I didn’t know what to think back at Jamie, so I just sort of stared at him blankly after that. It seemed like no one else did, either — or that Megan had decided to stop sharing whatever everyone else was thinking. In any case it was, ironically, Fumiko who interrupted the silence.
“So,” Fumiko said after crunching on another potato chip. “As entertaining as it is to watch you three make random faces and noises, is there any chance someone might let me know what the heck is going on?”
Jamie almost instantly reappeared in our world. “I’m so sorry,” he blurted. “I got distracted over there. Emma’s soul has been tainted by the werewolf curse, but she wasn’t bitten so she isn’t a werewolf: The criteria for the weave to force — maybe even for it to allow — her to shift shapes haven’t been met.”
I let Jamie bring Fumiko up to speed without trying to contribute. Frankly, he seemed to have a much better grasp of it all than I did. Emma’s not a werewolf? I should’ve felt relieved about that, right? Instead I felt my stomach twisting anxiously over all the unknowns.
Vampires drank blood. Ghouls ate dead human flesh. Vampires burned in the sun. Ghouls didn’t like it — but their actual weakness was running water. Vampires grew fangs. Ghouls got an entire mouth full of jagged, cannibal shark teeth.
Werewolves transformed into wild, infectious, primal monsters once a month. My stomach tightened further with worry. Who knew what Emma’s ‘eating dead human flesh’ equivalent was going to turn out to be?
While I was worrying about that and Jamie was recapping for Fumiko, Megan was sitting beside Emma and hugging her close. Emma’s wolf, I saw, was completely distracted from me now. It turned a circle in front of them and then plopped it’s head down on Megan’s knee, staring up at her with adoring eyes. Megan looked a little startled by that at first, but then she tentatively reached down and scratched it between the ears. Even though it was a ghost. Sort of. How did that even work?
However it did, it did work. The wolf gave a wolfy yawn and closed it’s eyes contentedly. At the same time Emma, oblivious to the ghostly wolf seated on the ground between them, curled up tighter against Megan. Megan removed her fingers from the wolf’s head and tightened her arms around Emma.
Had I just over reacted when I started to panic? It wouldn’t have been the first time. In fact, this past week was probably more bizarre in that I’d been panicking over legitimate reasons than that those reasons had been werewolves and ghouls and vampires and shit. But with everything that had happened: with one emergency after another and no break between them; no chance to pull myself together and adjust — I’d just expected the emergencies not to stop. I’d seen that wolf and immediately assumed the worst.
All of the worsts.
That the curse would ruin Emma’s life. That she would blame me for it — that it was my fault. That Megan would hate me for hurting her; that I would hate myself for what I’d done to Emma. And worse: that the emergencies would continue. That they hadn’t stopped with finding Hans and Jeremy and the entire mess at the church. That more were coming, or had already started, and I wouldn’t even be able to see them before it was too late to do anything about it — because I sure as hell hadn’t seen this coming. And how was I supposed to keep the people I cared about safe when I couldn’t even tell that I was ruining their lives and turning them into monsters?!
An other worldly whine — Emma’s wolf — caught my attention and dragged it away from the guilt and freak-out spiral. I blinked twice and looked at it. it had removed it’s head from Megan’s lap and was looking at me. So was Emma and, for that matter, Megan. I looked back at them and felt the blood flow out of my face.
You’re still sharing things, aren’t you? I thought at Megan.
I was, Megan admitted. Out loud she said: “Are you okay, Abby?” In her lap, Emma continued to look at me. She looked really worried; maybe even upset.
I’m not upset with you! Emma protested through Megan. Not like that!
I swallowed. I wasn’t even thinking things at Megan, so why was she picking up on them enough to spread them out to Emma? This was… this was me being me. I just had to deal with it and not make it bother anyone else. I didn’t want to bother anyone else just because I felt stupid and guilty about the stuff that was my own fault!
I don’t think you have to think things at me when we’re this close, Megan sent to me. I can pick up on it anyway. Maybe because you channeled all of the essence of an entire faerie kingdom through our ley line, practically? I mean: my connection to you is even wider than the one I have to Emma, and I haven’t stopped channeling essence to her since I started last night. I’ll… I’ll try not to pry. But Abigail, nothing that’s happened has been your fault.
