The chocolate helped. I made a mental note add a lot more sugar into my purse when I got home. In a relatively short time, I was back to feeling like my usual self. But then again, to that extent the candy bar did the exact opposite of helping.
Once I’d managed to push out all of Melvin’s emotions — and he was totally crushing on me, whatever he said — I was forced to confront the fact that I was scared shitless. Not just because of what might have happened if I hadn’t been able to bluff the fae, but also because I couldn’t reconcile what I had done with, well, me. I wasn’t confident. I wasn’t scary. It was night out, and here I was sitting on a street corner, and I wasn’t even worried that some jackass would show up before John and assume I was a prostitute, or the guy who lived in the house I was waiting by — who was no doubt secretly watching me from behind the blinds — was also secretly a cannibal and saw in me a handy opportunity to restock his freezer.
I tried to sort through everything that had happened now that I could see it with an emotional context. I honestly did. But ultimately, that proved futile. I didn’t think I was in shock — I was scared by everything that had happened, yes, but it didn’t have the same emotional weight it would have if I’d been alive enough to experience those emotions in the heat of the moment. I was… stunned, I guess. Stunned and trying to reconcile what I’d managed to do with how I’d always seen myself.
I’d joked with Fumiko that I was a supernatural badass, but… I was starting to think maybe I actually was. And that revelation was a little too much for me to wrap my mind around in one go.
In the end, I gave up on that. It was just too big of a mental shift, coming too fast. Maybe my vampire self was a badass, but I didn’t think I could live up to that when I was actually alive.
John didn’t take long to show up. When he did arrive, he parked next to the curb a little ahead of where I’d stopped. I stuffed my candy wrapper in my pocket so it wouldn’t be found in the morning by a chain gang of depraved criminals who’d been assigned to clean up the street of litter and I wouldn’t end up being the sworn enemy of some volatile guy with a shaved head, too many skull tattoos, two days before parole and the nickname ‘Knives.’
I got in the car and buckled up. John had the radio on, but turned down low. He glanced over at me before taking the car back out of park.
“So, that must have been stressful. I’m sorry for pulling a gun in your friend’s home, but… how did the rest of your visit go?” he asked.
I took a deep breath. I tried to keep a handle on the fact that I was in a car with someone I’d never seen driving before, and that he wasn’t paying one hundred percent of his attention to the road because he was talking to me. And listening to the radio! But, seriously, how could I let that get to me? I could face down a whole army of trolls and goblins and gargoyles, but holding a conversation in a car was too much for me?
Get it together, Abby, I scolded myself. It didn’t really help. At least there was no other traffic nearby — I could see perfectly in the dark, and hear perfectly, even though the car was moving. Because of course I’d forgotten to pick Hans’ headset up after dropping it in the alley. Dammit, Abby!
“The visit was good,” I managed to say after looking around once to reassure myself that we wouldn’t crash into anyone or anything unless John deliberately swerved into a building. “Megan and I got some stuff sorted out, but we also found some stuff that’s just going to be more headaches. She needs donors, too, because even though she can just subtly lift essence off of people, she’s not willing to do that if it means stealing something without their consent.”
Watching John in profile, I saw him grimace. “That’s going to be rough,” he said.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I don’t even know where to start with myself, let alone her.” I chewed my lip. Fumiko had volunteered to donate essence to Megan, but Fumiko had always seemed so stable to me. I wondered what it was that had drawn Megan to Fumiko — and then scolded myself for the thought. It was none of my business. What I should be wondering was: where could Megan find a seriously damaged individual to replace me? “Maybe she should go into therapy,” I mused.
“Huh,” said John. “That’s a thought.”
We sat in relative silence — the radio DJ was telling her listeners that the next hour would be reserved for romantic dedications, so they should start calling them in — before John spoke again.
“Did that fae come back?” he asked quietly.
