“Think nothing of it,” Valerie said even as the weave reacted to my admission of debt and sent pinpricks of a geas running across the surface of my aura. “By which I mean: you’re welcome. So, first things first: how are you set for partners?”
I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head. “I’ve got way too many,” I said distractedly. Unlike the bit I’d lost when I’d thanked Ben earlier, this time the weave’s hooks had latched onto the ‘stitches’ I’d woven across the largest tear in my soul. Dammit. So even though there doesn’t seem to be a strong obligation in place from that thank you, if I don’t fulfill it when I get the opportunity and that geas breaks I’m probably going to have a huge problem again. “First it was just Hans. And then Emma — I’m pretty sure she and Megan are both going to try to date me, since Emma’s openly polyamorous and Megan is, well, Megan. But also Melvin keeps hitting on me, even though he claims he doesn’t have a crush on me, and now there’s Ben, too, if I haven’t scared him off.”
“Woah,” Valerie said. “Slow down there, Abigail. I meant: donors? I prefer to call them partners. It doesn’t sound quite so much like there’s a dependency issue at play, that way,” she added with a wry chuckle.
“Oh,” I said. “Um.” I tried to pull my head back into the conversation. Maybe the geas wouldn’t be that big a deal: if my soul healed up, then breaking it wouldn’t rip open that big a wound in my soul. It was just if it tore open the ‘stitches’ before the tear closed that it would become an exponentially worse situation. “Then there’s Hans. And Emma. Megan has pushed essence to me a couple of times, and Melvin has given me his blood. Plus, um, Derrick and a few guys from a local LGBT club. But those were kind of forced to happen by, um, circumstances? I don’t think they’d count as long-term donors. Same with my butler, Sebastian. But Reid — you saw him earlier; I asked him to watch out for Dad — comes with a small army of faeries who have sworn allegiance to me. Which includes giving blood when needed. Or at least, they didn’t say no when I needed some this morning. So I think I’m pretty well covered there, actually.”
Valerie nodded as I wrapped up that litany. “I’m not going to lie: that’s an incredible setup you have there. I never would have even imagined that I’d run into a vampire with an entire blood bank of faeries before. Alright. Next up: shelter.” She gestured at the hotel. “This place is reasonably secure, and I’m confident the Center will keep footing the bill. At the same time, given your recent interactions with members of the Center, I imagine that’s not a viable long term solution.”
I nodded. There was no way in hell I would be comfortable living somewhere that the Center might decide to house another Director, if they decided to send another to deal with me.
“Do you have anywhere else you could move to that would be secure?” Valerie asked. “I saw the damage at your boyfriend’s place when I got into town last night — it’s probably not the best option, at least not until the wall gets repaired.”
I winced and shook my head. “I have people I could ask to stay with,” I said. “My friends Fumiko and Megan. But neither of their places is really sun proof.”
Valerie nodded. “That shouldn’t be too big a deal given your age, but from what you’ve told me it sounds like you’re developing your vulnerability to sunlight a lot faster than normal. Your thirst is definitely greater than I’ve heard of in a vampire your age.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Director Lewellan seemed to think that I should’ve only needed blood once or twice a week. Not once or twice a day. I think that’s because of my curse being revved up for feeding on faeries rather than mortals, exacerbated by the fact that I’d been feeding on people with less potent auras than faeries would have.”
“Probably,” Valerie agreed. “Well, I don’t think I would personally be comfortable with this option but: have you considered staying on the other side? In that kingdom you conquered last night, I mean. If Megan can keep it perpetually night there, well, that would be pretty ideal even if it would be sensible to have some reservations about living in another world.”
I shook my head vehemently. “Not an option,” I said. “No way.” When Valerie quirked an eyebrow inquisitively at the fervency of my response I grimaced. “Invisible. Faeries. Everywhere.”
Valerie laughed. “Okay,” she admitted. “That would be bound to be awkward. Well, as long as the hotel is acceptable for now I think you should stay here. I’ll have one of my people start looking for places around town that might be good options: they have experience with setting up temporary safe houses for whenever I travel, so they’ll know what to look for and how easily any given place can be warded and sunproofed.”
I breathed out. Don’t say thank you again! “That would be good,” I said instead. “I don’t know if it’ll be feasible, though. I haven’t gotten any insurance from my apartment yet, and I don’t exactly have decades of savings to fall back on.”
“Right,” Valerie said as though she’d just realized that would be a problem. “Sorry. Most vampires don’t have to worry about resources like money when they’re starting out. Either their families take care of that sort of thing until they get established, or they work for the Center.”
I winced. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen. And I’m going to have to get a new job, too,” I said. “I can’t keep working daylight hours.”
Valerie started to shake her head, then stopped. “Well, maybe,” she allowed. “But for now? In my opinion the Center owes you considerably for the crap you’ve gone through at the hands of its agents. And as their senior representative in this city, I’ll make sure that your finances are taken care of for the foreseeable future. That’ll include getting you proper, secure housing as well as covering the cost to replace whatever we can from your apartment and get you whatever you might want or need while adjusting to your new lifestyle.”
Don’t say thank you, I reminded myself. “Okay,” I said. It came out easier than I thought it would. Mostly because they do owe me, I thought vindictively. And they owe so much more than just a freaking house and some clothes. They burned down my first home and blew up the second!
Valerie nodded to herself. “I’ll stay with you until the next time you feed,” she added. “I know it might seem stupid right now, but I can probably give you some pointers on technique. Both for the physical part and dealing with the emotional backlash. Until then, though, is there anything in particular you need to know?”
