When I entered the basement Hans and Fumiko were waiting on me. Hans was leaning back with his elbows on the bar — from there he could watch both the door and Fumiko, but do so while giving Fumiko her space and not doing anything intimidating — like, say, being behind her or between her and the exit. I gave him mental points for a good call.
For her part, Fumiko was pretending to browse Mr. Salvatore’s DVD racks — but I could tell her heart rate was slightly elevated and her muscle carried a little more tension than normal. I couldn’t think of her as being skittish — that just didn’t fit Fumiko, ever — but she was probably ready to break someone and bolt, if she felt like she had to.
Fumiko must have been watching the door out of the corner of her eye, because she turned to face me as soon as I came in — and I hadn’t been making enough noise for her to have heard me. “So,” she said. She held up her phone as though to remind me of the message I’d left, then slipped it into her pocket. “Define ‘crazy.’ Because as far as I can tell, with you that can be anything from hocus like ‘I think I’m a vampire’ to terrifyingly real ‘our boss is a psycho kidnapper who just burned down my apartment.'” Fumiko crossed her arms and looked at me expectantly.
I sighed. Apparently while she’d been out Fumiko had managed to talk herself out of whatever suspension of disbelief she’d been feeling before she left.
I looked at Hans, then back at Fumiko, and then stepped the rest of the way into the room. “I’m not telling you hocus-pocus mumbo jumbo,” I told her. “I am a vampire. Do you need to see the fangs again?”
Fumiko scowled at me. “Look, tension was high and I’ll admit I bought into it a little before, but I’m not stupid. I cosplay, Abby. It’s going to take more than some dental prosthetics to prove something like that… and I don’t even care!” She threw up her arms in frustration. “Look, Megan isn’t here, and she isn’t answering her phone, and I don’t really want to waste time with your weird games and this undead nonsense while Mr. Salvatore is still out there somewhere, okay? So: What happened after I left and where did Megan go?”
I took in a deep breath through my nose. I was used to people doubting me: I liked to make up outrageous stories, after all. And having people doubt me when they were just stories didn’t cause any hard feelings: it always just made me try to prove my point harder. The whole point was to use nonsense as a distraction from my very real behind-the-scenes freak outs. But having people doubt me when it was important and I was telling the truth… that was really, really annoying.
I blew out the breath through my mouth. “If you want to know what happened with Megan and Katherine and everything, you’re going to have to start by believing me about the vampire thing or none of the rest of it will make sense.” I froze time before Fumiko could respond. I figured: I’d just taken a sip from Hans and he was right there if I needed more. For once I could afford to be a little casual with my powers, especially since showing them off might convince Fumiko to take me seriously.
I crossed the room until I was standing in front of Fumiko. It got harder and harder to move as I got closer to her — just like it had in the hospital, when I’d done this for the first time and tried to approach Hans and Emma. I got close enough, though. When I was just a couple steps away, I let time start back up again.
“Fumiko, I’m a vampire,” I said. Her eyes shot wide, but I froze time again before she could react — just in case her reaction would be to punch me in the face or something. I skipped back a few steps and sat down on the end of the couch that Fumiko was facing, well out of arm’s reach. Then I let time spin back up to normal speed. I cleared my throat and Fumiko’s eyes snapped to my new location. “And if you think that’s crazy…” I looked over the back of the couch at Hans. “Hans?” He raised an eyebrow. “Wolf, please.”
Hans turned around and started to pull off his shirt. I turned back to Fumiko, who looked at Hans, then at me — then did a double take back to Hans. Her cheeks heated slightly.
I know how you feel, I thought in sympathy. That blush had probably been for the jeans coming off. I didn’t look back at Hans, though. I knew what was going to happen and I was determined to make sure Fumiko saw it, too.
Fumiko cleared her throat awkwardly. “Abby,” she started to say — and then her jaw dropped for a second as the cascading cracks of splintering bone and ripping tears of torn flesh announced Hans’ transformation. Fumiko’s heart raced. She fell back a half step, slipping into a stance like she thought she was going to have to fight. Her hands started to come up in front of her.
