Sunshine, p.13
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       Sunshine, p.13

           Robin McKinley
 
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Chapter 13

 

  Oh gee. Don't pull your punches like that. I can take the truth, really I can. I said something like, "Unnngh. "

  "I believe it will work. "

  "I'm delighted to hear it. "

  "Your wound is worse. "

  "Oh well. No biggie. " I was a trifle preoccupied with his little revelation about our joint even-more-immediate-than-Bo impending doom. He'd said he wasn't sure what he was doing. "It comes and goes. "

  "Will you remove the bandage?"

  Or you will? I thought nervously. I unbuttoned the top two buttons of my nightgown again and peeled the gauze away. Ouch. Of course the cut began to bleed at once.

  "Er - I don't suppose you want to tell me what you're going to do?"

  Badly phrased question.

  "No," he said.

  "Will you please tell me what you are going to do. "

  "If you would take your knife, and open the blade. "

  My heart, having tried to accustom itself to vampire in the room, began to thump uncomfortably. The knife lay between us on the bed, where I had set it down. I looked at him a little oddly as I picked it up, and he, I suppose, well accustomed to blood-letting and thinking nothing of a little more or less of the same, misinterpreted my look.

  "I would prefer not to touch your knife, it will burn me. And it is better if you cut me yourself. "

  EEEEK.

  "Cut you?"

  "Yes. As you are cut. Here. " And he touched the place below his collarbones. A lot less bony on him, it occurred to me. I hadn't registered it before, but he was a lot more filled-out-looking generally than he had been when we first made acquaintance.

  When he was half-starved and all. I hadn't seen him with his shirt off four nights ago. Well.

  I could have sat there quite a while thinking ridiculous thoughts - anything was better than thinking about the prospective hacking and hewing: a two-and-a-half-inch blade is plenty big enough to do more damage than I wanted to be around for - but he said patiently, "Open the blade. "

  The knife seemed much heavier in my hand than usual, and the blade more reluctant to unfold. I snapped it open and the blade flared silver fire.

  "You said it would burn you. "

  "And so it will. I would appreciate it if you made the cut quickly. "

  "I can't," I said, panicky. "I can't - cut you - at all. "

  "Very well," he said. "Please set the tip of it, here," and he touched a spot below his right collarbone.

  I sat there, frozen and staring. I even raised my eyes and looked into his: green as grass, as my grandmother's ring, as my plaid socks from last night. He looked steadily back. I could feel my own blood - my poisoned blood - seeping slowly down my breast, staining my nightgown, dripping on the sheet.

  He reached out, and gently closed his own hand around mine holding the knife. He drew hand and knife toward him, set the point where he had indicated. I felt the slight give of his flesh under the blade. His hold tightened, and he gave a tiny, quick twist and jerk, and the knifepoint parted the skin; I felt the moment up the blade into my hand when the skin first divided under the glowing stainless-steel blade, when it sank into him. There was a sound, as if I could hear that sundering of flesh, or perhaps of the undead electricity that guarded that flesh, a minute fizz or hiss; then he drew the sharp - the burning sharp - edge swiftly across his chest in a shallow arc - just like the wound on me. And pulled the knife away again. It was over in a moment.

  The slash he had made was deeper, and the blood raged out.

  I was - whimpering, or moaning: "Oh no, oh no," - I dropped the knife and reached toward him as if I could close the awful gash with my hands. The blood was black in the moonlight, there was so much of it, too much of it - it was hot, hot, running over my hands. . .

  "Good," he said. He took my bloody hands and turned them back toward me, wiped them down the front of my poor once-white nightgown, firmly, against the contours of my body; pulled my hands toward him again, smeared them across his chest, and back to press them against me: repeated this till my nightgown stuck to me, sopping, saturated, as if I had been swimming, except the wetness was his blood.

  I was weeping.

  "Hush," he said. "Hush. "

  "I don't understand," I said, weeping. "I don't understand. This cannot be - healing. "

  "It can," he said. "It is. All is well. Lie back. Lie down," he said. "You will sleep soon now. "

  I lay down, bumping my head against the headboard. My tears ran down my temples and into my hair. The smell of blood was thick and heavy and nauseating. I saw him leaning, looming over me, felt him lie down upon me, gently, so gently, till our bleeding skins met with one thin sodden layer of cotton partially between: till the new wound in him pressed down against the old wound in me. His hair brushed my face as he bowed his head; his breath stirred my hair.

  "Constantine," I cried, "are you turning me?"

