Blood. Warm, delicious life. I drank greedily, fangs implanted in my victim’s neck. I must have at least nicked his jugular because his blood flowed freely, coming in arterial spurts that brought a rush of renewed strength and a wave of the other man’s emotions.
I got a lot more out of Lewellan’s warlock than I had out of Fumiko. He was more potent even than Emma — though nowhere near Pipsqueak and Melvin. Or Hans, for that matter. Still, I wasn’t surprised when I felt Benjamin’s hand on my shoulder. “That’s enough, Abby,” he said firmly.
I kind of wanted to argue the point — I wasn’t remotely as full of life as I’d been after draining Pipsqueak, after all — but it would have been hard to make an intelligible argument while my mouth was full of warlock neck. I reluctantly slid my fangs free of him by just retracting them until I could pull away without tearing flesh. The warlock wobbled and almost fell over, but I didn’t let go of him. After a moment I felt the vertigo pass from him. Confident he would remain on his feet, I let him go.
The warlock blinked a few times in confusion, then shook his head. “I’m really sorry about this whole mess,” he suddenly told me. “I don’t know why everyone is so afraid you’re going to go on a murder spree, Miss.” He shook his head again and then offered me his hand. “My name is Luke, by the way,” he said. “And I’ll do whatever I can to help make up for my part in this cluster, Miss.”
I stared back at him. I felt like I was taking things in way too slowly for what he said to have made sense. I blamed having all of his emotional baggage to digest still. He’s enthralled, I realized belatedly. I also knew why he couldn’t understand about people being afraid of me: I’d eaten that part of him. I shivered. Looking at it, I was a little afraid of me.
I mean: even if I hadn’t done all the things Director Lewellan was accusing me of, I still knew exactly how many times I’d let myself get hungry enough for the curse to start influencing my decisions. I swallowed back a bubble of Luke’s fear. It’s just dumb luck that I haven’t killed anyone yet. If that was even true: all I knew about Daniel was that he was in a coma. Which, according to Lewellan, meant he had a one in five chance of waking up.
Or, to put it another way, a four to one shot at being the first person I killed with my incompetence.
I shook my head. “There are reasons,” I assured Luke. “Trust me on that one. You’ll probably get it in a few hours.” Or weeks, or days, or months — or maybe a year. Probably not, though. “Um,” I said, “So how often does Lewellan feed on you?” I asked. “I need to get a rough idea of how long you’ll be on my side before you decide that you can help make up for things by shooting me in the back of the head. Not that being shot in the head works. I mean, Justin totally did that and I still managed to take out him and Derrick. So, yeah. The moral of my babbling is: Don’t shoot me in the head, okay?”
I clamped my lips shut and tried to smooth out the emotions I’d gotten from Luke before I started rambling worse. Behind me, I heard Benjamin chuckle — which just made my face flush with embarrassment and reminded me that there was a tall spiky-haired vampire standing behind me with his hand on my shoulder, easily in position to just yank me back against himself and plunge his fangs into my neck.
Which made my face flush harder, but not with embarrassment — which was actually embarrassing in and of itself. God dammit, I wish I were mortal again just so I could go back to being afraid of a vampire biting me because it would hurt! I did not need to be thinking about how amazing it felt to have part of my soul subsumed into someone whose soul mirrored that part perfectly. Or about the fact that we both had pretty fresh blood right now — or to be wondering what it would be like if I bit him instead. Or we bit each other. Or….
Desperate to derail my thoughts — which had detoured into an image of Benjamin pulling me back against himself, sinking his fangs into my neck and feeding while simultaneously treating me to his own rendition of Hans’ performance in the shower yesterday — I stepped forward and turned to face Ben. He let his hand slide off my shoulder and fall to his side. I swallowed again, hard, and tried to smooth out my emotions the way Fumiko did. It didn’t work so well for me: I just didn’t have the mental self-discipline, I guessed.
Hans is your boyfriend, I reminded myself when just trying to clamp down on my thoughts didn’t work. You have a Hans, not a reverse harem! That didn’t help either, because it just reminded me that I’d promised to do something exhibitionist-y with Emma, because I did have a harem. Sort of. I still couldn’t figure out how exactly that had happened. It was less believable than the whole vampires and faeries and werewolves thing that was going on. If it weren’t for the intermittent and intense bouts of pain that had accompanied my far too frequent brushes with re-death over the past few days, I would have thought I was dreaming.
What did help distract me was Justin and Derrick catching my eye. Justin was advancing on John. Justin had his rifle at the ready and John was starting to push himself up to stand. Derrick, on the other hand, had just managed to pry open the driver’s side door of the trashed SUV — which opened the ward around the cab and let me hear the pained groan of someone inside.
I froze time, but stepped forward to make sure that Benjamin was close enough to be caught up in the effect. He looked startled, but I nodded toward Mr. Fiore’s two solocks. “Survivors,” I said. I grabbed Ben’s wrist so we wouldn’t accidentally separate into different time streams and started walking. “I’ll check on John if you can see to Lewellan’s people? I think there should be someone in the back of that van, too.” There’d been a warlock back there when John had been getting shot. It made me think to wonder if we’d overlooked anyone in the back of Adrian’s SUV, too.
Benjamin nodded, so I let go of him. He took a couple of steps away from me and then abruptly dropped in speed so that he was moving in slow motion. I unpaused time and he dashed down the street in a blur.
