Fumiko entered Megan’s apartment first. She had insisted. Abby had told her about the elf, Melvin, waiting on Megan’s couch the night before: therefore, it stood to reason that anyone could be waiting for them now. So Fumiko took the lead, even though she still wasn’t sure how much she objectively believed in… in faeries.
She believed in vampires, anyway, and that was enough for her to take faeries on faith for now.
They entered Megan’s apartment by way of the stairs coming up from Mrs. Butterson’s suite below. Fumiko glanced up and down the hallway before stepping out into it, then hastened to the near end, where she could glance through Megan’s washroom and bedroom before pivoting and checking the living room. When Fumiko passed the stairs again, Megan fell into step behind her.
The living room looked just about like it always did, except slightly messier: there were takeout bags on the coffee table. The front door was locked, but not dead bolted. After taking a quick scan around the room, Fumiko went to the door — choosing a path that would let her see if anyone was crouched behind Megan’s arm chair or lurking in the closet — before fastening the door’s chain. The door had two more dead bolts, which Fumiko happened to know Megan never bothered with unless Abby was over. Fumiko turned them both before turning around.
“Well,” Fumiko said, “I think we’re in the clear for now. As far as I can tell, anyway.” She didn’t quite relax, but she did walk over to the couch. Megan had stopped by her chair. “I guess we should talk, then,” Fumiko concluded — but she felt awkward about it. Really, Megan was supposed to be the talkative one in the group. But Megan had barely uttered two words since Fumiko had picked her up, not even when they’d shared an early lunch with Zane and his aunt.
Megan looked at her chair, then turned and slumped down into it. After a moment, Fumiko sat down on the couch.
“You have to say something,” Fumiko finally said. “I know what’s going on with Abby,” she added, “kind of. But right now I’m a lot more worried about what’s going on with you, Megan.”
Megan didn’t respond for a moment, and Fumiko wrestled down a mild surge of frustration. Then Megan looked up. “I’m sorry you’re frustrated,” she said. The statement made Fumiko pull back a little in surprise — but it really shouldn’t have. You know she’s a fae, Fumiko reminded herself. Supposedly. And you know that means her empathy is more than just an uncanny ability to read people. Get it together.
“You know, Abby was here,” Megan said as though she hadn’t noticed Fumiko’s reaction. “Her things are gone.”
“Yeah,” Fumiko confirmed. “She told me that when we talked. Look, Meg… I’ve got a lot to tell you, but I’m damn well not going to until I know you’re in shape to deal with it. So what the heck is tearing you up? I’m no empath, but even I can tell you’re depressed and that is not normal.”
“Isn’t it?” Megan asked. “Are you sure? I’m not. I’m not sure, and I’m not an ’empath,'” she expanded. Fumiko fidgeted uncomfortably, but at least Megan’s voice was raising. It wasn’t the depressed whisper it had been. “I eat people’s souls!” she said, and her voice broke a little. “It’s crazy, isn’t it? There’s no way I’d believe it, but I ate Abby’s. And it turned her into… into…”
“Yeah, I know,” Fumiko said quietly. “But hey, she got better. So don’t beat yourself up so much.”
Megan looked up at Fumiko, and her eyes were red and rimmed with water. Please don’t cry, Fumiko thought. You know I’m not good with crying people.
Fortunately, Megan kept the tears in check. Instead, she screwed up her resolve. “You shouldn’t be here,” Megan said. “What are you even doing here?! Don’t you realize I could do that to you, too? That I’ve been doing that to you?”
Okay, good. I can handle an issue if we’re tackling it head on. “Yes,” Fumiko said. “I am aware. So what? First off: You aren’t going to make me go psycho like Abby did, because I’m not a vampire. Which means that even if you do whatever it is you do, that just means things are going to be exactly the way they’ve always been between us. So, okay: do whatever it is you do and get over moping about it, because nothing has changed except your awareness of it. Being your friend has never hurt me before, and I seriously doubt that’s changed.”
“But,” Megan said.
“But nothing,” Fumiko interrupted. “Do you remember what I was like that first year of college? If we’re going to blame you for ‘eating’ my emotions, then I owe you. If I hadn’t had a clear head to think things through, I’d still be that bitter, frightened shut-in you teased out of her dorm, just living in an apartment instead.”
