I turned away from Emma and stared at my hands, folded over each other on my hip. What happened? I didn’t even know where to start. My disastrous plan to lure Mr. Salvatore away from the office party before Megan could get there? My more disastrous plan to ask a gang of local fae for help? The elf stalker who’d dispersed them in hopes of claiming me for himself? Or maybe how I’d offered to willingly surrender myself to any goblin who managed to kill Mr. Salvatore – only to end up being carried off by Mr. Salvatore himself and being used as bait to lure Megan into his clutches?
“I don’t have all the details,” I said. “Only the ones for the parts I was there for.” There for, and alive for. I’d spent a few hours being dead while the vampire curse took root in my corpse. Those had passed for me like they’d never even happened.
I swallowed nervously. “I called Hans at the office and pretended Megan was with me, and that her car had broken down.” Someone was going to have to go get that before it was stolen or towed. “I didn’t know if Hans and Mr. Salvatore were working together, but I did know a story like that would get them to leave the party and come to me. I figured that would make it so Megan got to the party after they’d left, and give Katherine time to find her.”
“Katherine didn’t find her though,” Emma told me. “Megan wasn’t there when Katie arrived. And when Katie couldn’t find Salvatore, Megan or Fumiko, she assumed the worst.”
“Sorry,” I said. That would have been my fault – a completely unintentional outcome of my plan.
“No,” said Emma. “Don’t apologize. That was clever and brave.”
It had been insane and stupid, but I didn’t want to contradict Emma. “It was insane and stupid,” I said, “and I was scared enough that I’d attracted the attention of some hungry fae.” The fae fed on emotions. The nastier ones considered fear to be an easy staple. “Fortunately, Hans wasn’t in on Mr. Salvatore’s plots. So when I exposed them and told him that Mr. Salvatore was burning himself with the sun to lose his emotions, Hans tried to talk Mr. Salvatore down.”
That was when Hans had been stabbed. With a silver knife. Mr. Salvatore had been prepared to eliminate his ‘friend’ all along.
“I freaked out and the goblins jumped in.” Goblins, trolls, demons – as far as I could tell they were all different words for ‘fae.’ Everyone expected them to be sweet fairies with butterfly wings and loving dispositions, but the mean ones were terrifying. I knew: I’d called them there, and they’d terrified me. But I’d still offered to surrender myself – for a year and a day – to whichever one killed Mr. Salvatore. Even though I’d realized that would mean I’d only have three hundred and sixty five more days to live, myself. None of them had managed it, though. I guess that meant, by the crazy rules of the fae, that I’d won.
“Mr. Salvatore grabbed me and fought his way out of the ambush,” I said. He’d used me as a hostage and tried to trade Hans’ life for his own. I’d saved Hans by claiming him as my boyfriend and disputing Mr. Salvatore’s right to make that trade. The fae, it seems, are very big on respecting ownership – and very vague on how that’s defined.
Emma leaned toward me. She grabbed my hands and squeezed them. I looked at her despite myself and saw that she was hanging on my every word. I swallowed nervously. I don’t like attention.
“Mr. Salvatore took me home,” I said. “He drained me enough to heal his own wounds – and to make me a puppet.” That hadn’t lasted long. One advantage of spending my entire life being secretly fed on by supernatural forces with a taste for fear? I’d bounced back from being fed on by Mr. Salvatore pretty damn fast. He, on the other hand, had gotten a pretty hefty dose of paranoia along with my blood and the strips he’d sucked out of my soul.
“He had me call Megan and convince her to come to my place,” I said. “I don’t know where she’d gone – I wish Katherine had found her first! But when Megan showed up, she pepper sprayed Mr. Salvatore in the face.” I was starting to talk faster – starting to get to the part where I’d died. A part I really wanted to gloss over right now.
“Mr. Salvatore was furious. He knocked Megan down. Her head hit the footboard of my bed, and… I didn’t know if she was alive or dead. One of the goblins had followed us, though, and he used the distraction to jump Mr. Salvatore.” The goblin in question was Mr. Tophat, and I didn’t mention that he was my own personal sadistic stalker-elf. He denied it, but I was pretty sure he’d been feeding off of my neurotic fear for my whole life. I’d beaten him in a battle of wits and charged him with protecting Megan – but Megan didn’t believe in faeries, and Mr. Tophat hadn’t been able to make his appearance until after she’d lost consciousness.
“I was in the way and Mr. Salvatore decided I had to be working with the fae,” I blurted, “so he killed me. I missed the next bit, but–“
“Wait!” Emma gasped. “What?”
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. I swallowed. “Mr. Salvatore tried to use me as a hostage,” I said, “But the elf didn’t care. So Mr. Salvatore killed me,” I said. I gave Emma’s hand a squeeze. “Don’t worry,” I added, “it didn’t take.”
Emma was staring at me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone with eyes that round.
