By Blood We Live Page 41

“Do you want water?” I asked her now.

She shook her head, no. When she swallowed her throat swelled for a moment—then returned to normal.

“I wish I could help you.”

“Shshsh. It’s … Oh fuck, it’s coming. Move.”

Again, I watched. The same process in reverse. More alarming this time: The beast becoming beauty relieves. Beauty becoming the beast unnerves. Her skull shuddered. Her jaw leaped forward with a wet crunch. Her legs lengthened before her arms and torso, so for a moment her head was a remote spectacle the way a stilt-walker’s is. Her dark eyes darkened. Hair hurried out with a sound like distant burning. She fell onto all-fours, rolled onto her side, clutched her gut, convulsed. Her scent pounded out of her, filled my face and limbs with wealth. The soft kernel of that smell was between her legs. I’d found it that first time, kissing her there in her human shape. Now at the first inhalation my cock rose. At the same time I imagined Amlek saying: It’s still basically a dog, Rem. A big dog walking on its hind legs. Of course the romantic antidote was that it was my beloved on the inside—but that wasn’t true. I didn’t want the woman inside the beast. Nor did I want the beast around the woman. I wanted Vali, all of what she was, every point on the scale of her nature. This was her and the dark-eyed woman ready to laugh and kiss and see through you and fuck you was her. They weren’t divisible. Nor, it turned out, was my desire. This revelation was a warmth spreading through me. I could feel happiness in my face. There is nothing of you I don’t want.

There would be a discrepancy … There would be practical … The discrepancy would leave us with certain practical … I laughed, quietly, seeing in her eyes she’d picked this up and was thinking, me on all-fours, of course, was seeing us in that position, her snout buried under the burst ribs of a victim.

The image gave her hunger a final push, and the last vestiges of her human shape surrendered.

My thirst didn’t need a push. It had been three days. One more and it would start to hurt. I kept swallowing. My fangs were live, my blood loud with the murmur of my countless drunk-down dead. You’d think it’d get old, wouldn’t you? But it doesn’t. Every victim’s unique, quenches in its own way and adds its way of being to yours.

They’d posted lookouts. Two, within shouting distance of the camp.

We took one each.

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They didn’t get to shout.

I hadn’t known how it would be. Only that it would be unlike anything else.

Which it was.

I drank a lot, fast, alone with my drink. Partly because the thirst was three days old and at the first spurt and whiff of blood (my guard was a young man, leanly muscled, full of strength and as yet undischarged love; love was there in him, waiting, almost ready—and now would never find its way to anyone) took away everything but the need to satisfy it. Partly too (the intractable logistics, which as much as love or art or imagination make the world what it is) because I daren’t risk a draught from her victim: if his lights went out while I was drinking, mine would too, and his lights were in her hands. But partly—let me be scrupulously honest—because now that we’d come to it I didn’t know what she’d want. We hadn’t, I repeat, talked about it. Only moved towards it via irresistible gravity.

I rose, slaked, inwardly aswirl with my young guard’s life: the dizziness when he first saw the sea, his child’s mind imagining it pouring off the edge of the earth in a giant dark green waterfall but where did the water go? He was almost sucked over the edge with it, he’d felt himself fighting its terrible pull, actually turned away and put his arms around his mother’s hips and pressed his face to her thighs, though the big open salt air of the shore was also calming, an offer of love, like his mother’s love but too big—

Vali was down on all-fours, looking back over her shoulder at me, legs spread, backside thrust up. Her muzzle winked and dripped gore. Her blood-scented breath went up in rhythmic signals, contemptuous of all restraint. It was an appallingly recognisable version of the way she looked at me when she was in human form, in that same position of brazen, insistent availability. A look of dark understanding. I know you. You know me. This. This. This.

Her body’s aliveness when I went, cock blood-packed and aching, into her was an all but unbearable sweet assault. She was full of sly power. Drownable in. Her victim’s life flailed in her. Her greed was there in the pulse of her cunt that my own pulse rushed to join, until we were in thudding synchronicity I’d never felt before, something in time with the heart of … Of what? The universe. Life. Everything. The glimmering lode or stubborn tremor of corruption was essential, the awful fact of pleasure that increased proportional to her victim’s suffering, a relation I—lustless for centuries until now—had in my mortal days only ever glimpsed, as a ghost through smoke. But it was there with us (as the divisions between things dissolved, and the full moon swam in the river above us and the mountain opened on a vault of stars), the great spirit of cruelty, of enlargement by theft, that whether we liked it or not was close to the heart of what we were. This was what she’d had to find room for. The monster gave, if nothing else, an honest ultimatum: Find room for this or die. And she had found room. She’d forced her own growth to accommodate it, let the moon month by month shrink guilt and sadness until they were only two forlorn rooms in the house of many mansions. Rooms she went to less, would go to less, would revisit with diminishing nostalgia. This, I now knew, was why we hadn’t talked about it. She hadn’t known (intimations, yes, but not certainty) whether it would be this way for me, whether I would find room for it.

But with her, like this, with manhood (as it were) restored, there was no room for anything else. I knew—with the negligible part of me not unstrung by ecstasy—that I would have to spend some energy after this convincing her she hadn’t done me an injury of initiation. It would take all her cunning courage to rise above that fear, that guilt. And yet I knew she would. It was the last gap in intimacy between us bridged, that she loved me and wanted me enough to risk turning herself into something I’d resent. I loved her for it.

37

THREE YEARS LATER, we came back.

Three years. Approximately. In how many thousands?

Nothing had dulled. Nothing had dulled. The world was still ours. Giant skies, glamorous constellations. The sound of the sea on the shore. That mist-rain that doesn’t fall but materialises in soft suspension in the air around you. The kills knitted us. The profane matrimonial rite, renewed every month, deepening our monstrous cahoots. Only species exigencies rucked the silk. Most obviously, that I was confined to the hours of darkness. Of course she adjusted her sleep pattern and became mostly nocturnal, but it wasn’t easy. For a start, the week either side of full moon, her sleep was all over the place. But more than that, she missed the light. Of course she did. I missed the light, and I’d had centuries to get used to it. We had, effectively, weeks apart. Naturally, just after sunset was our window. Even if she was sleeping nights we still had hours, and the restriction made them precious.

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