Once I had Emma tucked in bed I beat a hasty retreat. She insisted I kiss her before I leave, which actually did make me feel a bit better — but I had too much going on in my head to trust myself to stick around and make normal conversation. Besides, she was exhausted from her day and if I lingered it would keep her up. I turned off the lights on my way out.
Once I was away from Emma I stumbled across the hall, turned, and slumped down to sit against the far wall, by Mr. Salvatore’s room. My head was still spinning and I didn’t like it. I wasn’t stupid about it: I realized I was feeling jealous. What I couldn’t figure out was if I was jealous of Megan, or of Emma.
Part of me insisted that I had to be jealous of Emma, because I’ve never been jealous of Megan despite all the intimate relationship details I’d dug out of her. But that would imply that I was jealous because I wanted to be with Megan, and I wasn’t really ready to face that. So I had to conclude that I was actually jealous of Megan, and not Emma — which was all of a hundred kinds of weird.
In college I always got Megan to tell me about every relationship she’d ever had. At least, the ones I’d known about, which had only been the ones with guys. And I’d always enjoyed hearing about them on a couple of levels, felt a little vicarious thrill over it — and been wholeheartedly relieved that I wasn’t engaged in anything remotely like that! Being jealous of Megan over her relationship with Emma was just… just… it was a contradiction of my entire experience with reality to date!
I was getting kind of tired of running into those.
While I got my emotions sorted out I soothed myself by listening to Emma’s heartbeat. I was aware that it was a little creepy that I was doing that, but the steady rhythm was calming. After a while I did start to get a grip, and I ultimately decided that I’d just been surprised by the revelation, and everything would be okay. What I needed to do was stop thinking about who I was jealous of — and stop picturing them making out, because that was not helping — and figure out how I was going to find the energy for Megan to restore Emma’s aura to its proper pre-ravaged by a vampire state.
I could still hear the TV down in the basement, so when I finally pulled myself to my feet I made my way down there to turn it off. I didn’t need all of the distractions the basement offered — I had enough of them in my head all on my own — so once that was done I went up to the front room to wait on Hans and think. Part of me wanted to head out into the night and look for him before he got into trouble, but the more sensible part admitted that I wouldn’t know how to find him and knew that I couldn’t risk Emma waking up and wandering down to the utility room while no one was around to keep her from hurting herself to revive Mr. Salvatore.
Thanks to my vampiric senses, I could still hear Emma upstairs. The steady pulse of her heartbeat was the most obvious sound, but when I really focused I could even hear her breathing. I was extremely grateful that my senses weren’t overwhelming me like they did in the car, and I wondered again if that had something to do with being properly fed. I was still a little worried that drinking Melvin’s blood would accelerate my vampirism, make me need to take even more blood from Hans or Emma to get the same effect. Unfortunately, I really didn’t think feeding from Melvin was going to be a viable ongoing option.
It didn’t take long for me to start to get frustrated. I began pacing. The weird thing was: I was pretty used to feeling helpless. And now? Now, I had to face the fact that I was that scary thing that goes bump in the night. I was terrifying. I was powerful. I had made someone’s head explode by punching it! That was… well, gross and kind of frightening, and I was really glad that the fae didn’t leave behind corpses that I’d have to look at or blood and gore that I’d have to clean up. And it probably helped that I was sociopathic at the time. But also: it was pretty much proof that I was the opposite of helpless.
Except, of course, that I still couldn’t figure out how to take care of my girlfriend. When it came to something I actually cared about being a vampire did me no good whatsoever. Hell, being a vampire was the problem to begin with!
I needed to feel like I was doing something useful, and pacing wasn’t cutting it. Arbitrarily I stalked into the kitchen and started rummaging around until I found the source of the candy Hans had brought up to me the first time I’d fed on Emma. I stuffed fistfuls of colorfully wrapped sugar into my purse. I was just about to add a jar of actual sugar when I heard the scritch of claws on the walkway outside. I froze and listened closer. I’d already forgotten all about being a supernatural badass: something was lurking in the dark outside of the house. Something with claws. Something that panted slightly, something with a heartbeat that wasn’t human — it took me a moment to recognize it.
Hans was back.
I blew out a relieved breath that I hadn’t even realized I was holding. My relief quickly turned to anger: anger with myself, for being scared when I knew I wasn’t helpless anymore. When I was dead, I wasn’t scared. That was the difference between me and my vampire self. When I was dead, I did the stuff that I was too scared to even think of doing when I was alive — and that was why when I was dead I got stuff done. That was the first thing I needed to change. If I wanted to have any hope of taking care of Emma, or Hans, or anyone, I couldn’t let my fears dictate my life anymore. I couldn’t. It was impossible to imagine a life where I didn’t, but that was what it ultimately came down to. Either I got a grip, pulled it together and got shit done while I wasn’t starving — or everyone I knew was going to suffer at my hands.
