Fumiko had followed my gaze to Benjamin. When she looked back and saw that it had landed on her, she gave me a sympathetic grimace. Or maybe it was a ‘fuck, I have to deal with her emotional shit again’ grimace.
Then Fumiko stepped forward, took my arm by the wrist, and pulled me away from the house. “Come on, Abby,” she cajoled when I resisted.
“What…” I started to ask, but after I got free of the brush beside the house Fumiko started walking away, still holding my wrist. “Where are we going” I asked dumbly as I stumbled along behind her.
“For another walk,” Fumiko answered. “You’re shaking still and it seemed to help earlier.”
I was? Well, yes: there was a bit of trembling going on. And I couldn’t tell if it was from guilt or anger, either.
“So, what’s going on here?” Fumiko asked. “I know you’re okay-ish because if you were thirsty you would have attacked me by now. But what were you two saying about Megan?”
“You didn’t hear?” I asked.
Fumiko spared me a glance over her shoulder. “Mortal ears,” she said. “And you were loud with the sobbing. I didn’t catch more than her name before you flipped out and slammed Benjamin into the wall. Is she alright?” That question seemed to worry Fumiko more than me going from despair to violent rage in an eyeblink… but then again, this was Fumiko I was talking to.
I swallowed a lump in my throat. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “I think so….” She hadn’t seemed worried when she’d left, anyway. “But she’s weak, and I can’t check on her right now and I’m really worried.” If the very thought of using fae powers wasn’t making my head threaten to split apart again, I would’ve been reaching out to Megan in an instant. I’d let her convince me she was fine based on the premise that I’d been an unnecessary drain on her — not that she’d been fed on by two vampires tonight as well as constantly channeling essence to Emma.
Fumiko’s grip tightened slightly, but she didn’t say anything. Was that her way of letting me know that she was worrying too, now? I sped up a little to walk beside her, but her face wasn’t giving anything away. Jamie hovered to her other side: keeping up with us but not crowding the conversation. Her face was more expressive with concern, but she seemed to be focusing on Fumiko rather than worrying about Megan.
At least, that’s what I was guessing since I couldn’t verify it. Maybe Jamie was just paying attention to Fumiko because she was curious about our conversation but didn’t want to attract the attention of the psycho-vampire that had already tried to murder her once. Fuck if I knew. And how had I gotten so dependant on being able to check people’s emotions directly, anyway? I’d only been able to do it for a few days so far!
So, since I couldn’t take my mental speculations filling the silence, I started to explain about Megan to Fumiko. I started with freaking out over Hans, and how I’d drained Megan. How that obviously made things dangerous for Emma, and they had decided to leave and return to the faerie lands.
Except of course I didn’t stop there, because that had gotten me started on how Shantaya and Jacob were subservient to me, now, and how that was freaking me out. And those guys at Luminescence, too. And probably some of Lewellyn’s people, and some of Fiore’s still. Not to mention all of the fae and the wolves and…. Hans.
I felt sick from it. From the psychological extortion and manipulation inherent in it all — it made me feel like a bad person. Especially since I’d seen the very worst parts of myself unleashed a lot recently.
And yet, somehow it was becoming my new “normal.” Because I hadn’t been in ‘crazy vampire mode’ when I’d lashed out at Ben: I wasn’t starving for blood. Even though the fae part of me was in agony, the buffer around my curse was perfectly fine.
Hell, I was more directly upset about what Shantaya had said about racism than I was about re-realizing that I was a monster when Ben had basically ran away earlier — even though now I was re-re-realizing it, because the realization that I hadn’t been in monster mode when I’d casually broken a house with a person made me want to puke in horror.
Fumiko snorted at me when I got to that part.
“Being worried about Megan doesn’t make you a monster,” Fumiko said. “And neither does snapping at your boyfriend when you’re worried and hurting.”
I looked at her dubiously. I wasn’t sure she got what was upsetting me, or that breaking a house with someone could be considered ‘snapping’ at them.
Fumiko flashed a wry grin at me. “Come on, Jamie, back me up here.”
Jamie appeared next to us as though she — she was still being a she tonight — had taken a leyline to travel the distance. “I’ve seen worse reactions to getting bed news under less than ideal conditions,” she confirmed. I didn’t think it was actually that ringing of an endorsement, though.
