Mr. Kallaher looked the building over once and snorted. “I’ll go wait in the car,” he said. “I doubt that someone my age wandering into an establishment like that would be terribly inconspicuous.” I tried to remember some of Club Luminescence’s clientele and was forced to agree.
Fumiko chuckled. “Yeah,” she said, “but on the other hand, now Abby should fit in.” She reached over and tousled my hair. “If anyone asks, just say you were going for punk raver.”
I flushed: I’d somehow forgotten the state of my clothes. No, not ‘somehow.’ Now that I was undead I just didn’t feel the cold like I used to. It made it too easy to forget things like the shredded holes in my jeans from being dragged across the pavement. And apparently I’d acclimated to the smell of my own dried blood at some point, too.
Oh god: squick. Just… So much squick.
I swallowed. I wasn’t nervous, but I — okay, no: I was nervous. Club Luminescence had managed to combine so many of my most terrifying life experiences the last time I’d been here that I was halfway surprised I was just nervous and not having some kind of post traumatic stress relapse and breakdown. I mean: crowds, strangers, rampant sexiness, making out, finding out I wasn’t straight, losing Megan, being screamed at by Katherine and finding out that Megan had a crush on me? Yeah. Maybe I should’ve fed from that last warlock of Adrian’s, because being a little too dead was the only reason I could think of for why I wasn’t babbling some excuse about how I’d left my time traveling oven on and I had to get back to my apartment before it could retroactively burn down.
“Sure,” I said, not wanting to think about it. “But what about you?”
Fumiko laughed and retrieved her hand from my hair. “Don’t worry,” she said. “The only thing I ever have to do to get into a club is inhale near the door.”
I looked at Fumiko uncomprehendingly for all of three seconds before I got it and started blushing. “Let’s get this over with,” I muttered. I turned away from Fumiko and stalked toward the club while Mr. Kallaher returned to the car. Behind me I could feel Fumiko’s silent laughter.
There wasn’t a line outside the club tonight, but Bob the bondage barbarian was still on duty at the door. His outfit was slightly more tame this time: he’d combined a pair of tight black jeans and an open black trenchcoat with his leather harnesses from the other night. The result was that only a hand’s breadth of his bare chest was visible tonight, and even that was crisscrossed in leather. Most of his tattoos and scars were covered up, too. Not that I was staring: I couldn’t make myself look up at him as I marched toward the door.
After I got past Bob — he didn’t move to stop me — I let out a sigh of relief. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath, probably because I hadn’t been breathing. How long had I been doing that for? I took a moment to make sure my heart was beating and to take a few more breaths, letting myself sink into the rhythm of it. If the faerie I was after had any sort of supernatural senses, then forgetting that sort of basic thing would give me away in… I couldn’t help but smile. In a heartbeat, heh.
I swept my eyes around the club. As before, it was warm from all the people moving about in it. The dance floor was less populated. The bar was more so. More of the booths had people in them — or closed curtains that I assumed had people behind them. The pounding thrum of electronica and techno beats assaulted my enhanced hearing viciously. I thought it might not have even been as loud as it had been on New Year’s Eve, but it was far more deafening now that my hearing was supernatural. Likewise: the last time I had been here the pulsing, slashing lights over the dance floor had been the only illumination by which I’d been able to make out the raving dancers. Now, however, the flashes of light were blindingly intense, and came with such wild erraticity that I couldn’t look anywhere except to the edges of the room and the bar without being blinded.
Hollywood had gotten it wrong again: there was no way vampires would regularly hunt at dark, niche dance clubs. It was hell on our enhanced senses.
I cast about again and realized I’d somehow left Fumiko behind. I spotted her back at the door — while I’d done my best to walk by Bob without looking him in the eye, Fumiko had apparently stopped to look him up and down appraisingly. He looked like he was used to it; they exchanged a few words but I couldn’t pull them out of the crushing jumble of club noise. Just trying to listen in made me wince. Fumiko laughed at whatever Bob had said and gave him a flirty smile, then sauntered by.
“What was that about?” I asked when she reached me. I felt like I had to shout over the music. Part of me was annoyed that Fumiko had taken a moment to flirt when we were on a mission — but I shoved that part down quickly. There was no reason for me to be snappish with Fumiko. I was probably just jealous because I couldn’t even look Hans up and down like that without blushing, blurting out nonsense, and trying to run. Or being half-dead. Or totally freaking out, later. And he was my boyfriend, dammit! Not some random stranger who was probably into scary, kinky stuff and had a small cage or two or three dozen in his basement just for flirty young women who didn’t know what they were getting in to.
