Talking to John was something of a nerve wracking experience, if only because the background noise made it pretty obvious that he was on the phone while driving. I didn’t take the time to fully explain myself. Once I found out the name of the hospital that he was meeting Hans at I hung up so I wouldn’t be the one distracting him into running someone else over.
After I ended the call with John I went to look for Valerie and Ben. I didn’t have to look for long, though. As soon as I went into the hallway I found Valerie leaving a room down the hall and walking toward me while tapping out messages on her phone. She looked up when she noticed me.
“Oh, Abby. I just texted Ben,” she said. “He’ll meet us downstairs with a couple of his people. I’m having one of mine bring the van around, too.”
I swallowed back a sprout of nervousness and nodded. Looks like I will be riding in the back of a windowless van, after all, I thought. “I called John to ask where we could find Hans,” I told her. “They’re going to meet up to follow a lead at Hope Community Hospital, so I guess that’s where we should go, too.”
Valerie nodded easily. She went back to messing with her phone. “Alright,” Valerie said. “It doesn’t look like that’s far from here, but we should probably each bring a couple donors, anyway. Just in case. I’d hate to see anyone lose their humanity in a hospital.”
I shivered and nodded. “Reid,” I said quietly, “if you’re done working stuff out with my dad can you stop by? Otherwise, please send someone else who can manage my next round of donors?” With that out of the way I turned my attention back to Valerie, who had gone from looking at her phone to watching me like a hawk while I called out to my faerie general.
“That’s going to blow my mind for a while,” Valerie admitted. “How does calling for them like that even work?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “It’s because faeries are more perceptive of magic,” I tried to explain. “There are connections between people,” I said.
“Leylines,” Valerie interjected.
I looked at her in surprise. “Yeah,” I said. “I thought people weren’t really aware of those?” As soon as the question escaped my lips I felt dumb for asking it. Valerie hadn’t batted an eye when I’d talked about using a faerie’s ability to follow someone else’s leyline as a method of finding the person Hans was looking for, so of course she knew about leylines. She probably knew more about them than I did.
Valerie shook her head. “My magic instructor told me about the basic theory. People aren’t generally able to perceive the lines themselves, but faerie familiars have told people about them. Some of the more theory-obsessed wizards in the past have even managed to demonstrate their existence. It used to be considered a purely faerie magic, and my instructor still believes it isn’t worth it for a practical practitioner to fuss with that. According to this other apprentice, though, leyline theory has started to become more prominent in witch and wizard craft of the last few decades. Modern practitioners have been treating it as a more detailed extrapolation of the like-to-like principals of magic manipulation. They swear by it, apparently — but I kind of suspect that the real impact comes from how wrapping magic in pseudo-science makes it more acceptable to a mentality that grew up being deeply indoctrinated to critical analysis and disbelief of magic as an inexplicable force.”
I gawked briefly, and was rewarded with a sunny, innocent smile.
“Right,” I said. “Okay, well, faeries are a lot more aware of those connections than normal people. Faeries can see and feel them directly.” And I don’t think I should let it be commonly known that I can, too. Not if that’s another thing that’s weird about me. “But they aren’t just directional lines. They’re dynamic. They can provide a window between the two connected individuals’ emotions, and the strength of that connection is based on stuff like how physically close the individuals are, and how much they mean to each other, and if they’re actively paying attention to the line itself. So, the whole thing where they can hear if you call out to them is actually a matter of them noticing that one of their connections is suddenly getting more focus that isn’t coming from them. Even if you’re the one focusing on it by thinking about them, the line becomes more prominent in their awareness, too.” I shifted a little uncomfortably. “I don’t know if they can actually hear what I’m saying when I call to them, but I know they can at least get the intent by taking a peek at the emotional context of the line between us when I tweak it by focusing on them.”
And thinking about it like that made me suddenly very uneasy. Was I inviting mind readers to look in my head every time I called out to one of my faerie followers? That’s probably where the whole superstition about wizards knowing if you say their name comes from. Or that phrase: ‘speak of the devil…’ Yeah, that definitely applied to faeries like Melvin. Devils. I could just picture him with little horns and a goatee.
Except I was supposed to be ignoring everything related to the last time he’d shown up to answer one of my summons.
I did my best to call on my basically nonexistent self-control. Ignoring. It. Now.
“Well,” Valerie started to say — but then her phone chimed. “Oh, our rides are pulling around,” she said after glancing at it. “Shall we?”
I nodded and we shared an elevator down. In the lobby we saw Ben and a few of his donors, as well as a couple of people who acknowledged Valerie in a way that made me think they were hers. I felt weirdly self-conscious about not having an escort of my own, until I noticed a miniature Reid hiding out where passersby wouldn’t spot and disbelieve him.
I walked over to his hiding spot while Valerie and Ben discussed logistics. Once I judged I was close enough I tried pushing thoughts at him like Melvin had pushed them to me. I’m going out, I thought at Reid. I want some donors on hand in case anything happens, okay?
Yes, of course, was Reid’s reply. We won’t be able to enter the vehicles if you intend to ride along with one of those two — their conveyances appear to be warded. But we can follow discreetly and will be on hand at need.
Okay. I felt both more and less nervous about that. Thanks.
Somehow, having secret psychic conversations with my soon-to-be invisible supernatural security detail made the whole ‘shadow queen’ thing feel a little more real.
No. No, I was not thinking about that.
Shadow queen?, a confused Reid thought at me just as Valerie waved me over. I hastily left him behind — relieved to have an excuse not to reply and to move far enough away that our relatively young leyline couldn’t support a conversation.
“It looks like it will be you, Benjamin and myself along with a few donors in Ben’s car,” Valerie said. “The rest will follow along in the van.”