  "No," he said. "I would not. And this is not that. "

  "Then what - "

  "Do not talk. Not now. Later. We can talk later. "

  "But - but - I am so frightened," I pleaded.

  In the moonlight I could see his silhouette clearly. He raised his head away from me, arching his neck backward so our bodies remained touching. I saw him rip, quickly, neatly, his upper lip with his lower teeth, his lower lip and tongue with his upper. He bent his head to me again, and when he stopped my mouth with his, his blood ran across my tongue and down my throat.

  It was still dark when I woke. I had turned on my side - I always sleep curled up on one side or the other - but this time I was facing the room. My first thought was that I had had a terrible dream.

  I was alone in the bed. I looked down, along my body. Gingerly I touched my white nightgown. It had been a dream. I had imagined it. I had imagined all of it. Although my nightgown felt curiously - tacky, as if I had worn it too long, although it had come fresh out of the dryer this morning. But it was white. The sheets were white too.

  No bloodstains.

  I had imagined it.

  I knew he was sitting in the chair. After four nights he had returned after all. I couldn't bear to look at him - not yet - not while the dream was so heavy on me - so shamefully heavy. What a horrible thing to dream. Even about a vampire. At least he wouldn't know that I'd dreamed - at least he wouldn't know. I didn't have to tell him. I sat up, and as I sat up, I felt a small heavy something fall to a different position on top of the bedclothes.

  My small shining knife. The blade still open.

  No.

  I looked at him. Although the chair was in shadow I saw him with strange clarity: the mushroomy-gray skin, the impassive face, the green eyes, black hair. I knew it was nighttime - I felt it on my own skin - why could I see as if it were daylight?

  It occurred to me that he wasn't wearing his shirt.

  No.

  I had climbed out of bed and taken the two steps to the chair and laid my hands on his unmarked chest before I had a chance to think - before I had a chance to tell myself not to - laid my hands as I had laid them - an hour ago? A week? A century? - with the blood welling out, sluicing out, from the cut I had made with my knife. I touched his mouth, his untorn lips.

  "Poor Sunshine," he said, under my fingers. "I told you it would not be easy. I did not think how difficult the manner of it would be for you. "

  "It - it happened, then?" I said. My knees suddenly wouldn't hold me, and I sank down beside his chair. I leaned my forehead against the arm of it. "What I remember. . . I thought it must be a bad dream. A. . . shameful dream. "

  "Shameful?" he said. He bent over me, took my shoulders so I had to sit up, away from the support of the chair. The top two buttons of my nightgown were still undone, and the edges fell open as I moved. He put one hand on my breast just below the collarbones, so that it covered the width of my old wound. He left his hand there for two of my breaths, took i
t away again, held it, palm up, as if he might be catching my tears; but I was dry-eyed.

  "You are healed," he said. "There is no shame in healing. "

  I looked down, touched the place he had touched. The skin was clear and smooth: I could see it plainly. I could see plainly too, a thin pale scar, where the wound had been, but this was a real scar. The wound was gone, and would not reopen.

  "The blood," I said. "All the blood. "

  "It was clean blood," he said. "It was for you. "

  I was remembering the real dream I had had after I slept - the blood dream. Daylight, sunshine, grass, trees, flowers, the warmth of life, gladness to be alive. . .

  Gladness to be alive. Gladness was the wrong word. It was much simpler than that, more direct. There was no translation of sensation into a word like gladness. It was the sensation itself. Smells, sounds, tastes, all perceptions so different from anything I knew in waking life, so unequivocal, uncluttered. . . uncontaminated. The wide world around me seemed vast and open and immediate in a way I did not recognize. But my sense of self was - there was no thought to it. There was a place where all those strange vivid sensations met, and there I was. A feeling, instinctive, responsive me - but no me.

  On four legs. This life I dreamed - this life I borrowed - this life I knew so strangely from the inside - this life, I abruptly knew, that had been taken for me - it was no human life. I was remembering life as some creature - she, I knew her as she; I knew her as a grass-eater, a scenter of the breeze, and a listener with wide ears; I felt her long lithe muscles, rough brown fur, smelled the sweet gamy smell of her; I knew her as a runner and a leaper and a hider in dappled shadow. A deer.

  I searched for the horror of her death, for the fear and the pain, the helpless awareness of coming final darkness. I remembered waking up, sick and dazed but with a kind of drugged tranquillity, after Bo's lieutenant had used the Breath on me. I looked for some equivalent in my doe's last minutes. I could not find it.

