After Hans broke the kiss he smiled at me, then scooped me up and boosted me toward the open trap door. I yelped, then scrambled out. Hans took one jump, caught the edge of the floor, and hauled himself up and over — probably a lot more gracefully and efficiently than I’d managed.
That was when I became aware of the commotion in the living room.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Emma was asking. She didn’t sound panicked, but she did sound dubious — like she’d been really worried just a second before.
“Yes,” Megan replied. “It was just a… a dizzy spell. I’m fine.”
I swallowed. Dizzy spell my ass: I’d pulled a lot out of Megan’s aura, and I knew she’d been feeding a lot of her aura to Emma, too. I looked down our shared leyline and was shocked at how thin things appeared to be on Megan’s end: she was beyond understating things.
It took me three running steps to exit the hallway and enter Cassie’s living room. Megan was stretched out on the couch, with Emma hovering over her. Cassie was in the kitchen, fetching some water. Shantaya was in the corner behind the couch, just sort of watching uncertainly. Emma’s wolf was dancing around the couch, front paws out; rear legs high, like it was getting ready to pounce at something except it kept moving around, unsure where the thing to pounce at was. Shantaya’s wolf was keeping out of the way, phased mostly inside the bookcase next to her.
Elaine was standing by the hallway, leaning against the wall and observing in a much more casual fashion than Shantaya managed. Elaine nodded to me as I burst into the room, and I belatedly realized that she’d probably overheard everything with Hans. I shoved that awkward thought aside — it wasn’t like I’d been caught sharing vampire blood in an alley! — and rushed over to check on Megan.
“I’m fine,” Megan continued to insist — but then she softened and changed tracks when I got to the couch and knelt beside her. “Are you okay, Abby?” Megan asked while I hugged her.
I nodded. “I had a panic attack,” I hastily explained to Emma. She’d gotten enough insights into my soul to realize what an understatement that probably was. “I think I accidentally pulled on Megan to refill my aura while it was happening.”
I buried my face back against Megan, who slipped her arms around me comfortingly. “I’m sorry,” I told her. “And don’t tell me you’re okay: I know how much you’ve been pouring into Emma’s well being. You didn’t have it to spare for me, too.”
Megan sighed in surrender. “You’re right: ever since that sleeping curse, I’ve been feeling a little strained. But! We’re closer to the gateway, so it’s easier for me to pull off of the kingdom for a ‘recharge’ now.”
I frowned, but Emma interrupted before I could suggest that maybe she should go back to the kingdom completely.
“Would it be easier on you if we went back to the faerie lands?” Emma asked. She’d sat down next to me, and now she sounded less worried than she did guilty. I let go of Megan and reached over to squeeze Emma’s hand. She wasn’t to blame for insisting they come to this world: I was to blame for going around tearing up people’s souls all willy-nilly.
“You’re going,” I declared before Megan could protest. I could talk to her about Hans later — in fact, my aura was stable enough that I could put Megan’s needs ahead of my own with ease.
“But,” Megan tried to protest. I didn’t let her.
“No buts,” I said. “You don’t have to worry about me. We’re getting on toward morning, so I’m going to be going dormant pretty soon anyway. And I have Hans here to take care of me while you two are away.” I frowned. Duh: I’d missed an obvious solution to one of my problems. “And I promise to come see you before I have to lay down for the day.” It was eternally night in Megan’s kingdom, unless she decided to change that, so I wouldn’t have to worry about the sun. Plus: being in another world probably meant I’d be pretty damn safe from psychotic undead arsonists while I slept.
“Okay,” Megan conceded, finally. “But Abby: If I’m going back over there without you then you need to call Mister Reid back. I don’t want to be out of reach if you need me, or if something bad happens.” She caught my gaze and I stared right back. I knew that she was thinking about my erratic emotions just moments ago, even if she didn’t have enough aura to push the thought my way and tell me so.
“Alright,” I said. I could get an update on his investigation, too. Maybe Dopplinda being geased not to talk about how she’d come to this world didn’t mean I was actually out of leads for figuring out what Mister Salvatore had been up to back then.
Megan seemed to relax slightly. I gathered her up in a hug. “Don’t worry,” I told her — weirdly aware that I was stealing her lines. “It’ll be alright.” I really hoped that was true. Was I overlooking anything immediate? “Elaine, would it be okay if they borrowed your car to get to campus?”
The corner of Elaine’s lips quirked. “Sure. It’s a rental, so: no skin off my nose. And my donors should be on their way over. I can get a ride to my hotel from them after we’ve resolved everything that’s left for the night.”
Right. Valerie and Ben and the rest of the scions should be on their way over to figure out what needed done about the arsonist, next. I rubbed my forehead. Too much stuff was going on. Oh! Right: immediate things. “Okay,” I said. “By the way, this is Hans. Hans, this is Elaine, my vampire mom.”
The other corner of Elaine’s lips turned upward. “We know each other,” she said. “He is my son’s best friend. It’s good to see you again, Hans.”
