Valerie and I talked for hours. Well, I talked. Valerie listened. I still wasn’t sure that opening up to her was a good idea, but… Well: fuck it. So far everyone who’d caught me crying and stuck around to take care of me had turned out to be a good person.
I started from the beginning. I told her about meeting Hans and being set up on a date, about how he’d misunderstood me freaking out and let slip the truth about magic. I told her about catching Mr. Salvatore salivating over Megan the year before, and how scared I was that he’d come back for another shot at opening her veins. Valerie spent a lot of time nodding. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, but she had an expressive face and it was easy for me to tell when she wanted to know more about something. I found myself telling her about how I’d met Emma, how I’d found out Megan had a crush on me, and how I’d tricked Mr. Salvatore into coming after me — and the fae who I hadn’t known were watching Megan into going after him.
Of course, Valerie knew some of the story in advance. When I told her about being killed and tasting Megan’s blood for the first time Valerie’s eyes widened in immediate understanding of the implications. At least, of some of them.
“But it wasn’t just that my curse was adapted to a more potent aura,” I hastened to explain. “I mean, you know what it’s like with your first blood. A part of their soul becomes a part of yours. And Megan’s soul is fae. So part of mine is, too. That’s how I keep managing to pull off all of this impossible stuff. Like: I don’t go unconscious when I go dormant. I remain aware of everything around me. And I can see leylines between people, and I can even manipulate them a little. When I got shot in the head, I was able to drain Derrick like a fae would even though I was supposedly ‘dormant.'”
“That’s… Wow,” Valerie said.
I nodded emphatically. “I know, right? But some of these abilities don’t play nice together. Like the time stopping thing.” I felt myself tense up when I mentioned it, but I forced myself to keep explaining. “If there’s something like the faerie draining or pushing of aura going on and one party is in a different time stream than the other… it gets bad. Only the person in the ‘fast’ time has any ability to do things, so if the other person is the one who started it there’s no way to stop the process. I once had a faerie drain me so far I couldn’t keep time frozen, like that. When I was fighting Lewellan he tried to cast a geas into me — but I stopped time and he was too far away to be pulled into my timeline, so he never got to the part where he implanted his command. Instead, it was just this spike that was constantly trying to burrow into my soul. So I… I fed it to my curse until Lewellan went dormant.” I swallowed. I didn’t mention that I wasn’t sure if Lewellan had gone dormant, or if I had simply consumed his soul entirely and left nothing behind which could be revived.
“It was the same with Archarel,” I said instead. “Except he was trying to flood my aura with essence from his kingdom until my soul tore apart from the strain. And it would have worked, too, except… he wasn’t expecting the faerie side of my abilities. My soul couldn’t hold that kind of essence, but Megan’s could. So I froze time, which stopped Archarel from being able to switch off the flow of life force, and I pushed as much as I could to her and to the handful of faeries who had by then sworn loyalty to me on the condition that I freed them from their servitude to Archarel.”
It seemed strange to be able to talk about it when just hours ago I hadn’t been able to think about what had happened without freaking out hard core. I looked at those emotions in my aura and saw why: I still had them locked down from when I was looking at them before. Each time I mentioned freezing time, that part of my aura throbbed as though it was trying to grow, trying to take in more of my available life force in proportion to the attention I was giving it. But so far it hadn’t managed to burst the boundaries I hadn’t realized I was forming — and as long as I was talking about what I had done and not what I had felt that part of me seemed to be held in check. I felt a little giddy at that realization.
It can’t be that easy, though. It probably wasn’t. No, it definitely wasn’t: I’d locked that fear down to keep it from overwhelming me, but it wasn’t fading into the background, either. That life force wasn’t flowing like the rest of my aura did: it didn’t shift from emotion to emotion as my thoughts roamed and the rest of my feelings followed. And who knows if I’ll be able to hold it in check still if someone fucks with time around me.
Actually, I did. I was positive I wouldn’t.
