“Tanis, get in the bedroom.”
“What?” she asks, tearing her eyes away from the kitchen door. The tall outline of the person isn’t moving.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Get in the bedroom,” I repeat.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Because you’re weak and we don’t need you killing yourself in a fight,” I whisper, my voice a sharp hiss. “And because we may need the element of surprise.”
“Do you think it’s dangerous?” Isla asks. Her hands are clenched, and she’s not looking away from the door. I know she’s not a fighter, but she looks grimly resigned to becoming one.
“I’m not leaving you two—” Tanis begins, but Isla shakes her head and turns to look at Tanis. Her round face — usually so set in determination — is soft, her eyes searching.
“Please go,” she whispers, and to my intense surprise, Tanis leaves.
“I’m answering it,” Isla says the moment Tanis is gone from the room. Before I can formulate my thoughts or prepare or think about anything, really, she's moved forward and yanked the door open to reveal a large, heavy-shouldered black man.
He blinks once in surprise and looks straight across the kitchen, at me. He’s in his thirties, probably, but I’m shit at determining age, and he’s tall; almost my height. His long braided hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and his hands are shoved deep into the pockets of his work coat. The wind blows in behind him, and hunched forward against the cold, he stares down at us from under long lashes.
When his eyes land on Isla, a gigantic smile lights up his face.
“Murray?” Isla exclaims, her mouth falling open. The man — Murray, I guess — grins, his lips stretching out into an ever larger smile, and pulls his hands out of his pockets to spread them wide.
“You stayed on land and you didn’t even look me up?” he asks. His voice is deep and smooth, and his eyes are lit with amusement. The happiness feels odd, given the depressed, confused fear we’ve been living in the past few days and the explosive realisation that’s hanging over my head. His immediate humour and easy stance sits on me uncomfortably, like they don’t fit.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Isla shrieks, snapped out of her spell as she throws herself forward and into his arms. Murray laughs, a booming thing that echoes through the kitchen and seems to make everything brighter, and then envelopes her in a massive hug that lifts her short little legs off the ground.
“I came to find you,” he says, setting her down. He lets himself into the kitchen without being invited and closes the door behind him. It’s raining outside, and he shakes water off his hair and jacket, looking for a moment like an over-enthusiastic dog. “Why didn’t you tell me you were staying?”
“I didn’t know,” Isla says. They’ve both seemingly decided to ignore my presence. “It all happened kind of fast. How did you know I stayed?”
“The herd,” he says, taking off his jacket and sitting down in the seat that Tanis just vacated. “I was on a boat the other day and heard them singing for you, asking when you were coming back.”
“I haven’t heard them,” Isla says, frowning. “I haven't heard them since I got to the island, actually.”
“They’re keeping a distance,” he responds, poking at the remains of my toast. “Something rank with the water around the coast, I think. They’re worrying, though. They’ve been staying just close enough to watch out for you.”
“That would likely be the nuckelavee,” I say dryly. Two identical pairs of eyes blink at me. Murray’s are just as deep and warm and brown as Isla’s, and even prettier, if possible. His eyelashes are long and delicate, whereas Isla’s are short and stubby.
Everything about him is pretty, actually, from his soft eyes to the freckles dotting his nose.
“Nuckelavee?” he asks, tilting his head. Isla waves her hand dismissively.
“I’ll explain later, it’s fine,” she says, like she wasn’t traumatised into a panic attack by the monster just yesterday. Murray hums and squints at me.
“Is this him?” he asks, gesturing toward me. “Is he why you stayed?” He frowns. “He doesn’t look like a selkie. The herd said you were taking up with a selkie.”
“No,” Isla says, shaking her head and making a disgusted face. “This is Thomas. Kit is the selkie.”
“He’s half selkie,” I correct, without even intending to. “He’s basically human.”
Murray and Isla exchange a glance, and I suddenly feel extremely stupid.
“So is this Kit why you stayed?” Murray presses. He looks about ready to rub his hands together in eagerness. “Where is he? I want to meet him.”
“He’s missing,” Isla says. “That’s why I stayed. I’m going back though, I’m not staying on land for him, it’s not… like that…. I mean, not with him, that is...” she trails off and shrugs. She pulls her hand up to rub at the back of her neck. “I’m just here as long as it takes to find him, and Thomas is helping.”
“Am I, though?” I ask. “Am I really helping? Or am I just slowly falling apart?”
“Thomas, Murray is my brother,” Isla says, ignoring my meltdown. I’d kind of figured. They look alike, and the rapport seemed to make that clear, but it’s still nice to have it confirmed.
