I took a half step toward the front door, then stopped and turned. Yes, my first impulse had been to go after Hans — but that would’ve been bad. He hadn’t attacked me, so presumably he was still at least that much in control of himself. Emma, on the other hand, appeared to be cheerfully making life-altering decisions at the drop of an impulse, and I doubted she had thought that one through.
I was not going to leave Emma alone in the house with Mr. Salvatore’s corpse when she was making choices like that. I turned and hurried downstairs.
When I entered the basement I found Emma seated on the couch. Well, not seated on it so much as kneeling on it. She was twisted around and leaning on the back of it, gazing at the back room. I did not like the speculative look in her eye.
“Hi Emma,” I said to announce my presence.
Emma snapped around to look at me. Her face lit up. “Abby!” she exclaimed. “I hope you had a good evening.” She smiled at me, and I felt a momentary flush of doubt.
What was she thinking? She didn’t look shaken by Hans’ growling at all, and whatever expression she’d had while looking at the door that led to Mr. Salvatore’s corpse had vanished as soon as she saw me.
Her emotions are fractured, I reminded myself. You did that to her. She can’t be thinking straight. I forced myself to smile back. I didn’t want to upset her — Linda had said that we should keep Emma happy to hasten her recovery, so by god I was going to do that. “It was good,” I said. “Megan seems to be adapting well, and Fumiko is being supportive of her. I don’t think Katherine can sic any of her fae minions on Megan, either, so that’s good.”
“That is good,” Emma agreed. “Megan is super nice. I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her.” Then she frowned. Her brow furrowed. “Katherine is a bitch, though,” she said angrily — and then her expression crumpled and she looked up at me with wide, watery eyes. “But she’s my best friend,” Emma stammered. “How can I even think that?”
I hurried to Emma’s side. She slid down and shifted so that she was sitting properly, and I sat beside her with my arms wrapped around her shoulders. “It’s okay,” I said. “You can feel angry with someone you love, that’s allowed.” At least, it was when you weren’t missing giant chunks of your soul and were incapable of feeling more than one emotion at once.
Emma hugged me back. “Hey,” she said. “I thought of a way I could help you. Hans can turn me into a werewolf, and then it wouldn’t mess me up so much if you fed on me.”
“I heard,” I replied. “I don’t know about it, though. Have you really thought about that?”
“What’s there to think about?” Emma asked, confirming to me that she had not. “You know, I became Salvatore’s donor so I could contribute to the world. And that went badly, because he didn’t think very much of me and I couldn’t handle it when he left. But you think I’m great — except I can’t help you the way you need to be helped, because my aura is too mundane. The way things are now, I just can’t win for losing.”
I bit the inside of my lip and sat back. “I think there’s a lot to think about,” I said. “Hans told me that turning into a werewolf is painful, and I know that every time he transforms it is, too. You wouldn’t be human anymore, and you’d have to take that into account every full moon. And you really shouldn’t be making big decisions when your aura is too tattered for you to really know how you feel about them. Plus, I really don’t think Hans wants to turn anyone. Linda suggested it to him and he got really mad at her, too.”
Emma sighed and deflated. “It’s not fair,” she muttered petulantly. “Salvatore thought I was worthless. Katherine told me I was worthless. You think I’m great — but now I’m the one who thinks I’m worthless.” Her shoulders sagged further and she started to sniffle. “And this whole night has been one long rollercoaster of ups and downs,” she said, choking on small sobs between the words. “And I hate it,” she added with a flare of anger that made her back straighten and her chin raise defiantly.
The anger didn’t last, though. She stared into my eyes for one long moment, and then leaned back into the arm of the chair, wilting in exhaustion. “I’m not mad, Abby,” Emma said. “I’m sorry. I know you worry about people being mad with you. I’m not. I’m just so tired.”
I swallowed and stroked her arm gently. “Would you like to go to bed?” I asked. “Sleep might help.”
Emma looked at me with an empty expression, then nodded. “Okay,” she agreed. I got up and helped her up as well. We left the TV on — I could come back and get it later — and I helped Emma to the stairs. It wasn’t like she seemed frail or sick or off-balance or anything… at least, she wasn’t off-balance except emotionally, but I felt better being beside her in case she needed me regardless.
This was my fault. And it actually seemed to be worse than it had been earlier. I was worried: really worried, but I didn’t know what to do. And it hurt all the more that I was practically brimming with energy, but I wasn’t even entirely sure if the energy I’d tried to give back to Emma this morning had actually gone to her. Or if it had, but hadn’t stuck — could that be why Emma was seeming even flightier now than she had when we’d first gotten home?
We’d gotten up the stairs without saying much of anything before I realized how fantastically stupid I was being. I couldn’t do anything about Emma’s aura, but I knew someone who could. Megan! Holy shit, why didn’t I think of this hours ago? Megan had restored Fumiko’s aura when she’d been experimenting with Melvin. And Megan had pushed some of her energy onto me. Megan could reinforce Emma’s aura and get her healthy again, as long as Megan had the energy to work with.
