I stared while John left. I just stood there while Hans closed the door and righted the table and picked up the chairs and fixed the mess I’d made. Once the furniture was in place Emma led me to one of the chairs and gently sat me down. At about that point the short circuit between my mouth and my brain recovered.
I looked at Emma, who was watching me worriedly. “What the hell just happened?” I asked the room in general.
“I’m not sure,” Emma admitted.
I swung my gaze to Hans. “Who was that?” I demanded.
I’m an only child. I’ve occasionally thought I might’ve turned out differently if I’d had siblings. Probably worse, since I would’ve been the eldest and everyone knows it’s the job of younger siblings to torment their older brothers and sisters. But the point was: I had a family. It did not include siblings. My dad was not a vampire. I had not just been adopted by Mr. Salvatore and kin. No freaking way.
Hans sat in the other chair. “That was John Salvatore,” he said. “The youngest of the Salvatore family, before you were turned.”
“No,” I said flatly. “He’s still the youngest. Mr. Salvatore didn’t adopt me. He murdered me.”
Emma squeezed my hand. I’d barely noticed that she’d let it go. I swallowed and tried not to squeeze hers back. I didn’t trust my grip not to go spastic with vampire strength and pulp her fingers.
“Alright,” Hans said, accepting my declaration. “It’s traditional for the newly turned to be taken in by the family that made them, though. John’s a good man. He’ll accept it if you tell him to stay away, but he is going to want to take responsibility for his father’s actions. Frankly, since he’s here it would be a good idea to at least talk to him. He’s been around vampires a lot longer than any of us.”
I frowned. What Hans was saying made sense – and that didn’t make sense. I don’t do well with surprises, strangers, or asking people for help. By all rights that mental short circuit should have spiraled into an all-out nervous collapse, but instead I thought Hans had a point. And that meant something was seriously wrong with me.
“You have a point,” I allowed. Then I checked my teeth with my tongue. I’d bared my fangs at John when I’d put myself between him and Emma. Sure enough, this time they hadn’t receded.
Apparently I’d burned off too much energy freaking out and freezing time and beating John over the head with furniture. That brief scorch from the sun when I’d kicked him probably hadn’t helped, either. I was getting hungry. And identifying the problem pushed my awareness of it into a while different scope.
“Alive-ish” Abby was a nervous wreck. “Dead-ish” Abby was not.
That was a little surprising. I’d been thinking I’d get worse as I got hungry. I’d always considered my paranoid anxiety to be a survival thing, and according to Mr. Salvatore survival was all that a hungry vampire cares about. Maybe I’d been wrong about my “alive-ish” fears. Maybe they didn’t really contribute to my survival.
Or maybe they were more a part of my personality than they were of genuine survival instincts. If my hunger was inversely proportionate to the amount of life-force, or whatever, in my system then perhaps the reason I wasn’t freaking out was that there wasn’t enough of “alive me” in “dead-ish Abby” for my paranoia to manifest.
Or perhaps it was something similar to how when I fed on Hans I could feel the desires of his lycanthropic curse, but not his human self. Perhaps, in my hunger, my mortal “alive-ish” instincts were falling way and those that came with being a vampire were coming to the fore in their absence. Perhaps my vampire instincts were genuinely independent from my living, mortal ones.
“Abigail,” Hans said, “I think you should let go of Emma.”
I glanced at him. He was reacting so slowly – I’d considered all the implications of my hunger before my tongue had left my second fang. It was rather amazing how quickly I could think – and how clearly! – without petty fears getting in the way. I shifted my gaze to Emma. Hans was afraid I would hurt her. Maybe freak out and tear open her veins.
Well, I had to acknowledge that the urge was there. And there was a definite appeal to the idea of yanking her into my lap and sinking my fangs into her neck; tearing at her flesh until I ripped her jugular and her life’s blood poured free. It would be messy: I certainly didn’t have the experience to find her artery in a single bite.
I was briefly conflicted. Would it feel better to take all of Emma now, or to be gentler and enjoy her for years? In those stark terms the answer seemed obvious, but the choice was actually a very close one.
“Dead-ish Abby,” it seemed, had a bit of an impatiently greedy streak.
I pulled Emma closer. I could hear her heartbeat speed up; sense her fear and anticipation and longing radiating from her in an intoxicating mix. But as much as I would have liked to drink her dry, now was not the time.
