After a moment I felt Hans shift slightly to look at John. “John,” he asked, “can you run downstairs and get those headphones?”
“Yeah,” John said. “Same combination?”
I closed my eyes and pressed my face tighter against Hans’ chest. I was thankful that he was arranging for me to have some privacy. Insofar as I could have privacy while someone was holding me. It wasn’t enough to get me to stop crying, though.
Hans didn’t seem to mind.
When I was finally out of tears and just sort of making little sobbing gasps and sniffles, Hans finally pulled away. But he only did it long enough to pull me over to the table. He sat down and pulled me into his lap; one of his arms encircled me again. He used his other hand to brush the tears off my cheeks — those that remained there, anyway. Most had found their way into his shirt. Along with an unfortunate amount of snot. Oh, god, I’d snotted on him while crying again.
John hadn’t come back up yet, and I had to figure he was giving us space. Or at least, giving Hans space to deal with me. Or maybe Hans had just lied about the gun safe’s combination, and John was still trying to get it open. Whatever the case, Hans and I were still alone.
I started to feel really, really stupid for crying on him. I mean: what was the point of breaking down in the basement if I was just going to cry on Hans anyway? Was I really so self-centered and selfish that I couldn’t just deal with my own shit? Was it really so bad that I had to make everyone else feel crappy about it, too?
Even though John wasn’t here right now, he’d been here long enough to get the point that I was an unhappy woman. And apparently self-involved enough that I didn’t mind dumping that burden on everyone around me. I shivered. Not because I was cold, but because I could hear my mom’s voice in the thoughts running through my head. How had I never noticed that before?
Hans didn’t say anything. He didn’t pressure me to talk, or tell me to stop crying, or accuse me of being unseemly or rude. I still felt unseemly and rude, and I was desperately glad I’d stopped crying.
“I’m sorry,” I said. Well, really, it was more of a whisper. But I tried to just say it.
“You don’t need to be,” Hans replied. His hand brushed my cheek again. “You’ve done nothing to apologize for. Not to me.”
I felt my face start to crumple again. Why did he have to be so nice to me? It actually made me feel worse about dumping all of my emotional crap on him. And it wasn’t like he didn’t have his own to deal with, I was sure. Even though he hadn’t been dumping it on me.
I swallowed once and laid my head on his shoulder. “I’m still sorry,” I told him. “You deserve better than this. I’m not a very good girlfriend.” I wasn’t a very good person, but I figured I was going to have to take baby steps to convey that to Hans. He was way too nice to accept it if I just laid it out in front of him in black and white like that.
I wasn’t quite prepared for Hans to snort. “I think I get to be the judge of that,” he said. “Or Emma. But not you, Abigail. You’re far too hard on yourself — especially given how hard life is hitting you right now. I don’t think most people have to deal with quite this many bumps on the road when they start dating someone.”
I closed my eyes. I hadn’t thought he’d listen to me, but I’d had to try. Maybe I’d have more success next time. At the moment, though, I was just exhausted, emotionally and physically.
“Thank you,” I said. “But I shouldn’t be burdening you with all this crap.”
I felt Hans shake his head. “No, and you aren’t. Listening to you is not a burden to me. You should be talking when you’re upset, because it helps. You can tell me anything you want, Abigail, and I won’t hold it against you or judge. I’ve been where you are right now — maybe not in the same way, but I’ve had my life turned inside out and upside down. I’ve had a monster urging me to do terrible things. I’ve even made mistakes, and that monster has sometimes taken control. And in my case, I went into it with my eyes open. You didn’t get that choice.”
It was a little weird. I was much more accustomed to being emotionally empty than emotionally exhausted. I hadn’t really realized the difference, before, but I could see it now. Megan had left me empty. Now? All of my emotions were still there, still the same jumbled mess, but there wasn’t anymore energy in them. I was all cried out.
“I think Dad knows,” I whispered.
“Probably,” Hans agreed. “Though whether or not he believes is another story. We’ll find out, though. Don’t borrow that trouble in advance, Abigail.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll call him tomorrow, then.” Maybe that hadn’t been what Hans had meant, but it was the closest I could come to putting that worry out of my mind for now. It was still there, but at least now I could worry about something more specific. ‘How will tomorrow’s call go?’ rather than ‘Oh god, what does he know-will he try to stake me-has he told Mom-why am I a monster?
It was peaceful in Hans’ arms. What else did I have to worry about? “I don’t know what Melvin is up to, but I don’t like leaving him alone with Megan and Fumiko.”
“I know,” Hans said. “But John will check on them, and he’s more than capable of handling a lone fae.”
