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With the Tide

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Ryan was no doctor but Shane Madej was full of shit.

“I’m just messed up, man,” Shane repeatedly huffed at him from under a myriad of layers, crouched over his laptop screen like a waxen insect.

Shane’s claim was that he’d been taking Dayquil. Bottles and bottles of Dayquil each for two days and it had been a week. Ryan was beginning to have questions.

Ryan’s questions got specific when Shane started to look like That. Blue bruised eyelids, transparent under the eyes. Ghastly. His hair looked like frayed and aged fabric, singed at its edges and when he could chance a smile, Ryan saw something really base; animal and primal in the off-white of his bicuspids. Ryan didn’t know the signs but he knew the signs. Maybe it was the haunted, carefully distracted stare he’d fix on Ryan when he didn’t think Ryan was looking. Maybe it was that Shane seemed to squint hard at the sun, looked like he was suffering from sleep loss but Shane was late every damn day now, claiming he’d slept in. Odd excuse when Ryan knew he’d signed off their group chat at the early hour of 7 p.m. because he claimed he needed sleep.

All bullshit.

Ryan liked so many things about Shane, some he’d rather die than say to Shane’s face, but the one thing he thought he could always count on was Shane’s honesty with him. So of course now Shane’s refusal to be straight with Ryan filled him with a guarding pain and a little feeling of betrayal. When hurt like that struck, Ryan always caught himself refreshing a catalog of promises he’d accidentally swallowed framed with phrases like Package deal and Best friend. Both sounded thoughts scared him when he considered the implications of Shane’s secrets and this unmistakable play-acting.

It was how he’d come to be standing at the doorway of Shane’s bedroom, looking in at a room darkened by heavy curtains; chilly like it hadn’t seen sun in weeks.

“Your door was unlocked,” he stated, the words spilling out of him like a panicked pool. “Anyone could’ve walked in--wait, I shouldn’t be surprised with your reckless-- I mean you really aren’t afraid of anything, are you?”

Shane blew a heavy breath from under his covers before his dazed head popped out, hair like a faded brown halo around his head. “Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

Ryan didn’t have the stomach for detective work but if he did… “But you are afraid of some things, aren’t you?” If he did, he’d be an exceptional one. “Heroin. Someone poisoning your blood, right?”

“Blood s’not poisoned. It’s some virus. I’ll beat it down by the end of the week, I’m sure.”

Full. Of. Shit. It had been a month. This was no virus.

Ryan wanted to kick something. He didn’t have all the facts but he was worried. He knew what he was looking at but he didn’t have the solution, didn’t want to think that Shane might be just letting himself fall apart, thinking it wasn’t showing. “Stop lying to me and tell me how it works.”

Shane’s gaunt, black-eyed stare swiveled on him, lips formed a shaky, sweaty frown. “How what works?”

Ryan rested hands on his own hips, taking in the shadows surrounding Shane, his scent like death and the sheer lack of blood in his skin. He was sheet white, eyes glazed and hungry. “The bloodthirst? I woulda googled it but the mythos is divided. This obviously isn’t Twilight. You’re not about to tell me vampires like baseball because I know you hate sports. I’m not into making assumptions but...”

Shane’s laugh was like ashes. Decay. “Ryan, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

Ryan swallowed the bubbling tirade of curses filling his mouth. He felt helpless. It wasn’t fair; wasn’t fair for Shane to have just rolled along into his life, to have made Ryan care what happened to him, making him this panicky. “Stop lying…” He heard the grate in his own voice, simple but hurt. “Just stop.”

Instead of the truth, Ryan got Shane’s dead silence and lack of eye contact.

Ryan stepped closer into the room. Not entirely sure he wanted to hear the silence change when he asked, “Does it need to be human blood?”

And how the silence changed. Shane’s reaction was stark, like an imitation at life in his limbs as he sat up. Ryan could practically hear the empty shell of his body creak as he drew to his best height sitting up in bed to look at Ryan. Really look at him. Crestfallen, sheepish, panicked.

Ryan set his expression. There’d be time for confrontations later. There’d be time for explanations even later than that. For now... “Just give me yes’s and no’s. Is it human blood?”

Shane’s expression changed. It was as if the whole time Ryan had known him, he’d worn some soft, neutral mask, a carefully humane construction of short smiles and gentle hard eyes. Now his gaze was a threat, an open and savage hunger directed up at him. Ryan could feel the oxygen shake right out of his chest. Fear. Real fear. Even though he hadn’t ever seen a vampire before, hadn’t seen one in this state, it had to be easy for anyone looking at Shane now to know.

Shane was a quiet, open-mouthed audience as Ryan stepped closer to him in the shadows despite his feeling a new kind of terrified--yeah--but monsters could be monsters. This was Shane. “Well?” Ryan pressed, keeping his voice steady. “Is it?”

Yes,” said Shane, the dark edge on his tone was his thinking of it and Ryan shuddered in the middle of his back. “Well, not anymore… it can’t be. I’ve been--I’ve taken in secret for years and years. I don’t wanna do it anymore but it’s…”

Ryan’s hands were shaking. It was real. Monsters were real. More real now than they’d ever been and so was Shane. Ryan kept his name fragrant in his mind. Shane. Shane. Shane. Just Shane. You are not afraid of your best friend. Best friends aren’t afraid of each other. They’re not. “I guess you don’t owe me explanations.” He breathed on his own even tone, surprised that the tremors in his nerves begging to leap away from the being gazing out at him, glimmering death, wasn’t audible when he spoke. “Just tell me where things went wrong, so we can fix it.”

“I’m trying to fix it, Ryan.” Shane’s long fingered hands unfolded from their clutch in his covers. “It degrades outside the-the body from air contaminants; acidity changes... I’ve tried everything else….animals--tiny ones---made me so sick, and the taste isn’t right--no sustenance… like swallowing hairspray...”

He was drifting off, sloped eyes slowly shutting as he gulped hunger. What if he hadn’t come today? What if he’d gotten a grave phone call from Shane’s landlord saying… “I don’t want what’s happening to you to happen, got that? But I won’t bring you anyone. There’s no one I would do that to--”

“I’d never ask,” Shane cut across him plainly. “It’s the fight I can’t deal with anymore, Ryan. You have to fight them for it, subdue them as you drink and it’s the fight that kills them.”

It was time for Ryan to feel that fear again. “Kills...them…?”

Shane looked so wretched, so much like he was peeling deep layers under his own skin, flaying himself out for Ryan. “No more, you get that? Not for me. I’m ready for it to end.”

At that Ryan reached out instinctively to the lamp at Shane’s bedside, pressed the switch as if he were throwing meat to a wolf sitting right near him The shaded spool of light crashed over Shane’s features, made him seem all the more wide eyed and sickly, the lines of his face were like ravines, delicate grooves you could trace the framework of deadened veins through. Ryan uttered a soft sound; his heart felt brittle as he thought of it all. What it would mean to know he’d lost Shane. What the fuck would he do? His eyes stung. He was torn at how terribly angry it made him, like it wasn’t right to see your best friend like this and just wanna lose it on him but then why would he just never think to tell Ryan? Didn’t Shane even know him? Know that Ryan would always and forever do anything he could for his friends where it really counted?

“Well,” Ryan began. Or maybe he really didn’t know and it was on Ryan to make him understand. “What if they didn’t fight?”

Shane shut his eyes, bruised pain in those shocking blue veins on his eyelids and the tremble of his mouth said he knew what Ryan was going to say.

“What if the person offered it willingly?”

Shane blinked at him warily. “Blood offerings don’t just come along and they always have a price.”

“Well, I'd feel weird charging you for it.” The words flew up out of him before he could stop them. His train of thought was wild but he knew what had to be done to get Shane back. “I mean you could pay for lunch a little more often but…”

Shane cracked his first smile, but it looked shaken, panicked. “That’s not what I meant.”

Ryan was already sitting on the bed beside him, feeling awkwardly unsure of what physical gesture to make to get Shane to just quit being a puzzle about everything. “Let’s get it over with then. If you swear it won’t kill me, then I won’t fight.”

Shane’s hands went into his own hair, slid down covering his face with frighteningly bone-white fingers as a sigh rushed out of him. “Ryan,” he groaned.

It was too hard to keep the outrage out of his tone, hurt and a little desperate. “Listen, you think I’d get a look at you like this and just leave you?!”

Shane made no move to answer.

“Even…” Ryan really didn’t like the new feeling in his chest, kind of like a tight vice in his throat. “Even if it’s not my blood you want, you gotta eat, right?”

That made Shane surface, the black of his stare only dimmed by his surprise. “Ryan, you’re a twit. Of course I want your--I mean, I’ve wanted your….all along I…”

Ryan stared at him. Shane stared back.

“Oof,” Shane said with the demeanor of an old man remarking on the temperature of his tea.

“No shit, Dracula. I’m offering my neck here!” Ryan snapped, flushed to his ears. “That is, if that’s how you--”

Shane wasn’t looking him in the eye. “No, no, it doesn’t matter. I can--the carotid artery is just quicker--any vein would do--I mean it’ll take a little longer to get enough but-- Ryan, I don’t want...it wouldn’t be fair.

“Well, I don’t want this to be a long process,” Ryan breezed past Shane’s stutters, ignoring the implication behind the word fair like Shane really thought Ryan would put a friend’s life in the barter system of simple boundaries. He could feel himself start to stress sweat; the room was sweltering now and his face was burning with it. “Whatever you gotta do to be...uh...good and you know, make it quick.”

Shane seemed to dart a glance at Ryan, not his face, but a terribly vicious guilty look at Ryan’s throat before he tore his gaze away. “I can’t. We shouldn’t be deliberating on this; it’s a bad idea. I...it was never supposed to be you...”

Ryan was fed up and a lot more angry because that had actually stung. “Well, you don’t have anyone else lining up at the door to save your life so….”

“I always told myself I’d never…” Shane looked delirious and so damn sad; it was killing Ryan, twisting his own stung ego with a tinge of anguish for him. He hadn’t felt like this for Shane before, not in any real way. “I’m--we’d have to be careful. Take measures to keep you safe--”

“Look we can sort out the details later, whatever dark contracts we need to draw up or pacts of secrecy; if I gotta meet with some sort of evil master lord of the damned guy--I’ll do it, just--”

He reached out. That immediately felt like a mistake because the moment his hand crossed some invisible boundary between them, Shane’s gaze fixed back on him, bold stare out of a sleep paralyzed state, Ryan swore when the cold touched his wrist. It might have been a sure touch if Shane hadn't been trembling, the surface of his practically translucent skin felt papery. It made Ryan uncomfortably aware of how bad Shane had let it get, how he should have asked sooner. If Shane had only just told him...

Shane’s weakness seemed to dissipate, a man finding life in the final grains of desperation; his palms flattened up Ryan’s back, crushed him in like a limp thing. Every muscle in Ryan seized up, startled at the shameless amount of skin Shane was touching; one hand curling around his arm, tugging him close as his nose buried right against Ryan’s collarbone, dredging upward as if he’d just opened Ryan up like the aroma seal on a brand new can of coffee and was soaking him in.

“Shane,” Ryan gasped, caught up awkwardly against him, fists in Shane’s shirt. “Woah, Big Guy…”

“Don’t fight, Ryan,” Shane breathed against his pulse, the first touch of heat. “Please, don’t fight. I can’t--”

“Right…” Ryan said, terrified because it was happening. His skin prickled to life just as he felt the touch of teeth, piercing and thick rake over a particularly tender part of his bared throat. Even though he’d started up a mantra in his head of ‘Don’t fight don’t fight!” his fear right deep in his veins hit immediate survival mode. As if knowing this, Shane’s long arms circled and cradled him and Ryan fell forward against the hard hollow surface of Shane’s chest, heard his leg knock something over and the crash of glass. Some distant lucid part of his brain knew it was the lamp, that he’d kicked it but it couldn’t matter because his heart was going to burst. Now over the initial panic, he kept himself firmly limp even when the shock set in, blistering pain delayed by a swoop of adrenaline in his veins and Shane’s mouth on his skin, forgetting the obvious weirdness of it, forgetting that they were only friends, forgetting that it was just Ryan. For sure that was it.