Hans cleared his throat and glanced at me, almost apologetically. “It’s a pleasure as always, Mrs. Salvatore.” I felt a distinct need to face-palm. I’d called Elaine mom again, hadn’t I? And now I was picturing a playfully dusty young Hans poking his head in a window to ask a cookie-baking Elaine if John could come out to play. Craaaap, young Hans was too adorable for words.
Fortunately the awkwardness of calling Elaine mom was short lived: Megan distracted everyone by trying to get up to go. She wobbled, and I caught her with my inhuman reflexes — and Emma shored her up just an instant slower. “Be careful,” Emma told her right after my “I’ve got you.”
Together we helped Megan up. She leaned on me, which made me start worrying more. It was like she was having a really bad low blood sugar episode, where she would start draping herself on people and getting super flirty. But then: ‘low blood sugar’ had always actually meant she’d been low on aura, hadn’t it? In fact, it was sort of possible that ‘drunk’ had, too. Or she’d only been drunk because she’d believed she’d get drunk? How did having a phantasmal physiology work, anyway?
Megan gave us a big, slightly glassy grin. “Thanks,” she said. “You’re the best.” She kissed Emma on the cheek, and then me, so I assumed she was using the plural ‘you.’ Emma’s wolf continued to make frantic circles around us. Then Megan smiled wider and tried to give me a more passionate kiss — only to pull back right as I felt tiny tug at my soul from my aura siphoning into hers.
Megan’s eyes flew wide. For a second I thought she was just embarrassed because she’d tried to kiss me — her best friend — and had forgotten it wasn’t a horrible faux pas since we actually were dating now. Except that hadn’t embarrassed her when she’d actually tried it, once before we’d been dating and while she’d actually been drunk. No, Megan’s reaction was because of the tug at my aura. She had felt it too. From her expression, it hadn’t been intentional.
In retrospect, Megan’s reaction made sense: getting a little intimate and instinctively pulling aura through a widened ley line put ‘drunk, sugar crashed, make out with anyone’ Megan into a whole different context. And I already knew Megan was freaked out at the idea that she’d been unconsciously feeding on people’s souls her entire life.
“You’re fine,” I told Megan before she could start stammering an apology. I could see the brief panic spiraling through her as it was spun into lines of faerie-aura in her soul. Actually, the panic part of Megan’s reaction was probably worse since it was formed from aura pulled out of my hyper anxious soul. I looked across Megan to Emma. “And you’re driving,” I told her firmly. She nodded back with a ‘do I look stupid? Of course I am’ expression.
Elaine followed us toward the door to give us the keys, with a worried Hans following just behind her — and Shantaya hovering a few steps behind him. Poor Cassie was left standing awkwardly in her kitchenette, holding a glass of water as all of her guests went for the front door. I would’ve felt worse about that if we weren’t all sort of house crashers to begin with.
Hans snagged the keys from Elaine and opened the front door for Emma and I. We helped Megan through and followed him out toward Elaine’s car while Shantaya followed behind us. She moved quietly and seemed kind of hunched back, when I glanced toward her. Her wolf was slinking along from even further behind her — oh. I guess her wolf had gotten to know Emma’s while they were cooped up in the car together, but Hans’ was a new factor. If Emma’s wolf weren’t so concerned with Megan, it would probably be slinking around and giving Hans’ wolf the cautious and suspicious stink eye, too.
I should’ve introduced Hans and Shantaya, not Hans and Elaine. Gah. I was not used to having kids.
Wait! No! I did not have kids. If anything, the were-pups were Hans’.
No no no, that was not a better mental image. Although Papa Hans and a litter of puppies was pretty adorable, now that I thought about it.
But: No! I couldn’t freaking take care of myself. I was not going to volunteer to take care of a pack of teen-wolves. Even if I had sort of kind of taken responsibility for them by intervening on their behalf with Fiore. And if at least three of them were semi-sort-of enthralled by me.
And oh god: I could just imagine being one of those moms who had enough kids for a baseball team. Only all of them being werewolves. And on the same team. And it would probably be a basketball team. That would be soooooo unfair to the other high schools.
Wait: were there actual teen wolves out there on intermural sports teams?
Yeah, I was going to have to have a giggle at that thought, later.
Actually, I was probably going to have to have a freaking terror attack at the thought of me having kids, later. Especially since I would probably be back to my usual super-panicky mentality once I’d burned off some of the aura I’d stolen from Megan — and do you know how many kids it would take to make your own basketball team of teen wolves?!
I was fortunately distracted from those thoughts by the process of getting Megan into Elaine’s car and buckled into her seat. I didn’t care how ridiculous it would be: Hans was not allowed to impregnate me and both of my girlfriends, repeatedly, just so that together we would have enough kids within the right age range for him to coach his own all teen wolf basketball team. Just: no.
God, my boyfriend had weird life goals.
