I followed my shaky proclamation by suddenly scrambling for the bathroom. Ben yelped as I shoved him out of the way, and I stumbled into the doorframe when I swerved to get to the toilet. I tried not to think about why the seat might be up — vampires don’t use that. It’s clean. I’m sure housekeeping just left it that way — when I grabbed the edges of the bowl, leaned over it and retched. Repeatedly.
They were dry heaves, of course. I’d only fed on faeries recently, and their blood wasn’t really physical. There was nothing in me to come up: I hadn’t even had anything ‘real’ to eat — not that I had any idea what happened to normal food once it went into me, now that I was undead. It never came back out and I was okay with not thinking about it more than that.
When I finally sank down to the ground and sat with my back against the tub, I was crying. Not sobbing or anything — I’d done enough of that, even if my unholy regeneration meant always being ready to do it some more. But my vision was blurry from tears and my nose kept threatening to run, anyway.
Through my distorted vision I could see that Ben had followed me. He liberated a box of tissues from a bin set under the sink’s counter and crouched down to hand them to me. I took them reluctantly. I am such a freak. Ben had to think so. I was always breaking down in tears for no reason in front of him. Fuck me. At least he would know what he was getting into with enough advance warning to not get into it.
Outside, I could hear Valarie talking to Thomas. “I think that perhaps you should check on Mr. Fiore,” she said like nothing weird was going on at all.
I couldn’t imagine what Valarie thought Thomas would do if he caught up to the other vampire, but… hell. Maybe Mr. Fiore needed some support now, too? I felt weirdly guilty while I sniffled and blew into a tissue. Throwing that bit about screwing up in the face of his Family’s expectations was probably over the line, I thought.
Benjamin distracted me from what was going on outside the bathroom by turning and sitting on the floor next to me. “Are you going to be okay?” He asked quietly after we both heard the hallway door open and close again.
No one here but us chickens.
“Yeah,” I rasped. I pulled out another tissue and used it to dry my eyes. Just give me a minute, and no one will even be able to know I was upset just by looking at me. “I don’t do well with confrontations,” I added when Ben didn’t say anything else. I immediately felt like an idiot.
“I don’t do well with confrontations,” says the girl who goes around terrifying armies of boogeymen into submission and slaughtering elder vampires and fucking eating faerie kings for her midnight snack.
Fuck. Not only did he have to think I was some kind of hyper-neurotic over-emotional flake or something, but now he probably thought I was a compulsive liar, too. Just like Lewellan did, my cynical side commented.
Benjamin leaned his head back. I couldn’t make myself look straight at him, but I could still see him out of the corner of my eye and my supernatural hearing picked up the scritch of his hair against the shower curtain. “That must have been hell,” he observed quietly.
Wait. What? “What?” I asked in confusion. My brow furrowed. I’d been expecting him to snort at the hypocrisy I’d spouted, get up and blow me off.
Ben looked at me and snorted. I looked back at him despite myself.
“Archarel,” Benjamin said. “Lewellan. Salvatore.” He snorted again, this time at himself. “I don’t know. This whole past week, I guess. I can’t even imagine, and I got to feel some of it.”
I shifted slightly, squirming at the reminder that Ben had tasted my blood and it had included my messed up feelings. I was never going to live that down, was I? I looked away. “Yeah,” I agreed while staring at the floor’s tiles.
We sat quietly for a moment longer before Ben shifted slightly to the side, leaning his shoulder against mine. I wasn’t sure if I appreciated the contact or not. “Does that have something to do with why you were so scared when I froze time?,” he asked gently.
I didn’t look back at him. “Yeah,” I whispered again. I was supposed to explain that to him, I remembered. That was why I’d come up here. I didn’t want to. I curled my hands into fists until my fingernails bit into my palms. The sharpness served to cut through the recollections that threatened to well up and overwhelm me again. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t even want to think about it.
I swallowed and forced myself to look over toward Ben. Confrontations suck. Get it over with. “I explained it to Valerie,” I told him. “You can ask her. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to think about it. I…” I was trembling, and my supernatural hearing picked up the sound of a single drop of something splashing on tile.
I looked down in shock. I forced one of my hands to unclench, but the other remained a fist. I held up the open hand shakily. I’d dug my fingernails deeply enough into my palm that I’d broken the skin and started bleeding.
“Abby!” Ben exclaimed in alarm. I don’t know why. I was a vampire. I’d be fine. The scratches were already closing up, anyway.
I looked away from my palm and up at Ben. “I don’t want to talk about it,” I repeated in a whisper. “I don’t even want to think about it,” I continued — but I couldn’t make myself stop. Even without thinking about it, the terror was still there: lurking constantly. My voice started to tremble like my body had been just seconds ago. “But if you want to know…” I choked on the words and my eyes started to water again. “I want someone to know,” I forced myself to say. Even though I knew I wasn’t making logically intelligible sentences. Know what? How was what I was going to offer supposed to tell anyone anything? “I want someone to know that I’m not crazy,” I said. “That it happened. That there’s a reason I’m so fucked up.”
I put my open hand on the floor to brace myself and twisted around so I could offer Ben my fist. Still trembling, I forced my fingers to uncurl.
The air stung my palm. I was extra aware of how cool it was against my skin, which felt hot where I’d torn it with my fingernails. I could tell that the scratches were closing by the way that awareness narrowed across my palm. I didn’t say anything. I just looked at Ben while he looked back at me and my tears trickled down my cheeks.
