“You don’t look good.”
I blink up at Kit from my spot on the floor, and the knife in his hand falls to the carpet with a soft thud. I shrug and let my feet kick out in front of me. At least while in my dreams, I’ve gotten more comfortable with these conversations.
“I don’t feel good,” I tell him honestly. “I just got my ass handed to me by a nuckelavee.”
Kit frowns and crouches down on the floor across from me.
“Are you okay? Was it the same one that—”
“No,” I respond, cutting him off. It wasn’t the same one that killed my parents. I’m fairly sure that one is still rotting in the bottom of a freshwater loch on the Isle of Skye where Cormac left him. “It was different. In Eòghan's Cave.”
“Oh,” Kit says, then rocks back on his heels. “That makes sense.”
“I think so,” he answers, chewing on his bottom lip and blinking up at me under long lashes. He doesn’t elaborate further. He never does.
“We went there because of you. Because of my dreams, because I keep being drawn to the causeway.” I try not to sound accusatory, but it’s difficult not to, after everything.
“Oh,” Kit repeats, then lets out a low breath. “I think that was on purpose.”
“On purpose? You tried to lead me to the nuckelavee?”
“No,” he says, shaking his head. “No, I’m not doing anything.”
“This is extremely frustrating, and I hate it.”
In the dream I’m not as angry or stressed as I would be if we were actually having this conversation. Something about the bubble of this room keeps me from lashing out fully.
“I don’t understand anything that’s going on,” I tell him. “I don’t know why I’m here. Or why I keep seeing you. Or why I keep going to water, or where you are, or why a nuckelavee was in that fucking cave, and why I got drawn to it, or what is happening. Nothing makes sense. You get that, right? Nothing makes sense.”
“No,” Kit says, sad. “It doesn’t. I think that’s kind of the point.”
“Where are you?” I grind out. “Tell me where you are so we can come get you and I can get on with my life.”
“I don’t know,” he responds, tucking his long dark hair behind his ear. His hand flashes in the dim light of the bedroom. It’s covered in cuts and scars that he didn’t used to have. His arm is riddled with mottled bruises. “But I think I’m drowning.”
Suddenly his brown eyes go wide and alarmed, and his mouth drops open. He looks terrified. He jumps to his feet, his breathing picking up.
I barely have a moment to process the switch from normal Kit to angry Kit. It’s been four years since I’ve seen it.
“Why are you here?” he yells. I flinch back. The sudden shift in tone catches me entirely off guard. In the dream my movements are sluggish, but the jolt of panic that goes through me is sharp.
“What? I just told you, I don’t—” I start, but the words die in my mouth as Kit advances on me.
His thick hand goes around my neck and he drags me up, pressing against my throat as he shoves me into the wall.
“What are you doing to me?” he shouts, his voice breaking mid-scream. His eyes are wild, blown wide, and he’s crying. He shoves me into the wall again and my head snaps back, but I don’t even feel the pain because my windpipe is being compressed. “Why are you doing this to me?”
“Kit,” I croak, “Kit, stop. Please. Stop, you’re hurting me.” I smack at his hands, but they’re too big. He’s too big. He’s too strong. He’s always been stronger than me.
“Answer me!” he shouts. “Why are you doing this?” He pauses, tears flowing down his face, and his hand tightens. “I trusted you. I thought we were friends.” All at once the grip slackens, and I collapse out of his hold. “I thought we were…”
I stumble away from him, coughing and desperate for air, my own hands at my throat.
Kit blinks down at me, the rage gone, and sinks to his knees.
“Thomas,” he sputters, reaching for me. His hands grip my shirt and drag me down to his level. He’s too strong, and my knees buckle under the weight of it, but I try to lean back, to keep myself away from him as my hands scrabble for a place to push him away.
“Thomas, I think he’s trying to—” His words are cut off as he coughs, and a mouthful of water comes spitting out of his mouth onto the carpet between us. Droplets dribble down his chin, getting caught in the dark stubble. “I’m so sorry, I know you thought it would work, but he—” He coughs again and the water hits me in the face and I scramble back, farther into the wall.
“Please come get me,” he says, reaching out his hand.
I don’t take it. And then I wake up.
Isla is sitting on the sofa, watching me sleep as she eats a slice of roasted cheese on toast.
