John squinted when he got out of his car, despite the fact that he was wearing shades. But even though the sun was — as it had been ever since he had died — intensely bright, it was also something of a relief after the past couple of days of storms. The sun itched. Running water, on the other hand, was simply brutal when he tried to cross it. John knew it was actually operating on some magical level to deplete his reserves of essence, but that depletion manifested as debilitating physical symptoms: shortness of breath, pain, cramps, dizziness — it could even knock him out if he hadn’t eaten recently enough. And that made storms a source of constant aches and nausea if he had to move around during them at all. Really, he thought that the way his curse interacted with moving water made for a much worse vulnerability than he suspected most supernaturals realized. After all: the sun set. But water was always a presence in the world.
Not to mention how annoying it is, even when it isn’t storming and there aren’t rivers around. It was, in John’s opinion, an enormous pain in the ass to find a hotel with a decent sized tub. Goddamn whoever decided that showers should be the standard way to wash in this country. I don’t care if they’re faster, or save floor space, or whatever. It’s not worth it if they also make you puke and go violently insane!
Still squinting, John slowly made out the sign on the front of the blocky portion of the building that sprawled in front of him. He could actually see better during the day from inside his car, thanks to a combination of tinted glass and specialized warding — it wouldn’t have done a thing to protect vampires, but fortunately the sun was less violently hostile to ghouls.
Satisfied that he’d stopped in the correct parking lot, John hastened toward the building. He could put up with sunlight, but he didn’t like it. In fact, if he hadn’t had a chance to eat at Mitchell’s funeral home last night, he would’ve been stuck in his apartment, dormant — or at least conserving his strength and sanity — today. Too much sun, and… well, overexposure to the sun wouldn’t set him on fire. But he might’ve gone feral. Especially coming on top of the past couple days of storms. Unfortunately, the ‘recently dead’ caveat on his diet made stocking up on his curse’s required dietary supplements difficult.
And add to that the absolute lack of forewarning I had before coming out here, and it’s no wonder I’m running low on clothing and supplies. John preferred to wear suits, like his dad had. He hated feeling slovenly. However, he was down to living out of his go-bag and he hadn’t had a chance yet to hit a laundromat. It was just lucky he’d had his dry cleaning in his back seat when he’d felt his dad die — otherwise he would’ve arrived in town with only the one suit to wear until he hit a store. As it was, today he was in khaki cargo pants and a grey tee-shirt, with a windbreaker to cover up his shoulder holster and pistol. He’d been eating takeout, and what ‘dietary supplements’ he’d grabbed before coming to check on his dad’s corpse were already past the date at which they were genuinely effective. They’d still give him a boost, might stave off going feral for a night and let him go dormant in the morning, but they wouldn’t have kept him on his feet and sane much longer. Not after those storms had wiped him out.
Of course, that was completely ignoring the fact that he’d been shot all to hell, too.
And damn, I was really lucky that Mitchell is still around and willing to help me out with my diet. John hadn’t expected to be in town this long at all, and if Mitchell Kallaher had retired from his side business John would’ve been in a rather uncomfortable position regarding his special dietary needs. There was usually someone at any given coroner’s office or morgue who could help a ghoul out, but finding out who could be extremely awkward. If he had gone feral and Abby and Mitchell hadn’t been there to keep him together he probably would’ve ended up staked by a local warlock and left dormant until he could be shipped to a Center office. Where he would remain staked and dormant until they got a hold of a recent corpse for him to revive next to — and who knew how long that would take. Or, I might’ve killed and eaten someone. That was always the worst case scenario.
John put that out of his mind and grimaced as he stepped into the hospital. Something about hospitals — maybe some undead guilt, since he didn’t really need them anymore? — always made him feel uncomfortable coming into one.
John glanced around the almost empty waiting room and spotted Hans almost immediately. And those two must be Cassie and Curtis. The new loner werewolf was sitting with his back to John. The witch was slumped in her chair with her head tilted back: either she was staring at the ceiling, or sleeping. And she would have to be cute. Dammit, I should’ve asked to use Dad’s washer when I spent the night talking to Abby. Hans, on the other hand, saw John come in before John had even spotted him. He’d gotten to his feet and was coming toward John. John hastily approached to meet Hans half-way, leaving his sense of unease behind at the door as he did.
“Hey,” Hans said. John returned his greeting with a nod and got on to business.
“I’ve told Mr. Kallaher everything you’ve turned up so far,” John said. “He’s passed it along to the Center’s agents in the city, so they’re following up on that. How are things going here?”
