Update from Jae

Dear Readers,

 

Hello again from Jae, Eren’s wife. She wanted to put an update out, but feels unable to write even enough to accurately journal, so she’s asked me to write on her behalf again.

 

She’s grateful to all of you for your kindnesses. You are all wonderful, supportive people. We both appreciate that a great deal.

 

She has also been fretting about her ability to write—either at all, or to continue MNML. It is too early to tell what will happen with the story. She always worries when her depression and anxiety demons kick up that she might not be able to write enough or well enough or in a consistent enough manner. But this is different, of course. As of right now, her greatest concerns are being able to write Hans’ character at all and being able to write Abby’s fear-fantasies of non-consent.

 

It has been just over a week, so this is still very early. And I can remember the day, before we moved apartments, when we were walking down stairs and Eren joyfully exclaimed how she had book seven completely planned—how the ending had found its way into her head, and she had it all mapped out. She still has that map. It hasn’t gone anywhere. But the actual writing of it, right now, feels difficult, heavy, scary.

 

Eren may be able to come back to MNML. She may not. She may need to take a hiatus from MNML and write something else when she is able to write again. She wants to write. She misses writing. She is, right now, exhausted, and also (I believe) putting pressures on herself that no one else is putting on her. (Certainly, none of you are pressuring her, and that is wonderful how understanding you all are.)

 

She is worried about those of you who are supporting via Patreon, and wants you all to have a realistic portrait of what her writing life looks like right now, and how she is feeling, so that you can make choices about your support.

 

Again, this is all so early, and you are all so wonderful. Over time, she will heal. What that healing will look like, no one can say for sure. This is the type of thing that stays with a person for a lifetime and becomes a thing that is not thought of as constantly, much like grief.

 

I will continue to act as a voice for her until she is able to write again for herself. She reads your comments, and they have been helping her so much. They have been helping both of us, but she is of course the center here.

With thanks for all of you,

Jae

Uncategorized

TW/CW: sexual assault

Dear Readers,

 

This is Jae, writing in place of Eren.  Already, this isn’t normal, which should forewarn you, if the trigger/content warning up top did not.

 

Read more »

Uncategorized

Book 7, Chapter 5

I was a little stunned that Hans’ wolf had provided such a… eloquent? …reply. It was a far cry from the emotional demands of ‘kill, eat, fuck.’ that had dominated my interactions with its mind in the past. I was broken out of that by the sudden sound of a growl and another wolf’s yelp, and the skittering of claws against concrete

Without hesitation, I dropped through the trap door and into the basement.

I was not confronted by the scene I’d half expected: Jockboy being mauled by the sisters and Hans. Instead, Jockboy’s wolf was hunkered down in a corner. Hans’ wolf was sitting nearby. And Shantaya’s wolf and her sister’s were rolling about in the limited space: pouncing on and snapping at each other.

I gathered myself to pull them apart, but felt Hans’ wolf thinking at me before I could.

“They are only playing.” Hans’ wolf told me.

I hesitated and watched the two wolves ‘play’ fight for a moment. Some of those bites looked too serious for play. “But they could hurt each other,” I told Hans’ wolf. And they would remember it in the morning, wouldn’t they?

Hans’ wolf stood and approached me. “They could kill each other, and it would heal. Our teeth and claws are teeth and claws, not silver.” The thought was tinged with what felt like amusement. “Leave them be: they need to learn how to fight, and what their place in our pack’s hierarchy will be — and they do not have long before moonset.”

While I hesitated to concede the point, Hans’ wolf nudged my hand with his head. He leaned into me, pushing me to one side. I took a step so I wouldn’t fall, and Hans’ wolf continued to push. Soon I found myself being herded into another corner.

“There,” Hans’ wolf proclaimed. “Now we can sit and watch without being stumbled over and dragged into the contest.

I took in a deep breath, then let it out in a sigh and sat with my legs stretched out in front of me. Hans’ wolf laid down beside me with his head toward my feet. I ruffled the fur between his shoulders. Hans’ wolf made a surprisingly comfy arm rest.

But after just a minute or two I couldn’t stomach watching the two female wolves ‘play’ fight anymore. Play or not, instantly healed or not: the spily blood was all too real and. Combined with the approach of sunrise it was also distractingly appealing. And I wasn’t even all that thirsty!

But I felt the need to distract myself from the temptation, regardless. I turned toward Hans’ wolf “So,” I thought at him. “You’re really eloquent, now,” I concluded banally.

The wolf let out a whuffed sigh. “I always was. The only difference is that now my mind is infested with my humans’ words, rather than the purity of thoughts unrestrained by linguistics.”

Well, that was an awkward way to put it. At least: awkward for me, since that ‘infestation’ was my fault. I fumbled for a different topic of conversation. “Why isn’t Jockboy’s wolf playing too?” I ended up asking.

Hans’ wolf looked back at me. His gaze conveyed all too clearly his concern that I might be an ignorant child. “He has been cowed by them already. By all of us. He is the least of our pack, but I have accepted him into it. Any pup deserves better than that pathetic alpha he had. Perhaps by the next time we shift he will be willing to stand up for himself again.”

I frowned. Pathetic alpha? “Wait, do you mean Ben?”

“Is ‘Ben’ what you call cowards who leave the weakest of their pack alone in the territory of others?” Hans’ wolf asked. And somehow he managed to do it without venom: it was just a question, not a veiled criticism.

“Um. I guess so,” I allowed after a moment. “Except I don’t think he really saw it like that.”

“Then he is an ignorant fool as well as a coward and a failure of a leader,” Hans’ wolf concluded. He seemed satisfied with this answer, as though it gelled well with his world view. “Vampire, I understand perfectly well that an alpha female requires an alpha male for her mate, and that you are the alpha of alphas. But you could do better than that one. He doesn’t even have a pack anymore!”

For a moment my brain sputtered. When did I become an alpha female? And an alpha of alphas?! Who was this wolf describing, anyway? But then I managed to put together a coherent thought that wouldn’t undermine my position with the wolf sitting next to me. “Sure he does: his blood donors.”

Hans wolf whined in distress. He got up, turned around, and placed himself so that his eyes were level to mine. “Prey do not make a pack,” he told me with utmost seriousness. “At best they are a herd, and he is the dog that guards them.” It was clear that this was, in his estimation, even worse than being an alpha male who’d lost his pack members to another. “You. Can. Do. Better.”

Hans’ wolf continued to stare into my eyes, and I continued to stare back. I couldn’t put together a reply to that, so we stayed that way until I heard the front door open. Followed immediately by Ben shouting for me.

“Abigail?” Ben called. He sounded alarmed. Probably because he could hear the wolves fighting as clearly as I could hear him talking. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I shouted back. Hans’ wolf turned back around and laid down again while Ben appeared at the opening of the trap door. Ben’s arms were loaded down with plastic shopping bags. “They’re…” I hesitated to give the wolf’s explanation, mostly because I was uneasy with the idea of telling Ben what Hans’ wolf’s opinion of him was. But also because I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I’d just gotten unsolicited dating advice from a wolf. “…just playing,” I finished lamely.

Ben dropped down through the trap just like I had. His arrival also caught all four wolves’ attention — they froze in what they were doing and all heads pivoted to stare at him.

Ben’s eyes slid around the room, taking in the attention focused on him. His eyes widened slightly, and with a curse he blurred in place. The very next instant there was nothing where he stood except a pile of shopping bags, and he reappeared just a few steps to my side. Which saved him from being bowled over by Hans’ wolf, because in that same instant the four wolves charged at where he was. They didn’t even arrest their charge after he disappeared: they all went for the abandoned shopping bags, instead.

Ben took the two steps necessary to reach my side. We both watched the wolves’ frenzy with wide eyed fascination.

“So,” I said. “Steaks?”

“And a bunch of poultry,” Ben replied. “As much as I could carry that wasn’t pre-frozen.”

“Good thing you dropped them so fast,” I noted. Even as I said it, the wolves were continuing to tear apart the offering of food: plastic bags, cellophane wrap, styrafoam trays and all. “You would have lost an arm.”

Ben sputtered. “Yeah. Jumping into a den of wolves while wearing raw meat probably wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had. Please don’t tell anyone: my donors would never let me live it down.”

