I’m not sure how long I cried while Fumiko held me. Or rather, I’m not sure how long I would have cried if Fumiko had been comfortable with just holding me — but she wasn’t. After a couple false starts where Fumiko tried to hesitantly pull away but had then changed her mind, she finally gave up and just grabbed me by the shoulders. Then, while holding me in place, she took a step back. I blinked in surprise when I found myself abruptly no longer leaning against her. Instead, I found myself blurrily gawking at her chest. I yanked my gaze up and met Fumiko’s own. Her expression was serious; maybe almost grim.
“I’m bad at tears,” Fumiko said bluntly.
I sniffled. “It’s okay,” I tried to say, but Fumiko didn’t let me.
“Come on,” she said instead. Then she let go of me with one hand and caught my wrist with the other. The next thing I knew, I was being dragged into the living room. “We’re going for a walk,” Fumiko called to the room at large. “Someone invite us in when we get back.”
I kept my face averted so it wouldn’t be obvious to anyone that I was in the middle of crying, so I didn’t see everyone’s reactions. Emma didn’t even reply. She was still on her phone. “Has anyone seen her since yesterday?” Emma asked whoever it was that she had gotten a hold of now.
Megan’s response was more to the point. “Okay,” she said cheerfully. “We’ll be here.”
And then Fumiko was pulling me outside. The night air was cold, but it had stopped chilling me days ago. Undeath, you know? But the breeze rapidly dried my face. I scrubbed at it anyway, to get rid of the kind of gunky feeling that remained behind, and maybe to pretend I was actually done with tears.
Fumiko set a swift pace. Once she was satisfied I would keep up with it, she let go of my wrist. Together we walked briskly toward the car ports. I tried to sort out what I was supposed to say to her, but I had no idea. Fortunately, it seemed the walk had been more to allow Fumiko to get her thoughts sorted rather than me to fix mine.
As we reached the carports Fumiko slowed down. Finally she stopped. She turned and leaned back against one of the posts and looked at me. I stopped too, but I was a lot more awkward about it. I shifted uncertainly under her gaze.
“Okay,” Fumiko said. “I didn’t really want to talk about this where they might over hear, and I’m willing to bet you didn’t, either.”
I nodded mutely. I couldn’t hear anyone nearby — as non-intuitive as it was, we had more privacy out in the open than we had in the house. I even peeked between worlds to make sure there weren’t any fae around. I should’ve done that before falling apart in the house.
Fumiko nodded with me. “Alright,” she said. “Now: you feel like you’re a monster. That sucks. But you aren’t a monster, Abby.”
I felt my lips scrunch in a frown in response. “You don’t understand,” I protested. I’d told her I was. She needed to accept me at my word for that… except I didn’t want people to think of me like that. Except they needed to realize it for their own safety — and it hurt to not be believed. “I am. I want to kill people, Fumiko. When I’m thirsty, I just want blood and it doesn’t matter if it will kill whoever is on hand.” Part of me wanted to feel sick about that; part of me wanted to start crying again. Part of me was desperate to make Fumiko believe me, and that part was the one in charge of my mouth.
But Fumiko shook her head and interrupted me. “That’s just it,” she said. “I understand. You’ve been in my head… in my aura, or whatever. You know what I’m like.”
I swallowed and looked down my leyline to Fumiko once more. Had I missed something? No: what I could see was calm and tranquil. Of course, I knew about the caves that her other emotions hid in when her aura was full. I had no idea what was going on under that still surface, but if it was anything like what I had seen when her aura had been drained and those emotions had been exposed, they were not what most people would consider ‘good’ things to feel. But I didn’t know what to tell her — whatever more violent desires she had, she also reliably had them under control.
“You’re calm,” I pointed out. “I’m a spastic freak.”
Fumiko breathed deeply and let it out as a sigh. “I’m calm because I learned how to handle it. I’m a sadist, Abby. Always have been. Even when I was a kid. For a little while I was a bully, but my dad put a stop to that when he found out. After that, though, I still rough housed more than I should. People still got hurt playing with me at recess. This one boy in particular… I gave him a bloody nose once and he didn’t flip out about it. We were best friends. In retrospect, I figure he was crushing on me pretty hard. At the time, though, I just saw him as this walking, talking, gangly punching bag.”
I stared at her. Fumiko had never talked about her life growing up, other than the occasional anecdote about her dad or her mom. Never anything about school or childhood friends or beating them up.
