I felt like Hans’ simple statement had knocked the wind out of me. He thought, from how I’d handled myself in the past couple days, I might’ve made it as a werewolf? I didn’t know how to respond to that, and I was almost afraid of what I’d blurt out if my verbal autopilot got engaged.
I mean: Hans’ pack had originally lived in this city. He was the last surviving member of it. Now that he’d returned, did he want to rebuild it? Did he really think I could have survived as a werewolf? That I would have maybe someday wanted to?
Did it matter? I was dead now. Even if Hans did decide to rebuild his pack, I would never really be in it.
Why did that make me want to cry?
I shoved those emotions aside. I didn’t want Hans to think he’d upset me. I knew he’d meant it as a compliment – not a terrifying reminder of the even more terrifying actuality of my existence as a vampire. “You should get going,” I said. “I shouldn’t make you late on your first day as boss.”
“Of course,” Hans agreed. He let go of me and double checked his pockets for his keys. “I’ll see you at lunch,” he said. “And I’ll bring that manuscript,” he added.
“Okay,” was all I could trust myself to reply with. “Thanks.”
Hans gave me his usual friendly, relaxed smile. He might be able to tell when I was turned on, but I guess his nose didn’t clue him in to every sort of inner turmoil I went through. He didn’t appear to know how much he’d just scrambled my emotions. His smile brought me a rush of guilty relief. I let my impulses take over for just a moment and turned around.
I bounced up on my toes and pulled myself up to plant a kiss on Hans’ mouth. “Be safe,” I commanded as when I settled back to my heels.
Hans’ grin grew. “I will,” he promised. Then he went to the stairs and up out of the basement. I followed him as far as the downstairs hallway, but didn’t go into the house’s front room. I didn’t want to catch any sun that might slip in when Hans slipped out. I did wave from the hallway door, though.
It made me feel kind of dorky.
Hans waved back from the front door. He opened it just enough to slip through and then closed it behind himself. I heard his key turn in the lock, and then Hans was gone. I was alone.
Alone. Really alone, for the first time since…
I twitched involuntarily at some noise from outside. Hans getting in his car, maybe? I twisted around to put my back to the hallway wall. The last time I’d been alone I actually hadn’t been. I’d been surrounded by fae – surrounded, and then terrorized when I called them on it.
They had threatened to torture me in more ways than I could remember. But their boss had wanted to cut out my eyelids so I could see it coming – whatever “it” they ended up deciding on happened to be. I remembered that. I’d named the sick bastard Mr. Eyelids.
Of course, then Mr. Tophat had cut Mr. Eyelids in half and tried to claim me for himself. But if Mr. Tophat had come back from being skewered on my kitchen counter then there wasn’t any reason to think that Mr. Eyelids couldn’t come back from being bisected, too.
“Melvin?” I squeaked. “Melvin, if you’re lurking around invisibly you’d better freaking show yourself, you hear me?”
There was no answer except my own pounding heartbeat. I shivered and tried to remember what Emma had said about the house’s wards. Why hadn’t I gone over them with her this morning? There’d been something about salt across the thresholds… but I couldn’t check for that. Exposing myself to the sun in order to check for salt on the windowsills or by the doors would be stupid. I didn’t have anyone I could drink from if I got sunburned.
I glanced frantically up and down the hallway. If there was a pissed off faerie around, I was fucked. Hell, if someone – anyone – wanted to kill a monster, all they had to do was torch the house.
I started breathing erratically.
I was panicking and I knew it. I also knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it: I didn’t dare waste my energy when there was no one around to replace it. I didn’t want to think about what I’d do if Hans came home and I was in psycho-murderous vampire mode.
Naturally, that meant the ideas refused to stay un-thought. My stomach roiled violently. The knowledge that if I threw up it would come up blood just heightened my nausea. I gagged, but choked it back. My vampirism responded to my panic by heightening my senses. I was slammed with all the noises from outside as my undead instincts tried to identify which ones were important; which one I was panicking because of.
I wasn’t focused in on anyone’s breathing or footsteps or heartbeat. Since there wasn’t any reason for my panic that my senses could lock in on, they gave me everything: distant cars, wind, insects, stray cats, electrical hum… An ever expanding awareness as my vampire senses reached out to find the threat my paranoia knew was there, and track it.
I sank to my heels and squeezed my eyes shut. That did nothing to blot out the noise. Neither did covering my ears. My eyes started to water.
Oh god: If Mr. Eyelids was out there he would be delighted. Tears would just provide salt for the wounds after he sliced my eyes permanently open.
I need to stop panicking. I needed to stop thinking about being helpless and hunted. I needed a distraction.
No, I needed Megan. But I couldn’t call her. Despite all my resolutions, I couldn’t force myself to face her, not even over the phone.