Maybe it was how he had had to grip Shane’s back but Ryan’s panic took on a new note, flush with the details of how not fighting any of it had made him--not like some dead victim-- but alive and almost complicit? He just hadn’t expected it to be like this. He thought it might be like some horrible procedure, how it looked in movies. Shane like an animal biting into him and listening to the horror sound of his throat convulsing as he sucked Ryan’s blood straight from an opened vein, but this was a whole other thing. Perhaps because Shane just kept moving, shifting his weight as if to get a better but gentle grasp on him, each time his mouth tightened, he seemed to want more of it.

It was dizzying because the pain was focused, wet but Ryan felt an awareness of his own body like he never had before. He was aware of his own hands balled into fists, consciously relaxing over Shane’s shoulders blades; he was aware of his chest hammering so hard that Shane must feel it, ramming in their ears because Shane was eating his heartbeat, syncing each swallow with the rhythm of Ryan’s veins. He was even more aware of how Shane moved on him, not some stiff board or creature simply there for violence; he was delicate with Ryan’s body, like a lover.

I’ve never been with another dude.

The thought draped delicately over the rest of it. A bland and considerably inappropriate notion as if this was the same. They were on Shane’s bed and there was so much touching. Ryan gritted his teeth, his nerves swimming because Shane’s hand loosened from a constricted hold on him just as he rolled them over, laid Ryan down under him, long frame of his body straddling and covering Ryan. His fingers were searching, kneading against the swelling veins of Ryan’s upper arm, to his shoulder to his Adam’s apple and with a confident, distracted gesture, tipped Ryan’s chin up, made Ryan stretch a little and it strung a series of very Uncomfortable spots of contact.

He snaked a hand up Ryan’s back, pulled him up close in a hot arch like he was angling him into a kiss and Ryan thought--in this private and holistically brand new moment with Shane to think, for these vulnerable seconds, to wonder if it would be like that. With them. Like an intrusive impression, he pictured the two of them alone in other moments like a strange reel of memories. Shane drawing close to him and Ryan stepping back with some strange instinct of fear. Not of Shane the monster; vampire; blood drinker or whatever this all meant he was, but fear that Shane might actually have some inkling of Ryan’s weird wordless curiosity he kept stepping on internally. Little secret what-ifs he’d gotten so good at shutting down.

Ryan heard the sound as it came out of his own mouth, a little mournful when Shane broke away, pressing quick fingers to the place where his lips had been to stop the flow of blood. He was reeling but he knew the sound he’d made was not appropriate for the situation. It didn’t need to put words to it for Ryan to know that unconsciously he’d just begged for Shane to do it again, which made it generally a bad moment for Shane to lean in, smelling of blood and heat and salt as he replaced the press of his fingers on the open wound on Ryan’s neck with his tongue, lapped a flat hot and-- oh--lick over the wound, numbing like a salve. A bad moment for Ryan because the once innocuous wistful noise bubbling up out of Ryan turned into a broken off groan.

“...fuck,” he hissed, turning the sound into something intelligible but it still sounded like That. Great. Perfect. He was flushed again, burning as Shane let him go and Ryan blinked up at him, gauging Shane’s new expression to see if he knew what had crossed Ryan’s mind just then.

Shane looked like Shane. Alive. A human being with a dazed look like he’d come up from a half-formed thought. His mouth was so red, deep and almost purple with Ryan’s blood but he looked vaguely excited. A man with a body alive with razors and purpose. Ryan had never seen him like that either and it distracted him from his own terror for wild seconds.

“It...worked?”

Shane’s red tongue swept along his bottom lip, pupils blown wide as he nodded with a shark’s smile. Ryan found himself for the first time actively stopping himself from reaching up and pulling Shane back down against him. There was no intent in it. Only want.

“Good,” he snapped; couldn’t help the sharp edge in his tone, aware of the swimming heat in his stomach and how his heart was still going. Shane didn’t show any sign of misgiving when Ryan pushed him off, simply withdrew politely. He felt instantly cold without the heat of Shane’s body, which was... Fuck.

The real mistake was when he tried to get to his feet. Like one moment he was looking at the wall opposite with his feet on the floor and the next it was Shane’s long, big arms all over him again, catching him as the ceiling swooped downwards.

“Side effect of the process, Ry; sorry,” Shane mumbled, spilling him into the bed. “Think of it like donating at a blood clinic. You gotta eat beforehand. Next time…” He stopped like he’d bit his own tongue and Ryan steadied himself against the headboard as he forced himself to sit up.

“Great,” he replied, keeping his tone clipped. “Great, then if this is your idea of a blood bank, you owe me a donut. Or Chipotle. I want a burrito bowl.”

Shane stood at attention, as if relieved to be given orders. Something to do beside tiptoe around Ryan with a new guilty look on his face that Ryan hated so much more than the weird twist of guilt he was feeling himself .

“Yeah, I can do that. I’ll get you whatever food you want--you just rest it off--thank you, Ryan. I mean it…”

Ryan had to stare at the wall behind Shane as he said it. “Don’t worry about it. It’s what friends do.”

 

 

 

“So no dark master overlord; no queen of the damned?” Ryan pressed. He’d got half a bowl of chicken and rice down and the weak sickness in his limbs was mostly gone. He still felt a little frail and irritable and definitely cold but he was sitting up on Shane’s sofa, and Shane was sitting not far off, looking so normal that it was hard to think that only moments before Ryan had had him curled around him in a viciously possessive hold on the bed.

Shane’s laugh, soft though it was, helped to alleviate that. “I don’t even know where you’re getting that there’d be some type of monarchy.”

Ryan chewed thoughtfully. “Everyone’s got government,” he stated. “Even ants. So we talkin’ President Nosferatu or Governor Dracula or…Prime Minister The One Dude From True Blood?”

Shane folded a leg over the other and leaned back in the sofa as he laughed even harder. “...even ants,” he echoed philosophically. “No, vampires don’t even have democracy. We’re just...there’s very few of us and we...don't keep in touch.”

“So you’re alone.” He didn’t mean for it to come out quite like that, like he was checking for something. An unwarranted possessive thought crossed his mind and made him a little bitter. It wasn’t fair though. He’d known Shane for close to five years now and this was all just like learning a close friend had been secretly practicing some sort of religion which, in and of itself, was more likely than this.

“Completely,” was Shane's unruffled reply. “No one else is gonna come ‘round looking for what you’re offering.”

Ryan didn’t like to think that letting Shane feed on him had opened him up to a whole new avenue of jokes that’d make him say, “Shut up, Shane,” like it was all just perfectly normal, all just so like them.

 

 

 

Shane came back to work, seemed unbothered by the L.A. sunshine which, you know, made sense considering. Ryan caught himself taking mental notes of Shane’s nature as if this were research. Little details like the way he’d eat-- Shane was a messy eater-- or how much Shane seemed to like hats, wore sunscreen, didn’t seem to have any viable weaknesses which Ryan totally wasn’t looking for but…

Work, lunch, jokes, research, more work, and home. Two days after Shane drinking his blood and Ryan was back into a rhythm with him.

There were things though. Things he was starting to notice more than Shane’s habits and whether they were vampire habits or exclusively Shane things. The fact that when Shane looked right at him, right into his eyes, Ryan got a little lost. He’d catch himself reaching up to the spot where Shane’s teeth had gouged into him, feeling along impossibly healed grooves of a wound, feeling a paralyzing carnal heat pool in the pit of his stomach. Worst of all, the feeling he got when Shane wasn’t there, just a nagging feeling like a small tug in Ryan’s ribcage, made Ryan’s hands wander over the casing of his phone, on the verge of a sudden phone call, an overextended and hyped, “Where are you?” when he knew perfectly well where Shane would be.

“Religious iconography,” Shane stated.

“Huh?” Ryan hadn’t realised it was long past quitting hour. They had so much to catch up on. The true crime premiere had been pushed back by too many weeks already.

Shane didn’t have anything he needed to do but he’d stayed behind with Ryan without question, sat there wordlessly until just moments ago, fixing a bright-eyed computer-lit gaze on Ryan across the short stretch between their workspaces. “In case you ever need to stop me.” He tossed that at Ryan like it was something you could really just say to someone.

Ryan swiveled his chair, folded his arms. “Why would I ever need to stop you?”

Shane’s smile was grim; the sort Ryan hated. A stubborn laying of facts and no discussion to be had. “Just. I don’t presume anything since you first offered. You’re not--your bl--what you’re letting me take is not mine but if I ever-- I’m telling you I wouldn’t intentionally just take…”

“Shane...” Ryan began. Of course. Of course it was just the one time but Ryan wondered what he meant to do going forward. When he would ask him again.

“Ryan, I’m telling you for both of our sake. If something happened, you wouldn’t be able to fight me, I could kill you. Find something you can use in an emergency. A crucifix, star of David, an ankh--anything. Keep one close because if I come for you and you don’t want it, you’ll be dead.”

Ryan’s mouth was dry. “Would it burn you or...what are we talking about me doing here?”

Shane frowned. “It’s all superstition, Ryan. I’m not gonna hiss and cower if you wave any of that around at me. You'll have to draw blood or it does nothing…”

“So...a regular knife wouldn’t do the same thing?” Ryan asked slowly. He could feel tension around Shane go stark but he didn’t understand any of this.

“It’s not...a knife will work too of course. I’m just--I’ve been told a lot of stories and a lot of them are just stories but I want to be safe about this.”

Ryan felt a prickle of sharp fear jumpstart his heart. “That doesn’t give me much choice.” The voice had been taken completely from his words; it was a whisper.

Shane didn’t demure. He was serious. “You’ll always have a choice; it’s why I’m telling you this. I can go as long as possible without it. I can usually deal with the thirst more than a month but it’s just been a little more difficult lately.”

Ryan hadn’t blinked in a while and he was conscious of it, of the way he felt light headed, staring back at the depth in Shane’s stare. What was he doing to him? What was it vampires did again? Some kind of hypnosis. “Do you…? Shane, do you need blood?”

The sound of the wheels on Shane’s chair thrummed a firm line in Ryan’s mind, something he’d remember vividly about those seconds as Shane drew closer to him, long arm reaching out, resting on the armrest of Ryan’s chair, encasing him between his knees, just brushing. “Now that you've come along. Always,” he intoned like a button press of warmth; a little bit teasing and a little bit rueful.

Ryan didn't even know what to make of that. He wrinkled his nose. “I guess it's like having your own water cooler, hey? Right by your desk?”

Shane grinned, brows turned up the way he did when Ryan said or did something perplexing. His hard delicate mouth looked so harmless screwed up crookedly like that; he might never have guessed there were teeth that could tear right into his skin in there. “Didn’t think I was being obvious. So whatcha got on your menu, man?”

Ryan quirked a brow, couldn’t help his laugh. “I just picture you pulling up in a drive-thru at McDonald’s saying the same thing...”

Shane was already leaning in and despite the fact that he was well aware they were sitting in the open bullpen where anyone from an upper floor could look down at the sight they made, Ryan felt his skin suddenly brim with a relief like he’d been craving just that the whole day. Shane was laughing, though, muffled and caustic. Ryan noted the whites of his knuckles and the creak of his chair’s armrest, cracking under the pressure of Shane’s grip. Ryan shuddered, feeling an even deeper cold come over him.

Shane shifted back, away. Silent smile, thinking in his own private realm. He didn’t bring it up again.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Ryan didn't think of Shane possibly needing his blood again for over a week until he overheard Devon’s remark, “You getting sick again, Shane?”

Just the image of Shane from a week ago looking like a corpse staring out at him in the dark of his bedroom made Ryan panic. He accosted Shane going down the hall to the warehouses.

“I booked a recording booth. Let’s go.”