Besides, knowing Fumiko as I now did, that appraising look had probably been her wondering if she could take him, and the flirty smile was just her deciding she could.
Fumiko rolled her eyes. “You slunk in here like you were… I don’t know: not supposed to be here,” she said. “Like you were going to plant a bomb or distribute religious tracts or something. I distracted the doorman when he looked like he might stop and hassle you.”
“Oh,” I said. I should not be a spy, I reminded myself. I hoped to god this faerie didn’t have access to a nuclear device with a thirty minute detonation sequence. I swallowed and my autopilot forced myself to speak louder so Fumiko could hear. “Sorry. Just: I don’t want to pry in your thoughts, but it’s weird knowing that the mental image I always had of you isn’t who you really are, and I was curious if you were looking at him like that because he’s kinda yummy, or if it was because you thought you could take him.”
Oh god, I thought. Well, at least I’m not babbling about nukes and faeries.
Fumiko looked at me for a couple of seconds, as though trying to decide how to respond. Then grinned. It was possibly the most honest response I’d seen from her: she didn’t have to hide her reactions from me anymore, after all. “Can’t it be both?” Fumiko asked with a quick backward glance. I followed her gaze and considered. Yes, I decided. Yes it can.
And now I had a mental image of Fumiko walking up to Bob, sliding a hand around the back of his head, tangling her fingers in his hair — and brutally swinging his face into the door frame, then yanking him over backward, leaning in and frenching him before letting go and stepping over his unconscious body and into the club.
“Yeah,” I squeaked. I’d realized that the expression she’d worn in those brief seconds she’d spent distracting Bob had been uncomfortably similar to how she’d looked at Hans when he’d shifted in front of her for the first time. Minus some of the blushing, when he’d shifted back.
Hans is going to be in for some crazy times after he dumps me, isn’t he? I really hoped that Fumiko had it in her to respect safe words.
Fumiko cleared her throat. “So, where to?”
I yanked myself out of a mental spiral that could only end with Hans in Bob’s leather harness — leaving Bob naked — with both of them on hands and knees in front of Fumiko, who was wearing one of her more dominatrixy cosplays and wielding a flogger of some sort. “Right,” I said. I took a deep breath and looked back at the dance floor, letting the flashing, spinning lights sear any inappropriate images out of my imagination. The faerie. I focused on the leyline, taking a few steps to get out of the path from the door as I did — and to triangulate.
The faerie was by the bar. As soon as I saw her I let my gaze keep moving past her. My heart sped up a little. She’d been looking toward us; if I’d been caught staring it would’ve all been wasted. “I’m going to get a drink,” I told Fumiko loudly — loud enough to be heard easily by her, and probably by anyone else with supernatural hearing who might be trying to listen in.
“Sounds good,” Fumiko said. “I’ll just hang out here and scope the talent.”
Scope the talent? Is that how she and Megan looked at their clubbing nights? “Okay,” I called back, and started to make my way to the bar. Good luck, I silently thought, even though I knew that Fumiko was just providing herself a cover like I had. Club L catered to the LGBT community, and Fumiko was pretty adamantly straight. Then again, I suppose she might’ve gotten lucky with a bi guy? And I was still pretty uncertain of where the T fell in terms of the L, G, or B. Didn’t those three really cover all the options? Then again, Emma had said that the whole alphabet was welcome at the club, so I guess maybe not?
I was going to have to ask Emma about this stuff some more.
If she survived the night and didn’t hate me for possibly turning her into a ghoul, anyway.
I shoved those thoughts aside and focused on an empty stool, two down from where the faerie was. It would get me as close as I could get without giving away that I was coming after her. It also kept her sufficiently in my field of vision that I could pick out details without giving myself away by looking directly at her.
The faerie was behind the bar. Like Pipsqueak had been, she was a shadowy figure. The only reason I could see her was that my focus on her leyline kept her invisibility from masking her from my sight. Weirdly, though, she didn’t look like a goblin or troll or anything else I remembered seeing the night that Archarel’s fae had accidentally indebted themselves to me. Instead, from what I could make out of her current form, she was a short, thin, red-haired punk rock girl. Shape shifters. Go figure.
