Fumiko’s blood washed over my lips and her essence rushed into me. It was different than Hans’ or Emma’s or Megan’s. Everyone had a unique taste, I decided, and the difference wasn’t just their species or power. Perhaps it had something to do with the structure of their soul.
Fumiko’s aura was clearer than anyone else’s I’d tasted. It was almost bland compared to the richness of Megan’s or the passion of Hans’ or the jumble of Emma’s. It was still delicious, and even easier to subsume into my own aura than anyone else’s had been, but it gave me almost no insight into what Fumiko was feeling.
Almost as though she wasn’t feeling much of anything.
Curious, I bit harder. Despite the fact that Fumiko was sharing into my healing power — I could hear her broken bone shifting in her other arm — my fangs kept the bite wound from closing. I gnawed at Fumiko’s wrist until I’d properly nicked a vein.
I took in more of Fumiko’s blood, more of her life, and mentally looked deeper into her soul through the widened connection. I was, I realized, still looking at her through the same leyline — it had simply been forced wider by the flow of her life force into me. I frowned and studied the connection. Most of it was a vast field of… calmness? Tranquility? Focus? Only at the edges of it could I feel anything like the emotions I would’ve expected her to be feeling.
It was sort of like Fumiko’s emotions were being held at the ready; like anything she might naturally be feeling was being supressed down at the depths of her soul, while the majority of her aura remained a flat canvas of meditative discipline.
I withdrew my fangs with a sigh that was both reluctant and contented. I had nowhere near the reserve of essence that I’d had after feeding on both Pipsqueak and Melvin, but I had enough that I was on par with any time that I had fed on Emma or Hans. For the first time since… I don’t know. Yesterday? For the first time in too long, anyway, I felt normal.
I looked at Fumiko and she looked back at me. Her face was still pale and her expression worried, which was sufficiently at odds with what I was feeling through our connection to make me frown. In fact, pretty much all of what she was feeling didn’t mesh with the excitement I’d seen in her aura while she was fighting — or the fear, pain, uncertainty… anything else I would’ve expected, really. I couldn’t even find more than a trace of the worry she had about me getting to look into her head, or the distaste she’d expressed over giving blood.
“Thank you,” I said. “And I don’t understand why you were worried about me looking in your head. It’s very peaceful in there,” I added. “A lot more than mine is.”
Fumiko grimaced and nodded, and I realized that of course she knew that — she was probably getting feedback from my aura just like I was getting it from hers. I looked again and saw the subtle influence of my usual anxieties and panic, lapping at the edges of Fumiko’s aura like waves. Whenever they pushed in, though, instead of growing in anxiety or paranoia, they almost immediately smoothed out like the rest of Fumiko’s emotional landscape.
Which was when I realized that she was doing that on purpose. It really was some kind of mental discipline or meditative state. My eyes widened a little. I wish I could do that, I thought.
“Thanks,” Fumiko said. “The problem is that it’s not always like that.” She took a deep breath, and I sensed her shifting determination. “Here, let’s get this over with so we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”
Before I could say that she didn’t have to reveal anything she didn’t want to — because her blank emotional mind space was an impressive camouflage for whatever she might’ve worried about me finding out about her — one of the small spots of emotion at the edge of Fumiko’s soul blossomed, spilling voraciously across her aura.
My breath caught from the suddenness of it. I put up my own mental fight against it, when it tried to wash over me — and I was even somewhat successful. It was sort of familiar, but sort of not. It was a bit like my vampire side’s arrogant, self-involved willingness to hurt people to get what I wanted, combined with Hans’ wolf’s drive to attack anyone ‘other.’ It was violent without anger or sadness or any other motive I could detect: simply the urge to ruthlessly crush…
…me — for getting Fumiko into this mess, for getting her arm broken, for getting Megan kidnapped, for… But also my dad for being knocked down and kicked around when Benjamin’s donors had jumped them, for being too weak to help her against Benjamin, for letting a bitch like my mom run his life… and also Megan for being infatuated with someone who could kill her, for never being on guard enough to see the bad guys coming, for feeding off both of us without our knowing… And Salvatore and Lewellan and Archarel and Katherine and…
And on and on and on: a relentless desire to violently put everyone in their place if they didn’t already know it. Even Jimmy, from work, because he was always flirting with her and making her like him even though she knew that any significant relationship between them would end with him battered and in tears because that was the sort of thing that did it for her and she already wanted to make him hurt because she kind of liked him back.
