Hans held me while I bawled my eyes out. He knelt on the floor beside my chair with his arms around me and I wept into his shoulder. He stroked my hair and didn’t say a thing. But that was fine. His silence made me think he might actually understand. Maybe he did. I had no idea how he’d coped when he’d first become a werewolf.
Eventually my tears subsided into sobs and sniffles. My face ached, and I felt wretched. Not just horrible and horrified by what I was, but gross, too. I was wearing day old clothes. I stank of smoke. My makeup from last night had to be a mess, and I’d been leaking tears and snot on Hans’ bare skin. “Oh god,” I mumbled. “I’m sorry.”
Hans relaxed his embrace and let me pull away – but he didn’t actually let go. “You have nothing to apologize for,” he said firmly. “You are not a monster. The curse is monstrous, but whatever it made you want to do – you still didn’t do it.”
I swallowed a sniffle and looked at him. “I know,” I said weakly – even though that didn’t change how I felt about what I might have done. “But I got you all gross and snotted on.”
Hans looked at me like he hadn’t realized that was something I should apologize for, and then he burst out laughing. “It’s fine,” he said gallantly. “After last night I think we’re both overdue some time in the tub.” He stood and pulled me to my feet. “Come,” he said. “I’ll towel off my shoulder and draw you a bath. You can have the first soak.”
I smiled weakly. ‘Draw you a bath.’ Who talked like that anymore? I wondered if Hans was really that much older than he looked, or just spent too much time hanging out with centuries old vampires. Probably both.
“Okay,” I said. Then I frowned. “What about Mr. Salvatore?” I asked. “You can’t just leave him in your car.”
Hans grimaced. “I’ll bring him in and stash him in the basement,” he said. “A representative of the Center will arrange for his transport to the Morgue.”
I swallowed uneasily. “The Morgue?”
Hans shrugged. He started to lead me upstairs. “Vampires are never dead forever, unless their ashes are scattered. But given Salvatore’s obsession with your friend and how he acted on it, he’s unlikely to be revived within Megan’s lifetime. So he will be interred below the Center, in the vampires’ morgue.”
I swallowed again. That was just creepy. But I didn’t protest. I didn’t really care what they did with Mr. Salvatore as long as Megan was safe. “Okay,” I said.
Hans took me to the master bathroom and started the sink running. He grabbed one of the folded washcloths and quickly wiped down. I felt guilty watching. I was supposed to be feeling wretched. I did feel wretched. I was also hard pressed not to drool.
When Hans was done – which was far too quickly – he tossed the washcloth into a hamper and started the bath water. He dabbled a couple of fingers under the faucet and then looked at me. “Music?” he asked.
I blinked. “Uh, sure,” I answered – hoping that it hadn’t been too obvious I’d been staring and that he’d meant it as a yes or no question.
Hans smiled and flicked water droplets off his fingertips. Then he came back over to the sink and rummaged in one of the top drawers of the cabinet beside it. I hadn’t noticed the CD player, which was hidden behind various soaps and cosmetics. Hans produced a disc and put it into the player. When he hit play a relatively relaxing piano piece came to life.
But Hans wasn’t done. He produced some scented candles from another drawer and spread them across the back of the sink and the ledge at the foot of the tub. Once those were lit he tested the water again and – since it was apparently hot enough now – started the tub filling. Then he gathered some other bottles from under the sink and measured their contents into the steamy water.
I continued to stare, but for other reasons now. It appeared Hans took ‘drawing a bath’ very seriously. Soon vanilla scented bubbles were cresting the lip of the tub. I didn’t know if I was happy with his blatant pampering or embarrassed. I hadn’t had a bubble bath since… well, if I’ve ever had one I was too young to remember.
I was smiling like a goofball when Hans turned off the bathwater. He glanced back at me and grinned. I blushed and looked away. So, the answer was: happy and embarrassed.
Hans came over and caught my jaw with his fingers. He tilted my face toward his. Then he cupped my cheek with his other hand and caressed my blush with his thumb. I blushed harder.
“Relax,” Hans advised. “You deserve some rest, Abigail.” He leaned down and kissed me gently. I kissed back. “I’ll be about if you need anything,” Hans said when our lips parted. He let go of me and tapped one of his ears meaningfully. “Just shout,” he said. “I’ll hear.”
“Okay,” I replied. Why was I being so bashful? Maybe because I’m not used to being pampered. God knows I didn’t deserve it, but doing it seemed to make Hans happy. So how much of a bitch would I be to not just be appreciative?
Hans smiled. “Then I’ll leave you your privacy,” he said and slipped out to the hall. He closed the door behind himself.
The first thing I did when left to my own devices was check the door for locks. There was only one, a twist one on the doorknob itself. I turned it and added deadbolts to my growing list of necessities. Then I turned and leaned back against the door and just… took in everything Hans had done for me.
Like hell was I going to ruin all of that by just soaking in my own filth.