My hands move up to my throat, rubbing at my chest as I try to breathe through the last vestiges of dream-induced panic. Isla watches me with curious eyes.
She looks better than she did yesterday when Tanis brought her — partially naked and shivering — into the house and put her directly into the shower. I tried to look away and give them privacy, but it was hard to miss Isla’s huge eyes and stumbling movements, like hunted prey that’s just had its first brush with a predator.
She’s dry now though, and clothed — in more oversized clothes, and wearing a work shirt that I think belonged to Cormac — and her curls have settled back into their frizzy gravity defying nest atop her head. She looks as good as can be expected.
“Tanis is weak,” she says instead of a hello. “She needs to feed.”
“Okay,” I respond, my voice hoarse. I push myself up out of my nest of blankets on the sofa and wipe the grit from my eyes. My dream of Kit is already fading, the panic dying down. I can no longer feel his hands at my neck; I’m starting to forget it even happened.
“So I thought, maybe we could take someone from the village and you can use your magic to make them forget,” Isla says, talking with her mouth full of bread and cheese.
“I can’t do memory spells,” I argue instinctively. “I never learned, and I don’t have that kind of power. Most magicians don’t.”
“You had plenty of power yesterday when you crumbled a cave around our ears,” she responds, but it’s not sharp or snappish, unlike the majority of our interactions with each other. She’s just being Isla now: blunt.
“The thing is,” I tell her, yawning until my jaw clicks. “I don’t. I don’t have that kind of control or juice. Ever. I don’t know where that came from.”
Isla surveys me for a long moment, and her eyes look so much like Kit’s that I suddenly feel thrown into deep water.
“Well see if you can rustle it up again, because Tanis needs you.”
There’s the sharp tone again. I shouldn’t have expected that one near-death scenario could have made us the best of friends.
“Alright. I’ll see what I can do,” I agree, throwing off the blanket and swinging my legs off the side of the couch. “I’ll talk to her. Do you feel like going and doing something?”
Isla nods, her black curls shaking wildly.
“God, yes, please.”
I give her a weak smile. “She’ll need clothes, her things. Why don’t you go to the pub and get those? I doubt she locks her flat, but her mum might be around to let you in. And then maybe stop by the shops on the way back and get us some food? Kit probably has a few notes shoved into the tea tin by the door.”
Isla nods, jumping up from the sofa immediately. “Keep an eye on her, yeah? I’ll be back soon.”
I wave a tired salute, and then drop my head into my hands once she’s gone.
I don’t want to do this.
But when does that seem to matter?
By the time Tanis wakes up I’ve managed to largely finger brush the knots out of my curls, and I’m making a pot of tea when she appears in the doorway of the kitchen.
“You look like shit,” I tell her, pulling down an extra mug.
“Get tae fuck,” she mutters, collapsing into one of the kitchen chairs. She looks exhausted; heavy purple bags line her eyes, which are shot through with red. A mottled green and purple bruise snakes its way up her jaw, and the angry red lines of her burns from yesterday are still visible on her cheek. She’s not healing like she usually does.
“Where’s Isla?” she rasps, accepting the tea I hand her with a curt nod.
“I sent her out to get some things. She was about ready to climb the walls, I figured she needed a job.” I lean back against the counter and cup the warm ceramic between my cold hands. “You know she’s soft on you, right?”
Tanis raises a blonde eyebrow.
“Is that so?”
“You know it’s so. And you like her too,” I respond wearily. My head is starting to hurt already, and it’s just going to get worse as the day goes on.
“Maybe I do,” Tanis says with a shrug, taking a slow, meaningful sip of her tea. “Not sure how that’s your business.”
“Just be careful. Selkies get attached very easily, and they don’t let go. If you start this, she may not… she may not understand,” I say, trying to be as tactful as I can with cold toes and a burgeoning migraine.
“And what is it that she’s supposed to understand?” Tanis asks, her tone dark despite her hoarse voice. I shift uneasily against the counter.
“The fleeting nature of relationships and feelings.”
The kitchen is silent for a long moment as Tanis sips her tea, and then she smiles. It’s a mean, cold thing, the kind of smile I don’t usually see on her face. It reminds me that she and her kind used to prey on men for sport.
“You and I have a very different approach to feelings,” she says. Her voice is soft, but it carries a warning. “Not everyone is terrified of letting people in. Not everyone sees love as a risk.”