“Are you kidding?” I asked without thinking. It was a good thing the wolves were supernatural creatures. I didn’t think injesting that much plastic could possibly be healthy, otherwise. “I won’t let you live it down! So, what else did you get?”

Ben shook the handles of the remaining bags down his arm and into his hand so he could offer them to me. “Some clothes,” he said. “And a few rawhide bones in case they tore through the meat too fast,” he added almost guiltily, as though he too wasn’t sure if treating werewolves to dog treats would be conscidered patronizing. “Richard — one of my donors — told me he and the kids’ pastor went back to the church and picked up actual clothes for today from a donation bin. They’d taken them to the hotel, so Richard is on his way to bring a few sets here. Since I didn’t know what sizes to get people, anyway, bathrobes seemed to be the best call for the interim. Are they going to be okay, eating like that?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean: it’s styrafoam and plastic, not silver platters. Maybe they’ll get indigestion, but it shouldn’t be anything life threatening. I think. I’ll ask Hans’ wolf when he’s done eating. Or Hans when he shifts back.”

Of course, that got me thinking about when they would shift back. My eyes widened slightly. “Oh crap,” I muttered. I hastily started went through Ben’s bags until I found one with a couple of folded robes in it. “Let me borrow that. And no peeking!” Why had I said that? Ben just raised an eyebrow at me as I put the robe on over my glamoured clothes.

“What is it?” Ben asked me.

“Well, they’re going to shift back to human,” I pointed out. “And trust me: their clothes are not going to be coming back in decent shape. And two of them are teenage girls, and the other two are boys.” If Shantaya and her sister were anything like me, that would not go over well. My stomach was twisting in knots just thinking about it. Or maybe that was because of the impending sunrise. Whatever.

I frowned and put my hand on the wall behind me. Ben stepped back and watched me. I did my best to ignore him and focus. I’d managed to deliberately shift my glamour around a few times now. I’d even managed to anchor it to another soul, when I’d given it to Ben. So if I tried, I should be able to….

It took a few fumbled attempts before I realized that I had to reshape it before I detatched it from myself. And that I didn’t actually want to remove its connection to my aura, anyway, since that was the source of the essence that would maintain it. But, as with the silver fork-slash-knife-slash-sword, it didn’t have to be attached to me in order to be attached to my aura. When I finally had it, my glamoured clothes flowed off of me and out the sleeve of my robe. I walked backward, willing a privacy curtain to grow across the room as I did.

I stopped just a little bit short of the opposite wall, leaving enough room to be treated as a doorway around the partition. I did my best to lock down this new form and function for my glamour, and then took a moment to review my work. It looked good. Steel rings fixed it to a rail that ran across the basement ceiling. The curtain itself was heavy blackout cloth: completely opaque and long enough to pool slightly at the floor.

It wasn’t as good as an actual wall, but I was satisfied — and that was good, because I was also surprisingly tired. Even though I’d drawn some of the energy I’d used to manipulate the glamour back into my faerie bubble when I’d been done, I’d had to dump a lot more of it into the glamour itself to replace what it had lost when I’d disconnected it from myself, and then to grow it when it’s original ‘size’ was too little for my purposes. And on top of that: just the act of reshaping it so drastically seemed to take a lot out of me. Not in terms of essence, but in that I had the start of what promised to be a resounding psychic headache.

Ben whistled and ran a finger along the fabric. “You know, this is really amazing.”

I shrugged uneasily. “It isn’t, though,” I said. “I’m just giving direction to a glamour that already exists. Any witch could do as much.” Shoot, Fumiko could do as much and she wasn’t a witch at all. So really: any person with a bond to a faerie could use glamours.

“Yeah,” Ben said with a snort, “but your ‘familiar’ is a changeling. Most witches wouldn’t be able to throw around physical illusions like this. Not unless they were actually in the faerie realms.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I changed the subject. “I’m going to take the girls over to that side,” I told Benjamin. “Will you stay here with the guys? They are going to hurt when they shift back, so some vampire healing might not be a bad idea.”

Ben nodded. “I can help with that. I don’t know that Hans will let me, but the boy’s already been bitten by me once. How are you going to get your two over there, though?”

I frowned. “I’ll ask,” I answered Ben. “And I’m not biting Hans anymore,” I added. “So if he wants super healing, he’s going to have to get it from someone who doesn’t take so much out of an aura.” Although, given how Hans’ wolf felt about Ben… “Maybe we can ask Elaine to help with him,” I concluded.

“You’ll ask…?” Ben said in confusion, but I was already concentrating on asking and didn’t explain.

“Hey,” I sent to Hans’ wolf. “Will you tell the girls to come over to the other side of this curtain with me until moonset?” I wasn’t confident in my ability to communicate in ‘the purity of thoughts unrestrained by linguistics,’ so I was going to use the one wolf I could use words with as my translator.

Hans’ wolf didn’t ask why, or even send a reply. He just raised his head and nosed two of the wolf pups toward me. If he conveyed any psychic suggestions to them, I wasn’t included in the sending. But the two wolves seemed to get the point just fine. They split off from Hans and Jockboy’s wolves without complaint and disappeared past me, around the curtain.

“Okay,” Benjamin said. “So, that happened. You can talk to the wolves? And silently, so: psychically?”

I gave him an innocent look. “Sort of? I only have a good ‘connection’ to Hans’ wolf, though.” Which wasn’t really true, but Hans’ wolf was the only one that I could vocalize thoughts to and trust they’d be understood.

Ben shook his head. “Here,” he said. He shifted three of the remaining bags to his other hand and passed them to me.

“Thanks,” I said, taking them. “Don’t get eaten,” I added and then I went to the girls’ side of the privacy curtain. The two young wolves who were waiting there looked at me expectantly.

I gave them a weak smile and hastily sorted through the bags Ben had given me. One of them contained two massive rawhide bones, which I swiftly tossed to the wolves before they could get it into their heads to pounce on me for them. Another had bathrobes, and the last had a short length of thick rope. Each end was tied in a knot with a frayed fringe sticking out.

I stared at it, thinking: Seriously, Ben? But before I could toss it aside, Shantaya’s wolf — who, oh my god, had already eaten her ‘treat’ — pounced on the end I wasn’t holding. She growled fiercely and shook, and if it weren’t for my supernatural strength she probably would have ripped it out of my grip. As it was, I stumbled a couple of steps before I could brace myself.

Then her sister pranced over, also having made her snack disappear, and watched with interest. And then she lunged to take a snap at the exposed length of rope.

I yelped at the jaws closing so close to my fingers and let her have it. As soon as I let go, the two wolves started an energetic game of tug of war. I stepped back and let them: at least this was play that wouldn’t make me freak out or want to bite them.

Maybe I should get them a tennis ball to chase for tomorrow night, I thought. But as I looked at the two wolves I reconsidered. Neither of the pups was near as large as Hans’ wolf, but they were still pretty big. They’d totally pop a basketball, though. Maybe a soccer ball?

I sat down by the wall to watch them. Then, as I nervously drummed my fingers against the floor and ruminated on my sparse knowledge of the construction of sportsballs, I waited out the sun.

Midnight Moonlight, Book 7

Book 7, Chapter 4

While Ben was starting up the van I approached one of the apartment complex’s dark buildings. The wolves seemed content to follow me, with Shantaya and her sister’s wolf flanking me on either side and Hans’ and Jockboy’s wolves lingering a bit behind us. However, despite their good behaviour, I was still anxious to get them inside before some early morning jogger happened by and triggered their pursuit of prey instincts.

Or maybe I was just anxious in general because I could feel the impending sunrise’s approach. How long did Ben have before he needed to be under shelter? An hour? If that? He’d had a rough night — we all had, but trying to restrain Elaine back in the woods must have been draining. If Ben was caught in the sunlight, how long would it be before he went psycho? Or fell dormant? Or burst into flames?!

I didn’t get a chance to call Ben back and tell him to just stay here, though — in the time it took for me to reach the door of an apartment (and for my anxiety to reach the point of mild panic) I could already hear the van fading into the distance outside the complex.

I wasn’t the only one who was anxious over Ben’s absence, though. One of the wolves abruptly gave a long, mournful howl. I almost jumped out of my skin, spinning around to see which it was: Jockboy’s wolf, of course.