I stripped as quickly as I could. I was eager to get out of my smoky, torn; dirty clothes. Hans’ shirt I threw in the hamper. The rest I kicked into the corner by the door. It could go to the trash. I never wanted to see any of it again. Not even the shoes.
Especially the shoes.
My jewelry I kept. I took off my bracelets and earrings and put them in a dish on the edge of the sink. I wasn’t sure if I’d wear them again or not. The crescent moon earrings I’d gotten specifically to tease Hans with, but everything from last night felt tainted. Besides, I’d wanted to look flirty – or at least presentable – the first time he saw me in them. Not like a crazed Halloween arsonist who’d just set her pimp on fire.
I sighed. I really did look like shit.
I did my best to scrub at the sink so I wouldn’t squick out while soaking in the tub. I went through four washcloths and concluded that my hair, at least, would need dunked. I resolved to do that last.
I tested the water in the tub and it was still really hot. I wondered if I was supposed to add cold water until it reached my preference. I turned the hot back on, instead, and let the tub fill the rest of the way.
Then I climbed in, leaned back, stretched my toes toward the end with the candles, and did my best to pretend I was a lobster.
Soaking was really, really nice. And it helped to know that Hans was out there in case of emergency. I generally prefer to spend as little time naked and vulnerable as possible, but this… This was pretty nice.
I’d sunk down until the water was up to my chin and I was halfway to dozing – assuming vampires sleep – when my phone rang. I don’t do well with alarms because I don’t cope well with anything that is meant to startle you – and because alarms let you know the noise is coming, so you can live in dread until it goes off. Right then the phone was just as bad.
I yelped, swallowed water, sputtered, and then scrambled out of the tub to get to my purse. I got my phone and since it wasn’t Megan I answered it just to get it to shut up. Then, because I was naked, wet, and fucking cold I ran back to the tub.
Only after I’d sank back down as far as I could without getting the phone wet did I sigh in relief and bring it to my ear. “Hello?” I said.
“Abby?” Fumiko practically yelled, “What the hell happened?!”
I blinked. Oh, shit. Other than Megan, Fumiko was my only real friend. We all worked together and knew each other from college. Last night I’d told Fumiko to get away from Mr. Salvatore because I’d been afraid he’d try to use her to get to Megan, or that he’d take it out on her if Megan had eluded him. Of course, he’d ended up using me, instead.
“Uh,” I said. I hadn’t talked to Fumiko since I’d convinced her to flee the workplace New Year’s party. I had no idea what I should tell her, what I could tell her, or where to begin with either.
Fortunately, Fumiko knew me well enough to be aware of how quickly I can start to flounder when I’m put on the spot. She took a deep breath and started again. “Abby, are you alright?”
“Yes,” I said. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“Oh, thank God,” Fumiko said. “When Megan called from the hospital and said the two of you had been attacked by Mr. Salvatore, I just about lost it. But then she tells me you’d run off and she couldn’t get ahold of you and – don’t do that to us! You do realize the police haven’t caught that creep, don’t you?”
I was too stunned to reply. I’d always thought Fumiko was more Megan’s friend than mine – that she put up with me because of our shared friendship with Megan. Hearing Fumiko’s vehement worry now was humbling.
“You know, I swung by your place on my way to the hospital,” Fumiko said. “The hospital! Why didn’t you call me? And… And… What happened? Your place is nothing but soot and charred timbers! No. Wait.”
Fumiko took another deep breath. “Okay,” she said a little more calmly. “Where are you?”
My heart thumped and I swallowed guiltily. I knew Mr. Salvatore was out of the picture, but of course no one else did. Except for Hans and Emma, and maybe Katherine if Emma had told her. “I’m fine,” I said. “I’m fine and I’m staying with Hans.”
Fumiko had met Hans once. I didn’t really know what she thought of him, but I did know that she thought Megan and I were a couple in all but name and should just come out of the closet for each other already. I hadn’t even thought about kissing girls before Fumiko had brought it up, and now I had a girlfriend. Who wasn’t even Megan.
Fumiko exhaled again. “Okay. Well, Megan is getting a hotel room while Mr. Salvatore is on the loose. Katherine and I are going to stay with her. You should, too, since you need a place. So tell me where I can come pick you up.”
My mouth felt suddenly dry. “No,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m staying here. With Hans, I mean. Please… tell Megan I’m okay. But don’t tell her where I am. I-I can’t talk to her yet.” Ever.
“What?” Fumiko yelled. “Why not? If this is because you told her how you felt about her last night…”
“No!” I protested. “No. I didn’t. That didn’t even happen.” I scrambled for something I could say. A reason Fumiko could understand. “It was my fault,” I said. I could kill her. “Mr. Salvatore grabbed me and made me call Megan,” I blurted out. I’m a monster. “I can’t face her. Not after I did that to her.” My words came out in a desperate rush. I can’t face her. I wanted to kill her.
“Okay,” Fumiko said. “That’s… Shit.” She sighed. “But okay. Just… she’s worried about you, alright? So get your shit together and call her, okay? You’ll be forgiven.”
“I’ll try,” I said. But I meant: I can’t.