“There,” Fumiko declared as though I’d been officially been certified a non-monstrosity. “See? And if Megan said she’d be fine then we should take her at her word. It’s not like finding out that Benjamin had fed on her has suddenly made her more exhausted than she was when she convinced you she would be alright in the first place.”
At that, Fumiko frowned slightly. “Although,” she said, “both you and she have a bad habit of taking on more than you really should and you’ve never been that good at reading her cues. Jamie, will you go check on Megan and make sure she and Emma get back to the faerie realm without trouble?”
“Certainly,” Jamie said — and just like that she vanished.
Fumiko let go of my wrist. We’d ended up next to a bench near the back of the complex, so she went ahead and sat down. “And that’s that, so you don’t have to worry about Megan right now, either. As for Shantaya and everyone else….”
I sat down next to her and tried to hide the knot that started twisting my stomach. From her tone I knew Fumiko was going to tell me something I didn’t really want to hear. Probably something about how it was perfectly fine to turn people into puppets in the name of self defense, and I should get used to it.
Fumiko sighed. “I wouldn’t call you racist,” she said — catching me completely off guard. “But you are sheltered, because you do isolate yourself from people. And you have pretty firm ‘Ideas’ about how things work — I mean, there’s reasons I didn’t tell you about my extracurriculars before you could see inside my head, and I bet some of them are the same as some of the reasons Megan didn’t come out to you.”
I recoiled, stung, but Fumiko held up a placating hand before I could start reading too much into her observation. “A lot of people are like that,” she said. “Anything out of their experience is typically out of their mind.”
Fumiko frowned. “Here, this is an example you can relate to better, I think: Megan took you to a full spectrum rainbow dance club and you didn’t pick up that she liked girls, right? So back then you wouldn’t have ever thought about homophobia except maybe as an abstract. And I bet you never really wondered if something you said or did was homophobic — let alone realized if you were participating in something that someone else had setup that was. Like how people keep saying ‘that’s gay’ when they mean something’s bad. That’s awfully rude to gay people, you know? And the same sort of thing would apply to race issues. Does that make sense?”
I… well, no, I never would have thought about those things — except now I couldn’t stop thinking about how Megan had told me she’d disowned her parents because of their prejudice against her aunt. Or how my mom had reacted to the news I was dating Emma. And yeah, I knew I’d repeated things my mom had told me, plenty of times, without thinking anything of it: they were just drilled into my head. But that was all stuff like ‘it’s rude to call someone after ten.’ It didn’t have anything to do with…
Oh fuck. Oh, fuck. With how I had reacted when I started questioning my own sexuality. The way I’d denied being in to girls, and insisted I was straight as though there was something wrong with me if I wasn’t and oh my god, am I….
My expression must have changed, because Fumiko laughed at it. “You aren’t a homophobe, Abby,” she said firmly. “It was just an example. But it applies to other things, too, including Shantaya’s experiences with racism. So: racist? No. Ignorant about the issue? Yeah. Otherwise I doubt it would be bothering you so much.” Fumiko paused to reflect on that for a moment. “At least, the question of whether or not you contribute to the problem wouldn’t worry you so much. The problem itself, though: well, I have a problem with that, and I think everyone should.”
My shoulders slumped. “I’d always been told that stuff like this wasn’t a problem anymore,” I confessed weakly. I still wanted to defend that belief. Or disbelief. Whatever. I mean: maybe Shantaya could have been wrong about that somehow, even though it was logically obvious that she would know more about it than I did.
“Pfffft,” Fumiko sputtered a held back laugh. “Well, it doesn’t exist so much for you,” she said. “But yeah, homophobia, racism, whatever. They’re there. I can’t speak for Shantaya’s experience, but I’m half-Japanese. I get fetishized for that more than I do for being a dominatrix because the ‘Asian women are exotic sex objects’ fetish has been built into society — and while I can put away the sexy leather clothes and Wartenberg wheel, I can’t ‘put away’ my ethnicity.”