When Jockboy’s cry was done there was a moment’s stillness, as though each of the wolves was waiting for a reply. When there wasn’t one, Jockboy’s wolf gave a whine and started to back away from me and the two wolves by my side.

I held out a hand placatingly. “Hey,” I said as soothingly as I could. “It’s okay. C’mere. We’re going to go inside and wait for Ben to come back.” While I spoke, though, Shantaya’s wolf started slinking to the left. Her sister’s wolf padded to the right.

Alarm bells started going off in the back of my head, and these ones I knew had nothing to do with pre-sunrise jitters. Jockboy’s wolf hunkered down while scrabbling backward, keeping his throat low and the two wolves that were now circling him in eyesight. He growled a warning, and their growls answered his.

What the… oh, fuck! I’d fed on Hans, Shantaya, and her sister while they had been in their human forms, so their wolves had wound up enthralled to me. But I’d bitten Jockboy’s wolf which was why his human self was infatuated with me. The wolf in front of me, however, wasn’t. Actually, hadn’t Jockboy’s wolf tried to get away from us when we were in the back of the van? I remembered him scratching at the door in the partition between the cargo area and the cab. And hearing Ben open it briefly while driving.

Had Jockboy’s wolf only been being behaved during the drive because Ben had been there? I had already suspected that the wolves had only followed Ben and acted with restraint because of Benny’s influence — had some lingering effect of that been what let them leave Jockboy alone in the back of the van? Or was it just that while Ben had been there Jockboy’s ‘pack’ had been too strong to risk tangling with?

Or maybe it was that we’d come to the apartment complex — Hans’ pack’s territory. Shantaya, her sister, and Hans were all connected through me. That might’ve been enough to keep them from each other’s throats. But Jockboy wasn’t, and Hans would have to be seeing him as an interloper on his territory, now. Wouldn’t he?

I didn’t get a chance to follow that line of speculation, because that was when Shantaya’s wolf darted forward, snapping at Jockboy’s. He lunged toward her with a sharp bark, teeth flashing as she skittered away. Her sister streaked forward then, and Jockboy’s wolf spun toward her: stance wide, teeth bared; a low growl in his throat. She backpedaled before his jaws could close on her and started to circle again. Shantaya followed suit on Jockboy’s other side.

“No!” I yelled at them. “Oh no. Don’t you…! Stop it!” They weren’t listening. I wasn’t surprised: I could remember the overwhelming urges I’d tasted from Hans’ wolf. Hunt, kill, eat. And the territoriality, and….

Jockboy’s wolf snarled in my direction, then backed up further when Shantaya and her sister feinted at him again. He snapped his jaws at them, warning them back — but I think that it was snarling at me that set Hans’ wolf off.

One second Jockboy’s wolf was fending off the two girls, and the next Hans’ wolf had eclipsed Jockboy’s. Hans’ wolf snarled at both of the others, and they yelped and dashed back toward me — but Hans’ wolf wasn’t interested in stopping them from attacking Jockboy’s so much as he was claiming that pleasure for himself.

Jockboy’s wolf lunged at Hans’ back at the same time as Hans’ wolf spun. Jockboy’s rush was smashed aside by a swipe of Hans’ paw and then Hans’ wolf was on top of him. I cried out at the violence of it and dashed forward to try and stop him, but Hans’ jaws had already clamped down on the throat of Jockboy’s wolf. His front paws held the smaller werepup down.

I heard the crack of bone as Hans’ wolf shook his head violently and Jockboy’s vertebrae snapped — followed by the shredding of flesh as Hans’ wolf tore his teeth away from the other wolf’s neck without first opening his jaws.

The body of Jockboy’s wolf collapsed when it was released. One of its paws twitched, and it’s mouth opened in a wheeze that might have been meant to be a whimper.

I ran forward. I knew I could bite him. The shared regeneration would heal him, and I could keep the other wolves from attacking him. Shantaya and her sister’s wolves followed my lead and ran beside me.

Then Jockboy’s neck spasmed. His wolf was suddenly moving — desperately scrambling to get its legs back under itself. And Hans’ wolf was back on him in an instant.

The sudeness and unexpectedness of the violence made me shriek and step back, halting me mid-rescue. Jockboy’s spine broke again, and this time Hans’ wolf kept shaking him until he wasn’t moving at all. Only then satisfied did Hans’ wolf throw his prey’s corpse down.

Shantaya and her sister didn’t retreat when I did. They ran up to Jockboy’s limp form, growling and snapping as they did. He didn’t move, and Shantaya’s sister’s wolf stopped snarling long enough to sniff at him. Then he spasmed again, his bones resetting themselves, and the sister’s wolf barked and scrambled backward in surprise.

Shantaya’s wolf lunged forward, though. Her jaws closed on Jockboy’s neck in a fair approximation of Hans’ feat, but she was smaller than either of their wolves. Despite trying to shake and claw and rend Jockboy’s throat, his wolf managed to stand and tear away from her grip.

Hans’ wolf crushed him to the pavement again.

This time, however, Hans’ wolf didn’t sink his teeth into the werepup. Instead, he held the smaller wolf down and growled, low and menacing. His teeth were bared as though he wanted to kill Jockboy again, but his legs shook from a tension that seemed unnatural.

“Don’t do it,” I whispered. “Oh god, don’t do it.” I knew Hans’ wolf wanted to rend flesh. I knew there was no way I’d be able to make myself get between them if they kept at it. I didn’t know why Hans’ wolf was hesitating.

Neither, apparently, did the other werepups. Jockboy’s wolf kept his head down and his body flat against the pavement. He whimpered pathetically, and the only movement coming from him was his sides expanding and collapsing from hyperactive breathing. Shantaya’s wolf ventured closer, but stopped growling — perhaps afraid of Hans’ wolf mistaking a growl as hostility toward him? Her sister’s wolf followed her, but she was almost prancing forward rather than moving like a predator stalking prey.

Hans’ growls faded to a low rumble as Shantaya’s wolf drew near. Hans’ wolf let her sniff at the trembling Jockboy, and even snap at him once. Then Hans’ wolf, still standing over the werepup he’d ravaged into submission, threw his head back and howled. A moment later, Shantaya’s howl joined him.

The cries sent a shiver down my spine. Jockboy’s wolf whimpered, and Shantaya’s sister’s wolf trotted back over to my side. I swallowed.

When he was done, Hans’ wolf calmly walked away from the prone werepup. Shantaya’s wolf followed behind him. They came up to me, with Hans’ wolf stopping in front of me and Shantaya’s going back to my other side. Hans’ wolf yawned at me. His tongue washed over his nose, removing some of the blood from his muzzle. Then he turned his head and growled softly at Jockboy’s wolf, who gave a whine and scrambled over to my side, belly to the ground and head hunched down meekly. Hans’ wolf turned back to me. His mouth opened in another yawn that exposed far, far too many teeth. This time it remained open as he panted happily.

I walked backward until I ran into the apartment door. Then I fumbled for its handle and casually forced the lock. I kind of wanted to run like my instincts were screaming at me to, but didn’t dare. I checked my leylines to each of the wolves. They saw me as part of their pack. Jockboy, too, now. He was on the lowest rung of the pack hierarchy.

I swallowed again and hoped they never decided they needed to see where I stood in their pecking order. “In,” I told them as calmy as I could pretend to. Shantaya’s wolf and her sister’s wolf didn’t hesitate to nose the door open and start exploring the new place. Jockboy’s wolf scrambled forward in their wake. And Hans’ wolf tilted his head. Ladies first.

I froze. I’d only heard the words because I’d been looking through our leylines. The thought felt like a twisted amalgamation of Hans and his wolf. The wolf that was watching me expectantly. How much has my feeding on him shredded the boundaries between them? Was… was that what had stopped him from continuing to kill Jockboy’s wolf over and over and over again?

Not wanting to upset the animal in front of me, I turned and walked into the apartment. Hans’ wolf followed after me.

For a second I took in the apartment. It had the same layout as Cassie’s, except the layout of the rooms seemed flipped. There was still a loft, a hallway, and a kitchen — the kitchen and loft were just on the opposite sides of the living room from Cassie’s.

