I don’t know how long I was like that – falling apart while everything else was fixed in place; frozen in time. I’m not even sure that a concept like ‘how long’ applies when time is interrupted. Not unless we’re talking about some sort of vampire-time that exists separately from the rest of reality. I don’t know. I’m not a temporal physicist with a doctorate in the rules of the universe. Which is just as well, because if I was I might’ve been just a little bit more leery of breaking them just so I could get through a panic attack on my own time.
Heh. Pun intended.
When I was done I felt emotionally drained. That’s always been par for the course with my panic attacks – only this time I had to wonder if some of it was because using vampire-time was eating into my reserves of self from feeding on Hans and tasting Emma. I was feeling a little peckish and my fangs were out, but I still felt mostly human. If freezing time was having an impact on my thirst it wasn’t as bad as being hit by the sun while fighting with John, earlier. And if I were vamp-thirsty I didn’t think I’d feel tired.
So I felt safe ascribing my current numbness to good old-fashioned post-breakdown enervation. I was definitely going to have to amend my opinion on the best vampire power, though. Being able to ignore the symptoms of a freak-out was pretty nice, but being able to take as long as I wanted, whenever I wanted, to deal with my crazy shit – without anyone being the wiser – was pretty much the best thing ever.
I picked up the phone and brought it to my ear. Time resumed in a rush. Mom continued from where she’d stopped, mid-word. She hadn’t noticed a thing.
I took a deep breath that I didn’t need because I wasn’t alive. “Mom, stop,” I interrupted. She let me.
“Yes, Abigail?” she asked – and I could hear her expectation. This was the part where I was supposed to give in.
“I’m not coming home,” I said. I did my best to imbue my words with as much finality as I could. “End of discussion. I trust Hans, and I think I’m in a better position to judge his character than you are since I’ve actually met him. And he wasn’t being a skeevy jerk when he said I could stay at his place – he was being a good boyfriend.”
I heard a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line. I didn’t know if it was because I’d never been so blunt with her before or if it was because I’d dropped the boyfriend bomb, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even feel guilty – hurrah for post-anxiety emotional come down. I just wanted to get this conversation over with.
“Hans is a good guy,” I said firmly. Literally: he fights on the side of good against beings that live on nightmare. “He won’t push himself on me.” No matter how cruelly I bait him. “But if you’re really that worried about his motives, I’ll put your mind at ease: Emma is staying over, too, so it’s not like we’re unchaperoned.” Of course, our chaperone was my exhibitionist, polyamorous, bisexual girlfriend – but mom didn’t need to know that. I was on a roll here.
Mom tried to interject, but I didn’t let her.
“As for grandma,” I said over mom, “I’m pretty sure that if we asked her what she thought about my life choices she’d say: ‘Abby has a boyfriend and lives in the city? Who cares? I just came back from the dead. Get your priorities straight, you ninny.’ Or maybe: ‘Braaaaaaaaains.’ But since we can’t ask her, I’m going to go ahead and say it for her. Get your priorities straight, mom.”
I came back from the dead.
I didn’t voice the thought. Mom didn’t say anything, either. I wondered if I was being too harsh, and pushed that question away. I’d worry about that later. Sometime when I could tuck into comfort food until I felt better. Maybe I could get Hans to make those chocolatey almond cake things.
“I’m fine,” I said to mom’s silence. “I have food and shelter and clothing. I have people here who care about me and will take care of me. Something godawful happened to me yesterday, but the answer to that isn’t to uproot my life here and throw it away. That’s not what I want and it’s not what I’m going to do. And that’s final.”
“I see,” mom said quietly. Then she seemed to gather herself. “Well,” she said, “it’s obvious you have no intention of listening to reason, but I understand that it has been a very trying time for you and you aren’t at your best. You should go to bed, dear, and we can discuss this more tomorrow.”
I clenched my teeth. My fangs gave me a little bit of an overbite and kept me from really grinding my jaw. Mom still wasn’t listening. She was treating my decision like the product of a cranky child. And telling me to go to bed – when it was so late that I would’ve been going to bed anyway – was just a way to end the conversation with her holding the upper hand. Because obeying her – and it was obviously obedience, even if I was about to do it anyway – could only serve to remind me of and reinforce her authority.
Maybe I was thirstier than I thought. I usually wasn’t so cynical about my family.
Or maybe I was just usually carrying so much emotional baggage that I just wasn’t aware of what was really going on in our conversations. In either case, there was no point in dragging this out.
“Goodnight, mom,” I said.
“Goodnight dear,” she said back.
I don’t know which of us hung up first. I didn’t even look as I tossed the phone onto the couch. I started to pace.
Something godawful happened to me yesterday, but the answer isn’t to uproot my life here and throw it away. What was the answer? I’d been such a mess all day I hadn’t really been thinking about it. I’d been letting events just roll over me, reacting to whatever happened and following the lead of Hans, Emma, and my own erratic impulses.
