After the first pulse of life rushed over me, it fell to a trickle. Calling Emma anemic wouldn’t have actually been accurate. Her blood was no thinner than ever, but the rush of life I’d expected to come with it dwindled to almost nothing. Angrily, I bit again — without much better result. Hans shouted something from the front seat, but I didn’t pay attention. Emma had only cried out in pain the once; by the third bite her life force had already faded to almost nothing and she’d slumped into me, barely breathing. By then Hans had managed to twist around and force himself between the front seats to yank her away from me. I was frustrated enough to let her arm fall limp.
“Abigail!” Hans shouted again, dragging my attention away from the weak emotions that washed around my vampiric impulses like a low tide around a stone outcropping. The life I’d pulled from Emma was barely enough to take the edge off my cravings. It was nowhere near enough to submerge them, and between the sun’s glare and the stress of not killing Mom, that edge was coming back fast.
I briefly considered lashing out, seizing Emma and draining her completely, but discarded the idea. Her blood had taken the edge off my need… and I didn’t want to bloat myself on blood that barely had an aura to taste. It would just fill my gut and prevent me from feeding properly. I flicked her arm off of my lap while Hans forced his way the rest of the way into the back seat. I didn’t even bother licking up the blood that had spilled over Emma’s wrist, palm and forearm before her torn flesh could knit back together. I remembered what she’d told me about her aura still being in tatters from last night and sighed. Apparently she hadn’t been exaggerating.
“Emma?” Hans asked in a measured voice. She didn’t reply. If he was panicking, his voice didn’t show it — but his heart rate had jumped. Discarding Emma had been the right call: my tummy had plenty of room for Hans’ blood, now. He barely paid me any attention as he shuffled Emma into the far window seat. I scowled at his jacket and wondered how tough it would be to bite through leather. Best to wait for him to turn around, I decided.
“Hans, I’m thirsty,” I said flatly. I was slightly annoyed that he was checking on Emma rather than baring his neck or wrist for me. I scowled at myself — that annoyance was at odds with what little of my normal emotion I was capable of, which insisted that once I’d fed I was gong to go ape-shit about whether or not Emma was all right. And never mind that she was fine: I could hear her breathing and her heart beat, and I could tell from the smell of it that her wounded wrist had already healed and the only spilt blood was drying. Living Abby was pathetic in her incessant worrying over other people’s well being. For a couple of seconds I just struggled with that: Living Abby’s ingrained insistence that everyone else was more important than me running headlong into Vampire Abby’s instinctual prioritization of herself.
Hans shot me a look over his shoulder that was almost incredulous — but when he saw me sitting there with my hooded cloak and Emma’s blood spilled over my lap… well, he wasn’t slow on the uptake. He let Emma be and rounded on me: first pulling my cloak shut over my hands an arms, then pulling my hood further forward to block more of the sun from my face. In the process, he pressed one of his forearms to my lips. I bit.
Hans leaned forward to further shield me from the sun with his own not unimpressive bulk, but I didn’t pay him much mind. The wolf hit me in a rush. I gasped in relief, releasing Hans’ arm, and breathed in deeply. My heart made a few irregular beats before settling into a steady rhythm. I bit into Hans’ wrist again. Hunt kill fuck feast, the wolf howled through me. Run, howl, fight, murder… I let go of Hans’ arm and recoiled.
“Abigail?” he asked. “Abigail, are you sated?”
“Yes,” I said shakily. What had that been? The wolf didn’t recognize concepts like murder — that was a human thing and it was too much a beast. “I mean: no. But take us somewhere dark before we try to deal with that any more. The sun is affecting me much worse today.” Murder. It had to be an interaction between Emma’s life and Hans’ wolf. Emma would see the wolf’s demand for death as a demand to murder. For that matter, so would Hans — and even when I was thirsty I recognized that if you killed someone and it wasn’t in self-defense, it was murder. I just didn’t care until I’d been sated.