“Nice to meet you,” I say. “This is lovely, really, truly, but we’re in the midst of a crisis here, and I think I need a smoke, so if you’ll excuse me—”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Isla barks, putting herself between me and the door. “You’re still bleeding. With both you and Tanis injured and the weird bloke creeping around, I think we all need to stay inside.”
“What?” I ask, touching my neck. Sure enough, slow, fat drops of blood are still leaking from the cuts Tanis made. “Oh.”
“Why is he bleeding?” Murray asks. His voice is very loud. My migraine does not like it.
“Uh, long story,” Isla says, but Murray just shrugs.
“I’ve got time.”
“In summation, Kit is missing, we have an injured baobhan sith in the bedroom who needs blood immediately, I’ve been unknowingly poisoned by a Seelie, and my childhood friend who no one can remember and may or may not be said Seelie just casually showed up. Oh, and a nuckelavee tried to kill us,” I say, wiping my bloody fingers off on my jeans, and then immediately regretting it. “Isla, did I leave anything out?”
“No, I think that sums it up nicely,” she says, leaning down to pick up the pack she dropped when she first entered the kitchen. She begins pulling so much food out of it that I have no idea how she managed to fit it all in there. “Anyone want roasted cheese?”
“Oh, yes please,” Murray says, bending over to pet Hob, who has appeared from nowhere and is twirling himself between Murray’s legs.
“Absolutely no thank you,” I snap.
“I might be able to help,” Murray says several moments later, as he and Isla begin to tuck into their roasted cheese. She didn’t even make it the right way; she made it on the stove, just like Kit does, even though I spent years telling him that roasted cheese is not roasted unless you put the cheese in the oven.
Otherwise it’s just a bastardised cheese toastie.
“Baobhan sith need to drink from men, right?” Murray asks after neatly tucking away one piece of toast.
“Human men,” I add.
“Well, I’m human,” he says around his bread. “At least in the bits that count. I gave away my pelt, so I’m not really a selkie anymore. Severed that magic and all.” He chews and swallows and leans over to take a sip of the tea in front of Isla. He has much, much better table manners than his sister. He eats like a human, whereas Isla eats like a whirlwind. “Does it hurt? They don’t kill, right?”
Isla looks at me.
“No, it doesn’t hurt,” I say, shaking my head and poking at my cut. It’s already beginning to knit itself back together. “And it just makes you a wee bit weak for awhile. She doesn’t need to take much.”
Murray finishes the mug of cold tea and puts it back on the table.
“Take me to the vampire then, yeah?”
“She’s not a vampire,” Isla says, scrunching up her nose, but she’s smiling, nonetheless, and she pushes her brother lightly when they both stand and head for the back bedroom.
I follow along slowly, feeling like I’ve just been dumped into a parallel universe.
Tanis is on the bed, shifted into her wolf form, and the moment she sees Murray she begins to growl. She stands up immediately, hackles raised, and jumps off the bed in a clean, fluid motion, her teeth bared, saliva dripping off them.
“Woah, woah,” I say, backing up, but Tanis doesn’t listen to me, just advances on Murray until he steps away from Isla, and then places herself directly between the two.
“It’s okay!” Isla says, reaching down to press her hands into Tanis’s fur. I would never touch Tanis when she’s like this, but Isla doesn’t even hesitate, just plunges her hands in and grips the soft fur around her fingers. “He’s my brother, he’s okay.”
“You can shift back, Tan,” I say, watching the shit show from the doorway.
Tanis’s head swivels from me to Murray, and she sniffs at him three times before backing down and letting out a wet snort.
Before I realise what’s happening, Tanis has begun to change. Isla reaches for the blanket on the bed and throws it over Tanis just as her back begins to arch and the clear outline of a human spine begins to poke through the skin, which is rapidly losing its fur. A moment later, the blanket shifts and Tanis stands, swaying dangerously, the wool throw draped around her like some kind of Grecian goddess.
I’ve never actually seen her shift before. She usually does it in private. It’s not what I thought it would be. Nothing like in the movies.
Tanis sags backward and Isla steps up, placing her hands on Tanis’s hips and guiding her back toward the bed, and Tanis allows herself to be led, limbs barely moving, as if the exertion of it is too much. The shift must have taken a lot out of her. She looks seconds from collapsing. A sharp pang of guilt runs through me. I did this. My blood did this.
My blood has been eating me alive from the inside out, and now it’s starting on Tanis.
“Hi, I’m Murray,” Murray says, still not leaving his corner. He’s watching his little sister closely, his easy smile gone. His cheery, booming voice has been softened. “I heard you need a donor. You can feed from me, if you need.”
Tanis stares at him for a long moment, her eyes hardened into slits. They glow just a wee bit gold.
“Why? I don’t know you.”
Murray shrugs, trying too hard to be casual, but I can see his nervousness in the high hunch of his shoulders.
