Eventually, I managed to pull my lips away from Hans. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud of that or just be pissed that the irritation of being in the sun had finally managed to overwhelm my desire to keep my lips mashed against Hans’ mouth. In any case, with the kiss broken I had to choose between starting another one or getting on with what I’d come here to do. It was a harder choice than I expected. But, ultimately: the sooner we were done here, the sooner I could go inside and cut off that damn solar itchiness.
“Hans!” I scolded him. “We don’t have time for this! Where’s Daniel?”
Hans reluctantly put me down, but he kept a possessive arm around my waist. I liked that. I tried not to let it distract me, but I can’t say I was entirely successful. Rather than pushing me away, he’s refusing to let me go, I thought in wonderment. How could I have been so stupid about him dumping me before? And he wasn’t even staying with me because he was enthralled! His wolf was the enthralled one: it listened to me back at the hospital.
I was so. damn. stupid. He’d even told me that he didn’t get enthralled by vampires when I’d asked about his time as Salvatore’s donor. Why hadn’t I just taken him at his word about that?
Hans turned and called for Daniel over his shoulder. I peered around Hans’ torso and saw that Daniel had followed him out of the apartment. Cassie and Curtis from the hospital were there, too, but they remained hanging back. So was a currently out-of-phase elf, who was dressed up like some sort of wizard straight out of a fantasy manga. I’ve fed on that one, I realized as I felt the connection between myself and him.
Daniel hurried forward to join us. “Abigail,” he growled. “We should get you inside.”
I shook my head. “No time. Daniel, you have the closest connection to the guy we’re after, right? I have a faerie who can probably follow that.”
“We tried that,” Daniel snapped. “It wasn’t possible to breach the wards around Jeremy. Now: Get. In. Side.”
I shifted to look at Daniel. My eyes were probably a little wide with surprise. I knew he had that commanding side to his personality. I’d felt hints of it from when I’d stolen his essence back from Pipsqueak — but he’d also kept it restrained the last time we spoke. But he’s a wereghoulf, I reminded myself. And it’s close to sunset, and he hasn’t been trained to deal with his wolf like Hans has. So how much is Daniel’s wolf affecting him?
“Calm down,” I said, hoping I wasn’t tripping some sort of ‘fight for dominance’ instinct that Daniel didn’t naturally have. “This is a different faerie. Melvin might actually be able to do it.”
“Melvin?” Hans asked. I felt him tense next to me. He sounded angry. Oh shit, I thought. Please don’t shoot him when he shows up.
Which, of course, Melvin took as his cue to show up. He materialized out of the air, a shit-eating grin on his face. “Why, puppy! You called for me? I never thought I’d see the day!” He smiled wider. “And now, although I’d love to take advantage of your current plight, I am under instruction to render aid without insisting on any sort of recompense. I know, I know: I don’t like it any more than you do. In other circumstances, I could be taking all sorts of advantage of this mess!” He sighed dramatically and stepped forward, extending a hand. “So, for Abigail’s sake, and our animosity’s sake, and the sake of having fun again once we’re done with this, let us just get this particular unpleasantness out of the way as quickly as possible, shall we?”
Hans didn’t answer. Instead, his tension evaporated as he exploded into motion. He turned, and the arm around my waist dragged me to the side. That let him step forward, and his free arm lashed out. He caught Melvin by the neck. Hans’ long fingers closed almost entirely around it, and he actually lifted Melvin off the ground.
Melvin dropped his cane and grappled with Hans’ arm, which didn’t seem to do anything. I yelped and tugged myself out of Hans’ grip on instinct — safe in Hans’ arms was good. Trapped in the clutches of a man turned to violence was bad.
Really, really bad.
I jerked myself away so forcefully that I tripped. The parking lot pavement skinned my palms, but they started healing immediately. That was also bad. Sunlight drained my aura. Using powers like healing drained my aura. Being subjected to both at the same time drained it much faster than either did alone.
Fortunately, it was just for a split second. Scrapes didn’t take much to heal. But it was enough that the itchiness from being in the sun started to become more painful than just annoying. I turned to look, afraid I might find Hans pulling a gun now that he had another hand free. I was relieved to see that he hadn’t. That relief only lasted for a second.
Daniel had the gun pulled, and he’d put it to Melvin’s head.
“You,” Hans growled at Melvin, “need to stay away from Abigail.”
“She’s our pack mate,” Daniel snarled in addition. “You can’t have her.”
What? I had to have misheard that — but I hadn’t. I could hear Cassie and Curtis breathing on the other end of the parking lot; I hadn’t misheard Daniel: he was right there in front of me! Oh, I thought. Oh shit. I’d overfed on Hans and he and his wolf had started bleeding together — to the point that Hans’ wolf had thought about things like ‘murder’ that it would otherwise have had no concept of. But Daniel had been fed on by Lewellan — No. Not just fed on. Drained completely. How much of his wolf is in control right now?!
Melvin looked frantically back and forth between the two of them without shifting his head. He opened his mouth to say something — and then things went crazy.
