“I… buh… I don’t believe it,” Mr. Spiky choked out. I glared at him. Fumiko’s arms tightened angrily around me and she glared too.
“Well, too bad,” I threw at him. “That doesn’t make it less true.” I felt my scowl twist deeper. What is it going to take to get through to these people? “Director Lewellan didn’t believe me, either. And you know what he did about it? He put a geas on me. A geas to force me to tell him the truth. And then do you know what he did? He asked me what my favorite fucking color was, just so I would know I couldn’t lie if he didn’t want me to. But he didn’t do it so I wouldn’t lie to him. No, it was just so I would be too scared to tell him something he would assume was a lie. Because then he’d rip chunks out of my soul until I told him what he wanted to hear — because he never did ask if I was telling the truth about that faerie, while I was under his geas or not.”
Mr. Spiky’s mouth hung open. He looked appalled. His fangs dipped out just a fraction before retracting.
I glared at him more. “So,” I demanded. “What are you going to do, Mr. Spiky? Do you want to put a geas on me, too? Compel the truth out of me? Curious as to what my favorite fucking food is?” Blood, the emptiness in my soul answered for me. Blood is life. I ignored it. “Well? Is that your solution, too?”
“I… no! I can’t even… I’m not a warlock,” Mr. Spiky stammered defensively. “I couldn’t do that to someone even if I wanted to! The closest I’ve ever come to geasing someone is enthralling a new donor when our life forces mingled.”
I sniffed. I could have accepted Mr. Spiky’s protest — but my autopilot was on a roll, and as long as it was being angry I wasn’t getting lost in the emptiness of thirst. I was going to need to do something about that. Soon. Before I went catatonic from depression or just broke and took a bite out of someone without asking.
“Well, in that case,” my autopilot drawled, pulling me away from contemplation of my thirst, “you can just bite me.” Mr. Spiky stared at me. I stared back. “No, seriously,” I said. “You don’t believe me, but you don’t have any plan to verify what I’m saying — you just can’t accept that I’m an honest person. Is that it? Well, bite me.” I wormed my arm free from Fumiko’s grasp and thrust my wrist toward Mr. Spiky. His face was apoplectically red. “Emma — my girlfriend, Emma — she asked me to bite her after I fed on Hans so I could see her emotions while I was too sated to risk draining her. So I would know how much she wanted to be my donor,” I said. “Well, you’re all full. So go on. Have a sip. Take a look inside my head and then you tell me if I’m making this shit up!”
Mr. Spiky recoiled at the suggestion. “I wouldn’t… do you have any idea what you’re proposing?”
“Yeah,” I snapped. “You get a peek at my soul. What, are you afraid it’ll turn out I’m not evil?”
I watched Mr. Spiky’s expression contort through some sort of internal conflict. If I’d thought he looked apoplectic before, now I knew he was pissed: his fangs slipped back out, clearly despite his best efforts. After a moment more of struggle he finally spat: “Alright, fine! But just for the sake of knowing the truth, Miss Abigail.”
I wasn’t sure if I was surprised by that or not. I was surprised that I felt a certain sort of trepidation — something that should have probably been terror, but it abutted the emptiness of my thirst. Maybe I’m not thinking all that rationally right now, I considered. I shoved my wrist further toward him anyway. After all: how was not thinking that rationally right now any different than how I thought any other time? Mr. Spiky hesitated. He opened his mouth, closed it; tilted his head and opened it again.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I muttered — and then shifted forward, raising my wrist and impaling it on his fangs.
The pain was brief — not unlike the being jabbed with a pair of thick needles. It didn’t hurt as much as when Mr. Salvatore had bit me, because Mr. Spiky didn’t bite — his mouth closed, but not so hard that the rest of his teeth dug into my flesh.
I shivered. With all the experience I’d gotten in monitoring my aura lately, I could actually feel it start shifting, drawn to some new-formed connection with Mr. Spiky, and then pulled through into his.
I gasped. I was far more aware of my aura’s interactions with his than I had been of Mr. Salvatore’s when he’d fed on me. I wondered if this was how it felt for Emma or Hans, when I fed on them? The delineation between my feelings and Mr. Spiky’s were sharper than when I fed on someone — but then, in this case his feelings weren’t becoming mine; mine were becoming his. The sense of him that I got in those moments of personal destruction when my aura was briefly both of ours were intense but brief — except that they were constant as more and more of my aura was subsumed into his.
I yanked my wrist away, slicing it open on Mr. Spiky’s fangs. The wound closed and I wasn’t sure if it was my magic or his that did the healing. I felt a tremble running through my limbs as I was inundated with awareness of the sort of person Mr. Spiky was — his fears, anxieties, heartbreaks, hopes, dreams, loves rushing by too fast to be taken in as my aura was drawn through his — as though it were being poured through a sieve of his emotions and the soul that shaped them on its way to coiling around his own curse.