He held him by his elbow, practically dragged him along with him until he was shutting the door of the small enclosure behind him. Shane stood with a question in his eyes, too patient for Ryan’s liking.

“We can’t keep waiting until you look like death before we do this. Someone’s going to notice something. No more secrets, all right? You have to tell me.”

Shane’s smile was helpless. Ryan had a stark collection of Shane smiles he liked and this was absolutely one of them. He’d probably noticed Ryan’s use of the word ‘we’. Of course it was like that; this was a secret he’d shared and friends were always in it together, right?

Ryan had to train his face straight as he gestured expansively. “Well, go ahead. I don’t know how you wanna--”

It was like hesitation died the moment the first phrase left Ryan’s mouth. Shane crossed the miniature space between them, gathered him up with fingers thrust in his hair and all Ryan could think was ‘Oh no!” because that was really good. He felt his back hit the door and then Shane’s soft broken murmur of “Thank you, thank you...oh please,” which was also just not OK.

Ryan was much more prepared for the sink of his body into Shane’s this time round. He almost, if anything, savoured it. Shane was distracted enough, lips closing over the original wound, tearing with a gentle, slow bite and a terrible happy sigh. Ryan held him, gripped up Shane’s back like he was just hanging on--that was all. He got to take in things of note, even while the shaky webs of adrenaline wound up his muscles and made him short of breath. Shane clutched him tighter, took a sharp gasp of air as if he were drowning before gulping a hot swallow of him. Ryan felt it, felt a lot of strength locked away in the hard muscle and sinew of Shane’s body, and it was odd how much Ryan enjoyed feeling it – how much he enjoyed this simple touch.

Or maybe it wasn’t so odd, considering. He'd wanted – he wanted to touch Shane, and he could, now. More than that: Now, he was supposed to. Why had he never properly hugged Shane before this? It felt like freedom... felt like waking up. He felt once again like he’d been groggy for days and was only now awake– an electric prickle of relief, awareness, anticipation coursing through him.

Maybe generosity made him do it, perhaps something more selfish but he braced himself against Shane and flexed a little, as if he could somehow add a thrust to the flow of his blood. He felt silly for doing it but then Shane made a sound like halfway between a voiceless groan and a whimper. Ryan's mouth dried and his gut tightened, and he caught himself once again plunging deeper into the rabbit hole thinking how he'd brought that sound out of Shane, then wondering what Shane would sound like if Ryan touched him, and where Ryan would put his hands first.

This is so... fucked, thought Ryan.

It couldn’t end soon enough. Shane’s teeth withdrew, the pain sizzled in his nerves but Ryan bit his own lips until it hurt, closed off his breath so the ache in his chest and his thighs, his whole damn body wouldn’t make him whine like last time. Shane’s tongue lapped over his skin, felt like he licked a bit longer than last time, further down than the edge of the wound and Ryan’s fingers curled before he pushed Shane away.

This was a new kind of agony. He was distressed and dizzy, breathing hard like he couldn’t stop and Shane was the same, except for a stark droplet of red just then spilling over his lower lip, staining his chin.

Ryan felt like he was suffocating. And hot. Definitely that. So he did the only thing he could think of that wouldn’t result in terminal humiliation. He said, “You good?,” and when Shane nodded faintly, he turned for the door, slipped out and kept walking until he was safely at his desk again, staring blankly at his computer desktop.

He had to get his shit together or things were going to get awkward really quickly. Solutions weren’t coming to him quick enough. If he told Shane what this was making him feel, Shane would say they weren’t doing it anymore and Ryan was not...prepared to unpack how he felt about the way that made his heart sink.

 

 

 

So the dreams started that very night.

With what little sleep he had, Ryan caught himself in something half lucid. The feeling was back again, burning ice right down his middle like a bright and tangy thirst, and he was aware of the pressure of Shane’s fingers on his thighs, the brush of stubble on Shane’s chin grazing up his chest. He heard Shane’s broken off, hungry pleas against his lips. Then salt water, cold and coppery--Ryan was floating in it as Shane started to move, heavy and rough against him.

Ryan’s dream burst with full living colour. Shane’s brown hair wound in Ryan’s fingers, the scent of him.

Do you want it? He asked Ryan, fangs long, dripping and wet with clear venom.

Ryan had a blade ready in the white and grey smoke of his dream, pressed cold to his palm. “Give it to me,” he gasped, cutting a distressing line across Shane’s throat. It was deep, dangerous and Ryan was aware of it trailing down his palms, touching his bare stomach as he curled up and Shane’s brown eyes fixed on him. A hard stare when Ryan put his mouth to the gaping wound, bloody arms imprinting on Shane’s naked skin.

Ryan would wake up from those dreams, he’d catch himself checking for open wounds on clear skin but the smell of blood was still on him, in his bedclothes and hair.

He’d sit up and swallow a thick phantom taste of ocean water, feeling the nausea climb him

 

 

 

 

 

The following day, Ryan sat down at his desk and Shane slid a fruit and yogurt parfait at him.

Ryan blinked down at it, taking a long moment to connect the dots. “This is…?”

Shane was already tapping away at his own keyboard, eyes fixed to his screen. “You need more vitamins. I’ve got half a mind to buy you those gummies.”

Ryan popped the cap and dug the spoon in, swirling the granola into the fruit compote a bit messily. “I can get my own vitamins,” he replied gruffly.

“You’ve got plenty of iron but your potassium levels are crap, Ryan. You gotta eat better.”

“Oh my god,” Ryan breathed as the annoyance bubbled up in him. “I’m doing you a big favour here and you somehow manage to be even more annoying about it than before. Whatever happened to thank you?”

Shane’s fingers on his keys stopped. No pretense at distraction. His look bore a hole in the top of Ryan’s bent head as he quickly became interested in the yogurt and granola.

“Name your price. Keeping you alive is the least I could do.”

Ryan didn’t like that; couldn’t work out why. “Never mind. I was. I’m kidding; this is fine. The food’s fine.”

 

 

 

 

 

That evening Shane showed up at his door with a quiet and friendly, “Is now a good time?” like he was soliciting to see if Ryan had time to talk about their new Lord and Saviour Blood Demon Madej with all the demeanor of a vacuum salesman.

When Ryan let him in and shut the door, Shane’s smile changed, dropped like an anvil. “It’s getting harder to wait even a day, I---” he began, leaning into Ryan’s space like he was magnetized and Ryan felt his heart climb the walls of his chest. “Tell me no if you--” A crueler, lower tone in Shane’s chest seemed to slice across his words, interrupting the gentle pressure of his whisper.

The traffic outside hummed on and Shane’s hands came up, suddenly, fingers curling around the back of Ryan’s neck, thumbs on either side of his jaw. Ryan blinked up at him, aware that if Shane had meant to choke him, he could. Shane stared down at him, panic in the swell of his irises. He seemed surprised at himself, his fingers curled on Ryan’s nape, trembling. “I...I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to attack you. That was…”

He didn’t drop his hold though.

“It’s all r--” Ryan started to say but Shane shut his eyes, crushed them shut, pain and restraint as if Ryan had hit him.

Please don't say it’s all right,” he hissed. “If you even knew-- I nearly followed you home…”

There was a bitten shame in his words and Ryan could hear the hurt and it made him feel only this really awful sympathy.

“Damn,” was all Ryan could think to say. “I must be like a little walking chicken drumstick to you, huh?”

Shane’s low laugh came with a shudder and a heavy swallow. He hadn't blinked since he'd entered Ryan's apartment. He kept his palms, cool and soft right against Ryan’s throat, holding him still because when Ryan moved to lift his head a bit, Shane’s fingers on his jaw held deeper. “God, I'm so sorry…”

“Hey…” Ryan tested, his own voice coming out dry and rough. “If you’re thirsty, you’re thirsty, man. It’s OK.”

Shane laughed again; a wash of his breath so close Ryan tasted it. “You...are a really good friend, you know?”

Ryan didn’t answer because Shane practically jerked him forward, bent into him and gasped a really startling breath up against his throat. A sound like he’d come to some sort of surprise relief. Ryan was trembling already, hot all over and he felt an ache in his fingers, only then realising he’d had his fists clenched at his sides.

It was when Shane’s whole long frame went taut that Ryan grabbed a hold on Shane’s shirt and let himself lean into the soaked scent of Shane’s hair, buried his cheek into it as Shane’s teeth broke open his skin again. He let himself be in the vibrant seconds between them, the need and the needed.

It was then that Shane lifted him, with an easy strength Ryan didn’t know he had. He practically shoved Ryan up and against the wall like he could really carry all his weight easily and Ryan didn’t move as he felt the world sweep out under him. Shane made the softest most weary sound, mouth open on Ryan and Ryan couldn’t get it out of his mind; the rationalizations. It had to be that Shane must have been so distracted by the blood; he was just no longer even embarrassed at the sounds coming from his mouth, sucking and pulling at Ryan like he could somehow draw it out of him. He must be so unaware because Ryan was so hot, searing hot and marveling at Shane being so oblivious of what he was doing to him. Ryan was breathing hard, felt the flush all over his body. It was just survival. Sustenance. Life. Literally a blood drive.

Ryan’s jaw hurt from clenching it as he smoothed a hand over the base of Shane's throat, right underneath his shirt collar. Shane's pulse beat strong and fast against Ryan's palm, and he inclined his head at the touch. Ryan couldn’t quite stop it this time. He was hard. Shane was burning him, solid and pliant against Ryan's front, heavy breathing silence humming around them like Ryan’s heartbeat. Firm muscles moved beneath Ryan's touch as he dragged his palms down Shane’s sharp, long shoulder blades. Sensation thrilled through him sharp and sweet; he couldn’t hear himself anymore with the drowning mess in his ears and Shane growling low, but he knew he was making some kind of hopeful, broken moan.

Shane was done. Had licked the wound closed moments ago. Ryan slid down the wall and pulled back. Doing that felt like leaving some vital part of himself behind, his entire body screamed in protest. He braced his hands behind him like gripping the wall was keeping him from reaching out again just to do whatever terrible things his hands wanted to do. Shane’s arms fell away from him with a delay that probably wasn't as long as Ryan imagined, and the look in Shane's eyes probably wasn't the same kind of reluctance that Ryan was feeling.

That was a problem.

Shane didn’t seem to have noticed, nor did he seem to be worried about what any of it meant, that Ryan almost dry-humped him out of some crazed moment of intimacy. Shane stepped away with this reprehensibly satisfied look about him, blissed out and chest heaving, thrumming with new life. His tongue darted out distractedly, catching a smear of deep dark red on the corner of his mouth.

“I’m gonna...I need to--” Ryan mumbled.

He practically stumbled out of his own entryway because he couldn’t stand to be around when Shane was looking like that. Tousled from Ryan literally grabbing his hair, flushed with Ryan’s blood, all dazed and vulnerable because he was so visibly drunk on him. It wouldn’t be fair. Shane’s thirst wasn’t the same as...

It just wouldn’t be fair.

A shower was always a good excuse to leave a room in your own apartment. It was at least half an hour of ice cold water beating down his head and back before Ryan, drying his hair in a towel, approached Shane lounging in front of his TV, poised to leave if Ryan asked him.

“How often was it with the last human you did this with?”

Shane’s head lolled back on the couch, a curious sort of mark in his narrow gaze when he looked at Ryan. “There wasn’t a last human. You’re the first.”

Ryan felt an immediate twist in his gut because instead of doing the mental mathematics over a distant and abstract death toll he meant to demand--an astringent query of ‘how many had to die before we made this arrangement’--when he started speaking, he just stood there, cold water dripping from his hair, feeling gratified.

Shane kept looking at him, reading whatever he saw on Ryan’s expression. “If it’s too often for you, we’ll work something out. I’m...not used to having…”

Ryan grimaced comically. “Food you can talk to?” He swallowed any further jokes swirling around his head about Shane and his liking for food that could talk. The last thing he wanted to talk about was the hot daga.

