When I heard Hans’ sneakers padding downstairs I broke off kissing Emma. I gave the stairwell door a meaningful glance so she would know what was up and then I slipped out of her lap. Then I got the remote off the coffee table and fumbled for the pause button. The TV went silent just as Hans came into the basement.
Hans was wearing his usual: sneakers, jeans, a plain white tee-shirt. He was freshly scrubbed and his hair was still damp and mussed from being toweled. He took one glance into the room and started to retreat. I wondered what his nose was telling him from all the way over there.
“Hans,” I called to forestall him, “come on in.” I was feeling flushed and confident and far too proud of myself for how well things were going with Emma. I knew it was only a matter of time before my nerves started to erode that confidence, but I still meant to ride it out as long as I could. I was fully aware that this entire morning had been one knee-jerk reaction after another. That was my usual modus operandi, and it had been exacerbated by the pure hell of last night. But Hans’ bath had given me a moment to relax and Emma had gotten me thinking. And not just about relationship stuff. I am a self-confirmed nutcase, and once Emma had gotten my brain jumpstarted again it had quite happily taken off in seventeen directions at once.
Admittedly, about twelve of those had been related to what Emma had been doing to my tongue with hers, how incredibly soft she felt under me, how good her murmured moans sounded, the probability that she looked as good topless as Hans did, wondering how attached she was to that shirt, debating if nibbles when I didn’t have my fangs out counted as biting… things like that. But the other five tangents had included at least some things that were more mundanely practical.
Hans slipped into the room. “Are you sure? I don’t want to interrupt,” he said.
I pointed at the remaining space on the couch. “Sit,” I said. I was too busy trying to sort out my practical tangents to pay much attention to what I was saying. Which is probably why I followed up with: “You aren’t interrupting. Because I am clearly a tease who gets off on getting her significant others hot and bothered and then not carrying through.”
Emma giggled behind me and I blanched as I realized what I’d just said. Not because I’d said it out loud, which was awful enough, but because it was true. Well, except for the part about me getting off on them not getting off. Or the implication that I was doing it on purpose. Or that I would have minded another hour or two to get Emma naked and… I don’t know what. We’d be stuck at kissing forever because I had no idea what should happen next, let alone how to segue into it. Oh, god, I was a tease!
I added lesbian erotica to my growing list of essentials. I was clearly in need of guidance, and I didn’t really think I’d be lucky enough to find a copy of “Sex: A How-To Guide for the Socially Awkward Bisexual” on the shelves of the local bookstore.
I cleared my throat. “Sit,” I reiterated, and tried not to go on a tangent spiral over being a tease. When had I turned into one of those girls?
But, no. I had more important things to worry about. I shoved my nascent freak-out aside and focused on pulling my thoughts together while Hans came over to join us.
“So,” I said when he sat down. “I know I’ve been… not a hundred percent, this morning. I want to start by saying thanks to both of you, before I forget. But I need to get it together.” I was profoundly grateful that Hans had stepped in to take care of me this morning. Part of me wanted to just throw myself in his arms, ignore everything that had happened, and let him keep taking care of me.
But I also had to be tough enough to be good for Emma. How could I claim to want to take care of her if I wasn’t even putting in a token effort to take care of myself? “Okay,” I said. “First things first. Hans, when you called the rehab center to tell them about Mr. Salvatore, what did they say?”
I was rather proud of myself for starting with such a scary question. The Center was supposed to be part rehab and part prison for vampires that let their blood lust get out of control. I still half expected that they’d want to lock me up for murdering Mr. Salvatore – even though I personally thought it was justified self-defense.
“I explained the circumstances,” Hans said firmly. “They’ll send someone to collect Mr. Salvatore and inter him until his actions have been investigated and a more formal sentence is passed.”
I blanched. If whoever ran The Center wanted to, they had the ability to bring Mr. Salvatore back. I nodded for Hans to continue, though. If push came to sun, I had the ability to kill him again. Probably.
“They were understandably concerned about you,” Hans said – almost apologetically. “Most new vampires are the result of deliberate transformations and have their makers to guide them and provide for them. I took the liberty of telling them that I had pledged myself as one of your donors, which at least alleviated the immediate worry that you might starve and lose control. But one of the directors is likely to accompany the people they send for Salvatore. He’ll want to see how you’re adapting.”
“A director?” I asked. I had no idea how big a deal that was. It sounded big.
“One of the elder vampires that run the Center,” Hans explained. “Immortality without responsibility is dangerous – but so is stagnation. So vampires that have ruled in one place for too long retire to a term in the Center. The directors instead serve as the vampires’ mobile military, as their legal court, and as their police. Salvatore was a director when we first met, in the wars.”
I swallowed. “Okay,” I said. So basically, that just confirmed what I already knew: I had to get myself together and make sure I wasn’t a danger to myself or others. Only now if I didn’t succeed there would be an ancient vampire on hand to take me out. And that was a good thing, right?
“Next thing then,” I said. “How often did Mr. Salvatore feed on you? And when I fed on you did it mess with your head? I mean… is it safe for you to be my only donor? You didn’t feel enthralled or anything, did you?” Hans had been surprised to discover how unhinged Mr. Salvatore was. That meant he clearly hadn’t felt Mr. Salvatore’s emotions the way I had when Mr. Salvatore fed on me. Probably because he was a werewolf, and Mr. Salvatore had been drinking the entity within Hans’ curse – like I had – instead of man. But I had to be sure of that.