“No,” I said while suppressing an impulse to just shake my head. Rule number two of being a passenger: do not provide visual conversational cues to the driver. Their eyes need to be on the road. Of course, rule number one was ‘no talking,’ so I’d pretty much screwed those up already, anyway. “I threw him out, and apparently he listened.” I hesitated. John was in the dark about Megan being my first blood and all of the related complications. “I guess I really am a supernatural badass,” I said.
John didn’t seem to notice my disingenuity. He chuckled. “I told you, sis. There isn’t a fae out there that will stand up to a vampire.”
I bit the inside of my lip to keep any replies from blurting out. Melvin had stood up to me, and he’d done it while I’d been in vampire mode. He’d been misinformed and he’d lost, but he had stood up to me. So there was at least one fae who would… and I’d kissed him.
That was vampire me, I told the part of me that wanted to freak out about it. You wouldn’t have done that otherwise! You have a Hans, dammit!
“And that was the one that Hans shot this morning?” John asked.
I gulped softly. “Yeah,” I admitted.
John blew out a long, angry breath. “You’re lucky,” he said. “If he hadn’t risen to Hans’ bait, and had kept his geas on you… You can’t trust a faerie like that. They’ll get their hooks into you, and to them it’s just a game. I hope Megan understands that — she could be in serious trouble if it turns out he’s working for Archarel, or even her parents. They’ll want her back, too, you know.”
I couldn’t make myself respond. I was lucky. Hans was wonderful to me. So why the hell had I kissed Melvin?
As far as I could tell, that had to count as cheating. I mean… Hans had been okay with me and Emma, but that was different. Hans and I had just met. We weren’t official yet. And Emma was a girl, so she wasn’t quite a rival to Hans the way another guy would be. But Melvin was another guy. And Hans hated Melvin. Hell, I didn’t even like Melvin! He was creepy and pushy and possessive, and he liked to tease and taunt and yank me around by my uncertainties.
“I know,” I said.
John was mercifully quiet after that, though being left to my own thoughts wasn’t much better than wondering when he would be crucially distracted by our conversation and run over a dog or cat or small child. I closed my eyes to block out the sharp glare of our headlights and focused on taking deep breaths.
At least my powers weren’t overwhelming me. My hearing was just as sharp as before, but it was under control, too. Ever since I’d finished feeding from Melvin, my senses hadn’t been running amok and trying to pick up everything — they’d just honed in on whatever I actually happened to be paying attention to. I wondered if that was because my last meal had been fae blood, or what. In any case, I focused on listening to my lungs fill and ignoring the night sounds of the city. More and more noises started to encroach on my awareness as we went, though, so perhaps it was all a function of my own anxiety and I was finally coming out of shock over everything I’d done after leaving Megan’s.
When we finally stopped at Hans’ house, I was nothing but relieved. John asked if I wanted him to come in, but I turned it around by telling him only if he wanted to. John snorted in response.
“No, actually,” he said. “Not that I don’t enjoy your company, or Hans’, but I think I should grab a late night snack and turn in for the evening. I can move around in the daytime, but it’s a bit draining.”
I nodded and tried really hard not to think about what getting a snack might mean for John. “Okay,” I said. “Well, thank you for watching the house today. And for watching out for my friends, and being my chauffeur.”
John waved a dismissive hand. “Think nothing of it.”
I smiled and didn’t argue. Then I got out of the car.
I approached the house with some trepidation. John waited in the driveway, his engine idling, while he watched me go up the walk. I tried not to walk too slowly so he wouldn’t see that I was nervous. I chewed hard on the inside of my lip, letting the pain distract from my nerves even though I knew wasn’t the sort of thing that would only affect me anymore. I had more than enough energy from Melvin to use some of it up by healing my lip, but this was the last chance I was going to have to figure out what I would say to Hans.
Why the fuck had I kissed Melvin? All I could conclude was that Vampire-Abby was a self-hating bitch.
I ducked under the cover of the porch and listened to John start pulling out of the driveway. I also listened to the house, trying to to see if I could gauge the mood inside. Maybe everyone was asleep, and I wouldn’t have to have this conversation until they were awake sometime tomorrow. Hopefully by then I’d be safely dormant.