I scowled to myself. The wolf’s life force was being subsumed into Living Abby, but not so quickly that I was already freaking out about anything. Instead, all I could think about were the implications that my vulnerabilities seemed to be growing more pronounced by the day. John had implied that a vampire’s strengths and weaknesses would be amplified over time, but he’d made it sound like that was something that took years, if not decades. Shoot: Mr. Salvatore had been centuries old and he’d managed to hold down a day job. At this rate, though, by the end of the week I probably wouldn’t be able to stand the sun for more than a minute without needing to feed. Maybe less.
It had to be because of Megan’s blood, I decided. More magical potential in my first blood was supposed to mean my vampirism would progress more aggressively, after all. I’d probably made it even worse by feeding on Melvin and giving my curse the kind of potential it was adapted to consume and channel. Feeding on Hans and Emma before that might have been like giving it a diet of fluff and candy — filling enough to keep my hunger in check, but not nutritious enough to keep from stunting Vampire Abby’s development.
I scowled harder. On the other hand, maybe the fact that Hans and Emma were weaker than what the curse wanted was the reason the sun had torn through my life force so quickly: I was vulnerable because even though I’d been able to drink enough from them to sate my hunger, I wasn’t nourished enough to have the strength to face my weaknesses. Maybe if I wanted to face the daylight like a normal vampire my age, I was going to have to drink regularly from a fae.
I needed to get into contact with the Council of Twelve. If their weaknesses were more pronounced when they fed from mortals instead of werewolves, it would logically follow that I was suffering the same problem by feeding predominantly on a werewolf instead of fae. Otherwise I had no way of knowing if trying to feed on Melvin again would make things worse by pushing my curse’s development, or better by providing me the strength I needed to cope with life as a vampire.
Oh, fuck me. Thinking about the Council of Twelve reminded me that I was scared to undeath of just the Directors, and in no way ready to deal with their magical higher ups. The wolf’s courage and the vampire’s disregard for others had finally given way to my normal emotions. They were still there, but the vampire was suppressed and the wolf was fading. True to form, my ‘living’ urges were looking over the last few minutes and opting to either panic or freak out, or perhaps some of both.
“Please,” I said quickly. “Get us to the steak place.” They hadn’t had many windows, none back where we’d sat — the dim lighting had been part of the place’s ambiance. “I’ll manage until then. I can nibble while we wait for Linda.”
I might’ve asked to go home, tried to hide until nightfall — but I needed to know what Linda could tell me about changelings and the fae. I pulled in on myself as the wolf’s urges faded completely into those of my normal self. Then, before Hans could shift back into the front seat, I swallowed and realized what I’d been trying to ignore by focusing on myself. “Is Emma okay?” I asked weakly. Oh god, oh god oh god oh god… I could still hear her faint breathing and the slow pace of her heart, but she wasn’t even conscious. Was her breathing fainter? Her heartbeat slower?!
“I don’t know,” Hans said. “She’s alive. She’s uninjured. But whatever damage has been done to her aura… that I don’t know how to even measure, let alone fix.” He sounded apologetic. Why did he sound apologetic? Was Emma not going to recover?
“We should go,” Hans said softly. “Linda is the strongest witch I know, and if there’s anything we can do to revive Emma, Linda is certain to know it.”
No, no no no no… Hans’ words were drowned to meaningless syllables by the internal cacophony of my panic. What had I done to her? The hospital, I immediately thought. Why aren’t we going to the hospital? But would the hospital even do any good? Sure, there had been that one witch that had peeked in on Megan’s aura — but how the hell did you even start to heal a soul?!
No time. I didn’t know if the realization had been fed by panic, or if my panic was starting to make me distort time — but I knew we didn’t have the time to go looking for someone who could help Emma. To my ears, her heartbeat was a faint crawl: a metronome thumping in an agonizingly slow beat. I could hear the silence between exhalation and inhalation, when she wasn’t technically breathing at all — and those gaps were getting longer.
Emma needed help now.