I shakily dialed Fumiko instead. Then I hung up when it went to voice mail. With no other recourse, I scrabbled across the hall and into the bathroom on my hands and knees. I twisted around to pull the door shut behind me. Then I locked it.
We needed more locks. We needed so many more locks.
The cacophony of noise my ears were throwing at me had grown to an excruciating din, pushing out almost everything else. Almost everything, because scent and taste and even touch had become wildly amplified, too. I wasn’t panicking about being alone, or about Mr. Eyelids, or anything else anymore: I was barely capable of thinking and most of what I could focus on revolved around getting away from the source of all this over-stimulation.
Of course, that would require getting away from my own head.
I stumbled forward on auto pilot and just barely managed to get the toilet seat up before I hurled.
Blood overwhelmed everything else my senses of smell and taste were trying to tell me. For a second I panicked that I was going to turn psychotic. I gagged, choked, and dry heaved again. The panic didn’t go away – and that actually brought a surge of relief. Vampire Abby didn’t panic. Living Abby did.
The taste and the scent assaulting me were unbelievably foul. I mean… they were blood. The same taste and scent I’d relished last night and lapped up from Hans this morning. But that had been living blood. The vampire part of me had craved it; filled me with longing for it and delighted in consuming it.
But vampires don’t really hunger for blood. They hunger for life. Blood was just the medium of transfer, and this was blood I had already consumed. There was no life to be had from it. It revolted my vampire and human senses both.
I gagged again, but my stomach was empty. I staggered upright, slammed down the toilet seat and tried to flush the stench away. Then I collapsed, sitting on my butt and leaning against the shower stall. I took deep breaths while my heartbeat slowed to something resembling normal.
For the moment I didn’t even care that I was sitting on a bathroom floor. I was just glad that my hearing and everything else had faded to normal with my heartbeat. Relief eclipsed squick.
Then my sense of relief started to fade. I scrabbled to my feet and almost gagged again. I mean: bathroom floors are, by definition, gross. And I had crawled into this one on my hands and knees! I stumbled to the sink, washed my hands, then washed out my mouth. When I was done, one of Mr. Salvatore’s white washcloths was stained a rusty pink.
What kind of dumbass vampire has white linens, anyway?
I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked like a mess. My hair was out of control, like always. My face was drawn and pale. I looked scared.
Forget Mr. Salvatore’s impractical taste in washcloths. What kind of pansy vampire has panic attacks over being alone? Alone, but maybe not really alone. Maybe being watched by monsters who would happily cut her eyelids out and torture her to death – over and over and over again, since she couldn’t really die.
I squashed those thoughts hard.
“I am not afraid,” I told the mirror. “I won’t be. I won’t!” It was bullshit, of course, but I chose to ignore that. “I’m a vampire,” I snapped at my reflection. “I’m a goddamn soulless denizen of the night. I’m not helpless. I’m a nuclear response.” I didn’t believe it. I was more likely to have a nuclear meltdown.
“I am not going to have paranoid flashbacks to things that happened when I was alive,” I insisted to myself. More bullshit. I didn’t know if that had been just my usual paranoia and anxiety, or the result of some weird buildup of stress over all the time I’d spent emotionally semi-dead, or some fucked up brand of PTSD – but I was still shaking. My hands clutched the edge of the sink so hard my knuckles were white.
I made myself let go. My hands curled up again almost immediately, despite myself. My nails dug into my palms before I could force them to relax.
“No,” I told myself. The marks in my palms vanished – healed by vampire magic. “You can literally eat fae for breakfast,” I said to the mirror. “You are not going to be all masochistic and turn yourself into a threat to others. So get your shit together, Abby.”
I took a deep breath. If only it were really that easy. I looked at the bathroom door. Still locked. I couldn’t bring myself to open it. Hell, it wasn’t like I had anything to do out there. As long as I was just going to sit around doing nothing I was just as well off here as I was anywhere else.
At least here there was only one way in. I sat down on the toilet lid and stared at the door.
I thought, not for the first time, that something was seriously fucking wrong with me. I mean, what kind of person winds up locking herself in the bathroom and waiting desperately for her boyfriend to come home, just because she’s too scared to face being alone in a big creepy house without having a panic attack?
Unfortunately, while acknowledging I had problems was all well and good I still couldn’t think of anything to do about them.
I tried to focus on the here and now instead. I took deep, slow breaths and tried to relax. It didn’t really do anything to my state of mind, but at least the tension knotting my back wasn’t getting worse.
Of course, then I nearly screamed when my phone went off. I was pretty proud of myself for pulling it out and flipping it open instead. I was terrified it was going to be my mom, or Hans calling to let me know he’d changed his mind about us and wanted me out of his house. Or Emma calling to cancel our date because she’d recovered enough to realize that being my emergency meal plan would not be conducive to a healthy relationship – or her health at all, really.
It turned out to be Fumiko, instead.