The trip to the library was fortunately brief. It was still long enough to make Benjamin’s eyes start to water despite being shut — he was glad he was both relatively young, for a vampire, and had fed while Abigail had been in the shower. As it was, he was in discomfort but not in any sort of danger.
Adding to the discomfort, however, was Hans. The older werewolf’s attitude seemed palpable, and Benjamin’s only comfort there was that he seemed to radiate hostility toward Curtis, too. Only Cassie seemed immune to Hans’ ire — and the few times she spoke Benjamin’s heightened senses caught Hans in a nervous tic.
The library turned out to be an old, cinder block building. It was squat, with few windows. Despite the brightness of the artificial lights, Benjamin sighed in appreciation once they were inside.
Hans and Curtis and Cassie walked up to the front desk. Hans and Curtis almost immediately swerved away, like hounds with a scent. Cassie lingered behind. Benjamin watched the two werewolves go. He pretended to peruse a shelf of new releases while sweeping the building with his supernatural senses.
After a moment Cassie made her way to the front of the queue at the checkout counter. When she did, Benjamin shifted his attention to listening in on her conversation.
“Pardon me,” Cassie said. “I’m a friend of Jeremy’s. Is he around?”
Benjamin heard the man at the desk jerk back — his chair jostled briefly against the floor. It made Benjamin turn to watch out of the corner of his eye.
“That hooligan?” the man asked, incredulously. He was loud enough that some of the other patrons heard him, too, and also turned to look. Apparently, the man realized he was being too loud in the quiet building, because he hastily lowered his voice — but not so low that Benjamin couldn’t pick it up with his supernatural hearing.
“Young lady,” the man said, “that thug is a menace. It was bad enough that he came in all banged up from fighting in the streets — we don’t need that sort of thing spilling over into here! — but then he snapped at a patron. When I called him out on it he threatened me! Well, I sent him home straight off — and if I have my way he won’t be coming back. Take my advice, Miss, and look for a better quality of ‘friend.’ People like that are not fit companions for anyone with a future: if you get involved, it won’t be like some gangster rap. Frankly, it won’t end well for you.”
Cassie recoiled from the man’s vehemence. She stammered something that might have sounded like an agreement, except Benjamin could hear how it started better than the man at the desk possibly could. “Oh. Um. What the….” She arrested herself before she could curse and then spoke slightly louder. “Right. Okay. Um, thank you?”
The man at the desk — Benjamin could read his name tag, and it said ‘Mr. Noyes, Librarian’ — smiled at Cassie and nodded magnanimously. Cassie hastily retreated back to Benjamin.
“Jeremy isn’t here,” she said quickly.
“I heard,” Benjamin interrupted her.
“It sounded like he was thrown out for getting violent — but John said he was pretty straight-laced, right?” She asked nervously.
“Yeah,” Benjamin confirmed. “Frankly, he looked pretty squeaky clean, if those photos were any indication.” He’d looked like the sort of kid who would go door to door giving out religious tracts, or spent his spare time with the chess club, actually.
“That can’t be good, then,” Cassie said. At the same time, Hans came stalking out of the stacks. Curtis scurried along behind him. The older werewolf looked pissed.
“Looks like Hans found out that Jeremy isn’t here, too,” Benjamin observed. He fished out his cellphone while Hans approached them and started texting John. “Jeremy not at library,” he sent. “Home?”
“No sign yet,” John texted back.
“He’s not here,” Hans growled when he reached Cassie and Benjamin.
Benjamin nodded. “John hasn’t seen him either,” he told everyone. He noticed Hans’ fists clenching in his peripheral vision. “But there is something else we can try,” Benjamin said. All eyes turned on him. Fortunately, he was experienced enough not to be thrown by being the center of attention.
“Daniel Stuessy,” Benjamin said. “Since Mr. Stuessy knows Jeremy personally, we can have a faerie follow his connection as easily as it could have followed the link between Hans’ wolf and Jeremy’s wolf. All we have to do is find Mr. Stuessy himself and get to him — and since he and Pips have a history, Pips should be able to find him. In fact, Pips already went looking. If you’ll just wait a moment, I can try to call him back here.” And hopefully Abigail’s orders suffice to make sure he listens, Benjamin thought.