Once she was buckled up Megan gave me a weak smile. I got the impression — mostly from watching her aura — that she was repressing the desire to try and give me a kiss, for fear that it would lead back to an instinctive pulling on my aura. I pushed a little essence to her and leaned in to give her a goodbye kiss, anyway. It seemed to perk her up, and I kept a tight grip on my nerves.
We’d established already that pushing aura was not terribly efficient, or I would’ve tried to give it all back. It would’ve been just my luck that I’d end up giving Megan just enough to make me go feral and try to rip it all back out with my fangs.
“Take it easy,” I chided Megan. “Everything will be fine here. You and Emma just rest for a while — maybe try doing that stitching I showed you on Emma’s soul, so you don’t need to be constantly supplying as much essence to her.”
Megan looked back at me and chewed her lip. “Call Reid,” she said. “And if you need anything, or if anything important happens, you let us know.” I nodded acquiescence, and then looked past her to Emma, who was getting into the driver’s seat.
“Emma,” I said, “I know you’ve been upset because you haven’t been able to do much with all the stuff that’s been going on around here. But taking care of Megan is probably the most important thing anyone could do for me right now. So…” I trailed off.
“I know,” Emma said. She pulled her door shut and buckled up. “Me too. I mean, for me too. I’m not going to push her into doing anything — I shouldn’t have pushed her into letting us leave her kingdom before my soul was patched up, even.”
I smiled weakly. It wasn’t Emma’s fault Megan was in bad shape: it was mine. But I think all three of us knew we weren’t going to let either of the others share blame. “I love you two,” I told them. “Drive safe. I’ll be over as soon as I’m done here. And you can always send Prudence or Sebas or someone to check up on me, too, if I’m taking too long and you get worried.”
“You know we will,” Megan said.
Emma returned my somewhat queasy smile and added: “Yeah.” She started the car and began checking her mirrors.
Before she was done, though, I was startled by Emma’s wolf jumping through the car door and dashing up to Shantaya. Shantaya’s wolf reluctantly came forward, giving Hans’ wolf wary glances the entire time.
Emma-wolf laid her muzzle on top of Shantaya-wolf’s. Shantaya-wolf’s ears flicked upward, and her whole body language changed. Shantaya herself un-hunched and, in the process of stepping away from the car, somehow wound up circling over to stand protectively next to me. “Don’t worry,” Shantaya called over the hum of the electric car. “I’ll keep Abigail safe.”
Emma gave her a stronger smile. “Thanks, ‘Taya. Just don’t let her get you into too much trouble in the process.”
Okay: fair. I was the one who’s house kept being burned down by psychotic supernatural monster-men. And who kept picking fights with — or being picked for fights with — supernatural big bads.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that Shantaya was only volunteering because Emma’s wolf was telling her wolf to tell her to.
Except: then both Emma’s wolf and Shantaya’s wolf turned and locked steely eyed stares at Hans’ wolf. So I guess they weren’t communicating about me? Which meant Shantaya was only volunteering for protection duty — again — because she was enthralled just like Hans was.
Dammit, I needed to do something about that,
Hans-wolf noticed the attention he was recieving, and growled at the other two ghost wolves. Shantaya’s wolf didn’t respond, but Emma-wolf stalked toward him. She didn’t even stop when Hans-wolf growled a louder warning. She came right up until she was almost touching his bared fangs with her nose. Then she pulled back, lifted a paw, and whacked it down on his muzzle.
Hans’ wolf yelped, then snarled and snapped at Emma’s wolf. Hans himself jumped as though goosed and took a step back from the car. Emma’s wolf danced back just enough to avoid being bit, and then bopped Hans-wolf on the nose again.
Hans-wolf’s hackles rose and he growled fiercely, in response to which Emma-wolf darted sideways and dove through the door into the backseat of Elaine’s car. Emma-wolf’s head reapeared through the window as actual Emma started to pull out of the parking space. Emma-wolf’s tongue hung out and she panted in a big, wolfy grin. Hans’ wolf locked on to her with an unflatering glare and low growly rumble as they pulled away, but he didn’t make chase.
What was that about?
I didn’t know how to ask, so I didn’t. At least Shantaya’s wolf wasn’t acting all freaked out about Hans’ wolf, now: when Shantaya-wolf came over to rejoin her human, she strode instead of slunk and just gave Hans’ wolf a sideways glance and a couple of extra feet’s passing space. Hans’ wolf didn’t even pay attention to Shantaya’s, other than flicking his ears as she went by. He was too busy staring down Elaine’s retreating car.
I wondered if getting a book on wolf behaviour would help me with figuring out ghost-wolves, or if the behaviour of werewolves’ wolves was influenced more by humanity’s expectations impacting their magical nature than by actual wolves real world habits. It was the sort of question that made me feel a pang of momentary sadness. In the absence of proper reference materials, I found that I really missed having a house with an internet.
But, as always, there were more immediate concerns to distract me.
“So,” I said, abruptly remembering an earlier thought. “Shantaya. This is Hans. He’s a werewolf. Hans, this is Shantaya. She caught lycanthropy from Jeremy, the guy who got it from you.”