We sat awkwardly for a while. Me at the head of the bed, Dad at the foot. Having said her piece, Valerie returned to her corner. I started to fidget as the awkwardness built up to intolerable levels.
Dad broke before I did, but it was a very, very near thing.
“Well,” he said just before I could start blurting guilty apologies and ask him to stay, “I should probably head out, then.” His brow furrowed and he stood up. “Valerie, can one of your people give me a ride to pick up my car?”
From the corner, Valerie nodded. “Of course, Will,” she said. “I’ll be staying here for a bit. Patricia should be standing by in the lobby, so just let her know and that I said she should make the car available to you. And if there’s anything else you might need, don’t hesitate to ask. Oh, and I’ll call you once Evan has turned up a spell caster in your area to ward your home.”
Dad smiled, but it was a bit forced. “Thanks,” he said. He turned toward me and I scrambled to my feet in response. “Pumpkin,” Dad said, “I still don’t know what to think. I have to imagine you’re floundering with all this change at least as much as I am. Probably more. But if you need anything you know I’ll be there for you.” The wry grin returned. “Even if it’s space.”
I surged forward and hugged him. I couldn’t help feeling guilty at chasing him off, but I knew how much worse it would be if I didn’t. If I got him hurt, or killed… who would take care of Mom? Who would explain to Mom? And… and I didn’t want my dad hurt, or gone, or changed like I had been and Daniel had been and Emma almost had been. I wanted to shiver as the possibilities washed over me, but I managed to hold that reaction in check. I still felt a little sick from the combination of guilt and fear, but at least Dad wouldn’t notice.
The weird thing about healing super fast after crying? I still felt so worn out emotionally that I could do and say the hard stuff that I could usually only do and say after a complete breakdown — but it probably looked like I was just an ordinary rational person. Even though Dad had seen me curled up on the floor, I sort of hoped that how I held myself now eclipsed that image of me.
“Thank you, Dad,” I said. I felt the ties of a faerie geas twine around our leyline, but all I could think was: fuck it. I am not going to withhold gratitude from those who deserve it. And Dad definitely did.
Now, if only I knew for sure that he would be okay when he was away from me.
After a minute Dad pulled away and the hug ended. I followed him to the door of the hotel room. We exchanged another hug at the door. While we did, I made myself smile.
And under my breath, too quietly for Dad to hear, I asked: “Did you enthrall him, Valerie?”
I knew the answer was probably ‘yes,’ but I was starting to wonder if it had taken. The guys at Club Luminescence had been a lot more reluctant to let me go after I’d enthralled them, and Derrick had been almost adamant about sticking around me after I’d drained him. So it was out of character for someone who was enthralled to just wander away from his vampire with so little protest.
“No,” Valerie replied just as quietly. “I fed from him to heal his injuries, and to heal mine when Lewellan’s people shot us both. But he wasn’t enthralled afterward. In fact, he shot me again after he finished healing.” I shot her a glance, and caught the self-deprecating grin that graced her lips. It turned into a grim line when she saw me watching. “I think he was fed on by a fae in his youth,” she murmured to me. “Enough to build up a resistance to being enthralled by anyone who leeches from his aura.”
My stomach twisted a little more. I couldn’t help thinking about the stitches I’d found embedded in my soul. Had whoever done that to me — or whoever had torn my soul apart in the first place, if they weren’t one and the same — done the same to Dad? I had needed to figure that out already, but suddenly it was becoming a lot more immediate of a concern.
Dad let go of me and stepped into the hall. I caught his elbow and followed him outside of the wards surrounding my room.
“Reid,” I called. “I need you here, now. Just you.”
Almost instantly, Reid appeared. Only it wasn’t Reid — except it was. The tiny winged man who hovered in-between Dad and me looked absolutely nothing like the massive troll I’d come to know, but the leyline between us left absolutely no doubt that it was my own personal captain of the guard. I squeezed my eyes shut and looked again. He was still a fairy.
“New form?” I asked banally. It wasn’t what I’d meant to say, but I was caught off guard enough that it just came out.
He grinned and fluttered up to eye level in front of me. “Actually, an old one,” he said. “Part of my ‘punishment’ from Archarel was to be confined to that monstrosity of a form,” Reid added. “He did that to most of us, both to make us more effective hunters in this realm and because forcing us into a new form would make us weaker: less defined by ourselves, more defined by him and thus more firmly under his control. And, frankly, because it was just damn uncomfortable, I suspect.”
“Oh,” I said. Reid had mentioned he’d had another form. Somehow I had expected it was something bigger and scarier than his troll self. Like a five-headed dragon. I shook my head. “This is my dad, William,” I said. “Dad, this is Reid.”
With introductions out of the way, I took a deep breath. “My dad is on his way home,” I said. “I need to make sure he’s okay and that he stays okay.”
“Abby,” Dad started to protest — but I forestalled him.
“Dad, the Center tried to come after me by threatening my family last night. I won’t put it beneath them to try again,” I said bluntly. I still didn’t know what to think about the Center. Every Director I’d met so far had been fucked up and forced me to kill them. I strongly suspected that either the trend would continue or the ‘good guy’ vampires wouldn’t believe my run of bad luck and would come after me for killing their fellow Directors. At least in the second case I could hope they would leave my family out of it, but if not…
“And if you aren’t enthralled by Valerie, that means that some faerie has probably fed on you in the past,” I added.
Dad winced. “I know,” he said. “She explained that when we talked this morning.”
