For just a second Ben’s fingers brushed the fur of Jockboy’s wolf, catching its attention. It followed him when he turned and strode toward the vans. A moment later the other wolves — except Hans’ wolf, of course — followed. One of them bared her teeth at Fiore as she crossed his path. I had to peek at the astral realm to see that it was the one that belonged to Shantaya’s sister.
I bit my lip and stood, following Ben’s lead. Hans’ wolf followed mine. When we got to the van that had brought us to the hospital, the back doors were open and Ben had already climbed in. Jockboy’s wolf had followed him, but the girls’ wolves were sitting outside the vehicle, watching Hans’ wolf and I approach.
I was also starting to realize why Curtis’ wolf had a name of its own. I was getting a little bit of a headache trying to keep mentally differentiating all of the wolves from their owners and each other without them.
I wasn’t sure what to do, exactly, but the wolves that were in the parking lot were paying attention to me. So I climbed into the back of the van, myself. Hans’ wolf followed me, and then the other two followed him.
The back of the van was crowded. Four wolves take up a lot more horizontal space than a comparable number of people, and they weren’t really inclined to use the seats. Ben had popped the little door that led to the cab and slipped through to the driver’s seat before closing it, but even without him there I still felt a little claustrophobic. He glanced back at me through the small circular holes cut decoratively in the metal divider. “Oh, good. I was hoping they’d follow you,” Ben said. “Will you close the back and keep them calm for a bit? I’m texting Cassie to let her know one of my donors will be by to drive her back to campus to pick up her car.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. That was a good thought. I had to push a couple wolves out of my way and reach over another one to reach the back doors. Outside I could still see Benny, but he wasn’t coming with us. He was marching purposefully toward the hospital, so I pulled the van’s back doors shut. Even after the light from the parking lot lamps was blocked out I didn’t have any trouble seeing, though. Yay, vampirism.
If anyone had told me, even a few days ago, that I would voluntarily close myself into a confined space with four wolves, I would have thought they were at least as crazy as I was. Now, though, it was just a thing I was doing. How fucked up was that?
“Alright,” Ben said after a moment. “Are you good to come back to the pack’s apartments? I know the plan was for you to meet up with Megan and Emma in faerie, but I only have the one wolf enthralled. I doubt the rest would let me wrangle them if you aren’t around, so you’d have to take them with you.”
“Yeah,” I said again. “We should probably keep all the were pups in this world.” I managed to make my way back to one of the van’s benches without tripping over anyone. Hans’ wolf hopped up next to me and then plopped down with his head on my lap. The other three were still too busy turning in circles and sniffing everything to settle down. I stroked the fur between Hans-wolf’s ears.
Its not like I wasn’t going to have to change my plans already, anyway, I told myself wryly. Werepups aside, there was no way that Hans-wolf, enthralled as he was, would willingly leave my side. But it would be cruel to just dump him in a basement and abandon him — and it would be even more cruel to take him to faerie with me. It was perpetual night in Megan’s kingdom. With the wolf currently in control and Hans’ aura so badly damaged I wasn’t certain that Hans would be able to shift back to human if I took him there.
Ben started the van. The rumble of the engine made the were-pups sit up. Three heads pivoted toward the front of the van as they tracked the source of the rumbling. Jockboy’s wolf growled and barked once, then yelped in surprise when the van pulled forward. For a second, the three scrabbled about. Then they seemed to adjust, and soon Shantaya’s wolf had settled down on her belly for stability. Her sister’s wolf lay next to her, with her head on Shantaya-wolf’s shoulder. Jockboy’s wolf crept up to the front of the compartment and started pawing at the cab door.
Hans-wolf hadn’t so much as flicked an ear. Worried, I looked closer at him.
Is it strange when you look at an animal and know its sad? I stretched my awareness into the astral realm, and then immediately pulled it back. Hans’ spirit was latched onto his wolf, just like the kids’ spirits were to theirs. But unlike the kids’ ghosts, Hans’ was crying.
