Cassie shook my arm, pulling me out of my shocked stupor. “I’m going back after them,” she said. “Doctor Lin is misunderstanding something — maybe I can explain if he isn’t panicking about you being a vampire.”
I nodded weakly. I was still too shaken by the revelation that Hans’ pack was alive to form any sort of response other than ‘do whatever.’ Cassie didn’t wait for further discussion; she let her hand slide off my arm and jogged toward the hospital entrance, following the two ghosts who’d fled.
Cassie’s footsteps weren’t the only ones I could hear. While hers faded into the distance, others sped toward me. People had finally reacted to my running out of the van and were catching up to me now. I tried to guess who from the sounds. The boots were obviously Fiore and his solocks — but they were spreading out and away as they moved. Securing the facility, maybe? The ones coming toward me… more than one person was approaching me. I hoped that Hans wasn’t one of them.
I knew that the heaviest footsteps were his, though.
Hans’ pack is alive. I was going to have to tell him. It was going to devastate him, but I had to tell him. My gut twisted, angry that I was going to hurt someone I loved with such a vicious revelation. Mister Salvatore — his mentor! — betrayed him from the beginning. I squeezed my eyes shut, not yet willing to look and confirm that he was right there for me to shatter, and turned around to face the people who’d now crowded into a semicircle in front of me.
Unfortunately, no one I’d brought along was stupid. And they wanted answers, too. So I wasn’t left to live the rest of eternity with my eyes squeezed shut in denail.
“Abigail, ” Hans said, “What happened? Why is Cassandra heading back inside? Did the ghosts say something?”
Hans spoke with an intensity that I’d only picked up from him a few times before. The one that lodged in my mind was when he’d told me that Mister Salvatore’s need for blood was a tragic addiction. I swallowed and opened my eyes.
Benjamin, Benny, and wolf-mode Jockboy made up one wing of the semicircle in front of me. Hans, Shantaya and her sister made the other, with Benjamin and Hans standing next to each other in the middle. All of them had an expression somewhere between curious and concerned — except for Benjamin. He caught my gaze for a second, then flicked his eyes to the side to watch Hans.
Ben’s hearing is as good as mine, I thought. He must have heard enough to figure out that the news isn’t good. And he’s worried about how Hans will react, too. That actually didn’t make me feel any better.
I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath. I could do this. I could! I just needed to not be thinking about how much it was going to wreck the man I… I sort of loved. That thought made my stomach flip again. That was not something I was used to thinking. It didn’t help — it made tearing up his history with Mister Salvatore worse somehow. I needed something I could freak out about enough to let my autopilot deal with delivering the harsh truth.
I was such a coward.
But there had to be something. Hell, I’d probably done something in the past couple hours that was worth freaking out about. There’d been zombie ghosts. No, not as freaky the second time around. I’d almost died. Yeah, but that’s like… twice a day anymore. I’d performed experimental surgery on my soul. And how is that freakier than when I stitched it up the first time, or unraveled the geases I’d placed in other people’s leylines? What else? I’d frozen time in order to catch Doctor Lin…
Oh, fuck. I’d frozen time. How could I have not realized I’d frozen time?!
That one did the trick. The memories of Lewellyn’s geas ripping apart my soul and Archarel’s essence stretching it to bursting and the pain washed over me. I felt my hands start to tremble despite my best efforts to keep them still. How had I dared take a risk like that? What the fuck was wrong with me?! I hadn’t even had Elaine walking me through it or anything.
I was feeling light headed all of a sudden. Light headed and warm. I was undead: I never felt warm unless I’d just fed. And all of the stomach flips must’ve been worse than I’d thought, because I really wanted to find a place to go and curl up and sob while I puked my fear and nausea out.
I opened my mouth and vomited words, instead.