Shane broke into a tentative grin, amused and oddly warm. “Yeah, I mean, it’s not--it’s not just like, you know…”

“So how does it work anyway?” Ryan cut across him, also not really into hearing Shane lie about what it meant to have someone easy to feed on. “...becoming a vampire?”

Shane’s gaze drew to the television like it had just said something vastly more interesting. “It doesn’t. You’re born into it. The stories always try to bend the truth to make us seem more like the rest of the world.”

Ryan sat for that one, just dropped into the sofa like he’d been pushed. “So nothing happens if a human drinks your blood?”

Shane's expression went carefully blank. “Why would a human even do that?” He mumbled which wasn't an answer.

“So you were never turned or...I don’t know. Are we talking Wesley Snipes in Blade?”

“You’ve been watching a lot of vampire stuff, huh?”

That struck a little sour with Ryan and an even bigger burgeoning hurt was bubbling its way up top. “We both have; we’ve talked about it long before all this but you never....” The voices on TV murmured a strange contrast to the accusation in his tone. “Were you just never going to tell me?”

Shane folded his long arms tightly, and Ryan was grateful that he kept his gaze trained on the screen because it felt a little too much like they were about to have a fight and eye contact seemed like the thing that might make it real. “It wouldn’t have made a difference, Ryan.”

That had to be the most startling, most frustrating reply. Ryan glared at the television screen. Felt a really bitter distaste for the smiling people on screen performing intimacy for a perfume commercial in black and white. “Look, If you’re afraid I’m gonna judge you…”

“Why shouldn’t you?” Shane’s tone was even, still low and calm like he was delivering a eulogy, gentle as always but he had apparently decided not to look at Ryan ever again. “When your main source of sustenance demands death, there’s no escaping what that makes you, and god...god I wish I could live with the detachment of the modern day omnivore.”

“What do you mean?” Ryan asked, his voice practically muted. He felt a strange sense of a delicate balance while Shane was speaking, as if anything could teeter it off and Shane would clam up again, stoppering any real flow of the truth.

Shane paused, a terrible, unreadable silence before he pressed on. “I mean that if I could have companies deliver nameless, faceless plastic-packaged blood preserved in the state I can drink to a store I can just walk into, use a card to pay for it, I’d be all over that. At least then I could keep pretending I’m not some parasitic...dependent subspecies.”

“Is that why you gave up?” Ryan burst out, incredulous. “You realise you were going to die, right? You would have just been dead and I wouldn’t have ever known why-- you should have told me--”

Shane’s stare at the TV hardened, frustrated. “What could I have told you? Look, those vampire movies we watch… the monsters filled with elation, purpose and the titular god complex, talking of human inventions like good and evil; the ones we watch with angst and long monologues of guilt and despair, none of that’s real! What could I have told you when I can’t read minds, when I’d been telling myself I was choosing the people who deserved it and I had no way of knowing. I lied to myself all the time! What difference would it have made to lie to you too? To tell you I could take little drinks from strangers, that I… that I didn’t hear bones break when they fought back; when I’d leave them like they were asleep; just not checking for a pulse or… or…”

Shane’s words seemed to stopper up and his silence dropped like a thud in between them. Ryan swallowed. Five years he’d had to get to know Shane and might never have known that his best friend was suffering. It pained him. A lot. That Shane couldn’t trust him when they’d taken an oath to work together as long as they could, that Ryan had always figured that for the rest of his life, Shane’s presence wasn’t up for question. If Shane had just given up without a word to him, where did that put Ryan in the grand scheme of things?

Ryan shoved the thought out, smoking like a charred bridge between them. For all of the secrecy and the twisted truths, Ryan did know him. He knew Shane as a performer; a palatably outspoken nihilist. For him, life was a long comedy of curiosities and for all his safeguards and mystery, he was funny, and he understood people and their odd behaviorisms in a way that had always charmed Ryan. Ryan had seen that he cared as passionately about the same things he did. He hadn’t been acting or fooling Ryan all this time because he was still the same guy, and he was hurting from choices he’d made that he was actually opening his mouth to tell Ryan. How could he sit there and alienate Shane when it was becoming clearer with every part of Shane’s slow and pained confession that maybe Ryan was all he had?

“That doesn’t change anything for me, though?” Ryan finally stated, and Shane darted a glance at him, sharp and incredulous. “It can’t be… easy to tell me this stuff. I’m not about to discount everything else we’ve been through just because you couldn’t tell me what you were going through.”

“I wanted--want to tell you everything but it’s a lot.” Shane’s frown deepened somehow; he seemed drawn up in himself, arms crossed so tight as if he were trying to physically stop the confessions spilling out of him. “I’ve been alive and alone for one hundred and twenty-two years--give-or-take-- and eighty-six of those years I spent buried under the eastern coast of this continent,” he stated flatly.

“Under the...like… like underwater?”

Shane’s nod was imperceptible. If he hadn’t kept right on speaking, Ryan would have assumed he didn’t want to talk anymore. His lips barely moved as he went on. “It was easier to eat when I was a kid, easy not to think about humanity when there was just curiosity and docile prey brought to you...now, out of the water, I’m awake, now there’s the internet, Twitter...movies, processed food, and there’s you...”

Shane’s soft eyes glanced carefully at Ryan on those words, a ginger and apologetic sort of look as if whatever the hell it meant that Ryan was part of his new take on the world, he was sorry about it. It occurred to Ryan how frustrating it was that Shane was explaining away a vampiric childhood and the most perplexing aspect of it all had been that last statement. Well, that, and...

“OK but why were you underwater though?”

Shane smiled wryly, his whole frame at the other end of the couch going stiff and he looked a little grasshopper-like when his spine bent and he leaned a little ways forward like he had a pain in his middle but he remained in that state, arms still folded tight to his chest. “I was one of eight born that year. I lived and ate like all the others. I made no special choices. I was just a vampire boy; it was only food. It was only food for eighteen years but then I watched my first film in a theatre during a hunt; a moving picture with comedians loping around, bein’ happy, goofy and fun. Something about that captured a sense of who humans are, making funny things, people laughing, being entertained to be watched again and again. They were making themselves immortal.”

Ryan could practically see it. Something in Shane’s glassy stare at the wavering colour frame of his TV screen looked alive, reflecting that young boy sitting in the scintillating stress of his mouth when he looked unhappy or the way his eyebrows sloped upward in speechless amusement when Ryan said something to make him laugh.

“So... what happened?” he whispered like he was there in that theatre maybe, watching a young blood drinker stumble over a new profound truth.

Shane looked at Ryan, searching quickly with his eyes for something on Ryan’s face and it made Ryan seize up a little. He stopped breathing. “I couldn’t eat them. I couldn’t take lives, not when they were being preserved like that, in moments of life in a simple, plasticky thread for others to see. Humanity was immortalizing itself in movies and it made me feel like I had no evolutionary purpose, no reason to do what was supposed to be natural. I felt my own parasitic nature; that whatever evolutionary mutation caused us, we had to be like the bad strain of bacteria. That’s when I made a fundamental mistake.”

“What?”

“I told my papa about it,” Shane replied with a still wry laughing smile. “Well, I say ‘papa’ like we played catch. He was a patriarch of some kind, the only equivalent I can think of that might represent the idea of a father figure. I should have known better with all their superstitions and hangups about our being the creator’s perfect quelling tool. He and many of those older than me reacted pretty badly to my new little idea. Like with anything that calls itself ancient and all-knowing, new ideas are dangerous ideas. One thing for sure was they didn’t want me telling the others, and well, you know me… ”

Ryan was rapt and horrified. “They didn’t… did they…?”

“Good guess. They wanted me isolated and they said if I didn’t smarten up, they’d put me in a box in the middle of the ocean, only bringing me out to feed on some victim they’d selected for me.”

“Fuck…”

“One more guess how that ended.”

“Jesus Christ…” Ryan mumbled. “Oh my god, Shane.”

Shane’s rigid, on-the-verge-of-leaving posture appeared to unfold. arms coming uncrossed as he exhaled a slow meandering breath. He was smiling properly now, warm with something new. “Yeah but I got out,” he continued softly, coaxing and calming touch of irony. “It may have taken nearly a millennium, but I did it. Obviously.”

Ryan, still a little shaken, couldn’t stop himself echoing the tone. Oddly warmed to the familiarity of Shane smiling again. “Obviously.” He felt as if they’d repaired something that had broken between them since the first moment Ryan had confronted him in his bedroom what seemed forever ago.

“Crawled up from the coast in Jersey-Ocean City, traveled inland so I wouldn’t have to see the ocean for many years. I didn’t lie when I told you how I lived in Schaumburg quietly for twenty or so years, but of course, it would always be the stories, the heroes and comedians, and film for me.” He paused, then as a sudden afterthought added, “I never lied about ghosts either.”

Ryan tossed his towel at Shane who caught it, looking affronted and innocent. “And now here you are come out of Davy Jones’ just to torment me. What would a vampire know if there’s ghosts?” Then, speculatively. “I bet you paid those old wrinkly dumb suckers back double what they did.”

“Hm,” said Shane which wasn’t anything but he was still smiling at least.

Ryan’s chest was burning with a deep well. The “I hate that that happened,” or the “Where can I find these assholes,” already felt silly and childish in his brain. He wouldn’t voice this very petulant, possessive desire to shield the careful and studied way Shane didn’t look hurt about any of it. He didn’t voice any of that, couldn't gather the right words but he hoped Shane could feel it in his tone.

“Seriously though. Fuck those guys,” he swore with venom.

“Yeah,” Shane agreed.

There was no fight in them now or accusations Ryan wanted to make. Ryan only wanted to mull it all over. Shane’s history and the notions of Shane’s identity, now drenched in an image of a decades long ocean torture and this current Shane so terribly alone. Willing to keep and make secrets to go on like this, and now speaking his truth to Ryan, perhaps the first and only soul to hear a story so casually told and bleeding a whole lot of bitterness.

“I hope you don’t…” Ryan began again. “... still feel like a parasite or a thief. To me, you’re anything but--”

“Ryan--” The word murder sank between the drifts of dust in the air and Ryan knew what Shane’s exasperation meant.

“No, I know, I know. I haven’t really seen or you haven’t told me everything but you’re doing your best. You were just a kid! The life you’re living now, that’s gotta count for something, right?”

Shane ran a hand through his dark brush of hair, innocent eyes drawing away from Ryan like he’d been singed. “You should pay attention to your health, Ryan,” he said, out of left field, like they’d been talking about it. Ryan blinked, startled out of this surprising moment of clarity between them. He nodded.

 

 

 

 

 

The question of his health was much more keen on his mind especially now that he and Shane were becoming ‘physically comfortable’.

A month had gone by and while each time wasn’t getting any easier, attraction and blistering need ground itself out of every moment Shane was pushing against him, Ryan was getting into it like routine. Shane had begun showing up every day. Same dumb expression of entreaty, a weirdly hilarious but inappropriate joke a la Oliver Twist’s “Please, sir, can I have s’more?”. Ryan might have found it funnier if he weren’t so damn hungry for it himself.

The issue wasn’t even that Ryan was feeling any sort of fatigue. The swooping nausea from the first time hadn’t come back. He felt rife with energy actually, waking up and making the choice to jog to the gym. He didn’t even do his customary drive around the parking lot to get the space closest to the office so he wouldn’t have to make a trek beyond thirty seconds. He felt good.

“Could just be your diet,” Shane told him when he asked. “I don’t think you’ve touched fast food in over two weeks.”

“Yeah…” Ryan said doubtfully. He felt lean like a predator and stronger too. “Any chance you might have passed something to me when you…”

Shane looked at him side-long, unsmiling. “What, like an infection?”

Ryan coloured, and promptly wanted to die. Shane laughed at him, eyebrows crinkled.

“No, you’re literally just eating better; don’t overthink it.”

“I guess...”