I shook my head. I wasn’t sure I could trust myself to ask anything right now: if I did, and Valerie answered, I’d have to deal with that much more gratitude without saying thanks — and I’d already fucked that up once. “I’m good,” I said. “Um… Should we check on Ben, next? I mean, let him know that it isn’t his fault I flipped out and stuff?” Also: pick up the phone his people were getting for me. I need to get a hold of Hans. Maybe John has heard from him. And I need to find out what’s going on with Megan and Emma and Fumiko and the weekend plans.
Valerie gave me a kind smile. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Are you up to seeing him, or would you rather do that at over text?”
Text, I thought. Definitely text. “I should probably talk to him in person,” my traitorous mouth said instead. “Don’t you think? Besides I don’t have a phone. One of Ben’s people was going to get me one, but I haven’t picked it up yet.”
“Oh, I would have lent you mine,” Valerie easily replied. “But if you’re up for it then in person is usually best, in my opinion. I will text him to let him know we’re coming up, though, and that I’d appreciate it if he didn’t do any accelerating around us. Honestly, extraneous use of our powers in the day time isn’t a very good idea anyway. I mean: sure, he has plenty of donors on hand. But still… that isn’t always the case and it’s usually best to maintain frugal habits against those times when essence is scarce.”
I nodded in mute agreement and waited a moment while Valerie sent off the warning message. I managed not to fidget, much, even when my paranoia pointed out that getting a text from Valerie had been what precipitated Ben’s last bout of ‘accelerating.’ Once Valerie put her phone back into her purse, I led the way to the door.
When I opened it, I yelped in surprise. Standing at idle attention in the hallway, directly opposite from my door, was Sebastian.
“Oh, god,” I gasped. “Don’t sneak around like that, Sebas!”
Valerie ran up to my side and peered past me. I heard a brief intake of breath as she took in the sight of my fairy butler. Sebas had really poured himself into his role, too — except that instead of a black suit with white gloves, he wore a white suit with black gloves.
Sebastian bowed apologetically. How do you bow apologetically? He managed to pull it off, though. “Of course, Lady Abigail. I shall endeavor to more clearly announce my presence in the future.”
“Um. Yeah. Good,” I said. I scrambled through my thoughts to see if I’d accidentally done anything that would have constituted calling him to me, but didn’t find anything. “So… why are you here? I mean, this place is full of vampires and warlocks. It’s not exactly safe for faeries.”
“Noted,” Sebastian observed in a wry tone that seemed to imply he’d noted the danger well before I’d pointed it out. “The Lady Megan and Lady Emma asked me to convey a message to you. They have been in contact with the Lady Fumiko about this weekend’s itinerary, and have determined that the gathering at Lady Fumiko’s residence should take place tomorrow evening, as the Lady Fumiko requires the use of today to prepare for the unique needs of her guests. Further, I was asked to inform you that Lady Emma has determined that so long as Lady Megan is maintaining the depth of her aura she is, as she said, ‘fully herself.’ Since she has the emotional resilience to be considered in full command of her faculties, she and the Lady Megan are requesting your presence in their home this evening.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay. Um, please let them know that I’ll be there? And get out of here before someone tries to eat you! Seriously!”
Sebastian bowed his head to me again and then disappeared in a swirl of dark mist. I groaned and shook my head. Dinner with Megan and Emma. I didn’t even want to think about it.
“Who was that?” Valerie asked from behind me.
“Sebastian,” I answered. “He’s my butler.” I started walking for the elevators. Valerie followed along behind me.
“You have a butler,” she said flatly. “A faerie butler.”
“And an army of trolls and goblins,” I pointed out. “And my own personal sadistic stalker elf. I really don’t think the butler is the weirdest part of my entourage.”
Valerie laughed and punched the button for Benjamin’s floor. We ascended in relative silence, though my supernatural hearing insisted on pointing out every clank and whir of the elevator’s mechanisms while my paranoia insisted that wasn’t how they sounded normally. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried really hard to not to think about my dinner plans.
Who would they serve me? It can’t be Emma. Even with Megan providing her with essence, she needs to let her aura heal. Wait. Can I treat Emma’s soul the way I treated mine? I suddenly wondered. Being able to stitch up the damage I’d done from overfeeding on her… well, wouldn’t that be helpful? It wouldn’t make up for what I’d put her through, but it would be better than sitting around not apologizing for what I’d done to her. I’d have to talk to her about it, and to Megan. The last thing I wanted to do was lace Emma’s soul with strands of corrupted essence, but really: if I could stitch up my soul there had to be a faerie who could do the same for Emma.
Megan, I told myself firmly. I’d have to see if Megan could do it. I didn’t think there was another faerie I’d trust to get that intimate with Emma’s soul.
The ding of the elevator pulled me out of my reverie, and I followed Valerie out and down the hall to Benjamin’s room. It was a little freaky that I couldn’t hear anyone on the other side of his door — but that was just the wards at work, I guessed. Valerie looked at me and raised an eyebrow. The expression said: ‘You ready?’
I nodded. I have to be. Or I’ll chicken out. I was already having second thoughts. Asking Valerie to text Ben instead of coming up to explain things in person was sounding like a better idea by the second.
Unfortunately, the only way to go back at this point was impossible: Valerie had already raised her hand and rapped her knuckles on Ben’s door. If I wanted to make a clean getaway I’d have to freeze time, and there was no way in hell — or at least no way in a full aura — that I was ever going to voluntarily do that again.
My stomach churned at the thought. I tried to focus on making it settle down. I felt like I was getting the motion sickness from riding in the elevator, only three times worse and without going anywhere. And then, before I could make an excuse to Valerie about needing to puke and start running down the hall, the door in front of us opened.
On the other side of it was Benjamin. And past him? Thomas. But next to him?
Next to Thomas, I saw, was a third vampire — one who I had never seen before.