In the next second, everything I knew about auras and life force and souls flashed through my head. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to realize that Fumiko’s video games were full of bullshit: you couldn’t just quaff a potion of mana and have your energy replenished. If that was all it took, vampires wouldn’t waste time with blood. And witches wouldn’t have to surround themselves with supernaturals and then use symbolism and rituals and happy thoughts to focus and amplify their magic…
As soon as that thought clicked, I grabbed Hans and shoved him back against the seat in front of Emma. His eyes flew open in astonishment, and I kissed him hard. When I pulled away Emma hadn’t reacted. I swore and scrambled between the front seats, leaning in enough to find the radio while my legs tangled together in the back.
“Abigail?” Hans asked. “What…?”
“I’m casting a spell!” I yelled back at him. I think. Fortunately, Hans had gotten the key into the ignition. I gave it a half turn and got the radio going. Then I spun through the dials until I found something that sounded like the song Emma had loved when we’d danced together. Symbolism. Close enough, anyway. Feeding on someone consumed their fears first, so whatever was left of Emma’s aura had to be related to the things that made her feel happy, or safe, or something like that. Well: sexy, confident Emma liked to dance, and liked to be caught making out, and…
I squirmed into the back seat. Safety, I thought. It could be that what was left in Emma was related to safety rather than happiness. So I looked at Hans. Then I looked at Emma and boldly said: “Emma, I swear that I will never, ever break up with you. I stood up to my folks for you, for us, and that was terrifying but I did it and I’ll stand up to whatever else I have to in order to take care of you.” Then I turned back to Hans. I didn’t know how much longer the song on the radio would last. I threw myself against him and kissed him passionately.
The song; the statement, those had been symbolic. This was an attempt to make the auras around her — my aura, at least — something similar enough to hers that they could permeate, that she would have access to mine, that it could reinforce hers the way she’d described witches gathering power for their own spells. Maybe some of her soul was still in there, not entirely subsumed into me. Maybe if I put that back out into the world, made my aura radiate it out, Emma’s would pick it up. Emma was an exhibitionist, and right now there was absolutely nothing in the entire world that would have made me happier than for her to open her eyes and catch me making out with Hans. Emma, I swore to myself, if this works I am totally going to watch you get your brains fucked out by someone else.
I had to admit, even in my panic over Emma’s wellbeing, that mental image was hot. I blamed the fact that I’d bit Hans’ lip while we were kissing and now his wolf was having its inappropriate way with my emotions. It was just as well: if the way witches leeched off of other supernatural entities’ auras worked the way I thought it did, then being distracted by my worry for Emma would ruin the whole attempt at putting out an aura that could reinforce whatever shreds of life were left of Emma’s soul. I forced myself to stop thinking about it and kissed Hans more passionately.
While I was at it, I shared my fantasy with the wolf’s urges. Maybe that guy behind the bar at Club Luminescence would be up for one of those parties. He’d seemed quiet enough to not freak me out and he and Emma had been on a first name basis. I growled at the thought and shoved Hans into the door, then climbed up on him while he was sitting in Emma’s lap. Okay, no: the wolf did not like the idea of an interloper fucking around with her pack.
Alright, well, maybe Hans wouldn’t be against some casual sex, even if he didn’t want to be romantic with more than one person. Or, if not, then maybe Emma and I could have another night like last night, while Hans was in human form to watch. I bet Emma would totally love that… but no, the point was that I ‘d promised to watch someone else violate her into ecstasy, not do it myself. Okay. We’d just have to take turns, then. Or would we? I could totally picture Emma with her legs split around Hans’ waist, moaning in ecstasy not just from what he was doing to her, but also because my fangs were in her arm, her blood was in my veins, and every sensation either of us had was shared while Hans fucked her and fingered me. I felt a shiver run through me.
“Hey, get a room,” Emma said weakly. “Or at least scoot over a seat: I can’t feel my legs.”
