The two phonecalls I made were anticlimactic: Neither Megan nor Fumiko answered. I wasn’t terribly surprised in either case. I could only imagine what Megan was going through, and Fumiko wasn’t the sort to answer her phone while driving. I left messages with both.
“Megan, I’m sorry,” I said to Megan’s inbox. “I was cruel. You… when I lost my store of life force, the vampire’s instincts took over. I would never have said those things to you like that if I were myself! But… some of it was true. And I know you don’t know what’s going on, and you probably don’t feel like you can trust me. But… just… be careful, Megan. And be careful of Katherine. I know she’s your friend and I can’t tell you not to trust her, but I think she’s known about you a lot longer than I have. She has friends that are fae, and the local fae are dangerous and… and just mean. So: be careful, okay? Magical beings can be a lot more scary now that you know they’re real. Stay around people who don’t believe in magic. The fae don’t like that. Disbelief can keep them away. But if anything does try to give you shit, threaten them with me. Vampires are scarier.” I groaned to myself. “But you know that. Have I mentioned I’m sorry? Call me. Please.”
By the time I was done stumbling through my message to Megan, Hans had finished with the curtain. He gave my shoulder a comforting squeeze on his way to the hallway. I bit my lip and tried to look appropriately thankful, but inside I was a mess. I knew Megan was my friend, and most of what I’d done so far was with that in mind. But also in mind was the question: how much worse had my life been because of her encouraging and feeding on my anxieties? I’d known she and I wouldn’t have the friendship we used to — not once I told her that I knew she had a crush on me, and told her that I was undead — but now I had to face the fact that it would be different in entirely new ways.
For the first time since I’d really gotten to know her, I wasn’t even sure if it would survive at all.
I reached up and gave Hans’ hand a return squeeze, and tried to overlook his concerned expression. Of course he’d overheard: he’d been in the room and had supernaturally acute senses. I let go of Hans’ hand and pulled up Fumiko’s number. He let go of my shoulder and continued on his way upstairs.
The message I left for Fumiko was much more terse. “Things went crazy after you left. Megan ran off; I can’t get a hold of her. Call me.” Odds were decent that Fumiko was on her way back and wouldn’t get that message until she was here, but I was fine with that. I didn’t care if we talked on the phone or in person: I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t burned all my bridges with my only long term friends.
And I wanted to get clean.
I closed the phone and went upstairs. I peeled my clothes off as I went. They insisted on clinging to my skin in a truly disgusting fashion. When I got to the bathroom Hans had candles lit and was filling the tub. I was also down to my panties and feeling nauseous. I put my phone on the edge of the sink and dumped my clothes next to the hamper. Belatedly I realized that this was the most naked I’d been around Hans — and I was a disgusting mess.
To hell with it, I thought. I can freak out about it when I’m fully sated. I stripped out of my panties and added them to the pile. None of it would be salvageable — some of it had torn when I took it off, refusing to be removed except in strips. That was depressing. I really didn’t have enough outfits to be able to afford constantly throwing them out. I was starting to suspect that something like this was the real reason Hans always wore plain jeans and generic white tee shirts: he could buy them in bulk.
“That’s enough,” I told Hans as I approached him. “I won’t have time for a soak. I’ll just make do with a scrub for now.”
Hans twisted the water off and looked at me. I saw a glint of something in his eye, and couldn’t tell if it was protectiveness or possessiveness or maybe a bit of both.
I looked away. I didn’t just feel disgusting physically. I felt dirty for all the things I was holding back from telling him. I desperately hoped I’d be able to really explain what had happened once Fumiko was here.
“Thank you,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Hans reach for me. He stopped when I stiffened and shook my head. “I’m gross,” I said to explain. And shy and naked and scared and a neurotic freak. Hans picked up one of the washcloths he’d stacked on the edge of the tub and handed it to me instead. I accepted it with a smile that wasn’t even entirely forced. “Thank you,” I said again.
“Is there anything else I can do?” Hans asked. His accent was thick with contrition even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. It actually made me feel guilty for making him feel that way.
Fortunately, Melvin’s blood had not been enough. My emotions were coming in bursts when they were triggered, but then fading rapidly if nothing was happening to sustain them. I had already relaxed again, and didn’t think I was in any danger of freaking out. I stepped into the tub and sat down on the edge with my feet in the water. “Help me with my back?” I offered. That would probably hit my big and male and too close and behind me triggers, but as long as I was braced for it I figured I would be able to manage. I swished the washcloth Hans had given me through the soapy water, rung it out, and started scrubbing an arm.
Hans took another cloth, wet it in the tub, rung it out, and started helping.
