Megan kept staring at me with that hurt expression, like she didn’t know what was going on. It would have been heart-wrenching if I’d had a beating heart to wrench.
I laughed at her as the pieces clicked together in my head. I’d thought someone with my anxiety levels had to be irresistible to the fae. I’d been right. When I’d accused Melvin of feeding off me he’d said he didn’t poach. I’d thought he was lying, but now I got it: he didn’t poach from Megan. John had said that the fae wouldn’t jump a vampire just to claim some mortal — but I was willing to bet they’d be willing to ambush that vampire if he was on the trail of a changeling. After all, without her they’d be stuck as shadows of themselves: unable to really impact the world and vulnerable to something as simple as ignorant disbelief.
“Abby, what’s going on?” Megan asked. “I don’t understand!”
I regarded her for a moment. Was it possible that she didn’t know what she was? It was, I realized. Changelings were switched at birth so they could grow up believing they were human; that they belonged to this world.
For all these years, had Megan honestly thought she was helping me? Giving me encouragement and comfort? Or had she been deliberately pushing me into situations that would make me freak out, just so she could lap up the aftermath?
I was going to fucking kill her.
“Abby?” Megan asked pleadingly.
“Abby?” I mocked back in a high falsetto. “You don’t even know what you’ve been doing, do you?” I spat the accusation at her. “What a joke! And Melvin called me poisonous.” I scowled. I was going to kill her.
Why hadn’t I killed her already?
“I don’t understand,” Megan cried in distress. Tears were leaking from her eyes and her voice broke on a sob.
“I’m going to kill you,” I explained.
I wasn’t actually entirely sure I was going to, for some reason, but my proclamation still made Megan’s eyes widen. I could literally feel her fear. It made me feel warm… no, hot, in an entirely living, wholly predatorial way. I smiled at her. It was the kind of smile that says: “Hello. I’m going to eat you alive.”
Then fucking Katherine ruined our moment.
“You don’t have to do this,” Katherine said.
I shifted my gaze to her. She stood straight and glared at me with all the authority she’d ever used to intimidate me — but as long as she stood in the sunlight I knew she was cowering on the inside. I laughed at her. “No? Are you offering yourself in her place?” Katherine didn’t move or speak, and I scoffed. “I thought not –and I wouldn’t want you, ‘Katie.’ I’ve tasted witch, and as delightful as she was the aftertaste was hideous.” I shifted my smile back to Megan. “Megan, though… she, I very much want,” I growled.
Megan’s breaths came in shallow gasps through parted lips. It was so strange to see her panicking. She’d forgotten about her meditation breathing. That, I realized, was why I found it so strange. She hadn’t been too scared to remember it when she’d faced down Mr. Salvatore.
“What-what’s going on?” Megan begged me.
I took a step toward her. “You’re a changeling,” I said. I still hadn’t killed her. I wanted to. I was ravenous. But something kept holding me back. Had I managed to shove her away before she’d fully drained me, after all? But I didn’t feel anything remotely as ridiculous as friendship toward her; and I knew how good her blood would taste: better than Emma’s, better than Hans’; better than anything.
I decided to explain while I made up my mind for real: kill her, or just maim her so I could enjoy her for longer? As far as I was aware, the fae were immortal. So was I. Hans and Emma would eventually shrivel up and die, but Megan I could enjoy forever, if I was careful.
“You are fae,” I said. “You were switched at birth with a human child so that you would be raised as a part of this world; to serve as an anchor for others of your kind. Other fae can be banished by disbelief — but not you. No, when someone doesn’t believe in magic around you, you just pretend to be human.” I kept smiling and took another step closer.
Megan propped herself up and started to scrabble back.
“Don’t run,” I told her darkly. My eyes narrowed. The urge to tear her apart spiked when she moved. “When prey runs…”
Megan froze. “…a predator will give chase,” she whispered back. My grin widened. How many times had she heard me make that same claim when I was on the verge of a panic attack? That’s what I liked about Megan, aside from her blood: she just got me so well.
Behind Megan, Katherine moaned “oh god, oh god,” over and over again in a panicked mantra. I ignored her.
“So, Megan,” I asked, “have you ever wondered why you were friends with a freak like me? Why you put up with my spastic imagination and incessant breakdowns? Why an intelligent, charming, beautiful person like you would deign to be best friends with a freak like me?”
Megan didn’t answer.
“No?” I asked her. “Really? Why, I used to ask myself that all the time. And do you want to know the answer I’ve come up with?”
Megan’s arms trembled from supporting her. She shook her head silently.
I took another step forward. “Too bad,” I said. “It’s too important to the answer to your question. See, the fae feed on life. So do vampires, actually. But while we use blood as the catalyst for consuming it, you fae don’t need a physical medium like that. They can just grab onto someone’s fear and siphon it away for their own sustenance.”