Hans’ wolf didn’t bother with looking around. He howled once, and Shantaya’s wolf answered from the kitchen — then came bolting into the living room as though summoned. Hans wolf herded the werepups with nudges and growls into the hallway. This time I followed. Midway down the hall, Hans’ wolf stopped. He turned and looked at me expectantly.

My brain was spinning. Mostly in variations of: Too much. I’ve fed from him too much. It was pretty obvious what the wolf expected of me. There were two doors in the middle of the hallway. One which was open, leading to a bathroom. The other, which was closed. I opened it, revealing a closet with a trap door set in the floor. Then I opened the trap door, revealing a dark, dungeon-like basement.

Hans’ wolf barked and jerked his head toward the opening. Shantaya’s sister’s wolf jumped through without hesitation, but Shantaya’s wolf paused at the edge to sniff. Hans’ wolf slid up beside her and then nudged her hard enough that she fell with a yelp. Then he turned, grabbed jockboy’s wolf by the scruff of his neck, and physically threw him into the basement.

I watched it all happen with wide eyes.

Hans’ wolf then looked over the edge into the basement. He growled, the hair along his spine raising slightly. He turned, teeth still bared, and caught my gaze.

I hate the den, the thought flashed across the opening of his leyline. For it is not a den, but a prison as vile as the waning moon. Then he turned and, with visible reluctance, leapt into the darkness below.

Midnight Moonlight, Book 7

Book 7, Chapter 3

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?

Midnight Moonlight, Book 7

Book 7, Chapter 2

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….

I screamed.

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.

Midnight Moonlight, Book 7

Book 7, Chapter 1 (Charles)

Charles Fleisher was on the phone.  And he did not like what he was hearing.

“…which is why you are not to egress to the new facility,” his contact with The Alliance concluded.  Charles took a moment to let those words sink in.  His free hand clenched in an angry fist, almost in spite of himself.  Still, it served to remind him that there was some merit to The Alliance’s panic: not terribly long ago he hadn’t had a hand to clench.  Or the arm it was attached to.

Regeneration was a splendid supernatural ability, but it irked Charles immensely whenever things had devolved to the point where his had to mend something.

“I can assure you, there is no pursuit,” Charles said calmly — reassuringly.  He had a small urge to scream: He suspected that he had internalized the witch Katherine’s hatred of Abigail into his own psyche.  Of course, Katherine’s hate was born out of jealousy and irrationality.  Charles’ was born of the fact that Abigail.  Ruined.  Everything.

Charles forced himself to breathe out, and then back in again slowly.  It wasn’t helping anything that this time it was The Alliance itself that was throwing his immediate plans into disarray — but at least it wasn’t Abigail again!

“Although the extraction was… rocky,” Charles continued, “after we dealt with the funeral home and the Salvatore matriarch we made a clean escape.”  He managed to keep his temper out of his voice.  His night had been too stressful by far, and he could feel dawn aproaching.  Maybe that was why he was feeling so paranoid, now: a vampire’s natural responce to the rising of the sun.  He did his best to ignore the tiny bit of him that worried that he was wrong, that the wards around his team’s van weren’t hiding them from magical dowsing charms; that Abigail was somehow coming after him.

Impossible, Charles reassured himself.  Elaine Salvatore only came to the funeral home because they could identify the remains of the wizard we used to power our ambush.  We were not followed there, and we are not being tracked now.  We cannot be dowsed for as long as we remain within warded confines.

“They found you once,” the person on the other end of the line contradicted him.  “And while you were dealing with Elaine Salvatore, Abigail ventured into the funeral home.  We have reports that she recovered Linda’s corpse.”

“What?!” Charles yelped: his composure utterly lost.  Abigail?!

“You do see why this means you cannot fall back to the facility you established to relocate the Hope team,” The Alliance’s representative answered him.  “Do you not?  Their medium may have already summoned and interrogated your ex-wife’s spirit.  She knew your phone number.  The Center may be using the same method to track you as you used to find and terminate her.”

Charles’ heartbeat slowed to a stop.  His breathing did, too.

“What’s more,” Charles’ contact continued, “immediately after reconnecting with their medium our remaining agent in The Center’s dispatch network reported that Abigail — along with the medium, Elaine Salvatore, and at least three Scions — went to the ritual site looking for more evidence of our interests in the area.  And from there she returned to Hope Community Hospital.”

Charles trembled slightly as he held in his urge to scream.  Fortunately, it was probably unnoticeable over the general jarring of his team’s van as it sped down the highway.  How?  How was it that Abigail. Was.  Unraveling.  Everything?!

Everything he’d done to cover up The Center’s tracks, and somehow Abigail interfered with all of it.  She’d shown up at the hospital once before, delaying the final phase of that facility’s transfer of materials and research.  That delay had prevented him from ‘liberating’ Katherine until after Abigail had shown up at Director Salvatore’s house, forcing him to act overtly and preventing him from framing Katherine for the ‘disappearance’ of the Directors Salvatore and Lewellyn’s remains.  And now it turned out that she’d recovered the remains of Linda, which he’d left behind in a fire to be destroyed?!  And then returned to the hospital again — it couldn’t be coincidence.  It couldn’t be.

Charles hated her.

And a tiny part of him that he did not want to acknowledge was growing more and more terrified of her every time her name came up.

“Everyone,” Charles tilted the phone down to his jaw and addressed his team.  “Phones.  Dispose of them.  Now.  Burners only from here out.”  He pulled his own personal phone — the one he’d used to call Linda while one of his mortal snipers took her out — and passed it to one of his current team’s members.

At least… at least Salvatore, Lewellyn, and Katherine had all been in the van sent ahead while the rest of us torched the evidence at the funeral home.  So they would have gotten away: no one with them would have had a GPS enabled device that The Center could possibly know to track, and their vehicle was just as securely warded as his own.  At least that much had gone right!

“Go to ground,” The Alliance’s coordinator told Charles firmly.  “We’re already evacuating the facility you had set up.  When we are confident that you are clear, we’ll bring you back in.  Until then, if you are found your team is a cut out.  There will be no further contact until we initiate it.  Do not aproach Alliance facilities: everything in the area is being withdrawn because of the exposure our organization has suffered under your watch.”  The coordinator’s voice was hard and judgemental — but Charles knew he and his team wouldn’t be abandoned indefinately.  Despite their recent spate of failures, their skills and abilities were valuable.  They would be called back in.  This exile was just a precaution, not a punishment.

“When it is deemed apropriate,” The Alliance contact finally concluded, “we will contact you.”  Then the phone went dead as the call was disconnected from the other end.

We can’t be tracked, Charles tried to reassure himself.  Once the phones had their sim cards stripped, crushed, and the devices themselves had been thrown out the van’s front passenger window he tried again.  We can’t be tracked.  Our mission is simple.  Go to ground.  Wait.

It would be easy.  It would.  In this van alone they had enough firepower, tech, and supernatural might to conquer a small town without effort.  Hell, he was a vampire: they could enthrall a small town and leave no one the wiser.

Plus…. Abigail was still back in the city.  She wouldn’t be there to mess things up again.

“Everyone,” Charles said calmly.  “I know you all heard that.”  Everyone in his second team — the team that had prepared the inital extraction of Director Salvatore and Director Lewellyn’s remains — had supernatural hearing, after all.  “For the immediate future, we are on our own.  Jamison, pull off at the next exit.  Andrews, once we find some wifi to hijack, locate an apropriate facility for us to commandeer.  West of here.  If they were tracking us by GPS, we don’t want to continue traveling in a straight line.”

Charles felt the van’s change in direction as Jamison changed lanes.  Easy, Charles told himself.  Simple.  He had a plan.  It only extended a few hours into the future, but that meant there was no way Abigail could somehow deduce and counter it.  That was the trick.  It had to be.  They would go to ground in some small town far away from where they’d ditched the phones, and after a week or two they’d be extracted to an Alliance campus.  And they would not leave that safety until the Alliance was ready to move in the open: when it was too late for anyone to interfere with the organization’s objectives.

…But outside of the van, it was already too late for Charles’ plan.

Pips grinned maniacally as his clawed hooves pounded on the pavement: half running and half throwing himself forward to maintain speed.  He didn’t know why his prey had abruptly tossed a bunch of phones out of their window, but he’d smashed a few just for the fun of it as he ran over them.  Abigail had been right: he didn’t have any problem keeping up with the vehicle he’d been told to follow, even at highway speeds.