After only a second Hans nodded. “Do it,” he said. “We’ll wait here to see what you find out.”
Benjamin nodded back, then turned and walked away. Soon he had disappeared deep enough into the stacks of books that he was confident a faerie could manifest without anyone noticing. “Pips,” Benjamin said softly. “Pips, get over here and show yourself.”
It took just a moment for Pips to appear. The faerie leaned casually against a bookshelf as he did. Benjamin opted not to breathe rather than to exhale in relief. “Yessir,” Pips said. “You called?”
“And you know why,” Benjamin said. “Did you find him?”
Pips grinned. “I did. A while ago, actually. I’ve been floating around with the rest of you since then, waiting to be asked. I told you I would be right back.”
Benjamin frowned. He didn’t like the faerie’s flippant attitude; didn’t trust it. He’d only known Daniel Stuessy for a brief time, but he’d liked what he’d seen of the man. He wasn’t going to give Pips carte blanche to inflict himself on Daniel.
“Good,” Benjamin said. “But just so you understand: you are not to be interacting with Daniel, yourself.” He wasn’t sure if his own command would be enough to keep the faerie on good behavior, so he followed it up with the reminder of a threat that he thought more than likely would. “I know you were tormenting him when Abigail found you — and I’ve tasted her essence. She cares more about other people than she does herself. I won’t let you hurt someone she’s decided is her friend.”
Pips laughed. “I’m not going to show myself anywhere near Mr. Stuessy,” he said with complete earnestness. “I’m not suicidal! I know you’ve had a taste of Abby’s aura — well, I’ve been inside it. If I fucked with Daniel again she would obliterate me.” He chuckled and shook his head. “No, I have no desire to get further on Abigail’s bad side. But fortunately, good old Sebastian was still floating around, trying to deliver Abigail’s message. Daniel has a faerie liaison, too. I let them know what was going on. If you can get Daniel away from the mundane he’s hanging out with, one of them can step in to follow Daniel’s connection to Jeremy. I won’t manifest physically at all. Frankly, I’d rather just wait a few blocks away so I can tell Lady Abigail as much when she asks if I was behaved.”
Benjamin nodded slowly. “Alright,” he said. “As long as you’re still on call and not tormenting anyone else, either.”
Pips shook his head. “Well, you’re a suspicious one, aren’t you? No, I won’t be tormenting anyone. I’ll be keeping out of the way and watching your line for when you call me back. Trust me: When it comes to hurting Lady Abigail’s people… I have no desire to kick over that particular hornets’ nest.” He smirked. “More powerful beings than I have tried to mess with her friends, and they’re all gone now. If I need to keep entertained I’ll find different games to play. At the very least, I’ll only screw with the ones that have a sense of humor. And only in the most playfully harmless of ways.”
Benjamin slowly relaxed. He didn’t like the idea of whatever a faerie might come up with as a ‘different game,’ but that was something he could warn Abigail about — or deal with personally — later. “Okay,” Benjamin conceded. “So then: where is Daniel?”
Pips smirked and spread his hands in a ‘can’t you guess?’ gesture. “Where else would a homeless soldier with no contact number go after being turned into one of the soulless undead? He’s at the old Salvatore house, waiting for Lady Abigail to show up.” Pips’ smirk turned into a broad grin. “So come on. Let’s get the grumpy puppy and go find his pack mate.”
Benjamin didn’t reply, but did hasten out of the stacks. I would not care to be anyone who tried calling Hans a ‘grumpy puppy’ to his face, he thought. Pips turned immaterial and vanished as they approached the more populated part of the library. Benjamin quickly rejoined Hans, Cassie and Curtis.
“Good news,” Benjamin told them. “Pips managed to track down Mr. Stuessy.” He glanced at Hans. “Apparently, Mr. Stuessy has been in the presence of mundanes who have prevented any of Abigail’s faerie messengers from manifesting near him. Pips let them in on the situation, so all we have to do is get there and get Daniel away from him for a moment, and one of them can do the actual tracking.”
