When Daniel heard the car pull up to the drive, he stood up. “Well, I should see if that’s them,” he told his cousin Frank and his nephew Eric. “Just wait here.” He hastened to the door, feeling slightly relieved that they actually stayed in their seats at the table. Family. The things I’ve dealt with in the past 24 hours, and the one that’s hardest has to be family. Between his cousin and his nephew, Daniel hadn’t gotten a moment to himself. And if you hadn’t disappeared, they wouldn’t be treating you like you might vanish on them again.
The recriminations weren’t helpful, though. Daniel hadn’t had a choice and he knew it: not when he’d thought he’d been going insane, and didn’t know whether or not he might snap and shoot a member of his own family. Now, unfortunately, he was worried for an entirely different reason. Friend or foe? he wondered. He hadn’t been in contact with anyone since the previous night — although, to be fair, the only contact number he’d had belonged to Abby. And that number had been out of service every time he’d tried it.
At the doorway, Daniel surreptitiously drew his pistol. If the folks who’d shown up were hostiles, his best bet would be to engage them outside and hope his cousin and his nephew had the sense to bolt or hide. He’d only contacted them because he was going to need a place to stay during the daylight and someone to run errands for him: specifically, to pick up his study materials from the library. Those plans had gone out the window when he’d realized he couldn’t get a hold of Abigail, and that no one was at the house, making sure that certain corpses stayed in their closets — and Frank decided not to give his cousin a chance to disappear again before giving him some explanations. It had left him unusually anxious and tense all day. He’d even almost snapped at his cousin on more than one occasion. Especially when Frank had asked if his leave of absence and sudden temper were the result of some sort of PTSD.
No, it’s because I have to eat people to live, Daniel fumed. But at least if I get blown away my corpse might be left in a ‘revivable’ state. Ah, the benefits of undeath. It’ll be damn poor consolation if anyone gets to Frank or his boy, though, he reminded himself. It would be more like a curse: Daniel Stuessy was no stranger to survivor’s guilt.
Daniel tilted his head enough to check the mirror he’d tucked in the awning of the front porch to cover the walkway up to the house like a primitive periscope. He wasn’t reassured by what he saw: the last time he’d seen Hans, the tall, muscular man had been acting like some kind of meat puppet for a deranged, terrorist vampire. There were more people with him, too: Daniel could pick out at least two more in the car Hans was leaving behind.
But at least Hans had come up the walkway alone. Daniel opened the door and stepped out to greet him.
“Hello,” Daniel said loudly enough to be heard from inside the house. More quietly he added: “You good? Geased?”
“I’m good,” Hans answered back.
Daniel nodded. In his normal voice he continued. “I’ve just been waiting here with my cousin and his boy. I told them they could clear out, but they’ve been pretty adamant about sticking around in case I need a ride anywhere or something.” He shrugged and led the way into the house. “Frank, Eric, this is Hans. He lives here.”
Eric leaned back in his seat and swept his eyes up Hans’ limber frame. The younger man seemed impressed; maybe a little intimidated. Frank seemed neither, but at least he was a good business man. Frank rose to his feet and crossed the room, hand extended toward Hans. “I hope you don’t mind,” Frank said. “We just wanted to catch up and make sure Dan got home safe. You know how it is with family.” He smiled. “And, of course, I was hoping to meet whoever lives here. I’m a contractor, and I couldn’t help but notice that your house seems to have taken some… weather damage in the storms last night. My crew might be able to take care of that for you, or at least offer a bid.”
Hans shook Frank’s hand. “Thank you,” he said as though surprised and genuinely pleased. “With everything else going on, I haven’t even been thinking about that.” He gave Daniel a glance that was only somewhat hidden — and a lot questioning.
And what that means is: I didn’t even know about it. Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in later. Daniel didn’t know why, but for some reason he felt oddly at ease now that Hans was on hand. Perhaps it was because it took some of the stress off of him for figuring out what to tell his family.
“Great,” Frank said. “So: pardon my curiosity, but how did you two meet? We haven’t even heard from Daniel in the past month, and he was staying with us before then.”