Fortunately, Ben only hesitated for that one second. Then he turned back toward my hand and ducked down, raising my palm to his lips even as he leaned forward to intercept it. Before it could close he kissed my palm over the last cut. His tongue brushed my blood — just a taste — before the tiny wound closed.
A taste was all it took. I felt a sudden vertigo as a sliver of my aura was siphoned away. It was just the tiniest bit — but just like every time I’d drunk or drained someone, it started with the victim’s greatest fear. My greatest fear, in this case.
The piece Benjamin took turned out to be the linchpin that was holding my phobic terror in place. I gasped and threw myself against him, burying my face against him like I would have Hans or Megan as the insane terror washed out over me, shutting down everything else. Even my fear of strangers and men and vampires.
Ben let out a strangled gasp as he was hit by it, too. “Oh god,” he cried. His arms wrapped around me reflexively. “Oh god,” he repeated. That part, I knew, was me. “Oh god, oh god, oh god.” The arms protectively embracing me were Ben, though. He had the kind of protective streak that would make him do that, I realized. After all: he had accompanied his people when they’d hunted me down. And why? Because I was supposedly a threat to them and others. But he had also followed to protect me from Lewellan’s death squad. He’d even ventured into faerie land, shotgun in hand, to make sure I was okay. I whimpered, and Ben tightened his arms around me.
Our union of souls was brief. It dissolved with a sudden surge of bliss when the tainted hint of my curse was consumed by his own. I shivered in Ben’s arms. The momentary pleasure served to shock me out of the downward spiral of terror that being fed on had accidentally pushed me into. With the shift came a real awareness of where I was and what was happening around me: my heart started to pound as a different set of fears welled up within me.
Ben’s arms relaxed slightly, but I was already starting to hyperventilate. I cut that off by holding my breath entirely. Ben’s hands slipped from being around my back to resting on my arms. He still held me, but I wasn’t quite so trapped. I leaned back just enough to allow space to exist between us and looked up at him.
Ben looked back at me. His mouth was set in a thin, serious line. He looked, I thought, angry. Except there was a sparkle in his eyes. No: a gleam. A hint of moisture.
He’d shed tears, too.
“I can’t tell you what happened,” I said shakily. “Ask Valerie about it. When I’m not around.” I pulled away, and Ben reluctantly let me go. “But that’s how I feel about it,” I said. “And now I…” I wasn’t sure what I needed to do now. I was still struggling with all of the aftershocks of emotion. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry more, again, or throw myself into Ben’s arms or try to be responsible and do something that needed doing that could distract me from how messed up I was, or what. There were too many options. Too many things. All of the things.
Why did they have to wake me up? I wondered. Why couldn’t they have just let me be dormant today? Don’t I deserve a rest?
“I need to sleep,” I said. “Maybe a nap, or… even just to lie down. I…” I wanted to apologize, and I wasn’t even sure what for. I squashed the urge before something bad could come of it. “I should go back to my room,” I concluded. I started to turn around so I could leave. I rose to my feet and stepped toward the bathroom door.
Ben stood up behind me. I could hear him move, and my phobia of people behind me started to kick in. I jumped when his hand found my elbow. “Abigail, wait,” he said.
I froze. Like a squirrel who just hopped out of a tree in front of a fox. Maybe if I don’t move he won’t notice I’m still here.
Ben’s voice wasn’t remotely hostile or angry. It was full of concern and more than a little sympathy and hurt. He was still reeling from what I’d shared, probably, even if the connection between us had faded to no more than a normal leyline. I made my heart stop pounding, finally, but it didn’t stop my brain from chanting ba-Dum ba-Dum ba-Dum as though it were still pounding.
“Stay here,” Benjamin said. “You can have my bed. I’ll see to it that you aren’t disturbed.”
Ben’s bed? Like there weren’t any connotations there! I mustered my resolve to turn him down and head back to my room.
“Okay,” I said.
Ben breathed out a sigh that almost sounded like a sigh of relief. He reached out past me and opened the bathroom door, then led me back into the hotel room. I followed, feeling more than a little numb. The last time my autopilot had taken a cute guy up on something when I’d been trying to turn them down had been with Hans. And look where that had gone!
I was not going to think about taking a shower with Ben in the morning! Or tonight. Or right now!
Especially not since Valarie was still in the room, sitting by her desk. She looked over the two of us knowingly. I looked back. I think I was probably a little glassy eyed. I felt a little wooden. Too much emotional stress, not enough catharsis.
Valarie shifted her gaze from me to Ben. “Wow,” she said. “You shared blood again? Kinky.”
Ben scowled at her. “I don’t want to hear about it from you,” he growled — though not aggressively. Just enough for her to know he was annoyed with her. “This is all your doing, anyway, with that phone call back in Abby’s room. How the heck did you even know I was courting her, anyway?”
Ben finished escorting me to the bed while Valarie laughed. I pulled back the covers and Ben let go of me so that I could crawl under them. I leaned back against the piled up hotel pillows and looked back and forth between Ben and Valarie. Two vampires. Am I really going to be able to close my eyes with them here?
Well… maybe. I took a deep breath and tried. Ben won’t let anything happen to me. I wasn’t entirely sure why I thought that.
It was probably just because even though I’d shared pure and unadulterated terror with him, he’d reacted by gathering me close and keeping me sheltered in his arm. Keeping me safe.
I breathed back out. My eyes closed.
It’s going to be okay, I told myself and all the thoughts that tried to tell me otherwise.