Valerie joined us when we got up to the first floor. It seemed she had secured a remote section of the stacks in which to discuss her plans for the future with Prudence, but her supernatural hearing alerted her to Mister Fiore and I coming up from the basement. An incorporeal Thaddeus was waiting atop the stairs as well, presumably to keep an eye on any comings or goings for Reid, who I was surprised to see show up — insubstantial like Thaddeus — riding on Prudence’s shoulder.
I thought that since this was your city, you should have a say — or at least an ear — in whatever everyone else decided to do about the faerie population in it, Reid thought at me as the tree-faerie he was riding approached.
“Abigail,” Valerie started to say — but I was in too big of a hurry to waste time on greetings.
“Can’t talk” I said as I rushed past her. “Have to go to wherever Hans is.”
My super hearing picked up on Valerie joining Fiore behind me. “Matteo?” She asked.
“I’ve no idea,” he admitted. “Something about a situation at the old pack apartment complex.” Which wasn’t exactly what I’d told him, but close enough. I could fill her in the rest of the way in the car.
The limo was still near the front of the building — just pulled over at the side of the drive — when we came out. Its driver was waiting beside it. He scrambled to get the door when he saw me coming.
“The pack apartments,” I said as I ducked into the vehicle. “And drive fast.” Something in my face or tone must have conveyed how serious this was, because he ran to the front of the car without waiting for me to get the rest of the way in. He had it started before everyone else had joined me.
I can’t believe I just heard you say that, Melvin abruptly thought at me.
Great, I thought back. Just when I was starting to ignore you.
Melvin grinned and sat next to me. He was still invisible and immaterial, but so were Thaddeus and Reid. They sat next to him — then Valerie, then an immaterial Prudence, and then a grumpy Mister Fiore. Interestingly enough, despite being oblivious to the faeries’ presences neither vampire sat in one.
The limo started moving even before Fiore closed the door behind himself. I approved. Or, I wanted to. I really did. I was just having trouble getting past the fact that we were being driven by a madman and it was going to take a miracle for us to get anywhere without turning into a twisted, burning wreckage of metal on the side of the road, first.
Of course, if I’d just used my powers to freeze time and run to wherever Hans’ apartments were, we wouldn’t be in this death trap. So if we all died in a burning limo wreck and then the engine exploded, scattering our remains beyond any hope of recovery, that was going to be on me, now, too.
My stomach lurched as we took a turn. I could only imagine the screams of run-down pedestrians and the blaring of horns and probably the spray from a decapitated fire hydrant our driver was leaving in his wake, because the limo was ward… Wait, no it isn’t. The limo wasn’t warded or the faeries wouldn’t have been able to get in: that was still down from when Reid’s troll had forced his way in at the hospital.
As soon as I realized that, the road noise that I’d been barely aware of assaulted me. No screams, though. So far.
I squeezed my eyes shut and tried not to hyperventilate. Just let the driver do the driving, I told myself. Deep breaths. In-two-three; out-two-three. I tried not to keep mental track of the cumulative count so I could convert it into seconds I was wasting by riding to Hans. That just made me start breathing harder.
Then, as though I weren’t painfully uncomfortable enough, Melvin leaned into me. Still immaterial, talking was out of the question. But when he plastered himself to my side his thoughts were capable of squeezing around the block I’d put in their path.
Are you alright, Abigail? Melvin asked.
Oh, that was rich. Melvin was acting concerned? Really? You honestly think I’ll answer that when it’s coming from you?! If I said I was, he’d take it to mean I wanted him to do something about it. Like tease me or torment me or otherwise be a creepy, smarmy jerk. And if I told him I wasn’t, he’d take it to mean I wanted him to tease, taunt, and torment me so badly I’d provided him a prompt.
Damn sadistic elf.
Melvin feigned being hurt. Why, Abigail, my mistrusting madeleine, were not you the one who pointed out to me that I needed to ensure your well-being if I were to be true to my oath to protect Megan’s?