Megan blinked away tears and stared up at me with wide, terrified eyes.
“That’s why you were my best friend,” I concluded. “I was your meal ticket. The most bountiful buffet a faerie could ask for. You pushed me to do things that you knew would make me panic, just so you could nibble at my soul afterward. Have you ever noticed how the longer we’ve been together, the less often you’ve had blood sugar issues? That’s because sugar can help with a bad reaction to someone else’s emotional issues. I don’t know why. It’s some stupid ‘magic’ thing. But how much do you want to bet that your hypoglycemia was just some ignorant doctor’s attempt to diagnose a magical ailment?” I laughed at her. “You must have been so happy to meet me. I never seemed to give you spiritual indigestion.”
Megan shook her head violently. “No!” She denied it. “No, I would never…”
“You did,” I snapped. “That’s what our relationship was, not friendship. And do you know how I know? I know because I haven’t seen you in two days — two days in which you’ve been ‘popping glucose tablets like candy’ and going to pieces. Can you say ‘withdrawals,’ Megan? But if you need even more proof than that: Ten minutes ago I was sated and alive and my usual terrified self. But then you ‘comforted’ me, and now I’m dead starving.” I opened my smile, showing my fangs, and ran my tongue between my teeth. I let it linger on a fang while I watched the blood drain from Megan’s face and the vein throb in her neck.
Kill her, I decided.
Alright: I was just going to drink my fill, and if she happened to survive: huzzah! Who didn’t like leftovers?
Megan shook her head, oblivious to my internal debate. “No,” she protested again. “No, you can’t believe that. I… Abby, I love you.”
I took one more step, and then I knelt down so that I was in her space; in her face. Her heartbeat hammered in my ears, and my sense of her fear sharpened to something that had to be supernatural. I didn’t understand it, any more than I understood why Megan was freaking out instead of keeping her usual cool. It was like she was channeling my anxiety, instead of doing whatever it was fae did when they digested mortal emotions. And her fear… that was like we were connected, except I hadn’t even bitten her yet.
And just like that, the realization hit.
I hadn’t needed an invitation to enter Megan’s home.
Her blood tasted better than Hans’.
My instincts were preventing me from killing her, rather than encouraging it.
We were connected.
John had said that I would always be connected to the person who’d provided my first blood. That I’d never need an invitation into their home. That a part of their soul would form the kernel of mine. That my curse would adapt to their level of magic, and that I would always take more than I wanted to from anyone with less potent magic.
He’d implied that it was really impressive that I’d had Hans for my first blood; that there wasn’t a more potent source available. But that wasn’t true. A lycanthrope wasn’t more magical than a fae. A werewolf was still a human being that had been twisted by magic. But a fae was magic.
John hadn’t been able to give me many details, not being a vampire himself, but he’d given me enough to see what was happening now. I had slaked myself on Hans, true, but his hadn’t really been the first blood I’d tasted. That was why even with the amount of magic that wound through him from his curse, I still ended up digging into his emotions when I fed on him.
Megan and I were connected. We had been ever since I’d licked her cheek; ever since she’d provided me my first taste of blood. How could I have missed it? The only explanation I had was that I had been avoiding her too thoroughly. But now that she was here, before me: The feeling I had wasn’t like when I fed on someone, it was exactly the same, only it had grown more intense as I’d gotten closer to her rather than as I drained her blood because it was a permanent connection, regardless of the act of feeding.
Megan squeezed her eyes shut. Then she twisted her face away, stretching out her neck. “Take it,” she said.
“No!” Katherine gasped.
I blinked in surprise myself — not because the offer was unexpected, but because I’d seen it coming. I was in Megan’s head.
“Please,” Megan said. “You need blood, right? You were Abby when we got here. And you’ll be Abby again if you drink, so take it.”
I didn’t need to be told twice — because I’d already come up with a better idea. I didn’t want to hurt Megan. When a vampire thirsted, their curse cared only about survival. But Megan’s soul formed the kernel that the curse had first latched on to. On an instinctual level, I was treating her survival as though it were as important as my own, because on that level my vampire instincts couldn’t differentiate between us.
I chuckled. It made sense from an evolutionary standpoint: Bonding with their first blood like this would insure that vampires would have a donor that they wouldn’t be inclined to gorge upon and kill while they were still adapting to the curse. The thing was: even if my instincts were telling me I didn’t want to kill her, I was still pissed. I wanted to kill someone.
I leaned closer, following those instincts. I turned Megan’s face toward mine and caught her gaze. The anxiety she was feeling? The raw panic? That was mine. I focused on it. On what I wanted her to feel, instead.
How much I hated Katherine. How I despised her.