“Anyway,” Fumiko said, “I realized there was something wrong with me pretty early on. I liked hurting people. Not just sparring with dad’s students — that was a different kind of satisfaction. No, I liked pushing my friend down and sitting on his back and smacking the back of his head until he surrendered in whatever we were fighting about, or begged me to let him up if we were just playing. You know?”
I swallowed and slowly shook my head. “I… I think I understand,” I said, “But I’ve never experienced…”
Fumiko sighed again. “Yeah, I always sort of figured you were the sort who would rather be pinned down.” She smirked at me. “Too bad I’m straight, right,” she joked. Then she sobered slightly. “But the point of my story is: I knew there was something wrong with how I saw people. I knew it. So I avoided most of them. I didn’t have other friends, because I knew it wouldn’t work. And then one day I caught someone else bullying my friend.”
My eyes widened slightly. I could already guess that this wasn’t going to end well for the bully — unless Fumiko joined in? Really, there were so many ways this scenario could go wrong.
Fumiko straightened, no longer leaning on the post, and shrugged. “His name was…” she laughed. “You know, I don’t remember. He went by his last name, anyway. Stinson. So, I beat Stinson into a blubbering pile.” Her lips twitched in something reminiscent of her more feral smiles. “And then I humiliated him. I kicked him while he was down, called him worthless…” she chuckled. “I made my friend give me his shirt so I could wipe the bully off of my shoe, and then threw it in Stinson’s face like a rag before taking my friend home.”
I didn’t know how to reply to that. I kept silent.
“I was a kid,” Fumiko said. “And kids can be vicious. But I was also violent, and I enjoyed being vicious for the sake of being vicious. And after wiping the floor with Stinson, the adults around me finally caught on. The school required I talk with their counselor. Mom was horrified, and dad… dad started focusing on teaching me more about the history of martial arts. The culture, you know? Meditation; control — more control. I found out later that some of the stuff he was teaching me was from his training in the martial arts. Some of it was stuff he’d learned to do himself, to help deal with survivor’s guilt. Some of it was from the therapists he’d talked to after getting out of active combat. Dad helped me get it under control. But the school counselor…”
Fumiko shook her head. “He was a fucking idiot,” she said bluntly. “I can play the devil’s advocate and say he wasn’t sufficiently trained, or his focus was on ‘normal’ kids — but the fact of the matter is: he had an agenda, and it was making me be a ‘normal’ kid. And I wasn’t. I was a fucking sadist and he tried to go at me like I was just another bully. But that doesn’t work. A bully picks on people to hide their weakness, Abby. A sadist hurts people because it’s fun.”
Fumiko leaned back against the post again. “Long story shorter, I got kind of messed up by that. He put the emphasis on how it was wrong to hurt people. Morally wrong, and didn’t I want to be a good person? A productive member of society? All that bull shit. It didn’t help that my friend got all flustered when he was explaining what happened to his parents. He wound up trying to explain to them why it was okay when I beat on him, but bad when Stinson did. They flipped out and refused to let us hang out anymore — they pulled him from the school and enrolled him in a different one.” Fumiko frowned. “He was my only friend and my only outlet,” she said.
“That’s… that’s rough,” I said. I couldn’t quite sympathise — what Fumiko was describing wasn’t like anything I’d gone through as a kid. Except that I had gone through my childhood without friends, and I could only imagine that it was worse to have one and lose him than to not have any to begin with.
Fumiko gave me a half hearted smile. “Well,” she continued, “the upshot is that Dad taught me how to not lash out at the people around me. And the school councilor taught me that wanting to hurt people made me a horrible person, myself. At least, that’s what I took away from it. I’m sure he thought he was teaching me to understand why I wanted to lash out — except I didn’t have an inferiority complex. I wasn’t trying to express dominance or get respect or attention or any of that bullshit. But he must’ve thought he was getting through to me, because he kept hammering on it — and I stopped rough housing. I stopped talking about wanting to hurt people in our sessions, and I stopped making threats to the kids that pissed me off. But all of that was because of Dad, not him.”
For a moment we stood silently. I had forgotten about my issues, I was so busy processing everything Fumiko had told me. Which was when she brought them back into focus.