I swallowed. I felt a familiar tremble start, just under the surface. I’d channeled that essence while time had been frozen. God alone knew how long — relative to real time — that had taken. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if I’d been at it for days or weeks or even years of equivalent time without even knowing it. And if channeling that much essence to Emma made Megan her familiar, did that make me Megan’s?
A faerie queen with a vampire familiar? The rest of the faerie nobility were probably going to flip out about that even worse than The Center was going to flip out about me being a vampire with a faerie queen girlfriend.
I tried to ignore that — more to ignore thinking about being outside of the natural flow of time than anything else. Jamie was comparing metaphors still with Fumiko. Currently they were speculating on whether Emma was more like someone who was immune to a disease but still carried it, or like someone who had contracted disease but had yet to have it develop past the incubation stage? Or something else entirely?
“Abby,” Emma interrupted my rambling thoughts. I wasn’t sure if Megan had shared them or not, but since she didn’t answer my curiosity I had to assume she hadn’t. So Emma was still worried about whatever I’d been thinking when her wolf had started whining. “Abby, I know I wanted you to take me with you while you were doing stuff, but… What actually happened tonight at that church? It can’t… I can’t imagine it being something that was your fault like that. Even whatever is going on with me: you didn’t know. You couldn’t have known! You did your best to take care of me. I’m thankful for that, Abigail. You have nothing to beat yourself up over, I swear.”
I swallowed. My heart started to beat faster as the memories from the church washed over me — memories and sensations. I lost most of whatever Emma had just said to a sudden surge of recollections. The feeling of pressure: the weight of centuries of belief and a world-spanning religion bearing down on me, crushing me; turning on me when one of it’s believers called me out as evil. The pain and agony and wolves and warlocks and Melvin’s blood and the boy with wings and… it all jumbled through my head in an unordered mess of recollection and emotion. I hadn’t had time to sort it out, myself.
“Fumiko can probably explain it better,” I heard myself say. “She was there for more of it — in fact, she pretty much had everything taken care of before I got there. I just had to do some of that sympathetic magic healing that vampires can do, you know?” I stepped away from the couch, backing away from Emma and Megan even though I desperately wanted to join in hugging Emma — or have them both hugging me. “No big deal.”
“Abby,” Emma protested — but I was backing away too quickly. Even if Megan wasn’t sharing things I wasn’t ready to deal with, and wasn’t prying into the emotional state of my aura, she could probably tell that I was starting to freak out. I could only hope that Megan would hold Emma back so that I could get the space I needed to fall apart properly.
“It’s okay,” I insisted. “I’ll be fine. Ask Fumiko about it. I’m going to just go call Cassie, alright?” I continued to backed away as I spoke, sidling along until I was able to dart around the couch. I hastily retreated into Megan’s bedroom and closed the door behind me. I took shaky breaths and stumbled over to Megan’s vanity. Then I sat down and worked on fumbling out my phone.
It’s okay. I’ll be fine. I just have to figure it out on my own, first. I didn’t share easily. I was always overwhelmed by so much shit that wasn’t even real: it wouldn’t have been fair of me to make someone else share that burden — and this stuff actually was real! Everything that had happened to Emma since she’d met me was my fault. Blatantly so. And even without that, since I knew she and Megan would find a way to deny it, I still couldn’t stomach the thought of letting someone I cared about the opinion of know I was so messed up. I didn’t want the pity. I didn’t want them making exceptions or excuses for me. And it didn’t matter that I already knew both Emma and Megan had been inside my head and already knew. Or were at least aware. It was still my shit and my fault and I wouldn’t force them to be the ones who had to deal with it, dammit!
Even if I really, really wanted to be the one getting squished in an Emma-Megan cuddle pile right now. And how selfish was that?