Hans grimaced. “I’m not sure,” he said. “Cassie apparently asked a ghost to look into it, but I only heard one side of that conversation and we’ve just been sitting here other than that.”
John leaned to the side and peeked around Hans’ frame. The witch, Cassie, hadn’t moved. Curtis had twisted around to watch them, though.
“Alright,” John said. “Well, one way or another we should hear something soon. And if neither of those routes turn anything up: Abigail thinks she’s come up with a way to track the kid we’re looking for. Like she tracks faeries, I guess? She wasn’t really specific on the phone, but she’s on her way to meet up with us here.” It should have been good news, John thought, but he knew Hans well enough to spot the brief cringe when he mentioned Abby’s plans. In fact, for Hans — who took a certain amount of pride in being more laid back than anyone would ever imagine a werewolf could be — the brief display of negativity was downright blatant. John lowered his voice and leaned in toward his friend. “Is everything alright?,” he asked softly.
Hans scowled briefly, then grabbed John’s arm and pulled him to a different set of chairs where they could sit and talk in relative privacy. “She shouldn’t be coming out in the day,” Hans said bluntly. He took a seat and gestured for John to take the opposite. “She isn’t like you’d expect for a vampire her age. I’ve seen what happens when she’s in the sun too long. It eats away her humanity like fire burns through tissue paper. And I’ve seen what she’s like when that happens. When it’s just starting to happen, and when it’s gone too far. John, I know you think of her as your little sister, but: it’s frightening.” His hands briefly clenched. “And I can’t do anything to help her,” he added softly, almost to himself.
“It can’t be that bad,” John said. “I talked to her earlier and, frankly, she sounded a lot more worried about helping you than herself.”
Hans leaned back in his chair and looked up at John. Hans was shaking his head before John had finished talking. “You don’t understand,” Hans said flatly. “I can’t help her. I cannot give her more blood. I can’t even keep my own wolf under control, my aura is so torn up! When…” He took a deep breath. “The night before Director Lewellan arrived, I told her that I couldn’t keep being her donor. She’d already almost killed Emma by over-feeding on her — and then tore through my aura so deeply that for a moment I couldn’t even tell the difference between my wolf and myself. I… I still don’t understand what she did to replenish Emma, frankly. But I knew I couldn’t keep doing that. And Abigail knew it, too. When I told her she swore off feeding on either Emma or I, before running off. I was going to talk to her when she got back; see if we couldn’t find some of Director Salvatore’s other donors to sub in for the two of us while we recovered — but then Director Lewellan showed up, and everything went to….” Another deep breath.
“The point is,” Hans said, “It is dangerous for her to be out in the day. And we don’t have any donors here to volunteer their blood to her. If she loses control, what are we supposed to do? She can’t feed on you. If she feeds on me, my wolf will take over. I don’t think I can keep it held back at night anymore. Not with my aura in tatters and the full moon so near. But if my aura gets torn up any more I won’t be able to keep it under control during the day, either. Cassie is a human. A medium, but still just a mortal. She wouldn’t fare any better than Emma did, and she isn’t a volunteer. Neither is Curtis. Do you really want Abby to wind up in a situation where she has to take blood? Do you honestly think she’ll be okay with that when she gets back to normal? Especially if she winds up killing, or hurting, or even just enthralling someone who tried to fight back?”
Hans exhaled and shook his head. “No. John, you’ve got to call her back and tell her to stay inside until nightfall. She can’t help right now. It’s too risky. But if we don’t find this guy before dusk…. Well, I’m going to have to go back to the pack holdings to keep my wolf from running wild and trying to turn anyone else. If she wants to help after sunset, then: okay. I won’t stop her.” He snorted a derisive laugh. “I won’t be in any condition to stop her, even if I wanted to. But for her to be out and about now? I won’t be responsible for that, John. Call her.”
John had to steel himself against the earnestness of his friend’s plea. He almost reached for his phone without thinking about it — but ultimately he stopped himself. He didn’t say anything at first, but as he considered Hans’ words he started to shake his head.
“No,” John said.
Hans recoiled in shock. The hurt on his face tugged at John’s guilt for just a second before it turned to anger. “You don’t…” Hans started to accuse, but John interrupted him.
“No,” John said. “You don’t know what’s been going on, Hans. I do. I’ve been in touch with pretty much everyone except the scions. Abby has donors. Don’t you remember? I told you that she has a freaking army of faeries that she’s somehow gotten to swear allegiance to her. According to Mitchell, she fed on some of them this morning. Apparently, if she calls they come running. And she’s been with the scions all day: they’ll be there to keep her in check if the sun proves to be too much. So calm down and think for a minute.” John knew exactly what was going on behind his best friend’s eyes, so he moved quickly to head those thoughts off.
