Suddenly, I felt uncomfortably self conscious. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to squeeze Ben’s hand tighter or yank my hand out of his. How was I supposed to have this conversation? I wasn’t prepared! The last time I’d told Megan I’d been dating someone it had crushed her!
Admittedly, I hadn’t been dating her at the time and she’d apparently felt like she’d lost me, so maybe that wouldn’t be the case this time around? Or maybe Megan and Emma would take this as a sign that I didn’t feel like they were enough for me, and be hurt. Or maybe this would be the thing that made them realize I was just a greedy, selfish girl and not worth their time. Or maybe something completely unexpected would happen.
Maybe someone from across the street would snipe me before I could start that conversation. God, that would be convenient.
What? It had happened before!
Unfortunately, for once Fiore decided to be civil. When the doors to Fumiko’s car started to open, no merciful solock blew me away. My eyes slewed across the street. The house there didn’t even have anyone on the roof! In fact, it was dark and completely silent to my supernatural hearing. Apparently the occupants were out, and not because Fiore’s solocks had requisitioned the building.
Maybe because of all the explosions and gun fights that had occurred next door the previous night? God knew, I’d get the hell out of dodge if my neighbor’s house erupted into a spontaneous war zone. But still: Dammit, Fiore! He couldn’t even be helpfully consistent in his animosity, could he?
“Nervous?” Ben whispered from next to me. I glanced at him. His lips had barely moved and he wasn’t looking away from the car, where Fumiko, Emma and Megan were getting out. He squeezed my hand reassuringly.
“No!” I whispered back emphatically. “Why would you think that? Of course not! These are my friends.” Were my palms sweating or something? I yanked my hand out of Ben’s and surreptitiously wiped it on my pants.
“Abby!” Megan called as she exited the car. Her voice was musical as always and I could feel her happiness at being together again. It will be okay, her thoughts reached out to me. Fumiko let us know about John’s mother coming — I’m sure that she will be more reasonable than Salvatore or Lewellan. Not all people are jerks just because they are vampires: Just look at Valerie, right?
“Hi,” I croaked in response. Fumiko arched an eyebrow at me — she probably thought I was panicking about my impending visit with a new vampire, too. And, to be fair: now I was. “Everyone, this is Ben,” I said. The words started pouring out as though addressing them once had unstopped a dam. “He was there last night. He really wants to date me.”
Ben gave me a sideways glance at that. Oh, crap! Was he upset because I hadn’t said we were dating already? But technically we hadn’t been on a date yet, so even if I had called him my boyfriend in a fit of panic and he’d overheard we weren’t officially official, were we? Maybe? Oh shit, I was fucking this up so bad. Come on, snipers! Where the fuck were they when I needed them?
“That’s true,” Ben said wryly. “I have been nothing but impressed by Abigail, ever since we first met.”
Fumiko snickered. “Yeah,” she commented softly. “Getting your ass beat by a girl can have that effect.” I don’t think Megan heard her, but Emma gave her a startled look.
“I remember,” Megan said as she approached. She smiled widely. He’s cute, she commented in my head. And he seems pretty calm. That’s good. Do you like him back? “Your intervention probably saved us from having to fight Orlina’s ‘guards,'” she said. Megan came to a stop in front of us. “Coming into faerie lands like that was very brave of you.”
Ben straightened slightly in response to Megan’s presence and her words. I wasn’t surprised: her attention was enough to boost the pride of any red blooded straight or bi male. Wait. Was Ben straight, or was he bi? I knew he liked women, but I’d never had reason to ask his opinion on men. I mean, he liked them plenty in my mental fanfics, but what was I doing dating a guy when I didn’t even know that kind of basic thing?
Megan gave Ben a stunning smile — I think she must’ve picked up on my emotions toward Ben and let them answer her question for me. Then she turned her smile on me. For a moment my brain blanked — all the worry I had about introducing Ben to Emma and Megan was washed away by the stunned re-realization that Megan loves me.
Always, Megan concurred. She threw her arms around me in a hug. And I approve of your paramour, she added. So you don’t need to worry about that. You have enough on your plate, sweetie, without having to worry about us adding on more.
Yeah, Emma’s thought came — relayed by Megan. Um. He seems nice. And he went into faerie for you? I wish I had someone who… She stopped, abruptly hit by the realization that she did have someone who would go blindly into danger, whatever the odds, to save her. My cheeks flamed as I felt, via Megan’s link between the three of us, Emma suddenly be hit with the enormity of everything that had happened over Friday night. This time, with her emotions intact.
Oh my god, Emma thought. You… A Director?! You actually fought a Director for me?! And… And you went into faerie for me, too. I mean: you went to rescue Megan, but you were rescuing Megan in part so she could save me, and oh my god…
I felt a burst of love and reassurance from Megan. It was directed to both of us. Emma, because she was going a little into shock. Me, because I was a whole hell of a lot more self conscious than I had any right to be.
