I sat up straight again when I heard Emma announce: “Okay, I’m decent. You can turn around now.” I twisted around to look at her. She was wearing her tank top properly again, but I knew it was such a feeble barrier that seeing it didn’t keep me from blushing. The blood that had smeared and stained her shoulders where I’d drank so messily was gone. Her skin was pale and pristine, without a sign that she’d just been bitten – on each shoulder – by a hungry vampire.
I was at once relieved and disappointed. The scratches I’d left on Hans yesterday morning popped into my head like a bizarrely indecent nonsequitor. And then it clicked. Oh. I was disappointed because my sympathetic vampire healing power had worked too perfectly. With the blood washed away and her top straightened, there was absolutely no sign that Emma and I had been doing anything improper. She had been my first and I was disappointed because there was no external sign of the momentous role she’d played in my life… or – and here I grappled with my possessive streak, a streak I’d never even known I had before yesterday – there was nothing to remind her of what I’d done when she looked in the mirror. Nothing to warn anyone else that ogled her that she was my girlfriend and I would seriously fuck them up if they took liberties or mistreated her.
God, when had I become such a freak?! I wanted desperately to blame it on becoming a vampire, but I couldn’t. I’d been wholly and completely mortal when I’d raked my nails down Hans’ back yesterday morning. Shit.
I must have been staring awfully intently while trying to cope with my new perversions because Emma shifted her pose in front of me. At first I thought I was making her uncomfortable – except her posture and the expression on her face reminded me of last night, when she’d confessed that she’d liked how I’d been staring at her while we were on the dance floor.
Shy and abashed and uncertain and thoroughly pleased.
That seriously urged me on. It roused those desires I wanted to freak out about, and it gave my autopilot the courage to act on them while the rest of me was distracted with that freaking out. I slipped off the foot of the bed and walked to Emma’s side. My eyes never left her. Hers never left mine.
“Good,” I heard myself say. Then I leaned toward her, bracing myself on the bed, and kissed her cheek. But I didn’t pull away when I was done. I slid my mouth down, caressing her skin with my lips; following the curve of her neck down to her shoulder. I heard her breath catch. Felt her heartbeat change tempo.
Her spaghetti strap sleeves left her shoulders almost as bare as they’d been when her top had pooled about her elbows and waist. I found the spot where I’d bitten her and parted my lips over it. I pressed them against her in a kiss; tasted her skin with the tip of my tongue. Sucked gently while Emma whimpered.
I’d never deliberately given anyone a hickey before, but I thought I knew the basic premise. By the time I was done, I’d given Emma three: one over each vanished bite mark. Then I kissed her on the lips, and then I straightened. I picked up the lap tray and blew out the candle.
“Good night, Emma,” I said. I don’t think my voice was shaky, but I was still feeling surprisingly vulnerable inside. I hoped Emma hadn’t picked up night vision from me – or that if she had, it had faded already. I was pretty sure that any confidence I’d managed to fake had already leaked out of my face and posture.
“Good night,” Emma called softly after me. I carried the tray around the bed. When I got to the front corner – diagonally from Emma – I held the tray in one hand and used the other to pat the covers. Hans took my meaning and hopped up on that end of the bed.
I ruffled my fingers through the fur between his ears. “You keep Emma safe while she sleeps, got it?” I kept my voice quiet so as not to disturb Emma if she was already managing to drift off – and to keep my jumbled emotions from being too obvious in my tone.
I was really disturbed by my actions and desires – but I was more worried about Emma’s feelings. The sheer weight of the despair and absolute absence of self-esteem that had come over me when I’d fed from her had been awful. She’d implied to Hans that she had been at risk to hurt herself in the past because of it. And although Emma claimed to be over it, I wasn’t convinced. I mean: If she really was over it, then it wouldn’t have been there for me to feed on, right?
Hans gave a single low wolf-bark of acknowledgement. Then he turned a circle and settled down on the edge of the bed with his head resting on his paws.
I stroked the fur on his head once more. “I’ll be back when I’m done talking to John,” I promised. Hans wuffled in response, and I took the lap tray in both hands again. I slipped out of the room and closed the door behind myself.
I made my way to the master bathroom without the aid of a light. It was weird how my improved vision both alleviated and exaggerated my old fear of the dark. On the one hand, I could see. Nothing was going to be able to lunge out of the shadows at me in surprise because shadows didn’t hide things from me anymore. On the other: my powers made me intimately aware that there were supernatural beings out there with abilities I could only guess at, and probably couldn’t really imagine the scope of.
