Talulla Rising Page 93

‘I want to know what the missing verb is,’ Lucy said.

Walker didn’t, I knew.

‘Whatever it was,’ Trish said, ‘it was enough to get one of their own priests done-in when he found it out.’

‘Something blasphemous,’ Lucy said.

Walker poured himself another.

‘Forget it,’ I said. ‘The main thing is we all got out in one piece.’

‘I’ll drink to that,’ Trish said, topping up her and Lucy’s Bordeaux.

‘Cheers.’

‘Sláinte!’

‘Stin iya mas,’ Walker said – just as his cellphone rang.

He looked at the number. ‘Holy shit,’ he said. ‘It’s Mike.’

67

Walker had known. I’d known myself, ever since Jacqueline had said Natasha was free, though not quite the woman she was when she came here. It was Madame’s style, to return her to her lover as everything he didn’t want.

But she’d underestimated both of them. She’d underestimated love.

‘Talulla Demetriou, Natasha Alexandrova,’ Mikhail said. ‘Without doubt the strangest introduction I’ve ever made.’

Odour, mutually repellent, was a farcical problem for all of us, though less for me after my time in close quarters with Caleb. I stepped forward and Natasha and I shook hands, forcing ourselves not to hold our noses. She smiled. ‘It might not look like it,’ she said, with only the slightest trace of a Russian accent, ‘but it’s an honour to meet you. Mikhail’s told me you’ve been a good friend to him. I’m in your debt.’

We were in the house’s big back garden, now a foot and a half deep in snow. Neither Natasha nor Konstantinov would ever feel the cold again. Not many make it past a thousand years. These two might.

Trish and Lucy, with a blanket-wrapped and wide-awake twin each, were in the conservatory doorway, looking on. Suddenly Madeline appeared behind them, in a short silk robe over white lingerie. She looked like a porn version of the angel on the Christmas tree. ‘Christ, can no one else smell the – oh. Blimey. Right. Fuck.’

‘I just wanted you to know,’ Konstantinov said. ‘This is my choice. This is the only way it could be.’

He was a little paler, of course, but apart from that in perfect health. He’d shaved off the sick-bed stubble and in the nude face his polished black eyes were renewed jewels. On looks alone he and Natasha could’ve been brother and sister. Their love had a whiff of that, too, a thrilling, incestuous claustrophobia. It wasn’t vampirism that made these two transcendently indifferent to any law, it was love. Next to the love, the vampirism was small.

‘I’m happy for you,’ I said. ‘I really am. I owe you so much. Can you... Would you like to come in?’

There was a moment of fraught silence, then all of us laughed.

‘We have somewhere to go,’ Konstantinov said. ‘I just wanted you to meet Natasha, and to apologise for leaving like a thief in the night.’

It was Walker he’d come to see, I knew. And now suddenly between them there were no words.

Konstantinov put out his hand. Walker took it and, after a pause in which I noticed, belatedly, that the sky was giant and clear and crammed with stars, embraced him.

68

In the absolute snow-stillness and silence of the night, long after Madeline had fucked Cloquet and herself into exhaustion, and Lucy and Trish had staggered with slurred goodnights to their beds and been dropped-on by their slabs of sleep, and Walker and I (helped by whiskey and gin and the shock of Konstantinov’s transformation) had had hurried and precarious sex – sex to do nothing more than establish that we could do it, that Walker wasn’t terminally mangled – and he had fallen, razed by relief, into sleep, long after all this, the twins and I lay awake and restless.

For a while I fought against it, tried half a dozen variations on the sheep-counting theme, but eventually I got up and dressed, quietly, telling myself it was delayed shock: for three months life had reduced to a single purpose. A horror-purpose, yes, but it had relieved me of every other question and uncertainty, all unease and ambivalence and fear. Not any more. The world was open again, and the dizzying fact of four hundred years in it – with children to raise, with enemies to guard against – was reasserting itself. Four hundred years. There was no grasping that. You groped out vaguely through NASA and the Genome Project and special effects but it was pointless. There would be convulsions, revolutions, things of horrible originality, things that if you were to see them now would look like miracles or magic. I’d forgotten the vertigo I got thinking about it. It was just that keeping me awake, I told myself, just the sprawling potential of my condition.

No it isn’t, wulf said.

Zoë and Lorcan blinked up at me in the dark. I stared at them. Joy. Joy is a circularity. There is the joy. Then disbelief that says you must be dreaming. Then the mental pause or step back to give the universe a chance to wake you. Then the return to see if the joy is still there – and there is the joy again, insanely real and undeservedly all yours.

I took the bassinet and my newly-begun journal and crept downstairs.

The fire in the lounge was dead but the kitchen’s Aga still radiated heat, so I drew two chairs together in front of it, set the twins on the floor close by me, put my feet up and re-read the paragraph I’d written earlier.

You kill for two reasons. First, because it’s kill or die. Second, because it feels good. In the human court of appeal the first reason buys you theoretical mitigation. The second buys you a silver bullet.

The Hendricks bottle had a couple of swigs left in it. I didn’t bother with a glass. I wrote, Become a werewolf and you break up with humanity.

Or humanity breaks up with you. You can’t blame humanity. You can’t expect someone to go on loving you once they know you’re going to kill them and eat them. Unfortunately it’s not a clean break. In fact it’s the messiest kind of break. You still live together. You still have sex. You still have the memories. You still, at moments, feel the love. But sooner or later one of you ruins it. Humanity ruins it by reminding you you’re a murderer, or you ruin it by murdering someone. Which ought to be it for you and humanity, one final exchange of carrier bags, fuck you very much, and goodbye. But no. On it goes, the living together, the sex, the memories, the ghost of love—

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