Hans frowned. “Salvatore drank from me at least twice a day. Morning and mid-afternoon, usually. But he was pushing his hunger and older than you are, so I don’t know if we can use that as a gauge.”
I tested my teeth with my tongue. Still flat. “No,” I agreed, “But at least it’s sort of a framework for how often we should double-check my appetite. I’m thinking in the morning, mid-day, and before bed.” I did not want to wake up hungry in the middle of the night. I frowned. “Is there any reason I can’t feed when I’m not hungry? I mean, if I can just ‘top-off’ periodically and not have to worry about going berserk, that would be pretty ideal.”
Hans frowned. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. “But so far I haven’t suffered any ill effects from being fed on, so it seems like something we could try.”
“Um,” Emma interjected, “That might not be a good idea,” she said. “Just because you aren’t feeling anything doesn’t mean it isn’t impacting your aura, and having a weakened aura makes you more vulnerable to illusions, enchantments, and magic of all sorts.” Hans and I looked at her in surprise. Emma shrugged sheepishly. “I’m not sure, but that might be bad around the time of the full moon.”
Hans blew out a breath. “Yes,” he agreed somberly. “That just might.”
Emma bit her lip apologetically. Then she brightened. “Oh,” she told me, “but you can totally feed without being hungry. If your curse doesn’t have a way to use the excess life, it just sort of ‘pools up’ until it’s consumed. But, um, since it isn’t being used by you it isn’t becoming yours – so instead of the two-way connection there’d normally be between your donor and yourself, it’ll just be a really strong one-way link to whatever your donor is feeling until it does.”
“Huh,” I said. “That’s good to know, I guess.”
“If you would like to try it,” Hans said, “I’ll make the offer. I spend the full moon locked up anyway. So if we’re worried that the curse will hit me particularly hard this month I can just go into seclusion a night or two earlier.”
I thought about it for maybe a second before I shook my head. “No,” I said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. First of all, you’re my only donor right now. I don’t know what I’m going to do while you’re locked up, but I certainly don’t want to lose you for a longer time because I’ve been over feeding now. Plus…” I sighed. “Hans, when I feed on you I think the reason you aren’t feeling anything is that I’m getting a brain full of your curse and vice-versa. And so far that’s been okay because it’s sublimated into me rapidly enough, but I suspect that I wouldn’t deal very well with having your wolf prowling through my emotions for an extended period of time.”
Hans winced sympathetically.
“Yeah,” I said. “So I’ll just have to deal with it for now and learn the signs for when I start needing to nibble.” I checked my teeth again. I got the feeling I was going to be doing that a lot. I tried to think of what else we needed to cover. Mostly I was amazed I was holding up so well. I wondered if I was going to fall apart as soon as Emma wasn’t around.
“Okay,” I said to no-one. “So, that’s it for that stuff. Uh… I guess the plan now is to just hide out until dark and then go shopping?” The question was rhetorical but Hans nodded. “Okay,” I said once more. “Emma, would you like to hang out and come with?” She’d said that her evening was open because Katherine was spending it with Megan. For some reason I didn’t like the idea of Emma sitting at home, alone.
Maybe I am the possessive type.
Emma beamed. “I’d like that,” she said. “If you don’t mind?” she asked Hans.
Hans shook his head. “Not at all,” he said.
I took a deep breath. Getting it together was exhausting. “Wonderful,” I said. “Then I guess all that’s left is for you two to sort out your privacy limits and let me know my schedule and then we can kill time until dark. Maybe restart the movie?”
“Sure,” Emma agreed.
“Privacy limits?” Hans asked blankly.
I did my best to fix a smile on my face and hold onto my façade of confident calm. “Well, my rule is pretty much: ‘I dunno so ask first,’” I said. “But if you two have your own, you should probably lay them out now.” God, my exhibitionist girlfriend wanted to discuss privacy with my pseudo-nudist boyfriend. This wouldn’t be awkward, right?
“Yeah,” Emma said. “Like: I don’t think three is a crowd as long as one of them is an audience. Or, someone I like. So if you ever want to watch, that’s cool by me. But if you’d like to join in we should, you know, get to know each other a little better first.”
Hans opened his mouth to say something. Then closed it. He looked at Emma, then at me. I blushed hard and couldn’t meet his gaze.
“Noted,” Hans said. “And for my part, I am not a shy man. I do not believe I would object to any shared intimacy with our Abigail that she herself agreed to.” I saw him grin out of the corner of my eye. I ducked my head and blushed harder.
“But with that said,” Hans added more seriously, “I am courting Abigail. I would enjoy getting to know you as a friend, Emma, but I am not polyamorous. Whatever else happens, ours won’t be a romantic relationship.”
Emma considered this. “You know what, Hans? I appreciate your honesty and would like to be your friend, too.” She sat up and took the remote from the table. “Also,” she said cheerfully, “just because ‘polyamorous’ isn’t just a fancy word for ‘swinger’ it doesn’t mean I can’t happily do both. So, does anyone want some popcorn before we restart this?”