I didn’t comment. A lone fae, yes, but Melvin was supposedly a fae loyal to Megan’s family, and she was a changeling. Which meant that there would be two fae present, and Melvin would have a firm anchor to our reality if he chose to make use of his connection to Megan. But John would be aware of that. I guessed I had to trust him.
“I can’t keep feeding from you and Emma,” I said.
At that one, I felt Hans tense. I wondered if I’d struck a nerve. I wondered if he felt guilty for not wanting to form a pack. “No,” he agreed quietly. “But we’ll figure that out.” It wasn’t lost on me that this was the first problem I’d brought up that he hadn’t offered a solution to. It made me want to look away. God, what was I doing?
“Abigail,” Hans said. “What can I do? This feels like there’s more to what you’re upset about than just vampire issues. And with all the stuff you told me about, while Fumiko was over… That you used to hurt yourself to cope, that you were so overwhelmed with anxiety when you were mortal, that… What I mean is, what do you need for me to do, to help you? Please, tell me.”
I felt like sniffling, so I found myself laughing instead. My auto pilot had finally kicked in — which was just as good. The next item I’d had on my list had been: ‘I don’t have a clue how old you are.’ “Nothing,” I said. “It’s not like there are therapists for the undead,” I added. Maybe I sounded a little too hopeful when I said it? I laughed again to make sure he knew it was a joke. “I can just imagine the office: instead of a couch, they could have a nice padded coffin. And a side business as a mortician.”
“Actually,” John said from the hallway door, “I do know a few witches who have gone into therapy. Being able to see people’s auras is a useful tool in that line of work. And given how many late nights I’ve spent talking with them, they probably qualify as experts in unlife issues. No coffin couches, though.”
I twisted around in Hans’ lap to stare at John. He shrugged. “I’m sorry, but I overheard. And frankly, given how you were turned? I would probably recommend you at least talk to someone who specializes in reactions to traumatic violence,” he said. “Victims of assault do, and I imagine it’s quite a bit worse for us victims of murder. Even if you don’t find someone you’re comfortable talking about vampirism with, it might help you find some emotional closure and balance. It did for me.”
“You’ve been in therapy?” I heard myself ask in surprise.
John laughed. “Have you met my dad?” John asked rhetorically. “He didn’t explain things to me before he killed me, either,” he said. “But then, I never had a choice about being a ghoul. Either I was going to be one or I wasn’t — and Dad unilaterally decided that it would be better to die young than to be a senile immortal, so he opted to give me the death that he thought had the least bad consequence if I wasn’t one.” John shrugged. “I don’t mind admitting that being murdered was a lot harder to cope with than the fact that I’d woken up from it.”
John’s voice became a little gentler. “I carried that around for a long time,” he admitted. “At least in part because for a long, long time there was such a negative association with needing help for emotional problems, especially if you were supposed to be a stoic, self possessed man about them.” He made a dismissive gesture. “And that’s a load of bullshit. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over all those years I’ve been around it’s that there’s no good reason to bottle up all the crap that makes you miserable and carry it around with you forever.”
I stared at John, wide eyed, and tried to figure out what I was getting myself into. I’d just been joking about needing therapy. Nobody really wanted to go to a therapist! I mean, people who went to therapists were crazy. If I signed up for one, what would everyone think?
My breath caught, for just a second. That was my mom talking again, wasn’t it? How many times had I thought that I needed a therapist, or medication, or some sort of professional help — before I’d died, even! And why hadn’t I sought that help? Because I was worried about what other people would think about me if they found out I had. Because even though I was broken, I was terrified of people finding out. My lips parted. I almost choked on the words. My autopilot, my self preservation, it all tried to go somewhere else — but I forced them out.
“John, can you help me find someone I can talk to?”
John must have heard something in my voice. The self-mocking laughter he’d had in his tone when describing his own problems with being undead fell away. “Yes,” he said simply.
I swallowed and blinked a couple times. I was supposed to be out of tears, dammit! Fucking vampiric regeneration!
“I… thank you,” I said. John came over, and for a second I started to panic because I thought he was going to try to give me a hug. Maybe he read my body language, or maybe he wasn’t going to at all, but he just handed a set of headphones to Hans, instead.
“You’re welcome,” John said.
I slid out of Hans’ lap. I felt all sorts of light-headed. Kind of like a weight had been lifted off of me, even though nothing had happened. Had it? I supposed I’d just taken the first step toward something I’d been trying to convince myself I needed for years, so maybe that was something. I slipped off my cloak and passed it to Hans so he could put it with the headphones. “I… I’m going to lay down,” I said. “Thank you. Thank both of you. I just… I need to process,” I finished lamely. I was a little stunned that I hadn’t blurted… something crazy, anyway. My mind was just drawing a blank, though. Was I that worn out?