Megan’s lips quivered. “Do you… do you mean that?”
Fumiko snorted. Yes. “You’re the empath,” she said. “So stop feeling bad, open up a little, and tell me if I mean it.”
Megan swallowed, and then smiled just a little.
Fumiko let out a breath in relief. For a half second, she wasn’t sure if that relief was her own, or because Megan was doing… whatever it was she did. Ultimately, however, it just didn’t matter to her. “Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “I suck at this caretaker stuff.”
“You really don’t,” Megan contradicted her, but Fumiko just snorted dismissively and shook her head.
“Whatever,” she said. “There is a lot of stuff we need to talk about, so let’s just go over it chronologically, okay? I’ll start with everything Abby told me up to when she freaked out this morning. You can fill me in on that from your point of view. Then I’ll lay out what Abby had to say about it, and what happened while I was over there after you’d left.”
“Okay,” Megan agreed.
Fumiko nodded. She took a deep breath, gathered her recollections, and then launched into her recounting. She laid out everything Abby had told her and Hans, but did so chronologically, starting with when Abby had first caught Mr. Salvatore and Megan together at the New Year’s party a year ago. She left out some details, summarizing those events that Megan had been there for as well, but otherwise doing her best to remember everything that Abby had said. She almost stopped when she got to the parts about Abby and Emma. Megan hadn’t known they’d started dating. But Fumiko forced herself to go on as though she hadn’t noticed Megan’s stricken expression, which Megan hastened to cover up. What could I have said, anyway? Fumiko wondered as she continued. That I was sorry? That I’d been shipping her and Abby? When Fumiko was done, her throat was slightly raspy — but she wasn’t ready to call it quits and go find a drink quite yet.
“That’s everything up to when you asked me to leave,” Fumiko said. She frowned. There was one thing that fell into the ‘past’ chronologically and was important enough to bring up before they continued with Megan’s side of things. “Did you know that Abby used to hurt herself?” Fumiko asked.
Megan shifted uneasily. “I… I kind of suspected,” she said. “But I didn’t know what to do about it except be there so she wouldn’t, and it seemed like it was happening less and less the longer I knew her.”
Fumiko sighed and shook her head. “I wish you’d told me,” she said.
“Well, by then I knew you were straight,” Megan replied.
Fumiko looked away and cleared her throat. “Not my point,” she said a little defensively. She looked back at Megan. “We should’ve encouraged her to seek medical help. At least we could’ve gotten her talking to the college counselor.”
Megan ducked her head, and Fumiko sighed. “I’m sorry,” Fumiko hastened to say. “I didn’t mean that as a criticism. You were there for her; for both of us. I just wish I had been, too.” Fumiko shook her head again. “Anyway,” she said, “what happened while I was going home?”
“Abby was so depressed,” Megan said immediately. “I could just feel it. And she was terrified of something… of a lot of things, but not the way she usually is. Katie was freaking out, too, which didn’t help. I felt like I was being buffeted by both of them, and finally I snapped at Katie and went to try and help Abby.” She fidgeted. “That’s when Abby went insane. Fumiko, I know she described it to you, but I don’t think you understand. If you haven’t seen her eyes like that, I don’t know how you could. They were… not empty, but inhuman. She was all hunger and cruelty and hate. I knew she was going to kill me. I even tried to get her to,” Megan wailed. “Anything to get her to stop looking at me like that; to stop saying those… those things.”
Fumiko shifted uneasily. She could accept that she didn’t know what Megan had witnessed. Unfortunately, that just made it that much more difficult for her to figure out what to say to comfort her friend.
“She decided to kill Katie instead,” Megan said. “I don’t even know why. But Katie… Katherine was standing in the sunlight. Abby couldn’t get to her. But then… Fumiko, she got in my head. Abby did. She was making me feel what she felt; making me want to kill Katie too. I was going to. I was ready to grab Katie and haul her out of the sun and just hold her there so Abby could rip her throat out. Fumiko, I… I would have done it.”
