Fortunately, nothing interesting took place over the drive. After asking me where we were going so she could look it up on her phone, Fumiko stopped talking to me — she knows better than to talk to me while driving, even if she does sometimes chat with Megan while they’re both in the car. Jamie didn’t have much to say, either, though he — she now? — shifted into her female punk clubber form “in anticipation of girls’ night.” For my part, I was sufficiently worried about how I was supposed to manage babysitting two proto-werewolves that I didn’t obsess over all the road noise bombarding my supernatural senses: Fumiko’s car was not, after all, warded.
I did notice when it stopped, though. The hotel that the vampires were staying in was sufficiently downtown that it didn’t really have a lot of parking — rather, there was a garage kind of around the corner to it. So Fumiko had pulled up under the awning of the unloading stretch to drop me off.
“Are you sure you won’t need me to drive?” Fumiko asked when I got out.
I turned back to to answer her before closing my door. “Um… pretty sure?” It wasn’t the most authoritative I’ve ever been, but thinking about it was making me reconscider. “I mean, I was planning on making John drive… but he might prefer not having to cross the river again so soon.” I’d never really thought about it — other than perfectly normal fears that a bridge would go out while I was driving over it and everyone would plunge to a watery grave — but I was pretty sure that Kallaher’s was on the other side. And I did not want to feed John strips of my flesh again.
“But do you really want to get roped into helping me pup-sit the newbie wolves?” I asked. I may have injected a little ‘please say yes’ into my tone.
“Nope,” Fumiko answered. “But I’ll still drive if you need me to. Why don’t you go in and get that sorted out. I’ll wait here with Jamie.”
“Okay,” I told her. Then I hesitated. “Thank you,” I added. I felt the weave tighten the obligations running from me to her, but what the hell: she was my friend. Friends are supposed to be able to owe each other and not have it be a big deal, and I would be damned if I was going to let her think I was unappreciative of her friendship. That was probably the quickest route to losing it, and there was no way in hell I was going to risk that. Before dying I’d been fiercely possessive of my friendships — but now I actually knew how good a friend Fumiko really was, too.
I was still getting used to that, actually. It kind of made me wonder if I was going to have to reevaluate all my friendships — except I’d had so few of them to begin with. But what about acquaintances? Like: did Jimmy just hang out around Megan and I at work on his breaks in hopes of running into Fumiko, or did he really consider himself our friend?
Well, he probably was Megan’s friend. She’s awesome like that. But did he think of himself as mine?
That was going to bug me.
I ruminated on those questions while I made my way into the hotel. Fortunately, I wasn’t distracted by that for too long because one of the donors — one of Valerie’s, I think — was waiting for me in the lobby.
“Everyone is in the second floor conference room,” he said while ushering me toward the elevator.
“The hotel has a conference room?” I asked in surprise.
Valerie’s donor grinned. “They get a lot of business bookings, I guess.”
I managed to nod sagely, and then I shut up so I wouldn’t look even more ignorant than I actually was. I followed the donor into the elevator, even though that made me kind of twitchy because, hello: I was trapped in a confined space with a strange man. But maybe he was so enthralled with Valerie he wouldn’t be interested in doing anything horrible to me? That thought got me through the brief ride, anyway.
Fortunately, it turned out that I was not mistaken and he was not actually one of Fiore’s donors come to lead me into an ambush wherein I would get staked and shoved in a box to be shipped off to the basement of some Center warehouse for unpleasant undead. So that worked out okay.
My first impression of the conference room, when we got there, was that it did indeed have everyone in it. On one side of the table — the side opposite the door — were the kids from the church. Kids, I thought to myself — despite the fact that some of them were bigger than me. How many of these ‘kids’ are supposed to be going to college next year? One half of their side of the table was made up of the three kids I recognized as werewolves. Three more that I hadn’t seen before sat on the other side. The wolves had been given new clothes at some point — probably donated by someone’s donors. Or partners, if they were Valerie’s. And Benny, the nephilim, sat between the two groups. I had to assume that Jeremy was in another room, probably asleep in a bed and being watched over by one of Valerie’s warlocks.