Then Fumiko took a deep breath. In the process her aura rippled; the urge toward violence retreated, vanishing into that spot — a tiny thing that I now realized was the opening to an enormously deep pit in the shape of her soul — while the rest of her aura stilled once more. When she breathed out again, there wasn’t a sign in her soul or her posture or her expression that she’d wanted to beat my face, and pretty much everyone else’s, into bloody ruin for every reason — and no reason at all — just seconds before.
Worse, even though I couldn’t see any of it except that dark spot — and the various other spots for various other emotions, painted around the confines of her soul — I knew that deep down where I couldn’t see she still wanted to kick my ass.
“What the hell was that?” I gasped. I immediately wanted to kick myself. Smooth, I thought. Way to not make a big deal about the thing she was worried you would freak out about if you fed on her blood.
I thought I saw Fumiko’s aura start to react to my shock, but the blossom of emotion just rippled down and disappeared into one of those caves in her soul without leaving a mark in her aura. “I have a bit of a temper,” Fumiko said calmly. “And something of a superiority complex, I think.” The edges of her aura started to shift in a way that I identified as discomfort — she wasn’t happy to be talking about it, but that unhappiness was being smoothed out, too. “They do not interact in a way that is friendly to others unless I’m consciously keeping them in check.” I saw a ripple of worry that I could only identify by focusing on the part of Fumiko’s soul that it drained into while the rest flattened once more. “I didn’t want you to think that I didn’t actually think of you as my friend or equal, but I knew eventually you’d catch me in… unflattering thoughts… if you could see my aura like Megan can.” She grimaced, and I realized she was grimacing because she’d decided that a grimace fit the emotion she wanted to convey, rather than because it fit the emotion she was feeling. “Sometimes they just slip out, despite myself, and I have to remind myself to get a grip and rein it in.”
“Uh… yeah,” I said. “Okay.” My mind was still reeling. Part of it was examining everything I’d ever seen her do — her usual quiet detachment, her inability to put up with people’s shit; hell: even her preference for violent, shoot ’em up video games — in light of this new context. The other part was trying to figure out exactly how the heck I was supposed to react without driving a wedge between us. In the past few days I’d been amazed at how good a friend Fumiko actually was. I’d figured before that she was more Megan’s friend than mine, but Fumiko had turned out to be the one who kept Megan and I both from falling apart and running away from each other over all this supernatural madness. And I didn’t want to react in a way that would alienate her, now. “It’s cool,” I babbled. “Sometimes I want to kill everyone in a huge orgy of blood, you know? We all have our unflattering moments.”
I wanted to smack myself in the head, hard. Was I really equating my friend’s day-to-day emotional state to my vampire psychosis? The part of me that didn’t want to retreat into a hole and hide was suddenly really, really sad. Fumiko’s best friends were Megan and I. That was it. She was no more the social butterfly than I was; of the three of us that was all Megan. I’d once wondered if there was something wrong with Fumiko that had drawn Megan to her, and now I sort of had an idea of what it might have been — and I found myself feeling shitty for thinking that anything was wrong with Fumiko. It occurred to me that I had been surprised that Fumiko had turned out to be such a good friend to me — but I had never really considered if I was a good friend to her.
Jeez, I sucked.