“What can I say?” he asks. “I really love vampire movies. I’ve always been curious.”
“I’m not a vampire,” Tanis snaps. Her voice is so raspy it almost hurts to hear. “And I’ve been poisoned once today, so forgive me if I’m hesitant to trust your sudden appearance and willingness.”
Murray looks over Tanis’s head at Isla, who is pulling clothes out of her pack and handing them to Tanis. It’s so normal. It’s all so fucking normal and polite and I’m about to scream until my own ears bleed because what the fuck is happening?
“I came to help my little sister. So call it a favour,” Murray says, then smiles. It’s genuine, but slow. Hesitant. “I promise I won’t poison you. I think.”
“You can trust him,” Isla whispers, handing Tanis a shirt. “He’s my brother.”
Tanis nods slowly and accepts the shirt, then clears her throat. Murray and I get the hint and turn around, and several moments later Tanis speaks up.
“Are you sure?” she asks. We turn around to see her sitting on the edge of the bed in an oversized black t-shirt and a pair of what I’m positive are Kit’s boxers.
Kit. I handed Kit a fucking knife and told him to cut me and I have had no fucking memory of this for four years. Was that the Seelie blood? Did it erase my memories? Did it change my memories? How much of what I remember is even real?
“I’m sure,” Murray says, nodding, completely oblivious to my spiral. “Just like… don’t kill me. Please.”
Tanis’s eyes flick to Isla, seeking confirmation — another thing I’ve never seen Tanis do, ever — and Isla nods.
“Let’s go to the bathroom,” Tanis says, her voice still hoarse.
“I’ll be in the kitchen,” I say. My head is about to explode, and it’ll be easier to clear my brains and viscera off the lino than out of the tile cracks.
“Me too,” Isla adds quickly, scooting past Murray and squeezing his shoulder. “Give you some privacy.”
I think it’s less about privacy and more about Isla’s issues with blood, but I don’t challenge her, and she follows me back into the kitchen. Hob glares at us from his spot on the counter, and I try not to feel bad about the absolute mess we’ve left everywhere today; dishes all over the counter and blood on the floor.
“Your brother seems nice. Weirdly helpful and self-sacrificing, but nice,” I say, grabbing a glass from the drying rack and filling it with water.
“He is. He’s the nicest person I know,” Isla responds, looking non combative and happy for the first time since I’ve met her. I’m in the fucking Twilight Zone.
“How long since you’ve seen him?” My voice sounds ridiculous. High and perky and polite.
“About three years. He went on land without telling anyone, and I didn’t know how to track him down. I was visiting Kit at that point anyway, and didn’t want to use my one day wandering stupidly.” She shrugs. “Kit was trying to track him down for me, though.”
“Lovely,” I say, pausing to chug the water. “Braw. Everything is braw.”
I put the glass down and take a deep breath. I feel like I’m going to vomit. Stomach contents or words, whichever comes first.
“What the fuck is happening?” I shout, shaking my head. Words it is, then. “I don’t understand it.”
“That makes two of us,” Isla chirps, pulling herself up to sit on the counter. She’s still wearing the parka I gave her; I don’t know if I’ve seen her without a coat on since we got to Mab. “Want to tell me what the hell is up with your blood?”
“I don’t know.” I sit on the floor and pat at my lap in the hope that Hob will come over and give me his heavy warmth. He doesn’t. “Tanis says I have Seelie blood in me. And it explains everything.”
“Does it? Because I’m still a bit lost.”
“I meant my visions. My migraines, my… everything. Seelie blood — fae blood, whatever you want to call it — it does strange things to magicians. Before the Seelie all went underground, we used to drink it willingly for the power boost and visions. Kind of like a long-lasting, magical drug. But I haven’t. I didn’t…”
“You did those blood brothers pacts,” Isla points out. “You exchanged blood with Kit and that Owen bloke. So if you’re positive you’re not Seelie — which I don't think you are, you’re not pretty enough to be a changeling — it means Owen or Kit is. And it’s not Kit.”
“When Tanis was choking me, I sort of blacked out. Had a vision,” I say slowly. “Of the night Kit tried to kill me. But it was like a memory… just one I couldn’t remember. I was handing him the knife and saying we had to do something while ‘he’ was gone.” I look up at Isla. “I think maybe the ‘he’ was Owen.”
Fadwa was right. It’s all I can think. All these years, Fadwa was right. The answer has been going out to dinner with me and sitting in my kitchen and shouting at me for four years. It was Seelie blood all along.
“So Owen’s Seelie.”
“He has to be, but it doesn’t seem possible. He’s just… Owen. Not pretty, not special. He’s dry. He’s bland.”
“He’s inconspicuous, you mean.”