Opposite Benny was a rather dejected looking Curtis, who was flanked by Valerie and Matteo on either side. One of Matt’s ever present Solocks leaned casually against the wall behind him, and one of Valerie’s donors — the beleaguered one from the car — was sitting next to her. John was by the door, and turned toward me when I came in. My escort remained outside after closing the door behind me.
“Valerie has been trying to impress on them the importance of self control,” John whispered aside to me. “She’s been trying to convince them to let her warlocks force them to sleep until morning, when it will be safer for them to get worked up and they’ll be able to talk with Hans.” I didn’t reply, because I was more aware than he was that we’d suddenly become the center of attention: two of the werepups had swiveled to stare at me pretty much as soon as I came in the room. The third had followed suit almost immediately after, which had gotten the rest of the kids’ attention, too. Fiore was glaring at me like usual. His solock kept his eyes wandering the room looking for signs of threat, though, and Valerie seemed to be watching Benny. Curtis was staring at his hands. I guessed that his attempt to talk to the werepups had not gone over well.
Of all of them, I was with Valerie. Knowing that Benny had a literal guardian angel freaked me out a little: his church had not been friendly to me, and if push came to setting me on fire I doubted his angel would be, either.
“I do wish you would reconscider,” Valerie was saying. “You may not have been able to hear it, but they were very close to shifting on more than one occasion. It would be easiest for everyone if we had the ability to put them to sleep if their control began to slip again.”
Oh, fuck me, I thought. Great: Just great. More than once? I had really hoped it wasn’t that likely they would shift this soon after being cursed just from getting riled up.
Benny only glanced at me before turning his attention back to Valerie. “They’re under my aegis,” Benny said. “You told us we’d be treated fairly and not imprisoned or geased or anything like that. I’m just making sure that’s what actually happens.”
Well, that’s interesting. I squinted slightly, trying to see if I could tell what Benny was doing. I didn’t pick up on anything until I pushed my awareness up to that level between worlds. There I saw that Benny’s wings were spread — and there weren’t just two of them. He had multiple wings, that branched and unfurled so that each of his friends had at least a feather from one wrapped around him or her, making a translucent cocoon of golden light around their head — or maybe encasing them in a glowing halo of light.
Actually, yeah: it sort of reminded me of those old paintings of halos from the Renaissance, where it wasn’t just a little circle floating in the air above someone, but rather the halo was depicted as a massive circle of light against which their head rested.
Okay… I thought dumbly. I was halfway tempted to make myself go dormant, just so I could get a better look. If that was a ward to keep people from fucking with his friends minds, I wanted one. Actually, I wanted one for pretty much everyone I knew.
Valerie gave Benny an only slightly pained smile. “I know,” she replied. “And I understand. I just wish I still had the least violent option available if they lost control and shifted,” she explained. It sounded like she’d said that before.
Benny grinned at her. “Well, only the humans have my aegis. So unless they ask me to withdraw my protection, you’ll still have that option — after they shift, not before. But after, you can feel free to hit them with whatever sleep spells you want.”
Valerie’s eyes narrowed in a ‘don’t you smart off to me young man’ glare. “They’re werewolves. Once they shift, it will be too late for sleep spells.”
“Wait,” I said, interrupting. “What?” I felt awkward and out of the loop — but at least Benny and Valerie’s back and forth seemed casual rather than heated.
Now that I’d brought it upon myself, Valerie turned her attention to me. “The wolf form of a werewolf doesn’t sleep,” she explained. “Not unless the human side of the soul is still in control. It’s one of the things that makes them so useful against the fae: even when they’re not behind wards they have a natural resistance to compulsions like that because anything that hits them has to overpower the wolf before it can even start to effect the human. Well, that and they can always seem to recognize when faeries are nearby, even when the fae are invisible.”
That… actually, that made sense. Because their wolves were ghost-beings that existed in between worlds, werewolves would be aware of any faeries that hid there. I blushed slightly at the memory of Hans checking under my desk for goblins. Melvin must’ve popped all the way back to faerie land as soon as he heard me tell Hans I thought he was there, in order to actually be gone when Hans looked. That was probably why ‘Zane’ had stopped by that evening — Melvin had lost Megan when he’d fled, and was checking to make sure no one had gotten to her before he’d gotten back.
