I held Emma for a long time. Long enough that I heard John arrive downstairs, and Hans greet him. I tried to tune out their conversation, but was only partially successful. I wanted to focus on Emma, but I was way out of my depth. I didn’t know what to say or do, but I was afraid that if I apologized more, explained how none of it was her fault, how it was mine for biting her… I thought that I’d end up making her feel worse. Make her feel guilty about feeling bad, or something. The few times Megan had apologized to me for pushing me into something that made me freak out, I’d felt awful for making her feel like my screwed up reactions were somehow her fault.
Irony of ironies, apparently they were. I shied away from that thought: it wasn’t helpful to Emma, and it wasn’t helpful to me. I wasn’t used to being upset with Megan, and being angry that she’d fed on my anxieties just made me feel sick and sad inside. I wondered if that was anything like Emma had felt when Katherine had turned on her.
I thought about biting Emma, or offering, and taking her pain as mine so she wouldn’t have to feel it — but with the way Katherine had thrown giving blood at Emma like it was an insult, I couldn’t even do that. All I could do was respect Emma enough to trust she could deal with her emotions better than I would in her place. That, and hold her. So I did.
Eventually Emma’s shoulders stopped shaking. She’d tried to keep her tears quiet, just like I did, but there was no way my enhanced hearing could have missed her sobs. They’d flayed me like accusations: Why hadn’t I called Emma as soon as I’d known about Katherine? I could have called her when I called Fumiko. I should have had my phone with me when Emma had called me. I would have refused to drain her last night, if only I’d known what would come of it.
Could have, should have, would have. The three most worthless phrases in the English language: nothing would change the fact that I hadn’t.
At least once Emma stopped crying, I knew what to do. Having been in that position plenty of times myself, it was within my experience. I let go of her, got up, and fetched a box of tissues from the bookshelf by the love seat. I helped Emma sit up and silently handed her a tissue. Then, while she blew her nose and laughed shakily at herself in a vain attempt to make light of her grief, I went back to hugging her.
Once she’d gone through two more tissues, Emma turned and hugged me back. “Thank you,” she said. “For telling me I could come here, and for listening, and for not trying to fix it.”
I shook my head. “I couldn’t fix something like this. I wouldn’t even know how to start.” I couldn’t even figure out what was going to happen to my friendship with Megan: I had no place weighing in on Emma’s with Katherine. Especially since I knew so little about it… other than that I wanted to do something truly horrible to Katherine, for Emma.
“I know,” Emma said softly. “But a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to help themselves from trying to suggest something, or telling me to just get over it, or calling Katherine a bitch and saying good riddance, or saying it was about time I got around to taking care of myself, anyway, or…” She trailed off. “Just thank you,” she finally said.
I bit my lip and nodded, not trusting my verbal auto pilot to not blurt out that Katherine was a bitch.
Emma sniffled and dabbed at her face with another tissue. “You must think I’m a mess,” she mumbled. I tried to hold back an inappropriate laugh and snorted instead. Startled, Emma looked at me. “What?” she asked.
“You have been in my head before,” I reminded her. I waved my hand, gesturing to encompass the entire Emma/Katherine ‘thing.’ “If this is a mess, then I must be an absolute sty.”
Emma sputtered. “That’s not what I meant!” she protested.
My autopilot would have none of it. “Nope, too late,” I proclaimed. “I am now personally affronted, and shall remain so until you are feeling better and my sty is once again the only baseline for emotional messiness in our relationship.”
For half a second Emma gawked at me like she wasn’t sure if I was serious. After that I couldn’t take it any more and winked at her.
“Although for now,” I said, “If you’re feeling up to it you can make it up to me by getting dressed and coming out with Hans and me.” I really didn’t want to leave her in Mr. Salvatore’s house after having taken an emotional beating like that, even with John here to keep an eye on her. But with that said, I wasn’t going to force her to come out with us, either. Frankly, if it came to that… I steeled myself against the potential necessity of just blowing off my parents and asking Hans to talk to Linda while I stayed home with Emma.
It was funny: before, the thought of just telling my mom ‘too bad’ when she insisted I come out to meet her and dad had been impossible to contemplate. Now, weighed against Emma’s well being, I realized that if it came to that it was a foregone decision: I would stay with Emma, my folks would deal with being disappointed by me again, and I would deal with being sick from guilt later.
Emma put on a half smile. “Okay,” she said. “Where are we going?”
I got up and went to the bedroom door. “We have two stops,” I said. I opened up the door and collected Emma’s bag. Hans’ conversation with John was briefly louder in my ears, but that could have just been John overreacting when he heard about Melvin showing up downstairs. I closed the door.