  "The doe," I said.

  "Yes. It would not have been right for you to remember the last day of a human woman. "

  There was a laugh that stuck in my throat. "No," I said soberly. "It would not have been right for me. " I sagged forward again, but this time I was leaning against his leg, my cheek just above his knee. "How did she die?" I said dreamily, resting against the leg of the vampire who had cured my poisoned wound with the death of a doe.

  "How?" he repeated. There was a long pause while I remembered the wild grass against my slender legs, the way my four hoofs dug into the ground as they took my weight as I ran, how much more fleetly and steadily I ran on four two-toed hoofs than I would ever run on two queerly inflexible platterlike feet and thick clumsy legs.

  He said: "There are many myths about my kind. It is not true that we cannot feed unless we torment first. She died as any good hunter kills his prey: with one clean stroke. "

  "But. . . " I said, groping for the answer I wanted. Needed. "You told me - long ago. By the lake. You have to ask. You can take no. . . blood that is not offered. She has to have said 'yes. ' "

  After a little while he said: "Animals do not draw the distinction between life and death that humans do. If an animal is caught, by age, by illness, by some creature stronger than it, and cannot escape, it accepts death. " A longer pause. "Also. . . my kind were all once human. There perhaps can be no truly clean death between one of your kind and one of mine. "

  I thought: If that is true, then it works both ways. The death of the giggler at my hands is no cleaner than the death he was offering that girl. I shivered. I felt Constantine's hand on the back of my neck.

  "I told you last time that Bo and I chose different ways of being what we are. You magic handlers know you risk, with every sending, the recoil. Bo is burdened by many years of the recoil of the torment that provides the savor to his meals. The savor is real - yes, I too have tasted it - but it is not worth the price. "

  I was looking across the room, at a corner near the ceiling, where one of the occupied cobwebs hung. I could see the tiny dot that was the folded-up spider at the center.

  I raised my head and turned round, knelt up, put my hands on his knees, stared into his face, into his eyes. I had looked full into his eyes briefly last night, while I held the knife, before he had taken from me the action I could not perform. I stared at him now, minute after minute, night flowing past us as morning had done by the lake, two months and a lifetime ago, when I told him I would take him with me, through the daylight, out of the trap we shared. "You used the blood of a doe, to spare me the death of a human. You said you would not - were not - turning me. Why are you not telling me not to look in your eyes?"

  "I have not turned you," he replied. "In three hours, when the sun rises, you will find that sunshine is your element, as it always has been. I do not think you can be turned. You can be killed, as any human can be, as the poison Bo set in your flesh would at last have killed you, but I believe you cannot be turned.

  "There is nothing I can do to you with my gaze, any more, whether I wish it or not. I was not able. . . to give you the doe's clean blood cleanly. I caught and carried her blood for you, for tonight's necessary rite, but I am not a clean vessel. Sunshine, we are on territory neither of us knows. We are bound now, you to me as I already was to you, for I have saved your life tonight as you saved my existence two months ago. "

  "I think the honors were about even, two months ago," I said, struggling. He picked my hands up off his knees, held them between his hands.

  "That-which-binds did not judge so; the scales did not rest in balance. You will begin, now, I think, to read those lines of. . . power, governance, sorcery, as I can read them. By what has happened between us tonight. Onyx Blaise's daughter - the daughter who did what you did, that second morning by the lake - always held that capacity. Now you must learn to use it. That-which-binds reckons I have been bound to you by what happened two months ago. I could not come to you if you did not call me, but if you called I had to come. You are now bound to me as well. I did not do this deliberately; to save your life, it was the only choice I had, and I was bound to try.

  "When I came to you four nights ago, I had no knowledge of the wound you still carried. I was thinking only of how I could convince you - to go into battle with me. That I should succeed did not seem likely, though you were calling to ask me for help. I came here that night thinking how I might give you - anything I could give you - to help you in that battle, if you agreed. It would have required some greater tie between us, but nothing like. . .

  "I do not know what I have given you tonight. " Another silence. He added, "I do not know what you have given me. "

  Another, longer silence.

  "Well," I said, shakily, clinging to his hands holding mine, "I think I can see in the dark. "

  PART THREE

  So, I would have said that not much could be worse - short of being dead or undead - than those first weeks after the night I went out to the lake and met some vampires up close and personal. I would have said that being paralyzed from the neck down or having an inoperable brain tumor would be worse. Not a lot else. Just shows how limited the human imagination can be.

  The first weeks after Con healed the wound on my breast were worse.