But, back on the subject of werewolves: because the wolves were ghosts, or at least ghost-like, obviously they didn’t need sleep. They didn’t have bodies most of the time.
Unfortunately, realizing all that also made me feel extra shitty. How badly must my feeding on him have messed up Hans’ aura for him to become vulnerable to Lewellyn’s geas? I was a really, really bad girlfriend. Or at least, a really, really bad vampire-blood-harem manager. I really needed someone who could keep an eye on that for me. Someone like Katherine had been for Salvatore, only less bitchily terrifying and more helpful and less treacherous. Maybe Emma? Except she’d admitted often enough that she wasn’t really that good at reading auras yet. And Megan was going to be too busy managing her own kingdom. The warlocks and solocks I’d enthralled were out of the question: who knew when they’d come back to there senses and be pissed off with me?
Dammit. Why did I send Reid on that fact finding mission? He could’ve done it. He’d been doing it. That left my other faeries… whom I either knew too well, like Pips and Melvin — or didn’t know well enough — to trust with such a huge responsibility. Or they were Sebastian. But Sebas was out, on account of how I was still pissed at him about not informing me of the side effects of wearing glamours around.
And now I was reminded that I was standing around essentially naked. Dammit, Sebastian! My cheeks started flaring and I hoped no one noticed. Well, maybe Emma could suggest someone, or I could ask Kelson or Mister Kallaher. Probably Kelson. I didn’t really think I trusted someone with ties to The Center quite that much, and Mister Kallaher had been one of Salvatore’s old donors, anyway, so: hell no to asking him for help if I didn’t need to.
Maybe I can convince John to help me go raid a morgue instead of stopping by the funeral home.
I wasn’t the one who interrupted the silence to propose a criminal endeavour, though. Instead, it was one of the werepups who spoke up: the guy. He stood, shoving away from the conference table angrily. Now that he wasn’t lying on his back in a pool of his own intestines, I could see that he was like a shorter, wider Hans — which still made him much taller than me. He was also, if I remembered my taste of his aura right, kind of a dick and inclined to blame his own shortcomings of personality on being shoved into roles he didn’t want; including that of the brutish jock-bully-villain.
Basically, exactly the opposite of Hans in personality — and exactly the kind of guy who’d terrified me in high school and frat boy who’d terrified me even worse in college.
“And I call bullshit,” the guy said bluntly to Valerie. “According to that guy,” he jerked his thumb toward Curtis, “assuming he isn’t full of bullshit, too, we probably won’t shift until tomorrow. And if you put us under, who the hell is going to take care of her?” Now he pointed at me, and even though his scowl was probably meant for Valerie it freaked me the fuck out because he was aiming it my way. “You guys? Why should we trust you? You’ve been doing everything you can to get us to agree to be knocked out instead of figuring out what we can do now.”
Valerie didn’t answer. She shifted uneasily — probably because she knew a lot better than her accuser just how badly The Center had fucked up the whole ‘take care of Abigail’ thing already. Unfortunately, that was a mistake: When I peeked at the guy’s aura to see if I was remembering it right, what I saw instead was that it was heavily interwoven with his wolf’s. They were making a play for dominance, and Valerie’d inadvertantly let him ‘win.’ The guy sniffed derisively when she backed down.
Instead of talking to Valerie further, he stalked around the table and came toward me. “Abigail, right?” He asked. “I’m Jacob. And you saved my life, man. If there is anything you need,” he added as he loomed way too close, “you just tell me. I’ll get it taken care of.”
For some reason, the way Jacob growled ‘taken care of’ made me think he came at most problems by smashing them in the knees with a baseball bat. Don’t scream and run, don’t scream and run, I told myself frantically. The way his wolf — who I could see now, since I’d pushed my awareness upward to check out Benny’s enchantment — growled at the other two made me think that he was still making his dominance play. Not to supplant me, exactly, but maybe to supplant the other two as the number one in relation to me? Oh, fuck that crapping shit — what would Fumiko do?
Choke him out? No, that probably wasn’t the appropriate response. Okay, what would Megan do? Something charming that would deescalate everything. Like…?
