“Hey,” Emma said. When I proved too nauseous from worry to reply, she slipped her arms free of her tank top’s straps and fumbled for me. I wondered if her limbs felt as boneless as mine. “Hey, are you okay, Abby?” Her hand found and cupped my head. She stroked my hair gently; hesitantly.
I choked back another sob. “I’m sorry,” I babbled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I’ll be better. Please don’t leave me.”
“Oh.” Emma said. Then, with stunned understanding: “Oh.” She struggled to sit up straighter and hugged me close. She continued to stroke my hair, but without hesitation now. “It’s okay, Abby. No one is going to leave you. I’m staying right here, I promise.”
I was leaking tears onto Emma’s breasts despite my best intentions not to cry. I sniffled and tried to pull away before I could snot her cleavage. She was too good for me and it was only a matter of time before she realized it and left.
Emma continued to cradle me against herself, refusing to let me break away. I felt her shift slightly. She turned to address Hans. “Hans, Salvatore used to keep some candy in his desk. Can you bring us that? Or if there are any sweets in the house that you can find. Please hurry.” Emma didn’t sound hurried or impatient – just polite and in charge.
I heard the whump of wolf-Hans jumping down from the loveseat and then the quite staccato burst of twisting, cracking bone and stretching, tearing flesh that meant he’d changed form. Hans’ bare feet – two of them, human now – padded quietly as he hastened from the room.
Once I was alone with Emma I started sobbing harder. Oh, god, what have I done? Hans wasn’t coming back. He’d told me once that he had the same memories and personality between his two forms, but that his biological instincts were somewhat different. As a wolf, he probably hadn’t cared what Emma and I were doing.
But as a man, and my boyfriend on top of that, he’d… he’d be jealous. And angry. I’d known him longer, had dated him longer – and had sex with Emma first. In fact, every time Hans had come on to me I’d freaked out and shut him down.
He was going to be pissed. This, I suddenly knew, was where he was going realize I wasn’t worth the effort and leave me. And Emma was going to realize I couldn’t be trusted not to take advantage of her in the worst ways possible. She’d leave me, too, just as soon as she was thinking straight. She was only taking care of me now because I’d fed on her.
When Mr. Salvatore had fed on me I’d become enamored with him. I’d thought it was because I was experiencing his narcissism while he had my paranoia – but maybe infatuation was just a natural response to someone who was carrying around a part of your soul in them. That had to be why Emma wasn’t abandoning me right here and now. She’d probably be enamored with me right up until my freakish vampire digestion finished converting her life energies into mine.
While those revelations spun through my head Emma started to rock me. I continued to cry.
“Sh. Sh. It’s okay, Abby,” Emma said. She continued to stroke my hair. “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”
I made myself look up at her. “There’s a candy bar in my purse,” I managed to mumble. “If you want it.” It was supposed to be my emergency stash for Megan. Megan was hypoglycemic, and the few times I’d seen her sugar crash she’d gotten really loopy. Ever since the time I’d caught her drunk, sugar crashed and making out with Mr. Salvatore at an office New Year’s party, I’d made sure to keep candy on hand in case she needed it. But it didn’t matter now: I’d ignored all of Megan’s calls today. I had no doubt she was going to ignore all of mine in the future. She’d been attacked, too. I, her supposed best friend, had abandoned her to deal with her trauma on her own. Megan had to have realized she was better off without me by now.
“Um, is your purse downstairs?” Emma asked.
I nodded stupidly. I’d left it in the basement with my shopping bags.
Emma went back to stroking my hair. “We’ll just wait for Hans then,” she decided.
I nodded and started to cry again. I selfishly didn’t want her to go because I knew she wouldn’t come back if she did. And if she was waiting on Hans then we would be waiting – together – for a long time. He was gone.
Except then he came back.
For a second I was just in shock – but then I figured it out. He’d come back for Emma, not me. She’d asked him for some sweets and he’d gotten them for her. After all, if there was one thing I’d come to realize about Hans it was that he was a caretaker at heart. And nothing I’d done had been Emma’s fault.
Hans handed a small plastic shopping bag to Emma. She accepted it and didn’t bat an eye at his nudity – but then, she was still topless herself. An exhibitionist and a nudist. They’d be good for each other, now that I’d screwed up so much that their relationships with me wouldn’t be a factor in keeping them apart. Maybe I could take some solace from that.
“What’s going on?” Hans asked. He sounded pretty worried. I could understand why: Dealing with a half-naked witch and her weeping vampire ex-girlfriend probably wasn’t an everyday problem for most werewolves.
“Abby fed from me. She took in a lot of emotion and she’s not coping with it well.” Emma let go of me to check the bag’s contents.
Hans looked confused. Emma noticed after pulling out a handful of wrapped candies from the bag.
“I… I’ve had abandonment issues since Salvatore left last year without saying anything,” Emma told him. “Bad ones. Katherine had to pretty much force me to move in with her so she could make sure I wouldn’t do anything stupid while I was alone. She got me into therapy, too. I thought I’d gotten them pretty much under control but Abby’s acting like I was when I first realized Salvatore wasn’t coming back.”
I sniffled. Emma wasn’t acting like she had issues. I remembered my first speculations about how vampire feeding worked: I had become calm and collected but Mr. Salvatore had become paranoid when he’d fed from me. “I ate your fears,” I mumbled.
