Sam beat me to Corey, walking out of hir office as I approached, and simply waved for me to follow her. Corey peeked out of hir office, hir eyebrows raised at me. I rolled my eyes, but twirled quickly on my heel to follow Sam towards the garage.

The sound of her boots bounced off the concrete surrounding us as she led the way toward the gun-metal gray SUV parked near the exit. Devon rounded the back of it, his medic gear slung over his shoulder. He was wearing the Medic Response Team uniform, the dark red t-shirt with the white caduceus printed in the center for visibility. Since last I’d seen him, he’d changed his hair into short locs flanked by geometric designs shaved on the sides, and added new piercings to his ears.

“Hey, Sam. I’ve got the SAR supplies in the back for you, and she’s all gassed up.”

“You coming with?” I asked, lifting my chin at him in lieu of a verbal greeting.

He glanced at Sam, who hadn’t responded, as she wordlessly hopped into the driver’s seat.

“Last I heard,” he said with a shrug. “You?”

The passenger door window began to lower. Sam’s face, carefully blank and her eyes shadowed by the interior of the car, came into view as she leaned forward.

“I will leave without you,” she said. I didn’t get a chance to respond, as she straightened and rolled the window back up.

I rolled my head back with a quiet snarl. “Oh, I’m so excited for the next several hours.”

I ignored Devon’s snicker while we both loaded ourselves into the vehicle. I claimed shotgun, because apparently I was a sucker for misery. She turned on the heater, full blast, despite the display clearly stating that it was already 80 degrees. The noise of the air vents filled the cabin as she punched in the GPS coordinates. A moment later, we were on the road.

By the time headquarters had disappeared from the side mirror, I’d had enough, and immediately started rolling down my window to combat the heater. At least with the window open, I’d be able to hear more than just the tension-filled heartbeats echoing in the car.

Click.

The window stopped moving.

I didn’t try hitting the button again because I knew she had just hit window controls on the driver’s side, preventing me from rolling the damn thing down. I could see Devon behind me in the side mirror, his eyes wider than they needed to be. He mouthed, “what the fuck?” at me in the mirror.

Shifting my gaze to stare directly out the windshield, I clenched my jaw.

“I’m not sure if I can get heatstroke as a vampire,” I said casually, “and I’m not super eager to find out. So, either we can turn the air conditioning on, or I can roll the window down.”

“You can also get out and walk,” Sam replied, her voice annoyingly chipper. “You’re a vampire. It’s not like you don’t have superspeed. Feel free to meet us there. Door’s not locked.”

“And if I had a GPS in my brain that translated longitude and latitude into an actual location, I might just do that,” I said. My fingernails dug into the underside of my seat, hidden from view. “Unfortunately, I haven’t unlocked that upgrade yet.”

“Sounds like a you problem to me,” she responded, briefly shooting me an insincere and plastic smile. A drop of sweat rolled down her temple, dripping from the edge of her jaw to disappear into the fabric of her shirt.

I opened my mouth to respond, but the computer in the dash flashed an alert and Mugsy’s face appeared on the screen.

The first thing anyone noticed about Mugsy was just how pretty he was. His perpetually messy brown hair just a fraction of an inch too long, the bright green cat-eyes under eyebrows that could communicate all on their own, caught everyone’s attention, whether you were attracted to him or not. He had a thin scar that ran just below his right eye to the corner of his mouth, making it look like he wore a smirk at all times.

At the moment, frustration had his jaw tight and his lips curled, showing off one sharp fang.

“We’re pretty sure we found her, but we have a big problem.”

Lila’s face appeared behind him, their eyes wide. Their brown skin, interspersed with symmetrical white patches, seemed dull from fear, even in the dim light. Their braids had come partially undone, leaving long strands of hair flying all over their face.

“And we do mean big!” they emphasized before disappearing again.

“What’s going on?” Sam asked, her face tightening into a frown.

“Uh…” Mugsy looked over his shoulder and grimaced. “How far out are you?”

The engine purred as Sam increased the speed. “Not far. Give us a brief, Mugs.”

Can I get some help please?” Lila yelled, distance making their voice tinny.