I was a little surprised to hear that, but nodded like it was just obvious. “So you get that I need you safe, and you need more than just yourself around knowing about magic. Reid’s people have all sworn their loyalty to me. That’s bound in place by faerie geases. We can trust them not to prey on you and Mom, and to keep an eye out for anything bad that might come after either of you: be it mortal, supernatural, or faerie. Plus, they can teleport to me through the leylines, so they’re even more reliable than phones.”
Dad started to shake his head, but I pressed on. “This isn’t up for discussion, Dad!” I exclaimed. “I took over a country last night. That makes me, like, a head of state.” Sure, I’d relinquished my state to Megan, but I’d still been one for a couple minutes. “And that means my family and I get a security detail. My personal one happens to consist of myself and an entire army that can teleport to me in the blink of an eye. You’re just going to have to put up with having a smaller one that’s on hand, since they can’t necessarily beam over to you until they know you better. And besides,” I added — knowing it was a low blow — “you can’t be with Mom all the time, and she doesn’t know what’s going on yet. You need someone to help you, too. I’ve got a whole pack of people over here…” possibly literally, if Hans actually did turn someone last night “…who do you have at home?”
More guilt puddled up in my stomach as I saw the unhappiness etching into my dad’s face, but I fell back on my habit of hiding what I was feeling and kept my head up. Finally Dad bowed his head with a sigh. “You’re right, Abigail,” he said. He shook his head. “I’m supposed to be the one protecting you, but… you really aren’t a little girl anymore.” He looked up and forced himself to smile. There was even a little bit of a sparkle in his eye, as though it wasn’t entirely forced. “I’m proud of you,” he said. “I’m completely outside of my element and I feel like this is utterly backward, but I’m proud of you and you’re right: we can’t afford not to accept whatever help is available for keeping safe.”
I nodded jerkily. I’m proud of you. I didn’t know why hearing that was so disconcerting, but now I felt completely off balance. To hide it I turned my attention back to Reid.
“I want you to assign some of your people to act as security for Mom and Dad,” I said. “And I want Dad to have a dedicated liaison, too, just like everyone who came through the faerie land portal last night.” I bit my lip and frowned. “Um. Your people might have to lurk around Mom: she doesn’t know the truth about the supernatural, so she’d be able to disbelieve them. But if anything screwy goes on, Dad needs to know and I need to know and… and all that stuff. I especially need to know if anyone tries to geas them or enthrall them, or any faeries or vampires or whatever start lurking around them.” I bit my cheek and frowned. I did not really know what all needed to go into a protection detail, but if Valerie had lied about enthralling Dad I was pretty confident a little bit of observation would give it away, at least. “I’m trusting you to set this up right, Reid. Both as I intend it and as it needs to be to do what I need it to do. Okay?”
Reid bobbed up and down in the air instead of nodding. “I’ll see to it at once,” he said. “And if I can make a further suggestion? You are a person of considerable influence over a great number of us, and more than a few are both afraid you might demand to feed on them and anxious to ingratiate themselves to you. If your father were amenable, we could probably find some who are willing to enter a contract to supply him with essence in return for being excused from doing the same for you. With some training he would be able to place his own wards and protect himself — and be more knowledgeable of what to look for in regards to supernatural threats.”
I glanced at Dad, who looked at least as surprised as I imagined I did. “Um,” I said. “That sounds good, but we’ll need to look over whatever contract you have in mind and Dad will have to agree to it and… I think that might be something that we should think about for a while before we jump into it,” I said.
“Yes,” my dad added. “Though I did intend to start doing some research and to see if I could get lessons from whoever ended up warding the house.”
I blinked a couple of times in surprise as that thought sank in, though I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself. Dad was smart, so of course he’d be able to learn magic. He was always attending seminars and things to keep up to date on anything that might be good to know for his job at the hospital, so he’d never gotten out of the habit of learning new things. And he’d always been big on home defense. Hence his personal arsenal. But: Dad, a solock? I tried picturing him in robes and a pointy hat, bearing a shotgun and a pair of pistols. I just couldn’t see it. Except that I sort of could.
He probably just wouldn’t wear something as dorky as wizard robes.
“Okay,” I said. “Good. So, I’ll leave it to you to get that protection detail settled out and to figure the rest out with Dad. Just make sure I’m kept in the loop, okay?”
“Of course, Lady Abigail,” Reid said. “I’ll see to the arrangements personally, and place my own lieutenant in command of your father’s detachment. We will ensure that everything is as needed for the peace of mind of all those involved, and keep you informed of any decisions made.” He hovered over to my dad’s shoulder. “Lord William,” he said. “If you have preferences as to the number and deployment of your security..?”
Dad gave me another glance, then turned his attention back to Reid as though having a faery sitting on his shoulder wasn’t anything weird at all. He turned away from me and started walking toward the elevator. “First,” Dad said as they walked, “What are your recommendations?”
I listened to them for a little bit. Once they got into the elevator together, I turned around and stepped back into my room. Abruptly I could no longer hear them: the wards contained my supernatural senses, and they were too far away for mortal hearing to do the trick. I took a deep, shaky breath and let it out.
Then I jumped when I heard Valerie chuckle. “Well,” she said. “That was interesting. Would you mind terribly if I were to ask what exactly went down in Archarel’s kingdom last night? And in the city over the past week? In your own words? Because something tells me that Ben’s and Thomas’ summaries left quite a bit out.”