Once I’d agreed to Hans’ amendment to my afternoon plans he let me go and stepped past me to get to his shirt. I squawked in protest as Hans’ warm bulk was replaced with the cool basement air. In response, Hans swatted my butt hard enough to make me jump and feel warm all over. I may have squawked again.
Hans laughed playfully. “Hey,” he said, “You’re the one who pointed out we don’t have time for cuddles if I’m going to make it to work on time.”
I gave him my very best glare. I had done no such thing! Unfortunately, knowing that he was teasing and that leaving me frustrated was just turnabout and fair play took all the sting out of my ire. Plus, I kind of enjoyed the casual, physical intimacy conveyed by that playful spank. Wasn’t that the kind of liberty I should, by societal norms, get pissed for someone taking? Hans’ unrepentant grin disappeared under his tee shirt as he pulled it back on.
I snorted at myself. Whatever. I wasn’t sated enough to freak out about what was ‘normal’ or not. Besides, I was a vampire, Hans was a werewolf, and Emma was a witch. The good ship ‘normal’ had sailed. Presumably off the edge of the earth. I wasn’t going to let the fact that I’d enjoyed getting a swat on the rear distract me from enjoying the sight of Hans’ shirt stretching across his shoulders or the last, teasing glimpse of his abs as he pulled it down.
“So, while you’re at the office can you pick up the manuscript I left on my desk?” I asked.
“Sure,” Hans answered. “The one Jimmy printed for you the other day?”
“Yeah,” I said. “If I’m going to start working from home, that’ll give me something to start with.” I frowned. “I think… this morning I’ll try to call Fumiko. If you’re going to be here this afternoon, I’d like to invite her and Megan over.” I fidgeted. “And then maybe you can help me explain to them everything that really happened the other night?” If anything could convince them that I wasn’t telling stories, it would be seeing Hans turn into a wolf.
Hans gave me a long, unreadable look. “Are you sure?” He finally asked.
I nodded. I couldn’t see them becoming donors, but… “They’re my friends,” I said. “And I can’t stop thinking they’re in danger if they don’t know what I am and what to look out for. Plus John said the best way to keep them safe from the fae is to tell them the truth about me. That way if they think something fishy is going on they can threaten to sic me on the perpetrators.” I scowled grumpily. “Because apparently I’m the supernatural equivalent of a nuclear deterrent.”
Hans grimaced unhappily, but he nodded. “Fair enough,” he said. “I’ll stand with you if that’s what you decide to do – but I suspect that’s another decision you shouldn’t make until you’re sated.”
Damn him and his conscientious responsibility. It was true that I wasn’t wholly myself right now: a big chunk of my usual anxiety was missing. But that just meant this was another decision that would be harder when I was sated. And not just harder to make! No, it would just be harder to carry through with.
I don’t know if the thought made me want to scowl or pout more, and I suspect I ended up doing something in between. “Fair enough,” I echoed Hans. And really, it was good that he was keeping an eye on my mental state and how that related to the decisions I made. Emma hadn’t, last night, and vamped-out me had taken brazen advantage of her. Not that I could bring myself to regret that, in retrospect, but I did not want vampire-Abby to be making any more of my major decisions.
On the other hand, Neurotically Paranoid Abby didn’t really have a great track record, either. But at least my neurotic and paranoid self was interested in protecting my friends – even though I was a lot less capable when my anxiety was running full bore. Hungry Vampire Abby, on the other hand, was clever, confident, aggressive, fearless, and pretty much only concerned with figuring out who she could get away with murdering.
“Hey,” Hans said – breaking me out of my reverie. He reached over and tapped my forehead. “What’s going on in there?”
I grimaced. “I was thinking that you’re right. If I always feel like I’m good to be making decisions, regardless of my state of hunger, then it makes sense to see how I’ll feel about those decisions when I’m in different states of hunger before I actually make them.” I managed something like a grin. “And I’m not really looking forward to being my usual, hyper-anxious self again. Or struggling to get things done once I am.”
Hans started to get that worried frown again. I held up a hand to stop him from going too far down that train of thought. I could guess what it was.
“I’m not going to make Mr. Salvatore’s mistake,” I said. “I’m not going to try and keep myself balanced between being alive and being dead just so I don’t have to deal with being either. I saw last night how quickly that balance can tip, and while I don’t regret how things turned out it could have gone badly.” I had wanted to hurt Emma before I’d gotten a taste of her. Talk about a precarious balance: that first bite may have made the difference between sexy fun times and bloody murder.
I shook my head. “No, that’s too narrow a line to try and balance. Especially since if I slip I’m going to fall on the side of monster. I mean, it’s not like I can go too long without feeding and accidentally end up less thirsty! And I don’t want to be a monster. I’ll take advantage of it when I’m feeling level-headed: to think and plan and at least talk about the stuff I’d be too chicken to talk about normally. But my goal is to keep as sated as I can without hurting anyone… no, my goal is to not hurt anyone. Period. And I can best do that by keeping my thirst firmly sated.”