How I wanted Megan to grab her and drag her out of the sunlight, so I could finally kill someone I wouldn’t feel bad about later.
Megan started to shake as she stared back at me. “Oh god,” she whispered. “Oh god, what… no, I don’t want to…”
I frowned. The connection didn’t seem to be strong enough for me to influence Megan like that, though it seemed clear enough that Megan was at least aware of what I was trying to do. Perhaps the problem was that at the moment her soul was equal parts her own and that which she had stolen from me, so I was only able to control half of it. My lips turned in a smile.
I’d take a taste of Megan’s blood, after all. Just enough so that my life force would dominate what was left of hers. Then she would do as I wished and haul Katherine out of the sun – or I’d be strong enough to survive the sunlight long enough to do it myself. In either case, Katherine was a problem I was done with. Even if I didn’t want the vile witch’s blood, I could still snap her scrawny neck.
I turned Megan’s head, pointing her face away and stretching her neck out again. Then I opened my jaws to bite — only to recoil and scream when sunlight suddenly slashed over me.
When I screamed, Megan did too. I instinctively shoved her away; out of danger — and never mind that sunlight was only dangerous to me. I hurt too much to rise to my feet, but I managed to twist around before my legs gave out completely and I hit the floor.
The fucking windows! Katherine had pulled the same stunt I’d done on Mr. Salvatore, I realized through the agony. She’d torn down the fucking curtain — except she hadn’t.
Katherine wasn’t by the window. She was still by the door.
The sun burned through whatever scraps of life I’d been soaking in from Megan. I screamed inarticulately: railing at my own stupidity. If I hadn’t pushed Megan away — if I’d sunk my fangs into her instead — I would have been fine. I was a young vampire. One for whom the sun was merely uncomfortable, if I’d recently fed.
Now, though, as empty as I was from Megan’s ‘comfort,’ the sun was a hellish agony. My skin started to crack and blister, faster than Mr. Salvatore’s had when I’d let the sun burn him. I couldn’t control my limbs because of the pain making them jerk and spasm. My supernatural senses snapped up to the highest intensity I’d ever experienced.
Katherine stood by the door. In my hyper-awareness, I could see individual grains of salt scattered across the floorboards. She’d kicked apart the line of salt that Emma had poured along the threshold last night.
There was a fae in the house. A fae had torn down the curtain.
Katherine had let that fae in: she’d known it was there.
Katherine was working with the fae.
The fraction of my mind that was still active was in absolute denial of the agony coursing over the rest of me. It wrestled with the implications of that train of thought. When Mr. Salvatore had been high on my paranoia he’d said he knew the fae were spying on him. That he suspected they’d tried to position their agent close to him. He’d accused me, because my aura was damaged — like the aura of someone whom the fae fed on. I’d assumed that it was just the paranoia, because I’d known I wasn’t a fae spy.
But who could be closer to him than his emergency donor, the person who was always at his side?
I’d thought Katherine was in love with Megan. But no: she’d been protecting Megan from Mr. Salvatore because Megan was a fae, and Katherine was a treacherous bitch.
My skin began to blister even under my clothes — stains blossomed on my shirt and jeans where the weight of the fabric made the blisters burst.
Katherine ran to Megan, grabbed her; dragged her into the patch of sunlight thrown by the doorway. Megan screamed and struggled to reach me, but Katherine shouted over her.
“She’s not your friend! She’s a monster! She was just pretending to be a person, and she was going to kill you!”
My writhing finally stopped. I slumped on the floor in relief: I wasn’t in pain anymore. All of my exposed skin was finally gone.
Megan sagged in Katherine’s grip, sobbing. From her point of view it probably looked like I was dead. I could only see out of one eye — the eye that pressed against the floor. The other, the one that had been in direct sunlight, was gone. Katherine dragged Megan’s limp form away.
With a herculean effort of will, I raised my hand toward Megan. I managed to open my mouth to call for her, but I couldn’t make sound. I don’t think Megan saw my movement before the door slammed shut.
Then a staff — no, a curtain rod — crushed my hand into the floor. Katherine and Megan had left, but Katherine’s fae had not.
The curtain rod rose again, and its unseen wielder smashed it down into my side — then yanked back so that I rolled over. The sun scorched my newly exposed skin, and for a second all I could feel was the renewed pain and all I could see was the blurred silhouette of a figure hulking over me.
Then the fae reached out. He interposed his hand between the sun and my one good eye, providing a fragile relief from the agony and blinding light.
I blinked to clear my eye. I was too hungry to cry: The fluid that clouded my vision oozed from cracked skin on my face and burst blisters on my…
The fae abruptly came into focus. He was a massive, hulking troll with a cruel, jagged grin.
I knew him.
“There,” Mr. Eyelids cooed. “Isn’t it so much better now that you can see what’s coming?”