Emma almost stumbled because I’d stopped stock still while she’d been walking, and our arms were linked. She turned around and looked at me. “Abby?” she asked.
I looked back at her and opened my mouth, then closed it. My mind was racing in about half a dozen different directions at once, but a plan was coalescing faster than I could find reasons it wouldn’t work. “I know what to do,” I said.
Emma looked confused, but I was so ecstatic to know we’d be able to take care of her that I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. “I know what to do,” I repeated. “Megan is a full-blooded fae, Emma. She doesn’t just pull energy out of people, Emma, she can put it back, too.”
Emma had to parse that for a moment, and then her brow furrowed as she frowned. “That won’t help me help you,” she said.
I almost sighed. Aura damage gave a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘one track mind.’ If it wasn’t limited to one emotion, then it was fixated on one thought. “No,” I said. “But she might help you recover faster. And then you can help me without having to give blood. I know I take too much for you — shoot, I’m taking too much from Hans. So I need someone who can see auras to let me know when it’s safe for me to feed from a given donor.” And I need more donors… unless I keep going to Melvin. I wasn’t sure that was a feasible solution, though. For one, I didn’t know if he’d go for it unless I could come up with a way to trick him each time. For another, there was no such thing as getting something for nothing — so wherever I got my life from, someone human somewhere down the line was going to suffer for it. I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to justify that to myself, other than saying I had no choice.
I wondered if many vampires turned to alcoholism to console their consciences, or if they all ended up eventually going Mr. Salvatore’s route and toeing the line between life and death so they wouldn’t have to care about morality. It wasn’t a pleasant thought: I didn’t want to go there, and I knew I’d been uncomfortably close often enough already.
Emma seemed to consider what I’d said, and I hoped she didn’t find any huge holes in my logic. I hadn’t wanted to say ‘and then maybe you can think rationally,’ so the rest — about needing a witch to screen my donors — I’d just blurted out. It was true, though, and after a while Emma nodded.
“Okay,” Emma said. “You still need more donors, but as long as I’m not just a burden I guess I don’t have to be one.”
Yes! I smiled wide in relief and helped Emma the rest of the way to the guest room. “Good,” I said. “That’s probably the healthiest option, right? I’ll call Megan and we can go visit her in the morning.” I’d have suggested turning around and going now, except I needed some time to figure out where the energy I asked Megan to give to Emma was going to come from. Nothing was free, so it had to come from somewhere. I intended to give it from myself — I already knew Megan could drain me with ease — but if I didn’t have a way to replace that, it would be dangerous in its own way. I started to fret and tried my best to keep it from showing on my face.
When we got to the bedroom Emma slipped her arm free of mine and flipped on the lights. I was so distracted by my thoughts that I didn’t really notice when she went and pulled her backpack onto the bed, or when she rummaged through it to pull out some pajamas. I did notice when she stopped and looked up at me, though. Mostly because she said my name to get my attention.
I looked at her and tried to compartmentalize my worries so I would be forced to babble about something completely random to keep from admitting I was having them. “Yes?” I asked.
“You like Megan, right?” Emma asked.
I didn’t hesitate at all. “She’s my best friend,” I answered.
Emma ducked her head. “I know, but she likes you.”
I nodded, not entirely sure where Emma was going with this — but willing to guess. “She does, but she and I have talked about it. She understands that I don’t see her like that.” I thought, anyway. Honestly, I still hadn’t thought about it enough to actually know how I felt about it, and Megan’s insistence that she could wait made me wonder if she was really willing to settle for ‘just friends’ if nothing else developed. But the last thing I needed was to be cheating on Emma and Hans with someone else in addition to Melvin! I squashed that thought fast. As soon as I’d thought ‘in addition’ my brain had translated it to ‘simultaneously,’ and I did not need to be fantasizing about a three-way with shape shifting faeries while talking to my entirely human and very vulnerable girlfriend.
Still, it was a hard series of images to shake.
“I’m scared,” Emma whispered.
I blinked out of my reverie. “What? Why?!”
Emma looked up at me, and her expression made her seem so small and fragile it almost hurt me to take it in. I rushed forward to hold her, and helped guide her to the edge of the bed. We sat next to each other and I kept my arms around her while she leaned into my shoulder — but she kept her face turned away from me.
“Megan likes you,” Emma finally said. “But I got in the way of that. What right do I have to ask her for anything? She likes you, but she should hate me.”
“Megan’s not like that,” I said staunchly. I believed it, too. Megan cared about people. I’d been a bitch to her when I’d found out she was a changeling — but I’d been a vampire, then. I’d been confused afterward, but only because I couldn’t reconcile the Megan I knew and the image I had of fae as vicious emotional predators.
“But that’s not all,” Emma said in a tiny voice.
I shifted, trying to see enough of her face to determine her expression. What else could there be? Whatever it was, Emma sounded like she was afraid to even talk about it — and that made me afraid to ask.
Which, of course, meant I couldn’t stop myself.
“What is it?” I asked. I was surprised at how gentle I managed to keep my voice — my insides were knotting up as my over-active imagination tried to offer its own outlandish scenarios instead of waiting for Emma’s answer.
