Hans stared at me as though I’d done something impossible. Had I? “What did you do?” After the initial shock at him suddenly being him, I didn’t even know. “What did you do?!” His question kept echoing in my head, but he was the one who’d just turned back into a human!
“Um… I asked for a hug?” I cringed inside at how my statement came out like a question.
Then Hans started laughing, and abruptly I was being yanked back against his body and crushed into a fierce hug. Honestly, I was too startled by his sudden burst of laughter to be freaked out by the equally sudden embrace. After that first startled second, I sort of melted into it, too.
Next to us, Hans’ wolf flopped down on the ground. His tongue hung out and he panted in what I assumed was self-satisfaction.
Or maybe it was because he was covered with a thick coat of ghost-fur and the basement was heated.
Actually, after a moment, I could feel myself getting too warm. Hans was warm, and not only had he wrapped me up in his arms — he had buried his face in my hair to kiss the top of my head, too. Why did he have to be tall enough to do that? And who the heck heats an unfinished basement, anyway? No wonder I was getting flushed. I was not just blushing at inappropriate thoughts. I wasn’t! I’m not comfortable enough with how terrifying guys are to not freak out when one grabs me, let alone to get lost in how nice his muscles and warmth and kisses are.
“Abigail,” Hans said, “I’m pretty sure my wolf is enthralled by you. I think it let me out just so I could do this.”
You think? I thought but didn’t say. Hans didn’t sound very upset by the idea — and I was trying not to guilt out on the reminder that it went both ways.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Um. You might be, too. I think I enthralled your wolf when I was feeding on your human form — like the wolf soul was on the outside of your aura while you were yourself. But then I bit your wolf while it was in charge and, um… I think that time I actually fed on you.”
But Hans still didn’t act upset. Instead he just chuckled and shook his head. “No — I don’t get enthralled by vampires, remember? It’s part of being a lycanthrope.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “Normally. But….”
“Abigail,” Hans interrupted. He pulled back enough to meet my gaze with his. “I’m not enthralled. Falling in love? Yeah. But definately not enthralled.” He smiled wryly. “I’d know.”
I stared up at him. My cheeks infused with all the heat in my body at the word ‘love.’ It left the rest of me frozen. My chest ached from it. My stomach was an icy lump that seemed to drop into my gut. My internal monologue decided to go: Fuck fuck fuck a duck. Not only was Hans enthralled, but it was screwing with his perceptions of his motivations — of his emotions; of us — in a seriously bad way.
And the really revoltingly creepy part of it was that, as my emotions sorted themselves out, a lot more of me liked hearing him call it love than protested that it wasn’t.
I shut that response down. Maybe it would’ve been balanced the other way if my aura was in tact. I hoped so, just so I could hope there was some chance I was actually still a decent person. As it was, I fed my ‘positive’ response directly into my curse until no part of me was feeling warm and fuzzy at the fantasy of a loving boyfriend and all of me was properly horrified by hijacking his soul, instead.
I guess that was a benefit to being undead and slightly fae: I didn’t really need to have conflicting emotions, if I didn’t want to. At least, not as long as I didn’t mind my aura being devoid of essence — the desire for Hans’ reasoning to be correct was still there. I just couldn’t feel it as anything more than emptiness, and then only when I reached out for it.
Okay. So: No feeding for me until we had this taken care of.
I pulled away. “I don’t think that’s right,” I said. The buffer around my curse was reinforced with the emotions I’d fed it. That actually seemed to do as much for curbing my desire to take unethical advantage of the situation as getting rid of the desire for Hans to be in love with me had. I just wasn’t that ruthless when I wasn’t tapped into that side of myself.
However, now my imagination was debating what, exactly, taking unethical advantage of Hans would entail. In graphic detail. Dammit. Most of its ideas seemed to revolve around keeping him mostly naked and leashed to my bed. Dammit dammit dammit, focus, me!
Hans started to protest, but I interrupted him. “No,” I said. “I refuse to take advantage of you when you’re like this.” I glared at him. This is no different than you stopping yourself from taking advantage of me two days ago, when I was all uninhibited from hunger and we were making out on the basement couch,” I snapped. “Don’t try to tell me otherwise. So take it seriously, Hans.”
