Since I was in the front passenger seat, Jamie took the backseat behind Fumiko. He continued to watch me warily — he had shifted into a masculine version of her… his? …punky party girl form — which, okay, whatever. What made me a little uncomfortable wasn’t the constant swapping of gender, I realized: it wasn’t my favorite genre, but gender bender manga was usually fun. No, what was bothering me was the way he was scrunched against the door, as far away from me as he could get. Had I actually been that horrible to him when he’d inadvertently siphoned off my aura, that he had to look at me like that?
Well… yes. Probably.
Finally, after chewing on my lip for a while, I managed to get over my usual fear of conversing in a moving vehicle in order to address him. It would be okay, I figured, as long as I wasn’t distracting Fumiko. And if we did all end up in some sort of horrible accident, I could still do the bite-heal thing. As long as no one died outright.
“So,” I said. “Um, Jamie… I appreciate that you helped find the church.”
He squinted at me as though he was trying to see if I was laying a trap for him. “I did it for Kels, not you,” he replied. “But I’m glad it worked out for everyone concerned.” He glanced nervously at Fumiko, and then back at me. “Does Fumiko usually run into dangerous situations without any kind of backup like that?” Jamie asked. “Because it is going to be really hard to pay off my debt to her if that’s the case,” he added.
“Uh… It usually doesn’t come up,” I answered. I wondered if that was going to hold true, though. After all, Fumiko hadn’t even been aware of the supernatural world for as long as I had, and she’d already gone toe-to-toe with a ghoul, a vampire, a vampire’s blood donors, a faerie lord and a werewolf. And so far the score was Fumiko five, faerie lord one.
That was actually kind of scary. Not because she was just as super-competent as I’d always expected her to be, but because I had no idea what she was going to go after next, when the sane solution would actually be to run away. Hell, for all I knew she was thinking of going after Megan’s faerie dad for a faerie lord rematch. I kind of suspected I shouldn’t put that past her.
The conversation had died while I thought about that, and I still hadn’t gotten to bring up what I’d wanted to, so I tried again. “Um. Anyway,” I said, “I wanted to make sure you knew that I don’t have full control of myself when my aura is depleted. When I went after you at the club… I wouldn’t have done that, if I’d been in control of myself. I mean: I wanted to catch you, and confront you, because I thought you were one of Archarel’s faeries. But I would’ve listened when you explained, if I’d been able to.” Jamie didn’t look like he believed me. I squirmed, and finally blurted: “Look, Fumiko is my friend, and I get that you’re her familiar now and you’re going to be around a lot, and I’d really rather you not feel like you have to be afraid of me.”
Jamie frowned as he listened to me. “That would be nice,” he finally said, “except you are scary. I mean: out and out terrifying.” Fumiko snorted, and Jamie shot her a glare. “Well she is!” Jamie protested.
“I am,” I agreed. I was more than a little worried that Fumiko would underestimate how dangerous I could be when I was blood-crazed because of how easily she’d handled me while I was trapped in the church’s wards. Worried enough that I was willing to confront her about it even though she was driving. “I really am, Fumiko.”
“You’re a pushover,” Fumiko replied with a grin. “Always have been; always will be. That’s why you need people like Megan and I to watch out for you.” She glanced at me briefly, and her grin blossomed into a smile. “Now, vampire-mode Abigail is a psycho bitch that everyone should worry about — but that’s not you and you know it, Abby.”
I flushed. “Okay,” I said. I looked back and forth between Fumiko and Jamie. “The point is, Jamie,” I tried to explain again, “I really hope we can get along better than we have. And not just for Fumiko. Megan has this idea… she wants to let some faeries into our world. Faeries who can feed, you know, ethically. And I thought that you would probably be someone good to talk to about that. So… yeah. Even if I’m too creepy, I hope you’re willing to help her. Valerie is backing her on the whole idea, and if it works out then this world would be a safer place for decent faeries like you.”
Jamie continued to look at me, but now his expression was unreadable. Finally he took a deep breath and said: “I know. Kels mentioned it. He’s thinking of hiring someone to take my place, now that I’m not going to be helping out around the club so much.” He sounded a little down about that part, actually.