I squeezed my eyes tight and did my best not to do the same. Hans’ soul was weeping. I wished I hadn’t seen that, because now my chest hurt and I wanted to sob, too. But wouldn’t that just be an insult to Hans? If I were to cry because of his pain? As though my empathy could hurt me anywhere near the extent of what he was actually going through?
I leaned down and to the side so I could hug Hans’ wolf. I buried my face against it. It whined softly and shifted a little in my lap but then settled and laid his head back down. I didn’t look away or say anything — and he didn’t move again — for the rest of the drive.
Not even when I heard Ben open the door to the cab, or the rush of air and street and city noise when he rolled down a window.
The car ride gave me time to think, and the things I had to think about were weighty enough to keep me from freaking out the way I usually do in a car. It probably helped that everyone in the vehicle could survive any crash, unless we exploded like a Hollywood stunt car. And I trusted Ben’s reflexes to make sure he didn’t kill anyone else.
I… I’d been through some shit over the past week. But the point was: I’d been through it. Megan was safe. Emma was safe. Fumiko had never needed anyone to protect her to begin with. I’d been murdered a few time, but generally got over it. The current director didn’t seem inclined to follow his predecessors modus operandi and murder me again, and I even had a mentor, sort of, in Valerie and Elaine.
And Hans had been there for me through all of it, even in the beginning when I hadn’t known if I could trust him or not. I had to be there for him, now. If I wasn’t I would be an entirely different sort of monster than the one I was just because of the undeath and blood drinking. If I wasn’t there for him during his crisis, I would be the worst girlfriend in the world. I couldn’t let myself be that kind of selfish, heartless, worthless person. I couldn’t let myself betray the care he’d given me by paying him back in neglect.
I just didn’t know how to ‘be there’ for him.
Salvatore’s treachery… I could only imagine that it was like what dad would feel when I told him about Doplinda. If I told him. Could I even do that, when I knew how much a similar betrayal had hurt Hans? I had been killed over and over and over again, but how was physical pain worse than having decades of trust shredded by lies? By deceit and kidnapping and murder?
I refused to breathe, because I knew if I did I would start sobbing. Because I was apparently self-centered enough to want to make it about me, even though my aura was full enough that I couldn’t even blame it on erratic emotions.
Maybe mom had been right when she’d accused me of being ‘excessively dramatic’ on those occasions that I’d broken down in front of her.
No breaking down around Hans, I told myself. I can lean on Megan or Emma or Ben. Maybe Valerie or Elaine or Cassie, even. But he’s got no one except me and John, and I don’t even know….
Oh, god: John was Mister Salvatore’s son. If Hans lashed out at him because of his connection to Salvatore, then Hans wouldn’t have anyone except me. And… and… did we even know that John wasn’t in on it with his father? I mean… no. No! John couldn’t be: if he had been, he wouldn’t have been left behind when Mister Salvatore sprang his ambush, right? And it had been his friend, Mister Kallaher, that had most recently been murdered by his father’s compatriots. I didn’t care if Linda had been a traitor and Mister Salvatore had been a traitor, John couldn’t be. Hans couldn’t lose all of his friends like that. I felt guilty for even thinking it. I was just being paranoid.
Although, it isn’t paranoia if it’s true….
I spent the rest of the ride with my hands fisted in Hans-wolf’s fur, trying to disentangle myself from those sorts of paranoid suspicions. Ultimately, by the time the van came to a halt, I was certain John was still a good guy. After all, if he had been on Salvatore and Lewellyn’s side, then he wouldn’t have warned me about Emma maybe being compelled to suicide and bring back Mister Salvatore. Or he could have betrayed me to Lewellyn plenty of times.
God, I was a shitty person for needing those assurances.
I straightened after the van stopped. I needed to get out of my head before I could get my thoughts twisted up in weird doubts again. “Thaddeus,” I called softly while Ben stepped out through the driver’s side door. After a second I felt the faerie’s presence along a leyline — but I didn’t look into the astral realm to see him. I didn’t want to witness Hans’ soul in tears again.
“Yes, my lady?” Thaddeus asked through our leyline.
“I need you to carry a message for me,” I told him. “Let Megan know that I will be staying in this world today. Let her know what happened at the hospital, and that I need to stay with Hans, alright? And answer any questions she has or handle any requests she makes before returning. Okay?”