I clenched my jaw for a moment, trying to let go of my frustration with my situation and myself. It wasn’t easy: I wanted to cling to the frustration so there wouldn’t be room for the fear. The one thing I really couldn’t do was control my neurotic, paranoid anxiety. If I could, I would have started years ago. If I could, I wouldn’t be the screwed up mess that I was.
I shoved all of my thoughts aside: they were rapidly devolving into despair. It was an oddly intense despair, at that. I blamed being extra full of life from Melvin’s blood.
Then I hurried back into the front room and opened the door for Hans.
Hans slunk into the house with his head and his tail down low. It was weird watching an animal that was half my size and easily capable of tearing a person to shreds look so ashamed of himself. I closed the door after him.
“Emma is upstairs,” I said.
Hans looked up at me. God help me, his expression was pitifully morose — and included puppy dog eyes that made me want to just hug him and cry.
“She’s sleeping,” I babbled, and he nodded understanding. “You should change,” I added. I didn’t think I could hold out if he didn’t, especially not since I had somehow managed to work myself into a bout of despondency all on my own. “We need to talk.”
Hans nodded again and started to shift. I looked away — not just so I wouldn’t have to watch, but so I wouldn’t be distracted by his naked form when he finished. We did need to talk, and I couldn’t afford to be distracted while I tried to figure out what to say.
What could I say? I had never seen a more miserable looking wolf than Hans when I’d opened the door for him. I knew that losing control was something that horrified him — he was clearly distraught over growling at Emma and snapping at me — and it was my fault his wolf was leaking through into his normal emotions. Or maybe he was just upset because everyone kept trying to get him to make more werewolves. Whatever: that was my fault, too.
Hans spoke before I did.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s not your fault,” I hastily answered, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what he was apologizing for. I hoped it was just that he had snapped at me in the hallway.
We were both silent for a moment, and I started to feel an itch in the back of my head — the need to face him and see what he was doing, so I wouldn’t have to worry about what was happening where I couldn’t see.
“I know,” Hans finally replied. His voice was soft and his accent thicker than usual, making the words come out with an almost indecipherable burr. “I meant…” He exhaled and tried again. “I don’t know if I can keep doing this, Abigail.”
I spun around. I couldn’t help myself. Hans saw my expression and looked away. I couldn’t really blame him — I was terrified, for some reason I couldn’t quite grasp. Hans couldn’t keep doing what? Giving blood? Being my donor? Taking care of Emma and I? Being my boyfriend?
That last thought was all it took to throw my mind into a panic overdrive. “What do you mean?” I stammered.
Hans closed his eyes and swallowed. Then he made himself look at me. “Linda was right,” he said. “My aura must be a wreck. The wolf… it’s been bleeding through, Abigail.”
I know, I thought. It goes both ways, and I felt you inside the wolf’s emotions when I drank from you after lunch. I didn’t say a word.
Hans sighed and took a seat at the table. He gestured for me to take the other and then slumped, propping his elbows on the edge of the table and his face in his hands. He massaged his temples slowly and when he spoke it was with an air of defeat. “I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t myself.”
I slowly eased into the chair opposite him.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.
Hans looked up at me, and then down at his hands again. “I haven’t felt like that… not for decades, Abigail. I’ve been in control. I’ve kept everything together, right up until the full moon rose. I…” he trailed off and didn’t continue for a minute, then two.
I didn’t say anything, either. What was there to say? I knew what it was like to not be myself — to be a monster, instead. I still couldn’t claim to have a control on my vampire side. I couldn’t imagine how terrifying it would be to think I was in control and then have that ripped away.
Hans looked up at me and winced. “Don’t look at me like that,” he plead. “I’m not going to abandon you. I just… I just can’t keep doing this, either.”
I swallowed. I wanted to sift through my available responses, pick my words carefully, and make sure I understood what exactly it was he wasn’t going to keep doing. But of course the only reason I wanted to know was because I was so damn afraid of what the answer could be — and that meant my autopilot blithely hijacked the conversation.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I get it. I’ve been leaning on you way harder than any girlfriend has any right to, especially since you barely know me, right? And everyone keeps pushing you to do more for me, which is just ridiculous. Where do they get off trying to get you to make a pack? Don’t they understand how much you’ve been giving up for me already? Hell, I wouldn’t even have a place to sleep if it weren’t for you.”