“Anyway,” I concluded. “That was why I was freaking out when you and Dad got here. You’d told Ben that you were on your way here, and he froze time in order to, um, straighten up. And I flipped out when he got close enough to bring me into that.”
“Oh, shit,” Valerie gasped. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean for anything like that… I was just trying to mess with Benjamin a little for not letting me know your dad was still playing decoy when he texted that he was heading back into town to stop Lewellan from murdering your friend, Emma.”
“It’s…” I hesitated before I said it was okay. It wasn’t. But I didn’t know how to say that, either. “Don’t apologize to me,” I said instead. “I don’t really know how my faerie bits will react to that. When faeries apologize it is an automatic admission of debt — something ingrained in their culture, just like you’ve been ingraining disbelief into humans. But with faeries, debts are always enforced by geases. So, I mean: I appreciate that you said so, but I can’t apologize back without potentially screwing myself over and I don’t want to be more rude than I really have to, you know?”
Valerie frowned. “Abigail,” she said bluntly, “you don’t have anything to apologize for.”
I shook my head. Of course I did. All of this was my fault, when you got right down to it. And there was all the stuff that had nothing to do with her, like Hans having maybe turned someone and Daniel getting killed and all the horrible stuff Emma and Megan had gone through. But most of all, at the moment: I had broken down in front of Valerie, and she had stuck around to help me sort through it. I owed her an apology for making her waste her time like that, and for being all suspicious of her about my dad.
Even though I hadn’t really stopped being suspicious about that. I mean: I was trying not to be, but until Reid’s guards confirmed that Dad wasn’t enthralled I was going to worry that he had been or actively was being used somehow.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t explain all of that without confessing that I owed Valerie over my bad behavior, which would indebt me to her, which would bind me up in a geas — maybe just a small one, but still — and that wasn’t a palatable option. Especially since I was still suspicious, despite having opened up to her and despite not wanting to be. Goddamn paranoia.
“So,” Valerie said — and her tone of voice indicated a segue was enroute. “You and Ben. Seriously? I really did just tease him about getting dressed to make things awkward for him.”
I felt myself blush. Hard. “Yeah,” I said. “I mean… maybe? I never even dated anyone before I died, and now it seems like I have suitors falling out of the woodwork. But with Ben… well, the first time I met him he tried to kill me. To convince him that I was telling the truth about all of the stuff that Lewellan was lying about I, um, gave him some of my blood so he could see how I felt about…” I broke off when Valerie’s hands flew over her mouth.
“What?” I asked. Her cheeks seemed a little brighter than they had been. “What?!” I demanded more defensively.
Valerie choked on a giggle, which she managed to smother with visible effort. “Nothing,” she said. She forced her hands back down to her lap. I could tell she was trying to keep a straight face, but she was failing to keep a smile entirely under control and there was a mischievous gleam in her eye. “Nothing!” She repeated. “It’s just that Mr. Dolcet didn’t mention that part when he was explaining to me that Director Lewellan was a lying bastard. And, um… well, you’d have no way of knowing it, but in vampire society that’s kind of… kinky.”
I felt the blood drain out of my face and mortification well up in its place. I knew it. I knew it. Oh god, I’m a kinky vampire.
Valerie’s lips twitched. And yes, there was a definitely a rosy-ness to her complexion that hadn’t been there before. “It’s like… well, feeding on someone is intimate. But it’s also feeding. So I guess the mortal equivalent would be slathering your lover in chocolate and licking them naked? Or maybe just using their chocolate covered body as a dish for dipping strawberries in while you sipped champagne out of their navel. Not exactly bad, you know, but probably not something most people would admit to doing all the time.”
Oh my god, I thought as my overactive imagination provided an assortment of mental images featuring all of the people who I might be in that situation with. I have got to try… No! No! Bad Abby! It’s bad enough that you’re a kinky vampire, dammit.
I could feel myself start to blush as the blood rushed back up to my face. I had the overwhelming urge to hide, so I hastily walked past Valerie so she at least couldn’t see me blushing. Oh god. Oh god. Fuck, who am I kidding? I bet Hans knows all sorts of good body pastry recipes.