My innate paranoia was having a field day with that. I hoped Emma was right about Katherine having warded the house well enough to keep it secure from fae. Fae didn’t need to hide in shadows – they could literally become darkness. Or even turn invisible. Inaudible. And whatever word there was for something you couldn’t smell. They’d caught Hans and Mr. Salvatore by surprise last night. In Mr. Salvatore’s case, more than once.
Once in the bathroom I turned the lights on out of habit. I set the tray on the edge of the sink and dumped the contents of the wash basin down the drain. The wash water was a slight pink from Emma’s blood. It made me queasy to watch it drain away.
No: it made me queasy that my first impulse had been to drink some, to see if it tasted as good as blood fresh from her veins.
That realization brought on a dry heave. I choked it down and thanked got that it had been dry. I really didn’t want to throw up. Vomiting blood was bad enough when you were alive. I was willing to bet it was just as bad when you were dead. Plus, I did not want to deal with that kind of mess.
I hastily rinsed out the bowl and the sink basin. Then I balled up the wash cloths and hand towel and chucked them in the hamper. I didn’t know where anything else went, so I just left the tray and the rest of its contents on the edge of the sink. I would have to ask Hans where it all went tomorrow.
With that done I took a moment to wash my face and seriously scrub my mouth and chin. Emma hadn’t been the only one who needed to clean off smears of her blood – a fact that squicked me out all over again. I needed to figure out how to feed less messily, if only for my own sanity. Maybe I could find someone who’d consent to getting a straw surgically implanted in their neck.
Although… did I really want someone that nutty as one of my donors? I had enough crazy in my head without volunteering to drink up more.
As soon as I was cleaned up I dried my hands and hurried to the basement. I wasn’t sure how much longer it would be before John showed up and I needed to get changed. Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of choices to waste time picking from. I wasn’t going to wear any of the clubbing outfits I’d picked up at Megan’s – which left me with a pair of jeans, a grey tee shirt, socks, panties, and sneakers from the department store.
While I was at it I dug the phone charger out of my shopping bags. I found an open outlet behind the TV and got my phone plugged in. I tried to come up with another distraction, but nothing came to mind except thinking about stuff that would make me freak out, one way or another.
Fully dressed and a little weirded out by how quiet Mr. Salvatore’s house was, I went back up to the ground floor to wait on John.
In the front room of the house I opened the heavy curtains that covered the windows on either side of the door. I left the lights off – not because I didn’t want them on, but because I didn’t want them to turn those windows into mirrors against the backdrop of the night. I’ve always been freaked out at night by the way lit windows could let anyone or anything that was outside look in while revealing nothing to those trapped inside but their own reflection.
I didn’t feel like pacing, so I grabbed one of the chairs from the table and set it up by the window that gave me the best angle to observe the driveway. I sat down and did my damndest to get my thoughts in order.
John wasn’t a stranger. I’d already met him once. That meant the worst part – introductions – were over. Sure, I’d introduced myself by kicking him in the balls and bashing him repeatedly over the head with a table, but when all was said and done he’d seemed more amused by that than hurt. Plus, Hans vouched for him.
Of course, Hans had vouched for Mr. Salvatore, too. And John was John Salvatore. Mr. Salvatore’s son. John had claimed to be thrilled to meet me. He’d called me his new little sister. But just because he was thrilled to have a new member in his messed up family, it didn’t follow that he was thrilled I’d killed his dad.
And did I really want to be associated with the Salvatore family? If I relied on John’s help, leaned on his expertise, was he going to feel like I was accepting him in his self-proclaimed role as big brother? Were there any weird vampire politics that would swing into action if I played along?
Fuck: were there any weird vampire politics that would come out to bite me if I tried to maintain myself as an independent entity?
And none of that had anything to do with the things I really needed to know. How often could I feed from someone safely? Why did Emma’s emotions hit me so much harder than Hans’? How was I supposed to find more donors? And how was I supposed to keep them – and my friends – safe?
Two beams of light slashed briefly across my vision as a car turned into the drive. It parked behind Emma’s. I forced myself to stop chewing my lip; did my best to compose myself and hide my anxiety. I stood, swept the chair back over to the table, and went to the door.
John had arrived. It was time to get some answers.