“The hospital ghosts don’t want to help me,” I babbled. “Because they’ve seen what happened the last time a vampire showed up with a bunch of werewolves — Hans, your pack wasn’t killed out in the woods: They were brought here, but I don’t know why. I don’t know. I don’t know. But they were alive when they left. Yesterday. Unconscious. They were taken out of here, unconscious, yesterday. Mister Salvatore betrayed you. It was all a setup. He needed werewolves for something, so he arranged for their capture to look like a battle with the local faeries. Everything else was lies; cover up. It was all lies, Hans. Your pack was right here the whole time and Mister Salvatore must have known it. He….”
The words caught in my throat as I saw their effect on Hans. He trembled, too. His nostrils flared. My jaw moved, but nothing came out. It was like I was choking on the effort to not say anything more; on the fear of what more words would make Hans do. His hands had curled into fists and I could feel the tension rolling off of him — every muscle was straining with the effort of not lashing out, I could tell. I could hear his jaw creaking from how tightly it was clenched. I could hear his bones creaking from the strain he was under.
No. Not just the strain of holding himself in check. The strain on his soul. He’d given me blood again. And his soul was already so torn up that he and his wolf had started leaking into each other. How much of him was him and how much of him was raw animal fury? How would the wolf react…. I looked for Hans’ wolf, and found the spectral beast at the other end of the parking lot, straining as though it were at the end of an invisible leash that prevented it from continuing into the hospital. Its snarls….
They were going to haunt my nightmares, if I ever slept again. Not just because of the rabid savagery they expressed, but because of the growl that mirrored them in Hans’ throat.
Hans broke ranks and started to stalk toward the hospital doors. His steps let his wolf scrabble closer to them as well — and broke me out of my own immobility.
I grabbed Hans’ arm. “No,” I cried desperately. “You can’t go in there. Hans, your aura — the ghost zombies….” He was going to be ripped apart. I had to do something to stop him from feeding himself to those broken souls. I had to….
I couldn’t do anything, though. Despite my super human strength, I didn’t have the leverage or the grip to hold Hans back. He wrenched his arm to his chest, shaking me off without visible effort. I stumbled. He started to run.
“Don’t!” I screamed. I cursed myself for removing the compulsions I’d had him under. I could’ve just given up being his girlfriend, instead. Then he would have had to listen to me now. I coiled myself to leap after him, shouting for him to stop as I did.
Benjamin got there first.
Ben must have messed with time to do it, because he just appeared in front of Hans, hands held out in front of him and feet braced. He caught the much larger man and didn’t budge from the collision.
“Listen to Abigail,” Ben grunted. Hans snarled back, muscles straining to crush and toss aside the smaller man in front of him.
No. No no no no– This was my fault. I couldn’t let Hans endanger himself. I should have handled it better. I… I dashed forward to help Ben hold Hans back, and grabbed his arm again. “Stop it, Hans,” I cried. “Stop!”
I didn’t know what else to do: Hans wasn’t even rational — or if he was, it was the rationality of a wolf. He snarled at us, and his canines — no, all of his teeth were canines now —
Hans’ wolf leapt through Ben, snarling and rending. The vampire didn’t even notice the spectral beast, but it made me shriek and stumble backward. I fell on my butt, but other people had caught up to us and were taking my place. Shantaya was there, wide eyed and frightened and bracing herself to intervene. Solocks were running toward us from farther away, while Fiore appeared on Hans other side just as suddenly as Ben had appeared in front of him. Ben’s feet were sliding as Hans used his greater size to overbear the smaller man. Then Fiore grabbed his arm with one hand. His other pressed a gun into Hans’ side and pulled the trigger.
I have never in my life heard a gunshot so loud. It was the only thing my supernatural senses could focus on. All of them. The crack of the shot, the echo off the building; the instant of illumination along Hans’ side the smell of spent gunpowder and hot metal the….