“The first is a little Italian restaurant near my old apartment,” I said when I handed Emma her bag. “We won’t be staying there long, though.”
“Oh?” Emma asked.
I grimaced. “That stop is just to see my folks. They drove down after finding out about my apartment burning down from Megan. Are you sure you want to come with Hans and me? If you want to stay here I can totally call Mom and let her know I can’t make it.”
Emma looked taken aback. “Is something wrong?”
I looked down and fidgeted. “No. Yes. It’s just… I didn’t know I was bi before I met you. So I’m not looking forward to telling them.”
Emma’s mouth made a little ‘o’ of understanding. “Well, if you’d rather you can just call me your friend,” she said, “or not even mention me at all. You don’t have to avoid them just to avoid talking about us.”
I looked up. “Oh, hell no!” I protested. “I’m not going to deny you, Emma, not even by omission. That would be horrible of me! It’s just…” Mom can be mean, I thought, and there’s no way she’ll approve of us — even if I weren’t dating Hans, too. I immediately felt guilty for thinking it. “…Mom is kind of conservative,” I said instead. “I doubt she’ll take the news well, and I don’t want you to have to catch any of the fallout.”
Emma shook her head. “I think it would be pretty awful of me to make you face that on your own, though. No, I won’t skip out.”
I looked at her, saw her being strong for me despite how vulnerable she’d been just seconds ago, and felt my lips turn up in a wobbly smile. I couldn’t chicken out if she wasn’t going to. “Okay,” I said. “Um… how did you come out to your parents about being bi? And poly?”
Emma actually blushed. “Well, I told my mom first. Or rather, she made me tell her.” She saw my confusion and resigned herself to explaining. “You know how every high school has that one couple that’s made up of the star athlete and the head cheerleader? Well, mine was no different. And I thought they were really cute. Both of them. Which sucked, because there was no way I could try to date one of them without hurting and pissing off the other. Anyway, long story short, after I’d been moping for a few weeks mom sat me down and demanded to know what was bothering me. So I told her, and she sent dad out for ice cream, and we spent the rest of the evening watching bad romantic comedies and commiserating. I found out about a lot of my parents’ doomed past romances that night. Which was kind of ‘ew,’ but hey: they got me to laugh. And the next day wasn’t quite so bad, since at least my crushes weren’t just bottled up inside my head.” She shrugged. “And that’s pretty much it.”
I stared at her in shock. “I could never do that. My god, Emma: If I’d had a conversation like that with my mom, the world would have been destroyed by the black hole that formed when her head imploded!”
Emma laughed. I didn’t think she realized I was serious. I tried not to think about how much worse my ‘worst case scenario’ for lunch had gotten.
“Anyway, you should probably get dressed,” I said instead. “John is talking with Hans downstairs, so we can get going pretty much whenever.”
Actually, it sounded like their conversation was about wrapping up. I focused on it a little while Emma went through the clothes that remained in her backpack.
“You realize I’m going to have to alert the council about this,” John was saying. He sounded pretty grim, too.
“Yes,” Hans said. “That’s part of why I told you. Your judgment will be more likely to be accepted as an impartial third party’s, since I’m Abigail’s first donor, and Megan is Abigail’s friend.”
It didn’t escape my notice that Hans had claimed to be my first donor — and that he hadn’t mentioned that I’d ever tasted Megan’s blood, even though I’d clarified that point for him when I’d come clean about everything to him and Fumiko. I felt a brief surge in apprehension as I tried to figure out if he’d just overlooked that detail, or had deliberately concealed it. Remembering what John had said about how much stronger vampires who had a lycanthrope for their first donor were made me wonder: were there any other vampires who’d had a fae’s blood first? Was that something that could get me in trouble?
I thought about the possible response if my origin turned out to be a threat to the current undead power structure, and froze completely to keep from shivering visibly in front of Emma. I sure as hell didn’t want any of the soulless undead to think I was a potential threat to their world order, or that I ever even could be. Was I? Could I be?! No: I had to be being paranoid. Yes, that was it. Hans had just accidentally overlooked the detail when laying things out for John.
And then deliberately lied about it, when he said he was my first.
John sighed. “Yeah. Well, I agree that Megan probably isn’t a problem. But Archarel definitely is, and if Megan’s fae family decides to make a move for his territory, then they could become one pretty fast. At least there’s already a director on the way — but with the fae actively plotting, it seems a lot less likely that they’ll be willing to leave the city in the hands of a new-turned vampire who doesn’t even have a mentor. Even with Abigail’s curse scaled to match the potency of your blood, she has a lot to learn and it will take a lot of time for her strength to develop, and that’s something the fae will take full advantage of.”
“I know,” Hans said quietly. “I know.”