I felt queasy. Part of that, I felt, was because I was being assertive. But a lot of it was because I wasn’t taking advantage, so all that horror I’d held onto over the prospect that I might was now draining off into other things. Mostly horror at the dawning realizations that, one: There was something deeply wrong with me if I was honestly having an internal debate as to which boy-toy sex harness would be the most unethical right now of all times. And two: I was going to have to break up with Hans, wasn’t I?
That stopped all semblance of rational thought — or irrational fantasy — dead cold.
No. Oh no. I couldn’t stumble back: I hit the wall instead. My knees shook. I had supernatural strength, but couldn’t keep myself upright. Oh no. No no no no no….
Hans caught me before I could do more than slump slightly to the side. At the same time, Megan’s panicked thought of “Abby?!” reached out to me through our leyline. I barely registered either event. I was too wrapped up in the freeze part of fight, flight or freeze to be able to pay attention to the world outside my head, and Megan’s cry was nothing compared to the freak out that swept over me. Hell: my abrupt panic claimed everything my aura had left and demanded more. It ate Megan’s mental shout and then latched on to her leyline, sucking in her essence to feed itself as it ballooned through my soul.
My fault, I thought. It’s my fault and I broke it and guilt and grief shattered my world. I couldn’t be with Hans without taking advantage of him: he was enthralled by me. My fault. I’d ruined my first relationship already. How long before another followed suit? Was Emma really resistant to being enthralled? How long had she been one of Salvatore’s donors? Maybe she was just resistant to him, and I was unknowingly enslaving her by her emotions.
I knew she’d volounteered to donate blood to him. Had she also volunteered to warm his bed? Before, or after he’d fed on her?
I broke it.
Mister Salvatore had planned on enthralling Megan, to make her ‘love’ him.
I was not crying.
Mister Salvatore was evil. Was I going to be, too?
I was not sobbing.
It’s my fault. I ruined it.
I did not sob.
I did not sob.
I wasn’t crying.
“Abigail! Abigail!” Hans shout managed to pierce the fog that seemed to wrap my awareness. My face hurt. Why did my face hurt? I tried to answer him, but when I breathed in sharply in preparation to speak I choked on snot. Gross a tiny part of me observed. That part went away. It was replaced by more essence ripped from Megan. My world seemed to swim fuzzily again.
“Abigail, it’s okay,” Hans said desperately. “You didn’t ruin anything.” How did he know I’d ruined things between us?
Oh yeah: I’d told him about enthralling him.
I always fucked things up. Should’ve seen this one coming.
“You’re right,” Hans said — which was unexpected enough that I hiccupped instead of sobbing again. “I wasn’t taking it seriously. I probably am a little enthralled, even if I can’t tell.”
I felt my face crumple and my mouth tremble and… I was going to start crying. Start? Why did it have to hurt so much? But at least he knew. He could break up with me and I wouldn’t have to break up with him.
Abigail… The thought was Megan’s. A protest, but it was weak. My aura was brimming with essence I’d ripped from her: enough that there wasn’t much room for her to push her own thoughts in any more. And I wasn’t paying enough attention to the opening of our leyline to see her thoughts forming on her side of it. I was too wrapped up in my own thoughts and emotions.
Why does this hurt so much?
“I’ll be serious,” Hans promised. His wolf was on it’s back legs, front paws on me. It was whining and trying to lick my face. Hans was trembling, too. He had one hand holding me up by my arm. The other he used to brush my face.
Oh. I’d been crying. When had I been crying?
Right, I thought. Just a moment ago. Wow.
Weirdly: my aura was too full for grief and guilt to shape all of the essence within it. My soul was bloated with essence stolen from Megan, to the point that I couldn’t help feeling other things than the heart break that had overwhelmed me seconds ago.
Had it been just seconds? How long had Hans been trying to get my attention before getting through that haze of emotion? I trembled. My emotions weren’t just grief and guilt anymore, but they still dominated my fragile state, even with other things balancing them out.
Hans really needed to break up with me while my soul was bloated enough that the pain of it wouldn’t break me completely.
Or I needed to break up with him.
“I’m sorry,” I heard myself say. I wrapped my arms around his wolf; I stroked the fur between it’s ears with one hand. Somehow it was easier to comfort the animal than the man. “I’m really, really sorry, Hans. Maybe… maybe you can ask me out again in a year?” After the enthrallment wore off. God, I could barely imagine it. A year felt like an eternity away. My chest ached.
