If not breathing caused a drain on my buffer of essence, it was subtle enough that I still wasn’t sure whether or not it actually did. For that reason, I decided it was ‘safe.’ As soon as I had the bathroom door closed behind me, I stopped breathing.
Holding my breath until my vision swam with staticy fuzz and my body was enveloped in pins and needles and I couldn’t take the pain in my chest from my lungs begging for air — or until I passed out — had been one of my coping mechanisms when I’d been alive. Back then it had been one of a variety of masochistic, self-harming releases that I’d relied on to get through my panic attacks. Now, ‘not breathing’ seemed like one of the more harmless things I could do: healing physical damage, like from scalding or bruising myself, or crushing my fingers in a door or whatever, did eat away at my curse’s store of essence. And while that wasn’t, strictly speaking, dangerous to me… It did make me dangerous to everyone else. I simply couldn’t justify it anymore.
So, yes. I stopped breathing, instead. It didn’t bring the pins and needles and dizziness and pain, but at least it stopped me from hyperventilating. After a moment, I stopped my heartbeat, too. It was the only way I had to keep it from racing.
And that made me wonder if I could shut down the other symptoms of my panic attack just as easily. Since that was a better question than ‘who is lying to me now and how will it fuck me over this time’ or any of the other things that were tearing at my anxiety, I focused on that. And after a moment my stomach unclenched and the nausea vanished. I stopped sweating. I couldn’t do anything about the clamminess of my hands — except, no, I could just stop feeling anything at all. In fact, it seemed like I could shut down everything if I tried. Whether I was forcing myself to be more alive or more of a corpse, my curse didn’t seem to care — other than gravitating toward ‘alive’ while I had a full aura. But as far as I could tell it wasn’t eating away at my reserve faster either way.
That was when the dizziness hit. But it wasn’t the dizziness of a body starving for air. It was the vertigo that struck when my awareness shifted, leaving myself and blossoming into a semi omniscience that extended just a few feet in every direction, centered on my corpse.
My body started toppling forward before I’d even adjusted to my new perspective, let alone realized what was happening. What?! I mentally screamed since I couldn’t physically yelp. Instinctively, I reached out for my body. Or rather — since I couldn’t physically ‘reach’ anymore but I was more aware of the flow of essences through me — I released my psychic grip on the vampiric curse my aura carried. It lashed out into its proper form, yanking my awareness back into my body.
I barely managed to catch myself against Cassie’s sink. I’d only been dormant for an instant, but the shock was enough to leave me trembling. I gulped down deep breaths of air and my heartbeat pounded in my ears as my unrestrained aura shifted fully to ‘alive’ again.
But I’d gone dormant. No: I’d made myself go dormant!
Well, shit: maybe I should’ve stayed like that. The utter tranquility of dormancy was probably the best place to ride out a panic attack, and now that I was alive again I could feel my anxiety ramping back up to where it had been before I’d collapsed.
But, no. No: If I’d remained dormant for just a second longer then I would have face planted on the floor. The bathroom floor. Just… ew. The very thought made me want to gag — in fact, there was the cramped stomach and nausea again.
No, I needed a better method of coping than just going dormant. Especially since it cut down on my awareness so much! Anything could be going on around me, and if it was more than a foot or two away I would have no way of knowing. Plus, if I’d come back to my regular mindset while face down on bathroom tiles, that probably would’ve been enough to make me freak out again all on its own. Still shaking from the adrenaline rush of coming back to life, I did my best to shove those thoughts aside and stop focusing on how close a call i’d had, because: Ew. Ew ew ew ew ew.
What can I say? All of the freaking out I’ve done in public restrooms has possibly — just possibly — made me a little oversensitive to how gross they can be. I used to dream of someday having a bathroom with a shower and a tub and a sink and no toilet. That could be in it’s own little closet somewhere else in the house, like I was pretty sure at the time god had intended.
I couldn’t stop staring at the tiles I’d almost cracked my skull on, though. I felt the urge to gag again, and this time I couldn’t suppress it. I hastily exited the bathroom before it could get worse. My supernatural senses were already jumping around, looking for evidence to support being majorly grossed out, despite Cassie (on the surface) seeming to keep a relatively clean place.