I scrape at a spot of dried pasta sauce on the lino with my fingernail.
“It makes sense if it’s Owen. We did the blood brother rites every year on Samhain.” I look up and Isla meets my eyes. “But why? Why would he do it? Why pretend to be a boy and live with us for years?”
“I don’t know,” Isla says, shaking her head. “I don't know anything about Seelies, nothing except stories. When did Owen show up?”
“When we were twelve. Cormac said…” I pause, trying to remember, but its like my memory is swimming around me, vague impressions and conversations painted in broad strokes without any of the attached details. “He just said he was staying with us.”
“And the blood pacts? Were those his idea?”
“No, Kit and I had been doing them for years, we got the idea when we were… we were…” I squint. “Kit suggested it because…”
A heavy, dry weight is settling in my stomach. My head is pounding and I feel restless and nauseated in equal measure, like if I don’t move, I’ll explode, but if I move, I’ll vomit.
“I don’t remember.”
Isla closes her eyes and breathes out and nods.
“That’s what I expected you to say.”
“He played with my memory, didn’t he?”
“I think he probably played with everyone’s,” Tanis says quietly from behind us.
Isla and I look up to where Tanis is standing in the doorway, watching us. She looks better already; the welts on her cheeks have healed and the bags under her eyes are gone, but there’s a wee smear of blood on her chin.
“I don’t understand why, though,” I repeat, frustrated. “Why live with us? Why change our memories? Why take our blood, and what does this have to do with Kit? Did he take Kit?”
“I don’t know,” Tanis says, padding across the kitchen. She’s wearing socks I gave her when we were seventeen. They have puffins on them. Owen picked them out. “But he did something to our memories. I feel like… like there’s something there, on the edge that I just can’t quite get to.”
“Like something is just a bit wrong?” I ask. Tanis nods.
“Exactly. I’m sorry I was harsh with you. Something has clearly been in my head. Things feel all jumbled, and it makes me suspicious.”
Isla clears her throat.
“Kit once told me…” she starts, and then trails off. She looks hesitant, and she chews on her bottom lip as she gazes evenly at me. “Kit once told me that he thinks something is wrong with both of you. That you do things you can’t control. And he… forgets things.”
I put my head between my knees and try to breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
“I think we need to go to the bean nighe,” Tanis says, quietly. “With Kit gone and memories changed and Seelie blood involved, I think it’s the next stop.”
“What’s that?” Isla asks.
“A myth,” I say, shaking my head. “Not real.”
“Definitely real,” Tanis says, rolling her eyes. “I’ve met them. They live on the other side of the island, about an hour by car. I went when I was younger.”
“What is the bean thing?” Isla asks again.
“Like a genie, but creepy,” I tell her. “It’s a wee woman who lives in a stream and washes clothes and tells you how you’re going to die. But she likes to rip off arms.”
“Honestly,” Tanis says, shaking her head. “You’re exaggerating. And we wouldn’t be going to find out how we’d die. The Washer is a kind of really powerful Seelie. They can give you other information, if you ask. They know everything.”
“Am I exaggerating about the arms, though? Because Cormac always seemed very particular about the arm ripping thing.”
“A moment ago you didn’t even think the bean nighe was real, and now you’re an expert in arm ripping?” Tanis snaps.
“But she can help us?” Isla cuts in. “She could tell us where Kit is?”
“For an arm,” I mutter.
Tanis nods, ignoring me.
“If anyone could, it would be them.”
“Why didn’t you suggest this before?” Isla asks, her head tilted to the side. Tanis shrugs and rubs at her neck.
“I dunno. I was going to mention it the other day when I came over and made you dinner but I guess I just… decided it was a bad idea.” She shrugs again. “Anyway, what do you think?”
Both of them look at me, like my opinion means anything at all in this scenario. It’s cute, almost, that they at least pretend that I have any say and they aren’t going to just drag me along to hell for the wee ride.
I let out a long, low, shuddering breath. I need fresh air. I want to trudge up the hill and climb the shed on the side of Cormac’s house and sit up on the roof and have a cigarette and a nice long panic, just like I used to when I was seventeen.
“Fine, let’s see the Washer,” I say, giving up. “Why the fuck not.” I stand up and pat my pockets. Two cigarettes left. “I’ve got nothing left to fucking try. So me and my Seelie blood are going outside, alright? We’ll regroup after you go wash the blood from your face.”
I’m halfway to the door when I pause and turn to look back at Tanis.
“You didn’t kill Murray, right?” Tanis frowns and shakes her head. She looks like such a dog when she’s pissed off.
“Of course not. I would never. He’s just resting.”
“Good,” I nod, and open the door. “Because I’d bet good money he’s the only one of us who can drive the jeep.”