When we got home I still felt wide awake. Emma looked peaked, though, and even Hans seemed a little worn. I was somewhat startled by the realization that unlike Emma and I, Hans hadn’t napped at all today. Maybe I shouldn’t have let him drive.
I chewed on my lower lip. “I’d like to run some laundry,” I said after I hauled in my bags. “If I neglect to wear clothes tomorrow I’d rather it be by choice than a lack of clean options.” Actually, I was still rattled by my recent encounter with Mr. Tophat. And I didn’t know if I should say anything about him to Hans.
I mean: A director from the Center was coming to determine if I should be allowed to remain free, or if Mr. Salvatore should be resurrected. Somehow I suspected that my revealing that I’d engaged a faerie and sicced him on Mr. Salvatore might be construed as colluding with the enemy. I didn’t think suspicion of treason would help paint my case in a positive light – especially since I knew Mr. Salvatore had intended to accuse me of being a fae agent in order to explain his own insane actions.
Of course, in Mr. Salvatore’s plan I was dead and he was alive, and his story was uncontested. I wondered how much the director’s judgment would resemble an investigation and trial, or if vampire justice was just a matter of the victor writing history.
Neither possibility really made me feel comfortable.
“I can take care of that for you,” Hans offered.
I shook my head. “And have you fall asleep and ‘forget’ to do my panties?” I gave him my best ‘I am on to your shenanigans, mister’ stare. “Nice try. I’ve got it. Where’s the washer and dryer?” Shit. Did they have a washer and dryer? They had to! There was a freaking hot tub; how could there not be something basic like a washing machine?
Unless Hans’ nudist streak was more extreme than I’d realized. Maybe he just didn’t go through that much clothing? But no, this used to be Mr. Salvatore’s house. And I didn’t want to imagine Mr. Salvatore being a closet nudist.
“They’re in the utility room” Hans said. “The room off of the basement parlor.” He hesitated briefly, but only briefly. “I stashed Salvatore in there,” he said. “Are you sure you don’t want me to take care of it?”
I swallowed, abruptly nervous. I was also squicked, and a little bit touched that Hans wanted to shield me from that blatant reminder of last night. But I couldn’t show any of that because… I just couldn’t.
“So? I’m undead. I’ve got to get used to hanging around corpses eventually.” I shrugged. “I mean, it’s not like I can get away from myself, right?”
Hans’ lips twisted unhappily, but he quickly relaxed into his usual expression. “Alright,” he said. “I won’t argue.”
“Good,” I said. I looked for a change of subject. “Emma, you look exhausted. You should get ready for bed. You can have the guest room.” I wasn’t going to take Mr. Salvatore’s room, but come to think of it: I wasn’t really tired. I probably didn’t need to sleep, anyway. Maybe if I sat up all night I could figure out… something.
I didn’t know what I should be doing next, but after one day of being stuck in Mr. Salvatore’s house with none of the things I’m used to having for distractions, I was already sick of just idly waiting. Maybe I could convince Hans to take me into work tomorrow. I could pull the blinds in my office, and I was pretty desperate for some normalcy.
“Okay,” Emma said. “Will you come up when you’re done?”
I hesitated. I planned on staying up, but to be honest I was starting to get creeped out by the idea of sitting around in the basement by myself all night. What if Mr. Salvatore wasn’t really dead dead? What if his mind was still active, thinking hate at me while his crispy-fried body was unable to act?
That idea, coupled with my recent encounter with Melvin Tophat, seriously undermined what little sense of security I’d been trying to build around living with Hans.
“Yeah,” I said. I really didn’t want to be alone all night. “I really don’t want you to be alone all night,” I explained. Close enough. “I have no idea what protections Mr. Salvatore had in place against the fae, but until I know they’re still functional I don’t want any of us to spend an extended period of time alone.” Shit, I hadn’t even been thinking about that. Dammit, Melvin!
Emma shivered. “I can look things over if you want. I’m not so good at actually doing magic, but I would know what to look for.”
I nodded. “That’s a really good idea,” I said. That’s right, I reminded myself, my girlfriend is an exhibitionist witch. I still didn’t know which of those two things was going to be harder to wrap my head around. “Hans, why don’t you stay with Emma while she does that?” It wasn’t really a question, so Hans just nodded. I turned back to Emma. “You can give…” I waved my fingers vaguely in the air. “…whatever a once over before getting ready for bed. Hans can turn guardwolf and sleep on the loveseat, and I can sit up since I don’t need sleep. Sound good?”
How many sleepless nights had I spent, terrified of whatever or whoever might be lurking outside my window? I pushed the thought away. It looked like I was going to be in for an eternity of them.
Hell. Well, at least there was that normalcy I’d been craving. Normal for me, anyway.
“You can double check everything in the morning,” I told Emma, “after you’ve had a good night’s rest.” Paranoid of me? Maybe. But I wanted to be there when Emma checked whatever safeguards the house had. Knowing what they were would give me something to do on those sleepless nights. Sure, I’d just be checking them over and over and over and… Well, it would be more productive than panicking about how the fae might get us, anyway.
Dammit, Melvin! Why did he have to be so creepy? I’d feel a lot better when I could rest assured my sadistic stalker elf wasn’t lurking around invisibly.
Hell! I hadn’t even thought of that before now. I knew Melvin could hang around without being seen because he’d taunted me last night by parroting a conversation I’d had with Megan. Plus, he’d apparently been in the backseat of Megan’s car while I’d been looking for a place to decoy Mr. Salvatore to. There’d just been too much going on, too fast, for me to have really thought through the ramifications of that particular ability.
I hadn’t had to use the restroom since I’d come back from the dead. But now I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to take a bath without putting on a bathing suit or having a paranoid freak out.
Well, maybe I could if I made Hans stand by on guard.
Of course, that seemed dangerously likely to result in an entirely different sort of freak out.
Dammit Hans! Can’t a girl even take a bath without you hanging around, being dangerous and sexy?
I shoved that thought aside. The last thing I needed to do was get sidetracked by the imaginings of my inner nympho.
“Hans?” I asked to make sure I had his attention. “Wolf.”
Hans’ shirt was off in the time it took me to turn back to Emma.
“I’ll meet you upstairs once I’ve thrown a load in the dryer,” I told her. “Okay?”
Emma nodded. Her eyes widened slightly at the sound of Hans shifting behind her.
“Great,” I said. “If you need to know where anything is, just ask Hans. One woof is yes. Two woofs mean no… Going cross-eyed in confusion and chasing his own tail probably means maybe.”
Hans wuffled in amusement. His change had completed. I stepped forward and scratched behind his ears. I couldn’t help it. His tail started wagging, so I didn’t think he minded.
“Guard Emma, Hans,” I instructed. He woofed once and I recollected my bags. I smiled tightly and made myself head for the basement stairs. I wasn’t going to wimp out and make Hans do my laundry. I’d already spent the whole day basically letting him and Emma baby me – I had to do something to pull my own weight. And this was just laundry. Nothing to freak out about. I mean, it wasn’t like I was going into a creepy basement back room where I’d be alone except for the inanimate but possibly conscious corpse of the man who’d murdered me or – possibly – an invisible sadist with a known history of stalking me.
…oh. Wait, no: it was exactly like that.