I scurried down the hall to the guest room. My extra-keen hearing let me know that the shower was still running and Hans wasn’t following me. That gave me a little breathing room. Time in which I could blush fiercely and know I wouldn’t be seen; let my embarrassment and mortification catch up with me.
There was a lot of it — I wasn’t just embarrassed about what Hans had done to me — what I’d let him do to me — but about how I’d freaked out afterward. How I’d almost been caught freaking out! That was almost as bad as knowing I could no longer deny being one of those girls. Who else would let their boyfriend finger her in the shower?
In the guest room I tossed my bundle onto the bed. I didn’t know what hungry Abby had been thinking, but I needed to wash, and I needed clean clothes to change into. I pulled on my old blouse and wrapped the towel around my legs. Then I grabbed Emma’s backpack full of clothes. I picked up my earrings and my phone from where I’d left it earlier, and stuffed them in a side pocket of the back pack. Then I ran for the downstairs bathroom.
Some frantic scrubbing later, and I managed to start feeling clean. Physically clean, anyway: there was no denying that I was a dirty, selfish…
I swallowed and turned my attention to dressing. A clean blouse from Emma’s bag, and a skirt. I had underwear down in the basement from when I’d done laundry, and with a skirt I could put them on without having to strip anywhere that was potentially in the radius of Mr. Salvatore’s ‘dormant vampires are mildly omniscient’ radius.
Of course, a skirt would also mean he could omnisciently look up it. God, why was he so creepy?! I discarded the skirt in favor of a pair of jeans and resigned myself to not wearing panties for another day. But really, it shouldn’t bother me, right? It just made it easier for my inner slut to get out.
I swallowed and took a very deep breath, trying to calm myself so I could finish dressing and sneak downstairs for socks. I rolled up the cuffs of Emma’s jeans, and while I was kneeling I fished my phone and earrings back out of her bag.
Why had I grabbed those earrings? I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to lose them by leaving them somewhere random now. I put the phone on the edge of the sink and the earrings in my piercings. Then I picked up the phone again. Fuck. Why had I agreed to calling people and making plans? That wasn’t me! Hungry me was a self-hating bitch.
I could hear the water cut out upstairs, and knew Hans would be dressing soon. Or, knowing Hans, parading around nude soon. In either case, I probably wasn’t going to get much more privacy to brace myself. Had he noticed how weird I was? Had he noticed the tears, or had they been concealed by all the water from the shower? Why had I been crying, for god’s sake? It had felt wonderful. Even being trapped and helpless. Even having my hair pulled.
What was wrong with me?
My inner kinky slut, I amended my earlier thoughts.
I took a deep gulp of air and shook my head, as though that could shake those thoughts free. As though I could shake them out of my head. I didn’t want to be thinking about that. At all. I picked my phone up. How bad was it that I’d rather call people than think about what I’d just participated in and how much I’d liked it?
How sad was it that I needed to be running from something just to want to call people?
I flipped the phone open and started to pull up my contacts, but stopped when I noticed I had two messages. The first was from Fumiko. The second was from a number that it took me a few seconds to recognize as Emma’s. I started the playback.
“Abby, it’s Fumiko,” came Fumiko’s voice. “Zane is a loser: he got lost on the way to pick up Megan and apparently left his phone in his apartment so he couldn’t even look up directions. Men! Anyway, I picked her up and we’re at her place. I ducked out while Mrs. Butterson was making tea to let you know. Megan seems okay. I’ll talk to her when Zane and Mrs. Butterson aren’t around to overhear.” I shivered. Keeping normal people around was necessary to keep Megan and Fumiko safe, but I could understand the need for privacy. At least Fumiko had some pointers about dealing with fae, now, and knew she could use me as a threat — or call me if she needed me to swoop in or something.
“Anyway, I should get back to them,” Fumiko concluded. “If you don’t hear from us later, call me. I’ll try to get Megan to call you back once I’ve talked to her, though. Take care!” With that the message ended. I let my phone ramble on about how to delete it, let it lapse into being kept, and waited for Emma’s to start.
I was delaying, wasn’t I? I mean: it wasn’t like I wasn’t about to just call her.