What’s more: he was confident that no one knew he was even there.  Invisibility is so useful, he thought.  And even his footsteps, despite the force with which they struck and gouged the pavement, were silent.

Pips had even deliberately looked for himself in the mirror of another vehicle, and all that he’d been able to see was his smile: A wide, jagged curve of razor teeth that stretched up his muzzle.  And somehow he knew that even though his invisibility wasn’t perfect, he would never be spotted before he wanted to be.  It was one of this form’s powers.

After all, he recited one of Abigail’s own thoughts to himself, No one ever notices a chupacabracorn….

…until it’s too late.

Midnight Moonlight, Book 7

Book 6, Chapter 51

I ended up riding in one of the vans with Fiore. Well, he rode shotgun while one of his solocks drove. Cassie, along with Hans, Shantaya, and her sister rode in the back with me. Cassie was going to ride back to campus with us and pick up her car when I finally took the gate over to Megan’s kingdom. Jockboy in wolf mode continued to stick to Ben’s side like glue, and Benny wound up riding with them as well. That left Fiore’s solocks in a second van and Ben’s donors in another.

I strongly suspected Fiore was so willing to provide our transportation this time because he didn’t trust me to not be under his direct supervision, lest I casually do something impossible again.

I spent the ride trying to keep my nerves under control. The prospect of ‘answers’ was not actually a comforting one. Whatever Mister Salvatore had been up to, it hadn’t been good. But I needed to know. Hell, if people were going to go around trying to kill me — possibly killing my friends in the process — then dammit I was going to know why!

Not the least because it should help me put together a list of who I needed to kill first.

That was a disquieting thought. Was I really becoming so inured to violence? Or was it just that I wasn’t getting upset at the idea because my aura was too bloated to allow for mood swings? Or was it that my pocket of ‘protect your friends’ didn’t really have anything in it to care about the extremes that protection might take?

I worried at my lower lip and stared out the window while I considered that. It didn’t help my nerves any more than anticipating whatever we would find out from the ghosts at the hospital.

“Alright,” Cassie interrupted the silence after we’d parked. “Wish me luck?”

“Good luck,” Shantaya’s sister said. I nodded. That was close enough to echoing the sentiment, right? I didn’t want to jinx it by saying anything out loud, though.

Cassie opened the back of the van and hopped down to the paved lot. Behind her I had a clear view of the hospital, thanks to my supernatural night vision. Hope Community Hospital looked the same as it had the last time we’d been there. Well, except that the parking lot was less full. And it was night. And the big glass window over the front lobby had been boarded over with plywood.

I sort of felt guilty about that. Maybe I could arrange for some of my life insurance to pay for the window we’d broken? It wasn’t like I was going to need it to get an apartment, if I was still planning on staying with Megan. She had an entire kingdom, after all.

“I’ll bring Margaret and Doctor Lin back here,” Cassie said. “Don’t let anyone get too close to the hospital, okay? Especially without Abby or I to keep an eye out for, um, the zombie ghosts.” She closed the van doors behind her.

A hearbeat later, Fiore unbuckled. “I’m going to coordinate with Ben and get a guard set up out of our donors,” he said gruffly. “Wait here.”

I didn’t argue. Fiore left as well, leaving me behind with the werepups and Hans. It didn’t escape my notice that at least one of the solocks — the one who’d been driving us — didn’t seem to be involved in whatever patrols they were going to set up. He stayed in the front seat to keep an eye on us.

The silence in the back of the van stretched out awkwardly. Eventually, I couldn’t take it any more. “So,” I said. “Who all gave me blood back in the woods? I need to know so I can make sure to re-un-enthrall everyone who donated.”

In the front seat, the solock who was babysitting us started coughing on a choked off breath.

“I did,” Hans finally said. “And Shantaya. We wouldn’t let Ben — we didn’t need another hungry vampire on our hands. But one of his donors did in his place.”

I nodded. I didn’t like hearing that Hans had torn up his aura more on my behalf, but I wasn’t really surprised, either. “Okay,” I said. I started checking my leylines to see how much damage I’d have to undo. I figured I’d probably have to wait until tomorrow night… tonight? It was early enough to count as morning, but I still held to the belief that it didn’t really count as the next day until you went to sleep or the sun came up. So: hopefully by tomorrow night I’d have spooled enough faerie essence to start fixing things.

I didn’t get very far into my assessment before the back door of the van opened again.

It was Cassie, and two ghosts hovered behind her. I recognized the ‘younger’ one as Margaret. Which meant the other had to be Doctor Lin.

Doctor Lin was a small ghost. Short, and a little portly, he walked alongside Cassie while levitating slightly above the ground — enough to keep him at head height with her. He wore a lab coat over an old fashioned suit’s vest and shirt, and pinstripe trousers. Despite his dated clothes, the stethoscope that was looped around his neck and the little tonsil-light tucked in his breast pocket seemed almost modern. And of course, everything about him was slightly transparent.

Especially his opinion of me.

As soon as he saw me, his eyes widened. Horror and disgust distorted his features as he looked around the interior of the van, and then he hastily backpedaled. “No,” he said vehemently. “No, Miss Cassandra, I’m afraid we cannot help you. Margaret, we’re leaving. These are not people we wish to associate with.”

For a moment, I was too stunned to say or do anything. Cassie was startled enough to turn around. “What?” she asked of the doctor. “Wait!”

Doctor Lin was already stalking back toward the hospital, towing Margaret along with a firm grip. She protested, as Cassie did again. Cassandra abandoned the van and dashed after him: The doctor was zipping away with a speed that had nothing to do with how quick his legs could move.

In the back of the van, all eyes turned on me. Probably because I was the only one there, now, who could tell everyone else what had just happened. I think the wide-eyed confusion on my face adequately conveyed my incomprehension. Belatedly I pulled myself past the others and out the back of the van in pursuit of Cassie.

“Doctor, wait! We need your help,” Cassie was pleading when I got out of the van. Doctor Lin had stopped part way back to the hospital, where Margaret had apparently wrested herself free of his grip and given Cassie a chance to catch up.

Now Margaret was hovering behind Cassie and glaring at the doctor. “What on earth?!” Margaret exclaimed. “Doctor Lin, what has gotten into you?”

The spectral doctor jabbed a finger toward our vehicles. “There was a vampire in there,” he said hotly. “And werewolves, and there are men with guns throughout the lot. Margaret, you weren’t around the last time a vampire and his goons brought a troupe of werewolves to Hope, and you weren’t there to see the condition those poor bastards were in when they were taken away. I will not help one of those monsters. I don’t care how novel the experience of talking to a living person again is, I will not be party to that.

“Party to what?” I asked aloud.

Doctor Lin jerked as though my words had physically slapped him. He snapped his gaze to me, and the horror he’d shown when he first saw me turned to immediate fear at the realization that I could see, and hear, him. He bolted for the hospital.

I froze time. It was the only thing to do. Doctor Lin wasn’t running toward the hospital: he was flying at something akin to the speed of thought, and my thoughts were too jumbled a mess for me to get one in front of the other, let alone catch him without cheating.

‘You weren’t around the last time a vampire and his goons brought a troupe of werewolves to Hope.’ That was what had been bothering me at the clearing. Lin’s words gave me the context to put my nameless concern into words of my own: All those ripped apart ghosts had been human. There hadn’t been a wolf among them that hadn’t come with me.

I ran to the far end of the parking lot and put myself in front of Doctor Lin. What happened back then? I couldn’t keep up with my own speculation. Doctor Lin had called it a troupe of werewolves. Not one. So it couldn’t have been Hans. Which meant he had to be talking about Hans’ pack, right? There weren’t any other werewolves in the city, except for Curtis, and there wouldn’t even have been Curtis around before Hans’ pack had… But Hans’ pack hadn’t died. And they’d been hospitalized? Why didn’t anyone know about that? Why was that being covered up?

I didn’t think I wanted to know.

But I did know I needed to.

Because the other thing Doctor Lin had said before running wouldn’t stop using my brain for an echo chamber: You weren’t there to see the condition those poor bastards were in when they were taken away.

I reached out toward the doctor and let time flow again. I caught Doctor Lin by the collar before he could even react to my appearing in front of him. I seized him psychically, the same way I’d grabbed Pipsqueak when I’d first met him.