She was leaning forward, elbows propped on the bar and whispering in the ear of a thin, short guy who was a little too dapper for the Club L scene. Like a businessman who hadn’t stopped at home before deciding to go out for a drink, and then somehow ended up here. The short guy was staring at the club’s front door and fidgeting nervously, a mostly empty glass of something amber clutched in one hand. Taking in the pair of them like that made me nervous.
Was he a warlock? Did she have backup? Were they waiting for someone? I shot a quick glance toward Fumiko, who was bobbing her head to the music and casually watching the room. At least I had my own backup. Sort of. Backup that I desperately wanted to keep out of the line of fire. Sure, Fumiko was more of a badass than I was, but at least I could come back to life if someone killed me.
I slid onto the stool I’d aimed for and pretended to study the shelves of interesting bottles behind the bar. The bartender I’d met last time — Mark — came over to me almost at once. “My usual,” I said on autopilot. Mark, god bless him, didn’t bat an eye before ducking down, fishing a bottle of water out of a cooler of ice under the bar, flipping it once and setting it down in front of me.
Even better, Mark didn’t stop to talk to me or anything. Instead, he moved past me. The faerie surreptitiously switched places with him, but kept her attention on the short guy. “Another?” Mark asked.
The faerie leaned around Mark to address the dapper man. “No,” she whispered softly. “You’ve got this,” she added encouragingly. My eyes widened slightly. She was feeding. As close as I was, I could see the sliver of fear she drew off of him through the widened surface of the leyline between us. “See,” she practically purred. “Nothing to be afraid of.”
The business man hesitated, then threw back the last of his drink. He slapped his glass down on the bar and adjusted his blazer. “No,” he said. “Mark, close my tab.”
Mark’s eyes widened slightly. “You’re actually going for it?”
The shorter man took a deep breath. “Looks like it,” he confirmed. Then he hopped off the bar and started marching toward the exit.
The faerie practically crowed behind the bar. “Yes!” she cried, pumping a fist victoriously.
What the hell? I wondered. I almost gawked at her, and only managed to conceal the fact that I could see her by twisting around in my seat to look at Fumiko again. Nervous, I twisted open my water bottle. I didn’t even squeeze it to see if it had any pinpricks from syringes, first, which just made me a little more anxious when I realized it. Not that I really thought a roofie would affect me now that I was dead, but the sign that I was losing my usual caution was not good. Not right now.
There’s a faerie behind you now, my paranoid side pointed out. This is not an ideal tactical situation, my fight or flight response responded. You’re probably fucked somehow, my anxiety added.
I tried to pull my courage together at least enough to turn back around — but before I could, I felt something. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t already been focused on the leyline between myself and the faerie, but suddenly it pulsed, widening further for no reason I could divine. I hadn’t done anything to effect it.
Which meant the faerie had. Shit shit shit, she was paying attention to me! Focusing on me, on the leyline between us. What had happened? How had I given myself away?
I stared at Fumiko, wide-eyed. How could I signal her? Why hadn’t we decided on a signal before I’d sat down? What the hell did I expect her to do, anyway?! I was rapidly freaking out now, and the worst part was: if the faerie decided to suck all that fear and anxiety out of me, my freakout was going to turn into a feeding fest. If Fumiko did realize something was wrong and came over, she’d be in danger from me.
Oh shit. Oh shit ohshitohshit…
Maybe it was nothing? I tried to calm down. Tried to tell myself that maybe the faerie had just decided to peek at my aura because I was someone new and her last snack had wandered off. It didn’t really work. What the hell?! I mean, why was this faerie,who was manifesting as a relatively cute girl in a public place where she probably couldn’t even pull anything too obvious without being disbelieved out of existence, freaking me out more than Pipsqueak had? He’d been a freaking monster in the dark under a god damn bridge in the middle of nowhere at night while I’d been alone!
Maybe it was just the rest of the night catching up to me at the worst possible time, since that was my anxiety’s modus operandi. It had to be. It was nothing: the panic was all in my head. There was no reason for it. I was just having one of my neurotic freak outs.
And then a shadowy hand touched my elbow too lightly to be felt. I could only see it out of the very corner of my eye. But panic had perfected my super-hearing, and I heard the faerie address me, loudly and perfectly clear despite the music, in the same soft whisper I’d just heard her use on the other man. “Oh dear,” she murmured. “What do we have here?”