Behind me, Valerie cleared her throat. “Actually, speaking of Mr. Dolcet, he’s probably pretty worried right now.”
I spent a monumental effort and pushed my extremely vivid imagination down enough to pay attention to what Valerie was saying. Getting it to go away entirely wasn’t in the cards, though. Instead, now I was stretched out between Hans and Ben, naked except for some tastefully arranged pastries, my eyes closed and my lips bit shut while the two of them discussed who would get to have me when and Hans nibbled on the desserts while Ben nibbled on my wrist.
“Oh?” I managed to ask. Good job, me. Way to be articulate.
Shut up, me. This is hot.
“Well,” Valerie said, “I’m guessing that he has no idea why you reacted the way you did or he wouldn’t have frozen time in the first place. And we’ve been discussing this behind warded walls, so he has no way of listening in unless he’s been sitting out there with his ear pressed against the door — but then you would’ve caught him at it when your dad left. So he has to be utterly confused, and I imagine pretty worried about what exactly he did to make you react like you did. Especially if he is at all concerned about getting you to like him, you know?”
I turned around to stare at Valerie, aghast. “Oh, crap,” I said. “I didn’t even think about… Crap!”
Valerie smirked slightly and I squeezed my eyes shut before the sight could make me even more defensive. “Look,” I said sharply, “I meant it when I said I never dated anyone before I died. All of my relationship experience is from, like, the last week.” I sank into one of the hotel room’s chairs. “Oh, god, what am I supposed to tell him?” I asked no one at all.
Not only had I fallen apart on Ben, but then I’d made him sit and wonder what he’d done wrong for hours while I talked about it with someone else, when really he hadn’t done anything and I was just a messed up freak with supernatural PTSD. That was definite apology territory, but somehow it seemed like geasing myself to someone who had a decided interest in trying to seduce me so he could drink my blood might inadvertently lead to sending mixed signals that would totally blow up in my face eventually.
“I’d start with what you told me about the things that happened to you while you were accelerated,” Valerie answered. “If he really cares about you and isn’t just into food play, he’ll understand and want to help you. Even if you don’t feel comfortable getting help from him for the PTSD parts — and you should definitely find someone who can help you with those — he can at least help you with knowing what to expect now that you’re a vampire.”
I shot Valerie a glance that was probably one part hope to ten parts don’t you fuck with me. “I can’t do that,” I said. “I mean: I can’t ask for help from Ben.” I couldn’t put it into words, but I couldn’t deny the feeling that relying on him for my ‘how to be a vampire’ education would be a bad idea.
Valerie sighed. “I guess I can see that,” she said. “It would make for an awkward dynamic to any relationship between you. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little bit of student/teacher play, but when it isn’t actually play then there’s a clear potential for misuse of authority and a power imbalance.”
I didn’t stop glaring at Valerie, but I did feel my jaw lower. No words came out. I wasn’t sure which ones I wanted to, anyway. Probably how the hell can you be so casual about this?
Valerie grinned at me. “I’ll tell you what. Since you don’t want me giving you verbal apologies for my part in kicking off this whole episode, let me show that I’m apologetic, instead. I’ll help explain what happened to Benjamin, and I can offer you some mentor-time until we find you someone more suitable.” She snorted. “I mean, not that I’m as experienced as an elder vampire by any stretch of the imagination, but I am the oldest of us scions and I can’t be a worse option than the last Director the Center sent to ‘teach’ you.”
I closed my mouth and opened it again. Then closed it. I continued to gawk at Valerie while I tried to figure out what exactly had gone on in our conversation that we had gone from slathering people in chocolate and licking them naked to Valerie offering to show me the ropes of being a vampire. She waited patiently for my response — which was pretty much me just continuing to stare blankly at her.
Finally, my autopilot had enough of me gaping like a fish. “Um,” I stammered. “Okay. Thanks.”