.”
I gave Dad a weak smile. I was relieved that at least one of us was thinking ahead. And even more relieved that it was him, at that. He’d always been the one to remind me to be careful out on my own — but while my contingency planning revolved around things like what to do if unexpectedly cornered by a chupacabracorn, Dad’s paranoia was actually practical. And, for that matter, not so much paranoia as an ongoing exercise in being prepared. I knew he always had a bolt bag and medical supplies in the car. I’d known he had a concealed carry permit, but I hadn’t realized he actually used it before today. But then again, neither Mom nor I had even guessed that he’d set up a college fund for me, but when the time had come there it had been. Dad was good at being ready for whatever happened, no matter how unexpected. I figured that probably helped him — and everyone else — a lot when he was pulling extra shifts in the ER. And it was horribly selfish of me to be glad that he was here, with me, in this mess instead of back home saving lives. But, fuck it: I was selfish, then.
“Um,” I said. “So, before we go do you think I have time to wash really quick?” I wasn’t sure if I was asking Fumiko or Dad or even myself. “I don’t know if you can tell, but I smell like I’ve been dead for a day,” I added. “And if I can smell it, then any vampire Lewellan sends after us can probably pick it out, too.” I swallowed. “Or Hans.” I wasn’t sure how his sense of smell rated against mine — but I knew it was superhuman. I really didn’t like the idea of Lewellan using my boyfriend as a werewolf bloodhound to track me down, but it seemed like exactly the sort of jackass move the director would go for.
“Yeah,” said Fumiko. “You should. And I hit a thrift store while you were, er, sleeping. I mean, not to denigrate my own work, but that cloak isn’t exactly subtle — and neither is that bloodstained blouse.”
I flushed. I’d almost forgotten about that. “Yeah, I should avoid walking around covered in blood if Lewellan may have an APB out on us,” I agreed. Although, saying it made me think about it, and that made me want to throw up. Police were pretty much the penultimate authority figures, and as such they scared the bejesus out of me when they didn’t have a reason to detain me.
“I’ll get my things packed while you freshen up, pumpkin,” Dad said. “And we’ll watch the phone. I doubt a few more minutes will make a difference, but we should still move on soon.”
I nodded and let Fumiko lead me toward the bathroom. She picked up a shopping bag she’d stashed by the wall and handed it to me. “You’re lucky I know your sizes,” she said with a half-grin.
I nodded. I was: if she weren’t so into cosplay that she insisted on making outifts for Megan and I, who knew how well anything Fumiko had picked up at random would fit me. On the other hand, for all I knew that bag contained an ultra mini skirt and faux cat ears. “Thank you,” I told her anyway.
When I went into the bathroom I heard Fumiko turn and start talking to my dad about where they should head to wait for Linda’s call. I only half-listened to them while I pulled out the clothes Fumiko had gotten me.
Jeans. A plain blue tee shirt. Socks, panties, a bra. I laid everything out on the edge of the sink and tried to keep down the urge to cry from gratitude. I stripped out of my old clothes faster than I ever would have imagined I could in an unknown bathroom — I barely took the time to look around for hidden cameras and peepholes. And even that went faster than normal since I had vampire super senses.
After stripping I scrubbed as quickly — and as hard — as I could. By the time I was done I was pretty sure the smell was just in my head. Admittedly, if I had started decomposing while I’d been dormant, then logically that had affected my entire body and not just my skin — but also ‘logically’, insofar as logic applies to magic, my healing should’ve fixed anything that was wrong inside me, so the stink should’ve just been on the outside. I hoped.
While I was dressing I started to feel overwhelmed by everything that had happened so far. I was alone, in relative privacy, and that was what I normally associated with a safe place to break down. But I couldn’t — not with Dad and Fumiko waiting on me. I choked on those urges and shoved them down. Eventually I grabbed onto the thin shell that enclosed my vampiric nature and leaned on it for support.
Melvin’s and Pipsqueak’s auras had further condensed around it while I’d been dormant, but it was still a much thinner buffer than had been in place before Lewellan’s geas had torn the original apart. My desire to fall apart was washed away in a surge of other emotions.
There was Melvin’s competitiveness, and the desire to toy with his enemies before beating them. Lewellan thought I was a pawn in some game the Center was playing? He’d learn differently. I’d see to it. And I would crush him in the doing.
There was Pipsqueak’s sadistic glee as I made my resolution. Lewellan, Adrian, all of Lewellan’s circle would suffer before I was done.
And underneath all of it, driving it, were the emotions that I knew were mine. The ones that I had done my best to ignore when I’d been alive, and that had been bound up, twisted and amplified when they’d been tainted by Mr. Salvatore’s curse. My own sadism. My own anger. A ruthless sociopathy that only needed the chance to be let out before it would become psychopathy.
A part of me thought grabbing onto that repressed urge toward violence couldn’t be any more healthy than scalding myself to cope with my stress. In fact, it was probably worse — especially if I ever acted on it. But I didn’t care. I closed my eyes and took a slow, deep breath.
Talk to Linda. Rescue Megan. Save Emma. That was the plan.
Punishing Lewellan? Ripping chunks out of his soul before I literally ripped chunks out of him? That could wait. But waiting didn’t mean it wouldn’t be done. I’d promised myself I’d find a way to deal with the fae and keep them from hurting anyone else in my place — and I’d found a way to track them and keep them out of the city. Or at least imprisoned, if they didn’t agree to my rules. So now I was going to have to find a way to deal with them on their own turf, because they thought taking my best friend out of the city meant they’d taken her out of my reach? Alright. I’d find a way to do that, too.
And when I was done, and Megan was back in our world and Emma’s soul was pure once more… then it would be Director fucking Lewellan’s turn.
A smile graced my lips. I raised my eyes to the mirror and almost recoiled — I could barely recognize myself, even though the only thing that was different was my expression. I stood my ground, though. Hadn’t I decided last night that I was through being scared?
I drove fingers of my aura into the barrier that Melvin and Pipsqueak’s auras had been compressed into, letting them slowly channel up those tendrils and into my own aura. Was it healthy? Probably not. Anything that weakened that buffer meant I would probably thirst sooner. If it weren’t an emergency, I probably wouldn’t be doing this at all — for that matter, I wasn’t even entirely sure what I was doing. I was acting on instinct, and all I really knew was that it helped.
Just like scalding myself, just like holding my breath, just like grinding a desk drawer shut on my fingers or beating my head against a wall. It gave me something to feel other than helpless, hopeless fear.
And so what if it wasn’t ‘healthy’? I needed to be ruthless. I couldn’t afford to let my usual worthless, frightened self fuck things up — Emma and Megan couldn’t afford for me to be worthless and afraid.
I deliberately cracked apart some of that seal and let that side of me leak across. Not enough to overwhelm my better judgement, like would happen when I was so aura-starved that my vampire nature just took over. But enough to let me ignore how scared I was and everything that made the plan impossible, everything my paranoia and anxiety were telling me would go wrong.
I looked in the mirror and my smile grew. I liked what I saw: it didn’t just grow wider, it grew feral. I’d always been too afraid to look feral. Whenever something had upset me in the past and I’d looked in a mirror, I’d always looked scared — not fierce.
Talk to Linda. Rescue Megan. Save Emma. Destroy Lewellan.
That was the plan.