When we left, Daniel was kind enough to insist that I sit up front so I wouldn’t have to share space with Director Lewellan’s corpse. Terry asked to join me, though she seemed conflicted between being crammed in the back with everyone else and Lewellan’s mangled remains, or being up front with me. Adam drove, so she ended up getting crammed between us anyway. I was just as glad for the buffer between myself and Adam: it was hard to look at him and not see him pulling his gun on Fumiko, even if he was on our side now.
Terry didn’t seem to have anything more to say to me — and I didn’t trust whatever I might say to her. So I spent the brief trip staring out the passenger side window. I wondered if anyone in those houses had heard the ruckus in the streets and called the cops. Mostly, though, I listened to Daniel bringing everyone in the back of the van up to speed on the situation at the house. In the privacy of my own thoughts I was stunned: not only was Daniel not mad at me, but he had gone above and beyond to protect Emma because she was important to me. Even more incredible, somehow he’d roped Thomas, Benjamin, and another vampire into helping — although that last hadn’t made it in time any more than Ben had.
I double checked my leyline to Thomas when Daniel got to the part where Lewellan had torn through them. Apparently that was why I’d been able to give so much of Lewellan’s essence to him: Thomas had been dormant. He was moving around now, though. Which makes one more vampire to take with us when we go to rescue Megan. Assuming, of course, that I could convince him to back me up.
I knew I could get John to come with me: he’d been all but depressed when he’d explained to me why vampires couldn’t push an offensive through on the faeries’ home soil. I was pretty sure Ben would, too. I wasn’t entirely certain what was going on with the connection between us: we hadn’t known each other long enough to be more than acquaintances, but we knew each other… or at least, he knew me… far too intimately for ‘acquaintance’ to sum up our relationship. The fact that he’d followed me and seemed pretty determined to help me… well, I wasn’t sure what to read into that. Except that I thought he would keep helping me.
Where Ben went, his donors would follow. And Justin. Derrick would follow my lead, too. I actually felt kind of guilty about that: it seemed wrong to take someone who was enthralled into danger. I couldn’t deny I would need as much help as I could muster, but if I got the chance I was going to at least leave Justin and Derrick behind as the rear guard. It might be worth it to clue Mr. Fiore in on our plan, too. With Lewellan out of the mix I wasn’t so worried about being hunted down — and it would be nice if Mr. Fiore sent a squadron of solocks to help cover the second gate. As long as they weren’t holding a grudge over our appropriation of Justin and Derrick, anyway.
I didn’t get to strategize more because at that point we reached Mr. Salvatore’s house. The shattered wall between the upper and lower floors was a jarring gash in the structure’s integrity. It was made all the more so by the distinct lack of emergency responders: I couldn’t even hear any sirens coming, and I could actually focus my enhanced hearing on listening for them now that my aura was full. Clearly, Mr. Salvatore’s home address was on some sort of ‘do not respond’ list. Probably managed by supernatural elements within the police and fire departments, to help cover up just this kind of supernatural warzone. Supernatural agents hidden within the police would probably cover up Mr. Lewellan’s murder, too, just as a matter of course.
If anything, that made me less comfortable with what I’d done. Like: not only had I murdered someone — it was self-defense! Not murder. You self-defensed him. — but now I was probably going to get away with it due to secret societies and corruption within the mortal system.
I got out of the van and tired to leave those thoughts behind in it. Terry followed me. We waited for Daniel and the others to get out before going in, though. I could hear Emma’s heartbeat and those of two others inside the house, in the upstairs. They were all still in the guest room, as far as I could tell. According to his leyline, Thomas was up there, too.
I led the way into the house, and then as far as the ruined staircase. I could see Thomas’ tension growing as we approached, so I stopped there. I could have smacked myself in the forehead. He doesn’t know it’s us and not Lewellan. “Thomas?” I called up the stairway, just to make sure we wouldn’t be jumping into a kill zone. “It’s us. Lewellan is dormant.” The sense of relief I got from Thomas was immediate and profound. Given how Daniel had described Lewellan tearing the two of them apart, I couldn’t really blame him. I wouldn’t want to go another round with the Director, either, and I had won the first one.
Daniel didn’t waste time figuring out how to navigate the ruined stairs: he climbed those steps that remained and then jumped across the gap to the top. I blinked a couple of times as I belatedly realized I could do the same. Despite an upshot in anxiety, I didn’t hesitate in following suit.
The closer I got to Emma, the more my emotions seemed to twist. On the one hand, I needed to see her, and to see her alive and well. On the other, I knew I was to blame for her condition — even if everyone else was speculating about Lewellan having bit her, I was the one who’d pushed the vampire curse into her soul. I was wracked with guilt over that, and terrified of how she was going to react when she saw me.
At the top of the stairs I saw Thomas for the first time. It was something of a surprise: he’d told me he was the youngest of the vampires in town, but he looked old. Well, old-ish. Like he was maybe my Dad’s age. He was also missing a sleeve one one side of his jacket. He had two arms, though.
I walked up to him briskly and thrust out my hand to supersede any introductions he might start. “You must be Thomas,” I said. “And I bet you can guess who I am.” There was no way I was going to give him my name, or take his, while I still had faerie-pulled essence in my aura. Not after that had made such a big chunk of the geas Melvin had slipped on me. I gave Thomas a smile that I hope conveyed that I was not thinking about enslaving him, accidentally or otherwise.
He took it and shook. “Abigail?” He guessed. I nodded. “What happened?” he asked. “One moment I was dormant, and the next…” Thomas trailed off in confusion. I sympathized.
