A single leap was all it took to get me into the hallway — though I did stagger. I would have tried to steady myself by catching the frame for the closet door, but Valerie was right there. She had a cellphone — not her own — in one hand. She caught me with the other and steadied my landing. It was embarrassing.
I need to practice using above-human strength for things, I thought. Strangely, it was easy to do things just as I would have if I were a mortal — it was like I had to actively choose to push past that before the ‘scale’ of personal effort to force applied in the world shifted to encompass my full range. Probably because: magic, I speculated as I made a mental note to add ‘superhuman physical therapy’ onto my to-do list.
I glanced up and down the hallway. Matteo had indeed left the building: I caught a glimpse of him as he stalked toward his people’s van. Valerie let go of my arm when I turned my attention to her and returned the favor — she had followed my gaze and had been watching Matteo as well. She gave me a mildly bemused grin. I frowned back and then ignored her.
Instead, I let my attention fixate further up the hallway in the opposite direction from the front door, to where Curtis had dragged himself. A somewhat flustered Cassie was attempting to help him with the bloody remnants of his clothes: she’d gotten his shirt off and used it to scrub up some of the blood that stained his skin. Curtis himself was propped against the wall with his eyes closed. He winced frequently while Cassie worked and appeared to be trying not to move too much or breathe too hard.
I pulled away from Valerie and took the few steps necessary to bring me to Curtis and Cassie. Cassie paused in tending to Curtis and looked up at my approach. Her expression turned from worry to fear when it regarded me. I could sympathize, but I wasn’t inclined to. I ignored her and knelt beside Curtis.
“Curtis,” I said, “You did a good thing in containing Hans and Daniel. I would like for you to do another. I am on the edge of succumbing to my thirst. There are others I could sate it on, but they have weaker auras than you do. Taking blood from yourself would mean inflicting less harm on them, and there would be more strength available for me to take before I had to stop for your safety.”
He didn’t really have a choice, since I needed to drink or I’d be stuck in this house until Reid could scrounge up another troll — which wasn’t a viable option if I was going to follow up on Cassie’s lead and get to Jeremy before he lost control. Especially since the deadline had already passed: the moon was up.
The only good thing about this mess was that now I knew it wasn’t a hard deadline. Despite the moon being up, Daniel had been able to resist shifting until he’d been antagonized. So it followed that Jeremy should be able to restrain himself as long as he wasn’t antagonized.
Thus, I still had a chance to make sure he didn’t hurt anyone — as long as I could follow up on whatever report we’d gotten as to Jeremy’s location.
And that meant I needed blood, and the only option on hand other than Curtis was Cassie, since Valerie and Matteo’s donors hadn’t come into the house. And while Cassie was an option, I didn’t particularly care to feed on witches other than Emma. There was too much emotional baggage when I did.
Still: if Curtis agreed to let me drink from him it would nicely avoid all the drama that would come about from just taking what I wanted — especially since I would be enthralling his wolf instead of him, so he would still be capable of being outraged about it, afterward.
Which is probably why he isn’t answering, I thought. That was the consideration that I figured kept most people hesitant about giving blood to a vampire: the prospect of being turned into an emotional puppet. Or perhaps the squick factor. But that one wasn’t very rational, so it was probably the emotional slavery bit.
“Your wolf will be enthralled to me,” I said to alleviate that fear. “You, however, will not be. And,” I added just so I would sound like I was honestly interested in letting him make an informed decision, “the sympathetic healing you receive when I take your blood will heal the pain that shifting while dressed has inflicted on you.”
Curtis made a noise that sounded like it started life as a chuckle and ended it as a wheeze. He started to lift an arm, but then let it drop with a groan. He opened his eyes and looked into mine. “You should’ve just led with ‘pain go away’,” he forced himself to say. “Do what you’ve gotta.”
“Curtis,” Cassie started to protest — but I was already leaning in to sink my fangs into his shoulder. He sucked in a breath with a hiss when they pierced his skin. The coppery taste of blood struck my lips and then I felt the surge of life.