Hans and John let me go. I was half in a daze when I got to the hallway, but there I paused. I considered returning to the basement. Instead, I turned and went upstairs. I stopped in the bathroom to wipe my eyes and face. The evidence of my crying was already gone: any redness or puffiness had ‘healed.’ Go, vampire powers.
When I was at least a little more put together, I went to the guest room. Emma was under the covers; her eyes were closed and her heartbeat and breathing were slow and steady. I watched her for a little bit, and thought about climbing in with her. I didn’t want to wake her, though, so I ended up sitting on — and then stretching out on — the love seat, instead.
Emma had seen a therapist, she’d said. Katherine had made her. And that had been for grief over just one person. Admittedly, magic had been involved, but still: I didn’t think less of her for having seen one. Emma probably wouldn’t think less of me if I went to one, too. John wouldn’t, either. Would Hans?
I could hear Hans and John talking, faintly. After I noticed it, I could hear it more clearly.
“When on earth did this all happen?” Hans asked.
“After we parted ways,” John said. “I finally realized after that last fight that it was pretty hypocritical of me to keep pushing you to talk to a grief counselor when I was carrying around so much baggage myself. So… I got some help.”
Hans muttered something in a foreign language that made John laugh.
“No arguments here,” John said. “But still, you know that all of us undead have something that can be best described as an addiction. Certain kinds of therapy have always been a lot more acceptable around the center, so it wasn’t really that big a step for me to look for something more. And even you admit that talking helps, so… what’s going on?”
I heard Hans sigh. “Linda was on me to start a pack,” he told his friend. “To either give up the territory we’d held and let someone else claim it, or to put together a pack that could hold it properly.”
“Good for her,” John opined — and I heard a very, very soft growl that I thought had to be Hans.
“Hey,” John protested. “I’ve known you aren’t cut out for solitude since… well, forever, Hans. And sure, your pack might’ve just been a quisling and a ghoul for a while — and then just a ghoul when we skipped town on Dad, but… How much time have you realy spent alone? Even when I had your back, you were constantly getting into relationships that weren’t really suitable, so you’d always know they would eventually end and you wouldn’t be hurt when it eventually did. Hell, maybe I’m being a sap because we were just talking about therapy, but no matter how much you’ve thrown yourself into being there for someone, I’ve never seen you emotionally commit to more than you do to your friends. Even if you were in a romantic relationship with them. And you know what? I’m willing to bet that just got more prevalent after we parted ways. Am I right?”
I chewed on my lip. I was starting to feel guilty about listening in, but I couldn’t control my hearing. It only got sharper when I started to worry that I was one of those unsuitable relationships John was talking about.
I heard Hans mutter another curse, and this time his voice was rough when he replied. “Drop it, John. This one won’t go any better than our last argument.”
John snorted. “Yeah,” he said. “Well, I wasn’t kidding about Abigail,” he added anyway. “It’s one thing to wall yourself off from heartbreak by courting someone you know is going to walk away from you eventually, but if you screw around with her I’m going to make you hurt for it.”
This time the growl was much louder, and almost inhuman.
“Okay, okay,” John said quickly. “Consider it dropped. So, not to segue abruptly or anything, but where is it that Abigail wanted me to go, anyway?”
Hans took a deep breath and started to give John directions to Megan’s apartment. That reminded me that I had to let Megan know John would be showing up without me, which jerked my attention away from their conversation. I got out my phone and sent a text to Megan and Fumiko. I let them know that I would try to come by after dark, but it was just too dangerous for me to go out while the sun was up. At least Fumiko knew about John, since I’d told her my whole story to date. Megan and Fumiko both replied that they were still okay, they’d keep an eye out for John, and they’d stay up to see me.
I tried to smile when I flipped my phone shut. By then, the house was quiet. I really was happy that my friends were going to wait up for me. But I was also worried — so worried — about where Hans and I really stood. The emotions I hadn’t wanted to look at earlier? They crowded my thoughts. I was pretty sure I was falling for Hans and Emma both. Not in the same way for each, but I couldn’t deny how much I felt when I thought about them, even if I insisted on not looking too close at what those feelings where.
Emma had said she cared about me, and I had felt her emotions often enough and long enough to know that she did; that somewhere in there love might even be a possibility, if it didn’t really exist yet.
Hans remained a mystery.
I closed my eyes and listened to Emma’s heartbeat, and the more distant drumming of Hans’. I tried not to think anymore. I focused on breathing, and their heartbeats, and my own. And finally, somewhere between the beats, I fell asleep.