I gave Emma’s hand a little squeeze. Now that I understood what was going on I wasn’t worried about breaking her hand. I kind of wanted to yank her down, twist her arm behind her back, slam her into the table, snap her forearm and wrench until her broken bone tore open a wound that I could lick clean – but I wasn’t worried about hurting her accidentally.
I kissed her fingertips. She smelled so good. “Emma,” I said calmly, “be a dear and go stand behind Hans, please.” I let go of her hand and turned back to Hans. Emma shakily backed away from me. I wondered how much of my desires had been conveyed in my tone of voice.
Well, I would find out when I drank from her later.
Hans reached across the table. “Abigail,” he said, “I think you should feed. From me. Now.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “But no – not quite yet.” It was difficult not to grab his hand and bite, but I managed. There was, after all, more to survival than hunger – and I wasn’t exactly starving, yet. So if I really wanted to survive in the long term, I had to take advantage of the clear-headedness of being dead-ish while I could.
I frowned and considered the experience I was having. I was still myself. I still had all of my own memories. I was just seeing the world through a different emotional and instinctual lens. The reason I’d let Emma go was not because I valued her life, but because when I’d been more alive I’d promised not to take advantage of her. That had been, I could see now, a purely silly promise. But I did remember it, and if I currently thought there was no pressing reason to keep it – there was also no pressing reason to break it, either.
If I was still myself with all of my memories now, it stood to reason that I would continue to be myself after I fed – and after I fed I would be “alive-ish Abby,” to whom that promise inexplicably meant something. And that meant it made sense to keep such trivial promises – as long as they weren’t inconvenient – if it would prevent me from doing anything stupid when I was too alive to be smart about it instead.
Frankly, Mr. Salvatore had been on the right track. If I could keep myself as dead-ish as I was right now then I would be a much more effective person. And probably happier, too, for a given sort of happiness.
Well, perhaps in a few hundred years – after I’d built some solid experience with how being alive or dead affected my reasoning and how much blood it took to tip the balance – I would revisit that thought. For now it seemed that it took relatively little – like what I’d taken from Hans this morning or from licking Megan’s cheek before that – to swing me over to being more alive than dead. Which meant I would probably spend more time being the simpering, spastically emotional nutcase I’d been in life than the clear-headed self I was now. So there was no sense in doing anything that would make my alive-ish self miserable later.
But there was excellent sense in taking advantage of my current mindset to make some plans for the future. After all, if I had spared Emma because of a silly promise I’d made while I was alive then it stood to reason that when I was alive again I would still remember and honor the plans I made while I was dead.
Otherwise, the next time my worldview shifted to be seen through the lens of my curse there would be no reason to respect those trivial promises I’d made while alive, would there? In fact, if I couldn’t trust myself to follow a good plan when I was alive, there would be every reason to hold off on feeding for as long as possible when I became hungry in order to keep myself from making stupid decisions – and I would do well to remember that when I was alive-ish again.
I smiled; I knew that when I was alive again I would be horrified by what I wanted to do to Emma just moments ago – which was why I was promising myself to do worse if I dared disregard my dead-ish good sense just because I was a neurotic freak when I was more alive. Of course, once I was alive I would no doubt make some silly promise to inconvenience myself if I happened to hurt Emma while dead. I’d probably swear to turn myself in to the rehab center, or something.
I could see it would take some tricky balancing to keep myself from completely screwing myself up, one way or the other. The first step, of course, was to stop making threats to myself. That route led to endless cycles and eventual madness.
Instead, I reiterated my promise not to hurt Emma. It was a silly thing, but it was also a point I could easily concede in order to prove to myself that I didn’t need to be locked up. Of course, the whole concept of promises was ridiculous – but there was a social construct wrapped around it and that I could understand. I wouldn’t break my promises – even to myself – not because they mattered, but because I didn’t want people – even myself – to turn on me.
Not without sufficient reason, at least.
Yes, by my alive-ish standards I was probably a selfish sociopath. But I was a selfish sociopath who understood that following societal conventions and making allowances for my alive-ish emotional beliefs would benefit me significantly in the long run. And that made me a sociopath I could trust not to be a psychopath.
At least, not without good reason.
I smiled at Hans. I made it as pleasant as I could. He was still watching me warily, but if I was going to survive as a vampire I was going to need allies. Donors: People who knew about the supernatural world. People I could trust. People who trusted me.
“Hans, I have some things I need for you to do for me,” I said. “Not immediately, but after I’ve fed.”
Hans nodded slowly. I recognized the caution in his movement – it matched how he’d held himself when he’d faced down a hungry Mr. Salvatore last night. Hans recognized my state of hunger and he was concerned that my demands would be unreasonable.