“Where?” Hans asked.
“Director Salvatore’s house,” Benjamin said. “Apparently he’s…” Benjamin trailed off. Hans hadn’t waited. He had turned and stalked out of the library as soon as Benjamin finished saying ‘house.’ Cassie looked back and forth between Benjamin and Hans, then hurried after the werewolf. For a moment Benjamin watched them go. Then, in a burst of exasperation, he spoke to himself. “What the hell does Abby see in that guy?”
Curtis glanced sideways at Benjamin. Benjamin glanced back at Curtis, realized he was being something of a jerk, and winced. “Sorry,” Benjamin said. He pinched the bridge of his nose in an effort to hold back the onset of a headache. “All this driving around in the sunlight is not helping me deal with Hans’ attitude.”
Curtis pursed his lips thoughtfully and nodded. “Don’t worry about it, man,” the younger werewolf said. “He’s been snapping at me all day. Of course, his wolf sees Silver and I as interlopers on his pack’s land, so that’s sort of to be expected.” Curtis gave Benjamin a long up and down look. “You, on the other hand, smell like you’ve been all over his girlfriend. Or she’s been all over you. So while I get that deep down Hans wants to tear my throat out, I figure his human side at least understands that my trespassing was totally unintentional. You on the other hand…” He chuckled. “Well, I’ve got to admit I’m pretty impressed that Hans hasn’t actually eviscerated you, yet.” He gave Benjamin a toothy grin and then turned to stroll out after the other two.
Benjamin blinked twice before he started moving. Well, hell. I guess Hans did find out about Abigail and I before we got all of this mess settled. He followed behind the others, squinting when he stepped out into the sun again. This time, however, when Benjamin got into the back seat of Curtis’ car he didn’t get annoyed with Hans’ glare. Instead, he struggled with the awkwardness of the situation. Fortunately, Hans ignored him and started giving directions to Curtis, instead. Weirdly, he actually sounded civil while addressing the younger werewolf.
Great, Benjamin thought. Just great. Now that he’s met me, Abigail’s first boyfriend likes the damn ‘interloper’ better. He blew out a sigh and turned toward the window. This is definitely not how I wanted today to go. He watched the buildings go by until his eyes watered. Then, finally, he turned back to Hans.
“Alright,” Benjamin said. “I had meant to talk with you about this after we had taken care of the immediate crisis, but since it seems to be impacting our ability to work together I’d like to get it out of the way now. Many vampires are open to multiple partners. It is, perhaps, in part because of the need for multiple donors and the intimacy that sharing blood generates. As a matter of preference, I do not take blood from members of the opposite sex. Instead I have chosen to reinforce close friendships among my donors, and avoid the complications of mixing blood and romance.” Hans gave Benjamin a baleful, silent stare and Benjamin soldiered on. “Yesterday, Abigail shared her blood with me,” Benjamin said. He paused when he heard a startled intake of breath from Cassie. When he glance her way he saw her surreptitiously looking back at them in the rear view mirror.
Then Cassie yelped as Pips materialized in her lap, turned around so that he was facing toward the back seat. She shoved at him, but Pips ignored it. “Oh, this is going to be good,” the faerie whispered to her. Benjamin ignored his antics and shifted his full attention back to Hans.
“Abigail did this in order to give me the insight into her soul that I needed to confirm that she was not the sort of person Director Lewellan claimed she was,” Benjamin said. “It gave me that insight, and then some. I think that may have been the moment I became interested in her, but that feeling has only grown as I saw how she handled herself throughout the night. And while I am given to understand that you share a similar interest in her, I am also aware that she is not seeing anyone exclusively. Nor do I expect exclusivity from her.”
Hans’ lips had pressed into a thin line as he listened. The werewolf nodded for Benjamin to continue.
“I want you to know that I have no intention of playing the part of your rival,” Benjamin said. “Nor do I intend Abigail any harm, nor will I willingly permit it to come upon her. I am not in any way a threat, and I hope that you can understand that even if your wolf cannot.”