Daniel grit his teeth at the unpleasant reminder of his time being homeless and everything that had gone into it.
“I own a publishing house,” Hans said. “Daniel is writing a book for me.”
Frank gawked for just a second before twisting his head to stare at Daniel. “Bullshit!” he called. “Why didn’t you say something when I was trying to get you on my crew?”
Because I had no idea this was gonna be the excuse, Daniel mentally answered. “Well, you know how it is in the publishing business,” he said aloud. And I hope that’s not true, because I sure as anything don’t. “I reckoned I should wait until I had something definite, right?” Fortunately, Hans eased his way back into the conversation.
Hans chuckled. “Mr. Stuessy had submitted a book proposal quite some time ago,” Hans said. He managed to look embarrassed. “It wasn’t until after I came on as a direct manager and shook things up a bit that one of the new editors turned it up from the slush pile. Since it was an older submission, she forwarded it to me for approval. I liked the idea enough to hunt down Daniel, which brings us up to here. I think he was probably just as surprised when I offered him an advance on it.”
“An advance.” Frank shook his head. “I still don’t believe it.”
And that, Daniel thought, is because you’re not a gullible idiot. Christ, am I going to have to actually write a book just to get him to drop this?
“That’s pretty cool, uncle Stuessy!” Eric chimed in. “I’d read it. What’s it about, anyway?”
Aw, damnit. “You’ll have to find out when it’s published, like everyone else,” Daniel told his nephew. I guess that means I will.
The delay didn’t dampen Eric’s interest at all. “Cool! Think I can get an advance reader’s copy?”
Daniel blinked blankly. This is a bad idea. He’d enjoyed a good book or two in his life, but he’d always just read whatever was on hand — he couldn’t afford to be picky, most of the time. Naturally, as a result he had no idea what the publishing process was like or how new books were released to the public. His nephew, on the other hand, was a self-avowed geek. Frank had been bombarding Eric with books ever since Eric was old enough to turn pages, proudly saying his kid was going to get into college and do something that didn’t just require muscles and manual dexterity. I wouldn’t be surprised if Eric wants to be an author some day. Maybe I can pay him to secretly write this damn thing for me.
“We’ll see what can be arranged,” Hans said. “But right now, he and I really need to finalize some things. So I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to pull Mr. Stuessy away for a bit. You understand, though? It’s business. If you head home, I’m sure you can catch up with him in the morning.”
Frank looked back and forth between Hans and Daniel dubiously. “Well, alright,” he reluctantly agreed. Then he jabbed his fingers at Daniel. “But you’d better darned well call us when you’re done here. We’ve got a heck of a lot more to catch up on than I thought.”
A knock at the door interrupted Daniel before he could answer his cousin. Hans spun, surprised, but quickly recovered. “Oh,” he said. He got the door. “Come in.”
“I’m sorry,” a young woman — not Abigail — said as she came into the room. “It’s just: we have some stuff I really need to talk about with Daniel.”
Daniel tried to think if he’d ever seen that particular girl, and drew a blank. Hans looked just as confused — but he took it in stride. He turned to address Frank and Eric. “This is Cassie,” he explained while he introduced. “She’s the editor who turned up Daniel’s manuscript. Curtis is another author — I have to talk to him in a bit. Ben here is the one who turned up his work.” Hans smiled broadly. “Cassie, Curtis, Benjamin: this is Frank and his son Eric. They’re family of Daniel’s, not people in the publishing business.”
The subtle emphasis Hans put on ‘in the publishing business’ might have been mistaken for an inflection of his accent, but Daniel saw that Cassie got it immediately. Benjamin proved that he did, too, but also that he had more control over his expression: it didn’t change at all when he spoke up.
“Well,” Benjamin said, “it’s been nice meeting you, but we really have quite a lot to get done.” He chuckled and shrugged. “Such are the perils of a business where you work your own hours. Even the weekends are not sacrosanct.” He and Cassie stepped clear of the door, subtly offering Frank and Eric a way out — and inadvertently leaving Curtis standing there on his own.