And then there was the enthrallment. Except it wasn’t. Or maybe it would have been if I had been mortal still, but I wasn’t. It felt… good. Oh my fucking god, it felt good. The tainted part of my aura slid through the other auras that wrapped around Mr. Spiky’s curse, descending on it as though it were being drawn in more forcefully than all the rest. Like being drawn to like, I guess. And as my cursed essence struck and merged with his soul…
…it was like…
…I didn’t know if any description could do it justice, but it was beyond intoxicating. It was as though, in that moment, I had found an exact mirror of my soul — or at least that part of my soul — and even though that part of my aura was being torn apart and subsumed like all the rest it wasn’t being changed when it became his because we were both cursed, both afflicted in the exact same way.
It was sheer bliss, for all of an instant before it passed.
My breath caught. I whimpered and shrank back into Fumiko’s embrace. If I’d had fresh blood in me, I would have blushed. Mr. Spiky swallowed and stared at me. His eyes were still hugely wide themselves, and his fangs had not retracted. He was also still blushing. Yes, blushing. No: he had not been angry, at all. I just hadn’t realized how indecent my proposal had been.
“I had no idea,” I babbled. “None! Holy crap, that wasn’t what I…”
“No,” Mr. Spiky protested just as fervently. “I know you didn’t. I know.” And I knew he knew, because he was still digesting part of my aura: the part that hadn’t just had my curse stripped out of it.
I was breathing heavily. Not because I was feeling so alive as to need to breathe — not with the bare fraction of Pipsqueak’s aura remaining as my reserve — but because Mr. Spiky was. I continued to stare at him, absolutely horrified by what had passed between us.
Oh fuck me, I thought. Am I a vampire slut now? “I…” I couldn’t form a protest. I just cheated on Hans, didn’t I? And Emma? Oh, god, I had no idea…
Mr. Spiky pulled himself together faster than I did. Then again, he’d clearly had an idea of what to expect. “So,” he said. “What now?”
I looked at him, wide-eyed. I had no idea what to say to that, because I knew he was asking so much more with those three words than I could possibly answer.
“What the hell just happened?” Fumiko asked.
I bit my lip and realized my fangs were out — but I was no longer interested in biting Fumiko for her blood. Fortunately, Mr. Spiky answered for me. Fortunately, because I had to put my remaining willpower into not tearing free of Fumiko’s arms and sinking my fangs into Mr. Spiky’s neck.
“Miss Abigail… Abigail… Abby gave me a glimpse of her soul,” Mr. Spiky said. I blushed harder while he stumbled through my emotional responses until he found the name most people called me. “It was… intimate.”
Intimate. Intimate? I took a deep breath and got a hold on myself. For once the emptiness in me helped. I wasn’t freaking out. “We are not doing that again,” I blurted. I didn’t care if he had started calling me Abby, or if he had gotten a peek at my deepest, darkest… at all the things I’d walled off with the curse at the core of my soul.
“Of course not,” Mr. Spiky said.
“I have a boyfriend!” I exclaimed.
“I know,” Mr. Spiky said.
“And a girlfriend!”
“I know,” Mr. Spiky reiterated.
I took a deep breath and held it. Since I didn’t actually need to breathe to talk anymore, I also bit my lips shut until the urge to tell him that the sex with my boyfriend and girlfriend was fantastic and there was nothing I wanted from him went away. Even if the merging of our auras had been like a psychic orgasm.
He probably knew that, anyway.
“Well,” I finally said, “Do you know that I’m not maliciously evil, now?”
Mr. Spiky nodded and I let out my breath. “Good,” I said. “That was the point.” I swallowed. “So, what are you going to do about it, now?” Was he still going to follow Director Lewellan’s orders and keep hunting me? I was pretty sure I knew the answer: I’d gotten a glimpse of Mr. Spiky’s soul at the same time as he’d gotten one of mine — my glimpse had just been from the inside out. I still wanted to hear him say it.
I didn’t get to, though.
The entire time we had been talking, my senses had been dialed up to their maximum, scanning everything happening in the city around me for something worth focusing in on. It was actually sort of disconcerting that I hadn’t heard sirens already — I hadn’t exactly been quiet about flipping that truck over or anything. But I hadn’t been paying attention to that uneasiness, because I’d been too distracted by Mr. Spiky.
Apparently that hadn’t stopped my paranoia from directing my subconscious to keep looking and listening for threats, though. And apparently I’d spent too much time talking to Mr. Spiky.
Although most of the noise of the city was reduced to so much background rumble, I keyed in on one sound so suddenly it actually seemed louder than my conversation: I heard the whisper of a rifle’s bolt action cycling. I recognized it because, well, Dad was a gun nut. I snapped my head to the side, tracking the sound, and caught the flash of muzzle fire from a roof across the street at the end of the hotel’s side parking lot.
I froze time immediately, instinctively. I hadn’t even heard the gunshot yet, but my eyes widened. With my enhanced vision I could see the bullet even though I hadn’t heard it being fired yet — apparently rifle rounds are supersonic when fired. I probably wouldn’t hear it until after it hit.
If I even heard it then. The roof in question belonged to a convenience store, I noted inanely. I could see two men stationed there, illuminated by the frozen muzzle flash of the rifle — but I couldn’t focus on them. The danger ramped up my ability to focus my enhanced senses, and once I spotted it everything keyed in on the bullet.
It was directly in line to take off my head as soon as I let time resume.
And worse? Fumiko was also frozen in time, with her arms wrapped around me — and that meant I was effectively frozen in place, too.