“I don’t see love as a risk,” I say carefully. “I just don’t have good experiences with it.”
Tanis’s face looks pinched and annoyed.
“Kit isn’t the only person to ever love you, Mads. There have been a lot of us who’ve fought that battle.”
Her words cut through me, and I place the mug back on the counter with a sharp click.
“I’ve decided I’ll do it. I’ll let you feed on me.”
“You heard me,” I say, tugging my jumper over my head. It’s old and I got it in an Oxfam, but it’s soft and warm and I don’t like the idea of getting blood on it. I’d like at least one piece of my clothing to come through this trip unscathed, especially since I won’t.
“Why now? Because I made you feel guilty about your intimacy problems?” Tanis asks, letting out a dry laugh. She puts her mug down on the table as well and pulls her socked feet up onto her chair and shakes her head. “No, I’ll pass on the passive aggressive martyr feed.”
“I’d already decided,” I tell her. “You…” I pause and lick my lips, and then turn somewhat to the side to look out the window toward the coast. “I trust you. You saved me, back at the cave. I suppose I have to start trusting someone, don’t I? And anyway, I owe you.”
“I don’t want you to do this out of some misplaced sense of obligation,” Tanis starts, offended.
“It’s not. I trust you. You’re my friend, and you need me. Just, shut up and take my blood, alright? So we can get on with this and find Kit and Owen and I can get off this fucking hellscape of an island.”
I meant it as a joke, but her face falls when I say it.
“Is being home really so bad?” she whispers. “You used to love the island.”
“It’s not the island, Tan,” I say, trying to pick my words carefully. “It’s everything that goes with it. The fact that this is all so tied up in Kit…. It makes things difficult for me.” I rub at my throat. I can still feel the ghost of his hands there, tightening their grip and pushing out my air.
“Look, I’m sorry about yesterday,” she says, her voice pitching awkwardly high. Tanis hates apologising as much as I do. “I want you to know that I believe you. About what happened.”
Something squeezes at my throat.
“I still don’t understand it,” she adds quickly. “And I really do believe that the person who did that… it wasn’t our Kit. I really believe something is wrong, or something happened, or… I don’t know. But I do believe you. And I’m sorry for how you must be feeling right now, with all this. The memories and the feelings that you used to have, or maybe still have, I don’t know—”
“I don’t,” I say, cutting her off. “I don’t feel anything for him, and I don’t want to talk about this any more.”
“Thomas, you just nearly died while looking for him, it’s okay if—”
“Kit has nothing to do with this!” I shout. She startles back, surprised by my volume. I hate that I keep doing this. I hate that I’ve become a person who shouts at my friends. “Look, my life doesn’t revolve around him and this fucked up thing between us. I’m sick of you and Isla acting like he’s the biggest thing in my life. I’m helping find him because he apparently knows what’s wrong with me, and because despite everything, I don’t want him to die. But that’s me being a decent person; it doesn’t mean I still have feelings for him. He tried to kill me. Do you get that?”
Tanis stares down at the table and begins slowly tearing apart a nearby notebook.
“You can leave at any time. You don’t have to do this, Mads. Isla and I can handle this.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, Kit isn’t the only one missing,” I argue, pulling my hands through my curls with an exasperated grunt. “I know you don’t care about Owen, but I do. He’s one of my best friends, and I do actually still love him, so yeah, I’m invested in finding him. Not Kit.”
“I love you, but sometimes you are so full of shite,” Tanis scoffs. “But I get the message. I’ll stay out of this, I’ll stop pushing. I just think Isla might have a point. There’s a lot going on here that doesn’t add up.”
“Look, are you going to feed from me or not?” I snap back. “You can feed or you can sit here and lecture me, it’s your choice.”
Tanis pauses in the act of shredding a piece of yellow notebook paper.
“You were serious? You meant it?”
“Do I say things I don’t mean?”
Tanis snorts, the sound sharp and incredulous. “Yes. Constantly.”
She ignores my scowl and stands up. She’s slow to rise and somewhat unsteady on her feet, and she grips the back of the chair for support as she motions for me to sit down.
“Would you rather here or the bathroom?”
“Here,” I say, taking a seat. “It’s too cold in the bathroom.”
