By Blood We Live Page 7

“From England?”

“We had Damien. The jet.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“You really don’t remember?”

She was incredulous, but there was something else underneath it. Relief.

“I got you back here,” she went on. “You couldn’t drink. You had a temperature. And your mind was … You were forgetting things. And remembering things. You said you thought if you remembered everything that had happened … Anyway, you were a mess. You kept telling me things you’d already told me. It was like you had fucking Alzheimer’s.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Stop saying sorry.”

“It’s hard not to. You’ve suffered.”

She shook her head, impatient. She’d felt pity for herself alone here in Las Rosas while I’d slept, and now the memory of it disgusted her. Her default was to be brutal with herself. When I’d seen her standing by the dumpster that night in Manhattan I’d recognised someone who could only ever take solace in the world when it was obvious the world was offering none.

“Okay,” I said. “I don’t remember Europe. Crete. London. I don’t remember being ill. And I don’t remember losing my marbles either. What happened after we got back to LA?”

“We had about a week of you getting more and more sick and confused and me getting more and more freaked out. You were in and out of fever. You couldn’t feed. You couldn’t do anything. You were weak and rambling and fucking green in the face.”

“Green?”

“Then it seemed to break. You seemed better. Clearer. You said you realised you hadn’t been well. We watched the movies. Then you went down to the vault and never fucking came out.” Saying it brought her loneliness back. Her eyes filled, but she didn’t, quite, cry. To Justine her own tears are unforgivable. Which makes her irresistible to me. Nothing draws me to humans like the absence of self-pity. For a while we remained in silence. A police siren went boowepp? half a mile away. I wanted to tell her about the dream but I knew it wouldn’t help. He lied in every word ear-buzzed me again, then veered away.

I got to my feet. I didn’t want to. Nor did I want the recollection of the false note when she’d said she needed another drink. Right up until I opened my mouth I wasn’t sure what I was going to say.

“It’s all right,” I said. “It’s me. I know who I am.”

“Who are you?”

In a cod Transylvanian accent I said: “My name is Remshi and I am the world’s oldest vampire. Radio carbon dates this little Oa around my neck to eighteen thousand BC. I remember watching my father carve it.” This last sentence shed the comedy accent. Again I saw my father in the firelight, my mother digging the offering hole. Two dark-skinned, longhaired people with bright black eyes and thinly muscled bodies. I was sitting between them. Peace. The last time I remembered feeling peace.

“Or I don’t remember that,” I said. “It’s possible I have a condition. They’re memories or they’re not. Either way I don’t want to die. Not while you’re around.”

This little speech steadied her. She looked at me with a flash of allegiance.

And I knew for certain there was something she wasn’t telling me.

“Granted, I’ve forgotten things,” I said, while The Lash lit the lights of deceit around her head. “But I know we have a life together. I know I care more for you than for anything else on earth. I know you.”

“Do you?”

“Yes.

Her finiteness gathered, drew the mortal details together: the small body, the dark-eyed head, the heartbeat. Humans, you have no idea how deeply and finely not living forever is inscribed in your every moment.

“I thought you weren’t coming back,” she said, very quietly.

“I’m here,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“You can’t know that. You could go down there now and not come out again for fifty years. I could be fucking dead.”

I don’t know what I would have said in reply to that—since she was right—but I never got the chance.

Something sharp hit me from behind and spectacular pain exploded under my ribs.

6

I LOOKED DOWN to see seven or eight inches of a precision-pointed wooden javelin protruding from my gut. Lignum vitae. Second in hardness only to Australian buloke. In the moment it took me to turn around, I thought: This fucker isn’t taking any chances, whoever he is. Then I had turned around (if someone had been standing next to me I would’ve clouted them with the other end of the thing sticking out of my back, like a slapstick idiot carrying a ladder) to discover it wasn’t a him, but a them, and two of them were female.

The man was in his early forties, with a large, tough, mongolian head and owlish eyebrows. To his left was a tall young woman with tied-back red hair and green eyes. She was flanked by a dark, taut girl of perhaps twenty with a satiny burn scar disfiguring the lower left quarter of her face. All three wore light combat gear and were heavily armed—I saw what looked like a nail gun, mini-crossbows, cartridges, stakes—but the redhead was wielding a sword.

“You missed,” she said, to the dark girl, quietly.

Too much was happening. Pain, first. It wasn’t a stake through the heart but the heart wasn’t stupid; it screamed the nearness of the miss. Its blared panic deafened the nerves, turned up the fire in my gut where the javelin had gone in—in spite of which a big share of consciousness was still staring moronically at whatever it was Justine hadn’t told me, and the dream, and He lied in every word, and What do you remember? Meanwhile Justine was moving towards me and the redhead had taken two more paces into the room. The study was tropical. The books were in shock.

“Get out of here,” I said to Justine.

“Let me pull it out,” she said. But I was ahead of her. I reached around (thinking, in the doolally way of such moments, of a woman reaching around to unhook her bra) and yanked the shaft as hard as I could. Appalling violation. Neurons roared. The weapon came free with a comedy squelch. Followed immediately by the inner hiss of molecular repair, the furious cellular regroup. (Pain? Yes. Fatality? No. Stake in the heart. Beheading. Fire if you get it hot enough. Nothing else. Anything else, you better run.)

“Get out,” I repeated to Justine. But she didn’t move.

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