“This isn’t insubordination,” John said. “Your wolf is bleeding through, Hans. Calm down and think. I’m your friend, not your pack mate.” They’d tried that, once, but John hadn’t been able to contract the curse. They decided that it had been because he was already undead. Something in the process of becoming a ghoul must have warped his soul to the point that the werewolf curse couldn’t embed itself in his aura, because they had tried for nearly a year’s worth of full moons before giving it up.
John watched the emotions play across Hans’ face — anger, guilt, shame — before continuing. “Because of Director Lewellan’s geas and your wolf taking over, you’ve been out of the loop. Things changed. Major things changed. And Abby might be new to the whole ‘supernatural society’ thing, but she is not someone you or I need to babysit. If she’s confident that she can be out in the day.… That’s her call. If she’s wrong, it’s not on you for not letting her. It’s not our responsibility — hell, it’s not even our place to tell her what to do.”
Hans hesitated. Then his frame slumped as he gave in and surrendered. “You’re that confident?” He asked.
John shook his head dismissively. “You didn’t see the things I saw last night,” he said. “Frankly, I really don’t think either of us could stop her from doing anything she wanted, even if we did try.”
A tiny smile snuck onto Hans’ lips. “Really?” He asked. The smile grew a little. “That’s my girl.”
John laughed. “Yeah,” he said. Then he sighed and the momentary humor dissipated with his exhalation. “She is going to need us, though. And as much help as she can get. I mean: she did the impossible. She did it over and over again, but…” He hesitated, remembering how Abby had looked with her eyes screwed shut and her arm bared while one of Fiore’s militant warlocks took strips of flesh off of her arm. “…she’s gone through hell to do it,” John finally said. “She’s going to need a lot of support… or at least, she deserves all the support we can give her, you know?”
Hans nodded. John knew that anything his friend was imagining probably fell short of what his adopted sister had actually gone through. Hell, anything I’m imagining probably falls short, and I actually saw some of the stuff she went through. But regardless of that, he was confident that Hans would be there for her. He was too loyal not to be: he just wasn’t suited to being in charge of anyone except himself. If he had tried to make Abigail’s well-being his responsibility, John was convinced, it would have screwed things up for them eventually. And probably sooner than later. After all, the past couple of nights had pretty much confirmed that his little sister was nothing if not a modern, liberated woman. John loved Hans like a brother, but Abby was his sister and she didn’t need some guy to take care of her like some Stepfordian stereotype of a housewife would. In fact, after the way he’d seen her take charge and kick ass, John was pretty confident that anyone who tried would wind up broken into itty-bitty pieces.
“Okay,” said John. He sat back in his own chair. Crisis averted. Moving on. “So… Are you really in that bad of shape?”
Hans grimaced, then nodded again. “I’ve been struggling with the wolf all day,” he admitted. “Proximity to Curtis has been keeping it riled up, and I can’t always keep it from influencing my opinion of him,” he added shamefacedly. “After sunset, if the moon is out there’s no way I’ll be able to stay human.”
John winced sympathetically. “The forecast is clear,” he said. He’d been keeping an eye on it ever since the storms started rolling in. “The moon will definitely be out.”
Hans sighed. “Then I’m glad you’re here. I still don’t know why I collapsed last night, but I have to plan as though it won’t happen again tonight. If I do lose control — or don’t make it back to one of the pack apartment houses before sundown — I’ll feel a lot better with you around to help Curtis with keeping me from running amok again.”
John nodded. “Of course,” he said. Hans would probably go after the other were, since his own wolf would be territorially aggressive toward the loner werewolf. But since John didn’t have to worry about contracting Hans’ curse, he could help subdue Hans’ wolf without significant risk. “What else are friends…”
The unexpected shout snapped Hans’ head around. John followed his gaze toward the source of the exclamation: the witch Cassie was on her feet. She was also talking to thin air.
“That is incredible,” the young witch said to no one. “Thank you so much. Hans? Hans!”
Hans practically leapt from his seat and raced to the witch’s side. John followed.
“We have a name,” Cassie said. “Jeremy. But that’s not all. Dr. Lin has photographic — oh, pardon me,” she said to the air next to her. “he has eidetic memory,” she continued. “He got a look at Jeremy’s paperwork when the doctors were asking who they should contact about his injuries.” Cassie grinned. “We’ve got his home phone number.”