Tugging my t-shirt off as well, I sit down in the chair Tanis has just vacated, careful to not lean back against the cold wooden back, and I take a deep breath and fix my eyes on the window that shows the causeway. Kit’s hung a mobile of seashells shaped like wee bees. How twee.
“It shouldn’t hurt that badly,” Tanis says, very close to my ear. “I can make it so it won’t hurt.”
“I’m not afraid of pain,” I say, glancing at her in annoyance, and then flinching away.
For just a moment — a second, a blink of the eye — Tanis flickered. Her blonde mane and rosy skin disappeared, replaced with a mass of twiggy white hair that cascaded down her back like a waterfall and skin that was rough and textured like tree bark. Her eyes were dark, almost black, and her lips were cracked and blood red.
For just a moment, I think I saw Tanis. The real Tanis. The baobhan sith living under her skin.
“I didn’t even touch you, you nugget,” she huffs, exasperated and back to her old self. “You’re so twitchy.”
“Sorry,” I mumble, turning away from her again and trying to control my heartbeat. It’s not real. None of it is real.
“Tan, my visions—”
“Aren’t going to come through your blood,” Tanis says quietly. “Are you ready?”
“But what if it is in my blood? Fadwa thinks it could be a blood curse, and I—”
“I know the risks,” Tanis says. “I’m not worried. I’m not human, Thomas. Whatever is going on with you can’t hurt me. Are you ready?”
“You know, I’ve always thought that it would make more sense for vampires to feed on people from a thigh or something, doesn’t the neck seem a bit—”
“Fine, fine,” I mumble.
“Slàinte mhath,” she whispers.
I don’t have time to roll my eyes before there’s a white hot pin prick on my neck, which is replaced just as quickly by a tingling, cooling sensation that feels like the menthol rub you use on your chest when sick. I shiver a bit at the feeling, and then I shiver again as Tanis’s nails — they’re long now, sharpened to a point — skate across my neck and down my skin.
She leans in, her warm breath making the tingling sensation flare, and her hair tickles against my ear. Then her lips gently connect with my neck in a gesture that’s not unpleasant but so wholly unfamiliar that I almost jerk away from her.
Her tongue darts out to lick at my neck several times, and I try not to make a face. It feels weird and slightly ticklish, and when she places her full mouth on my neck and begins to suck, I feel like shuddering.
I’m on the verge of awkward laughter when she starts gagging.
She pulls away violently, stumbling backwards across the kitchen as she begins to cough, her body heaving for air, her eyes wide and fearful.
“Tanis?” I ask, standing up to go toward her, but my legs are weak, and my head swims and I stumble.
“Stay back,” she chokes out before doubling over, grasping at her stomach. She starts dry heaving, her body contracting as she gasps for air and coughs and tries to expel whatever is choking her, and then she vomits blood onto the kitchen floor.
“Tan?” I move forward again, my hands outstretched. “Tan? What’s wrong?”
“Thomas, don’t—” she says, vomiting again. Hardly anything comes out this time, and she pants, her hands still wrapped around her stomach as she looks up at me. Her hair is hanging limply in her eyes and her body heaves as she pants through the last wave of this sickness.
Her eyes are cold and furious.
“Your blood isn’t human,” she says, spitting onto the floor and dragging the back of her hand across her mouth.
“What?” My heart thuds. “What?”
“You’re full of Seelie blood. It’s poisonous to me,” she snarls, standing up and advancing. The lines between Tanis and the creature I saw in the flicker are beginning to blur, like she’s changing in front of my eyes. But when I blink it doesn’t go away, and then she’s even closer, her long claw-like nails still extended as she reaches for me and wraps them around my throat.
The ghost of Kit’s hands are replaced by the vice-like pressure of Tanis’s.
“What the fuck are you?” she snarls, squeezing my windpipe, and my vision begins to swim. Black spots fill my eyes and I blink, desperately trying to not lose consciousness. But it’s a losing battle.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Kit asks me. “There has to be another way.”
I’m on the floor of his room. Sitting, not hunched. Not bleeding. I hand him the knife.
“We have to do it while he’s gone, or he’ll notice,” I whisper, our fingers touching. Kit’s hair is short. His face still has a youthful roundness to it, and no stubble. He’s wearing my Talking Heads t-shirt.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he says, still not taking the knife.
“I trust you,” I whisper back, rubbing my thumb across his knuckle. “It’s just a little blood.”