Fiore flew backward as I slapped him aside. How had I gotten close enough to…. My scream warbled in the air — I’d outrun it in frozen time and it had caught up with me again. I caught Hans before he could crash into the ground — Ben helped me. Hans’ eyes widened in shock for just an instant, and then all of the tension in his body snapped into a sudden shift.
Bones cracked. Flesh twisted in my arms. Clothing split apart and merged with skin that sprouted thick, coarse fur. Hans writhed in my arms, trying to get his arms and legs beneath him — no, just legs. The massive wolf strained against Ben and I, but even though it was stronger than Hans it didn’t have the leverage that he had. It howled in fury.
“Stop,” I begged. My face was buried in the wolf’s shoulder. My tears disappeared into its fur. “Stop it. We’ll find them. But you can’t go in there. You can’t. Your soul….”
Ben disappeared. “Don’t,” I heard his cold command over my babbled attempts to reason with Hans’ wolf.
“It’s just lead,” Fiore returned sharply. “We can cripple the beast long enough to get it confined. He’ll be fine.”
“Just stay here,” I whispered to Hans. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Just stay here and I’ll make sure we find them.”
Another wolf growled, but not at me. Then another and another.
“It isn’t necessary,” Ben said. “Look for yourself. Hans is under control. You’ll just set the others off if you try anything more.” Ben paused for just a beat. “Matteo,” he said with measured calm, “It might have worked with one were, but with four..? How many of your men are packing silver? Don’t start this.”
My chest heaved as I held back a sob. What was Ben talking abou… oh. Hans’ wolf whined at me, but wasn’t struggling against my grasp. Ben was right: ‘Hans’ had finally started listening to me again. Because even though Hans wasn’t enthralled, his wolf still was. It whined again and tried to twist around. I let it out of my arms and it nuzzled my face.
In the sudden wave of relief that Hans wasn’t trying to feed himself to the ghost zombies, I felt like my body was made of lead. I looked up and past Hans’ wolf. Fiore was being faced down by Benjamin and three other wolves. I hadn’t noticed Shantaya and her sister shifting. Jockboy’s wolf was at Ben’s side. The other two had flanked Fiore, but he seemed unperturbed. Beyond Fiore I could see his solocks peppered through the lot, aiming down assault rifles, using the concrete bases of the parking lot’s light fixtures for partial cover. The tension was palpable. Their expressions ranged from grim to afraid. If I had to guess an answer to Ben’s question, it would be that very few of them had silver rounds currently loaded.
I couldn’t believe none of them had snapped and taken a preemptive shot, or made a move to swap ammo and brought the wolves’ attention down on himself.
Hans’ wolf whined again and forced his head under my hands to distract me. My relief had evaporated as I realized the tension of the standoff taking place in front of me. I scratched the wolf’s ears without thinking about it. Matteo was lowering his gun. I sat down as the weapon was holstered. The other wolves and even the solocks seemed to relax just a little, as well.
“Praise be,” I heard Benny whisper from off to the side. I glanced his way and saw that he hadn’t moved from where he’d been when I’d first told Hans about his pack. Then I looked and saw his wings open and spread wide. The feathered strands reached out through the entire lot, fading into invisibility as they shot away from him, only to thicken once more as the strands approached other auras, creating halos around everyone except Fiore, Benjamin and myself. Halos that faded as the tension passed and the threadlike edges of Benny’s feathers withdrew.
“Alright then,” Fiore said. “Why don’t you leave this facility to me, Dolcet? You should take these weres somewhere that they won’t cause trouble.” It sounded less like a question and a suggestion than it did an order, but Ben didn’t argue or take offense. His head tilted for just a second to his left and then his right, taking in the werewolves around him.
“I can do that,” Ben agreed, but I wasn’t listening to him anymore.
I was looking at Benny again. The seraphim… He scared me. I was pretty sure he was the only reason no one had panicked and kicked off a blood bath neither Fiore nor Benjamin nor I could have contained.
And from the look of relief on Benny’s face, I wasn’t entirely certain that he knew it.