Then a canine whine from somewhere not quite in this reality distracted me from my spiral of guilt and self accusation again. I yelped and spun around, heaving myself back up to my feet as I did — but it was just Emma’s wolf. The spectral canine was halfway through the closed door. It looked up at me with big, worried eyes. I groaned. Megan had apparently kept Emma from chasing after me, but that hadn’t stopped Emma’s wolf.
And now I was feeling guilty for trying to handle freaking out on my own, wasn’t I?
“Oh, come on,” I pled. “I’m fine! Really! Stop giving me those eyes!” The wolf just sank down and looked up at me. If anything, the puppy dog eyes got bigger. Worse: I could totally see Emma’s brand of ‘I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad. Don’t hate me. I just want to help. What can I do to help?’ behind them.
I knew when I was outmatched. And between being able to walk through walls and being a wolf who didn’t have the capacity to be reasoned with, this was clearly my limit. Plus, apparently I’d already fucked up on not making anyone worry about me to the point it had spilled over from Emma’s aura and was influencing the werewolf that… Possessed her? Shared her soul? Whatever. I had no idea what their relationship was; if it was like my vampire side, or like a symbiosis, or what. But I did know that if I didn’t reassure them — because reassuring the wolf would probably spill back over to reassuring Emma — it would be really, really shittly selfish of me.
And where the hell did a phantom werewolf get off being so damn cute, anyway?!
I let out a reluctant sigh and walked over to the door. Emma’s wolf stood up excitedly as I approached. I was willing to bet it’s tail was wagging — but I couldn’t tell because it was still only halfway through the closed door. I sat down next to it and leaned back against the wall with my legs stretched out in front of me.
I looked at the wolf and it looked at me. “Well?” I asked. I clucked my tongue and gestured with my chin for it to come in. “Here girl. You’re fine. Come on in.”
The wolf flowed the rest of the way through the door and into the room. I waved it closer, and it came up to me. I tentatively reached out like Megan had and touched the fur between it’s ears.
That was surreal. There wasn’t anything there, but I could still feel the sensation of fur. It left a tingle in my fingertips when I unconsciously pulled them away.
It sort of reminded me of when I’d grabbed BonBon or Pipsqueak while they had been in that ‘between worlds’ state. Even though there was nothing there in this world, there was something there. And being able to interact with it was just a matter of awareness, intent and belief that I could.
I reached out again and scratched the wolf’s head between the ears, careful not to push too hard and move my fingers into the space that currently wasn’t really occupied by it’s head unless you were also somehow not entirely in this world.
Actually, maybe it was just my aura that was interacting with it and trying to ‘touch’ it physically was just an easy way to add symbolism and intent; the tactile sense coming back to me was just my brain’s way of interpreting the sensation of my soul brushing against its. Whatever. I could ask Cassie or Linda or Valerie about it later.
I scratched between the wolf’s ears some more, and it finally seemed to accept that I was okay. It lowered it’s head down over my lap and seemed to sigh contentedly. I smiled at it despite myself. Even though there was nothing really there, the illusion of weight was comfortable. How weird was that?
“You know,” I said after extending the skritches down its back for a moment, “I bet we could get Megan to glamour up, like, a big doggie bed or something for you.” If faeries could run around between worlds then obviously their glamours could exist between worlds, since that was all that faerie manifestations were. “Would you like that? Or some toys or something?” Maybe a big bone? Would pampering it in its world make it less likely to try and get into ours through Emma?
The wolf didn’t reply. It’s eyes skewed over in my direction and then closed. Out in the living room, my supernatural hearing picked out Fumiko asking what was going on — followed by Emma reassuring everyone that she just knew I was fine.
I shook my head at her wolf. Busybody. I mentally accused it. It remained unrepentant. Instead, the ghost wolf gave out a wuffly grunt of contentment and pretended to sleep.
So I pulled my phone out again and looked up Cassie’s number. As long as I’d told everyone I’d gone off to call and see if she was still up, I might as well actually do it, right? I leaned forward to give the wolf another pet, then leaned back against the wall and hit dial.
And then I just wiggled my toes, enjoyed the surreal feeling of the nonexistent weight of a spectral wolf stretched out over my lap, and waited to see if anyone would pick up the call.