While I followed Melvin my mind whirled in about a half dozen different directions. Not being in a mad panic was nice, but rather than making it easier for me to keep focused, the lack of anything terrifying to keep my attention made it want to splinter and run down side trails at any provocation. I didn’t pay much attention to the scenery, and tried to get my thoughts sorted instead.
So much had happened, so fast, that I hadn’t really had the chance to absorb all of it. It was more like I’d just been bludgeoned with it, over and over, in the worst possible ways at the worst possible moments.
How long had it even been?
Monday. Monday I’d gone into work knowing it was going to be a scary day. Monday, my old boss, one Mr. Salvatore, had come back from a year-long sabbatical to inform us of his failing health and introduce his successor. Monday, I’d gone on a date with Hans, my future boss, and found out he was a werewolf — and that the man he was replacing was a vampire.
Tuesday had been New Year’s Eve. Tuesday, I’d had to keep my best friend Megan from being murdered and turned into a vampire by our obsessive vampire boss. Tuesday I’d found out that Megan had been hiding a crush on me for years. And I’d wound up making out with another woman. Tuesday, I’d been killed by Mr. Salvatore — and then I’d come back and returned the favor, sort of. Hans, my beautiful viking/werewolf/boyfriend/boss-to-be had filled Mr. Salvatore with lead via a shotgun injection system, and the gore splattering in the morning sun had burned my apartment down in the process.
I guess Mr. Salvatore’s death was technically Wednesday morning, then. Wednesday I’d moved in with Hans. I’d also started dating Emma, the woman I’d made out with the night before. And I’d done my best to avoid Megan, because while she’d been unconscious and I’d been starving for blood I’d taken hers: licking a scratch on her cheek and, unbeknownst to me, binding us together forever.
And saying we were bound together forever wasn’t an exercise in hyperbole: on Thursday I’d discovered that Megan was a changeling. A faerie who had been switched with a mortal infant at birth and raised as a human — not even knowing it herself! — so that she would be immune to being banished back to the faerie world by the disbelief of those mortals who didn’t know that the supernatural was real. And since she was my first blood, my curse had taken a part of her soul to serve as its anchor, and had adapted to require the blood of other beings with life force just as potent as her own. I hadn’t realized what that meant until I’d almost killed Emma, and also discovered that feeding on Hans had been weakening his control over the wolf within him to the point that they were starting to bleed into each other psychically. But I’d managed to push life force back into Emma to replace what I’d taken — something that only faeries were supposed to be able to do — and then I’d used other faerie powers, thanks to that portion of Megan’s soul, to hunt down another faerie I could feed on.
Even then I hadn’t really realized what sharing a fraction of Megan’s soul meant. It was possible that I still didn’t. Friday morning I’d finally met with one of the Directors, the elite elder vampires who ran the war waged by mortals against those faeries that would reduce the world to barbarism so they could feed on rampant fear and superstition. And Director Lewellan had told me that by saving Emma I’d cursed her with my vampire-tainted life force, and that she would become a ghoul — or die. Then he’d tried to compel me. He’d tried to get me to give him Megan, and when that failed he’d framed me for murder and told the world that I was out of control: a rogue vampire who killed to feed.
Unfortunately for both of us, even if he had been able to compel me, I wouldn’t have been able to give him Megan: while I’d been hunting, she had been abducted by the traitorous witch Katherine and delivered to a faerie warlord: Archarel, the faerie king who ruled the lands opposite the city we lived in. So then, on Friday evening, I’d woken up to discover that the entire supernatural world was hunting me. That the only way to save Emma was to rescue Megan, so that someone could ‘push’ untainted life force into her aura. And that it was up to me, and Fumiko, and my dad to get it done.
And we had. Before the night had ended, I’d killed Lewellan. I’d destroyed Archarel and given his kingdom to Megan. Megan had saved Emma, and I finally — finally! — had a moment to breathe in peace. I’d even damaged my soul badly enough fighting Lord Archarel that it couldn’t maintain enough of an aura for my anxieties to hound me the way they usually would, which meant that not only did I have time to breathe, but I had the emotional balance to make use of it.
And, well, a bit of insatiable thirst to counterbalance that. I bit my lip gently and let myself be distracted by the faerie I was following. Melvin had a tendency to dress in old-time suits. The only details there that never changed were his cane — which concealed a very lethal sword — and a battered, rust-red top hat. Odd taste in clothing aside, Melvin was also obnoxiously attractive. In an annoying, sadistic, mischievous ‘I just want to play with you until you break’ sort of a way. Worse, he had a crush on me, and for Melvin ‘courting’ and ‘trying to enslave’ had turned out to be roughly the same thing.
On the other hand: his blood was delicious.
I was interrupted in my open appreciation of Melvin’s coattails by the faerie suddenly turning around and catching me at it. He raised one eyebrow in some combination of knowing smugness and interested appraisal. “So,” he said as though he already knew the answer, “will there be anything else?”
I let my gaze wander up his chest and fixate on his neck. “That depends,” I said, “on what else you’re offering.”
Melvin started to say something appropriately smarmy, but cut off when he realized my gaze wasn’t meeting his. He swallowed, which made his throat flex enticingly, and took a step away from me. I kept my fangs safely hidden behind my lips and took a step in pursuit.