Hans wasn’t dumb. He took a step back as though I’d smacked him. “You’re… you’re breaking up with me,” he said flatly.
I nodded. “I can’t take advantage of you.” It almost felt stupid to say. Hypocritical. What else had I done during our brief relationship except take advantage of him? I mean: I’d used his house when I was homeless. When I’d turned vampire he’d been the first one I intentionally fed on. I’d set him up to be ambushed by faeries and to have his mentor turn on him. Hell, even on our first date I’d gotten a free meal out of him and he’d just gotten smacked on the nose.
“Right,” Hans breathed. I couldn’t remember ever having seen him look so shaken. He took a hold of himself; pulled himself back together. His wolf had started whining again, and I focused more on comforting it. I wished he would walk away, but he was still holding my arm. I straightened, anyway, so I was leaning against the wall but not in danger of falling.
“Right,” Hans said again. This time, he spoke more sharply. With a semblance of his usual confidence. “Alright, so you fed on me while my soul was on the outside.” I nodded. Why was he beating this to death? Was it just because he was enthralled and couldn’t accept the separation I was trying to put in place? “You’re right,” he said. “It’s the same as when you weren’t yourself, in Salvatore’s basement.” I nodded again. He was getting it.
“Temporary,” Hans concluded. I nodde… I froze in the middle of nodding. No, no: he was not getting it.
I opened my mouth to protest the line of reasoning that Hans seemed to be following, but he beat me to the vocalization part of talking, and steamrolled my attempt to counter.
“I know: enthrallment of a donor usually lasts longer than your hunger,” Hans said. “But! It’s still temporary. You haven’t broken us. And we already have a rule for this kind of emotional shift. One we both agreed to.”
I stared at him, not comprehending.
“No taking advantage,” Hans said. “So: we won’t do anything I haven’t already established I’d be okay with. Same as we didn’t do anything you hadn’t already established you were okay with, before.” He looked at me sternly. “That is not the same as breaking up, Abigail.”
“I…” I said, momentarily flummoxed.
“And since I’d already, oh, made out with you, teased you, seduced you, offered to do much, much more to you, agreed to you moving in with me, and have even fought for you on multiple occasions, that’s really not a very long list of prohibited things,” Hans said.
I stared at him.
What the what?!
Hans dropped the hand that had brushed my cheek down to my other arm. His wolf was finally settling down again. It wove around my legs — phasing through the wall briefly in the process — and then flopped down again. Hans gave both my arms a squeeze. “I’ve even met your parents already,” Hans pointed out. “Basically, I think all this really means is that I can’t propose for at least a year.”
I wasn’t sure if that last bit was teasing or not, but it was a good thing Hans was holding me up because I suddenly got dizzy. “I… you…” I stammered. “Take this seriously!” My emotions were jumbled, but my aura was too bloated for them to make any sudden, sweeping changes like the panic attack that had derailed me earlier — which didn’t stop them from going on something of a rollercoaster ride, anyway.
“I am,” Hans assured me. He even managed to sound like he meant it.
“But…” I tried to rally, but Hans shook his head at me.
“Nope,” he said. “Like you told me: I don’t make the rules. I just make sure they’re followed. And the rules in place are quite clear on how to handle this situation. Unless you actually want to get rid of me. In which case…” he breathed out, then swallowed. “I’ll respect that,” he said. “But you’d better be ready to see me again in a year, or as soon as I can get a witch to give me a clean bill of soul.”
“I tore up your soul until your wolf took over!” I protested.
Hans’ lips twisted. “You also convinced my wolf to give me back control of myself,” he countered. “Not broken. In fact, the very idea that… that you can influence that beast is all the more reason for me to want to stay with you.”
I opened my mouth. Then I closed it. “Okay,” I said weakly. Then, more forcefully: “For now. I… I need to think this through.” My emotions hadn’t let me, before. I wasn’t entirely sure they would, now.
Megan. I needed advice from Megan.
“Okay,” Hans agreed. He leaned forward.
He kissed me.
I couldn’t help myself: I let him.
And I just prayed that wasn’t the first real step in becoming evil.