Clearly Shane wasn’t telling Ryan something, but then again Ryan wasn’t telling him everything either. The idea of telling your best friend that his vampire deal was giving you the hots for him aside, Ryan really didn’t know how to approach telling Shane about the nightmares.

The fact was Ryan had begun dreaming of the sounds of the ocean licking up along the outside of the metal container surrounding him on all sides and the panic he felt at being so absolutely alone in that floating dark forced him awake. He’d shoot up out of bed and race for the bathroom, crouched over the toilet, trembling with dry heaves and coughing up the taste of seawater.

After the first nightmare, he’d steadied himself at his sink when he was done, feeling a cold icy thirst and an even deeper despair that he’d only dreamt a millisecond of what Shane had been through for decades and even that had been terrible enough to make him sick.

It was their busiest time of year, Shane would pop by sometimes so early in the morning that Ryan was barely awake when he’d realise he and Shane were tangled together by the wall to his kitchen. Then it’d be over, Shane murmuring his sardonic and slightly affectionate thanks before he was gone, leaving Ryan alone, a half-asleep arousal kick-starting his day in a really weird way. There were no words he could say to Shane to explain that.

It wasn’t as if Shane were offering ample opportunity to talk about much of it anymore. Ryan kept wanting to break open the layers of the subject, to let Shane know he was trying to understand and didn’t want to make it seem like he was simply dismissing the seriousness of it. That once upon a time Shane was what Ryan might have considered a killer, that he’d lain silently under the ocean through the past century, that he’d emerged like a horror figure from his prison and simply resumed life. The disconnect between who Ryan saw every day, the guy with a slow smile and long-eyed stares and an ancient and abused creature crawling out of the sea to eventually come sit beside him at Buzzfeed was boggling his mind a bit. However, the truth was, even despite that, Ryan felt closer to him than he ever had which was complicating the issue even more.

Unfortunately, all of that had to be put on hold when March rolled around. Shane had to go on location for a challenge video with Aria. It was a three-night trip to San Francisco with all the promise of a little bit of promo for their season premiere and some screen time for Shane. Whatever it meant to be a blood drinker for Shane, work was work.

“I’ve gone a month dry before,” Shane told him the night before he left, reassuring as if Ryan had even asked, which he hadn’t. “It’s not fun but…”

He stopped talking. Ryan didn’t offer a reply. They were both thinking it. This had never been sustainable, not realistically but solutions weren’t sitting around like Ryan had been.

Things were fine when Shane was gone. At first. It literally felt like any other day except for the empty workspace beside him. This wasn’t new though either. Ryan had taken the entire month of December off last year and separation with them wasn’t this foreign thing. Ryan kept busy with side projects, articles he’d been putting off and locking himself in the editing room with Katie and a few others for any last minute post work. Then it was five in the evening and he picked up his bag, walked out to the parkade, sat in his car, and-- well-- he picked up his phone to call Shane.

It was meant to be an incongruous thing. Just a quick hello, maybe some quip about Alcatraz but the ringer droned on. And on. And on.

Then it cut.

Ryan frowned at his now blank screen before trying again. It was late; if they were filming, Aria’s instastories would have been inactive. The ringer hummed for a pregnant long pause before it cut.

This wasn’t panic exactly. It wasn’t. Not yet. He would just send him a text. An easygoing. “Working hard?” Where are you? “See any cool shit?” When will you be back?

He didn’t sleep that night. He knew what dream was waiting for him and he couldn’t stomach it, not without knowing for sure what Shane thought he was doing giving him this much of a stretch of a silence. Ryan hated silences like that because it meant his own dumb brain was gonna fill it with random anxieties.

He knew it for what it was but at five-thirty a.m. it didn’t stop him driving over to Shane’s out of some blistering need to feel something familiar nearby. It made his wild wonderings and apprehensions seem faint when he stood at his doorway.

Unlocked. Of course. Ryan was beside himself. He should have just taken a pill and gone to sleep.

It wasn’t quite until he stepped past the threshold of Shane’s door that Ryan realised how very much of his own self that he carried around with him; how nothing usually just remained in his own home. In that capacity, Shane was very human. A human’s afterimage had a tendency to haunt their things but Ryan too often felt empty and a little like an intruder, looking at his own home piece. Like a set, the kitchen was still, colours chosen by strangers, appliances clean and quiet.

Shane’s place made Ryan’s heart hurt. The smell of his jackets, the sight of a rag thrown over the edge of his kitchen counter was somehow the most like a fingerprint. The impressions on the sofa looked unprotected and Ryan backed right out of the room, actively fighting the desire to sit there and just feel old presences, Shane leaning close and sure, hungry.

Ryan felt an open ravine when he looked at the door to the bedroom. How had Shane just come along into this mundane world full of simple things he liked so much, what was he really in this structure he was calling a life, and where did Ryan factor in?

“...and there’s you...” Shane had said, as if Ryan was some titan in this messy world of creatures he’d never met. When a being like Shane could break the deepest boundaries of a predatory nature to consider himself a parasite, how could Ryan really matter except that he’d forced his way in, asking Shane to lean on him, and Shane had done it.

Because he had no one else of course.

Ryan didn’t feel normal again until he was out of the apartment, sitting back in his car. He pulled out his phone and tapped out the words. “I’ve been thinking a lot about you being buried underwater....and I know it doesn’t compare, but without you here, it’s like...” He looked at the cursor blinking a rhythm of urgency at him to finish the thought. Instead he held his thumb down on the delete button, watching the letters vanish word for word.

You couldn’t just say something like that. Shane had said, “...and there’s you...” and it had messed him up so bad.

He drove home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was how he woke up the next morning-- perhaps only just an hour after fighting a slow bullet of ache gliding up his limbs the rest of those coiled grey hours of that morning-- he lifted his head off his pillow to search for his phone, hoping to see a text or even a missed call.

Nothing. The time was six-thirty. Still too early for work.

He dropped his head back on his pillow, sighed. He wasn’t so much groggy as weighted down, felt like his bones were magnetized to his mattress. He chalked it up to a bad sleep--something he hadn’t had in over a month and practically had to roll himself from under his covers, flinching at the stunning morning cold.

He barely made it to the gym that day, feeling an old reluctance that hadn’t paralyzed him since he first began his regimen years and years ago. Maybe it was the cold.

“Can’t wait for Spring,” he huffed from the floor at his trainer when he couldn’t hold steady for his second set of reps. “This cold is kicking my ass.”

“It’s already seventy out, buddy,” Graham offered, gesturing for him to keep at it.

Ryan bent like a noodle, out of breath too quick and feeling grumpier about it by the second but Graham was paid to push him and Ryan limped out of the gym that morning knowing that everything physical was matching his mental unease.

Work was so much worse. He’d had an easy routine to get into his creative headspaces, locking himself in a quiet work room with a playlist and all his tabs open was practically formulaic at this point. On that day though, looking at things about ghosts, about the preternatural and magical denizens of this world--once cloaked in mystique-- were now swimming in barely-there-facts meandering around Ryan’s new perception of Shane. Were ghosts even real? it was colourless.

Or maybe it was that these other questions were digging deep roots in his psyche, making him wonder about Shane lying to him again.

What if he got hungry? Like, too hungry? Would he give in and go to someone else?

And there it was again. Tight and merciless. Real jealousy. It just hurt in this impersonal way, the way he had no face for it. No actual image. Just the thought of Shane drawing close in secret to someone, a person who wouldn’t appreciate the deep danger of Shane’s hands reaching for them, someone who would just feel gripping terror at a stranger, wouldn’t know to fear and want him at once, not the way Ryan did. And if they fought him, if they struggled, their bones would snap and Shane, so gentle and so careful with all his unspoken guilt-- what would he do? Would he even tell Ryan?

Of course Shane would lie to him; it was his secret to keep.

Wasn’t it sort of Ryan’s now too though?

Ryan looked at the digital numbers displayed on his phone. It was only eleven a.m. This was agony. Knowing there’d be no use to it, he unlocked his phone and scrolled right for his recents, hoping that the silence of the past two days had been an anomaly that maybe Shane was just now picking up his phone noticing his missed calls and Ryan’s messages, looking stunned and maybe a little sorry.

Straight to voicemail.

Maybe if he texted Aria, something generic and impersonal. Just planning out my week. Can you tell Shane to get back to me so I know what time he’ll be back?

He nearly typed that out too but then the image of Aria passing on the missive bothered him. It was like some nasty vision of the Shane in Ryan’s head; a meaner, but gentler guy who was just trying to establish some distance between them. He would see the ways Ryan was trying to reach him and Shane would know; he’d just know so easily because Ryan never used to go out of the way to reach him, to make him respond when he went quiet like this. That was old Ryan. That guy respected Shane’s boundaries; the dude that existed only a month ago had been perfectly at ease, coming off the bliss of a long holiday. He missed old Ryan because old Ryan had only wanted a good chill season that Spring, to be able to raise his body’s glycolytic efficiency by the time summer rolled around. New Ryan sucked in a really weird new way; new Ryan was sitting here at his place of work thinking of all the people on the crew for Aria’s video and if he had any of their numbers. There was a call list in the bullpen for yesterday…

He felt wretched.

He couldn’t even focus now; every page of research he had open brought him back to Shane, every video he had on his list to review had Shane in it and god damn him, was he supposed to just sit here, chin resting on his fist, pining?

Ryan shut his macbook a bit harder than he wanted to and stood up. He just couldn’t be here. At least at home, there were things besides ghosts, demons, and murderers clouding up his thoughts and making him want to throw his phone across the room because he was actually about to try to call Shane again.

Chapter Text

 

 


 

 

Ryan’s basic motivation for the rest of the evening became a series of contrived efforts not to think. His first effort was music, listening to songs with the least amount of contemplative work to them, just feel-good stuff that wasn’t from Mamma Mia. He threw himself into the very act of making the playlist. Once he was done, he locked his apartment door, stuck his airpods in and set off on a run.

He had his volume cranked to ear-thrumming highs so he could turn each beat into a footfall and bounce with only white sun-beaten sidewalk ahead.

The run turned into an off and on jog to a wilted trot to an unsteady and defeated walk home. And so like that-- drained and cold like only the steely silence of his phone could feel--Ryan crept in under his own bedclothes, slept an afternoon away, woke restless and achy at 2 a.m., drank possibly a whole litre of water, switched on his TV to fissure the thinking silence, and dozed right off again into the palest hour of the morning.

The grey dawn and a jarring breeze slipping in through the crack of his windows made Ryan roll over, curl into his sheets but he still reached for his phone. The sight of it all-- notifications for Twitter, unread messages from old work memos, Shane’s absence--made him do it. He texted Aria

Is Shane with you? Tell him to call me if he is.

He pressed send before he could rethink it, a strange listless agony making him lay his phone face down a foot away from him on the bed. Aria would think it was weird too; Ryan kept choking on the bitter walls of how much he cared about that and why he kept talking himself down. Why would it be weird? Shane was etched into every corner of Ryan’s life; Ryan did that with friends, did that with anyone he liked having around.

Ryan had just swung his legs over the edge of the bed, meaning to head to the bathroom, use up time when his phone rang. He practically dove for it, almost knocked it off the other end of his bed altogether. It was Aria’s name and number on the display as his ringer shrilled.

“Hello? Aria?” he burst out without thinking. He’d meant to sound calm.

“N--no------Ryan--”

Shane’s voice. Fuzzy and hollow like he was calling from the inside of a tunnel.

“-----battery---calling----tried calling---”

Ryan’s was standing now, phone jammed to his ear, breathless. “Shane, where are you?”

“---fucking--we-hhhh… desert. IN THE----- RYAN!”

Off a flinch, he caught a look at himself in the reflection of his mirror closet, saw his expression fraught and desperate. He turned his back, faced his bed again. “Shane?”