“So, I spent most of my adolescence — some of middle school, all of highschool; even the first couple years of college — convinced that I was a psychopath, and that I had to hide it or I’d be locked up. I figured I could either keep everything locked down like dad showed me how, or I was going to end up being one of those serial murderers you see on the cop dramas. Everything I saw indicated that someone who wants to hurt people has to be the villain. I had no concept of sadism as something that ‘normal’ people deal with, and I never heard the phrase ‘safe, sane and consensual’ until I met Megan. By college I was the next best thing to a shut-in, because I’d invested too much in not giving in to my baser instincts. I avoided making friends — or even acquaintances — because I couldn’t stomach being around people. I couldn’t take dealing with the mean fantasies, with accusing myself of being so fucked up; beating myself up so I wouldn’t take it out on anyone else. And the really stupid thing is: I was probably going down the road to being one of those fucked up criminals a lot faster by shutting myself off from the world and believing I was a monster than I would have if I’d just known that I wasn’t actually fucked in the head — that there were other people out there who dealt with it, too, and even some people who appreciated it.”
Fumiko tilted her head and fixed my gaze with hers. “That’s what I’m trying to get to. Was I capable of doing monstrous things? Yes. I still am. I know that: it’s a part of who I am. But am I a monster?” She stared at me while that question sank in. “No,” she answered it. “I am more than the sum of some aspect of my personality. And, Abby, the same applies to you. Yes, you are capable of being monstrous if you lose control. Yes, if your aura is drained you don’t have a choice about it.” She smirked again. “If my aura is drained enough, I don’t think I would, either. But what I need you to understand is: even if you feel like you must be a monster because of the potentially monstrous part of you, that doesn’t mean you actually are. I know. I’ve been through that: the self-recriminations and shame and guilt. I internalized all that for way longer than I had to, and speaking from experience: you don’t deserve to have to beat yourself up for something that doesn’t even define who you are any more than I did. Got it?”
I nodded weakly. I couldn’t put together words. I’d never thought about Fumiko having to deal with self doubt or… or… anything. She’d always been a bad ass, as far as I’d been aware, and I’d never really thought about what went into making her that way.
Fumiko breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Oh, thank God,” she expelled. “You know,” she said, “It’s a lot easier to talk about that now that I know you’ve been up here.” She tapped her temple to indicate. “But it’s still… it doesn’t come naturally. Yet. I know it doesn’t scare Megan off, and it seems like it won’t make you run off. So maybe being more open about it is the next step for me, you know?” She chuckled, and then stepped away from the post to put an arm around my shoulder in a show of camraderie. “Do you feel at all better?”
There was a surprising amount of hopefulness in Fumiko’s question. I felt myself start nodding almost before she finished asking it. I wasn’t entirely sure if I believed what she said about me not being a monster, or if it was just that she’d managed to distract me. But it had helped. It hadn’t been hugs and reassurances. In fact, the whole thing had more of a ‘yes, that’s a part of you so own it’ vibe than anything else and I was still trying to process that. But I didn’t feel like I was about to fall to pieces again.
“Good,” Fumiko said. She gave me a sideways glance. “So… anything else? I mean, I’m not good at talking about this stuff. I know it. But if you have anything else you want to talk about… If I can’t relate, I can at least listen. And you might be surprised at what I can relate to.”
I looked at Fumiko and swallowed. I had no idea what I wanted to talk about now. Maybe how I could learn to get a grip on myself like the one she had on her emotions? That would be good, right?
Instead, my autopilot opened with: “How did you get over it? I mean, you said you were a shut in and… and how did you get out?”
“Megan,” Fumiko answered. “She refused to let me go. We were talking about it after you told her she was a changeling and Jack explained how feeding on emotions worked, and… Well, we decided that part of the reason she latched on to me was probably that on the surface I was always calm. But if she ever needed essence she could get it with just a little unconscious reaching.”
Fumiko let go of me and stepped back so she could motion with that hand. “But anyway, Megan was telling me about this guy she’d started dating who liked being bent over and beat with the power cord from his computer, and… I guess she must’ve picked up on my interest, because after that she started talking to me more and more — just here and there, but fairly regularly — about kink, and bdsm, and the whole sadism and masochism dynamic. Eventually she got me to go to a munch — that’s what people in the kink community call their arranged social gatherings. Not a get together for kinky stuff, just for hanging out with people who have similar interests and won’t freak out about it if it’s mentioned. Megan said she just wanted me to come along so she wouldn’t be by herself with a bunch of kinky strangers, but… It really helped me to meet a bunch of people who got me.”