“What?” The young man said. “I thought we needed to collect him so we could go…” His jaw clicked shut and he actually cringed under the force of Daniel’s sudden glare — or maybe, Daniel noticed after a second, under the combined weight of his glare and Hans’. Curtis hastily scurried out of the way.
Frank and Eric also seemed to pick up on the subtext of tension that shot through the room. Eric had gotten up and stepped over by his dad: he looked anxious. Frank looked like he knew something was going on and didn’t like not knowing what.
“Well, we’ll let you get to your business then,” Frank said. “It’s been good meeting all of you.” He shook Hans’ hand again, and then Cassie’s. “Thank you for giving my thickheaded cousin a chance,” he told her. And then, on his way out the door he called back to Hans: “And don’t forget to have him call us when you’re done. He’s got our number, and I can arrange to come in and give you a proper estimate on that damage.”
Hans chuckled and followed Frank and Eric to the door. He waved as they left, and then closed the door behind them. Then he turned on Cassie, Benjamin, and Curtis. “What is going on?” He snapped. Then he stopped and rubbed his face. “Sorry. The moon; my temper… But no: what is going on? I just about had them out the door when you came in.”
Daniel watched as Cassie looked to Benjamin for support, then turned to address Hans. “It’s Daniel,” she said. “He has a wolf.”
“What?” Hans asked, echoing Daniel’s sentiment.
Curtis bounced on his toes. “A wolf,” he said. “Like we do!”
Hans’ eyes widened. He turned toward Daniel and stared at him. “Are you sure?” he asked Cassie without looking at her.
“Yes,” Cassie answered.
This time, only Daniel seemed confused by her statement. “What?” He asked, hoping for a more comprehensible answer than Hans had gotten.
“I’m a medium,” Cassie said. “I see ghosts. And other spirits. And I can tell when people are possessed by them. Sort of. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone possessed by an actual ghost,” she said in what was clearly turning into a ramble around an uncomfortable subject.
“But werewolves do,” Curtis jumped in for her. “I’ve got a ghost wolf. His name is Silver. So does Hans. Don’t know Hans’ name, yet. And so do you!”
Daniel didn’t know what to do with that, so he treated it like any other grenade that had been dropped on him: his adrenaline surged, and for a brief moment it short-circuited his disbelief, letting him start acting as though nothing unusual had just happened.
“Okay,” Daniel said. He looked at Hans. “Abigail mentioned that you had contingencies to control yourself during the full moon,” he said. “I think I may need to borrow one.”
Hans shook his head. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ve got a place where you can shift safely. The pack had an entire apartment complex. It’s still in my name and I never authorized renting any of it out.” He shot a glare at Cassie, who just shrugged.
“Your property manager must’ve decided to make some on the side,” she said. “I’ve got a lease and everything.” She frowned. “It did have some weird contingencies in it, but I figured that was just because the guy was aware of the supernatural side of reality.”
Hans nodded to her. “That’s something for another time,” he said before turning back to Daniel. “Right now we don’t have a lot of time. Your being a wolf is my fault: I tried to break Director Lewellan’s geas and wound up going feral. My wolf ravaged you, but you were under the effect of sympathetic healing powers from being drained by Lewellan. You must have been cursed with lycanthropy then, and still come back as a ghoul when you died.”
That was a little bit more than Daniel’s adrenaline fueled suspension of disbelief could handle. “I’m an undead werewolf?” He asked. No sooner had he gotten the question out, though, than he came to temporary grips with it. “We don’t have a lot of time. The sun goes down early this time of year and the moon is pretty damn close to full.” He’d spent plenty of nights staring at it from his bridge, trying not to sleep for fear of the nightmares.
“Yes,” Hans said. “But that’s not all. There was someone else you were with. A boy. Since it couldn’t hurt you without you healing, while I was out of control the wolf went after him, too.”