While I was trying to figure that out, I straightened my spine and leaned my head back so I could stare Jacob in the eye. “Good,” I said. “Now, what I ‘need’ you to do is be polite to my mentor, and be thankful that she’s being polite to you. And, really, I ‘need’ you to do that for all the people who can rip your head off with their bare hands.” Jacob stared at me with wide eyes and a shocked expression. I tilted my head toward Valerie. “Now, apologize to her before she takes exception to your bad behaviour, or I will take exception.”
Jacob swallowed and, without looking, stammered an apology that — good enough — probably wasn’t intelligible to anyone in the room who didn’t have super hearing. Valerie smiled, though.
“Apology accepted,” Valerie said. “But now that you’ve been so explicitly warned I will be affronted if you call me ‘bitch’ under your breath again. You’ve been afforded a lot of slack due to the trying circumstances, but that isn’t limitless.”
Jacob’s face paled even further. I met it with a scowl to match the one he’d shown me earlier. “Really?” I asked. I was actually a little outraged on Valerie’s behalf. I should’ve just been flipping out and finding a way to put some distance — and maybe a few people — between Jacob and I, but instead I pushed my fangs out before speaking sharply again, just so he’d get the point. Oh god, don’t giggle don’t giggle if you laugh at your own mental pun they’ll all think you’re crazy. I was crazy: what did I think I was doing, getting in the face of a giant, irritable guy like this? “I get that you’re new to the whole ‘supernatural reality’ thing,” I said, “but seriously? Do you know how many super natural beings I’ve run into that would happily torture you to death over something like that?” Counting my faerie army, the answer was lots.
“Ugh,” I groaned from the brief attempt to math leylines. A lot of them were too indistinct for me to make out as more than there while I was alive. “Alright,” I grumbled instead of pursuing that particular headache. “Did you manage to piss off Fiore, too? I mean, you probably wouldn’t have to worry about him tearing your head off — but he would be perfectly happy to put a few bullets through your skull, you know. I’ve seen him do it.”
“Oh, for the love of God,” Matteo exclaimed in exasperation as all of the kids suddenly turned to stare at him. He ignored them to glare at me. “He was a ghoul, Abigail.”
“Sir,” Benny spoke up before anyone else could, “I would really appreciate it if you would not take the Lord’s name in vain.”
I half expected Fiore to snap back at Benny, too, but instead Matteo looked briefly taken aback himself. Then he relaxed slightly. “Of course,” Matteo said an acquiescence. “I’m sorry. I let my frustration get away from me.”
I wanted to just gawk at the sight of a sixteen — seventeen? — year old boy making a vampire Scion back down like that. But I was too busy gawking at the sight of Matteo not being a jackass.
Then Jacob shifted slightly, and my focus snapped right back to him. Danger is amazing for that. “Right,” I said as I turned toward Jacob. “Now, you’re coming with me because I clearly cannot let you stand around on your own or you’ll get yourself killed, painfully. Try to get it through your head that you aren’t the big bad anymore, and you aren’t taking care of me. I’m taking care of you. So keep your mouth shut, watch, listen, and learn from my experience before you get killed. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to learn the hard way, like I did. It literally involves surviving being killed.”
Jacob swallowed, but nodded jerkily rather than saying anything. Some of the seated kids looked more shocked by that than by anything else that had happened since I’d arrived.
“Good,” I said. “Now, who was the other one, who wanted to keep me safe from Jacob?”
Jacob blushed with fierce embarrassment, and one of the other werepups — the girl who’d had the tracheotomy — tentatively raised her hand. “Alright, you can come too,” I told her. How do I tell her that it’s just so she can sit between me and Jacob in the car without looking like a wuss in front of the wolf cubs? “As long as you understand, you aren’t protecting me from him. You’re protecting him from me. So keep an eye on him and don’t let him slip up around me, got it?” Was that sufficiently menacing without being too scary? The girl nodded fervently, so I guessed it was.
I held in the urge to sigh in relief, and then turned toward John. “Alright,” I said. “Are you up for driving?” He nodded. “Good. Let’s get this over with.”