“You said that you had a friend who might be able to help me adapt,” I reminded him, “and I asked you to postpone our introduction while I recovered from last night.”
Hans nodded again to acknowledge that what I’d recollected was accurate.
“I will not recover,” I told him bluntly. “Introductions are hell. I do not like them and I will do my best to make excuses to avoid meeting new people. Therefore, I want you to arrange that meeting. Arrange two of them. The first should be somewhere semi-public, where I have been before, and constrained to a limited time frame. A late dinner at the restaurant you took me to for our first date should do. Because of the location and limited time that meeting will be purely a matter of introductions; we will not want to discuss the supernatural world in the open like that.”
“The second meeting,” I continued, “will be here or at a location of your friend’s choosing. It should be scheduled no sooner than twenty-four hours after the first. I will need to have had enough time to internalize them as ‘someone I know’ if I am to make the most of meeting with them instead of obsessing endlessly about the kind of first impression I am giving them. Understood?”
Hans nodded. “Yes, Abigail. I can set that up.”
“Good,” I told him. Then my eyes slid to Emma. “Emma,” I said, “if you still have any contacts among the people who discouraged you from being Mr. Salvatore’s donor, I would like for you to use them. If any of them would like to meet with me, I would appreciate it if you set that up in the same fashion as I asked Hans to set up my introduction to his friend. If they would not, I certainly understand and they should not be pushed into it. However, in that case I would like for you to ask them to talk you out of being my donor.”
Emma started to protest, but I forestalled her with a frown and a glare.
“I do not expect for them to succeed,” I reassured Emma, “But I do expect you to lay out all of their points for me so that I can have an outside perspective of the dangers our relationship presents you and so that I can take more precautions for your safety than I would if we were limited to what you and I and Hans can think of on our own.”
“Okay,” Emma stammered. She seemed surprised that the direction of my request was toward her safety. Perhaps she just didn’t realize that maintaining her safety was very clearly in my own best interests.
I sat back and addressed them both. “If at all possible, I would like for these conversations to take place before the Directors get here so that I can make the best possible case that I am not a threat to myself or others. Additionally… Emma, I need you to put together everything you were told and everything you did to keep yourself safe from the fae when you first found out that magic was real. I am going to have to come out of the coffin to Megan and Fumiko… at least, I will if I want to insure that they can take appropriate precautions around me, and I do. But I can’t tell them the truth if it will just put them at the mercy of other supernatural beasties. If you need to, ask Katherine about how Mr. Salvatore kept his new donors safe – actually, no. Ask Katherine no matter what. Regardless of the animosity between her and I, her input on these matters is relevant to your safety and I think we can trust her friendship with you to outweigh her dislike of me on this matter.”
“And Hans,” I said as I turned back to him, “Please call John for me. Tomorrow. I would appreciate it if you could explain to him that although I bear him no direct animosity my recent interactions with Mr. Salvatore have left me reluctant to adopt myself under his family’s name – but, with that said, I would appreciate whatever advice he could give me on adapting to my new circumstances.”
I sat back and folded my hands over each other on the table. It only took me a second to reflect on everything I’d said and asked. Although, given my tone of voice, ‘commanded’ may have been more accurate than ‘asked.’
But they were all things that had to be said and had to be done. Things I wouldn’t have been able to ask for when I was more alive than dead. Hopefully, that made them things that would convince my sated self that I didn’t need to plot against my hungry self.
Of course, ‘not hungry’ Abby was a paranoid bitch. I’d probably decide that hungry Abby was playing me. Which, to be fair, I was. All of this caution was a measured response to prevent me from getting all emotional, freaking out, and going to war with myself over a little blood thirst and murderous desire.
I sighed. If I knew that now, I’d know it later. If I didn’t want to sabotage myself into never being clear-headedly hungry again, I was going to have to make a bigger gesture of good faith to myself.
“Okay,” I said. “Now, one last thing. This one is a rule, and it applies to both of you, got it?” I waited for Hans and Emma to nod. Once they did I leaned forward. “From here on out,” I said firmly, “if I make any demands of either of you while I’m hungry you are to verify them with me after I’ve been sated before carrying through.”
I shook my head at myself. I’d just put my future in the hands of myself at my worst, but there was no helping it. For some stupid reason people – including me, most of the time – wouldn’t trust a high functioning sociopath who was primarily driven by self-interest and hunger.
Speaking of which…
I looked up and smiled. “Now, if you don’t mind, Hans, I’m famished.”