I wasn’t waiting long before everyone else had cleared out, leaving Megan, Fumiko, Emma, Bonbon and I to ourselves. Sort of. Megan was focused primarily on Emma. After a few minutes of realizing her overtures of comfort weren’t really needed, Fumiko wound up sitting on the far end of Emma’s improvised bed. And I was basically left to myself, the sound of their breathing and heartbeats, and Fumiko’s conversation with Bonbon.
“So,” Fumiko asked quietly. “That stuff Jack was saying about pushing aura to force a permanent connection. Have you been doing that to me?”
“No,” Bonbon answered. Her-his? He was still in that male shape he’d taken in the car, rather than the female one I’d met her as. I suspected that would get confusing if I didn’t get it sorted out at some point. Anyway, Bonbon continued: “I mean, I did push aura to you when Abigail was feeding on you, to keep you safe. But I haven’t been pushing it continuously. It would be… Well, it wouldn’t really be me meeting my obligations to you if I was forcing you into a relationship with me that you didn’t want.”
“Hmm.” Fumiko was quiet while she turned that over in her head. “But you did have that relationship with Kelvin, right? And isn’t that supposed to be permanent?”
“Well,” Bonbon said, “Kells and I started out as friends. We had more of an exchange of favors than a debt situation going on, at least at first. Give and take. Eventually, I needed an anchor in the mortal world and Kells needed someone to support his supernatural endeavours, so we formalized it. I was his familiar, same as Megan will be for Emma, except that we had a contract wrapped up around our connection, giving specifics to the obligations and duties it involved. For instance: Kells couldn’t take too much from me or the contract would throttle our connection — unless I agreed to keep it open. But if he called for me, I had to show up.”
Bonbon shrugged. “It’s still there, to be frank. But when Kells ‘released’ me as his familiar, what he was actually doing was giving me control over the contract. I still won’t ever be able to pull from him — not that I’d want to! — but now he can’t compel me to do anything, either.”
Fumiko frowned. “So, this debt you feel you owe me: if I were to release you from it, what would that mean? There’s no contract between us.”
“There isn’t,” Bonbon acknowledged. “But there is a debt of the sort that the weave recognizes, and the weave will enforce that debt. If you were to tell me I didn’t owe you anything for your rescue, well… The weave would probably let it go. You wouldn’t be able to force me to pay you back under threat of having a part of myself ripped away. But on a personal level, I’d still feel that I owed you. Shoot, I’d feel that I owed you more, since you’d just removed such a big potential threat from my life! But that’s an emotional debt, of the sort that the weave can’t recognize.”
“Weave?” Fumiko asked.
“It’s… it’s hard to explain,” Bonbon said. “At least, it is if you can’t experience it. It’s like the ambient magic of the world — except it isn’t as formless as that sounds. It’s shaped by channels: leylines that connect people and places and events and… all sorts of things. It’s what mortals trick into doing the heavy lifting when they perform magic, and what we faeries manipulate more directly when we do real magic instead of parlor tricks like glamours and shape shifting. But if I were you I wouldn’t give up that hold. Not until you know me a lot better, and probably not even then.”
I heard Fumiko shift as she twisted around where she was sitting. “Seriously? That is not the advice I would have expected.” I snuck in a glance as well. Although they were talking quietly enough for the conversation to be meant to be private, I couldn’t help overhearing, and I needed something to keep my mind occupied.
I listened to them talk a little longer. That, and the combined heartbeats and breathing of everyone in the room. That meant that when Megan gave a little gasp, I heard it. I straightened to see what had caused it, but didn’t really need to. I could hear Emma moving; she sat up with a groan.
“What happened?” Emma asked. Then Emma squeaked in surprise as Megan threw her arms around tightly around her.
I stood up. “You were hurt,” I said. “My fault. Remember? Your aura was messed up, and I made it worse getting you away from Lewellan. But Megan is taking care of you now and you’re going to be okay.”
Megan’s arms loosened slightly and Emma breathed out heavily. “Oh, thank god,” Emma said weakly. Then, in an attempt at joviality: “I was not looking forward to learning how to eat people. Like a ghoul, I mean.” Then Emma looked sideways at Megan and hastily ducked her head.
“I’m so sorry,” Emma whispered.
Fumiko then cleared her throat and slid to her feet. “Well,” she said. “If everything is going to be okay here, I guess that’s my cue to go home and crash? Um, anyone else need a ride? My car is at Katherine’s,” she added for Megan’s sake.
Megan shook her head. “I think I should stay here with Emma,” she said. “She’ll need more rest before we start running around.”
“Um,” Emma said. “I don’t know where we are exactly, but shouldn’t we be getting the hell out of here before some faeries show up to enslave us or something?”
Megan twitched in surprise, and Bonbon started laughing.