“Yes, my lady.” The leyline connection rapidly narrowed as the faerie sped away. Being a full faerie, and given how weak he was from giving essence to me, I suspected he’d just let the pull of his native world draw him back to Megan’s kingdom directly.
Ben opened the back of the van, then, causing the girls’ wolves to shuffle around and hop out of the vehicle with tails wagging. I scratched Hans’ ears and levered myself out from under him. He sat up, then flowed off of the bench we’d sat on and turned about when I stepped to the back of the van. But even though he’d moved to follow me his ears were flat and his head down dispiritedly.
Ben offered me a hand, which I accepted as I stepped down into the apartment community’s lot. I needed to figure out where I stood with him, too, didn’t I? I was still mad that he’d fed on Megan, but at the same time….
Hell, I would just talk to her about it and follow her lead on whether or not to be pissed. That was sensible, right?
“I’m going to find an empty apartment and get these guys into a basement,” I told Ben. “I can already feel the sun approaching, so if you’re going back to the hotel you’d better get going.”
Ben’s lips twisted slightly, but he shook his head. “Go,” he told me. “I’m going to make a quick run for some food and clothing. I suspect they’ll need plenty of each when the moon sets.”
I hadn’t even thought of that. “That’s… thank you,” I said. The weave added a few more threads of obligation running from me to him, and I sighed. I was just going to have to forgive him, wasn’t I? Well, if Megan was pissed off when I told her and I had to stay mad, I could probably find some other way to make it up to him. Until then, I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore.”
“No problem,” Ben assured me. He glanced around the lot. “If it’s too close to sun up when I get back and I’m worried about going dormant, I’ll just hole up in another house. It isn’t as though there aren’t enough of them, and neither of us will have a problem with thresholds on the ones that don’t have occupants.”
“Okay,” I said. I bit the inside of my lip for a second, and then forced myself to speak up again. Emma had said that communication was the key to polyamorous relationships. Well then, I was going to communicate, dammit. “I’m sorry I was mad at you… you know, for biting Megan. But if she’s upset over it when I tell her, I’m going to be mad on her behalf until she isn’t. She’s my best friend, Ben. But… but otherwise, I’m glad you were there last night. At the house and in the woods and at the hospital.”
This time, the quirk of Ben’s lips almost made a smile. “Then I’ll have to do my best to explain myself and keep on her good side. So it’s probably just as well that I was planning to, anyway.” He reached up to tuck a lock of hair — that didn’t need it, and would certainly pop free again anyway — behind my ear. “You’re pretty amazing, Abigail. And I would not want you to stay mad at me for anything.”
I flushed. “I’m not that bad!” I protested automatically, and Ben laughed.
“No,” he agreed. “You aren’t. But if I hadn’t implied it, you would be protesting that you weren’t amazing, instead. And that,” he concluded with a tap of his finger on my nose, “would be an unforgivable lie.”
I blushed harder and tried to come up with a reply, but only succeeded in opening and closing my mouth like some kind of fish. Ben laughed and slipped past me, back toward the front of the van. “Stay,” he told Jockboy’s wolf, when it started to follow him. “Follow Abigail. She’s in charge now.” The wolf backed up and sat, then twisted around to look at me uncertainly. Ben got into the van’s cab and pulled its driver side door shut again.
I pulled myself together. I’m crap at whistling, so I clicked my tongue to get the wolves’ attention. “Okay,” I said. “Follow me.” They listened, making me wonder just how smart they were — or if it was just that all of their souls were bleeding across with their humans’ due to the damage of having been fed on by vampires at some point or another in the past twenty four hours.
Well, whatever. I could worry about that later. For now, they were following me — so I hastened to lead them into a dark apartment’s basement before some poor early morning jogger could trot by and trip their hunting instincts. The only thing I needed less than another werewolf would be a random jogger who ‘d been torn to pieces by wild beasts, and I was pretty sure if anyone did catch the wolves’ attention while Benny wasn’t around those would be the two available endings.
But, hell: at least they weren’t cats, right?