By Blood We Live Page 39

“Hurry,” she said. “The sun’ll be good for me but not for you.”

I’d known from the start she knew what I was, but to have it casually confirmed like this was another sweet shock. I thought: Has she been with other vampires?

“If you have to dig, I can help you. That’ll give us more time.”

She spoke with such swift control, as if we’d known each other for years, as if she knew just the sort of moronic dazes I was liable to fall into. She was as tall as me, supple, dark-eyed. She’d seen thirty winters in her human life and now would never look a minute older. Her face—the bold eyes and wide mouth ready to find delight—said she was at fierce peace with what she was. Whatever terms her condition demanded she’d met them long ago. The thought that monstrosity had stripped her of a right to live had never crossed her mind. She’d had her teeth and nails in life’s pelt from birth; this wasn’t going to make her let go.

“It won’t hurt you, will it?”

The fire, she meant.

“No. I’ll be as quick as I can.”

Modernity tells you vampires are afraid of fire. Well, that’s true, but only in the way you’re afraid of it: we don’t, any more than you do, want to get burned. We don’t much fancy, you know, going up in flames. We’re certainly not impervious to the charm of its warmth. We feel the cold and the heat much less than you do, but that’s not to say we don’t feel them at all. I was cooler without the bearskin, but I could have gone out—as the modern idiom has it—stark bollock naked and wandered in the snow for several hours without much more than minor discomfort. (The more delicious and immediate discomfort—and speaking of bollocks—was that sans cloak I was left in only footwear and a doeskin loincloth, loose enough to make my feelings apparent.) The fixings for fire were—to my luck, or in accordance with the forces softly engineering this encounter—available. Amlek and Mim had slept here with me not long ago. We’d fed early and come back to the cave hours before dawn. Amlek had found flint and lit a fire, more for aesthetics than warmth, since the night had taken a reminiscent turn, and the scar of the burning near the cave mouth was still visible. There was very little dry stuff, but I found the flint and did what I could, and in a few minutes had a dozen small flames frolicking. Fir trees growing fifty feet below the cave supplied pine cones, which, together with what dead wood I could find, would be fuel enough till sunrise. I busied myself with the flames, poking and prodding and blowing, conscious all the while of her watching me, the space between us rich with our potential movement through it, to each other. The ghost of myself was already moving through it, an erotic whole-body version of the phantom limb. And still the fever of incredulous certainty enriched the thud of every passing second.

Then, suddenly, I stood up and turned, and there we were. Looking at each other. The fire marked her with little wings of light: cheekbones, knees, one bare shoulder. We didn’t speak. Her face was full of knowledge of me. The lights in her dark eyes were steady. We didn’t speak. It was a concussive pleasure, the not speaking. I only realised I’d been thinking: You’re not alone anymore when I felt coming from her: No, we’re not.

There was no decision. One minute we stood facing each other, the next I felt the little distance between us going, going, dissolving into fluid warm nothing, until our arms were around each other and there was the shape of her perfectly fitting my own.

35

THE MYTH OF male and female as an originally single hermaphrodite being survives, even now. My other half, you say. Read literally it shortchanges homosexuals—which ought to be more than enough to let literalists know their reading needs work. Genitals aren’t the issue. The issue is the feeling of homecoming. Of recognition. Of re-encounter. Of knowing that you knew each other once, were forced into separated forgetfulness, mistook others for each other (wilful myopia or innocent near-misses) but now, by sheer chance or ineffable design, you’ve found the real each other again. Thank the gods. Thank accident. Thank the determined universe. At any rate the impulse (endearing, if you think about it) is to thank something.

And my cup, obviously, ran over. A brand-new sex life and a life-changing lover to share it with. We didn’t congratulate ourselves. Shared intuition said it would be asking for trouble. We were very quiet and careful, going about our loving business. We didn’t want to attract the universe’s attention. We didn’t want the universe noticing it had made an obscene mistake and, appalled at its negligence, rectifying it at a brutal, hurried stroke.

“How is this possible?” I whispered to her (since the universe might be listening) in the firelight. We’d made the cave home, temporarily. Clearly the cave was ours. Clearly the world was ours. We were deep in the mesmerised phase of quiet entitlement. I’d often wondered about the point of the everything. Well, here it was.

“I don’t care how,” she whispered back, clambering onto me. “Only that.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

She did know. She was delighted and appalled at her greed for it. If she hadn’t loved me my love would have invited her cruelty. If she hadn’t loved me my love would have made a tyrant of her. Fortunately, she did love me.

“That’s it, just like that. Oh God, that’s good. That’s what good means.”

I’d never known peace and pleasure and profound necessity as I knew when I was inside her. She liked to sit astride me (“cowgirl,” as contemporary pornography has it, in one of its rare female-friendly coinages), said I hit her in just the right place like that. (The G-spot was thousands of years in the future. But just as people knew sound reasoning before Aristotle formalised logic …) She liked to sit astride me with my hands on her hips, occasionally lowering her mouth to mine for kisses that took us both out into the void. There were these dips into darkness which momentarily solved our selves’ separateness. But the real sweetness—you’d say the human sweetness—was in the moments either side of transcendence, the frenzied attempt to get all, enough, everything of each other, the delighted disbelief in what we were experiencing, the outrageous undeserved gift of it. Oh, we made rare pigs of ourselves! We often fell asleep having just come, in whatever position we’d ended up in. And yet there was a little infallible gravity of tenderness that always drew us, half-asleep, back into each other’s arms. Sometimes we’d become aware that we’d both woken, and were thinking.

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