I let go of Hans — I’d almost forgotten I was kissing him, I’d been so distracted by fantasizing about… I mean, by figuring out what I’d have to arrange to fulfill my mental promise to Emma. That actually worked? I sat back into the middle of the back seats and scrambled for my purse. Thank God! Hans looked back and forth between Emma and I, looking in part confused, in part relieved, and in part frustrated. Hans shifted some more and he ended up in Emma’s seat. Emma squirmed over to the middle seat, and I shifted back to my window seat to make room for her. Then I got Megan’s chocolate bar out of my purse and pressed it into Emma’s hands.
“Eat,” I insisted. Sugar helped vampires deal with the shock of absorbing a weaker aura. It seemed to help the fae, too. Maybe it would help Emma’s aura hold onto some of what I’d been radiating off when I’d wanted to be caught kissing Hans and been fantasizing about watching Emma.
Emma fumbled with the wrapper, then tore it open and took a bite of the chocolate. Her movements seemed more precise and her heartbeat stronger with every second. Even her breathing seemed to be rapidly returning to normal… but I had a suspicion that her aura was still shredded. That her physical health in no way reflected her spiritual strength.
“What just happened?” Hans asked.
“You scared me!” I accused Emma, even though I knew it was completely my own fault. What had I been… no, I hadn’t been thinking. Not about her. I’d just been being a greedy bloodsucking killer. I shivered and pulled Fumiko’s cloak back around myself. I needed more donors. I needed to take the weight off of Hans and Emma — especially Emma. And I needed to talk to Linda. Not only would she be able to tell me about changelings and quislings, but if she was a witch she’d probably be able to see Emma’s aura and maybe be able to tell me how long Emma would need to recover. I’d have to find somewhere else to stay. I couldn’t risk biting her again before she was healthy, and she couldn’t go back to Katherine’s.
Maybe I could burn the last of my savings on a hotel room.
Emma blinked slowly and took another bite of the candy bar. “Sorry,” she said. “But… what did just happen?” she asked. “The last thing I remember was giving you my arm, and then… it gets fuzzy after that,” she said.
It gets fuzzy. Emma had once told me that when Mr. Salvatore had fed on her, she’d lost days to everything going fuzzy.
“Abigail cast a spell,” Hans answered dryly, highlighting the fact that he was still waiting for an explanation, too.
I swallowed. My nerves were shot. “Emma’s an exhibitionist,” I explained, “and auras are called auras because they radiate off of people,” I echoed what Emma had told me before we left. “So I put you in her lap and put on the music for the symbolism… because it’s something she likes, and I made out with you because that was exhibitionistic and I was trying to get my aura to match up with what was left of hers so that whatever I was putting off would mesh up and reinforce whatever I hadn’t already stolen from Emma.”
Emma’s eyes widened slightly. “Like a coven in a circle ritual, where everyone gets into the same mindspace so that they can share their strength and no individual is too overly taxed by their spell?” she asked.
“Uh… I guess,” I answered.
“That’s… huh. That’s pretty impressive,” Emma said. Then she shook her head. “I’m sorry, I’d be more excited about the possibilities, but I’m really tired.”
No, I thought, you’d be excited but there’s not enough of your soul intact for you to have too many or too strong of emotional responses. “It’s okay,” I said. I wriggled back into my seat. “Hans, can we get going? I want to get out of here before…” I didn’t even know what. Before something worse happened, anyway. Maybe aliens would come abduct us from the parking lot or something. That seemed like it would be par for the course.
“Yeah,” Hans agreed without requiring I complete my thought. He opened Emma’s door and got out. Then he turned to walk around the back of the Hummer and up to the driver’s side door — except he didn’t move. I peered at him from under the hood of my cloak, and a sense of dread began to envelop me.
“William,” Hans said. It was almost a greeting. And also almost a warning.
I jerked around in my seat and looked up despite the sun. Oh, fuck me! I thought.
Behind the Hummer, just a couple steps away, with his jaw hanging open and his face as white as a sheet, stood my Dad.