Unfortunately, getting back into the hallway did nothing to help me with my original problem. Namely, I needed a new place to freak out in private.
I wish Emma’s wolf had followed me again, I thought. It… it had been comforting, and I’d been able to zone out a little while it had sprawled across my lap. But it was with Emma. I could hear her talking agitatedly on the phone; asking if there was anyone else she could call and then asking the person to look around for her. When I peeked down my leyline to Emma — and also a thinner leyline I found that led to her wolf — I saw that Emma’s wolf was fully distracted by sharing in on her growing frustration.
I winced. The leylines were so much sharper when I was dormant I should’ve asked Cassie if I could’ve borrowed her bedroom to change in, I berated myself. Then I could have gone dormant. Although, would that have really been fair of me? Sure, I probably could have stomached going dormant there — but what if I put myself in Cassie’s shoes? Back when I’d been alive, finding out someone had died in my bedroom would’ve necessitated finding a new apartment immediately or freaking out forever.
Maybe I could psychically call for Megan to come help me calm down? I worried at the inside of my lip. It sounded like Megan was talking with Cassie and Jamie, and I didn’t want to be a pain and interrupt. God, how selfish would that be? And, seriously: how would I explain it? I’m sorry, Cassie. Your bathroom disgusts me, so I’m going to have to borrow this faerie queen for a while so she can make me feel better. By the way, do you mind if I borrow your bedroom?
No. I could feel my face heating even before my imagination provided the accompanying imagery. Hell no, I am not going to come off like that.
Well, if Emma’s wolf was distracted, maybe I could see if Hans’ wolf was up for company, instead? I mean, I couldn’t get changed in front of him since Hans and his wolf shared memories, but maybe it would be like sitting with Emma’s wolf? Weirdly, I didn’t feel quite so much like I was on the verge of a panic fit now. More like I really needed someone to comfort me. Maybe that instant of dormancy had done me some good after all. Or at least distracted me from everything that I’d been working up over to begin with.
Before I could slip into the basement, though, I heard Fumiko quietly say: “I’m going to go check on Abby.” She wasn’t loud enough to interrupt anyone’s conversations, but at least I had that much forewarning. Rather than heading into the basement I hastily wiped my eyes. I was a little surprised they weren’t leaking. Then I turned around in anticipation of seeing her.
Fumiko, apparently, was not anticipating seeing me in the hallway. When she rounded the corner from the living room she looked briefly startled. She probably expected to have to knock on the bathroom door or something. But her expression vanished quickly enough that I almost thought I hadn’t actually seen it.
“Hey,” I said. “You were looking for me?” It wasn’t exactly private in the hallway, but I doubted anyone could really hear us over their own conversations out in the living room. I just had supernatural hearing that could easily pick out theirs.
“Nah,” Fumiko replied. “I was just kind of hoping to sneak a peek at Hans in feral-wolf mode,” she claimed in a bald faced lie.
I narrowed my eyes at her as though I hadn’t heard her in the living room. “You were kind of hoping that he would look more formidable than that one you choked out, you mean,” I accused in translation.
Fumiko laughed. “Well, maybe,” she admitted. “Am I really that obvious?” She grinned, but then her expression sobered and her voice lowered as she walked up to me. “Seriously, though: Just the other day you told us that you hurt yourself when you can’t cope.” Fumiko shrugged awkwardly. “Maybe I worry too much, but it seemed like you ran out a little too abruptly after whatever that misunderstanding was.”
I cringed inside, but I’d trained myself not to give it away when I was being a freak, so Fumiko didn’t notice because I didn’t cringe on the outside. Why did she have to be the one who picked up on that? She was a total bad ass, and I knew how she felt about weaklings and I didn’t want her to see that I still couldn’t cope and feel that way about me!
“Yeah, no,” I protested on autopilot. “Don’t worry, Fumiko. I was just…”
Abby, Megan’s telepathic admonition interrupted my attempt to bullshit my way out of embarrassing myself, stop. Take a deep breath and talk to her. Don’t bottle it up or close yourself off.