“Party to what?” I demanded of the shocked ghost. I wasn’t being diplomatic, but when am I ever? I could feel the sun approaching, and it had my nerves on edge — but not as on edge as the questions I didn’t have answers to did. “I’m not the vampire who was here before,” I told Doctor Lin, hoping to reassure him. I didn’t think I was succeeding. “If he’s who I think he was, he’s already murdered me once and his friends have been trying to do it again. But the werewolves in the van? They are my friends, and any werewolves in this city were probably their family. So don’t make me repeat my question,” I growled. “Party. To. What?”

“I don’t know,” Lin practically squeaked. “It was over fifty years ago! And they did something to the lower levels. I couldn’t follow them. But I could hear the screaming.”

Over fifty years. That put the event Lin was talking about right in line with when Dopplinda supposedly invaded the city. I didn’t want to think about it past that. Fifty years. I hadn’t given it much consideration, but that was my first real clue as to how old Hans was, wasn’t it? He’d been the youngest werewolf. And hadn’t John said he was older than Hans? And eighty something? That meant Hans had to be between fifty and eighty years old.

It was easier to think about Hans’ age than to think about werewolves screaming in a hospital basement.

“What condition were they in,” my autopilot ruthlessly asked for me, “when they were taken out?” Oh god. That had me thinking about them again. Had they been alive? Was Hans’ pack still alive?!

“Comatose,” Doctor Lin said. He was sweating ectoplasmic bullets. “They were unconscious, and in straight jackets and strapped down to dollies with silver chain.”

Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god…. But that didn’t mean anything, necessarily. That could have been days after they were ambushed. There was no guarantee that any of them were still alive. And the trail could be decades on top of decades old. Oh god, Hans….

“When.” I barely managed to choke the word out. It wasn’t a question, it was a demand. I didn’t recognize my own voice. For once, my bloated aura didn’t seem to be helping me keep my emotions under control. Maybe it was because I’d burned a little off stopping time. Maybe it was because the anger that was infusing my soul wasn’t the product of a wildly seesawing emotion, but of a slow boil originating from the pocket of protect my friends that I always maintained. Any answer Lin had to give was going to devastate Hans.

And maybe it was because I was thinking about how long it had taken for Hans to come to grips with the loss of his pack — time in which they had been alive, but being hidden away by Salvatore for reasons nefarious. God, Mister Salvatore had become Hans’ mentor. So. Maybe it was because I was reeling emotionally at the completeness of the betrayal my boyfriend had suffered, but I was completely unprepared for the answer that Doctor Lin gave.

“Yesterday.”

End of Book 6

Midnight Moonlight, Book 6

Book 6, Chapter 50

The first vampire I addressed was Elaine, even though she was trailing behind the other two. “You’re okay,” I observed in relief. “What happened?”

The question was almost rhetorical — from the way Nora clung to the older vampire I could guess who’d replaced the essence that the ghost had siphoned out of Elaine. The real question was: how? Had it been a willing donation? Only one of the other witches was still present that I could see and her face was white. She was standing alone — close to Cassie but apart — and she was watching us like a mouse, or any rational human being, watches a cat.

Elaine grimaced. “We’ve been trying to sort that out ourselves. Cassandra explained about the ghosts attacking. We don’t know what made them act like that, though.”

“Oh,” I said. My gaze cut between the two remaining witches and back to Elaine. “Is everyone okay?” I glanced at Nora again.

If I didn’t have supernatural hearing I wouldn’t have caught Elaine’s sigh. “Yes,” Elaine said. “Mister Dolcet pulled me off of one of Miss Grenz’s donors before I could kill him. Miss Greene provided the remainder I needed to regain my rationality. She will recover, and Mister Dolcet healed without yet needing to feed.”

Right. Because ‘Mister Dolcet’ had topped off earlier on my girlfriend. I was really going to have to figure out if I needed to keep being angry with him over that. All the running around, saving people’s lives made me wonder if I’d been too hard on him.

I’d have to talk to Megan about it.

“Some of the donors,” Elaine continued, “collapsed. They are being brought back to the campus. Miss Greene has called on her coven to gather and support their souls’ replenishment of essence. Now that you’ve rejoined us no one is physically injured who has not healed. The others should recover with time and care. The rest of us were determining what exactly this encounter had to tell us about those poor ghosts’ deaths while your people were working to revive you.”

This time my gaze slid to Cassie. “Did you see any ghosts we might be able to talk to, before the rest went zombie on our souls?”

Cassie shook her head in the negative. Although she hadn’t been attacked that I’d seen, she was pale and trembling. Maybe in shock from the violence. “They all turned on us,” she said. “When Missus Salvatore bumped that first one, they all turned violent.”

“It seems that we won’t be getting answers as easily as we’d hoped,” Valerie said. “We’ll have to rely on more conventional investigation methods to uncover what has been going on in this city. But for now, we all need rest. Sunrise is not far off. I’ve already called Thomas. He’ll remain awake in case anything else happens through the day. The rest of us can relieve some of the strain on our donors by going dormant while they recover.”

I nodded, but my brow was furrowed from thinking. I was already half checked out of the conversation. I had been so sure all of my questions about Salvatore and Lewellyn would finally be answered — but all I had were more puzzle pieces.”

“My donors will meet me at the hotel,” Elaine added. “I will also remain awake, since my lapses of essence were not paid for by them this evening.” She stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder. “Will you join us, Abigail?”

I shook my head distractedly. “I think I’m going to spend the ‘day’ with Megan and Emma. It’s perpetual night in Megan’s kingdom” — it felt so weird to say that Megan had a ‘kingdom’ out loud — “and there will be plenty of essence available should I need it.” More to the point: I needed Emma and Megan. And Hans and the werepups would probably benefit from time to bond without me and my enthrallments and bloodlust and general purpose insanity distracting them.

Oh, shoot. I was going to have to go back and re-un-enthrall anyone who’d tried to contribute to reviving me, wasn’t I? Dammit. And I’d just finished unenthralling some of them, too.

“Then if we’re done with this waste of time and energy,” Fiore said, “We should go.”

I nodded absently. I didn’t have the essence in my faerie bubble to work on undoing enthrallments at the moment, so I was keeping distracted by trying to make sense of my new clues. Something about the ghosts was bothering me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

“I don’t think there’s more to be learned here,” I agreed at last. “But at least we’ve confirmed that those warlocks were ambushed by Mister Salvatore.” There was some kind of conspiracy going on. That was a horrifying thought, but it was also kind of a relief: it meant that Reid hadn’t been lying to me. And it meant that I while I was generally paranoid, I wasn’t just being paranoid.

“Ambushed?” Ben asked from behind me.

At the same time Elaine asked: “What?”

I started out of my thoughts and scrambled aside so that Ben wasn’t behind me anymore. “The ghost zombies,” I explained hastily. I looked between Ben and Elaine. “They were re-enacting their deaths before we jarred them out of it. And they were each attacked by surprise. And from the side or the back, not the front.”

I shivered, recalling the essence I’d consumed to revive myself. “And I tasted their fear and betrayal. They were betrayed. And whatever did that ripped their souls open.” That last detail was what threw me. I’d done enough repairs to my own soul to know that those tears weren’t from vampire bites. Maybe Lewellyn had been involved. his geas was meant to sever a soul from its body — or so he’d said. Could he have placed it on those warlocks and then just ripped it out to end things? Maybe, but somehow that didn’t feel right. When he’d used geases on me, they had been more of a spike. The holes they’d left in my soul had been just that: holes. Not massive tears. The only thing I knew of that could tear open a soul like that was….

The blood drained from my face. Faeries. Noble faeries. Archarel had threatened to flood my soul with essence until it burst. If I hadn’t found a way to bleed off the pressure he’d exerted, he might have succeeded — and my soul might’ve looked like those ghosts. And… and….

And Dopplinda had told me to my face that she’d ripped my soul open so that I would die from bleeding out essence. And supposedly this was where Dopplinda had come through into our world.

I swallowed and turned my attention back to Cassie. Suddenly — in the face of the suffering I’d tasted from the ghosts — my speculations felt like a pathetically secondary concern. I didn’t want to address them, anyway. “More importantly,” I said, “is there anything we can do for them? The ghosts, I mean. They’re suffering. I mean: they are suffering. That’s all that’s left.” I couldn’t stomach leaving them like that. Not if it was my dopplegrandma’s fault. “Please tell me you can help them… move on, or something.”

