I was a bit too overwhelmed to figure out what to say to Hans — congratulate him on his victory? Be pissy because I could fight my own battles, dammit? Ask if he was hurt badly? Jump him and binge drink? — but while I was working through the myriad responses available to me, Fumiko bolted back into the basement.
“Were those gunshots?” She exclaimed as she burst into the room — and then gasped when she saw Hans’ disheveled state. “What happened?” she demanded while scanning the room. I saw her eyes linger for just a second on the gun by Hans’ hand and the bullet holes in the wall.
“Melvin showed up,” I said. “He and Hans decided to see who was alpha. Hans won.”
Fumiko’s gaze snapped back to the damaged wall, and then over to Hans. Hans grimaced, and this time he did pour himself a drink.
“He’ll be back,” Hans grumbled. “We’ll have a little while to find a witch who can refurnish the house’s wards, though. If Emma isn’t up to it, I still need to call my friend about you, Abigail, and she could do it if you don’t mind moving that meeting up.” He threw back a shot of something and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he leaned on his elbows against the counter and started to rub his forehead.
I frowned. At the moment I was okay with the idea — which meant it was a bad one and I should probably feed soon. Between stopping time to show off to Fumiko, the passage of regular old fashioned time, and silently struggling with Melvin’s compulsion and my own adrenaline during the fight, I wasn’t feeling very sated from the sip of blood I’d had earlier.
Fumiko was oblivious to the question — or at least more focused in immediate concerns. “Are you okay?” She asked Hans.
“I’ll be fine,” Hans said. “I’m just extremely sore. Shifting only leaves phantom pains when I take the time to do it right, but trying to fight it — or, in this case, rushing it and carrying extra mass between forms — always screws things up.” He straightened. “Nothing a shower, new clothes and a long massage won’t cure,” he added with typical male bravado.
I bit the corner of my lower lip. “I can help with that,” I volunteered –after all, I had promised myself that I would reciprocate washing him, the next time he showered. Besides, getting him all naked and clean would be a good lead in to semi-gratuitous nom-ing.
Fumiko took another look at the aftermath of Hans’ fight with Melvin and shook her head. “Alright,” she said. “Well, I’ll leave you two to that, then, I guess. Megan seems to be safe — she ditched Katherine after they left. Mostly because Megan was too upset about being dragged away from you, Abby. Anyway, she ended up walking to some fast food place near here. Since she couldn’t get a hold of me, she called Zane to get a ride home. I’m going to go meet her there. I figure I can get her caught up on everything you’ve told me without there being any risk of another accidental vampire-psychosis episode, and then maybe she’ll be ready to call you and you two can figure things out.”
I hesitated, but finally nodded. “Okay,” I said. I didn’t really care for Zane — I thought he looked weaselly, in an ‘I happen to be a bagman for the mafia’ sort of way. But he was Mrs. Butterson’s nephew, and Mrs. Butterson was Megan’s landlady — who may or may not, in fact, be a witch. But in either case, it would be good for Megan to stay somewhere near people she knew. Especially if they either didn’t know about the fae themselves, or — if Mrs. Butterson was a witch — were capable of dealing with it if Mr. Eyelids showed up again.
Fumiko shook her head again and came over to me. She gave me a hug, which made me stiffen in surprise. I hadn’t expected anything like that from her: not just because she wasn’t as touchy-feely as Megan, but because it had to take a lot of trust and just as much courage to get that close to a vampire. “You be careful,” she said firmly. “I know I’m too far out of my league to give you any advice on how, but be careful.”
I nodded. “Okay,” I mumbled again.
“Oh,” said Fumiko, “And I brought that cloak you asked for. I left it upstairs when Hans and I came down here.”
I blinked. I’d forgotten about that. “Thanks,” I said with a little more sincerity behind it.
Fumiko shook her head. “No problem,” she assured me. “Let me know how it works out — I’ve got plenty of cloth to make you something cut to fit you, if it turns out to be as helpful as you hope. You can pick something out when you come over this weekend.”
“When I what?” I asked in surprise.
“You asked to come over when Megan and I work on our convention outfits this weekend,” Fumiko reminded me. She glanced knowingly toward Hans. “Something about a blouse with missing buttons? And unless I’m mistaken in what you’ve been telling me so far, you can still lead a basically normal life — with a few extra requirements and precautions tacked on — as long as you aren’t being jumped by goblins or whatever. And even if whatever needed mending got burned up last night, now we have a new project for you. So I don’t see any reason to cancel our weekend plans. By then Megan might have had time to get a grip on her change in circumstances, too. And shoot, I imagine we could all use some normal time with friends, right?”
I looked at her, dumbfounded. “I… yeah,” I said.
“Great,” Fumiko said. “I’ll pull some samples out of the craft room for you to take a look at. Now go see if your guy needs you to take care of him,” she said while jerking her head toward Hans. “And I’ll go keep an eye on Megan for you.”
I finally hugged Fumiko back. “Thanks,” I said before I let her go to see herself out. I swallowed back a lump of emotion while she left. Fortunately it faded fast. I didn’t want to have to explain to Hans or Fumiko why I would break down over one of my friends being friendly. After I blinked my eyes and was sure I had a grip on myself, I turned back to face Hans — who really did look like he was in bad shape.
“Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” I asked him. He looked pretty pale under the mess of gored clothes, and his eyes were crinkled at the edges like he was suppressing the urge to squint from pain.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s a lot like you’d feel after seriously overexerting yourself in a workout. Nothing I’m not familiar with.”
“Alright,” I said grudgingly. I went to his side and took his arm. He flinched almost imperceptibly — but my perceptions had been ratcheting up in detail as I’d struggled against Melvin’s compulsion. I suspected the sort of workout he had in mind was some kind of full-contact ten-on-one mixed martial arts brawling. There wasn’t anything visibly wrong with him — Melvin hadn’t left a mark on him — but how he held himself, his expression; even the little hints hiding behind his accent declared: I am in pain.
Hans pulled his arm away for a moment. I let him, and watched as he checked, reloaded, and replaced his gun in the under-counter holster that was rigged to conceal it. “Do you have more of those around here?” I asked.
Hans snorted. “That’s one of Salvatore’s, actually,” he said. “He was always more paranoid about home security than I am, but I guess that worked out for me this time.” He shrugged and offered to let me hold his arm again. I did what I could to support him as I led him to the stairs. He didn’t actually lean on me. Much.
“Same question, repeated,” I said. “Since you didn’t answer it.”
He chuckled. “A few,” Hans admitted. “There’s the gun safe in the utility room — those are actually mine. Salvatore has another safe in his study, and a couple pistols in most rooms.” He hesitated at the first floor landing. “Do you know much about firearms? If not, frankly, I’d just as soon put them up until you’ve had a few safety courses. Not knowing what you’re doing with a gun is the easiest way to get into an accident with a gun, and while you’re basically immortal and I don’t think there are any silver bullets in the house, I’d just as soon neither of us had to sit through regenerating massive tissue damage.”
“I know a little,” I admitted while we went to the second flight of stairs. “My dad was kind of a gun nut, kind of a collector. So he made sure to drill me on the basics of safety — which mostly boiled down to ‘do not, under any circumstances, touch.'” It was a sentiment I generally supported — I knew my own paranoia, coupled with a gun, would be a very bad combination. But given the number of times I’d been assaulted in the past few days, maybe it was time to re-evaluate that. After all, it was only paranoia if deranged invisible psychopaths weren’t out to get you.
Hans chuckled. “Well, I’m a passable instructor,” he said while we climbed to the second floor. “I can go over the basics with you, and there’s a range in town where we can work on your handling and accuracy.”
I led Hans down the hall to the master bath, then to the edge of the tub, where he sat down, before I replied. I shook my head. “I don’t know if I want to go there yet, but it seems like it would be pretty stupid for me to overlook any advantage I can get. Especially if Archarel is going to try to pull something with Megan.”
Hans grimaced, but didn’t disagree. I let the subject drop and started helping him out of his clothes. I chucked them on top of my ruined ones from earlier.
“You know,” I said, “At this rate we should just get a spare hamper and line it with a garbage bag.”
Hans laughed despite himself. “That’s not a bad idea,” he agreed.
I washed Hans’ blood off my hands, then went back to the tub. I fiddled with the faucet until I got the hot water going, and then I started to strip out of my own clothes. I caught Hans watching, out of the corner of my eye, and smiled to myself. Not so much because it was doing anything for me at the moment, but because I expected to be equal parts embarrassed and pleased when I remembered it later, and I knew I was capable of being extremely embarrassed.
Ergo, I should end up being extremely pleased, too.
When I finished undressing I bundled my clothes up in a towel and set them down on the sink so they’d stay reasonably clean for later. Then I turned and faced Hans. His eyes were still pained, but his lips were turned up in a smile of his own. I added a bit more sashay to my walk as I approached him — again, not so much because I really wanted to jump him anymore (at least, not for sex…), but more for the sake of teasing my sated self when I got around to being her.
I grinned slightly. I’d just had an evil thought. But as long as I was doing things that I would normally be to terrified to do more than be terrified of… I decided to go for it. “So, about your ‘friend,'” I said. “I’d be okay with meeting her. Over lunch, maybe?”
Hans blinked at the abrupt swerve in the conversation, and I pressed my case. “I’m thinking: first we swing by where my folks want to meet and horribly disappoint them. Then, instead of sticking around for an awkward lunch, we head over to meet your friend, if she’s available, at our date restaurant,” I said. “And I can call Emma while you’re talking with her, and invite her, too. That way, if Emma is available to take care of the wards, I can just have an introduction to your friend like I’d originally planned — but if Emma isn’t available or doesn’t feel comfortable enough in her skill, we can ask your friend instead.”
Hans started nodding before I even finished. “That’s a good idea,” he agreed. “I’ll call her and see what we can arrange — but with everything that’s happened this morning, I’m pretty sure she’ll drop whatever she has to in order to meet up.”
“Oh?” I asked.
Hans nodded. “Yes,” he said — and this time the pain he suppressed from his voice wasn’t entirely physical. “Linda was the quisling who warned my pack about Archarel’s plans last time.”