I jerked away from Megan without even thinking. How could I be thinking: it was unthinkable! Megan had always been the exception to my rule about personal space. I’d always made an exception for her hugs. But this time, I could feel too much of what was behind them.
“Megan, I have a girlfriend,” I said bluntly.
Megan took a step back. She blinked twice in rapid succession, and I felt the brief jolt of surprise and confusion that went through her emotions, before she took rein on herself and pulled her desires for more than friendship back in check. “I know,” she finally said. “But you’re in my head. You know how I feel, too. Those emotions are real. I’ve tried to tell myself it was just a crush, but it hasn’t gone away. I like you Abigail. A lot. I… I want that to mean more than friendship between us. You know that. Fumiko told me you knew that, and now you can feel it, and I don’t want to hide it any more.”
I swallowed and held up my hands to make sure Megan would keep back. “I have a girlfriend,” I repeated.
Megan’s lips drew together for just a second before her smile returned. “I know,” she repeated — and if it hadn’t been for her emotions tucked away inside my head I don’t think I would have realized that she was feeling cross about having to acknowledge it twice. But it was a fleeting anger, borne of frustration: Megan was still relieved that we were talking, and wanted nothing more than to celebrate. She certainly didn’t want to be dragged down by all the complications. “And Emma’s great. She’s a sweetheart, and I’d never want to hurt her. But you said it yourself: we’re immortal. She isn’t. I can wait, but I’m not going to pretend I feel other than I do. Not when we’d both know it was a lie.”
I gawked at Megan while I tried to conflate what she was saying with what she was feeling. There wasn’t any malice behind the words — and at the same time as my jaw dropped Megan’s hand flew over her mouth.
“Oh my god,” she gasped. “I didn’t mean it like… I wouldn’t want to hurt her. I don’t want her to die or anything! I just meant…” Megan squeezed her eyes shut. She took a deep breath, then let it out. I felt her emotions settle down. “You’re my best friend, Abigail. I’d like to be more than yours. But I don’t want that part to change, and if that’s all we’re going to be for each other than I’ll be happy being your best friend for the rest of our lives. Whatever complications come up, I don’t want us to be alienated from each other. And if someday you return my feelings… I want you to know what they are, so you can.”
Slowly, I lowered my hands. I nodded. “Okay,” I finally said. “I… I don’t know how I feel, Megan. You’ve had years to figure this out, but it’s all new to me still. I’m used to you being my best friend. I don’t want that to change, either. But I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, and I… I do have a crush on Emma.” And Hans, I silently added, which just confused the issue: if I had a crush on two people, then why not three? “I don’t know where that will go — but I’m not going to hurt her, either. And I do know that if I’m trying to figure out you and me at the same time as I’m trying to figure out her and I, I’m going to fuck it up somewhere.”
Megan nodded, and I felt from her a rush of hope that was pressed down by her determination not to alienate me by getting between Emma and I. Having access to Megan’s emotions was heady and bizarre, but I’d given up on ignoring them. I felt guilty about that — but I also didn’t know what else to do about them. At least it was saving us from the sorts of misunderstandings I knew I’d be having, otherwise. I hadn’t gotten defensive or angry when Megan had brought up Emma’s mortality, because I’d known she hadn’t meant it cruelly. And I knew Megan was honestly doing her best not to push me, despite her relief at having her feelings for me finally out in the open.
And I also knew she wasn’t giving a damn thought to the other issues I’d brought up. Like how I could kill her. And that was going to be a problem… but I decided it could be a problem for later. In truth, I was relieved, too. I let the tension sag out of my shoulders and went back to the couch. Megan backed up to her chair. We both sat.
“So,” I said, trying to find a safer topic, “What exactly was Melvin teaching you earlier? I mean: have you always been able to control whether or not you take in someone’s emotions and just didn’t realize what you were doing, or did he have to show you how to turn that off?”