Melvin held up his hands defensively, even though it wasn’t like I was lunging at him or anything. Yet. “Abby,” he said as though trying to get my attention — or at least draw it away from his throat. “Abigail!”
I took a deep breath and jerked my eyes up to his face. I was sufficiently myself to feel sympathy for the note of panic in his voice — but also thirsty enough to be annoyed he wasn’t being more sympathetic to the note of hunger that had injected itself into my demeanor.
“What?” I asked. I gave him a small pout — I’ve seen Megan get all sorts of things out of guys with a pout, so I figured it should be worth a few sips of blood. I stepped closer. “I’m thirsty,” I said in my best ‘I’m a poor suffering innocent’ voice.
Melvin caught me by the shoulders and held me back. His cane had disappeared — it did that, I’d noticed, when he wasn’t actively using it as a prop. “And I am not a beverage,” Melvin said sharply.
I snorted and smiled at him, showing a bit of fang. “And I’m not a fuck toy,” I countered, “but you keep trying to imply that I belong in your bedroom.” And in chains. Simultaneously. I shook my head at him sadly. “Honestly, Melvin, if you want this relationship to work you’re going to have to learn to compromise on these things.”
Melvin pushed me away, hard. I stumbled, but caught myself on the bed that Katherine had been enspelled on prior to Archarel’s death. My lips twisted in a scowl, but at the moment I was facing away from Melvin and he did not see.
“What relationship?” He demanded. “And you’re the one who came up with an excuse to have me escort you to a bedroom while Megan and Emma reconnected, Abigail!”
I twisted around and let him see my scowl. “Yeah,” I snapped, “because that’s where the portal to Earth is.” My damaged aura limited the complexity of my emotions, but once one started gaining momentum it became intense due to the lack of competition, and annoyance with Melvin was rapidly consuming everything I was capable of experiencing. “God, did you think I… Not everything in my life is about you being a sexy elf, Melvin.” I still had shit to do: I needed to find a new home, find Hans, have a quick snack on someone, get a hold of my dad and let him know I was okay… “And you’re the one who’s in love with me, anyway!”
Melvin straightened. “For the last time,” he said — sounding almost as angry as I felt — “I am not in love with you!”
Melvin was lying, of course: I’d felt the way his emotions had resonated toward me when I’d taken them in with his blood before. But right now, knowing that didn’t help. I was too angry. Irrationally so, but the part of me that recognized it as irrational was wrapped up in the apathetic emptiness of my damaged aura. And besides: I’d already recently — very recently — had it thrown in my face by Megan and Emma that love didn’t have to be of the storybook “one and only” variety. And while Emma was openly polyamorous — and Megan was presumably aware of and okay with that, since they’d dated pretty seriously — my anger surged at the thought that Melvin might not be, and that what I knew he felt for me might be eclipsed in his aura by what he felt for someone else.
“So who is it?” I demanded bitterly. “Orlina?” Melvin and Megan’s human counterpart had known each other for god only knew how long before I’d even known Melvin existed, let alone suspected him of stalking me specifically. He’d been damn casual about walking around with her on his arm after I killed Archarel, too.
Melvin took a step back. His brow scrunched in confusion. “What?” He asked incredulously.
Good question, my apathetic half thought. I had no idea where that had come from or why it sounded like an accusation: but then again, I never knew where anything that came out of my mouth originated from when I was on autopilot. If it were up to me, I’d just keep my mouth shut all the time! But it wasn’t up to me, and there was no real denying that I was firmly on automatic now. Or that my autopilot had decided to take my anger and go with it.
I stood up. “You know what?” I asked rhetorically. “Fuck you. I mean, I get it. You’re a faery. You’re all about yanking people’s emotions around and fucking with them.” Figuratively and physically, I thought, assuming all of his intimations about what he’d do to me in a bedroom aren’t just more bullshit. “Well I don’t have time for your emotional sadism, Melvin. I’ve got shit to do. And the only reason I asked you to bring me here was so I could go home and get it done!”
My arms were trembling with tension when I was done yelling — but it was tension that vanished almost instantly. So I can go home. Just like that, I was reminded that I didn’t have a home anymore, and my anger collapsed into depression.
I turned away from Melvin before he could see me start crying and assume it was because of him. Fortunately, my autopilot was just as dedicated as I was to not letting people see what a wreck I was. It sent me stalking to the portal circle with a swiftness that could probably be mistaken for angry withdrawal instead of desperate retreat.
I don’t need to do anything to activate it, I thought. Just step into the circle, and then out. I belong in that world, not this one. I took the steps without looking back.
It was a mistake.
The transference was instantaneous. And just like the first time I had passed between worlds, I was immediately assaulted by the agony of entering a home without invitation. I didn’t scream so much as I gurgled and stumble forward. My poor abused aura was shredded by the weave’s snares — and right on their heels came a lethargy I was powerless to resist.
I heard someone shout in alarm, but I couldn’t register who. Oh, I thought as I tumbled forward and planted my face into the floor. The sun is coming up. I hadn’t felt sunrise’s approach while I’d been in Megan’s kingdom. I guess I should add ‘get a watch’ to the shit to do list? I thought, and then my consciousness was yanked into a different state as my body went dormant.