“Just get here!” Mugsy said into the phone before dropping it, and disappearing from the camera. The call was still going, so we could watch what was happening on-screen. Cloth flew by the camera, followed quickly by the deep hiss of Mugsy’s cat-form.

“Fuck,” Sam muttered, hitting the gas. Lack of traffic made everything easier, but I still reached up and grabbed hold of the oh-shit handle. She took the sharp curves at only slightly reduced speed, and the tires lifted off the road long enough to inhale fear.

“I thought we were just looking for a kid?” Devon asked, raising his voice higher to combat the wind from my open window blowing his voice away from us.

“Apparently, there’s more to it,” I said, my throat tight. An unfamiliar twinge of fear clenched in my chest -- Mugsy had said they’d found Frankie, but if they were fighting something that he’d had to shift for…

“Sam, if Frankie is there--”

“Devon and I will focus on getting her out of there,” she said, her eyes focused on the road. “You help Mugsy and Lila with whatever the fuck it is they’ve found.”

The speakers vibrated with the snap, groan, and thud of a tree breaking and falling to the ground.

Actually, fuck this.

I unsnapped my seatbelt. “We have to be close enough that I can follow the sounds of the fight, and I know I can run faster than you can drive. I’ll meet you there.”

“Seville--” Sam started.

I threw open the door before she could continue, taking a deep breath to settle my nerves, and jumped.

Being a vampire didn’t negate the experience of pain. I still very much felt every piece of gravel and long-forgotten broken glass that tried to burrow its way under my skin as I rolled across the road into the dirt.

Being a vampire just meant that my body healed ridiculously fast. Memory is a funny thing -- as a human, I could recall the sensation of pain of long healed injuries without much effort. But by the time I had picked myself up, each scrape and sprained bone had stitched itself together, and the pain was a hazy memory I would’ve had to concentrate to recall.

Looking ahead, I could see that Sam had taken me at my word and continued driving. Good.

The sound of my own breath was distracting, so I stopped breathing, closed my eyes, and focused all my attention on listening.

There. Another tree fell. A werecat’s growl.

My eyes snapped open and I moved.


The sound of more trees hitting the ground was a little difficult to follow as I ran down the road, past Sam and Devon in the SUV, and veered off into an almost empty parking lot. I spared a brief glance to confirm that the single parked vehicle belonged to ComRes -- I didn’t have to stop to know it was Mugsy and Lila’s.

I had to run through the familiar and lingering cloud of Mugsy’s expensive and cloying cologne, after all.

Thin branches tore at my skin as I sped through the crowded woods, the pain forgotten before a drop of blood could well. I slowed down just enough to skid into the clearing, pushing Mugsy out of the way of a tree trunk flying towards him.

The cheetah snarled at me before realization lit his eyes, and he chirped at me as he scrambled to his feet, the fur between his shoulder blades rippling angrily.

A less familiar growl filled the air behind us, and I looked over my shoulder. I had only seen Lila’s cat form once before, and then only briefly. As a cat-fae, there was no wild animal that matched their shifted form. I knew they weren’t huge but the thickness of their fur gave them an intimidating, if illusory, stocky build. The white patches in their fur mirrored Lila’s vitiligo patterns in their human form.

They bared their teeth, lips curled, at the shadows beyond the treeline. Mugsy darted past me to slide into place beside Lila. They both stared into the shadows like there was something there -- oh.

Oh, shit.

Yeah, it was big.

The shadow moved-- no. It slithered, and moonlight filled the space where it had been.

Lila hissed, shifting on their feet to keep the shadow in sight. I watched, examining the shadow until I could make out the edges.

“What the fuck is that?” I whispered, more to myself than the others. Trees groaned from its weight as it slithered past, circling us, branches snapping.

“Bunny?”

I snapped to attention at the quiet whimper, whirling around to scan the bushes behind me. “Frankie? Where are you, squirt?”

She peeked around a tree, her eyes wide and terrified.

But before I could grab her, the creature had already sped past me and blocked her from my sight. It wrapped itself loosely around her, and leaned its giant head toward me, moonlight spilling over its face. Golden eyes with thin, vertical pupils stared at me.

Its maw opened and bared fangs dripping with black venom.


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