“I’d bit him when we were struggling,” I explained. He’d drunk my blood, and I’d tasted his. But as with any blood-transmitted disease, a drop had been all it took. “I didn’t realize what had happened, but when I came to Mr. Salvatore and the elf were still fighting.” They’d been fighting for hours, but Mr. Salvatore had been steadily winning. “It was morning, though, so I tore down the curtains.”
The sun had driven Mr. Salvatore into hiding behind my kitchen counter, but not before he’d dropped Mr. Tophat. I’d had to kill the elf with his own sword in order to keep Mr. Salvatore from draining enough life from him to survive in the sun. I hoped that I was right about how that worked – that a ‘dead’ fae was just banished back to the world they came from. Otherwise I was already a murderess.
My tongue felt thick. We’d gotten to another part I didn’t want to talk about. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “Mr. Salvatore burned, Emma. I’m so sorry.”
Emma recoiled and pulled her hands from mine. She shakily raised one to brush some errant hair from her face. “He’s dead?” she asked.
I nodded miserably. It had been self-defense, but regardless of Mr. Tophat I already was a murderess. “Hans showed up after that,” I said. “He pulled us out of the fire.” He’d also put three shotgun slugs into Mr. Salvatore’s screaming, mobile, burning corpse. Mr. Salvatore’s blood had flared up like a Molotov cocktail wherever it splattered, ignited by the sun. I could still remember the terror and the stench and the scream of his rage – and the taste as I saved myself from the sun by licking blood out of the scratches Mr. Salvatore’s nails had left on Megan’s cheek when he’d backhanded her. And how much I’d wanted more; wanted all of it, in that moment.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered again.
Emma didn’t say anything back. Not for a while. When she did, it was very quiet. “You did what you had to,” she said. “He’d let himself become a monster, and had to be stopped.”
I nodded and tried to suppress a surge of self-pity. I was the monster, now.
“Was… was Mr. Salvatore’s body recovered?” Emma asked.
“Yeah,” I said. So at least there’d be a funeral. Maybe that would offer some closure. “Hans went back for it.” It had been crazy and stupid for him to do – risking his life in a burning building for a self-immolating corpse – but I’d come to notice that sometimes Hans could be even crazier than me. And Hans had been Mr. Salvatore’s friend, regardless of how Mr. Salvatore had turned on him in the end.
I felt, rather than saw, the tension spill out of Emma. “Oh, thank god,” she gasped. I turned to look at her in surprise.
She looked back at me. Emma blinked as she realized I didn’t understand why that was so important. Or maybe she was blinking back tears of relief. Her eyes were bright, and a small smile tilted her lips. “He’s a vampire, Abby,” she explained. Emma took my hands again. “I was afraid he’d been left for ash. But he’s already died – really died – once. He’s immortal now. As long as enough of his body remains, he can be restored.”
My mouth felt dry. Emma threw her arms around me and hugged me tight in her relief. But I was horrified, and she had to be able to tell from the tension that twisted through me.
Emma let me go. I don’t know how much effort she had to put into muting her relief – but however much it took, she did it.
“I’m sorry,” Emma said. “I know you only know him as the monster he became. But I knew him before that. If who he was can be saved, someday, I have to be glad. And I have to hope that it can.”
I nodded. Someday? Maybe. But not while Megan was alive. Not unless it was over my re-dead body.
And yet, some of Emma’s relief was contagious. Maybe – maybe – I actually wasn’t a murderess, after all.
Emma smiled when she saw the tension in my shoulders drop. I don’t know what she thought I was thinking, but she threw her arms around me again. She hugged me fiercely, and I put up with it the way I used to put up with Megan hugging me. Proximity to people usually wound up my nerves, but Megan was a touchy-feely person. And Emma… well, Emma just smelled good. I swallowed again.
Oh, hell. I tested my teeth with my tongue. Points. Teeny tiny ones, for the moment, but still.
Crap, I thought. This couldn’t be right. Older vampires were supposed to need more blood to survive than younger ones. And I’d just fed on Hans! And wasn’t his blood supposed to be super-potent because it was supernatural? I couldn’t be hungry again.
Shit, shit, shit!
Maybe it was because I was so young. Mr. Salvatore had intended to turn Megan, and he’d expected her to drain me to death right after. That’s why he’d kept me alive for as long as he had last night. Or maybe the car ride in the sun had been more exhausting than I’d realized.
Or maybe I wasn’t really hungry. Maybe I’d just smelled something good and now I wanted it. Maybe it was a fight-or-flight response to the prospect of Mr. Salvatore being revived. Did vampires stress eat? God, that could be bad. I was always a nervous wreck.
Emma must have felt me tense up, because she pulled away again. She didn’t let go of me this time, but she did lean back enough to look me in the eyes. “Abby,” she asked, “what’s wrong?”
I swallowed again. Was that from thirst, or just want? I looked up at Emma and couldn’t mask my horror with myself. I couldn’t begin to form a sane reply; to explain that she needed to get the hell away from me, now, because I was stressed and she smelled good and I wasn’t sure when my self-control was going to cut out.
Actually, I probably should’ve just said all of that.
“I want a juice box,” I moaned mournfully instead.