Valerie and Fiore suddenly appeared — they blurred into existence as they decelerated time for themselves and threw themselves into the mix. Fiore appeared between Hans and Melvin. He caught Hans’ arm and casually broke it, forcing him to drop Melvin. Valerie appeared mid-leap and tackled Daniel just as he pulled the trigger.
Valerie’s tackle messed up Daniel’s aim — but not enough. Rather than blasting straight through Melvin’s head, Daniel’s shot entered through the back, lower part of Melvin’s skull and angled up. It punched through the top of his head and out through the opposite side of his top hat, dragging a swirl of black fog in its wake. Melvin melted into nothingness before he even hit the ground.
No, I thought. No no no no no. I didn’t know what I was protesting. I didn’t know what was happening — Even though my supernaturally enhanced perception was reporting all of it in agonizingly exquisite detail.
Hans’ arm spasmed. Bone splintered and twisted and the limb straightened, reminding me of when he’d fought Salvatore and used partial shape shifts to heal himself until he’d been stabbed with silver. But this time, it seemed to keep twisting.
At the same time, Valerie forced Daniel’s gun arm down. He fired twice more as she did it; bullets impacted the pavement. But that was probably just a reflexive pulling of his trigger finger — maybe he’d meant to put multiple rounds into Melvin — because while that was happening Daniel wrenched his other arm free of Valerie’s tackle and then drove his elbow into her face.
Reid and Thaddeus appeared in front of me, as though to separate me from the fight. All they did was block my vision. I heard Curtis shouting “Cassie, inside!” over the staccato of gunfire. Then, from between Thaddeus’ legs, I saw Hans suddenly hit the ground as his own legs were cut out from under him by whichever one of Fiore’s solocks had opened fire.
NO! I didn’t know if the shriek was aloud or in my mind, but all of the faeries recoiled. So maybe it was both. I shoved Thaddeus aside and rushed forward to Hans. I had to bite him, had to heal him. He was jerking on the ground: his legs crackled and twisted as the bones shifted.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a solock with an assault rifle rise from his shooter’s crouch and start slowly advancing. He was one of five that I could see moving out from a van parked between our limo and the apartment complex’s entrance. Nearer the apartments, Curtis was running, too. But he was running toward an apartment with an open door, dragging Cassie and shouting something at her — I ignored him as soon as I saw he was going away. Valerie had snapped Daniel’s wrist, forcing him to drop his gun, and caught his other arm. She wrestled him to the ground as I knelt over Hans.
Time seemed to slow, but it hadn’t really: that was just the adrenaline. I grabbed Hans and tried to get close enough to bite him — he spasmed and jerked under me. Bones cracked and flesh twisted. When my fangs sank into him it was around a mouthful of fur. He had shifted.
And then it hit me.
Gentleness. Consideration. Kindness. Mischievousness. But foremost: duty. The need not to be a monster. To be a caretaker and provider. To protect. Everything that I associated with Hans slammed into my aura with all the weight and insistence of the auras I took when I fed from anyone who was a completely normal human.
This is Hans. I’d wondered, before, if I was actually feeding on him or if I was feeding on his wolf. Now I knew. Because now that he’d shifted, his auras had turned inside out, and for the first time ever: I was feeding on Hans.
But that meant that his wolf had taken over when he shifted. He’d been struggling with it, and he’d lost.
The beast tore free of my grip and my fangs, leaving me sprawling before I’d gotten more than a taste of its blood. It spun in place. Pale yellow eyes fixed on me. I, on hands and knees, looked up and felt my heart and breathing shut down. Adrenaline and everything else bottomed out. This is how I die, I thought instead of moving. I couldn’t make myself move. Torn apart by wolves was always how I was going to end. The sound of shifting flesh and cracking bone continued to assault my ears and Hans’ wolf crept forward, staring me down intently.
I am so going to die now.
But then Hans’ wolf just sniffed my face. And then it licked me. And then it hunched down, hackles raised and fangs bared: snarling angrily at something above me.
I twisted around and saw Thaddeus coming forward. “Don’t,” I shouted at him — and miraculously he listened and backed away before Hans’ wolf decided it needed to defend me. I picked myself up off the ground and put a hand on the neck of Hans’ wolf. So soft, part of me noted — but mostly I just hoped the restraint would hold him back if he decided something else was threatening us. I turned to check on Daniel — had Valerie hurt him? — but then the sound of flesh and bone twisting stopped.
Valerie yelped as Daniel’s wolf surged up and flung her off. He spun, growling and snapping at all of us. Then his yellow eyes fixated on Hans and I, and a shiver went up my spine.
Hans’ wolf was enthralled by me. And Daniel had liked me for saving him, even while he was under the influence of his wolf. But right now I didn’t think Daniel had as much influence over his wolf as his wolf had shown over him.
Daniel’s wolf growled, low and angry, and advanced on us. Hans’ wolf put itself in front of me. It whined in response to Daniel’s growls and backed up against me, but it didn’t get out of the way. I looked around frantically. I didn’t know what to do and I still didn’t know what was going on — but I saw Fiore’s solocks fanning out, moving into position to line up shots on Hans and Daniel both. Fiore himself produced a gun.
