I sighed, turned off the water, and called, "What?"
"Damian isn't doing well," Nathaniel said through the closed door.
I stood there a second water dripping into my eyes, and said, "What do you mean, Damian's not doing well?"
"Can't you feel it?"
I thought about it. I thought about Damian, and suddenly fear was like a crushing weight on my chest. It staggered me for a second, and I was glad there was a safety bar in the shower to grab on to. It was a shadow of what had driven him to run screaming through the house. I wasn't sure we'd all survive him doing it twice. "I'm coming."
I squeezed out my hair, wound a towel around it, and was trying to towel off enough for a robe, when the door sprang open. Gregory came first in his fur suit, one clawed hand under Damian's arm. Richard had the other arm. They half-dragged, half-carried him through the door. They carried him toward me, and his fear rode before him. I'd felt fear before, but not like this. It crushed my chest so that I couldn't breathe, closed my throat. The fear had weight enough to slam me to the floor, as if something had smashed into me. It wasn't my pulse I was choking on, it was as if the terror itself were wet silk, and I was trying to swallow it. Slick, wet, suffocating, more real than any fear I'd ever felt. Not real the way an emotion is real, but real the way a rock, a chair, or an animal is real. Fear had become something... more.
They dropped Damian into my lap, and it was as if every part of my skin ran with chills, and then every inch of my skin tried to crawl away. Tried to crawl away and leave my body to die. My skin would have saved itself if it hadn't been trapped against my body. The rest of me would have gone with it, but we were trapped under Damian's weight. Trapped in his fear, frozen in it. If I could have breathed, I would have screamed, but all I could do was drown. Drown in Damian's fear.
Someone touched my shoulder, but it was distant. As if no one's skin were as real to me as Damian's. Someone shook me, sharp and hard. My breath came in a huge gasp, as if I hadn't been breathing for a long time, when my breath came out, it was a shriek.
I was staring up into Richard's startled face. It was his hand on my shoulder. Him kneeling beside us. "Anita, Anita, can you hear me?"
I grabbed Richard's arm, my other hand clutching Damian to me, as if I were afraid if I let him go he'd be lost. As if the fear were some horrible beast that could literally eat him up, and destroy him.
Richard shook me again. "Anita, say something."
"God, it's so... awful."
Damian nodded his head against my stomach. He'd been lying almost limply against me, but now he grabbed me around the waist and hip, his hands holding on as if I were the last solid thing in the world. I felt a burst of emotion from him, and it was gratitude. He was grateful that I could share his fear. Sharing it seemed to make it less, or make it more bearable.
That thought, that sharing fear made it easier to bear, brought a memory. It wasn't my memory. It was a face that I had never seen before, but one that Damian knew as well as his own. All high angles and strong lines, a scar from his forehead to his cheek, where he'd been cut in the first raid we'd gone on. She-who-made-us said once that the scar saved his life, because without it, his hair was more blond than hers, his eyes more blue. That scar ruined his handsomeness enough for her to leave him whole. For even men who were too fair were not safe from her envy. The only name I heard in my head was Perrin, but I knew that wasn't right. That hadn't been his name, anymore than Damian had been mine, ours, his.
I smelled vanilla and felt something thick and warm glide over my skin. I blinked awake, if awake was the right word. Nathaniel was kneeling beside us. He'd undone his braid so that the vanilla scent of his hair had perfumed around me. His hair cascaded around him and spilled over the side of my body, pooling into my lap, covering Damian like a blanket, if a blanket could flow like liquid over a body. Nathaniel had covered us in his hair, but had very carefully avoided touching our skin with his. He was so close to us that not touching took effort, so close it was as if a sigh would have pressed the line of his body against mine. But he stayed that near painful inch away, letting only scent and the furred glide of hair reach us. The only thing he gave me of his skin was the warmth of it, which even from a distance I could feel. Heat trembling against my skin, as if the warmth of him breathed outward and wanted to touch me. Maybe it did.
It had been such a smart way to bring me out of Damian's memory without risking Nathaniel being dragged into it himself. So smart, but a plan is only as good as everyone in it. Damian moved in my lap, and I had a second to realize what he was going to do. I drew a breath to warn Nathaniel, but didn't have time to breath out. It was that quick.