I’d started today thinking my life was over. That I was a monster. That I’d have to cut my friends out of my life for their own protection. That it was entirely possible I – and everyone around me – would be better off if I ended up interred in The Center’s morgue for unstable vampires.
But none of that was the answer, and I’d been too distraught, too wound up, to realize it until I’d said it aloud. Something awful had happened to me. I’d been terrified, attacked, kidnapped, killed.
But my life wasn’t over. Realizing that I could throw my life away made me have to accept the corollary – that there was something left to throw away.
I did have people who cared about me. Not just Hans and Emma, but Megan and Fumiko, too. Maybe even John, in some weird vampire-clan way. Hell, maybe even Melvin, in a seriously creepy way.
I’d already decided I would have to come out to Megan and Fumiko for their own safety. Now I was rethinking whether or not I should keep pushing them away, too. I’d assumed I would have to. Again: for their own safety. Now… I just wasn’t so sure. It felt like that would mean throwing away a part of my life that I’d be better off keeping.
I’d have to talk to them about it; see how they felt about the risk. I was belatedly realizing that it wasn’t just my decision to make.
I stopped pacing and frowned. Usually I would start winding up again after a freak out. Especially if I was thinking about important stuff like this. Instead, I felt remarkably calm. I didn’t know why. If it was because I needed blood, wouldn’t I know? Frankly, if I were that far into vampire mode would I even be worrying about why I was being extra reasonable?
Probably not, I reasoned. I’d be too busy thinking about how nice it would be if I could kill someone and not feel guilty about it after I was sated.
Still frowning, I sat back down on the couch.
Alright. So: I was being calm and reasonable when I should by all rights be freaking out about the potential fallout from that conversation with my mom. Why?
Inexplicable or not, since I was being reasonable I decided to go with my current strength and try to reason it out. Of course, normally my strength is making crazy shit up – and I didn’t have a lot of facts to work with – so I also decided to accept any intuitive leaps that might come along while brainstorming for theories on my current mindset.
Maybe… maybe it had something to do with magic, after all. It was obvious from my feedings that there was an emotional component to a person’s essence. I felt what other people felt when I drained them. And Hans had said that fae fed on fear, anxiety and superstition. It sort of made sense to think that the fae actually fed off of people’s essences, just like I did. For me the vector was blood. Maybe for the fae it was something else. They weren’t entirely physical, so maybe for them the fear and all that was just the vector that let them latch onto and drain an individual’s essence. Or maybe being afraid just made a person more vulnerable? Could certain emotional components make a person’s essence easier to consume, or easier to tear away chunks of?
Fear: The tenderizer of the soul.
I frowned deeper. I didn’t know any of this. I was making a lot of assumptions, and I wasn’t even sure where I was going with it. I was only thinking about the fae because of the corollary between them consuming anxiety and my anxiety being mysteriously absent.
Could a fae have fed on me while I was on the phone with my mom?
Melvin had implied that if he fed on me it would be dangerous – that it would push me toward thirst; make me vamp out. What if a fae did consume my fears, but left the rest of my emotions intact?
I didn’t know if that was possible… but it seemed unlikely. It would be too much of a coincidence for a faerie to have waited until just after I froze time; to have let me have my breakdown and then taken just enough out of me to leave me with most of my humanity and none of my anxiety.
But on the other hand… I had frozen time. In fact, I’d frozen it specifically because I’d been freaking out, and I’d stopped specifically because I’d calmed down.
What if I was right when I’d worried that using my powers would consume the essence I’d taken from others when I fed?
The essence of others, which I needed to have ‘living’ emotions.
Essence which, I knew, carried an emotional component: first the donor’s and then my own as it became mine.
If I was also right about thinking that the fae fed on fear and anxiety because those emotions indicated the most vulnerable part of a person’s essence, the part most easily taken away… Then maybe when my powers consumed my own essence, fear and anxiety were the first to go.
I thought about how I’d been at the times I’d known I was hungry. Ruthless, yes. Selfish, yes. But also fearless. I’d faced down Mr. Salvatore when I’d been newly risen and starving. I’d made out with Hans and Emma. Arranged to meet with strangers. And I’d had no concern for the consequences of my actions beyond whether or not they would inconvenience me later.
I tested my teeth with my tongue. I knew my fangs could come out in response to any strong survival stimulus – but I wasn’t scared or angry or stressed or turned on right now.
My fangs were still out, though.
So maybe – maybe – I’d done this to myself by stopping time just until I’d burned through my ability to feel the fear, anxiety, and stress that usually crippled me in life.
I blinked, trying to process the thought. If that was the case… If I finally had a way to cut those parts out of me… If I didn’t end up like Mr. Salvatore, when he’d tried to do the same with his emotions…
Then maybe dying was the best thing to have ever happened to me.