“Abby?” Emma’s voice sounded shaken. “It’s Emma. She kicked me out.” No, shaken didn’t cover it: Emma sounded like she was on the verge of tears. “Katie came home and she was so angry and I don’t know why and then she took one look at my aura and just exploded. I… I don’t know what to do. I’m so sorry. I know you’ve been through so much already and I feel like I’m falling apart a little and I shouldn’t do that on you, and… I don’t know what to… I… call me. Please? I’m so sorry. Thank you.” I could tell from her breathing that she’d taken the phone away from her ear then. I was pretty sure I picked out a sniffle or a sob before the call clicked off.
I stood stock still. It was the kind of stillness you can only achieve if you don’t breathe and your heart doesn’t beat. I barely noticed my phone’s ‘how to delete your message’ spiel. Instead, for the first time, I noticed how cold the lack of circulation made me — a coldness that crept from my extremities inward. And I only noticed it because it was nothing compared to the ice that blossomed in my thoughts.
I’d thought I hated Mr. Salvatore. But at least he had been insane, addicted to blood. I could understand that. Not forgive it, but understand that he wasn’t necessarily in control of himself. Katherine should know better. Katherine, I realized, I really did hate. And it was a deep, undeniable, primal hate: a hate that would have confused me if I hadn’t had the wolf’s hatred of outsiders and rivals and enemies to compare it to.
I wasn’t hungry. But the way I felt right now? If I happened to end Katherine the next time I was, I didn’t think I would have any regrets.
Maybe that was an over reaction. Maybe. I didn’t think I really cared.
I forced my heart to start beating again and focused on taking calm, measured breaths. I didn’t want that coldness in my voice when I called Emma back. I didn’t want her to think I was mad at her. And besides: hatred wasn’t really something I was used to. It wasn’t something I was good at holding onto. It always made me feel too guilty, and then I got depressed, and then I blamed myself for whatever was wrong. Hating was more of a dead-Abby, or a wolf-Abby, thing. But this? Okay, I could see where I was to blame. But even though I intellectually realized that it was my fault, and that Katherine had blown up at Emma because I’d fed on her, I wasn’t going to let go of this hate.
Betray Mr. Salvatore? Okay. Sic the fae on me? Alright. Hurt Emma? Fuck forgiveness. Maybe I’d been spending too much time with Hans’ wolf, but I was in no mood to be understanding, let alone forgiving.
Once my heart was going again and my breathing was under unconscious control again I started to feel alive again. At that point, the anger seemed to fall away. But I knew it was only a seeming: it was still in there, seething somewhere. But more important things could finally come to the forefront, thankfully. Things like taking care of Emma.
I called her back.
While the phone was ringing I heard Hans start to come down the stairs. I went into the hallway to meet him, and held up my hand to stop him when he turned the corner. He saw my expression and didn’t bother with questions. He just stopped and waited to follow my lead.
Emma picked up around the third ring. “Hello?” she asked. Her voice sounded… not strained, but it was obvious that she was upset; maybe depressed. It made my jaw clench angrily.
I made myself take a deeper breath. I forced my jaw to unclench and my voice to keep a level tone. “Emma, it’s Abby,” I said. “I just got your message. I’m sorry. You should totally be leaning on me for something like this.” I hesitated, then plunged onward. “I just lost my home, too, so I totally get it and I’m completely sympathetic. Where are you? Hans and I were going to go out in a little bit, so we can just leave early and come get you.”
For a second: silence. Then Emma responded with a ragged: “I… thanks. I’m just sitting in my car. She didn’t even give me time to pack anything, just… anyway, I’ve been sitting here.”
My nostrils flared slightly. Sitting there, crying, with no where to go. I wanted to kick Katherine, but I wanted to kick myself harder. If I’d been carrying my phone around, Emma wouldn’t have been stuck by herself. I shivered, remembering how I’d felt last night. Stuck by herself after being thrown away again. I didn’t know how much of her soul Emma had regenerated from when I’d fed on her — but the simple fact that she wasn’t still crying had to mean that she hadn’t yet recovered all of it.
“Okay,” I said. “Hans and I can come and get you. I bet Hans knows where Katherine lives, since she was one of Mr. Salvatore’s donors.” I glanced at him, and Hans nodded. There was a concerned frown on his face: I was a little relieved to see it. In the time I’d known him, I’d come to realize that he was, at heart, a provider and protector and caretaker. It was good to see that those concerns extended beyond just the person he was interested in being intimate with.