Fuck, I’d said please again. Oh well: I kind of felt like Cassie was friend material, if only because she’d been fucked around with by conspiracies just like I had. It gave us some common ground. Plus, it was worth being in her debt if it meant we could end those spirits’ pain.

But Cassandra shook her head. “I can only see them and interact some,” she said. “I’ve never managed to help one ‘move on,’ and I’ve had a few ask me to. It was something I had hoped I could learn.” Cassie’s eyes flicked to Nora, who was oblivious because of her enthrallment with Elaine. “But I didn’t,” Cassie concluded stiffly. “And even if I had, I don’t know if anything that applies to regular shades would here. I’ve only ever seen shades behave like this once before, and that was just….” Cassandra trailed off.

“The other day, when they attacked me at the hospital?” I finished the thought for her.

Cassandra nodded.

Shit, I thought. If I wasn’t totally turned around — and there was no guarantee there, but I didn’t think I was — Hope Community Hospital wasn’t that far away from campus.

And wait a minute: I’d gone to a hospital with a messed up aura before, when my apartment had first burned down and I’d followed Megan to the emergency room. And I hadn’t been assaulted by zombie ghosts there. But that had been a different hospital, on the other end of town, and….

“Any injured,” I said, “physically injured, would have been taken to Hope from here, wouldn’t they?”

I was a little surprised when Fiore answered for me. “Yes,” he said. “It’s the nearest emergency medical center.” He snorted at my expression. “My people are stationed here to watch the gate to Faerie,” he said dryly. “I make it a point to be aware of our options for emergency care when my people are potentially in harm’s way and I won’t necessarily be available to provide treatment myself.”

I ducked my head, inexplicably embarrassed. Ashamed that I would never have thought of Fiore as someone who would care about his donors? Maybe I was pigeonholing Matteo too much as ‘just’ a jackass. But it took only a moment for me to shake that thought away and look up again.

“Right,” I said. “So this wasn’t a waste of time. And Fiore, you might want to look into a different hospital for any of your people to use. Because there is no way that it’s just a coincidence that the ghosts here and the ghosts at that hospital have the same spiritual injuries. Not if someone who has been able to see ghosts her whole life,” I gestured at Cassie, “has only seen this kind twice. The ghosts at that hospital are connected to the ghosts here. Somehow.”

Fiore frowned thoughtfully. His brow set into a furrow and his lips thinned into an angry line. If I had to guess, he was realizing what would happen if any of his people had damaged auras were sent into a hospital full of ghosts that fed on damaged souls.

“That’s… worrisome,” Valerie said.

At the same time, my auto pilot said: “We need to go there next.”

Valerie looked at me, startled by my declaration. Actually, everyone was looking at me. I started to cringe on the inside. Bloated aura or no, I was not comfortable with this level of scrutiny.

“If the ghosts there are behaving in the same way as the ghosts here,” Ben said, “I don’t think we’ll get more answers out of them, Abby. Especially since anyone without a fully intact aura is in danger from them. We’ll have to investigate, but we specifically aren’t in any condition to. We’ll have to arrange for a coven to look into the facility.”

But I was already shaking my head. “No,” I said. “We can’t afford to wait. There’s a leak in The Center. So if we pass this on to anyone else, it’ll get to the people working with Lewellyn and Salvatore. The people who burned down Hans’ house to cover their tracks, and kidnapped and murdered Mister Kallaher in the processes, and did god knows what here. I’m not letting them get away with it. I’m not giving them a chance to wipe out the evidence again.

“Abigail, we still wouldn’t be able to get any answers out of the ghosts themselves,” Valerie pointed out. She sounded worried. I wasn’t sure if it was because I had a point, or if it was because I was starting to sound unhinged. “We can set a guard on the facility, but we’re going to have to wait for someone else to follow up on this.”

I was shaking my head again before she was even done talking. “No,” I said vehemently. “How long do we have before sunrise? An hour or two?” Long enough for us to get to the hospital, certainly. “And then anything can happen for the next day. But the ghost zombies only go after people who have an injured aura.” My thoughts were all over the place, jumping between tracks as I tried to figure out what I was even trying to figure out.

I looked at Cassie. The ghost zombies had never gone after her. She wasn’t anyone’s donor, and hadn’t been interacting with faeries. Her aura was as healthy as could be, as far as I could tell. I couldn’t go into the hospital, but Cassie could. “And the zombie ghosts,” I said, “aren’t the only ones in the hospital that we can talk to.”

Cassie was nodding before I’d finished speaking. “They’ve never attacked me,” she confirmed. “Not even when I was in the hospital before. And if there’s something out there that’s doing this to people… it’s wrong. I don’t care if Margaret and Doctor Lin are dead, they should be warned. What if whoever is doing this to spirits goes after them, as witnesses? Margaret said that Doctor Lin has been at that hospital since it opened.”

“Cassandra, don’t,” the witch — not Nora, but the other one — suddenly interjected. “This is dangerous!”

Cassie gave the coed witch a withering glare. “I’m going in there,” she said in a tone of voice that seemed to mean: ‘Like I would ever listen to one of you.’ “I’m warning Margaret and Doctor Lin. They’re full ghosts, not shades. Even if they don’t have the answers we need, they can at least get off the hospital campus and out of the line of fire of whoever is doing this.”

“I’m with Abby and Cassandra on this,” Ben interjected from beside me. His tone was thoughtful, as though he’d already reconsidered his previous point.  “I was there when they attacked the Salvatore house.” He met Fiore’s gaze. “They were disciplined, ruthless, and armed with military gear. They put an entire house of people to sleep and then set it on fire. In retrospect, I have to say that I really don’t think that guards or daylight or the fact that we’re investigating a mortal hospital would suffice to keep them at bay if they thought we were going to uncover something.”

I kind of expected Fiore to say something jackass-y, but he nodded in curt acceptance of Ben’s assessment. “I’ll come with as well,” he said. Although his tone was stiffly controlled, he sounded angry. “Since my base camp is at the college, it won’t take me long to get from the hospital to somewhere safe to rest — and I can set some of my people up as security until we can get others in place.”

I wanted to protest — I wasn’t sure if I trusted Fiore, and I knew I didn’t like him — but I didn’t want to waste the time it would take. Plus I was still going to need transportation, and if things took too long at the hospital I could rely on Fiore’s to have tinted windows. “Alright,” I agreed. “Valerie, Elaine: if you go back to the hotel and make arrangements for people to check out the hospital immediately, we’ll go there now. We’ll get the ghosts we know we can talk to out, and we’ll keep an eye on the place at least until your people can get there to lock it down and start digging stuff up. And if you’re staying awake, Elaine, I’ll make sure you’re kept in the loop on anything we find out.”

Elaine nodded. Valerie waited just long enough to say “Be careful,” to all of us before turning to her donors and getting them ready to go. Nora went with Elaine, and the remaining campus witch stuck with Nora.

I looked at the group I had been left with. One werewolf, three werepups in varying states of shapeshift, one seraphim, two vampires, one medium and a handful of solocks and donors. “Alright,” I said. I was tense from restraining nervous energy. “Figure out who’s taking what car on the way to campus. And let’s go get some answers.

Midnight Moonlight, Book 6

Book 6, Chapter 49

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes convinced me I was still unconscious. A real-life Prince Tanaka filled my field of vision. But for some reason his hair was slicked back in short, punky spikes. And he had an earring. Clearly my brain was in some weird fangirl dream.

“Prince… Spikey?” I asked in befuddlement.

His eyes widened slightly. “Abigail,” Ben exclaimed. “Oh, thank god.”

I blinked a couple of times. I could smell blood — enough of it that I couldn’t tell who all had spilt it. “What… you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” I told him. It was an unironic observation: as far as I was aware he didn’t have the ability to look into the astral world like I could. But as soon as the words were out of my mouth I wanted to giggle at them. And what was up with that cosplay? I mean: alright, I was intrigued. But Fumiko was going to be upset if he hadnt asked for her input on the costu….

Oh no. I had turned my glamour into armor for him, hadn’t I?

I went as still as a corpse could.