I leaned in, not sure how to make it right but desperate to try. It was a mistake, of course: in trying to think of what Fumiko would want in a friend, all I’d remembered was something she’d said once about what she wanted in a boyfriend. Maybe it was because of that glimpse I’d caught of how she felt about Jimmy, and why she refused to let him make further headway with his awkward flirting. Someone who isn’t a wuss under all his bravado. My imagination leapt in with a new idea for what that might be and I was briefly distracted by the mental image of Fumiko and some generic un-wussy man wrestling for dominance. Naked.
Well, almost: Fumiko being Fumiko, in my imagination she was wearing the pair of cosplay cat ears that I know she sometimes wears around the house just because she can.
Naturally I started blushing. Because it is totally natural for an undead corpse to blush. It was made even worse when I realized that I was getting riled up by the mental image — and Fumiko had to be getting some psychic feedback from that. “I’m straight, Abby,” Fumiko reminded me to my utter mortification.
At least she was only getting the emotional context of my arousal out of our link, and not the mental image.
I opened my mouth to explain, realized I couldn’t without further embarrassing myself, and hesitated. That was a critical mistake: my autopilot jumped in to provide whatever words it felt like in the place of the ones I was still struggling to put together. “You know, Hans has a safe word,” I offered. “It’s dune buggy. And he kind of has a thing for being marked, and I once saw him run around all night with multiple stab wounds. So, what I’m saying is: he’s not a wuss and I don’t think for him it is bravado, and he can probably take a beating and enjoy it. But he can also, you know, hold me down and keep me in check when I’m being all vampire psycho. Or, um, just when he’s feeling like being dangerously sexy. Also, I’m pretty sure he was trying to break up with me last night. So, well, if he ever goes through with that then you should definitely swoop in and give him a chance.”
I felt my face turn crimson all the way back to my ears. Fumiko’s cheeks flushed slightly, too — kind of like they had the first time Hans shape shifted in front of her. In her aura, some of that unnatural calmness was disrupted as a few of her generally suppressed emotions overflowed a bit and blended together in a messy jumble at the edges of it. I felt even more embarrassed for upsetting her usual self-control — and for my rather front seat view of how she was reacting to the idea I’d planted in her head. Which was about evenly split between various sorts of wanting whatever she was thinking about, and adamant self denial.
Then Dad cleared his throat, abruptly reminding us that he was not only present — but probably distinctly uncomfortable with the conversation. Particularly, I guessed, the part where his daughter went on about being held down by a man because he felt like being dangerously sexy. Oh god, I railed at myself. If I’d thought I was mortified before, now it was ten times worse. Fumiko rallied, too, and her emotional turmoil smoothed out: once more packed down where I couldn’t see it. “So,” Dad asked, “where are we going?”
I looked out the window. The entire time I’d been distracted with Fumiko, Dad had been driving: putting distance between us and where we’d been — hopefully between us and the other supernaturals hunting us. I wrestled to get my embarrassment under control and was briefly grateful for the respite of retreating into my own head. I couldn’t do my circle check, but the car itself was moving and that gave me enough of a sense of whether we were heading in the right direction or not. I keyed in on John’s aura and focused.
“Left,” I said after a minute. Then I looked up. “I’m sorry, it’s a little imprecise: I’m just using triangulation to get an idea of where John is, so we’ll have to check from a few places before I can actually pin him down.”
In the rearview mirror I saw Dad nod. I heard the rhythmic clicking of the turn signal as we came up to the next intersection. Then I closed my eyes and tried to divorce myself from everything I’d gotten out of Fumiko’s head — and the link that was still in place between us — so I could better focus on finding John.
Finding out about the gate to faerie land from Linda had been a bust. The ensuing fights had convinced me that I needed more help than just Dad and Fumiko — it was too dangerous with just the three of us, but John would make for another heavy hitter if any of Lewellan’s cronies caught up to us again. We needed to regroup and form a new plan — and we needed to do it fast, because there was simply no knowing how long Emma — or Megan — had.