  It's funny, because I had thought, living through those first two months after the nights at the lake, that the great crisis was about What I Was or Who I'd Become or What Terrible Thing Was Wrong With Me (and About to Go Wronger) and Why All Was Changed As a Result. But I was still struggling against the idea that all was changed.

  Sticking the giggler with the table knife should have shaken me out of this fantasy even if the sucker-sunshade trick hadn't, but I was too busy being grossed out by the sheer grisliness of the latter experience to have thought much about the philosophical implications. What the little chat with Jesse and Pat had revealed to me had done my head in worse, and the news that the suckers were on to conque
r the world within the next century had been worse yet. I felt like a pancake in the hands of a maniac flipper. But when you're being caromed around your life like a squash ball you haven't got leeway to think about what happens next. When you're feeding the second coachload of tourists that day you aren't thinking about the birthday party for fifty next week. Maybe you should be, but you aren't. Now is more than enough.

  Before the detox night with Con I still thought I could say no somehow, could still stick my head back in the sand. Hey, I wasn't going to be around in a hundred years - unless maybe I started handling a lot of magic, which I didn't want to, right? That was exactly what I didn't want to be doing; magic handling extending your lifespan was a myth anyway - so what did I care?

  You can be a really nasty, selfish little jerk when you're scared enough. I was scared enough.

  Of course I had had this apparently permanent leaking wound on my breast, I had had these nightmares, and I had been doing a pretty bad job after all of suppressing thinking about what it all meant, what had happened at the lake. But I was still obstinately trying to pretend I'd only had a piece of very, very bad luck, and the fact of my having survived it wasn't. . . irredeemable. My gran had shown me all that transmuting stuff fifteen years ago, and I'd never used it before. Maybe it would be another fifteen years before I used it again. Maybe thirty this time. And one vampire more or less? Who cares?

  And the table knife venture was just that the giggler'd been the one who cut me, poisoned me. It was a one-off. There was an answer in there somewhere: it wasn't me, it wasn't my warped, screwed-up genetic heritage.

  And if I'd delivered the world of one sucker, sort of accidentally having preserved it another one, then my final effect on the vampire population was nil, invisible, void. Which was exactly the profile I'd choose.

  I told myself I had always been my father's daughter. I was facing what had been there all the time.

  But I was also facing stuff that hadn't been there.

  Being able to see in the dark sounds great. Never trip over the bathroom threshold on your way for a pee at midnight again, right? But it's not that simple. Human eyes don't see in the dark. They don't have the rods and cones for it or whatever. Therefore you are doing something that isn't human. It's not like you've awakened a latent talent, like someone who finds out they have a gift for playing jazz piano after a life previously devoted to Bach. That may be odd, but it's within human scope. Seeing in the dark isn't. And you know it. That doesn't mean I know how to explain it; but trust me, you can tell the difference between seeing because there's enough light and "seeing" because something weird and vampiry is going on in your brain that chooses to pretend to be happening in your eyes because that's the nearest equivalent. Like if some human had had a poisoned wound healed by some weird reciprocal swap with the phoenix, maybe they'd be able to fly afterward, apparently by flapping their arms.

  (Mind you no one has seen the phoenix in over a thousand years, and it has never been inclined to do humans any good turns. Rather the opposite. Very like vampires, I suppose. Except a lot of people think the phoenix is a myth, and not many are stupid enough to think vampires are. I think the phoenix has at least a fifty-fifty chance of being true, because it's nasty. What this world doesn't have is the three-wishes, go-to-the-ball-and-meet-your-prince, happily-ever-after kind of magic. We have all the mangling and malevolent kinds. Who invented this system?)

  I saw in the dark pretty well. I thought, do I want to see Bo coming?

  Oh yeah, and seeing in the dark doesn't mean when the sun goes down. It also means all the shadows that fall in daylight. This would not be a big issue for a vampire, of course, but it troubled the hell out of me. Even an ordinary table knife throws a shadow - although I didn't really need any more reminders that table knives would never be ordinary to me again.

  It throws your balance off, seeing through shadows. Your depth perception goes wrong, like trying to look through someone else's glasses. Everything has funny dark-light edges to it, and sometimes those edges have themselves threadlike red edges. You get your new looking-through-bad-spectacles distortion on everything, including your own hands, your own body, the faces and bodies of the people you love and trust. Oh, the one time this goes away is when you look in a mirror. Or it did with me. Just in case I needed reminding that I got it from a vampire. Thanks.

 
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