Curtis’ wolf was different than Hans’. There was still the deep, primal undercurrent. The need to kill and eat and mate — but it was tempered by other desires. To hunt. To run. To howl at the moon and to be alive and a part of the pack.
“It’s okay, Cassie,” Curtis said. He had turned away from me to address her. I didn’t care — I was just trying not to moan with pleasure at the rush of being alive. I drank more, reveling in it.
And then I felt something wrong. Something that shouldn’t have been a part of a bestial wolf. Concern and worry flowed over the baser instincts — but those were followed immediately by reassurance and comfort. And then the concern shifted, turning to determination… to offering.
I gasped and recoiled. What was that?! Hans’ wolf had never been so complex when I’d fed from it. At least, not until I’d torn up the barriers between himself and it, and it started conceptualizing things like ‘murder’ in addition to the simple thrill of the hunt and joy of the kill. But Curtis’ wolf seemed almost aware of the situation with Jeremy — the concern I’d felt for it hadn’t been for itself, but for Jeremy and Hans and Daniel. The offering had been directed to me. And the reassurance and comfort….
The comfort I could see the source of. Cassie was sitting cross-legged and stroking the air in front of her. “It’s okay,” she murmured softly. I shifted my vision as I did when I was looking for immaterial faeries and saw the translucent wolf with its head in her lap.
Cassie raised her eyes to glare at me — part in anger and frustration, part in fear. Curtis’ wolf was important to her, I realized. She actually knew Curtis’ wolf outside of his rampages on the full moon. For a second I tried to wrap my head around that fact and failed. I had no idea how their interactions could have affected the wolf — for all I knew, her influence was the reason for the greater breadth I’d tasted in its emotions.
I reached toward the wolf and Cassie recoiled, no doubt thinking I was reaching for her. The wolf raised its head in alarm, but when it saw me it immediately relaxed. The enthrallment had already taken hold. I stroked its head like I’d seen Cassie doing.
The experience was strange. My skin tingled at a drop in temperature that I would likely not have noticed had my enhanced senses not also extended to touch. There was no other resistance, and if I’d wanted I could have swept my hand entirely through the spectral wolf. I didn’t, though. Through the emotions I was still digesting I felt the wolf’s joyous reaction to my touch — or rather, to the intent my touch conveyed. It seemed to draw the intent into itself and subsume it, turning the intent to offer comfort into comfort itself.
“You can see him,” Cassie said. I glanced at her. Her eyes were huge now, but shock had replaced all traces of anger or fear. “You can see Silver?”
I nodded and stood. The wolf — Silver? — rose from where he had been lying in Cassie’s lap and followed at my side when I returned to Valerie. My mind was digging at the experience of feeding on him. I could imagine that Cassie and Curtis both would have questions for me, but I was too busy trying to answer my own to be willing to distract myself with trying to provide answers to theirs, as well.
“Okay,” I said to Valerie. “I think I should be safe to go outside until sunset.” She nodded in understanding. “So: what do we know and where are we going?”
Cassie had followed behind Silver and I. Valerie reached out to hand her the phone she was still holding. “I answered the call while Cassie was occupied,” Valerie explained. “It was actually a warlock I’d talked to earlier. He had been trying to divine the location of Jeremy’s warded sanctuary for her and Curtis, and one of his agents had turned them up. They’re in a church. Whether the wards were set by someone with training in magic or are just the result of generations of belief, we’ve no idea. But there are other people there, and I pulled it up on the phone’s map. It’s at least fifteen minutes from here — we should hurry.”
Behind me, Cassie spoke up. I turned slightly so that I could see both her and Valerie. I didn’t like having anyone behind me, still, but with Silver’s emotions still linked into mine I knew I would have forewarning if anyone tried to do something. It was weirdly reassuring. As I had with Hans’ determination to help Jeremy, I gathered up and tied off Silver’s aura to prevent it from being fully pulled into my curse’s buffer.