Megan perked up. “Well, I’ve always had a really good idea of how people are feeling, you know? And when someone’s been upset, I’ve always tried to empathize with them, I guess is the way to put it best. According to Jack that was how I was controlling it. If I empathized with someone, and I was close enough, our auras would sort of mesh, and then their emotions would flow over to me.”
“Sort of like spiritual osmosis,” Fumiko chimed in as she returned from the kitchenette. She had a large bowl with an unopened bag of chips in it, and a container of French onion dip from Megan’s refrigerator.
“Yeah,” said Megan, “except that osmosis is specifically for water. So this would’ve been spiritual diffusion. But that’s just picking nits. The point is: my empathy and the shared emotion formed a sort of interface, and then energy flowed from the greater to lesser level. Except that since I’m fae, my energy was always being depleted just by existing and my potential ‘reserve’ is super deep compared to a human, so the downhill flow was pretty much always in my direction.”
I frowned, trying to wrap my head around that.
“I compared it to water,” Fumiko said, “when I was trying to explain it back to Jack to make sure I got it.” She opened the chips and dumped them in a bowl. “Think of a human’s reserves like a lake in a mountain valley fed by a spring, and a fae like an ocean. If you dig a channel between the lake and the ocean, the lake is going to be the one that drains even though the ocean has more water, because the ocean is downhill. But then, if you block off that channel, the spring will refill the lake.” She grabbed a chip and frowned. “So, maybe a reservoir would be more accurate than a lake. But do you get the idea?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I think so.”
“Okay,” said Megan as she took back the lead in the explanations. “Well, that’s how I was doing it when I didn’t know what I was doing. But after Jack explained what was really going on, and I started paying attention, I could tell the difference between just empathizing with someone and drawing from them.”
“Once I started to pay attention,” Fumiko added between chips, “I could tell the difference, too.”
“And after that,” Megan said, “It was just a matter of practice to make sure I could curb myself from draining Fumiko when I felt it start to happen.”
“And since I’d let her practice on me,” Fumiko interjected, “once she could do that, Jack showed her how to reverse it, and give back what she’d taken from me.”
Megan blushed. “Or, well, to give back something. It’s not like there are gauges or units of measurement for stuff like this.”
Fumiko laughed. “Yeah, and I still think you overdid it.” She turned to me and added in a stage whisper: “Talk about a rush! I’d almost reconsider being your donor, if I thought it would be like that.”
“So, wait,” I interrupted. I looked back and forth between my friends. I felt a little overwhelmed. “Are you telling me that you could pass energy on to me without me having to drink blood?!”
Megan blinked. “I… well, yeah. Yeah, I guess so,” she said.
“Then why the hell are you offering me blood?!” I yelped. “Blood is squicky and disgusting! I hate it!” I did, too — I loved the life, though when I was desperate for it I lost track of the difference between what I needed and the medium by which I could take it. Plus, if Megan was in control of the transfer then I didn’t have to worry about losing control and draining her too far. Right?
Megan’s cheeks flushed further. I felt her embarrassment: she hadn’t even thought about how I might feel about the blood itself when she’d been offering me hers. “I… yeah, right, okay,” she said hastily. “I can do that. I mean, if you want.”
I leaned forward and held her gaze, doing my utmost to impress upon her my sincerity. “I would love that. But… not yet. Right now I’m in this… well, I’ve been calling it the ‘sweet spot.’ I’m dead enough to not be super-anxious like I used to be, but not so far gone that I’m dangerous. So, maybe before I go home? As long as you’re sure you have the energy to spare.”
Megan nodded. “I do. I’m sure. Okay, then we’ll do it like that,” she agreed.
I leaned back. I laughed in relief, then helped myself to some chips and dip. “That is incredible, I said. I totally owe Melvin for…”
“No!” Megan and Fumiko shouted together.
I froze. My gaze darted back and forth between them.
“Don’t say things like that,” Megan said. “Debts are a big deal. Fae can find people by the connections they have with them, and a debt is a connection you can’t do much about. It gives them a hook into you that can be used for stuff like compulsions and geases.”