Washing with someone else was a new experience. I didn’t know if Hans was being extra gentle because he was beating himself up for not being there when I was attacked or if this was just how he always was, but I liked it. A little. My nerves jangled at first, but to my surprise I managed to suppress that entirely after a few minutes. I started to suspect that once I fed and could feel my emotions full force once more I would look back on this and discover I liked it a lot.
Once I got over the prerequisite embarrassment, that is.
I made a mental note to try to return the favor the next time Hans took a shower. The thought made me bite my lip and start to blush. I was glad I was largely able to face away from Hans — since my small store of emotional potential had been denied ‘panic’ as an outlet, it had thrown itself into indecent imaginings with a little more gusto than was strictly necessary.
We didn’t talk much while I was washing. After I’d shampooed my hair I did ask Hans to help rinse it. He used the wash basin he’d brought to Emma last night and fresh water from the faucet. Then, once we’d drained the tub and I’d stepped out and we’d toweled me dry (and my: how my then fully-engaged libido had loved that!) I heard Fumiko downstairs. She called out my name, then Megan’s and even Katherine’s.
I went to the bathroom door and shouted: “Just a minute!” down the hall. Then I turned to Hans. “Can you invite her downstairs? I don’t want to be in a room with windows right now.”
Hans nodded in understanding and agreement. He started toward the hallway stairs, but I caught his wrist as he stepped past me.
“To take the edge off,” I explained when Hans glanced back at me. I raised his wrist to my lips; Hans let me. I bit and blood welled up across my lips.
Wolfy aggression surged through me. The last time I’d tasted Hans’ blood I’d had to cope with raw, animal lust. This time, it seemed, his wolf was spoiling for a fight.
It was a sentiment I understood. I was clearly Hans’ pack mate, and I’d been hurt. An attack on me was an attack on the pack. An attack was a challenge, and a challenge had to be answered. Hans’ wolf wanted blood — and not the way I did.
I took only two swallows before I forced myself to open my jaw wide enough for my fangs to slide free of Hans’ flesh. I licked what blood remained on his skin until the punctures healed. Then I straightened and licked my lips, relishing the coppery taste that clung to them and the wild emotions that accompanied it.
I wanted to kill someone. Katherine was a likely candidate, but I fixated on Melvin instead. After all: Katherine was an enemy and you had to expect an enemy to turn on you. But Melvin… well, Melvin wasn’t a friend, exactly, but he had used me. He’d tried to claim me. Me! Who did he think he was? If he thought he could just yank me to heel like some cur then he had another thing coming. I wasn’t some puppy who was too inexperienced to make her own choices. And the choice he’d tried to force me to make: What an insult! Megan was my best friend. My pack mate. Of course I would protect her, and it wasn’t Melvin’s place to force me to. I was the fucking Alpha, and if Melvin wanted to challenge me on that then I was going to send him back to faerie land in bloody fucking pieces. I wasn’t his.
Abruptly, I felt something snap inside me. It was an emotion; a feeling — but it flayed me with nearly physical force when it went. I stumbled backward in surprise and sagged against the wall for support. My emotions jumbled together in a swirl of confusion — but it was my emotions that surfaced a second later. Hans’ had been subsumed. I felt another emotional snap, and my head throbbed like someone had just re-set a dislocated joint in my brain.
I blinked a few times to clear the fuzziness and pain and try to sort out what had happened. I nodded absently when Hans asked if I was okay — I was too busy replaying the last couple of moments to really pay him attention.
Then it clicked. For just a moment there I had denied Melvin’s ownership of me. Or rather, Hans’ wolf had. Had that first snap been the geas being shaken off? And then the second: had that been because it rebounded back into place after I fully subsumed the wolf that had been displacing it? I smiled shakily at Hans while I digested that possibility.
“I’m fine,” I told Hans. “Please ask Fumiko to join us downstairs,” I reminded him to divert his attention. “I’m going to get dressed, and then I’ll be right down.” Actually, freakish headache aside, I was better than fine: Melvin’s geas had a vulnerability. There had to be a way for me to leverage that; maybe to free myself from the fae’s influence.
Hans nodded, but I could tell he wanted more of an explanation. Well, that was fair. He deserved one, and I wanted to give it to him. I watched him go.
Once Hans turned down the stairs, I hurried into the guest room. Most of my clothes were still downstairs, but Emma’s overnight bag was at the foot of the bed. I hastily looted it for a blouse, slacks that were too long, and a belt.
Maybe I had Hans’ blood to blame, but I was starting to feel a little nervous. I really hoped my talk with Fumiko and Hans went better than the one with Megan and Katherine. I rolled up the cuffs of Emma’s slacks. Unfortunately, there was only one way to find out. And I wasn’t going to put it off anymore.
Barefoot, I padded down to the basement. I had some serious explaining to do.