“That’s not far from Jeremy’s house,” Cassie said. She was looking at the phone’s map. Then she pulled up her contacts and started it dialing someone. “John is closer,” she explained for my sake. “We left him at the house in case Jeremy went back there. He and Miss Grenz’s donors can go and get to Jeremy first.”
I grabbed the phone out of Cassie’s hand without even thinking. “No,” I said. The phone was already ringing. “We don’t know if Jeremy will stay at the church, or if your contact is wrong about where he is. But if he isn’t there — or if he leaves — and he shifts he’ll head for his home. Like Hans did.”
“Hello?” John asked. I brought the phone up to my ear.
“John, are you with Benjamin and Valerie’s donors still?” I demanded without preamble.
“Abigail?” John asked in surprise. “Yes. With the donors — I don’t know where Mister Dolcet is. What’s going on?” He’d misunderstood my question — I’d meant to ask if he was with Benjamin’s donors as well as Valerie’s donors — but his answer was good enough for me. Except that now I was curious about where Ben was. But I didn’t have time for that.
“Send out about half of them,” I ordered. I absentmindedly reached down and scratched Silver between the ears. “They need to find a church between there and the library Hans went to. I’ll have Cassie text you the address. Jeremy might be in it.”
“I can…” John started to say, but I interrupted him.
“No, you can’t,” I said. “We need someone to keep an eye on the house in case he isn’t at the church. I’m at Hans’ apartments along with Mr. Fiore and Valerie and a whole van load of solocks. We’re on our way — as soon as someone gets to the church, they need to call us on this number and let us know if Jeremy is still there. The moon is already up, John. The sun hasn’t set and Jeremy might not have shifted yet, but if he’s anything like Daniel or Hans, all it will take is one good emotional jarring and he’ll be out of control. I’m told that there are other people at the church. So we’ll wait to check it out until we’re all there, and if he’s there or nearby I’ll find him and take care of the matter.”
I hung up and passed Cassie’s phone back to her. “Send John the address,” I said. I started walking toward the front door. “I’ve got this.” At the door I turned to Reid, who was waiting outside the wards. I frowned and looked around, then saw the line of salt poured into a groove under the front door. The same symbolism Emma uses, I noted wryly. I scrubbed at the salt with my foot, breaking the ward apart. “I’m having one of my faeries wait with Hans,” I said as I did it. I nodded at Reid so he would know I was talking about him. “If Jeremy shifts and leaves the church, he’ll be able to tell through Hans’ leyline. If that happens, he’ll come and tell me — and have Thaddeus let John know, too.” I looked Reid in the eye. “Got it?”
Reid nodded. “As you command,” he acknowledged. He and Thaddeus flowed into the house.
I felt a burst of nervous giddiness that I tried to keep under wraps. Who was I to be giving people commands? And when did I turn into someone that could give them and have people listen?! I wished I’d decided to keep Thaddeus around so I could take another hit of ‘not giving into my fears’ off his aura.
“Hans is in the basement,” I called after the two faeries — instead of calling Thaddeus back. Then I braced myself and stepped fully into the sun.
It hurt. Feeding on Silver aside, I was working on limited time until sunset. I power walked toward the limo, pausing outside only when I realized that Mister Fiore’s van load of solocks wasn’t in the parking lot anymore.
I swore softly. “Valerie,” I asked — though I already knew the answer. Damn vampire super-hearing. “Was Matteo with you when you got the call with the church’s address?”
She nodded. “It looks like he’s gone on ahead of us,” she commented.
I closed my eyes. Breathe in-two-three, hold, and out-two-three. Megan’s meditation breathing did little to keep my anger in check — but then again, I was holding on to the emotional lens of a werewolf. And Hans. And both Hans and the werewolf were deeply concerned with protecting Jeremy. And the last fucking thing I needed was Matteo “shoot them in the head” Fiore deciding to resolve matters his way.
“Well?” I barked. I climbed into the limo. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go.“