“Hans is a werewolf,” I announced, bringing Fumiko’s attention back to me. She glanced at me, then back at him — then back at me again, and took another step back. Clearly, she was giving more weight to my claim that I was a vampire, given these new developments. “I know,” I said. “It’s pretty freaky. I’m sorry, but I’ve never really had to do the ‘magic is real’ speech before, but it’s really important that you believe me about that because pretty much everything that has happened in the last few days has something to do with it. Also: don’t worry about Hans. He looks scary, sure, but he’s still a big sweetheart inside.”
Hans made a howl-bark of agreement and came over to the couch. Then he hopped up beside me, turned a circle, and settled down with his head on his paws — doing his best to look as demure and harmless as a werewolf can. I started scratching between his ears.
Fumiko stared. “That. Is. Unbelievable.” She said.
I snorted. “I know, right? I only found out… jeez, it was just the day before New Year’s Eve. I didn’t believe it until I’d poked Hans-the-wolf on his furry head,” I added with a laugh. “But there wasn’t much point in denying it after that. Oh, hey: Want to touch? He is super soft.”
Hans twisted his head around to give me a reproachful look. “What?” I said. “You are.” He rolled his eyes and settled his head back down. I grinned at him, and was still grinning when I looked back up at Fumiko. She took a cautious step forward.
“So, is he…” Fumiko hesitated, looking for the right words. “Still him? Inside, I mean. He’s not, like, mentally an animal now, is he?”
I shook my head. “The way he explained it, there’s a little bit of change over in terms of instincts — but he has the same mind, memories, intellect, and all that jazz regardless of his form. So yeah, this is Hans. He only goes out of control around the full moon.”
Fumiko took another slow step forward, then paused again. “And you’re…”
“A vampire,” I finished for her. “Yeah. As of a few nights ago. Don’t worry, though: I’m only out of control when I’m hungry.” I tried to smile, but Fumiko didn’t look reassured. After a second, I realized why. “And I’m not hungry now,” I hastily assured her. “So I’m the me you’re used to right now. Just with a few extra caveats.”
Fumiko frowned thoughtfully. “Okay,” she said. She took another step forward and reached out for Hans. He sat patiently and let her. While I had poked him nervously and then jumped away when I’d done this test, Fumiko placed a finger firmly on the bridge of his muzzle, then ran it up between his eyes, over the top of his head and part way down his spine before pulling her hand away. Then she looked at me and stepped back. “Right,” she said. “I’m convinced.”
I blew out a sigh of relief. “Good. Then I can get on to your actual questions.” I hesitated and stopped scritching Hans between the ears — I’d started without even thinking about it, when Fumiko had backed off. “Um, Hans, you should probably turn back into a man for this part. So, you know, you can actually talk.” Hans gave a snort and a lazy yawn before picking himself up and hopping off the couch. I looked back at Fumiko while Hans padded away; she watched him go with absent-minded fascination. “This part is just as freaky,” I told her.
“Oh?” Fumiko answered without looking away. I heard the popping, tearing, crackling mutilation of Hans’ wolf form as he shifted back into a man and cringed a little. Fumiko’s only reaction was a slight widening of the eyes. “So, does that hurt?” she called out to Hans.
I heard Hans chuckle behind me. “Quite a bit,” he said jovially. “But I’ve had plenty of time to acclimate myself to that particular pain. I think it’s harder for the people who try to resist it, or who live in dread of it. But it’s part of who I am, so I choose to live with it. I shift frequently, even when I don’t have a demonstration to give, and as such I’ve gotten adept at shifting quickly. And really, once the transformation ends, the pain does too. When I was first cursed, I didn’t really understand that — but what lingered after a shift was always more in my head than anything else. A combination of remembering the pain I was in, and phantom pain for a body I no longer had.”
Fumiko tilted her head slightly. “Huh,” was all she said.