Fumiko shrugged. “From there, I sort of grew, I guess. Mostly online — I wasn’t comfortable with people. I’m still not comfortable with people. But I read up on it, and realized I wasn’t crazy, or a psychopath, or whatever. And I started to get more confident. Megan didn’t have to keep dragging me to munches — I started going on my own. And, eventually…” Now her cheeks were slightly flushed. “Well, I was asked to ‘play’ a few times.”
I felt my eyes go huge. “You…” I stammered. Fumiko had never talked about sex stuff. I’d always had to go to Megan for those kinds of stories.
Fumiko shrugged sheepishly. “Letting it out like that really helped. And it was safe, sane, and consensual — which actually helped a lot more. Like: this was a setting where I could knock a man down grind my boot on his face, or pull a woman’s hair and slam her against a wall, and know I wasn’t crossing a line. That was… that was so liberating to experience. I got to be myself and I was appreciated for it.”
“Fumiko!” I squealed in shock — and I wasn’t even sure what I was shocked about the most. My autopilot, on the other hand, did. “A woman? I thought you were straight!”
“I am,” Fumiko said reproachfully. Then her eyes widened slightly as she caught my meaning. “Abby!” she yelped. “I wasn’t having sex. I was just domming. They aren’t synonyms,” she sputtered. “I mean, they can be, but… I have a reputation to maintain!”
“Oh,” I breathed before my autopilot caught up with my mental processing. “Wait. Have? Do you still do this?!” Oh my god oh my god oh my god. That stuff she’d bought when she and Megan had dragged me off to a sex shop that one time… that hadn’t been for a cosplay, had it?
Fumiko giggled. She giggled, and since I was still watching her leyline I noticed that some of the tranquility was stirring: she was letting herself be herself with me more than she’d ever done while her aura had been intact. “Yes,” she said. “Mostly just when I need some spare cash, though.”
I felt like my jaw had to be lying on the pavement. Fumiko is a paid dominatrix?! Actually, somehow I had absolutely no trouble picturing it. In fact, now I couldn’t stop. Oh, fuck. I snapped my hand over my mouth before she could notice my fangs slipping out.
Fumiko’s lips curved up in a smile. She was enjoying shocking me like that. I could see it in her aura! Holy crap! “Holy crap,” I repeated. “Does Jimmy know? Oh my god: is he one of your clients?!”
Fumiko laughed. “No!” she exclaimed. “He doesn’t and he isn’t, and it’s going to stay that way. As far as I can tell he’s a nice, vanilla nerd — and while he’s sweet we aren’t dating and we’re not going to be dating, so it’s none of his business anyway.”
I continued to stare, but I managed to get my jaw shut so I could lower my hand. “Oh,” I said. “Okay. Right. That probably would’ve been too much of a coincidence, anyway.”
Fumiko snickered. “Yes,” she said. She put her arm around my shoulder again and gently turned me back toward Cassie’s apartment. “Now, let’s go back in. You need to call John still, right?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled to keep my fangs hidden. In my head, I was already updating all of my Fumiko/Jimmy slash fic. Now, the cute meet actually took place when Jimmy, feeling horrible about himself because of his failed attempts to get Fumiko to go on a date, decides he needs to do something to get her out of his head — so he goes to indulge his secret, submissive; masochistic nature by hiring the mysterious ‘Dominatrix X,’ who turns out to be Fumiko in one of her masked cosplay outfits, resulting in him not knowing who she really was but her finding out what he was into and then it all culminates in all the really kinky things I’d always imagined they’d get up to if they got together, anyway, only with Fumiko always on top. Except then, halfway through a particularly steamy scene involving Jimmy being violated after the two of them finally got together, I stopped. In my thoughts and in my tracks.
Fumiko let go of me and turned to face me. “Abby? What is it?”
I swallowed. They had suddenly come back to me: all the hints I’d made to Fumiko that she should hook up with Hans. Holy crap: I’d told her he had a safe word, and she was a freaking dominatrix! They were practically perfect for each other! Except I’d realized that he wasn’t actually trying to break up with me, and didn’t need someone better suited to take my place. Suddenly, my anxiety started skyrocketing again. How the crap am I supposed to explain that she’s going to have to find someone else, now?