Of course I don’t trust you! I shot back, ignoring the point he made. I don’t have a reason to trust you!
You have my oath, he responded indignantly. I was pretty sure that wasn’t feigned, if only because Melvin was a proud individual.
Yeah, I thought. About that. What exactly is your relationship with Orlina, Mister Tophat?
Melvin’s eyes widened slightly. I felt the smile in his thoughts, though. Why, Abigail, are you jealous? he chortled.
Hardly, I spat back. I just know that your oath isn’t worth as much if it happens to be split between people with conflicting goals. Is there something in your relationship with her that would undermine your oath to Megan? Can you see why I’m concerned now?
That was enough to sober Melvin, at least temporarily. Fair enough, he acknowledged. Very well. Allow me to reassure you: Orlina considers me a friend; nothing more. Likewise, the only promise I have ever made her is one that I made because it seemed like an entertainingly impossible project at the time. I promised to help her free herself from her father’s court. A promise which, I’ll have you know, Megan also made.
That proclamation made me hesitate in turn. I was aware that Megan had made the same promise. I’d felt it tugging at me when Megan had told me about it — in the same way that an oath made to her could be called on by me, any oath she made seemed to bind me as well.
I really should have talked to her about that while we’d been on our own in her bedroom.
Okay, I thought. So… how are you going to do that? I didn’t like having geases on me — but if Melvin had a plan, then maybe Megan and I could accomplish Orlina’s request and get rid of this one.
Melvin’s psychic laughter disabused me of that hope.
Oh, you poor naive nectarine, Melvin taunted me. I’ve no plan to address it! Indeed, you’ve already done far more than I ever have to secure her freedom. If either of us should ask the other what to do about it next, it should be I that asks you!
What?! I psychically yelped. No! Just: No! That pressure on top of everything else risked being too much. How many other things had I been responsible for only to nearly ruin in the last week? It was all luck! Megan couldn’t be relying on me to figure out what to do about Orlina. Even if I had sort of started things off with the whole ‘she is a prisoner of war now’ thing. I’m not that clever, I protested to myself. I’m not!
I don’t know, Melvin drawled. I think you don’t quite give yourself enough credit — unless this is a ruse to get me to underestimate you by convincing me that you underestimate yourself? Except, if that were the case, I doubt you’d feel so honest about saying it.
He chuckled. I suspect that if you can set it up so that the nobility of an entire faerie kingdom unknowingly swore alliance to you, then Megan and Orlina and I can all rest confident you can convince one faerie king to give up his claim on an adoptive daughter.
I felt sick. I felt depressingly, mind numbingly ill. Was that what was coming next? I’d just dealt with one faerie king, and now I had to face off with another one for the sake of saving someone I didn’t even know? And didn’t it just make me a terrible person that I wasn’t all set to just run out there and right wrongs and save innocents and… Orlina needed help. It really shouldn’t have mattered whether or not I knew her. And I was going to help her, anyway. And I felt shitty that I couldn’t even tell myself that I was choosing to be a good person, because I was under a geas and I didn’t even know if I would be trying to figure out how to help her if I wasn’t.
Actually, Melvin interjected, what’s coming up next is helping your puppy with his little problem.
God. Dammit. I clearly needed a bigger psychic ‘get the fuck out of my head!’ sign.
Melvin made the mental equivalent of a haughty sniff. Fine. If that is how you want to be about this conversation, my lovely licorice, then it is your call. His thoughts abruptly turned smug. But I did manage to keep your thoughts occupied for the duration of our travel.
I blinked twice and straightened in my seat. I’d been so focused on picking out Melvin’s messages and responding that I’d been oblivious to everything else. Now that I was paying attention I could see that Valerie was watching me with a worried expression; Fiore with a suspicious one. The limo was indeed slowing down. And I felt like shit, even if I hadn’t had an all out panic attack.
What do you want, I demanded bitterly, a cookie?