I stood up, then, and paced away from the couch so I could turn and face both Hans and Fumiko. Hans was only half dressed, but he paused in pulling on his shirt to pay attention to me. “Alright, then,” I said. “Now that you’re both capable of contributing… I have a lot of stuff to say. So you two should probably sit down. And, um.” I bit my lip, took a deeper breath, and forced myself forward. “And, um, you should probably not contribute until after I’ve wound down, because I’ve got a lot to say and a lot of it is strange and I want to make sure I get it all out before I’m interrupted and have to build my nerve back up.”
Hans nodded and strode forward to take my spot on the couch, pulling on his tee shirt as he did. Fumiko sat on the opposite end — and although she spared Hans a glance as she settled down, soon I had both of their attentions.
I was not a fan of that particular spotlight.
I started to pace. I was struggling with what to say, how much to hold back; how to phrase my questions to Hans… and then abruptly realized I was being stupid. I wanted to know how Hans would take finding out about Megan, but there was no subtle way to get that information — or if there was, I wasn’t subtle enough to know it. Blunt. So far, that had served me best when talking to Hans. I mean, what was I going to do? Ask: ‘By the way, not that this has anything to do with anything, Hans, but what is your opinion on the fae maybe not being evil, at least on an individual basis? Like, say, if one was a changeling and had been raised by humans and all that?’
I was pretty sure he’d be able to track questions like that back to their motive.
But more than that: Did I really not trust him? Before, I’d had a reason not to. I hadn’t known if he and Mr. Salvatore were in league. Now? That question had been resolved when Hans had unloaded a combat shotgun into Mr. Salvatore’s pre-briquette corpse. And on top of that: When John shared his story about the time he and Hans had spent in Vegas, that story had involved a trio of gremlins, a con artist, a wedding and a divorce — but at no point had it included a trio of gremlins being ripped apart in a vengeful fury. So I didn’t really have a reason not to trust him, other than my usual paranoia. Or, to put more of a point on the matter: other than my not wanting to talk about the stuff I hadn’t been telling him. And that? That wouldn’t be helpful to anyone.
I squeezed my eyes shut and turned around in my pacing. When I turned around, I opened my eyes and stared at my feet. I kept pacing, but now I forced myself to start talking, too. And talking. And talking.
I told them everything. I started with what had happened with Megan and Katherine. Then I went back and explained about the fae, for Fumiko’s sake. Then I went back further and explained about the first time I’d met Melvin, for Hans’ sake. And then I went back further still, and went over all the events either one of them hadn’t been privy to, starting from that first time I’d caught Mr. Salvatore alone with Megan while she’d been testing her blood sugar.
It was only when I was done with all the details I could remember that I looked up. My face was burning with a mix of guilt, dread, and embarrassment. Guilt over all the stuff I’d kept secret. Dread for the reactions I’d have to face. And embarrassment because I’d barely managed to spare them things like how good it had felt to feel Emma’s orgasms in my head, or the things Hans could make me feel just by standing too close. Those few personal details I’d managed to keep mostly private. But everything else? Everything important? That stuff, they knew: from the timeline of the last few days, to Megan being a changeling and Melvin’s claim on me, to my masochistic tendencies and how they could backfire now that I was undead.
My heart rate felt unsteady, and I had to put conscious effort into breathing. The only thing I could imagine that would be worse than the ordeal I’d just gone through was the inevitable deluge of questions coming up next. I wet my lips and looked at Fumiko first. If anything, she looked more incredulous than she had before seeing Hans turn into a wolf. With no questions immediately forthcoming from her, I swallowed and turned to Hans.
Hans wasn’t looking at me, but he shifted to meet my gaze when I looked at him. My heart hammered faster. His eyes didn’t have the crinkle of good humor at their edges; his lips weren’t twitched in his usual half grin — the resting face of someone who smiles easily and often. Instead, his lips were pressed in a thin line. His jaw was clenched. His brow was furrowed and his eyes smoldered angrily.
In short: Hans looked pissed.