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“Thank you for the offer,” Tam told Rainier. “I really do need to get back tonight to get my plan underway, but I’m likely going to be back here as early as tomorrow. And if not, very soon! I owe you some blood and gaming time, okay?” He smiled, finding himself meaning it.
“Yep, I’ll be counting on it,” Rainier said. He yawned, showing teeth stained red with blood, then flopped back against the arm of the couch. “Show yourself out, okay? None of my guys’re gonna go after you, not now that I’ve picked you.”
Tam supposed that probably meant something to the vampires. “Thanks again,” he said. “Really nice meeting you.”
Rainier tilted his head back further so he could watch Tam from around the couch’s bulk. He had that quizzical look again. “Sure, it was great,” he agreed. “Good luck tomorrow!”
Waving, Tam headed out. The other vampires paid him no mind as he made his way through the maze of rooms out into the streets again.
When he was out, he pulled up the urban explorer’s guide and put a private pin on the map, choosing not to share it with the other ‘explorers’. If Rainier’s main base wasn’t marked, he wasn’t going to be the one to mark it—but it made it much easier for him to be able to figure out a route back here next time.
He sent Jared a quick text to reassure him he was fine, and another to the lawyer to ask about the ‘no protection’ loophole, and an email to Lithway to congratulate them on the opening night and say that he’d probably need them in the morning tomorrow to go rescue Ash.
And then, tired, Tam stumbled his way through the streets. This time, he was left relatively alone—he could only guess that it was another of those blood scents that Rainier had kept mentioning—though he tried to keep his attention focused on anyone who might be approaching regardless.
He stopped in on Beanheadings to grab himself an apple drink and a cookie as instructed. Matthias wasn’t working tonight, or at least, Tam didn’t see him; just as well, he decided, because he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to answer any questions.
It didn’t take too long after that for him to reach Sahil’s duplex. It felt particularly strange to be coming here alone, in the middle of the night, but that’s why Sahil had left him a key, after all.
He found the lock and got it open, stepping inside. “Uh… hi, Sahil! I’m here…”
There was a bark, and Sahil tumbled over to greet him, feet scrambling on the floors. Tam hoped Sahil would recognize him and acted accordingly, going down to one knee and holding a hand out to him. “Hi, sweetheart…”
Sahil licked all over his hand, barking frantically in between each swipe of his tongue. Abruptly remembering the neighbors, Tam hushed him gently. It was a strange moment, a feeling he didn’t like at all—he understood abruptly why Sahil had acted strange about the full moon specifically, and how he must have been making himself very vulnerable when he’d invited Tam here.
The dog he was petting was cute, but wasn’t Sahil. There was no hint of human intelligence in his gaze, unlike when he’d deliberately transformed before.
“You’re a good boy,” he told Sahil earnestly. “You’re a very very good boy. Now, let’s get settled down for bed, okay?”
He padded through the apartment with Sahil trotting along at his heels, well-behaved and friendly now that his initial excitement had subsided.
It didn’t take him long to find Sahil’s bathroom. Looking in the mirror, he saw that Rainier had left a bloody kiss mark on his neck. For a moment, he flustered, but then, practical, he just washed it off. After, he squeezed out a little toothpaste onto his finger and brushed his teeth that way, then headed to Sahil’s bedroom.
It was a small but cozy affair, with a full-size bed with a nice grey-and-black patterned duvet on top. A miniature set of stairs were placed at the base; as Tam watched, Sahil trotted up them onto the bed proper, turned around a few times, and curled up at the foot of the bed.
Tam reached out after a moment and patted him again, earning himself another few sleepy tail thumps. “Thanks for letting me stay,” he whispered, a little unsure. He pulled off his shirt and his pants, leaving his boxers on as he climbed in. He was going to need a change of clothes soon, but hopefully not until he could take Ash home with him.
He woke up the next morning to find a sleeping, naked Sahil curled up half on top of him, and he lay there a few tired moments trying to decide what to do about that. Finally, unsure of how Sahil would feel about the situation, Tam cleared his throat. “Sahil…?”
“Mm, Tam…?” Sahil stretched, leaning up against him and sniffing at him, sleepy and pleased sounding. He sniffed at Tam’s throat, squirming closer. “S’nice…”
“You’re still sleeping, I think.” Tam freed a hand and used it to ruffle Sahil’s hair. “Can you wake up a little?”