Having finished his piece, Benjamin closed his mouth and met Hans’ glare with a steady gaze of his own. He also had no intention of getting bogged down in dominance games with a werewolf, but if it came to that he was confident he could hold his own. After all, he was immortal in his own right, supernaturally powerful, and he knew that Abigail was too new to romance to have settled exclusively on anyone. He also strongly suspected that such settling wasn’t in her nature — and he was fine with that.
Finally Hans nodded. “I understand,” he rumbled. “And you’re right: the wolf does not. You are an outsider, and it sees you as a rival and an interloper, and there isn’t much I can do about that at the moment. I will keep it in check, though. And we can discuss this properly after the full moon wanes.”
Benjamin nodded once, then turned to face forward. He leaned back in his seat and stared at the back of Curtis’.
“Well,” Pips opined. “That was disappointing.” He then turned toward Cassie as though just noticing he was perched on top of her. “Dear lady,” he purred, “I thank you for the excellent vantage point, even if it was a sub-par show. You have an excellent lap, and if ever I can return the favor just ask and I shan’t hesitate to put you atop mine.”
“Hey!” Curtis exclaimed at the same time as Benjamin growled “Pips,” in warning. The faerie laughed at them both, but since Curtis had barely glanced his way before returning his attention to the road, Pips only answered Benjamin.
“I meant no harm, oh dark and fanged one,” Pips drawled. “In fact, if you will excuse me, I sense that it is time for me to depart. Just shout once Daniel is absent and I will return, I assure you.”
Benjamin glowered at him, but Pips just smiled. Then he turned and winked at Cassie — and then disappeared in a swirl of darkness. I really hope she hasn’t just become his ‘new game,’ Benjamin thought. Cassie’s cheeks showed a slight flush of embarrassment. Maybe I should talk to Abigail about the need for putting some more restrictions on her faerie followers. Benjamin glowered at the back of Curtis’ seat while Hans resumed giving directions to Director Salvatore’s house.
When they arrived, Benjamin winced again. This time it was over the damage to the side of the house: it was much more evident in broad daylight, and at some point in the night the rolling storms appeared to have furthered it. The gaping hole in the side of the building was bad enough, but Benjamin could see the way the hallway wallpaper had cracked and stained from being drenched by rain and then dried through the day.
Again, Hans wasted no time. “I’ll bring Daniel out,” he said even as he popped open his door and stepped out of the car. Curtis also got out, but he just stretched his legs and stayed by the car. Cassie unbuckled her seat belt and then twisted around to watch Hans go up the front walkway. Before he reached the front door it swung open, and Cassie abruptly sat up straight.
Benjamin glanced at her. After the incident at the hospital, anything that seemed to alarm her was worthy of concern. “What is it?” Benjamin asked.
“Is that Daniel?” Cassie asked back.
Benjamin wiped his eyes again and squinted at the door, where a man had come out to meet Hans. “Yes,” he said. “Why?”
“He’s a ghoul, right?” Cassie asked. “Like John?”
“Yes…” Benjamin answered again. Then, with a little more emphasis: “Why?”
Hans and Daniel disappeared into the house. Cassie cleared her throat and looked at Benjamin. “Can ghouls turn into werewolves? I thought John was going to the house with the others because he wouldn’t be affected if Jeremy shifted and bit him.”
Benjamin nodded and tried to ignore a growing unease. “That’s right,” he said.
“Okay,” Cassie replied. “Then… can werewolves turn into ghouls?”
Benjamin stared at her. The implications of her questions were obvious, and he forced his heart to stop beating rather than letting it rev up in a crescendo of adrenaline. “I don’t know,” he answered truthfully. “I think the only ones who would are the Council of Twelve, and they aren’t very forthcoming with what they or their donor packs are capable of. They’re much more of the ‘protect our status at all costs’ types, and that means keeping the rest of us unsure of the full extent of their abilities.” Then, because he had to have her confirm the suspicion that had burrowed down into his gut, Benjamin repeated his question once more. “Why?”
Cassie swallowed at the mention of the Council of Twelve. She licked her lips nervously before answering.
“Because,” Cassie said. “That man… Daniel. He was being followed by a ghost wolf. Like Hans is.”