I hesitated. “Do you really think we’ll need that many people?”
“No,” Valerie admitted, “But in my experience it’s always nice to have a few extra people you can rely on around, just in case something comes up that you could use their help with.”
I nodded, not really willing to argue with that. Actually, I was mostly just uncomfortable with the fact that Valerie’s people had an aura of scariness that reminded me of Mr. Fiore’s solocks. And Daniel. And Hans, for that matter, when he’d shot Mr. Salvatore. The way their posture said ‘we are casually ready to leap into violent action at an instant’s notice’ just wasn’t actually as reassuring to me as I figured it was to her.
Valerie’s van turned out to be the white, windowless van I’d pictured this morning. Ben’s car was, of course, the limo — leaving me with relatively little doubt as to why Valerie had decided we would ride along with him. It was probably a lot less crowded in the punk-mobile than the van. It was certainly more posh.
The two donors who joined us got in after the rest of us vampires, so Ben, Valerie, and I wound up at the front of the limo’s passenger compartment. I managed to snag a seat next to the entertainment center, so I didn’t have anyone directly adjacent to me. Valerie sat across from me and Ben sat with his back to the divider between us and his driver. After the two donors got in, Ben’s pulled the door shut. Immediately the ongoing annoyance of the sun was cut off. So was the rest of the outside world — or at least my supernatural perception of it.
We got moving after I gave the destination to Ben and he gave it to the driver. This time there was much less conversation — and much, much less shenanigans. I could only be relieved by that, since I was not in any way, shape, or form ready for a five-way orgy in the back of a limo. Of course, my imagination was more prepared than I was, which made me that much more thankful for the relative lack of conversation. I did not want to have to explain to anyone why I was blushing. Or why ‘pimp-mobile’ was now vying with ‘punk-mobile’ as the official name of Ben’s car.
Fortunately, the drive was short and my imagination hadn’t gotten very explicit in the ten or fifteen minutes before the limo pulled to a stop… Just explicit enough to involve re-repurposing the gag (actually, two of them) Melvin had imagined dribbling blood through to instead allow a couple of vampiresses to be involved in acts that would have been very dangerous to the perpetrators if our fangs weren’t being permanently held conveniently wide. Plus, as an added safety feature? The thickness of the imaginary rings was apparently sufficient to keep fangs from overhanging them fully and accidentally nicking anyone involved. Or maybe that was just the magic of fantasy making everything work out? I mean: if you can call being bound back to back with your mentor while kneeling and gagged in the back of a limo as people you don’t know violate your face ‘working out.’
I spent the ride staring at my lap, unable to look at anyone else. Dammit Melvin, you started this! I was only willing to yell at him in my head because I knew he wouldn’t be able to show up through the limo’s wards — and our leyline was still sufficiently strangled that I didn’t think he’d hear me. Even blaming him didn’t really help me feel better, though. I wasn’t sure if I was more mortified by my indecent imagination or shocked by the fact that once again I was somehow showing up in my own fantasies. In either case, I was the last one out of the limo after it stopped, too.
I may have also added an o-ring gag to my mental ‘things to get with my apartment insurance’ list. At least that was something I could do after sundown. Sex shops are open late, right? That made sense to me, anyway. Even though it had been broad daylight when Fumiko and Megan had dragged me into one, it always felt like those were places that most people would only visit after dark. And hey, maybe they’ll have that copy of ‘Bisexuality for Dummies.’ God knew, I needed some kind of guidance for my relationships. And I really didn’t want to risk googling the internet. Especially when I didn’t have my own computer, which meant I’d wind up leaving porn in someone else’s browser history. That just seemed like a serious social faux pas.
I had to bite back a nervous titter while I waited for Ben to get out of the limo. For some reason I was paying about as much attention to his ass as I had been to Melvin’s coat tails last night.
When it was my turn, the sun turned out to be a refreshing slap in the face. Or: ball of fire in the face? As soon as I did step out of the limo, the searing discomfort served to wipe any inappropriate thoughts out of my head. Or at least out of my immediate mind space. I actually embraced that the way I used to embrace scalding showers. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of air while the torturous sunlight scrubbed my thoughts clean.
Good, I told myself. Don’t be a bad Abby. Get it together. Hans needs help. This is serious.
When I opened my eyes I strode purposefully toward the hospital doors. I don’t like hospitals. At least, not hospitals other than Dad’s. Dad’s hospital has Dad in it. I know he won’t mess up a diagnosis and accidentally surgically remove my leg or something. Other hospitals scare me about as much as, well, everything else. Hospitals were places where they could pump you full of drugs and leave you in a coma being kept alive by machines while they secretly harvested your organs to sell to rich people who weren’t willing to wait on the national donor registry. Hospitals were where the zombie apocalypse was going to start — probably kicked off by my own undead organs being transplanted into still-living hosts — I was positive.
My cousin Linda probably knew lots of people who worked in hospitals, too.
Still, braced by the clarity of a sunburnt brain I was able to march into this hospital like it was nothing. Except that as I approached the wide glass doors, I spotted Hans.
Hans was on his feet. He had turned toward everyone who had already entered and hadn’t seen me yet. His hair was unkempt, like always. He wasn’t wearing a white tee shirt, for once — and the one he was wearing was too tight on him. His usual smile was gone, replaced with a deep set worry that subtly shifted his eyes and mouth and brow without becoming a scowl or frown. It was tragic. It jerked at something in my chest in a way I’ve never had to cope with before. It was all the worse because despite my determination to free him up to be with Fumiko, seeing him made my heart want to soar. He was so beautiful.
Beautiful and tragic.
And the tragedy was my fault.