And wouldn’t you just be the most contrary of cookies, too? Melvin thought at me with a mental laugh. No, my pretty pastry, I’d rather have a cake. Something with layers, like yourself. His thoughts dripped with innuendo. Though I’ll settle for the crumbs of your desire that you leave out as a trail, Abigail. That’s more than enough of a start for me to win my way to a larger slice.
With that, and a sudden, unexpected mental image of a darkly serious, fully dressed Melvin tying an otherwise naked me up with the strings of an apron and licking icing off my lips before throwing me onto a kitchen counter and scattering baking supplies everywhere, Melvin pulled away. With the distance he put between us our connection waned until the block I’d built while I was dormant was once more enough to separate our thoughts fully.
But by then it was too late. I was already thinking about Melvin’s lips pressing over mine, of Melvin catching my lower lip between his teeth and nibbling it as though it were those crumbs of interest he claimed I was leaving out for him. And I was trembling at the thought of being bound and helpless and…
No. No! I cut that thought off short. I had to take my riled up state and push it toward anger to do it. Dammit, Melvin! Injecting his own damn fantasies into my subconscious was just un-fucking-fair.
I mean: that one was clearly not one of mine. I didn’t even know how to bake.
Although, Hans could probably show me.
Oh, great, and now I had that fantasy running concurrently with the other one! And kind of smooshing together. Even though there was no way Hans and Melvin could possibly get along for long enough to do anything, up to and including fucking me over a countertop.
Actually, probably especially not including that.
It was a huge relief when the limo door opened and Mister Fiore and Valerie got out. I rushed for the door, too. It was too warm in the back of the limo, and Melvin had been sitting back with a smug look on his face like he didn’t even need to be able to look in my head to figure out what was going on in there.
The smug, smarmy, creep.
The cool evening air felt particularly biting on my warm cheeks. I looked around, determined to ignore that and the things Hans and Melvin were doing in my head — I’m pretty sure sharing me was not a realistic possibility of them engaging in male bonding! — and saw that we were in the parking lot of an apartment complex. The buildings looked like they were more than one story tall, but that was an illusion given by their sloped roofs.
Outside of one of them and walking swiftly toward us was Hans. A materialized Reid was leading him our way. I shook my head to clear out my thoughts: I hadn’t even noticed whenever it was that Reid had left, but it looked like he’d gotten a hold of Hans with enough time for Hans to expect us.
I ran the distance that remained between us and threw myself in Hans’ arms. “I’m sorry,” I babbled, and I felt the weave dragging its hooks into my aura. I didn’t even care. “I came as quickly as I could. I swear: I did my best. I tried. I… I brought help. Where’s Daniel? We can find Jeremy before it’s too late. I know we can.”
If Hans had any trouble following my breathless exclamations, he didn’t show it. Then again: if Hans listened to my babble at all, he didn’t show it. He caught me and lifted me like he had at the hospital, and then shut me up with a violently possessive kiss. It sent shivers racing down my spine. I liked it. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him back. I melted into him while he crushed me to his chest, and I tried desperately not to start crying.
Because we didn’t have time for this. And he had to know it just like I knew it. But he was kissing me anyway, and from the growl in his throat and the impending sunset I could only assume it was because even more of his wolf was bleeding through than had been earlier — but that only excused him.
I didn’t have an excuse, other than that I was a coward and being in Hans’ arms made me feel safe.
And I had to lose myself in Hans’ arms and lips and want because if I didn’t then I would have to see that every delay we took was my fault, just like this whole situation was to begin with — and I couldn’t do what I needed to do to get us out of it.
I tried. I tried so hard. I tried to make myself stop kissing Hans, because we didn’t have the time. I tried to make myself stop time, to prove that I still could and that I would be able to make up for any time we lost when I couldn’t stop returning his kiss.
But all I managed to do was to hold back the urge to sob and let my tears slip silently down my cheeks while I squeezed my eyes shut and smashed my lips to his.