“---driving back now. I’ll come---meeting-- this afternoon. God, this is just---”

Three steady second beeps, then silence. Ryan breathed hard out his nose, swallowing deep. It felt like a strange fleeting panic, Shane’s voice trying to reach through the echoes of white noise. Thoughts of the Spirit box jammed like a sardonic dig in his mind and he felt a little like crying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’d tried calling back almost four times but Aria’s voicemail played a despairing repeat monotone in response. There was something very wrong; there had to be. Why would they be driving back? And what did Shane mean ‘this afternoon’? Was that when he’d try to reach Ryan again? What if something had happened?

Ryan rushed to work that morning in sweats, t-shirt and a beanie, striding into the building for the bullpen to get the call sheet.

“Hey, Ryan, Matt called about the meeting for next week’s episode--” Mark called at him as he passed.

“Uh, not now. Sorry, I gotta…” he barely had the full excuse on his tongue as he headed for the bulletins on the back wall.

Mark’s voice followed and persisted. “Hey, look I know your head isn’t about work first thing--”

Ryan was scanning the board. Two multiplayer videos scheduled today, an experimental series crank up in the afternoon--where the hell was Aria’s damn video?

“-- but I really need to go over these minutes Matt sent. Apparently, they had--”

Ryan whirled around. “You wanna lay off, man?” The words were bitter and bright in his chest, coming out in a shaking growl.

Mark’s eyebrows flew up, but he clammed up. Ryan didn’t wait to hear his reply; he was looking back at the bulletin board. They must have taken the call sheet with them. The twist of guilt was delayed but it came. He turned to see Mark ambling away looking a bit put out.

“Ah, hey, uh…” He needed to grab a coffee and calm the hell down. This wasn’t him. “Mark, that was--it’s early and I’m being stupid. Just, I’m sorry for snapping; that wasn’t cool. That’s not me at all...”

Mark looked a little mystified, but he nodded. “Didn’t even sound like you to be honest. First time you bit my head off like that,” he joked. “Maybe we oughta check you for demons.”

Ryan forced a laugh by way of further apology before looking back at the board. He was gonna chug a coffee for sure, and maybe--yeah-- maybe a fucking exorcism because what the hell was wrong with him?

 

 

 

 

 

 

One black coffee later and a still-steaming refill in front of him, Ryan had not calmed down at all. His panic had its own panic; his mind was swimming with made up images of things happening to Shane, of the blistering sting in his chest like a throbbing sort of emptiness, and the threadbare skin where Shane’s bite was fading on his throat.

The sun was like a sick object of light slicing menacing shadows into the offices between the white blinders on the windows. Ryan felt a pendulum swing of nausea come over him and his cheek felt cool against his desk surface. He thought faintly, as he shut his eyes, if it really were possible to die of heartache.

Eighty-six years. Counting each day with the change of the current, the sheer and cloudy sounds of the ocean floor, the brush of creatures in the dark far less vicious than him. No amount of steel could hold off the spill of seawater for that long. Ryan's lungs filled as he opened his mouth, a soundless sob of despair.

“Oh, hey, looks like the ‘Sanfran’ crew actually made it in--”

Ryan must have fallen asleep but at Mark's words, he felt like he'd been yanked upward, pulled by a string in his actual spine. The bang of his computer chair hitting the desk behind his reverberated as everything behind and beside became blurred colour in his rush across the bull pen, voices and sounds in the real, the empty. Nothing mattered where he had a pinpoint of clarity and breath; actual bright life in front of him again. Shane, in his dark coat, through the glass windows of the lobby, a very pale beacon in unbrushed hair staring owlishly out at the bright fluorescent office lights.

Ryan would later remember the way he’d tripped over his own feet at a stagger and the sound of Shane’s half-pronounced, sheepish, “Hey--woah--” as Ryan collided with him. It had made so much sense at the time, like his head had just crested above water; he seized Shane, all of what he could grasp, clumsily wrapping arms around him, hands full of the fabric of his deep green jacket.

And then he breathed, leaning into every sharp landscape and angle of Shane’s body. And Shane, whose hands had come up to brace Ryan for balance in complete surprise, was suddenly there and ginger at the back of his head, one set of fingers curling almost possessively in his hair. There was something in that--the nature of Shane just keeping him close, not drinking his blood and Ryan just feeling him, as they were-- it felt like all pretense had dropped and maybe, possibly Shane could guess that this was special to Ryan too; that it was more than sustenance.

However, then it was something else. Ryan sucked in a sharp, surprised breath when he felt it, a sudden hot and heavy erotic curl in his gut; a drawing hunger as if his very veins wanted Shane in them. It was like his senses turned up on a dial because he could feel the pressure of Shane’s arm against his back muscles, even the twist of his fingers in Ryan’s hair felt like he might just pull a little more and there--that’d be heaven. His hands curled tighter into Shane’s jacket and he nearly bit his tongue. Both the strange demand from every nerve-ending asking him to draw back and bare his throat to Shane and the sheer intensity of the notion climbing him like a lick of ecstasy made him go deadly still. That was also bad. His body temperature leapt right up and adrenaline spiked hot and Ryan must have imagined it, but Shane’s body responded--lightning quick--once quiet breathing turned to a volcanic swell of his chest. The quake of that physical panic made Ryan sharply aware of the room again. He heard the blatant hush of people around them; it was four in the afternoon but there were still loads of people walking in and out of the lobby. Ryan didn’t dare look around at anyone, not even to glance at reception. A glowing flush was scalding him as he let Shane go.

Shane had the good grace to laugh, but his voice came out low, dripping with a breathless cadence that was making Ryan weirdly dizzy. “There was an issue with the shooting location and we missed the flight and one of the ADs forgot the company card so we had to pool and rent a car.”

Ryan crossed his arms, tight, in a way that he realised looked more like he was hugging himself; he was getting cold already and everything really was a nightmare. “You didn’t call,” he stated flatly; he could feel Shane trying to recapture his gaze but he kept a stare fixed on his shoes, as if he’d noticed something on his laces.

“My phone fell during the tour, like at least eight feet to ground level. I’m an idiot, sorry, I didn’t think it'd matter to y--”

Ryan's head snapped up, unable to help it, a little incredulous, mortified and deeply unhappy all at once. He’d just grabbed the guy and snuggled with him in front of possibly fifteen different people--coworkers even. How could he not even know that Ryan was so...wrecked for him?

“I was just worried you’d be thirsty,” he lied in an undertone plainly, knowing Shane could hear it in his voice.

Shane simply looked bewildered. “I’m fine, it’s not…like I, uh, said over the phone,” Shane pressed on tentatively, visibly rattled but more bewildered than anything. “I think there was a meeting today before five? So I came straight for the office instead of home…”

There was such a deliberate detachment to him. Ryan couldn’t help thinking of Shane once threatening to follow him home, just absolutely warped with hunger. Something had changed.

“Yeah,” Ryan said, hands clutching the inside of his pockets so he wouldn’t touch Shane; so he wouldn’t tremble so visibly because of how much he wanted to. “Sure, man.”

 

 

 

 

 

He drank someone’s blood while he was away.

Ryan knew he was spiraling a little. He’d just put it together in his head, though and it was blending a series of toxic emotions in him. It was the original bite of jealousy but amplified. He couldn’t stand it and he felt like Shane knew it somehow. He was certainly going out of his way to keep his distance.

Ryan was sure it was Shane’s way of being kind. Ryan would have done it the same damn way if he wanted to let someone down easy, but being on the receiving end of it made all the softness of it feel empty because it still hurt like hell.

It wouldn't be fair anyway. It wasn't right to demand that from someone who already depended on him for so much; only assholes did stuff like that. Ryan was glad when Shane took a seat two chairs away from him at the table because it meant he didn't have to interact with him. He could focus quietly on his notes and breathe deeply, letting hot bitter air breeze around the sting in his eyes and throat.

Once the meeting ended, Ryan felt a little more calm. He could go home, start to rally a bit into a better state of mind. Shane was over a hundred years old; of course he’d work out a more sustainable way to take care of himself and it wasn’t fair of Ryan putting his own messed up feelings in the mix. It even felt good to come to some semblance of catharsis about it; knowing Shane was back and safe and that it was supposed to be a good thing that he didn’t need Ryan’s blood. Ryan was even thinking more clearly.

Shane was tied up at the front of the conference room talking to Anthony about some production cost issue and Ryan took that opportunity to collect his things and withdraw out the doors and beeline for the parking lot.

It was once he was in the muted quiet of the inside of his car that Ryan pressed his palms to his eyes, and swallowed thickly. He felt like a deflated basketball. His phone started to vibrate and rumble in his bag but he ignored it. Yeah, he hadn’t touched base with anyone at work about the new season today but he knew if he so much as spoke, his voice would come out thin and pinched. Silence was his best stalwart effort not to start bawling his damn eyes out. He just needed to get home; that was all.

 

 

 

 

 

It was one of the only times he could say he was grateful for L.A. traffic because it meant he could go slow and ignore the fact that he was actively choking on his own self-control, trying to fix his thoughts and not relive the now bittersweet but so so tangible feeling of Shane. It was in the air around him though. He’d smelled like the city, and rain water. There was a word for that, the musky comfort of hot wet stone and the skies opening up.

Ryan watched a lineup of cars ahead of him and realised he hadn’t asked Shane at all if it was difficult to tour a coastline of San Francisco, if his nightmares about waking up dead center in the middle of a long skyscape of blue flat water and glaring sun had any weight.

It was a while past dusk when he hit his doorstep, and the shadows in his entrance way were cut only by the streetlights blooming to life right then. Ryan switched on the light and considered his options as he stood, staring at his empty place, ready to throw his keys on his entry table. Maybe he’d turn right around, go to the corner store and grab a mickey of something. No better time than the present to drown some sorrows and let future him deal with the hangover at work tomorrow.

He was just turning on his heel, about to shut his door behind him when he saw the figure under the streetlight at the end of the duplex entrance, peering out of glimmering eyes as the sky was darkening blue greys. Ryan’s heart leapt right into his throat as he stumbled back.

A sharp hysteria struck him. They’ve come to bury me in the ocean...

It was a slow registry of details and Ryan felt really stupid the next moment when the figure raised a hand listlessly to greet him and hunched his shoulders as he walked toward Ryan. It was just Shane. Ryan felt a rush of fatalistic relief and the familiar dizzying wave of yearning. Ryan sank back against his door, hand still curled around his door handle.

“What are you…” His voice sounded so ragged. He cleared his throat over the scuffling sound of Shane sauntering a bit slowly up his walkway. “Wha--what's wrong, Shane?”

Shane didn’t answer but he was near enough that Ryan could see he looked tired, resigned. The dusk had claimed the shadows of his eyes, making him seem all the more haunted and a little beautiful. He walked up the stone steps, palms gliding along the flat wrought-iron of Ryan’s banister and Ryan didn’t move. Something about Shane's slow gait seemed familiar. Predatory. He looked lithe like a big calm cat, using one graceful movement to get up the steps in front of Ryan, forcing Ryan to step back a little and tilt his head to look at him. It was only the very moment he drew so close he might have crushed Ryan against his front door that Ryan heard the broken sound of his breath, a shaking laboured exhale and an even weaker stilted swell of his chest. He realised the slow languid movements weren't predatory, but pained and careful.

“I tried, Ryan. To keep it together and not--” he said, and his voice was rough and dulcet, velvet dragged over broken glass, getting deeper with each word he spoke. “I tried to stay away from you 'cause I don't wanna scare ya-- Ryan, but I need--I want--”

Ryan's spine climbed the door. He could see it when Shane's lips moved, the spear of off-white just grazing Shane's lower lip, his incisors slipping from the sleeve of his dark red gums. He looked a perfect horror but like a bright piece of an ancient landscape, savage and sublime, grabbing the doorframe beside Ryan in a swift surprising grip as if he’d been about to clutch Ryan himself but had derailed himself last second. The groan of the plaster and wood gave Ryan a pretty good image of what was waiting for him in Shane's grip.

“I thought you had gotten over m--my blood...” Ryan confessed blankly, his stomach somersaulting. “I thought you’d found someone else.”

