I stopped breathing because I stopped thinking about breathing. For a few seconds I quailed inside, and then it go to be too much for me. “Well, someone say something!” I blurted. “I’m done; you can contribute now.”
Fumiko snorted. “Sorry,” she said. “That was a lot to take in. I’m not sure where to start. No: yes, I am. You used to hurt yourself? What the hell, Abby?”
I blinked at her. Faeries, werewolves, vampires… and she was getting hung up on habits from before all of that? “I just… it was something I’d do to deal with stress,” I said. “You know: distract myself from the emotional stuff with something physical.” Physical pain was much easier to handle.
Fumiko scowled. “That is not healthy,” she said bluntly. “I can’t believe… why didn’t you come to Megan or I for help? Or start seeing a psychiatrist? When did this shit start, Abby?”
I closed my mouth — it had hung open at some point while Fumiko was talking. “I don’t know. Why would I? It’s always been like this. Since I was little, I mean.” I frowned and reached back for the earliest instance I could remember. When I was a kid and got overwhelmed, I would hit my head against the wall of my room. But then mom got mad at me because it was noisy and I was being disruptive. That was when I started holding my breath until I got dizzy, instead. “I always just dealt with it myself,” I said. “What does that even matter,” I asked. “What about the faeries and werewolves and magic?”
Fumiko blew out a breath. “Yeah. I’m going to have questions about that. But frankly, that’s all too new and way out of my expertise. But this self-harm bullshit? You’re my friend, Abby, and Megan’s — and we should’ve known about that. We could’ve kept an eye on you; gotten you help.”
I furrowed my brow in confusion. “It’s okay,” I said. “I mean, it’s not like I was suicidal or anything,” I added. “That’s just how I coped sometimes.” I didn’t even do it a lot, anymore. Megan always seemed to notice — I blinked. “Megan knew,” I said in shock. “I always thought I was being circumspect enough that I wouldn’t bother you two with my weirdness, but she knew.” That explained the gift of lotion that got me to stop scalding myself. And why she never let me be by myself when I was stressed out; why she’d insisted I call her if I got stressed on my date with Hans, even. Didn’t it? Or had she just been there because those were the times when my emotions were ‘ripe,’ and she could feed her faerie nature?
I was so confused.
Fumiko inhaled deeply and started to say something, but her phone rang, interrupting her. She pulled it out of her pocket and glanced at the screen. Then she jumped up to her feet. “We’re not done with this,” she said sharply to me, and then she answered the call. She faced away from Hans and I and started to pace toward the wall. “Megan? Are you okay?”
I sat up straighter and watched Fumiko pace away. I could easily hear both sides of the conversation.
“Yeah,” Megan said. “Just a little shaken up. Did you,” she interrupted herself to swallow. “Did you go back to Salvatore’s house?”
“I did,” Fumiko said. “Abby just finished telling me about… well, everything.”
I bit my lip. I felt a little guilty overhearing. I didn’t do anything to stop.
Megan sighed. “Is she okay? Fumiko, I… I don’t know what I did to her. All of a sudden she just… she wasn’t Abby.” Megan’s voice rose slightly in pitch.
“Yeah,” Fumiko said soothingly. “I know: she told me. And she’s fine.”
“Oh God,” Megan sobbed. Her voice broke, and her composure went with it. “I was so worried,” she cried. “She looked dead, Fumiko. Dead and burning from the inside out.”
“Hey,” Fumiko said uncomfortably. “It’s okay, Megan. Abby’s fine.”
Megan didn’t listen. She kept sobbing. “She said I did that to her,” she choked out through her sobs. “That I’m some kind of monster. And Katie, Katherine said I was, too. Not a monster: a faerie. She said Abby was the monster, and, and…” Megan broke down completely into sobs.
Fumiko paced by the TV, her discomfort screaming in her posture while she remained vocally silent. Fumiko wasn’t one for lots of emotional displays. She tended toward the more ‘no-nonsense’ approach to toward life. I swallowed back a sudden thought: Or did she?
I was Megan’s best friend, and I just happened to be an emotional nut case, perfect for any-time faerie consumption. Fumiko was the only other friend of Megan’s that I wouldn’t consider ‘casual.’ Had Megan been feeding on Fumiko, too? Was that why Fumiko had always seemed so serious and put together? Because whatever messy emotions Fumiko did have were being regularly siphoned off by Megan?
I missed part of the conversation while I wrestled with that idea. Just having the thought made me feel guilty — like I was turning on Megan, or didn’t trust her, or something shitty.
Fumiko glanced over at Hans and I, and I think she realized that we could hear everything. She hastily turned away and headed toward the basement stairs. “Megan,” she said softly, “It’s going to be okay. I don’t really care what anyone says you are — who you are is still Megan. That’s all that really matters.”
Fumiko glanced at me again, and I wondered if those words had been meant for both Megan and myself. I didn’t say anything, but I could hear Megan hiccup through another sob. Fumiko turned away from me and ducked up the stairs, pulling the door shut behind her.