Hans blinked at me. I didn’t know how to interpret that, so I just kept going.
“I already talked to Emma about it,” I told him. “I pointed out that she was in no shape to be making decisions about things like that, and it was a moot point if you weren’t willing anyway.”
I crossed my arms and leaned back. “And I’m not about to force you to start turning people into werewolves,” I added. “I mean: what the fuck, right? How self-involved would I have to be to demand something like that from you? Especially when you were so adamant about not being irresponsible with your curse when I was asking about it.”
I frowned at Hans. “Which is another thing. I haven’t been responsible with mine. Fuck, the most useful things I’ve done since dying have been when I was closer to death than life. So, if you’re thinking I’m going to be upset because you aren’t willing to give blood anymore, you’ve got another thing coming, buster.” I didn’t know where I was going with this, but I was too far off the rails to stop now. “As of tonight, I’m putting a moratorium on taking blood from you or Emma.”
Ha. Moratorium. It was funny because I was undead and it sounded like mortuary.
Also, I was clearly trying to avoid thinking about what I was saying.
I held up a hand before Hans could interrupt me. “Don’t try to talk me out of it,” I said. “If I can’t get my shit together then I’m not someone who deserves you, or Emma. And I’m certainly not going to try to justify dragging you two down with me!” I felt a little sick. I knew that what I wanted was for the two of them to take care of me, but I couldn’t deny what I was saying — and the more I talked the more the words rang like accusations in my ears. “I’ve relied on Megan my entire life. I’ve relied on you, and Emma, and god help me even Melvin for my entire unlife. So I’ve got no one to blame but myself for not being on top of this, because I’ve been doing jack-shit,” I flayed myself. “And you have nothing to apologize for.”
Hans reached out for my hand, but I pulled away and shook my head. “Abigail,” he started to say — but I would have none of it.
If he did want to stop letting me leech off of him — if he needed space to recover, if he wanted to stop being my rock, if he wanted to break up — I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t think I could deal with it. I knew I couldn’t. If it came to that, I thought I’d rather break things off myself: if only so I could be mad at myself for being that bitch instead of mad at him for doing what he had to, what I drove him to, if he wanted to survive.
“I get it,” I interrupted. “Don’t think I haven’t been thinking about this, mister.” I stood up. Hans was beautiful, and hurting — and I was terrified and unable to cope with either of those facts. Worse, my autopilot had swollen with malevolent glee as it had driven the conversation, leaving me feeling like an insignificant speck in the face of its dictates. I had to get out. “I have to be able to take care of myself,” I said bluntly. “It’s unfair of me to ask anyone else to. And I’ve been unfair my entire life. I’ll be damned if I am for my unlife, too.”
I swallowed. I had no idea what I was doing, but I needed to escape. “I’m going to go for a walk,” I said. “Stay here, please, and keep an eye on Emma. I caught her looking at the utility room door earlier, and I didn’t like the expression she was wearing. Besides, I need some space to figure this out, and you need your space without me constantly making demands of you.” I pulled Fumiko’s cloak off of the back of my chair and swung it around my shoulders. “I’ll be back before sunrise,” I said — although I honestly had no idea, at the moment, where I was going or even if I would come back.
I turned and strode to the front door. I opened it, and then found myself stuck. My autopilot made me turn back toward Hans, but I kept my gaze lowered. It had one last thing to say, but I didn’t want to look at him. Not if it meant confronting how much I’d hurt him, contrasting his worn, broken resolve with the strength that I’d been leaning on so much.
“And Hans, don’t worry,” I told him. “I know I fucked up when I tasted Megan’s blood. I can’t feed on normal humans. I can’t feed on witches or warlocks without tearing them up. I can’t even feed on lycanthropes without hurting them. I know it. So if I haven’t figured out what to do about it by the time the Directors get here…” I tried to hold my tongue, but my autopilot wouldn’t be denied. I gave up. “If it comes to that,” I said in surrender, “I’ll ask them to inter me in the Center’s morgue. For my own good.”
Shocked — no, shocked and horrified — by the ultimatum that I had just laid against myself, I couldn’t stop myself from looking up at Hans. His expression was stricken but he didn’t say anything. I didn’t give him the time to.
Instead, I froze it, leaving him with his lips parted and not a single syllable having slipped through them. I looked at his face. You did this to him, I told myself. You took a strong, confident, giving man and you broke that confidence, took until he couldn’t give; relied on his strength until it gave out. That’s the kind of person you are. I dedicated Hans’ motionless expression to memory.
And then I fled into the night.