I didn’t know what else to do, I sent. It wasn’t that much! The protest was automatic and unconscious. I was suddenly afraid that Emma would think better of me than I deserved, just because I’d gotten swept up in a series of panicked moments and out of control events. I…
Carol never would have done that, Emma’s thought interrupted me. She abandoned me when I fell for Salvatore. Like: threw me away. Cut me out of her life.
I would never do that, Emma! I sent the thought fervently. Even though we’d only known each other a few days, Emma was already far too important for me to even think of abandoning her. In fact, the thought that she had been in a relationship with someone who could was horrifying. She deserved so much more; so much better!
Our mental conversation had taken only moments — mostly because of the time it took for Emma and I to struggle with our emotions, rather than the time it took to actually convey our thoughts back and forth. During that time, Emma had come forward as well. Abruptly she stepped past Megan and threw her arms around me.
I love you, Emma thought. It was a quiet, simple thought accompanied by tears of emotion. Oh my god, I love you. I could understand her shock at the realization. I was stunned, too. It wasn’t just that she was attracted to me. It wasn’t just that she wanted to help, and giving her essence to a vampire let her do that. It wasn’t just that she was lonely and needed a friend and companion. Emma had fallen for me, hard, and now we both knew it.
“I love you,” she whispered out loud. She was still crying into my shoulder, but not sobbing: they were happy tears. I was crying, too: I was too overwhelmed to do anything else. Even knowing that Megan had been hiding a crush on me, I’d never thought I would be loved by anyone. Except maybe my parents, but that wasn’t the same. They were my parents: they had to.
“I love you too,” I said back while I clung to her. Oh my god, Emma, I love you so much. I hugged her tightly to myself and squeezed my eyes shut against the sympathetic tears that wanted to escape them. I love you so, so much.
The love and reassurance flowing from Megan changed slightly, into an emotion I didn’t quite recognize. Compersion, Megan sent in response to my brief confusion. I love you both, and I’m so happy for your happiness. Emma broke from hugging me just enough to pull Megan into our shared embrace, and then the three of us were holding each other, and Emma and I were crying still, and Megan was leaking happiness like she couldn’t control it — and then I started laughing because Ben had to be feeling so awkward and confused.
Emma let go first, once she’d started to get a grasp on her emotions again. She still had to sniffle slightly as we split apart, even though none of us backed very far away. I somehow wound up holding one of Emma’s hands and one of Megan’s.
I glanced over at Ben. Through my leyline to him I could see that yes, he had been surprised by our apparently spontaneous cry fest — but confusion had given way to acceptance and, I thought… Compersion? He was smiling at us, anyway, even though he hadn’t been included in the group hug — and it wasn’t a creepy ‘oh yeah: lesbian action!’ smile. He just looked like he’d at least realized that we were happy, and that was enough to make him smile.
I blinked at him a couple of times. Ben had tasted my blood. He knew me to my very soul. He knew how I felt about Megan; about Emma. Even if those feelings had been subsumed by his curse, I couldn’t help but wonder: having felt them for himself, was there any way that Ben wouldn’t at least remember them when he was around Megan and Emma? I wondered how he felt about them, and belatedly realized that he probably really wasn’t at all jealous.
Compersion. Being happy for the person you love because they are being happy with someone they love. How was it that I had never even heard of such a thing before meeting Emma? It was so much better than the narrative of jealousy and envy I’d always seen everywhere else, before.
I’d gotten really lucky, hadn’t I? Ben could have been controlling or demanding or petty. He could have been jealous and monopolizing.
But he wasn’t.
I let go of Emma’s hand and grabbed Ben’s, then jerked him next to me and started another group hug. Emma and Megan joined in — I think Megan must’ve been sharing my realizations about Ben, and Emma must have approved, too. Ben seemed startled at first, but there was absolutely no protest on his part. I would have been stunned if there had been: we did have two really hot girls sandwiching us, after all.
Emma sputtered out a giggle, but I could feel her skin flush as she blushed from the accidental compliment. I did my best not to start blushing, too: I thought it might start a chain reaction, like the crying had.
“So,” I said out loud since Ben wasn’t included in our shared thoughts. “This is Ben. We’re dating. And if I ever say that I’m going to pick up another boyfriend or girlfriend, you all have my absolute permission to stop me. Four is enough.” I was briefly stunned — maybe a little mortified — at the thought that I had four relationships. My autopilot continued the conversation without me, unwilling to let my statement sit in silence. “Ben, that means you’re allowed to pretend to be jealous and chase off anyone else who starts hitting on me, okay? Like: if Melvin shows up again and starts acting sleazy, feel free to shoot him in the head like Hans does. But just pretend. Actual jealousy is not cute.” Not that I had a lot of experience with it, but I knew how it had ruined Emma’s relationship with her ex.
God, anyone who would let Emma go over jealousy was an idiot.
The hug sort of broke up, with Emma wiping her eyes again — oh, Megan must’ve shared my opinion of Carol. Well, it’s true! I bet Megan agreed.