Hans stepped forward and hugged me. I buried my face against his chest and breathed in deeply, taking in his warmth and scent through the thin cotton shirt. There was a selfish motive to my goal, too: Sure, when I was sated I would probably freak out a little if Hans held me, but I’d also be better able to appreciate the human contact and support he offered me.
The thought made me smile. I looked up at Hans and he smiled back. “So Hans,” I said, “With that in mind: may I finish breakfast?”
Hans barked out a short laugh. “Of course, Abigail. Of course.”
My smile grew wider; more heartfelt. The tease of a taste Hans had allowed me when he woke me up had not been enough. I squirmed around in his arms until my back was against his chest and I had my own arms free. Hans let me guide his wrist to my mouth while keeping his other arm around my waist.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in anticipation. Then I sank my fangs into Hans’ flesh.
For a moment I was swept away by the rush of blood and life and raw, animal exhilaration. The wolf in me growled and bit harder – but I was more myself than I was what I drank in from Hans. I suppressed the wolf firmly. I focused on my thoughts and my feelings, and forced my bite to relax. I started getting squicked out by the taste of blood pretty damn fast, this time. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to ignore that. I kept drinking until I’d had my fill – I didn’t stop until my fangs began to retreat on their own. Then I let go of Hans’ arm and gasped for breath.
Sure, I didn’t need to breathe, but I was close enough to being alive that my body insisted on gulping down air. Needing to breathe felt familiar, and that made it feel good.
And that lasted about two seconds before Hans ruined it.
“Abigail,” he said – reminding me that he was still there and still had one arm around my waist, trapping me. “About what you were talking about, earlier…”
Oh my god: did he want me to make that decision now? I flashed back on how brazenly I’d offered myself to him, and how I’d told him to ask my sated self for permission to take advantage of my hunger when he’d refused to then. My cheeks flushed crimson. Of course he wanted me to make that decision now. What red-blooded, Viking Adonis, werewolf sex-god wouldn’t want to settle the question of consent as soon as possible?
“Yes,” I squeaked in answer. It took all my guts to do it – which was saying something because they were twisting up in knots along with the rest of me.
Hans’ arm tightened around my waist. His other wrapped around my shoulders. He held me close and pressed his lips against the top of my head.
“You said you thought I’d only started dating you because I could tell how aroused you became when I was around,” Hans said. “And when I said I had other reasons, you responded that you probably wouldn’t believe me once you were sated again.”
I stirred – panic had me all set to break free of his grasp and lock myself in the bathroom until I was thirsty enough to take a ravishing properly. Confusion, on the other hand, was keeping me in place.
What the heck was he talking about? I’d said yes. Why wasn’t he throwing me against the couch and commencing with a two-person orgy?
And then I got it. Hans had misinterpreted my tentative squeak. He hadn’t heard it as the answer to his question, but as a question itself. He’d thought I was asking him to expand on what he’d been thinking about – and apparently he hadn’t been thinking about my indecently slutty proposition at all.
My mouth worked silently. No words came out. That was okay, though, because Hans kept talking.
“You piqued my interest the first time I met you, Abigail,” he said. “But it wasn’t because you thought I was attractive.”
Attractive?! What an understatement. Hans was gorgeous, and I knew he knew it.
“Not entirely, anyway,” Hans said. “It was the way you decided you weren’t going to let that attraction dictate how we interacted, and threw yourself entirely into defying it. Abigail, I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to reconcile the wolf’s demands with my ability to make rational decisions. So when I met you, I thought: Here’s a woman who feels her passions as instantly and strongly as that, but doesn’t let them rule her. And that’s what piqued my interest.”
“Oh,” I said. Hans sounded much more serious than I was used to hearing him. “I think you’re wrong about that,” I said. It sure felt like my “passions” – be they anxiety or actual passion – ran my life.
Hans shook his head. “I don’t. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it as often as you need to hear it: I find you impressive, Abigail. In the past two days I’ve seen you cope with having your reality turned inside out, seen you fight through your fear in order to protect your friend; seen you go through and come out from impossible situations and more life-changing events than anyone should have to deal with within a week. And it just reinforces the thought: You’re pretty amazing, Abigail. And I wanted to explain that when you were sated, and fully yourself, because who you are is the person I’m interested in being with. All of you; not just the hollowed out shell you turn into on your way to vamping out. Alright?”
I stood as still as I possibly could in Hans’ arms. He was throwing back at me what I’d said to Emma and I couldn’t argue with that. “Okay,” I said.
“Good,” Hans said. His voice grew softer. “You know, if things had gone differently… I think you could have made an amazing were someday. If you’d wanted to.”