Fumiko glanced at Jamie in her rear view mirror. “You know,” Fumiko said, “You don’t have to be like surgically attached to my hip, Jamie. I appreciate the help warding my place, but if you want to keep hanging out around the club, that’s fine. I mean: I’m not a witch. Aside from the occasional glamour, what do I actually need a familiar for?”
Jamie shifted uncomfortably. Knowing how geases worked, I figured that not being around Fumiko might not actually be an option for him unless he was doing something on Fumiko’s behalf, or knew he would be soon. “Actually,” I chimed in, “I’m going to need to spend a fair amount of time around there, on account of those people I sort of enthralled when we were there last. And I’d really appreciate it if you could be there sometimes, too, Fumiko, to make sure I don’t go off the rails again.”
Fumiko pursed her lips thoughtfully. “It’s not usually my scene,” she said. “But I guess I wouldn’t mind.” Her lips twitched. “If nothing else, it might be fun to wrestle that big one again. And maybe I can get some pointers on having a familiar and casting glamours from Kels. I have some awesome ideas for cosplays, but I don’t want to push it if there’s a chance that someone might disbelieve some of the more physically impossible outfits.”
Oh god. I was going to have to apologize to Kelson so much if Fumiko broke his bouncers more. Or if she got him sucked into cosplaying.
Although, he would make a pretty cute Tanaka-sama.
No. No, I was not going to help Fumiko trap someone else in her hobby. At least, not unless I needed to distract her from insisting I dress as someone ridiculously scantily clad for the convention next month.
This time, the conversation petered out and stayed out. I still didn’t feel like I’d said what I needed to say to Jamie — probably because I hadn’t actually apologized to him. But I had a sneaking suspicion that if I tried right now, I’d end up side-tracking and asking what the hell pronouns I should use for him, instead, since he kept flipping genders on us.
Instead I looked out the window and just tried to keep calm while Fumiko drove us to Megan’s place. Before we got there, I got a text from Megan. It read: “Delayed. They skipped half our order.” I repeated it to Fumiko and sent a quick reply to let Megan know not to worry about it and that we’d just wait. When we did reach Mrs. Butterson’s house we only had to wait for a couple of awkward minutes more before a taxi pulled up to disgorge Megan, Emma, and a whole bunch of paper takeout bags.
Right. I need to see if Megan’s car got impounded, I reminded myself. If it had, that was my fault for abandoning it when I was kidnapped by Mister Salvatore.
We got out and went to help with the bags: it looked like maybe they’d brought enough for everyone. Megan didn’t bother handing any off, though. She just threw her arms around me and squeezed me in a tight hug, then hugged Fumiko, too. Emma took care of the taxi fee, and the cab drove off after letting her grab her takeout bags from the backseat. She looked seriously grumpy, which wound me up after Megan’s hug had helped me relax. Emma didn’t offer anyone hugs, either.
I followed at the very back of everyone when they went up the stairs to Megan’s level of the house. I was suddenly a lot more nervous about talking to Emma than I had been while I was in the car — in the car I was too busy trying to not be anxious about Melvin or Benny or werewolves or anything else to worry too much about how mad at me Emma had to be. But clearly I had not been prioritizing my worries correctly.
Inside, Emma and Megan dropped everything off on the coffee table. Then Megan turned to the rest of us. “Make yourselves at home,” she said. “Can I get drinks for anyone? Water? Juice? Snacks?”
“Sure,” I said. “Um. Do you have juice boxes? No, never mind. Juice would be nice though. Maybe just water?”
Megan’s laughter was like music. I just blushed and shut up.
“I’ll get mine,” Fumiko offered after rolling her eyes at me. She went into the kitchenette after Megan, and Jamie followed. I blushed a little harder and looked over all the paper bags strewn across the coffee table. If that wasn’t for everyone then apparently Emma was really hungry.
And she noticed my wandering gaze.