It looks like my secret isn’t going to be a secret much longer.
“Huh. That is a mystery,” I said without thinking. Then I clamped my mouth shut and scurried past him, leaving a befuddled Thomas to watch me and wonder what exactly I knew that he didn’t.
At the guest room, Daniel was already disassembling some trap he’d rigged up with wires and things running under a scrap of carpet. I bounced nervously from foot to foot while he worked. Then, when he announced “All clear,” I dashed into the room. Emma was sitting on the bed. Two other girls, with guns beside them, were also in the room. One was a blond sitting on the love seat, while the other was a brunette, sitting against the wall where she could watch the door. Daniel scooted out of my way and continued putting up whatever explosive device he’d disarmed.
“Emma!” I shouted. Between my need to see her and my fear that she would blame me, the need to see her won. I threw myself at her even as she stood and wrapped her in a tight hug. Her arms closed around me, too.
“Abby,” Emma breathed. “Oh, you’re okay. I was so worried after Lewellan took my phone. I was nothing but worried. And then I fell asleep and then I woke up and Anna told me Lewellan was trying to kill me, and he’d been murdering people and you were on the run and…” She had to pause to take a breath.
I kissed her fiercely before she could say anything more. Then, shocked at myself and riding a surge of guilt I let go of her and forced myself to step away. Emma blinked at me in confusion as I withdrew. “I’m sorry,” I babbled. I didn’t need to breathe in order to talk, and things started pouring out. “It’s my fault. The vampire curse, and you might become a ghoul or you might die and you should be really, really mad at me but I think there’s something we can do to save you but it’s impossible but that’s all I can manage to do right these days so I think we can do it and we’ve got to try so what I’m trying to say is that I need your help to save Megan so she can save you.”
“Woah,” Emma said. She held up a hand to slow me down. “Wait. What? Abby, I’m fine. All recovered and everything. I feel fantastic. Don’t worry about me… what’s going on with Megan? Save her from what?”
I swallowed and shook my head. “No you aren’t,” I told Emma. I forced myself to talk slower; in more understandable chunks. “I pushed Director Lewellan’s aura to you when I drained him. I’m sorry. It was just too much for me to hold on my own: I had to share it out to everyone I had enough of a connection with. That’s why you’re on your feet. Everyone else should really be okay, but you aren’t recovered. Your soul is just as damaged as it was from my feeding on you before, but all of your aura right now is tainted with the vampire curse. When it finishes eating through the essence that came with it, there’s going to be too much of the curse left over for your soul to overcome. That’s why we have to save Megan. She’s a changeling, so she can push essence, too. And hers won’t be tied up with the vampire curse, so she can give you ‘clean’ essence until the curse is washed out of your aura. But she was kidnapped by Katherine. And that’s why we need your help: there’s a gate to the faerie lands in Katherine’s place, but we need someone who can invite us in. We need to be as strong as possible before we enter that gate, because the sun is going to be up on the other side. You can do that for us.”
When I was done I was clenching Emma’s hands in my own. I could tell that she was afraid — it was in her leyline, and in the widening of her eyes and the speeding up of her heart. She tried not to show it, but I knew. Even without superhuman senses, I was too familiar with how ‘hiding your own fear’ looked to be fooled.
“Okay,” Emma stammered. She disregarded the gaps in what I’d told her in order to focus on the highlights — something I was thankful for if only because it meant we would be enroute to catch up with Fumiko sooner. “Okay, I can do that. And when you go through to rescue Megan, I’m coming with you.”
“No,” I started to protest — it would be far too dangerous — but Emma tugged her hands out of mine and I fell silent.
“I am,” Emma said emphatically. “This isn’t just about saving me,” she said. “You said we have to save Megan. She’s important to me, too, you know!”
I recoiled slightly. There was the anger I had expected, even though it wasn’t directed at me for the reason I’d expected. Emma paled in response. She reached for me and caught my shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” Emma said. “I didn’t mean to snap.” In her leyline I saw her burst of anger overshadowed and driven under by the fear of driving me away — no, of me leaving. Of being abandoned again; being alone and being at fault for it. “It’s just… Megan is important to me. I was in a really bad place, and she swore she would always be there for me. That’s… that’s why I broke up with her, you know? She was giving up too much for someone who was as broken as I was. She wouldn’t be able to pursue the person she really wanted while I was holding her down like that, while she was too busy taking care of me to take care of herself. But… she meant a lot to me. Means a lot to me. And even if I couldn’t accept that much of a sacrifice from her, it meant a lot that she offered to make it. So if she needs people to be there for her, now, I’ve got to be one of the people who are. I have to. Do you understand?”
By the end Emma sounded like she was pleading. I nodded emphatically and did my best to keep my emotions off of my face. They were a huge jumble, anyway: I’d thought Emma might have regretted breaking up with Megan before, when I’d first found out they’d dated. I’d disregarded that worry because Emma’s aura had been so thin she couldn’t feel more than one thing at a time, so I’d had no idea how meaningful that regret even was. Now her aura was intact, albeit tainted, and that regret was still present and still strong enough to motivate Emma into danger. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel about that. But I could understand needing to be there for someone who had taken care of her. Megan had always been there for me, too, and god knew I needed to be there to save her now.
“Yeah,” I finally forced myself to say. I reached out and pulled Emma to me. I hugged her fiercely, possessively — though I don’t know if Emma realized that part of it. She hugged me back, anyway. “Yeah, I get it,” I said. “You’re coming with. Let’s go save her.”