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” he — she? — said. “The balance of power in this part of the realms underwent an unanticipated shift. You’re sitting next to the new queen of Archarel’s realm.”
Emma’s eyes went wide and she twisted to stare at Megan, who blushed furiously. “Um,” Megan said. “Yeah. Haven’t had time to wrap my head around that yet,” she admitted. “But we should be safe, and you need rest. So rest, or I’ll make mandatory bedtimes for soul-damaged mortals a royal decree. Okay?”
Emma bit her lip, and I remembered how she’d been adamant about feeling fine when her aura had been pushed full after my fight with Lewellan. She probably did feel fine, but it wasn’t physical rest she needed. In any case, she didn’t contradict Megan. “I guess,” Emma said reluctantly. “Although… can we at least move somewhere a little less ghastly? I think this place might give me nightmares.”
Megan looked around as though actually seeing her surroundings for the first time and sputtered an inarticulate exclamation before pulling herself together. “I’m pretty sure I can do something about all this,” she said. Suddenly some of the torture fixtures along the edge of the cave melted away. “Yeah,” Megan said more firmly. “Yeah, I can fix this.”
Fumiko shook her head and walked up to Megan’s side. “Okay, before you get too into interior decorating…” She gave Megan a hug. “You two take care. I’ll be back tomorrow. And we’re still on for this weekend.” Fumiko looked back and forth between Megan and I, frowning. “That’s not a question,” she added. “We damn well deserve a break.”
“Okay,” Megan said. I ducked my head noncommittally.
Fumiko stuck a hand out toward Emma. “And you, too,” she said. “My place. Anime and costume design and hanging out.”
“Um,” Emma said. She tentatively shook Fumiko’s hand. “Okay?”
That seemed to be good enough for Fumiko. She turned away from Megan and Emma, collected Bonbon, and started toward the portal. As she approached me, she hesitated. “Abby, what about you?” Fumiko asked me. “Do you need a ride home, or…”
I hastily shook my head. Mr. Salvatore’s house did not feel safe anymore. Not that it really had before, but now? There was a freaking hole in the side of it, and it had been a battlefield! No, I would not be okay going back there any time soon. But I didn’t think I could explain that adequately. “I’ll stay,” I said instead. “I think Emma, Megan, and I should probably figure out what exactly is going one here, now.”
Fumiko’s lips pursed in a small frown, but she nodded. “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow, then. Tomorrow real-world time, that is.” She tried and failed to stifle a yawn, then shook her head. “And whatever you end up figuring out, you’re showing up this weekend, too.” She glared at me, which was fair: she was perfectly aware of how readily I would flake out on a gathering under normal circumstances, and probably not that aware that I wasn’t quite so easily intimidated by stupid stuff when I was less alive. “So make sure you take that into account in your plans,” Fumiko concluded.
“I will,” I said, and then I just watched Fumiko and Bonbon leave. I stayed like that for a moment before turning back to look at Megan and Emma.
I couldn’t tell what, if anything, they read off my face, but Emma winced and clutched Megan’s hand a little tighter. Megan… well, her face was as serene as ever, but I saw her aura harden through our leyline. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, really: on the one hand, her protectiveness toward Emma made her want to be angry with me — which put her at odds with her protectiveness toward me, and her gratitude for everything I’d done in the last few days in regards to fighting off vampires, rescuing her from faeries, and bringing her to Emma in time to help.
I tried to sift through Megan’s emotions more to get a better idea of what she was thinking, but after a few seconds they just seemed fixed and immutable. I didn’t know if that was because they were, or if that was just a screen Megan was putting up because she knew I could read her, now, just like she had always been able to read me.
“So,” I said, opting to go blunt. Subtle has never worked for me. “I fucked up, Emma. And the worst part is, it’s actually good that Lewellan descended on us, because if he hadn’t I wouldn’t have realized it until you’d died, Emma.” I swallowed and glanced at Megan, then turned back to Emma. I wasn’t done there. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It won’t happen again.” I wouldn’t touch Emma’s blood again. But more than that: if Megan really was going to turn into Emma’s familiar, then it wouldn’t be possible for it to happen again, even if I did.
But no. That line of reasoning led to excuses and bad behavior and fantasies I didn’t dare entertain. I looked at Megan. “I’m sorry,” I said. “And thank you for saving her. And…” I shifted my gaze between the two of them. “And you two need to talk,” I said. I’d put a few things together while I’d been sitting. Megan had told me that she knew what she wanted in a relationship, back when I’d thought she and Hans would be a good match.
I’d told Fumiko that I wasn’t being mean by dating Emma when I knew about Megan because Megan had never made her interest known to me, and that her not doing so meant something. It did, too. It meant I wasn’t ‘it’ anymore than Hans would have been.