Fumiko took care to keep her expression even. She knew Megan could probably suss out the way she was reacting by peeking at her aura or whatever, but at that moment she didn’t think Megan was putting in the effort. And that was just as well, because Fumiko was more than a little freaked out. The threat of physical harm Fumiko could deal with. But mind control? She really doubted that any amount of full contact sparring could prepare someone to deal with that.
Megan pulled herself together after a moment. “Before I did, though, the curtain came down. Abby was caught in the sunlight, and… it… I can’t,” Megan said. “It was horrible. I ran away. Katie dragged me away. I’m not sure which. We didn’t stop running, though. All the way to her car. Katherine tried to get me into the passenger seat, but I wouldn’t let her. She hated Abby almost as much as Abby hated her. I could tell. They each wanted the other to die; to die horribly. And… and I was so scared, Fumiko. I was scared that if I went with Katherine, she would be able to make me hate Abby like that. Or, that I would suddenly find I wanted to kill her again. I couldn’t… I just couldn’t,” she said. “I managed to get free of Katie’s grip and shove her down. I wanted to go back to Abby, but I couldn’t because then I might just come back out and try to kill Katie. I… I couldn’t trust myself, and I thought Abby was dead, and I just ran.”
Megan gulped back a sob. Then she pushed on. “I ran through some yards so Katie couldn’t follow me in her car. I managed to lose her, and I hid in an alley. But it was scary. Not just because of what had happened, but the alley itself was scary — like the shadows were moving on their own, and I kept feeling flickers of, of hunger but no one was there. I thought it was Abby, somehow. I guess it was fae? Anyway, I ran again. I went to the first place I could find with people, because I didn’t know what else to do. Then I called Zane. I… you know the rest.”
Fumiko nodded. “Okay,” she said. She hesitated. She wasn’t good at showing affection, but… “Do you need a hug?” Fumiko hesitantly asked.
Megan shook her head. “No. I… just don’t let me dwell on it, okay?” She forced an uneasy laugh.
Fumiko swallowed and nodded again. “Alright,” she said. “Um. Well, I got back and you weren’t there. Neither was Katie or her car, so I knew something had happened. I had a panicky message on my phone from Abby, but when I tried you I couldn’t get through.”
“I had my phone off while I was hiding,” Megan said. “In case Katie was walking around and calling to see if she could hear it… or in case it updated one of my social networks with a gps tag or something,” she said.
“Right,” Fumiko said. “Anyway, Abby was fine when I saw her. A little freaked out, but only a little. She showed off some vampire powers: just like in the movies, one second she would be in one spot, and the next she would be somewhere else entirely and I wouldn’t have seen her move.” That had been terrifying. Fumiko was a martial artist, and was well aware that the force of a punch revolved on technique and speed. Force is movement over time, her dad used to tell her. The further something travels over a given instant, the more force it’ll have behind it. It’s true whether you’re talking about a bullet or a fist. Fumiko didn’t know how fast Abby had been moving, but she bet that in vampire mode her friend had a punch like a cannon.
“After that,” Fumiko said, “she started explaining everything to Hans and I.” Fumiko skipped that, since she’d already told it all to Megan. “Then you called. I went upstairs, and while we were talking I heard gunshots. So I ran back down, and Abby was just standing there. Hans was a mess, totally covered in blood and his clothing was shredded. He was holding a gun, and there were bullet holes in the wall opposite him. Apparently that fae guy who’d been following Abby had shown up, and Hans had to put him down.”
“Oh, please,” a man’s voice interrupted. Fumiko whirled around even while backing out of her seat and tensing up, her muscles coiling in preparation to spring into a fight. Leaning against the wall behind the couch was a man in a Victorian frock coat and tophat who smiled widely at Fumiko’s startled expression. “I only let that puppy shoot me because it was a shorter walk from the homeland gates to here than it would have been from the vampire’s den,” he said. He spoke with a cultured English accent, not unlike the one Fumiko sometimes heard affected at renfaires. He snickered. “And to instill a false sense of security. Preciously useful, those. Especially since the cur insisted on taking Abigail’s place as my next opponent when he ended the game I had been playing with Abigail, even though I’d been so kind as to arrange to lose my winnings so she and I could enjoy another round or two.”