Wholeheartedly, Megan agreed. She also snorted and ruffled my hair. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Jack yet, but I promise you that I will,” she said.
“Jack?” Ben asked in confusion. “Melvin?”
“He’s a faerie,” I explained hastily. “The first one I met. Melvin and Jack are the same person.”
“Oh,” Ben said, even though my explanation wasn’t very complete.
“He’s also fond of teasing Abby,” Megan expanded for me. “Only not nicely, apparently.”
I swallowed. “He skeeves me out,” I blurted. Just like in the car, once I’d started explaining about Melvin I found I couldn’t stop. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t like being flirted with. It’s terrifying, but I do. Except Melvin is just, like… He doesn’t care if I say no. He’ll just try to push me into saying yes, if I do. Or trick me, or force me to make a concession in exchange for his help, or trap me with a compulsion. Or…” I flushed while a jumble of guilt surged through my fear and discomfort. “…he’s saved me, a couple of times,” I admitted. “And he’s helped protect Megan. And it’s not that I wasn’t grateful! But it’s like he thinks that means I owe him something even when his help wasn’t solicited, and that he gets to decide what that something is, and that what I’m comfortable with giving to return the favor doesn’t factor in. And he knows he makes me uncomfortable when he hits on me, because his hitting on me is always just a thinly veiled proposition, so that’s what he always seems to want.” I blinked as a sudden realization hit me. Melvin was in love with Megan — or at least, he thought he was. Not me.
“That’s actually it,” I abruptly said. “He knows that hitting on me makes me uncomfortable. So that’s what he does. But it’s a game for him, and he doesn’t care about me saying ‘no’ as much as he seems to care about winning. And it scares me because one of these days he might ‘win’ and I’m afraid that if I try to stop him from going further than I’m willing — because he’s always pushing — I’ll find myself trapped in a compulsion and unable to stop it.” I shivered, remembering my encounter with him in the alley a few nights ago. When he’d had me pinned on the ground, and hadn’t stopped when I’d used a safe word because the ‘word’ I’d used was technically two words and not just one, so it didn’t ‘qualify’ as a safe word.
I felt a little sick at the memory.
Ben took another step back. He was frowning, and when I glanced up at him his eyes flashed darkly. I was pretty sure Hans had just gained another gunman for the next time Melvin showed up. Well… it wasn’t like it would kill him, since he was a faerie. And maybe he would get the point if all of my partners were pissed at him?
Oh! And maybe it would give Hans and Ben something to bond over. That would be good, right?
I missed Hans. I wished he could have been here, now, for the hug fest.
“I see,” Ben said. “Trust me, I won’t let it go if this fellow shows up again.” He bit the corner of his lip and glanced away, as though distracted by another thought. “Actually, that might be a problem with some other fae, as well,” he said.
“Oh?” Megan asked, alarmed.
Ben shifted uncomfortably. “Pips,” he said. “My liaison. When we were looking for Jeremy yesterday, he made some inappropriate statements to the medium who was helping us — even materialized in her lap once and offered to pay her back for the vantage point by putting her in his. At first I wrote it off as a faerie being a dick, but he intimated later that since it was unwise to torment Abby he might have to make a game of pursuing Cassie, instead.” Ben’s scowl showed again. “I made a note to bring it up with someone who might be able to rein him in, but I haven’t had the opportunity before now.”
My heart started pounding. Pips?! Oh god. Yes, I didn’t want him coming after me. But not if that meant throwing Cassie to the wolves. Or, since she’d apparently already landed with the wolves once and made friends with Curtis out of it, throwing her to the chupacabracorn. “Where is he?” I asked. Oh god oh god oh god. Cassie was by herself right now! Well, she had Jamie, but how well did we know Jamie, anyway? And Hans and Daniel, but Hans was a wolf and Daniel was dead!
“Inside,” Ben said. “I didn’t want him to get up to anything before I could talk about this with you and get some protection in place for Cassie, so I pointed out that as my liaison he was under my chain of command — and that he had to be on call just in case I had something for him to liaise about. Then I told him to go wait in the basement and not bother anyone. I left a couple donors down there to guard the Directors’ corpses — and keep an eye on Pips, just in case. He hasn’t done anything except sit in a corner and smirk to himself since then.”
I swallowed. Fuck fuck fuck, I thought. Pips was one of my fae. That meant I couldn’t just have Megan talk to him — he was bound to obey me, not her. Except probably Megan could compel him the same way I could compel ‘her’ fae, but I sort of thought that the fewer of them who knew about that the better. That way if they somehow figured out how to screw me over, Megan could show up by surprise to fix it. Or vice versa.
“I should talk to him,” I said, even though I felt sick at the prospect. How long would I have before John’s stepmom showed up? Maybe I didn’t have enough time right now, and I could figure out how to deal with Pips later.
Or maybe, if I let it sit, I would stew about it and start freaking out and not pay enough attention to John’s stepmom and piss her off and start another war with The Center.
“Let’s go in,” I said. The sooner Pips was dealt with, the better.