I blanched. I’d known that. Sort of. I mean: I’d known they needed to have some sort of psychological claim on a person before they could make a physical claim, anyway.
“Besides,” Fumiko added, “having Megan do the transfer might not be the best way to go about it, anyway. She’s glossing over how much it takes out of her to do that. When Megan was restoring me, she didn’t just lose the energy that I got, but she also used up a bunch forcing the direction of flow to reverse, as it were. From what you’ve told me, if you drink from someone there’s no waste. And, well, one way or another someone has to feed on mortal emotions — either you do or Megan does, so if Megan is feeding you in a way that forces her to feed more than if you’d gone out and snacked on someone, that’s probably not a good thing overall. So you don’t owe Jack for this, since it might not even be viable in the long term.”
I slumped down in my seat. In Megan’s emotions, I felt a shot of annoyance at Fumiko for knocking my excitement down to size, followed by begrudging acceptance. “That’s true,” Megan said. “But I can draw in energy without being squicky or obvious about it. So if one of us has to be feeding on the community at large, it should probably be me.”
The words made sense, but there was a discordance that made me shake my head vehemently. “No dice,” I disagreed. I could feel Megan’s determination — but underneath it there was a depth of uncertainty and more than a little shame and regret. It only took me a second to recognize the horror behind that, and then — for the second time this evening — I was out of my seat and my arms wrapped around Megan.
“No,” I whispered to her. “You didn’t know what you were doing and couldn’t help yourself.” All her life she had been stealing pieces of people’s souls — I’d been freaked out about taking Megan’s blood without care or permission, but Megan had years of unwittingly violating people’s innermost selves weighing on her conscience. “So stop it. You aren’t to blame for what’s past.” I wished I could remember more of the things Hans had told me — hell, I wished he was here to help me take care of Megan. I was far worse at the emotional caretaker stuff than Fumiko, even. “You did what you had to in order to survive. And… and we’ll find you donors for the future. I mean, if there are people who are willing to give blood to a vampire, then I’m sure there are people who would be willing to hang out with a faerie princess and let her shoulder their fears.”
A second later, Fumiko was kneeling beside Megan’s chair, too. She glanced at me, and I could tell that she’d only just realized what Megan had been repressing. Fumiko turned her attention to Megan and took hold of her hand. Megan had always sought people and physical touch when she was upset, and I felt Megan’s gratitude toward both of us swell for just an instant before it was overwhelmed by all the stress that Megan had been trying to keep under control all day, ever since she’d escaped from Katherine outside Mr. Salvatore’s house.
“Yeah,” Fumiko agreed with me. “I’ve already told you that I don’t want our friendship to change,” Fumiko told Megan again, “so I’ll be there for you, alright? And I’m sure we can find other people, too.”
Megan tried to hold back a sob. I hugged her tighter. Her heartbeat fluttered, speeding up as her distress rose. “I’m sorry,” she stammered between choking breaths. Inside of her, the dam finally broke. “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. “I don’t want to hurt people. I never wanted to hurt either of you. I don’t want anyone to have to be scared. I don’t…” she started sobbing harder, without reservation. I started to cry, too — I couldn’t help myself. Conventional empathy be damned: I could feel everything Megan had been holding back, and right now we hurt too much for me to even try to pull myself out of that connection.
“I d…dun… don’t want to bu…bu… be some kind of sci… psychic rah…ruh… rapist,” Megan stammered, her sobs making her voice catch and stutter instead of wailing from despair. I heard Fumiko swallow back a sniffle — she got up enough to wrap her arms around both of us, and her eyes were wet, too.
I tried to tell Megan she wasn’t. I heard Fumiko doing the same, and Megan protesting that she was, and all of our words and sniffles and sobs jumbling together into one communal outpouring of stress and fear and empathy and horrified guilt.
Holding each other the entire time, we wept until we couldn’t weep anymore.