“You thought…?” His voice was deeply changed then, raw and threadbare. “Is that why you just left after that-- in the lobby; how you... How could you think I could want anyone else when all my clothes, my hands, all of it smells like you now, when the only taste I can think of is your--”

Shane leaned down, caught in a helpless flinch, a groan deep in his throat as he drew forward, the very tip of his nose feathering a reaching touch across Ryan's jaw, making Ryan's nerve-endings swoon. He surrounded Ryan, practically speaking against his throat.

Blood,” Shane snarled.

Ryan, even his new euphoric agony at having Shane touching him again, was distantly aware that they were still standing right outside his front door. Any passerby might think they were a pair of new lovers about to say good night after a smouldering date. Ryan meant to make words but what stuttered out of him was a shaking exhale, his own lungs betraying him. The air rushed out of him and it flip-switched something in Shane. The hand gripping the doorjamb was suddenly at Ryan's clavicle. His fingers slipped just under the collar of his t-shirt, dragging it aside, panting. He was hesitating though, holding back.

Ryan stared over Shane's shoulder, frozen, at the glowing streetlight and its splash of yellow on the deep shadowed streets with Shane at his neck. He doesn’t want anyone else, his brain kept repeating. No one else. It felt craven and almost pathetic but he didn’t care anymore with Shane filling his senses with a hysteric relief swilled together with a renewed arousal.

Ryan let go of his door handle, reached out to grab Shane; he held two proper handfuls of Shane's shirt, yanking him impossibly close until they were aligned, chest to chest. Ryan's belt pressed hard into Shane's corduroy-clad thigh. His awareness of Shane's hunger for him and his own bright fear mixed with a naked and profound trust made him so weak and the pressing want in the pit of his stomach felt palpable. Palpable as his hands so close to Shane's bare chest, hot and thrumming, under the thin layer of his shirt.

Fuck, Shane,” Ryan breathed unsteadily, on the tail end of something that sounded like a sob. “Do it.” He wanted him so much and this wasn't gonna be enough but he had to have something. Damn everything; he was hard already and in a moment Shane would feel it. If he would just sink his teeth into him, neither of them would have to think.

Shane's hesitation-- waiting for Ryan's command-- shut down. A splash of sweltering breath rushed over his throat before Shane's teeth touched him. A terrific pressure and pulse of pain made Ryan's palms scrape up Shane's chest and he wound an arm around him, pulling Shane in. Finally was all he could think, faint just as Shane groaned against him, his fingers digging into Ryan's shoulder.

The blood came; it slid down the side of his neck, into the well of his shoulder. It was messy this time because Shane kept gasping between swallows like a man drowning and Ryan felt his knees give out. He was in a bliss of a strange throbbing pain, enclosed by Shane's hot mouth. He felt Shane squeeze him, another hand sneaking across his ribs, gripping the tender flesh there. He shivered at the touch of cool evening air realizing a moment delayed that Shane had his hands under his shirt. This was different now and Ryan let Shane bear his weight as he let the heat of his erection draw across Shane's thigh slowly. Perfect.

Ryan felt the hot splash of his own blood when Shane mouth broke off the open wound at his neck; he hissed, body responding to this new contact with a shudder that travelled through them both and Ryan held him closer, a hand snaking up into Shane's hair, coaxing him back into his throat. Shane moaned, relaxing, and going taut as he drank harder. 

Then the world swung off its axis.

There was a hard wooden thwack of his door hitting something and a new pain struck unfamiliar right in Ryan’s spine. it drew him momentarily out of his delirium and he looked up, dazed, into an upended world and Shane’s pupil-flooded irises melting black to the edge of what was once fathomless brown. He was on his back, and Shane was over him, one arm in the arch of his spine and the other braced, palm to the floor.

“What...when did we get ...down here?” Ryan mumbled, aware of how Shane still had a thigh pushed up between his legs and the possibilities were blossoming in his head, a world of yes’s to the things he wanted to ask for.

Shane looked stunned himself, mouth glistening red and his hair standing on end where Ryan had put his hands. “I think I shoved you into the door but you had it open,” he said quickly, his voice still in that abrasive cadence, rumbling in a depth that touched Ryan to his core. “I tried to break your fall...didn’t mean to…”

Ryan felt drugged, the world swimming around Shane’s head. He stared at the glimmer of Shane’s gaze, how open and gorgeous he looked. “What?” he said distractedly.

“I dunno,” Shane mumbled. “...what was I saying last?”

“I dunno,” Ryan echoed thoughtlessly. “Wanna shut my door?”

Ryan thought he might get up, shut the door and then he could have a chance to get his wits together. Instead Shane stayed right where he was and extended one of his impossibly long legs and kicked the door-- hard-- and it slammed on its hinges. He twisted back and Ryan let out a laugh he couldn't help, and it sounded strange to him, deep in his throat when Shane grinned at him, the stains of blood around his mouth made him look horrifying and hilarious in a way that made Ryan's heart stutter sharply.

Uh oh, was the last concrete thought he had before he did it. Maybe it was the sight of Shane trying to speak, the curve of his mouth dark and wet in the shadows; maybe it was that Ryan was delirious and starting to writhe as Shane pressed his weight down, dropping to rest on his forearm, falling closer to Ryan. Maybe because it could be so easy and quiet. It could have been any of that but reasons were lost where Ryan’s hands threaded right into Shane’s hair and tugged him down right into his mouth.

It was more collision than kiss at first and it hurt but Ryan, flinching, could only think of how terrible it was he hadn't done this before. Shane's lips were softer than he expected, the curl of his expressive mouth lined his as he sucked Shane's lower lip.

Shane, however, was very still.

What followed was a terrible pause. Ryan could practically hear the cogs in Shane’s head turning. He really couldn’t think of a thing to say when he forced himself to open his eyes and look up.

Shane's deep brown eyes were alight with something torrid; he was searching Ryan's stare back at him in that way he liked to read Ryan with care. Then, with a strangely laborious movement, Shane’s arm on the floor by his head shifted and he reached in, rested his fingers very delicately on Ryan’s chin. He seemed to wait as his gaze flicked down to Ryan's mouth, seemed to take in the sight of whatever expression was on Ryan's face before he leant down and pressed his lips over Ryan’s. He held that very kiss in a strange sort of chaste stillness. It was then that a savouring silence overtook the burn of their first collision. Ryan barely moved. He had never really been one to wait for the other person to take the lead but he waited now as Shane seemed to be moving slow, hesitant, testing waters and keeping Ryan as he was.

Finally he pulled back and looked a second searching stare into Ryan’s eyes. “You...” Shane murmured numbly, almost distantly if it weren’t for how his gaze burned aching promises. “Are you OK…?” The query died and he seemed to be trying to find the right words.

Ryan couldn’t bring himself to navigate the immense field of his own questions; all he knew was that had been damn near perfect and Shane felt so good on him, warm and real. “Of course I’m not OK!” he snapped breathlessly. “I’m covered in my own blood and all I want is to make out with you!”

Shane’s eyebrows rose and Ryan considered that it might have been better if one of those assholes had come to bury him in the ocean. That was, moments before Shane broke into a rush of soft chuckles and said. “That's all you want, huh?” in the most innocuous tone. So very Shane. Oddly innocent and sweet.

Ryan was done for. “Please…”

Shane swallowed, his smile fading as he made to lean in. Ryan arched to meet him but Shane stopped, bright brown eyes fixed on Ryan’s lips as he hovered there. “I’ve been so afraid of scaring you off...”

Ryan scoffed, his heart already singing. “What, do you think I scare easily or something?”

Shane’s eyes dropped shut as he smiled again and he leaned in again, hot and heady where he nuzzled against Ryan’s jaw and drew upward, searching. It drove Ryan wild, and he found Shane’s mouth, grunted in a desperate breath when he caught it, coaxed Shane into the kiss again. The world went so hushed around him for the way Shane’s lips opened over his; the sound of his humming a little in surprise, acceptance, and Ryan knew his hands wandered too fast; he should be waiting to touch the broad expanse of Shane’s belly, his torso, his chest, fingers over naked nipples. It was a marvel to just touch him. Shane's body twitched in response, whatever wild blood hungry thing in his chest pounding under the hot skin Ryan's palms were touching.

And so Ryan kissed him. Harder. Hungrier. He devoured him. The blood soaking Shane's tongue should have put him off. Any other time the thought had made his stomach turn but here he was drunk on it, blended with the taste of Shane, his soap, his hair, his clothes. Ryan felt that was all his. Especially the blood. It clung in fresh drops against the tips of Shane’s fangs and Ryan’s voice ground out in a vicious groan when he dragged his tongue up the sharp edge of Shane’s teeth, taking those final tastes back from him.

Shane broke into a startled, muffled laugh against his lips, that same fond surprise Ryan liked to bring out in him most. He might have replied if he had any awareness of what he meant to say, just feeling completely absorbed in the fact that he was actually kissing Shane. He was shaking and he didn’t care, the sharded sounds of Shane’s breathing had become his whole universe. It was strange and tender, then, as if the rush and thrill of it had turned to reverence for them both. Ryan could hear Shane’s heart hammer in his ears, felt a deep coil of distress like he wanted it, wanted the sound of it inside him. It was bizarre and startling but Ryan just went with it.

Shane seemed to be in an afterglow himself, running a faint and purposeful caress of his tongue over Ryan's, not in any hurry, just exploring, tasting. Ryan was marveling at how he felt so connected to him, able to perceive each moment with him.

I want his blood, Ryan thought and promptly had to break off the kiss out of sheer alarm at himself.

“You're still bleeding,” Shane said faintly; he hadn’t noticed Ryan’s sharp movement as his fingers reached up to Ryan's neck, holding the bite closed with an expert touch as he bent in again and his lips parted for Ryan.

Ryan couldn’t hold back; he bit Shane's lower lip, gingerly, waiting for Shane to stop him; he hovered there, pressing deeper and he felt Shane melt when his teeth dug harder, dreaming and swimming in the feeling of Shane leaning further into it. A new strange flavour spilled on his tongue in heavy thick droplets, felt fervid and tasted like an impression, molten and ancient. Shane went still and it felt immediately like something had changed between them, shifted from the deep like an iceberg. Ryan felt this was something to savour with his palms hot to Shane's chest under his shirt and Shane with his eyes shut, looking like a fantasy Ryan never even dared imagine. It had just been a taste but Ryan felt a strange wet heat flood up his chest like steam, burning and healing. He wanted more.

“W...woah,” Ryan mumbled, kind of awestruck.

“Did you just…?” Shane was shaking them both with his chuckles, still hot in Ryan’s mouth. “...drink my blood?”

Ryan would have shrugged if Shane hadn’t started to press into his hip, a hard hot press of his erection down Ryan’s thigh. Ryan shuddered and gasped, “Just wanted to see what all the fuss is about.” Which wasn’t quite the truth.

“I never thought…” Shane began but then Ryan kissed his jaw, let his lips glide down Shane's throat and Shane paused, turning his head, a sort of quiet curiosity to his next groan as Ryan nipped a little at his throat, striping his teeth against Shane’s Adam’s Apple. “...that you would want this.”

“Neither did I,” Ryan mouthed into his skin before closing his lips on the spot, sucking, feeling a rush of satisfaction when Shane rocked against him reflexively.

“I thought--all this time that maybe I'd imagined it. What your blood does to me…how much you made me want it.”

Ryan wanted to listen; he really did but then Shane shifted over him, one long thigh flush over his dick and he was aware of how hard he was. The friction was overwhelming through the fabric of his sweats. He raised his hips and reveled in how that made Shane's voice falter, and his breath get hotter. It suddenly didn't matter about what this was to Ryan; he was thinking about what it was about to be.

Just from hearing Shane's fond murmurs, as scintillating as the press of his hips, Ryan considered how idiotic he'd been. He should have mentioned what he was feeling from the start. They could have been like this, and it would have been so fucking perfect.