I was distracted from the rest of Hans’ and John’s conversation by Emma saying something. Startled, I returned my focus to her and hoped she hadn’t noticed me zoning out. She was getting dressed, shimmying into one of the skirts I’d passed on earlier. I hastily looked away in embarrassment over how that made my skin flush, and then back again because Emma liked being looked at. I realized I was floundering and finally settled with staring ahead, where I could see her out of the corner of my eye without directly staring. “What was that?” I asked.
“I wanted to know where the second stop was going to be,” Emma repeated. “Since you just said ‘the first’ was going to be to see you parents.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right. Well, after we’re done disappointing my parents and evading whatever trap they’ve set up to get me stuffed into the trunk of their car and carted home, we were going to go see one of Hans’ friends. He thought she might be able to help with some of the stuff that happened this morning. And we were going to ask her about fixing the house ward — unless you feel up to that? Honestly, even with John keeping an eye on the place I’d feel that much better if he had some extra security. I am big on locking up my home,” I confided.
Emma shook her head. She took off her pajama top and started putting on a bra, which almost distracted me from her answer. “Sorry. I hadn’t even noticed it was down! I’m still not fully recovered from last night, and getting so upset when Katherine came home didn’t really help. My aura is so thin and tattered I can barely feel the others around me, let alone see them or interact with them — and I was never very good at spell work, anyway.” She chewed her lip thoughtfully. “My best advice for John would be for him to pour more salt along all the doors and windowsills, tack in iron nails, and think unwelcoming thoughts.”
I looked at Emma sideways. Now she was putting on her blouse. Think unwelcoming thoughts, I wondered. Was she kidding me? “Does that actually do anything?” I asked. “I mean, I really don’t know anything about how magic works.”
Emma shrugged and started buttoning her blouse. “The stuff most people do — most ‘mundane’ people like witches and warlocks, I mean, not werewolves or fae — is pretty sympathetic. You use rituals, usually, to get your head into a certain mindset. I guess, basically: the point is to fill your aura up with a specific intent, and then use symbolically appropriate objects, activities, words; whatever, to imprint that intent into the auras that touch yours. Kind of like you’re giving the world a subconscious instruction. Then you just let the imprinted auras figure out the actual execution. It’s all very subtle,” she added. “No big fireballs or fancy light shows. Usually.”
“Usually?” I asked, curious.
She shrugged again. “It’s a lot easier to magic a supernatural individual than it is to magic the world at large. Mundane people have the easiest time resisting spells, since their disbelief can actively counteract any imprinted spells that come their way. A supernatural, on the other hand, both believes in magic and tends to have a more intense aura, which actually gives a witch more to work with. More of a surface to paint with their spell, if you will.”
I thought about that for a little bit. “So…?” I slowly drawled.
Emma laughed. “So, thinking mean thoughts probably wouldn’t stop a mundane person from coming into a house. But for someone with more magic in their makeup, it could actually give them trouble. That’s all the house ward is, really: unwelcoming thoughts that have been reinforced and anchored by some appropriate symbolic materials. And the fae have a lot of magic in their makeup, so it doesn’t take as much effort to ward against them as it would, say, a werewolf. A fae makes for a big target for the ward to push against. But warding against your average unwitting human would be pretty much impossible unless you invested a lot of your own energy into it. The ‘target’ would be too small to hit unless you were swinging a much larger mallet.”
“Okay,” I said, “I get that. But what does it have to do with whether or not you can throw fireballs or shoot lasers out of your eyes?”
Emma covered another laugh with her hand. “Well,” she said, “I couldn’t do either. But a good witch probably could. It would just totally wipe them out if they tried to do it with only their own energy. However, there’s a reason we describe this energy as ‘auras’ — it tends to radiate off of people. So if there were a lot of supernaturals around, there would be a lot of energy radiating out into the world. And some of that would… Um, ‘permeate,’ I guess, or overlap, with the witches’ aura. And that would give them a lot more accessible power to work with, which would let them get away with doing the less-than-subtle flashy stuff.”
Emma grinned and stepped in front of me. “So, how do I look? Presentable enough to be presented to your parents?”
My parents. Oh, fuck, that’s right: I was asking her questions to distract myself from the fact that we were going to go see my parents. My throat abruptly went dry. “Yeah,” I rasped. I cleared my throat and tried again: “Yes. Let’s get Hans and get going.”
I stood. Emma stepped up next to me and tucked her arm in mine. “Alright,” she agreed, much more cheerfully than her earlier crying would even suggest was possible. I tried to think positive. If my understanding of magic was right, then that might actually do something.
So: positive thoughts.
At least it’ll be over quick, I thought, since we’ll be at the epicenter when the black hole consumes the Earth.