Emma looked at me. I’m not sure if she really heard what I’d said, but I’d caught her attention. “Sugar should help,” she said. She offered me the candies. “I’m not sure why. I’d have to ask Katherine. But Salvatore had made sure to have a bunch of chocolates on hand when he’d first fed from me. I’d forgotten because he hadn’t needed them and he hadn’t bothered to make sure they were there after that.” Emma frowned. “I think Carol ended up bringing that first box back to the dorm. I don’t remember: the first few times I gave blood I was really out of it afterward.”
I hesitated. I didn’t see how sweets could help, either, but Emma wanted me to take one and I didn’t want to disappoint her. I picked a long, slender tube of multicolored paper. I’d always wanted to try those when I’d been a little girl – I’d thought they were fairy princess food. Mom wouldn’t let me have them, though, because she’d thought I was hyper enough already. I tore off the end of the tube and poured back the contents. It was pretty much just fine grained, flavored sugar. Mom had been right: this probably wasn’t going to be good for me.
Oh, god. Mom. After that phone call, were my own parents going to give up on me? What was wrong with me? How could I have been so rude to my own mother? I tore the tops off a few more powdered candy packets and dumped them back.
In very short order I started to feel a sugar rush. Weirdly, instead of getting hyper I felt a little calmer. What had I been thinking? I’m used to being paranoid, but not paranoid like that. I buried my face against Emma and tried to sort out my head. I felt Emma shift to gesture at Hans. A moment later he was hugging me, too. Being sandwiched between them felt… nice. Reassuring.
Emma had implied I’d been feeling her abandonment issues. I tried to separate those emotions from the ones I recognized as mine. I felt a surge of hatred directed at Mr. Salvatore for ever making her feel like that, followed by a wave of relief. Those ones had been mine. So was the shame, but that was a little more manageable. I still didn’t know why, but the sugar rush really was helping.
Maybe it was because breaking down sugar for energy was an ‘alive’ thing, and that was hastening the shift from Emma’s emotions to my own. Or maybe it was just a placebo effect – I tried not to dwell on that, just in case.
Hell, maybe the reason sugar helped was just: ‘magic.’ That seemed to be a valid and safe assumption these days. I reviewed my current mental necessities list. I added candy to the top.
What I really didn’t understand was Hans. How I felt when I drank from him didn’t mesh with my theory that it was easier to pull fears out of a person along with their blood. Was he just fearless? Or rather, was his wolf?
I blinked, struck by a thought. I had assumed I was feeding on the wolfy side of Hans’ curse when I fed from him because of the mentality that overcame me when I drank his blood. And it sort of made sense to think that when Hans’ mind was human it meant that the animal he claimed to become on the full moon was… less attached. Like it was pushed to the edge of his soul, and was therefore more easily – or at least first most – consumed.
I still thought I was feeding on the essence of Hans’ wolf when I took his blood. But I was starting to wonder if the reason I was feeding on it was because that was what Hans was afraid of. The wolf. Specifically, the wolf’s mind being in control. Which would explain why it took over me when I fed off of him.
And then I was struck by an even more horrifying thought.
What if Mr. Salvatore had been affected in the same way?
I had no trouble recalling the wolf’s primal desires. Its obsession with killing, eating, sex. Its ruthless willingness to kill anyone who wasn’t in its pack and its need to put everyone in their place – alpha, beta or prey. I swallowed. I didn’t doubt that Mr. Salvatore had been a creepy bastard and obsessed with Megan… but had feeding on Hans made that worse? Had Hans’ wolf turned Mr. Salvatore’s obsession to hunting and shifted creepy sexual desire to creepy sexual desire with a side serving of needing her to be in his pack; needing to kill everyone who wasn’t?
I shivered. If I kept feeding on Hans would that happen to me? I knew the essences I consumed became mine over time, but… Mr. Tophat accused me of stealing other people’s souls in order to pretend I had my own. I couldn’t really imagine feeding on someone’s soul and not having at least part of it remain intact. A part of them, in who I was.
The candy had worked too damn well. Emma’s fear of abandonment was gone and good old panic was thundering in my chest. I had too many questions, too much speculation, and no where near enough answers.
“Hans?” I asked shakily. His name was muffled by Emma’s chest so I raised my head. I tried to ignore the fact that I was in very close physical proximity to both of my significant others. And that one was nude and the other more than half way on her way there. And that I had apparently just finger banged my girlfriend while eating her soul. And that I had no idea if I could still consider myself a virgin or not.
I put all of that into my ‘freak out about it later’ queue. “Hans?” I asked again.
“Yes, Abigail?” He answered with soft, gentle concern.
“You said John was undead, right?” I asked rhetorically. “Does he sleep?”
Hans hesitated, perhaps in confusion. Well, he had said he enjoyed trying to follow my leaps of logic, so this is what he got. “He is,” Hans confirmed, “and he doesn’t need to.”
I swallowed and pulled together every shred of courage I could pretend to have. If John Salvatore really was Mr. Salvatore’s son then he must have been undead for a very long time. And that meant that right now John was my best shot at getting answers to questions that desperately needed them.
“Please call him,” I said. “There are things I need to know, and I don’t think they can wait.”