And I saw something else, something that I might have missed were it not for my supernatural senses still scrambling to make sense of the madness that had exploded around me.
“Don’t,” I snapped at Mister Fiore. I didn’t want anyone else getting shot. Mister Fiore hesitated, and I pointed at what I’d seen. “Sunset and moonrise aren’t the same thing,” I told him as though I’d realized it all along. And on a certain level I had: I know I’ve seen the moon up in the daytime before. Like right now. Pale against the still day lit sky, the moon — an almost perfect circle — was already peeking up above a part of the city skyline.
“Between the influence of that,” I said firmly, “and the fact that they’ve been struggling with their wolves because of how damaged their auras are… When Melvin showed up it must have pushed Hans over the edge, and then pack mentality did it for Daniel.” It was the only thing I could think of that made sense, because the violence with which Hans had acted was utterly alien to the personality I’d tasted when I’d fed from him. And Daniel had never lashed out that I’d seen, even after Pipsqueak had torn up his soul and I’d given it back to him. This… this was fucked up, but it wasn’t them. Not really. “So no shooting. They didn’t choose to do anything wrong, and we might still be able to get through to them.”
Fiore looked at the moon and then back at me. Then he shrugged. “If you want to get ripped apart by one, don’t let me stop you,” he muttered. He put his gun up and gestured to his people. They lowered theirs as well. I returned my attention to the wolf that was creeping forward and tried to ignore the unease in my stomach: I’d just been faking the confidence when I’d started giving Fiore orders. But it had been the right thing to do, and I was going to deal with that.
“Daniel,” I said, hoping the man could still hear me somewhere in there. “It’s me, Abigail.”
Daniel’s wolf bared its teeth and snarled at me. Yep, I’m gonna die, I thought. He hunched down, readying himself to spring past Hans and rip out my throat.
And then another wolf howled.
Daniel’s wolf snapped around to face the sound and snarled. Hans’ wolf bolted upright, also suddenly on alert. Both of them tensed — they almost vibrated from it. At the other end of the parking lot, next to an open apartment door, the third wolf sat with its tongue hanging out in an almost comical expression of disdain. It yawned at Daniel and Hans and then resumed panting.
Both of the wolves next to me took off after the one that I could only assume was Curtis. They moved so fast I almost could have thought they were manipulating time: their legs ate the pavement at a rate I couldn’t imagine a mortal sprinter matching. Curtis whirled around just as fast and disappeared into the apartment house. I ran after Hans and Daniel, too. I didn’t think about it: I just did it.
I was faster than any mere mortal, but not as fast as the wolves. Before I’d closed half the distance to where Curtis had started, all three of them had gone into the house. I could only watch, my supernatural eyesight revealing their chase in perfect detail through the open doorway.
Curtis was waiting for them in a hallway directly opposite from the front door. He waited until they entered the apartment and then threw himself sideways, into an open closet. Daniel scrabbled on the hardwood floor, leaving gouges in it as he slid into a turn and leapt after Curtis. Hans followed immediately after — and then I was at the door of the house myself.
I froze before entering. It was part instinct, part a feeling of pressure at the threshold of the door. I wasn’t invited. But I could hear animals snarling and yiping in pain, and thrashing and fighting. Then Cassie burst out of another door opposite the closet. I saw her kneel down, half-in and half-out of the door that the wolves had vanished through. She did something near the floor — I heard wood striking wood and something metallic scraping on metal, and then she threw herself back, sobbing.
A basement, I thought. Hans had told me once about a basement where he could shift on the full moon, where the only access was a trap door that the wolf couldn’t reach. Curtis had led Hans and Daniel into a basement, and left Cassie to lock them in rather than let them run wild through the city.
And they were going to rip him to pieces for it.
“Cassie!” I screamed. “Invite me in!”
Cassie twisted on the floor. She stared at me in astonishment. Her mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear anything — naturally the house was warded, too. I took a risk and assumed that whatever she’d said was an invitation, and I threw myself across the threshold.
As I crossed the wards, the sounds coming from below the apartment redoubled in intensity. But to my relief my aura wasn’t torn apart for violating the sanctity of a home: I’d gambled on the right interpretation of Cassie’s shocked whisper.
I ran to Cassie’s side and swung around to face the closet. Sure enough, there was a trap door set in the floor of it: now closed and dead bolted shut. The snarling under my feet was punctuated by another yipe of pain, and I surged forward without thinking.
I didn’t want Hans or Daniel to be murderers. I didn’t care if it was their wolves that did the deed: I knew it would affect them just as much as it tore at me that my vampire side had killed Lewellan and obliterated Archarel. Just as much as it would affect me, if I ever lost control and killed one of my friends.
I ripped open the trap door. I didn’t bother to undo the deadbolt first: I just tore it apart. And then, before my brain and reason and self-preservation could stop me, I leapt down into the waiting darkness.