When Emma didn’t answer and wouldn’t look at me I slid off the edge of the bed. I situated myself in front of her and made her meet my gaze. She shrank back and tried to look away. “Emma?” I asked — I was getting genuinely worried. Whatever it was, it seemed like she was afraid to tell me specifically, and I had no idea if that was because of some minor fear that never would have really bothered her if her aura had been intact, or if it was because of something actually as dire as her reaction to it seemed to convey.
“She’s my ex,” Emma whispered.
I blinked. What. I had not been expecting… “What?” I asked dumbly.
“When Salvatore left and I was devastated, Katherine took care of me,” Emma said. “I just wanted to curl up in my bed and cry until I died, but eventually she got fed up and insisted on taking me out in ‘the real world.’ She told me that all I needed was someone to get my mind off of him, a rebound, and I’d feel better. She took me to Club Luminescence and introduced me to Megan and… and Katherine was right. That was the first night I felt better since Salvatore had left.”
I stared at Emma, wide-eyed. The paranoid part of me had apparently picked up some cynicism from my vampire side, because it insisted on annotating Emma’s story. Katherine had known Megan was fae. Katherine had deliberately fed Emma to her, to get Emma to break out of her grief.
Emma looked up at me and clutched my hands. It was like she was afraid she’d hurt me somehow, and was desperate for my understanding. “She and I… I told her I was broken,” Emma said. “I told her I wasn’t ready for a relationship. She said that was okay, because she had a crush on someone else, too, but we could still be unrequited together.” Emma bit down on her lip. She sounded… ashamed? “We were together for about a month, and then off and on for another couple after that. But then Megan brought Fumiko by the club one night, and I thought, ‘okay, so this is who Megan is crushing on,’ and I started backing off because I knew I was getting attached and I didn’t want to get in the way of her going after the girl she actually liked, especially after Megan had done so much to put me back together after I’d broken, right?”
I nodded mutely. I didn’t have a response ready because my brain was too busy slotting this new information into my past recollections and re-evaluating the contexts. Like how Megan had told me to be careful with Emma, or how Emma had run off to take care of Megan when Katherine had told me she was crying — even Emma’s expression when I’d asked her if Katherine was in love with Megan took on a new meaning.
“I feel shitty,” Emma said. “You know, I started out just feeling afraid. I thought: Megan will be mad at me. She put me back together when I was broken, and I repaid her by stealing the girl she likes, and now I’m broken again and need her help again, and she’d have to hate me if I ask her for that.’ And then I was afraid you’d be mad at me, because Megan was your friend and I was being really awful to her. And now I’m not scared but I just feel so damn crappy.” She sighed. “I think you’re right. I think I need help. I just can’t get it together, and I feel even worse than I did after lunch.”
“Okay,” I said. I straightened and started helping Emma get ready for bed. “We’ll get you help,” I promised. I didn’t know what else to say, so I added: “We’ll go over to talk to Megan in the morning. Just try to rest and think happy thoughts until then, alright?” Hell: If I could figure out a way to provide the energy for it, we’d go over tonight. I didn’t say that though. I wasn’t confident enough that I’d be able to come up with something.
Emma paused in the act of pulling off her blouse. For a second I was afraid that reminding her of Megan was going to send her down a spiral of fear or guilt again, but this time Emma lit up as she seized on some other shard of emotion. “I’d like that,” Emma said wistfully. She practically glowed, and my stomach did a little flip as my brain tried to guess what Emma must be feeling to be smiling so broadly.
Emma doffed her blouse and shimmied out of her skirt. I looked away, but I needn’t have bothered: I was blushing just as hard as if I’d been staring, except now I was blushing at the mental image of Emma and Megan entwined in one of the curtained booths at the back of Club Luminescence. I looked back when Emma finished with her bra and pulled on a camisole.
Emma smiled at me, and her cheeks were rosy. I tried to ignore it. It wasn’t any of my business what Emma was remembering, or how she felt about it. Sure, Megan was smart and beautiful and considerate and kind and I was, well, me. Plain, and self-involved and neurotic and always one step behind what I actually needed to figure out in order to do anything about anything. But so what? And so what if Megan had fixed Emma and I had broken her? And why did it matter that the only time I’d ever made Emma glow like that I’d been so undead I wasn’t really myself and it didn’t count as me doing it? What did that have to do with anything?
How Emma felt about her past relationship right now didn’t necessarily mean anything, since she could just be caught up in some tiny little scrap of a feeling that wouldn’t matter at all if she were capable of feeling anything else, right? But somehow telling myself that didn’t help with the jealousy or inadequacy or envy that nagged at me, at all.
Especially not when Emma sighed happily and flopped onto the bed and confessed: “I’ve missed her, you know?”
“Yeah,” I said. My heart drooped, but I’ve always been good at concealing my emotions. This one was just a different kind of fear. I moved Emma’s backpack off the bed while she squirmed under the blankets. I smiled at her. “Yeah,” I repeated. “I totally understand.”