Damian grabbed Nathaniel's arm, and that one touch was enough. It was like drowning in light. As if the world had caught fire and become heat, and heat was golden like the color yellow had spilled out and covered everything. Yellow warmth, golden heat. Our eyes were dazzled by it. We were blind in the light. There was nothing but the light and the touch of her small hands, and Perrin's hand in mine. His hand so large, firm, an anchor in the nightmare of the light. Her hands caressed, but it wasn't real. She'd dragged us into the light to drink our fear, not our sex.
She tore his hand away from mine, and her voice, which once I'd thought beautiful, sounded like an evil whine in my head, poisonous, because I could not tell her no. "One to burn, one to keep."
Perrin turned, framed for a moment in the light. His hair as yellow as the light itself, his eyes like the sky beyond the window. He was tall, his shoulders so wide that he filled most of the window. He'd always been a big man even among big men. Some of the towns we'd raided, people had run screaming, "Giant!" or their word for it.
Perrin stood, covered in the light. Covered in the light, but not burning. The words that had begun this folly came back, "Perhaps the reason they can walk out with you in the sun, Moroven, is not you sharing power with them, but that they have gained power of their own, to sun walk." A messenger from the council had said the evil words and left it as a poisonous flea in she-who-made-us's ear. For a heart's beat we thought the messenger had spoken true. We thought Perrin stood in the light on his own power. For one glorious second, we believed. But the look on his face wasn't triumphant, it was frightened. That one look was enough. Something was wrong.
The smoke began to curl off his skin, just like in the movies. The part that was still me, still Anita, thought, but that's not right. All the vampires that I'd seen die by sunlight just burst into flames. No smoke, no waiting, just instant inferno, poof. My puzzlement helped drag us back from the edge of terror. It helped us watch smoke rise from Perrin's skin, kept the horror from choking us. Flames burst along his skin, and for the blink of an eye he was haloed by rich orange and gold flames. His long yellow hair fluttered in the wind of the heat. A moment to think, how pretty, then the flames ate over him and his skin crawled with fire.
Perrin shrieked. Shrieked, for scream did not describe that sound coming from a man's mouth.
We screamed because we had to. All the horror, the sorrow, the fear had to come out our mouths, or it would have burst out of our skin and shattered our minds. We screamed because it was all that kept us from going mad.
I suddenly smelled forest, that rich green smell of the deep woods--half Christmas tree pine and half fresh-turned earth. I stared at the burning vampire, my lifelong friend, my brother, but I was calm. All I could smell was forest, not the salt of ocean, not anything, then there was something else--wolf. The sweet musk of wolf. Richard.
The thought of him made the scent of forest and fur override everything else. The memory began to fade. Literally, the images became misty, and we began to draw away from that awful room. Perrin's voice floated down all those years, his scream turned distant by the fading. He began by screaming her name, the name I'd heard used for she-who-made-them, "Moroven, Moroven," but the screams changed, became another name, "Nemhain!" I had enough left of Damian's mind in me to understand that Nemhain was her secret name, her true name. Over and over again, Perrin screamed her name, and Damian echoed it, his screams, which were louder now as the memory faded, his screams were her name, "Nemhain!"
We spilled back into the now, into the floor of my bathroom, into Richard's hand on my arm. I started to look into his face, but Damian came to his knees, as if he would run toward something I couldn't see. I wrapped my hands around his waist and chest. Nathaniel had a death grip on Damian's arm. We held him, as if he could still run to Perrin's fire and destroy himself. He was still screaming, "Nemhain, Nemhain, curse you!" He collapsed so suddenly that I'd have fallen back into the glass doors of the shower if Richard hadn't caught me with a hand across my back. Nathaniel caught Damian around one shoulder, slowing his fall. Damian was still talking in a voice that was more sob than whisper, "Curse you, Nemhain, curse you." He curled into a ball in my lap, pushing me hard into the curve of Richard's arm. Nathaniel stroked Damian's hair, over and over, the way you'd comfort a child.