“What?” Emma growled. She looked like she was mad enough to stake me — although, I guessed that since I could come back from it, brutally murdering me wasn’t as inappropriate a response to being mad at me as it used to be. “I’m hungry, okay?! Do you know how long I went without eating anything? Lunch was just a tease! My stomach couldn’t hold enough to make up for skipping so many meals in just one go!”
I held my hands up defensively. “Whoa,” I protested. “I was just wondering which sack was Megan’s, so I could steal a crouton or something while we waited.” It wasn’t like Megan wasn’t always stealing my fries or anything. “Real, solid food sounds really good to me right now, too.”
From the kitchenette, Megan laughed. “I have a whole bag of them in the cupboard,” she offered. “Or I could just throw together some sandwiches and bring out the chips.”
“Yes, please,” I agreed. Emma continued to glare at me as though I’d said something insulting about her weight. Then, once she was certain she knew that I knew that she was miffed with me, Emma dug a burger out of one of the bags, folded back the wrapper, and took a huge bite out of it.
Chewing seemed to help Emma relax. Or maybe she was just hangry and getting something in her stomach helped. In either case, a moment later she apologized. “I’m sorry,” she said around her mouthful of burger. It didn’t seem to make any impact against the weight of the thank you I’d given her the day before, so our leyline didn’t change from the admission. “I’ve just been so hungry all freaking day, and then they screwed up our order and now I’ve got this headache…” She swallowed and didn’t even wait to take another enormous bite. “I think it’s because of the storms, maybe? Mom used to get horrible migraines from pressure changes when a storm front rolled through.”
I just nodded in relief. After what Melvin had told me about how angry with me Emma had been, I’d half-expected her to come after me for real. If being growled at was the worst I got, I’d take it! After all, I wasn’t one to criticize. I mean, it wasn’t like I’d never ordered some ridiculous amount of meat — like the number three with extra bacon. And Emma had every reason to be ravenous: she had been unconscious, or imprisoned, or on the run pretty much ever since I’d drained her too much three days ago — or was it four? — and been forced to keep her alive by pushing H….
I froze mid-nod.
“Abby?” Emma asked around another mouthful of burger. She swallowed, tossed the wrapper back in the bag and started on a second one. “Is something wrong?”
I continued to stare. I was unable to respond. My brain was turning in inexorable circles, spitting up thoughts one at a time, leading directly to an inevitability that I wanted nothing more than to deny.
Kill, I thought. Because Emma had been angry all day. Furious, even.
Eat, my brain added on the next pass. Because she’d been so hungry all day that she’d been gorging every chance she got.
Fuck, it concluded. But it wasn’t because I was mentally swearing. It was because Emma had definitely fucked me earlier — and because I could tell, because I knew the signs and she was glowing, that Megan had gotten laid at some point, too.
Because Emma had been unconscious, or imprisoned, or on the run ever since I’d drained her too much and been forced to feed her Hans’ aura to save her life.
No, I tried to deny it. No, no, no! How had I been so fucking blind? I’d been so focused on the fact that the aura I’d pushed into Emma had been tainted by my curse — that she might turn into a ghoul! — that I hadn’t thought once about whose aura I’d pushed into her in the first place!
Except that I’d taken it from the blood of Hans’ human form. And when I fed on a werewolf in his human form, I didn’t feed on the human’s soul. I fed on the wolf’s. And I’d been so desperate to save Emma that I hadn’t even waited for the wolf’s aura to be subsumed into my own before I’d pushed it into hers.
“Abby?” Emma asked again. She sounded agitated: angry that I hadn’t responded the first time. She tossed aside the wrapper of another slain burger and squared her shoulders. Her spine straightened as she glared at me, and her brow furrowed angrily. “What is it,” she snarled.
But I was barely paying attention to her. Instead, I was psychically pushing myself, reaching for awareness of that place between worlds: that place where faeries and ghosts and angels hid.
And that’s where I saw it. Seated on the floor in front of her — but with its front paws braced on the coffee table as though in preparation to leap across and rip out my throat — with its ears laid back and its fangs bared, a spectral wolf snarled at me in perfect sync with Emma.
End of Book 5