Don’t look. Don’t look don’t look don’t look. If I didn’t look down at myself and didn’t move, maybe nothing would confirm that I was laying on my back in the woods after midnight, naked with a hot vampire leaning over me. My mouth felt dry, which was weird because it had the distinct taste of blood in it so I knew I’d been forced to drink recently. Still, my attention locked on Prince Spikey’s mouth instead of my own. I am not naked, I told myself firmly. My boyfriend is not standing in front of me wearing my underwear under my platemail. Except: Fuuuuuck. I could see fangs. That was like a face boner for vampires. I was definitely nude. Or he was thirsty. Thirsty and leaning over me like he was just seconds away from biting and dammit, now my fangs were starting to slip.

“I thought you might have become one,” Ben admitted. “You collapsed, but there were no injuries and blood wouldn’t revive you.” His voice became low: troubled and dangerous. “I don’t know what exactly happened in that circle, but don’t do it again.”

My eyes shied away from his. I was mortified by how much I wanted to celebrate that I was alive by yanking Ben down by the gorget and pulling his mouth to my neck. How fucked up was it that I wanted to celebrate surviving a near death experience by having an apex predator sink his teeth into me?

I shivered. I’d inadvertantly looked down, which only heightened my feeling embarrassment. Yes, I was naked. But at least someone had draped a long coat over me. “Right,” I said. “No more doing stripteases for you,” was my auto pilot’s glib responce. I wasn’t ready to admit how close that had been to being the end. “I promise to keep my clothes on when we’re attacked by ghost zombies in the future.” The weave would hold me to that, too. Which was good, since apparently I couldn’t be trusted not to get naked at inappropriate times without a magical compulsion to stop me.

God, was I really turning into a nudist?

My eyes darted to either side. Partially to identify the other people who were near me so I could judge just how freaked out I should be right now. Which should have defaulted to epically massively, except my aura was bloated enough at the moment that my emotions were surprisingly stable. I mean: Yeah, I was embarassed. But that’s a far cry from mortification.

Ben and Hans were next to me. Ben on one side; Hans crouched on the other. Thadeus was there, too, except he was in the astral plane. Hans looked like my waking up had yanked him out of some kind of panic attack: I could still hear his heart pounding. Ben looked like, well, like he’d seen a ghost. And Thaddeus looked like he was a ghost. He was extra transparent and seemed to be having trouble even keeping as close to our reality as he barely was.

The werepups were arrayed — as much as two people and one wolf were able — in a defencive wall behind Hans. Benny was with them, too. I guess he was an honorary werepup, or something. They were between us and everyone else, with their backs to us. Shantaya had glanced back when she heard my voice, but when I caught her eyes she snapped her gaze back forward, to the next semi-circle of people. Those seemed to be Ben’s donors. One of them wasn’t wearing a coat.

Somewhere past the donors I could hear other people still in the woods. Fiore and Valerie and Cassie and some others, talking about what had just happened. And what to do next.

“She woke up,” I heard Elaine interrupt the solock who was currently speaking.

“She what?” the solock in question — some guy who’s voice I didn’t recognize with a name — blurted in disbelief.

“Of course,” Fiore answered dryly. He didn’t even try to hide the annoyance in his tone. “This is Abigail. Why wouldn’t she be utterly unresponsive to being revived with blood only to spontaneously ‘wake up’ from being dormant?”

Whatever. He was probably just mad because he’d missed out on another chance to put my remains in a box, ship them to The Center’s morgue, and then live unlife pretending I’d never happened.

Plus ten jackass points for him, though.

That line of reaffirmation was interrupted, though, when I heard the people who had been talking safely ‘over there’ start moving toward us. My brain squeaked in mild panic. ‘Over here’ was not a safe place for them to be. Not safe for me for them to be. I was still lying on the ground naked over here!

I grabbed Ben by the gorget, but only yanked mentally — not physically. Armor was exactly what I needed right now, and we didn’t have time for a quick peck on the neck, let alone a bite and tussle.

I felt a psychic chill as the faerie bubble in my soul emptied of what little essence had been spooling inside. Thaddeus and the astral plane snapped out of view for a second as I leveraged that essence to strip Ben and clothe myself. But my aura was bloated from Thaddeus’ efforts — and those of whoever else had given me blood while I was dormant — so almost immediately the psychic brainfreeze faded as some of the essence in my buffer sifted down into the faerie bubble.

Even more importantly: the sphere I’d built did it’s job. It neither ripped apart nor collapsed in the brief instant I’d emptied it.

I laughed shakily. Partially because I only realized what I’d done after the fact. If my newly refurbished faerie core hadn’t done its job my panic could have killed me. And some of the laughter came from Ben’s startled expression. But mostly it was from relief that I was now covered by the best night time armor I could imagine.

Which was apparently still full-body, long sleeved, button up flannel pajamas.

“Sorry, Prince Spikey,” I said. It was a sympathetic apology: I too knew how disconcerting it could be for your underwear to magically disappear. But at least he was wearing another pair, dammit!

Probably, anyway.

My cheeks started to heat up. The weave grabbed my apology and tied an obligation from me to Ben. I baarely noticed because now I was too busy wondering if I should’ve let him keep the underwear. And why were my boyfriends all such kinky bastards?!

I looked away from Ben before my autopilot could wreak havoc by blurting any of those thoughts out, and pushed myself upright. The coat slid off me as I stood. I needed a distraction from my burning ears and cheeks and now rampant speculation about whether or not there was anything under Ben’s jeans other than his cock. I mean: I knew Hans went commando, but I was pretty sure that was more of a werewolf convenience thing than an under-clad pervert thing. And now my brain was taunting me with mental images of Ben sans pants. Dammit, Ben! Wasn’t I supposed to be mad at him over Megan, still? It was bad enough that I had to think about him biting me all the time, and now this?!

Fortunately, I had a distraction near at hand. A distraction other than Hans and a brand new fantasy about the two of them getting into an arguement about which of them could best seduce me pantsless, while pantsless. An arguement which of course had to be settled through competition, because that’s how testosterone driven, alpha-male types settle their differences without killing each other: on the field. Probably of heather, over the crags of Hans’ homeland and under the glimmering moon’s light. Because: Sports. And everyone knows “sports” are a thinly veiled metaphor for yaoi.

But that wasn’t my replacement distraction! My replacemennt distraction was the aproaching vampires and the row of werepups that seemed — if their growling ghost wolves (or growling wolf, in jock boy’s case) — determined to make sure no one bothered me while I was indisposed.

And also, there was the realization that I was going to have to replace Salvatore in my slash fic with Ben. Because Salvatore was creepy, and Hans deserved better. Ooo! Or maybe after Salvatore turns evil, Hans and Ben can hook up. Because sports and heartbreak. That would make a good plotline, right? Plus it would preserve Salvatore as the villainous, bitter ex who tries to ruin the future of the protagonsts’ budding relationship together in cruel and underhanded ways.

Wait… when had this thing started developing a plot?

I did my best to shove those thoughts aside and focus on more immediate things. Like what had happened to my flannels, and why was I in a nightie now? I squeezed my eyes shut and focused. At least it was easy to lengthen and opaquen the nightie into a proper-ish dress. Not that I often wore dresses, but it was actually probably a better option than pajamas if I wanted to be taken seriously. Or spare myself embarassment.

I found what loose threads I could see in the glamour and did my best to tie them in place. Hopefully that will keep it from shifting erratically for a while. As it was, I was already a little miffed with Hans and Ben for succeeding in getting me pantsless, after all. This was not an appropriate time for that! We were so going to have to sit down and have a conversation about proper decorum, later.

With that reesolution firmly set — and my clothes no longer in a state of emotionally reflective flux — I stepped toward my line of defenders. I paused to give a quick glare back and forth over my shoulder to let Ben and Hans know I had their number — and then I stepped past Shantaya and the others. My aura was sufficiently bloated from everyone’s misguided attempts to revive me that I really wasn’t freaking out to the extent that I really, really should be. And as much as I would’ve liked to just enjoy not falling apart over every little thing while I could, it made more sense to use it by dealing with the other vampires and the fallout of our ghost hunt, instead.

Damn, but being a rational, responsible, emotionally balanced vampire just sucks sometimes.

Midnight Moonlight, Book 6