I shied away from thinking about what that intimacy entailed and focused on how big a relief it was that I’d be able to count on him to help me take care of Emma.
“I… I can drive over,” Emma said. “You don’t have to go out of your way to get me. My car is about all I have now, anyway, so I don’t really want to just leave it here,” she added.
I glanced at Hans again, but his expression didn’t really give me any help in replying. “Okay,” I said. “We’ll be here. This morning was crazy, and we need to talk, anyway. The house’s wards got messed up, and…” …and Katherine is a traitor, I didn’t say. I swallowed. That probably wasn’t something Emma should hear over the phone. If she didn’t know already, that was. Because she might, if they were working together. Were they? Shit.
No, Emma couldn’t know about Katherine’s alliance with the fae. Emma was still the next closest thing to enthralled with Mr. Salvatore: she wouldn’t have willingly helped someone who was plotting to betray him. Right? So Katherine clearly wouldn’t have tried to suborn Emma into her plots. Right? “…and it’s been crazy,” I finished lamely. “I have a lot to tell you.”
“Okay,” Emma said. “I’ll… I’ll be over really soon,” she said.
“Okay,” I agreed awkwardly. How do you end a phone conversation with someone you’ve only been dating a couple of days, when neither of you has said ‘I love you’ yet; when she’s hurting and needs comfort and… Fuck it. I didn’t know. “Drive safe,” I blurted. “I’ll be waiting.”
I heard Emma shifting around wherever she was — probably sitting in her car, I guessed. “Abigail,” she said tentatively.
“Yes?” I answered immediately.
With that, Emma hung up. I swallowed and tried not to think of how upset it was going to make her when I told her about Katherine. My girlfriend was going to come over for comfort, and I was sitting on the ‘your best friend is a traitor’ bomb.
I was a shitty girlfriend.
I slipped my phone into my pocket and looked up at Hans. “You heard all of that?” I asked.
“Do you think she can stay here a while?” Somehow, I didn’t feel as bad asking on behalf of Emma as I had when I’d asked him if I could crash at his place.
Hans’ lips turned up ever so slightly. It was a kind smile. The sort you don’t really expect to see on a werewolf. “Yes,” Hans said. “I think that can be managed.”
I hesitated, trying to judge his expression. “You won’t feel jealous? Or like we’re trying to crowd you out?” I asked.
Hans thought for a second, then smirked at himself. “No,” he said with easy humor. “If nothing else, I am a pack animal at heart.” He winked at me. “I won’t mind the extra company, and it’s probably for the best. Emma can’t be involved with whatever plots Katherine has been working — she was still in Salvatore’s thrall just last year. But when it comes out that Katherine was actively working with the fae, there won’t be much doubt that she’s a traitor. It would be all too easy for Emma to get caught in the fallout of that.” He grimaced. “Katherine may find herself in some very deep, very hot water, soon.”
The humor had left Hans’ voice when he speculated on how much trouble Katherine was going to be in, and I could only concur. Even as furious as I was with Katherine, I still shivered. I told myself it was at the thought of Emma being dragged down with her. “Yeah,” I said. “That would be bad. Thank you.”
Hans smiled and reached out to brush his fingertips along my cheek. I shivered again, for an entirely different reason, and made myself turn away. “Um,” I said. “You should call Linda. I’ll call John. Okay?”
I started to walk away before Hans could answer. I don’t know what he read in my hasty retreat, because I was already going through my contacts for John’s number and didn’t spare a glance back. My heart thumped a little too quickly. I didn’t want to, but I was going to have to do something about this. For god’s sake, I couldn’t even face my boyfriend because I knew that he knew that…
Dirty, kinky, slut. My inner model of proper society threw the words at me like accusations. My inner dirty, kinky slut agreed with them and suggested I turn around and apologize to Hans for blowing him off by getting on my knees and just blowing him. My cheeks felt like they were burning; my legs were wobbly with desire — and I kind of wanted to cry again. The conflicts made my stomach turn with sickening anxiety.
I found John’s number and hit dial. I did my best to ignore everything else while I listened to the phone on the other end ring. For the second time today I took refuge from my thoughts by calling someone I barely knew. I just hoped that this time it went better than it had with Emma.