That wasn’t really enough to take the conversation out of earshot — but it did leave me alone with Hans. Alone with an angry Hans. My hearing abruptly stopped focusing in on Fumiko and Megan’s phone call, and started picking up every little detail about Hans: the more imminent threat. His heart rate was strong and regular, and his breathing measured. He didn’t say anything; I didn’t either. Then I heard him shift slightly in his seat — his seat, right next to me — and it was too much for my nerves.
I bolted to my feet and took three quick steps away before I spun. “Okay,” I blurted. “You’re mad. Yell at me or whatever. Just get it over with.”
Hans recoiled as though my words were a slap. He straightened in his seat and frowned. “I’m not…” He thought better of the blatant lie, and sighed. “I’m angry,” he admitted. “But why would I yell at you?”
I stared incredulously. I knew Hans could sometimes be a little dense when it came to following my logic, but really? He had to be putting me on. “I kept secrets!” I half-yelled. “Important ones.” My anxiety prompted me to make sure he really got what I was saying; I bulled on with my confession rather than letting it sit at that. “I lied to you,” I blurted. “Well, they were lies of omission, but still: lies. Big ones! And you haven’t done anything to earn my distrust, so you’re supposed to be pissed about it.”
Hans waited for me to wind down. When I collapsed under the guilt of my own words, he stood. I cringed back against the basement wall.
If anything, shrinking away made Hans look more hurt.
“Abigail,” he said. “I’m not happy about that. I’d even say I’m upset. But I don’t blame you.” He shook his head. “The world we know about is not the world most people live in. And letting people in can be dangerous. I understand the importance of trust, and that it’s not something people have a right to by default — it’s something that has to be earned over time. You didn’t know me, and you kept important things secret. That’s reasonable, and I’d be the worst sort of hypocrite if I claimed otherwise — or don’t you remember that I wasn’t exactly forthcoming about the fact that I’m a werewolf, when we first met?” He shook his head. “I’m upset because I could have helped more than I did, but there’s no real point in being angry about that — it is what it is, and it was reasonably done.”
“Oh,” I said. I straightened and lifted my chin so I could look up at him. Why did he have to be so damn tall? “Well, good. But then why are you angry?” Angry Hans was scary to contemplate, and I knew it was my fault somehow.
Hans scrubbed his fingers through his hair. He leaned his head back to look at the ceiling. “Plenty of reasons,” he said. “I’m home for the first time in years, and Archarel is already starting trouble. Katherine is a traitor — which means it’s all too likely she set Salvatore up to fall off the wagon and over-imbibe last year, which completely screwed him.” He looked at me. “As for Megan? I suppose the jury is out on her. There’s a difference between secrets kept for the safety of others, and secrets kept that jeopardize them.”
I gawked. He was mad at Megan? “But she didn’t even know anything!” I protested.
Hans grimaced. “Maybe not. And like I said… I’m doing my best to withhold judgment there. But if you really want to know what has me angry,” he said darkly; “what I’m furious about,” he growled, “it’s that Tophat character.”
I tried to form a reply, but just closed my mouth when Hans took a step closer. His hands were curled into fists — and I had a sudden flashback to the absolute fury with which his wolf had reacted to Melvin’s claim on me. “Once I get my hands on him, I will personally deliver him to someone who can ensure he never troubles you again.”
I swallowed. Hans was angry on my behalf? Maybe I shouldn’t have told him and Fumiko about Melvin being in love with me. As it was, I wasn’t sure if I was more touched or more confused by Hans’ reaction. I’d probably have to wait until I’d fed next to know for sure: I didn’t seem to have enough emotion available to me to feel one or the other, and the two seemed to want to seesaw back and forth in compromise. “I… I didn’t think you were the jealous type,” my autopilot teased since I was at a loss to form a reasonable response on my own.
Hans’ eyebrows raised, and he seemed to realize he was holding himself ready for a fight. “Jealous?” He barked, almost laughing as the word escaped his lips. “Oh, hell no. Maybe if he were one of your suitors, that might be something I’d have to deal with.” He seemed to relax by an act of will. “I told you I was okay with your relationship with Emma, and that was the truth: but there’s a significant difference between you choosing to share yourself with someone, and someone trying to force themselves on you; using a geas to compel you to serve them.”
Hans was managing to work himself back into a state, I noticed. It was kind of fascinating. It made him seem dangerous again… I mean, not that he had ever stopped feeling dangerous, but this was something more. Desire started wrestling with confusion and embarrassed pleasure for dominance in my psyche.
And then terror won.
“Oh, really?” Melvin asked from where he appeared in the shadows behind the bar. “I’d like to see you try, puppy, but comedy isn’t my genre.”
Hans spun. I froze. No one had put salt across the door, I realized dumbly.
Melvin laughed while Hans snarled. “Now,” Melvin said, “what has been going on here, my Abigail? I go off to find Megan, and the next thing I know I feel the jolt of someone trying to break our little deal, and find my name being thrown around with more wherewithal than a summoning ritual.” He raised a solitary eyebrow. “If I were the paranoid, jealous type, I’d almost think you and your pet were up to something I’d disapprove of.”
I didn’t get to respond. In less than a second a three hundred pound wolf flashed across the room and dragged Melvin to the floor.