She shrugged. “I’ve never dealt with anything like being pulled over for ‘driving while black,'” Fumiko said. “But I have heard kids repeating slurs they heard from their grandparents and parents about my mom. I’ve had some of them flung at me. It’s shitty and people like to pretend it’s not there, but that just makes it easier for the people who want to do that shit to get away with it. It’s pretty easy to pretend nothing’s wrong when it isn’t being hurled at you or someone you know simply because so many people want to believe it isn’t a problem. So they turn a blind eye, and their place in society lets them. They don’t have to care about it, so they don’t. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It is.”
I found myself staring at my feet. “That sucks,” I said. My head hurt too much and my emotions were too complex for me to sort out how I felt about Fumiko backing Shantaya up on her claims. Some brand of shitty, though, I was pretty sure.
Fumiko reached over and shoved my shoulder with her fist to get my attention. “Hey,” she said. “The point is that being sheltered doesn’t make you an innately bad person. And if it’s bothering you this much, feeling guilty about not being the target of it or whatever won’t help anyone the way finding out more about what’s really going on will. If only so you know you aren’t accidentally contributing to the problem, or so you can call out the people who are — whether they’re doing it by accident or not.”
I frowned at my shoes. On the one hand, it was hard for me to imagine someone being unintentionally racist. Just the word ‘racist’ brought to mind lynchings and people in white hoods and stuff that had given me nightmares when I’d read what little I had about it in history class. But on the other hand: If I’d ever freaked out on Megan about how I couldn’t like girls because I was supposed to be straight, how would that have made her feel about herself? So what the fuck did I know?
“Thanks,” I said quietly. “I think that’s something I’m going to have to do.” And not just because of Shantaya and Jeremy and anyone else who might happen to wind up under my influence; my responsibility. But because I had been raised to believe it was wrong, and I still believed that even if I was going to have to accept that it wasn’t ‘not a problem anymore.’
The question now, really, was how I could learn more about what was really going on with… ‘race issues.’ The internet, probably. I doubted that I’d be able to bring it up with Shantaya: not only was I a conversational disaster zone, but the idea of having a conversation about something like racism with someone who was magically compelled to be on my side — and came from a minority that I’d been taught had historically received the worst treatment from my ancestors — seemed like it was all kinds of wrong.
“Good,” said Fumiko. “So, that’s settled and you don’t have to worry about it right now, either. Plus, Benjamin, Valerie and Elaine are all here figuring out the supernatural stuff, so that’s off your plate, too. So for now? Tonight’s was supposed to be a break night, so try to let go a little. Seriously: you and Megan try to do too much at once, both of you.”
I sort of wanted to protest. I mean: who was the one who decided to go hand to hand with a werewolf while having no supernatural powers of her own? But I couldn’t. When I tried, I just… chuckled. After all: Fumiko hadn’t panicked about having to do it — and she had won.
Fumiko started to give me another, more playful, shove. But partway into it she hesitated and then turned it into an awkward hug.
“I know it’s been… scary,” Fumiko said. “I mean: Archarel. I… He almost…” I heard Fumiko’s teeth grind as her jaw clenched. “He kicked my ass,” she said. “And I can only imagine how rough it’s been on you, having to keep dealing with monsters like him, or that vampire Lewellyn, or Mister Salvatore. But you did, and you came out on top, and you learned a whole lot about the world, and yourself, in the process. Are you really surprised that there was more going on in the mundane side of reality than you’d realized, too? But even so, you deserve a moment to recover without beating yourself up over whatever the next thing you’re going to fixate on is.”
I chewed on my inner lip, unable to quite agree with all of that. Fumiko didn’t notice, though. She laughed, instead. “Frankly, we all learned a lot about the world,” Fumiko observed dryly. “And we’ll deal with whatever comes up next. So whatever that next thing is, whether it’s as mundane as institutionalized, ‘socially acceptable’ racism or as wild as an invasion of demonic zombie-dragons, you aren’t going to have to figure it out on your own.”
I glanced at her. Fumiko’s eyes were gleaming. Probably in anticipation of brutally dismembering a demonic zombie-dragon or something. It still made me feel a little better, weirdly enough.
“You think so?” I asked.
“Of course!” Fumiko declared. “We’re friends, and friends back each other up in the face of adversity, external or internal.” She gave me a grin. “I mean, heck: I even went and got myself a date so I can double with you and Emma tomorrow after all.”