I could hear the low murmur of the TV, down in the basement. Two heartbeats, as well. I couldn’t tell if they were asleep or not until I heard Emma speak.
“So, Hans, can I ask you a question?” she asked.
Hans howl-barked once — he must have changed into his wolf form at some point in the evening. Maybe it would be easier to talk to him about Melvin while he was a wolf? Or was his wolf more likely to be over-protective and go berserk at the thought of another male in his territory?
“Okay,” Emma said. “So, I’ve been thinking about this a lot today. And yesterday, but today kind of highlighted it. I’m… I’m not really much use to Abby, am I?”
I stood by the door. I didn’t want to have this conversation. I knew that doing anything with Melvin had been flat out stupid. Talk about self-sabotage!
Hans immediately barked twice, firmly denying Emma’s claim.
“No, it’s okay,” she said. “I know I’m not. She’s taken from me twice in as many days, and I’m totally screwed up now. She won’t be able to feed from me for another week, right? But I know she’s fed from you a lot more than that, hasn’t she?”
I felt awful. Emma was so concerned about being useful to me, and Hans had been keeping her company and had given her a place to stay because I couldn’t, and I was treating them awful. Hell, I hadn’t just cheated on Hans, I’d cheated on Emma, too, hadn’t I?
Hans made a low whine, which was interrupted by Emma.
“Don’t deny it,” she said. “The fact is, I’m just not helpful. I can’t even keep an eye on the house wards because giving blood twice has wiped me out completely. And one of those times, Abby even had to channel some of it back! That’s why…” she hesitated.
I barely noticed, because I was mentally kicking my own ass for being such a self-involved slutty bitch when I was thirsty. I’d kissed Melvin just for giggles; just to get him back for screwing with me. I hadn’t been thinking about Hans or Emma at all. I squeezed my eyes shut and braced myself to push through the front door, go straight down to the basement, and confess. It would be hell, but it had to be done.
“…I think you should turn me into a lycanthrope, Hans,” Emma concluded.
Wait, my brain protested. I completely forgot about whatever trivial thing I’d been panicking over as I desperately tried to rewind what I thought I’d just heard and convince myself that I hadn’t. But I had. And so had Hans.
His answering growl was frightening: a raw, animal anger that ended in two snarling yaps. Somehow I heard Emma’s intake of breath — I crashed through the door and made it halfway across the front room before it came back out as a scared whimper. I heard a thump, and then a scrabbling of claws on wood.
I made it into the hallway just in time for a still snarling wolf to bolt out of the basement stairwell. Hans’ teeth were bared, and I remembered how angry he’d gotten at Linda for suggesting he rebuild his pack. I held up my hands slowly; placatingly. Hans snapped at me once and I took a step back in surprise.
That was all the room he needed. Hans rushed at me, then twisted in a sharp turn, his claws gouging the hallway floor as he pivoted and scrambled into the room I’d just left. A second later, he slammed into the front door. The impact swung it open on its hinges and failed to so much as inhibit Hans’ momentum. A second later the door slammed shut, but Hans was already gone.
I gawked, staring at the front door in uncomprehending disbelief.
What… what the hell just happened?! That was not the way Hans acted!
But then again, I already knew what was wrong. When I’d fed on Hans earlier, there’d been bleed over between his self and his wolf — the wolf had thought about murder, but an animal wouldn’t have even had a concept of murder. That required the moral judgment of a human.
I tried to suppress a shiver as I stared at the front door. If Hans’ aura could bleed into the wolf’s through the tears I’d put in it, then of course the wolf’s could bleed into his, right? That wasn’t the way Hans acted, because that hadn’t been Hans — not entirely. It had been Hans, but a Hans who was being overwhelmed by his animal side despite the moon not yet being full.
And now he was somewhere out in the city, and I had no idea how much influence the wolf held over him.