Fumiko felt the adrenaline start to pump through her veins. The man had pointed, lobeless ears and the pupils of his eyes were slit like a cat’s. He sniffed. “And really,” he added in a wounded whine, “why must everyone insist on claiming that I follow Abigail around? She was the one who’d been bandying about my name, after all. If I hadn’t stopped by, it would have just been rude.”
Okay, Fumiko thought, I officially believe in faeries now. “Melvin, I presume?” she asked flatly. It wasn’t really a question. “This is Megan,” Fumiko immediately added with a gesture to Megan, who was looking at the man with wide, frightened eyes. “Megan, would you please introduce me to our intruder so he doesn’t try to ‘play games’ and claim I’m giving him my name myself?”
“I… um, this is Fumiko, Melvin,” Megan stammered.
Melvin actually laughed. “Oh, I like you,” he said to Fumiko. “Up front and to the point as always. Fear not, Fumiko, I wouldn’t dream of claiming you.” He shook his head sadly. “It would be a boring game, full of me being clever and you staunchly refusing to play. Quite dull, really, with none of the reversals Abby is so delightfully clever at pulling out of thin air. I have a different diversion in mind for you,” he said. “But really, that should be saved for another time. Perhaps later, at your place? Just call my name, Fumiko. But please, not ‘Melvin.’ I prefer to think of that as Abigail’s personal pet name for me.” He smiled broadly. “It’s like letting her have her own ringtone,” he added jovially — and then turned to Megan.
“My name is actually Jack,” Jack said said to Megan. He stepped away from the wall, toward her. Fumiko shifted a step to intercept him, and he stopped. He rolled his eyes at her, then turned his attention back to Megan. “Though I do admit I like the surname ‘Tophat,'” he added with a chuckle. Then he made a deep bow. “So now you have my name,” he said to Megan. “Jack Tophat, sometimes known as Melvin. I am a knight errant, an unrepentant trouble maker…” he paused to make a point of looking at Fumiko. “…an excellent lover,” he drawled before adding as an aside: “and since you’re the go-between, be sure to share that with Abigail, Miss Fumiko. And try to remember the look on her face when you do, I’ll want a full recounting.” Then he snapped his full attention back to Megan, as though he hadn’t said a thing to Fumiko. “And I am entirely at your service, Lady Megan,” he concluded.
Megan stood. She glanced at Fumiko uncertainly, but Fumiko just shrugged. I’m not the empath, she thought. It would have to be up to Megan to decide if she trusted this guy. From Abby’s recounting, it seemed like Abby almost did, in weird sort of way. Fumiko didn’t, but then she’d always been of the opinion that trust, like friendship, was earned. Megan returned her eyes to Jack. “Um,” she said uncertainly. “Thank…”
Melvin straightened so quickly that Megan cut off in surprise. “A-ah-ah,” Melvin said, waggling a chiding finger. “No thanks are necessary. Ever. The implication of debt is the assuming of debt, for people like us,” he said. “It’s a very awkward habit for a changeling to break, I know, but you’d best be prepared to let people think you rude. It’s a far better alternative than letting them have an unpaid obligation with which to compel you.”
Megan swallowed. “Oh,” she said.
Jack grinned at her. “Think nothing of it!” He cheerfully proclaimed. And then, just as quickly, he turned dark and serious. “Really.” He added. “Think nothing of it. If you’d had the temeritous cheek — or utter incompetence — to thank me for warning you against thanking people, I would have been morally obliged to take over your life just to keep you from giving it away,” he said. Megan swallowed again.
And then Jack was back to smiling. “Now,” he said as he spread his arms wide. “On to other important things. Foremost, Megan, I am not the only one who knows who you are. And although I have taken precautions to obfuscate the paths to your home and misled those others who would seek you out, now that you are aware of them they will have a much easier time finding you. Therefore, I propose we address your defenses.” He shot a sideways, telling look at Fumiko. “I will admit that I rather approve of them as an individual,” he said, “and despite doing their best to seem impossibly dull most of the time, they do appear quite adequate for most mundane matters. However, I am afraid their effectiveness against supernatural threats would prove excessively disappointing, as things currently stand.” Fumiko bristled slightly, but Jack just grinned his shit-eating grin. “So tell me, ladies, how would the two of you like to learn some magic?”