Daniel felt his eyes widen. “Jeremy?” he asked incredulously. But even before he’d gotten over his own disbelief he was putting together what needed done. “The library,” Daniel said. “He works there and said he would be there today. We need to get there and see if he’s still…”
“He isn’t,” Hans interrupted. “We already checked. And at the hospital, and at his home. But there is something we can do — except it requires your help.”
Daniel frowned. Protecting people was what he’d signed up for with his life, and now Jeremy — an all around decent kid — was in serious shit because he’d been decent to a homeless guy looking for a book. “What do I do?”
“We have a faerie with us,” Benjamin said. “According to Abigail, he can follow the connection you made with Jeremy when you spent the day with him, and then come back and tell us where he is.”
“And where is this faerie?” Daniel asked.
“Right here,” a cultured voice answered from the hallway door. Everyone snapped around. An elf in a white suit was standing there. “Hello,” he said. “I am Sebastian. Abigail asked me to deliver a message for you, much of which is invalidated by your having already been reached by Hans. She says you need to contact either him or herself, immediately. She also asked me to give you these numbers.” Sebastian entered the room and handed a piece of paper to Daniel. Two phone numbers were on it. One was labeled ‘John’ and the other was labeled ‘Abigail.’
Daniel tucked the paper into his pocket. “Right,” he said. He actually felt a little bit of relief at having Abigail’s number again, even though he’d known he’d be able to contact her by calling for his own liaison and sending a message. Spending an entire day with his family had made him uncomfortably aware of how tricky that particular option could end up being. “So how do we find Jeremy, then?”
Sebastian smiled pleasantly. “If you’ll be so good as to focus on what you know about the young man, I’ll pick out the leyline that grows stronger and follow it back to his location. Once I find a street address or a landmark, I’ll return and tell you where he is.”
Daniel nodded and tried to concentrate. He wished he hadn’t slept through so much of the day, and had gotten to know the kid better. He also hoped, very much, that this faerie of Abigail’s was actually trustworthy. The initial burst of adrenaline from finding out he was a werewolf was starting to wear off, and his forebrain was starting to prompt him to ask questions about the long term instead of adapting to the necessities of the moment.
And then Sebastian seemed to sag. “I can’t do it,” the faerie said.
Hans’ eyes flew open wide with anger and he stepped forward. He grabbed Sebastian by the collar and lifted him off of his feet. “What do you mean,” he snarled.
A similar surge of aggression swept through Daniel, but that just served to clear his mind down to the needs of the moment again. “Stand down, soldier!” he barked. He wasn’t remotely surprised when Hans jerked as though struck and let Sebastian go. Daniel stepped between them. He gave Hans his best drill sergeant glare and then turned on the faerie. “Explain.”
Sebastian swallowed anxiously. “I tried. I should have been able to… wherever he is,” Sebastian said, “it’s warded. I can’t follow the line through a ward. If I hadn’t been drained so thoroughly last night, or hadn’t so recently taken on a form more useful to Lady Abigail, then perhaps I could break through it — or if I was invited, or there was some hole in it I could exploit. But as it stands?” He shook his head. “I can’t even tell you how powerful that ward is. There’s nothing I can do.”
“What about my liaison,” Daniel asked. “Would he have the strength to do it? Or be able to help?”
Sebastian shook his head again. “I’m afraid that Thaddeus was repurposed to provide Abigail with sustenance in the event of an emergency,” he said. “And the other faeries who are available have either also fed Lady Abigail today or are far weaker than I by their very natures.”
Suddenly, another faerie appeared next to Sebastian. This one was a gaunt elf wearing some fantasy author’s imagination of a wizard’s arcane robes. He even had a sparkling staff.
“I apologize for my failing,” the emaciated elf proclaimed. “Only so many of us have worked our way back into this realm, and I have already been fed upon by Lady Abigail. That was why I stepped in for Thaddeus when he was needed to attend her — I did not anticipate that someone with their full strength would be needed to serve in this capacity.”
Sebastian swallowed again. “I can try to find out if anyone else is available,” he said. “But otherwise? The best we can do is keep an eye on your lines and hope that the boy Jeremy leaves whatever warded sanctuary he’s found.”