“I’m going to head back,” I said. “I just wanted to make sure everything was okay here before I left. If you need to get a hold of me… well, Melvin can find me if you need a go between.” I laughed, even though I wasn’t sure I felt it. “Since I doubt your cell coverage crosses dimensions.”
“Abby,” Megan started to say, but I shook my head to interrupt her.
“No,” I said. “You two are going to be connected now, more than you were even.” Given that Megan hadn’t even hesitated in tying herself to Emma, that had clearly been a significant amount even before magic had gotten involved.
Significant enough for Emma to freak out about Megan possibly leaving her over a crush on someone else, and to push Megan away before that could happen? I wondered.
“Once you two have that figured out,” I said, “Well… I still owe Emma a date. At that ice cream place.” I gave Emma a smile. “You did say that you and I and Megan should sit down and talk things out there, you know.”
Emma smiled, ever so slightly. “Yeah,” she agreed.
“Okay,” I said. “So it’s settled. We’ll give it a few days for you two to figure things out. And then, when Emma’s soul is fully recovered and I’m not half emptied myself, we’ll see what’s going on between the three of us.” And that would give me some time, hopefully, to figure out Hans.
Whom you’re getting ready to push away because you’re freaked out that he might be getting ready to dump you? the part of me that had speculated about Emma’s motives asked.
Shut up, I told it.
“Abby,” Megan said when I started to turn away. I stopped and turned back toward her. She took a deep breath, and then said: “Get over here.”
I walked up to her. She reached out to me.
And then I found myself being folded into a hug — a group hug, between Emma, Megan, and myself. It was a good thing my emotions were so muted, or I probably would’ve started crying.
Instead, I managed to smile and force my fangs to retreat — they’d punched into my lower lip when I’d been pulled in against Emma and Megan. No, I thought at myself. Bad Abby! Right now is not the time to be thinking about trying to kiss anyone, let alone everyone!
It was kind of like Megan’s crush on me, I thought. Sure: Megan loved me and I’d felt that in our connection. But she was my best friend. I would have been shocked if she didn’t love me. And yeah, there was attraction there. I’d even go so far as to say there was a crush on top of her being my friend. But I knew perfectly well that the difference between a fantasy and reality was that a fantasy was something you only ever thought about — and Megan hadn’t ever come out to me.
Maybe things would change, with everything in the open like they were. But if I had accepted her overtures when she’d offered to stay with me forever, I would’ve just been her rebound.
I managed to keep my mind out of the gutter and my fangs under control. I probably wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t been in my half-gone emotional state. Then I gently pulled away from them.
“Um, who’s Lewellan?” I heard Megan whisper to Emma after I’d turned my back on them.
“The vampire Director who showed up to imprison you and frame Abby for murder and… He wasn’t a good guy,” Emma whispered back.
“Wasn’t?” Megan asked.
“Abby killed him to get me free of his custody and bring me here,” Emma answered.
“Oh,” Megan breathed.
I tried to ignore them. “Melvin,” I called as I walked toward the portal that led out into Megan’s kingdom. He appeared behind me, halfway between Megan and I, and then hurried to my side.
“Yes, Abigail?” he asked.
I tilted my head so I could look sideways at him. I could have called for Sebastian, I realized, but I’d called for Melvin on autopilot. “I need an escort,” I said. “I don’t know how to control the destinations on these portals yet.”
Melvin bowed low. He had become surprisingly subservient after seeing me destroy Archarel. Or maybe it was after realizing I had a compulsion in place over him, due to my shared soul fragment with Megan. Or maybe it was just that he remembered how I’d threatened him the last time I’d been hungry and he’d been the only faerie on hand.
Which reminded me: didn’t I owe him some nibbling, for something?
The tips of my fangs slipped free again as I followed Melvin to the portal. Yes, yes I do, I thought.
Clearly, that was why I’d opted for Melvin instead of Sebastian. My hunger had been a low grade demand ever since Archarel had died and I’d let time resume. It wasn’t calling the shots yet, but I was pretty fed up — pun only half intended — with suppressing the urge to bite.
Behind me, I could hear Megan and Emma beginning to talk about things other than their adventures in the past twenty-four hours. Things like why Emma had broken up with Megan in the first place, and why neither of them actually wanted that to have happened.
The conversation sounded like it was going to be a good one, and rather than worrying me or making me uncomfortable the way it had when I’d thought of Emma and Katherine or Katherine and Megan, it made me smile. I cared about Megan and Emma both, and somehow knowing that they were going to be making themselves happier made my own uncertain status toward both of them less bothersome.
That probably wouldn’t last, once I got in that nibble on Melvin. But for the moment, I’d take it.
So, still smiling to myself — and, for some reason enjoying the sight of Melvin’s coat tails more than I had when he’d had Orlina on his arm… which is something else that probably won’t last once I’ve fed — I followed Melvin through the portal and left Emma and Megan and their earnest, heartfelt whispers behind.
End of Book 4