“Tam?” Sahil asked again, but this time he seemed more alert. He sat up abruptly, gathering the corner of the blankets up to cover himself, but seemed otherwise largely unconcerned with his own nudity as something occurred to him. “Tam, we found him!”
Tam’s heart skipped a beat. “You did? You found Istem’s hideout?”
Sahil nodded rapidly. “It’s a little place down right next to the Gate. I looked it up after I got back, and I guess it’s an Airbnb rental; she must have just grabbed it for a couple of days while picking up Ash. I think that can only be good news, right? Because she won’t have the place as deeply entrenched as one she already owns.”
“She was probably planning on being in and out as quickly as possible,” Tam agreed. “Shit, this is amazing! I could kiss you—”
He shut his mouth a little late around the words that had slipped out. Sahil blushed, then shoved at Tam’s shoulder. “Maybe if you still feel that way when you’ve got your brother back,” he said, his tone somewhat odd. “Go to the bathroom and get ready, okay? I can’t get up until you’re out.”
“Right,” Tam stammered, flustered and embarrassed. Easy enough to blame it on the strange few days he’d had, but he still very much felt the effects of nearly confessing his feelings to an old crush.
He grabbed his phone and scurried off to the bathroom.
All three of the people he’d messaged had responded: Jared with relief, the lawyer with an affirmative, and Lithway with a long email about how the performance had been met with marvelous applause and it seemed like a good omen for other successes; they would prepare to meet Tam the next day at a location of his choice.
Tam shivered, feeling the stress of the upcoming few hours starting to catch up with him, but headed back to the bedroom. Sahil had opened the door to indicate he was decent, although he was wearing just a bathrobe. He caught Tam’s strange look at once. “Since I’ll be playing scout for you as a dog, it doesn’t make sense for me to get dressed just to undress again right away,” he said dryly. “Come here, let’s get out a map and I’ll show you what I learned.”
Together, they sat and pored over the map to the apartment Sahil and the other dogs had found. Tam pinned it, and calculated several paths from Istem’s place to Rainier’s, based on what seemed like it would be quick, what might be unexpected, what would be likely to take them through crowds where they could lose her, and so on.
And then there was nothing they could do but act. Sahil transformed again, shaking the robe off and wagging his tail—looking up this time at Tam with intelligence in his eyes. “Right,” Tam said. “I’m just going to write Lithway to meet us, and we’ll head on down.”
Sahil barked acknowledgement.
Together, they headed down through the Uncanny Valley, watching as the more regular shops transformed into stranger and stranger places, both in terms of the buildings themselves getting more twisted and unnatural, and in terms of the sorts of signs in the windows. The strangest ones weren’t the ‘curiosity shops’ full of charms, nor the ‘taxidermy’ shops full of necromantic animals moving through tableaus, but the ones that clearly sold something, but had no signs at all.
Tam fought the urge to look them up on his map. They weren’t going to be relevant to his mission, and he needed to stay focused. That was hard enough to do this close to the Gate—he could feel a pressure in his head, a constant background hum that seemed to be echoing through his blood.
It felt like it was calling to him.
Sahil stopped abruptly, and Tam realized they were there—that the small triplex in front of them, two doors at the front and one at the side, matched the address.
No sooner had he realized this than Lithway flowed out of a nearby alley. They had pulled their smoke in close and were wearing regular clothes, a turtleneck and slacks, so that other than the uniform, smoke-like shades of their skin, eyes, and hair, they looked much more human. It would probably fool a casual, passing glance.
Tam swallowed. His heart was pounding; they were going to do this. “Sahil,” he said, “can you go around the house to watch Istem’s door? Lithway and I need to plan a little in private.”
Sahil raised a paw, and waited. At first, Tam didn’t realize why, but when Sahil didn’t move, he bent down and took it. Sahil’s mouth lolled open in a smile, and he shook a paw very seriously, then turned, trotting around the corner and out of sight.
As Tam rose, Lithway leaned in close, sliding an arm around Tam, as if aware of how tense he was. Tam drew a breath, and then sagged into the warm curve of Lithway’s arm, inhaling their lavender scent and trying to calm down.
“Well?” Lithway murmured. “What do you want? I brought some makeup with me to cover the freckles if you need me to look more like your brother than you, or… who else, what else, do you need me for? I’m yours to command.” They sketched a bow.
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[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]