Surprised, I choked back the rest of what I’d been about to say. Megan had been watching my emotions? Did she just choose not to come take care of me because Fumiko was?!
Yeah, Megan admitted. I still have a good connection to you at this range. But also, Fumiko will understand. Trust me.
“I was just…” I tried to explain again, but it was like Megan’s interruption had popped something and now my autopilot was deflated and empty. “I…” I stammered while Fumiko waited quietly. I felt myself wilting. How was I suposed to tell Fumiko that I’d been on the verge of a panic attack because someone was lying about something that had happened decades ago, and I was freaked out because of Lewellyn and his lies and how they’d been intended to make the city hate me and get me shot on sight?!
I tried to say something. To make another excuse. Because Fumiko was a bad ass, and she didn’t care about other people’s bullshit, and if anyone came after her she’d take them apart with her bare hands. There was no way she could relate to why I was freaked out!
But the words wouldn’t come. Trust me, Megan had asked me — but the guilt that surged through me had nothing to do with the fact that I just couldn’t see Fumiko understanding where I was coming from right now. Even if I did trust Megan! No, the guilt was because I’d automatically tried coming up with excuses to explain myself to Fumiko. After everything she had done for me; for Megan, I was still acting like I didn’t want her to really know me. Even though I’d seen the inside of her soul, I was ready to lie to her about what was going on in mine.
Fumiko deserved better than that from me. She was my friend. Not just Megan’s friend who sometimes hung out with me, but my friend. And she deserved for me to trust her.
So I swallowed weakly. Fumiko continued to watch me, waiting patiently. So this time I tried to explain. For real. Only when the words came out, they weren’t about Lewellyn and lies and panicking and fear. They were about the rest of it: the stuff I’d been doing my best to ignore; the thing that had wound my stomach into nauseous knots, instead.
“He thought I was going to kill them,” I half whispered, to my own shock. But that was the real problem; the thing that had made me need to escape. How often in the past week had I accused myself of being a monster? How many times had I been afraid the people around me would recognize me for the monster I’d become? Cassie had backed away from me after mentioning drinks. My own father had greeted me at gunpoint after he’d found out what I was! And yes, somehow I’d tricked them into thinking I wasn’t going to kill them at the drop of a hat, but Melvin had described me best: I was an abomination that stole the souls of others in order to pretend it had it’s own. A monster.
Because: How often in the past week had I let that facade slip and found myself plotting the deaths of everyone around me and everyone I knew?
“He thought I was going to kill them,” I sobbed, and this time my voice broke.
Fumiko hastily stepped closer. She fumbled me into an awkward hug. I tried to look at her, but everything was blurry. Oh, great: now I was going to cry. I tried to hold it back; tried to just hug Fumiko back, but that didn’t work.
“Even worse,” I whispered — my voice caught on another sob and my tears trickled down my cheeks, overflowing my eyes despite my best efforts. “The truth is: I don’t even need a reason to kill anyone.” I sniffled. I was good at not making a lot of noise when I cried. I refused to give in and start bawling. I didn’t want Emma or Cassie to hear and worry.
I bit my lips together and buried my face against Fumiko’s shoulder so I wouldn’t wail. But I needed to make Fumiko understand, even though I didn’t want anyone to really know. But people did know. Reid did. He knew exactly what I was capable of, except he thought I needed a reason to go on a killing spree.
I managed to suck in two shuddering, jerky breaths. I tried to blink my eyes clear, but when I pulled back Fumiko’s concerned face blurred again almost instantly as more tears welled up. Fumiko didn’t quite let me go but didn’t quite keep hugging me, either. I knew she was uncomfortable being an emotional support.
I was a monster, but somehow the only ones who really recognized it were the other monsters that bumped in the night. Melvin. Reid. Pips. Every fae I’d ever terrorized. Maybe it was because it took a monster to recognize one for what it really was.
I gave up and pulled myself back into Fumiko’s awkward attempt at a comforting embrace. She shifted: surprised and probably even more uncomfortable than she’d been before. I wasn’t hugging her so much as clinging to her now, and I was crying even worse even if I wasn’t being loud about it.
“All I need,” I choked out in stammered whispers, “is to be thirsty.”