I turned to Luke. “Is there anyone else in this van?” I asked. “Or anyone you know of who’s on their way here and will show up soon?”
Luke shook his head. “Adrian and I left Carmen back to liaise with the police. She’d donated to the Director last week, so we didn’t want her near you since you are known to associate with faeries.”
I nodded. “Okay.” Then I froze time again and hurried over to Justin and John.
When I unpaused time again, Justin didn’t so much as twitch. I had a sneaking suspicion that if I got a peek in his head it would look a lot like Fumiko’s. “Wait,” I told Justin. John had managed to sit up, and although he looked like a mess he didn’t look crazy. In fact, his smaller abrasions were rapidly fading away.
“John?” I asked uncertainly.
John managed to grimace. “I swallowed a bit of your shoulder,” he said, answering my question as to whether or not vampires counted as corpses. Or at least as people who had died. “Sorry about that,” John continued. “It’s not going to be enough, unfortunately — not with this many broken ribs.” He looked pained: even if his vest had stopped all the bullets from punching through him, some of them had still punched through the back panel of his light body armor. An assault rifle at close range would do that, apparently. He was handling it better than I probably would have.
“You’ll have to put me down pretty hard,” John said matter-of-factly. “Otherwise I’ll just go feral once my curse runs out of what essence of death I took from you. A snapped neck will work. Or a headshot. But if you go that way, please use a small caliber round. Waking up after with missing chunks always means eating a lot more than I’d need just to mend some broken vertebrae — and that’s a bit of an unpleasantness. I mean: at the time I’ll be feral and won’t care, but once my ego reasserts itself I’ll still have to deal with remembering.”
“I…” I didn’t want to kill John. My stomach heaved a little at the thought of John having to eat someone’s corpse tomorrow, but the real source of my reluctance was a lot closer to hand. Luke’s fear that I was inclined toward killing people was still too fresh in my emotions — I was afraid that I was going to just start killing people for convenience’s sake. Justin would probably do it for me, or Derrick would — or maybe Benjamin, actually. But that was almost worse: I didn’t want to be the person who ordered an execution any more than I wanted to be the one who performed them. I didn’t want to risk becoming the monster that Lewellan kept telling people I was.
I swallowed and tried again to explain why that wasn’t an option, but thinking about it just dredged Luke’s fears further, making me freak out about it more. I was almost relieved when my autopilot stepped in for me. At least, it was until I realized what exactly I was saying.
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” I said. I turned to shout over my shoulder: “Hey, Ben, if anyone in there needs healing, don’t top off on them. I’m going to need a refill.”
“Abigail?” John asked — his voice was strained. I figured we didn’t have terribly long before he went psycho on us again. I was also sufficiently horrified by what I’d started doing to wrest control back from my autopilot… which left me in the unfortunate position of realizing that it really was up to me, one way or another, whether or not John would be getting killed tonight.
I squeezed my eyes shut. “So, Justin,” I said. The thought of letting John take another chunk out of me was horrifying. So was the alternative. I was going to need help with this, and Justin had the stoicism to do what I thought I’d need him to do. Plus, he had a big, scary looking knife strapped to the outside of his boot. “Please tell me you keep that knife sharp,” I said.
He grunted and I heard the whisper of steel being pulled between leather. Closing my eyes was not helping.
“Abigail!” John protested.
I opened my eyes and gave him a sickly grin. “Hey, relax. I’m being selfish here,” I said. “I mean: I really, really don’t want to be the killer Lewellan keeps telling people I am.”
John didn’t reply — he was too busy struggling to hold himself back from jumping me, it looked like. I turned to Justin. The knife in his hand almost made me freeze time and run away. But really, what were all of those years of self destructive masochism for if not so that I could suck it up and deal with some pain when I needed to in order to help a friend?
Okay. They’d been for keeping me from freaking out about things like scary, emotionless killers carving bits of flesh out of me. My anxiety ramped up higher as I stared at the blade in Justin’s hand. Justin didn’t move. He had to realize what I had in mind, but he was waiting for me to give the order.
And I’d thought I was a sadist.
I swallowed. I wanted to just say: ‘Nevermind. Why don’t you shoot John before he flips out on us?’ But then I’d be one of those flighty, selfish women who can’t make up their minds and insisted on being coddled at the expense of the people around her. And while I was flighty and selfish, and couldn’t deny it, that didn’t mean I had to let everyone else know it, too. “Try to keep it to flesh wounds, please,” I said. “And no more than necessary, at least until Benjamin gets over here with whoever is in that van. You don’t want me going bloodthirsty because I’m overdoing the regeneration. Not without a donor at hand.”
Justin nodded once. I squeezed my eyes shut. “And make it quick,” I added. Like a shot. Not that shots weren’t scary as all get out, but I could actually handle them pretty well. My dad was a doctor, after all, so I’d always had mine administered by someone who I could trust not to swap the contents of the syringe with an experimental mutagenic poison. I held out my arm and tried really, really hard not to think about anything. Especially not how much is this going to hurt? or when?
Justin took my wrist in one hand. I felt like I should be trembling, but I think I managed to keep pretty still. Mostly by stopping my breathing before I could hyperventilate, and my heart before it could pound its way out of my chest — or into my stomach, which was still flipping out like it wanted me to just throw up everything I’d drank from Luke.
And then, with two swift, sudden slices and a blazing surge of agony, Justin separated a chunk of my forearm’s flesh from the bone.