“I just needed to be sure...” Shane went on, only pausing to let Ryan shove at his jacket. He shook it off, barely pulling away like they had been magnetically attached.

The confusion, the secrecy; it was all stupid. Why did it have to be so complicated when it was just blood? Blood was simple.

“...needed to be sure it was real.”

Ryan was listening now. The back of his head made hard contact with the floor when he pulled back, making him wince. “What do you mean real?”

Shane licked his lips, the last of the red stain Ryan had bitten out vanishing. “I should have said something before. It was really dumb of me to worry about it, but I guess now we know it’s not a problem I don't care. Like…” Here Shane laughed, deep in his chest. “...like I actually worried you might catch a craving for it.”

Ryan didn’t smile back and Shane's smile faded, slow, his eyes locked on Ryan's. “What do you mean?” Ryan asked, feeling like a broken record; his voice seemed loud after their quiet coaxing whispers of just before. “Craving for it?”

Shane’s eyes squinted and his smile leapt to life again. “Oh no, don’t worry. I just meant--like I’d always been told that sometimes there’s this inadvertent affect a vampire can have on a human. Some call it a thrall, but it's just one of those vampire myths. I’ve never seen it in action. I got scared; that’s it. It’s not even a thing. I shouldn’t have said anything. Ignore me...”

His tone softened on those last words, went from a familiar wittering Shane to one who shifted his leg purposefully to press Ryan’s thighs apart. An invitation that might have made Ryan lose his entire mind.

Instead Ryan’s hands slipped out of Shane’s shirt, fell flat on the wood panels beside him. “A thrall,” he repeated faintly. “What would that have done to me?”

“Ryan, it doesn’t even matter.” Shane shrugged but his expression was a little put out at Ryan withdrawing. “It’s supposed to be part of the vampire lore package. It’s some old dumb superstition that we can somehow make humans want to give us their lives.”

Ryan wriggled out, pushing Shane off of him, ignoring the sheet of pure loss that landscaped his whole body, ignoring the steaming burn in his chest that hadn't dissipated since he'd tasted Shane's blood. “How do you know it's superstition?” Ryan insisted; the panic was rising. “I mean, you told me I was the first human you did this with. And what do you mean you had to make sure this was real? It feels real to me.”

“Of course. Because I didn’t--I’m not...” Shane looked nonplussed, sitting back on his heels as Ryan scooted himself away and got to his feet. “I didn't mean that this-” He made a vague gesture between them. “-wasn't real. I'm talking mind control here. I know our arrangement wasn't ideal and you've been so great about it, but it's not like I had you under a trance--like convinced you that you needed me to take it. That'd be awful.”

The silence that followed was deafening. Ryan simply stared at Shane, not yet sure what words to put to it, to tell him the truth.

Shane's placating expression had frozen, staring at Ryan with a look he was really beginning to hate. He seemed mystified, and worse still, like he was looking up at someone unfamiliar, like Ryan had just spoken a crisis into existence. “Ryan.” He began, his voice like crystal. “It's a myth. Some lie my elders told me. You're not-- don't tell me you're mistaking what you feel--whatever you feel for me or whatever this was--it's not…

Stop that.” Ryan swallowed hard, tried to swallow the burn in his throat but it stayed there, like sawdust. “Stop,” he said. “Stop talking like you know what I'm feeling. You have no idea what's been happening to me for the last few months...what I've been dreaming about. How much it hurt when I thought you took someone else's blood. I was so fucking mad...and here, when we were-- I wanted that more than anything. It's thesame feeling.”

Shane shook his head, sardonicism at full power but there was a pin line between his brows, a fused panic there in his voice when he said, “Ryan, come on,” softly, grasping at straws. “You expect me to believe you wanted me to drink you dry? Add you to the long list of-of people I've--just be serious.”

“It's not like that but I am serious! When you're not drinking my blood, all I can think about is wanting your teeth in my neck again. It's what it does to me; how it feels. That’s not the point I’m making here! You never made me do anything I didn't want to and I want this. The only part that’s been fucking with my mind is that I want your blood too!”

Shane's hand slowly came up to cover his own mouth; the way he would when he had thick facial hair, held it there as he stared at Ryan in a mounting horror. “What…” he said at last; a flat statement muffled behind his hand.

“I can't explain it properly. Um...it's like... I breathed in over a boiling pot of water.” Ryan expelled a harsh breath, feeling the soak of pain when he considered what Shane's reaction was doing to him. “I keep dreaming that I'm underwater with you, and I wake up coughing up salt water. It's real.”

Shane shook his head, turning away as he got to his feet as well, grabbing his discarded jacket. HIs eyes looked haunted and his movements mechanical. “I don't think you even understand what you're telling me.”

Ryan felt the anger bubble up in him, lash hard up his spine. He was standing in his own entrance hall with congealed blood on his neck and blood stains on his shirt. He was certain there'd be blood on his mouth from Shane's; in his own broken words he was trying to explain everything inside him and Shane had the gall to tell him he didn't think he'd understand.

“I'm not a moron,” Ryan replied quietly. “I know I wanted it just as much as you did. And I still do.”

It seemed to sink in only then because Shane took a wary step back, seemed not to be aware of his feet as he stumbled a bit clumsily into the entry table, rattling the drawers as he caught himself. “Oh my God,” he mumbled, dropping into a thought, looking off at the floor. “How could I have been so careless…?”

“Shane?”

Shane seemed to draw out of the sudden prison of his thoughts for only a brief moment as he looked back at Ryan. “This isn't even you and I didn’t think for a moment before I--” He broke off and strode sharply across the space between them. Ryan froze when Shane's hands came down and fingers closed on his shoulders, grasping hard as he looked down at him. As angry as he was, all Ryan wanted to do then was smooth hands up Shane's chest, grab his lapels and yank him until he was panting into Ryan's mouth again. It'd be so easy…

Ryan's hands shook as he reached out and he watched Shane's irises contract. It was like the tension in the room just earlier fueled how close they'd gotten. That they were on the cusp of connecting again made Ryan's veins feel electric.

“Don't tell me this isn't the realest we've ever been with each other,” he murmured, reaching up to hold Shane by his neck and tug him down.

Shane let out a weighted exhale, sharp and destroyed as if he had watched the journey of yearning on Ryan's face and couldn't stand it. “I'm sorry, Ryan. I'm so-- you deserve better than this.”

“What?” Ryan mumbled voicelessly, still in that same heady loss when Shane looked at him, then more awake, louder, “Shane, what?”

Shane pulled away, practically jerked out of Ryan's hands. He stepped backward, chest heaving. He shoved his fists, crossed his arms, against his own sides, hiding them as if putting himself in some invisible strait jacket to keep from touching Ryan.

“I have to go.”

Ryan stepped after him. “No...Shane, what?”

“This isn't how I wanted it…” he mumbled, turning for the door. “Fuck I gotta go.”

“Shane, Shane…” Ryan went frantic, rushing after him, practically grabbing for the door as Shane twisted out of his reach. “Shane, don't go.” Shane hurried down the steps in a swift motion and Ryan barely reached the bottom step before Shane slipped right out of his fingers, suddenly at the edge of Ryan's walkway..

“Please, listen to me,” Ryan practically begged; he refused to yell because he knew his voice would come out strangled; desperate.. “Please. It's me…”

Shane cut a silent crouched dark frame silhouetted under the streetlight. He was panting as if he'd run a marathon, gripping the black gate bars, cut in agony. “I can't be around you right now. It's...it's gonna be OK,” he said to Ryan from the edge of the sidewalk. “I'm gonna go; gonna sort this out…”

"Shane!" 

It was as if he shouted his name to the streetlight staring down a hollow stream of yellow in the dark. Shane was gone. The city hummed on in Shane's absence in the way that a vanished presence always created a deafening roar of the mundane.

Ryan dropped to sit on the bottom of his steps, knees drawn up. He knew he had to follow him; it was a deep set notion as primal as the call of blood, but at that exact moment he felt only a furious and paralyzing sense of loss.

Chapter Text

When he finally moved, it felt like an aimless effort at first.

He’d stood up, walked up his steps and back into his place, shutting the door behind him. Then he simply stood there, back against his door, staring into the middle distance, spiraling helplessly. It felt strange to be standing in this bizarre ground zero. Ryan could feel the tender spots on his ribs where Shane had grabbed him a little too hard, the ache in his bones where he’d tried so desperately to fold into him, to blend.

In hindsight it had all happened too fast. Only just an hour ago, he’d been preparing himself to live like his feelings didn’t matter. It seemed surreal now; now that he could close his eyes and feel what it was like for Shane to be murmuring soft things into his skin; what it did to him to have Shane of all people against him, responding to little things he did. It hadn’t just been blood and that had to be worth something.

Standing in his own apartment--now like a mausoleum to his vacant protests of asking Shane to stay-- Ryan just wanted to get back in his car, drive straight for Shane’s, follow after him to just talk, tell him what he felt, make him see.

Ryan felt the seconds click past as he stood where he was. There was something terribly delicate in the balance here. He kept reliving the awful feeling of Shane twisting out of his reach, looking at Ryan in that way. He’d had horrible hurtful fantasies where Shane found out about Ryan wanting him, but all of that seemed silly now next to what this hurt felt like. The way Shane’s mouth had moulded to his, governed their kiss with such a peculiar reverence, slow and precise. Such a bare contrast to how he’d looked at Ryan those final seconds before he’d wrenched away, like Ryan had twisted something sacred and made it horrible.

Ryan unconsciously bent at his middle, severed with calm mortified pain. He wasn’t going to follow Shane. He didn’t want to see him look that way again, but he had to do something.He chose the next best thing.

 

 

His phone was at forty-percent and it was already past eight p.m. He'd once made fun of Shane for the fact that he was the only Millennial in California who kept a landline but now he was so grateful for it, he might have considered taking back the old man joke at the time. Ryan pulled Shane’s second number up on his contacts, still standing in his entryway, leaning back against his front door.

He expected it, but his heart still sank when Shane’s very fuzzy, outgoing message played. He waited for the beep.

Hey, it's me,” he said. “Would you call me? You owe me that at least. Just one phone call. Please.

It was succinct and not the tirade he wanted to expel about how he didn’t understand Shane’s violent and sudden revulsion at their attraction for each other; how maybe it was more than attraction and that made it hurt all the more.

God, he couldn’t stop reliving the look on Shane’s face. He probably wasn’t going to call.

He finally left the entryway, moved for his desk to charge his phone. It had been a shot in the dark, and a defeated part of him knew the likelihood of Shane calling was so low, he already felt dumb sitting down at his desk, glass of water in hand, head on his arms just staring at the blank screen.

It was what made him leap nearly out of his skin when his screen lit up and Shane's landline danced across. He grabbed it; nearly yanked it off the charger. It was only once he had hit ‘answer,’ that he found himself devoid of words.

Silence. A simple soft sigh followed by Shane's voice, deliberately calm and infuriating. “So, uh...hey.”

It was his tone that made Ryan snap, “Is that seriously all you have to say to me?”

“No, that’s...” He sounded scattered, more lost than when he’d left Ryan’s doorstep. “Listen, I’m sorry.”

Ryan felt the seething pain in his throat spill into his chest. “Quit apologizing to me and just-- we can figure this out--just come back.”

Another protracted pause before, “You know that I can't.”

“I don't know that,” Ryan snapped. “I don't know anything about what this is except that you went full Guy Pearce in Memento on me, and then you took off. That sucked, Shane. It really fucking sucked.”

Shane's voice was soft over the fuzz of Ryan's reception. “You're right I ...kinda freaked out when I realised that I’d...done what I did. I wasn’t sure what to do.”

He couldn't keep the bite out of his words, twisted by hurt, panic, and incredulity. “Maybe talk to me?

“I can’t talk to you when I can’t trust that you could just be saying what I want to hear.”

Ryan was stricken. “What am I supposed to say to that--”

Shane pressed on, his tone hard and unrelenting. “I was planning to leave you a message, to tell you everything I felt--”

“You can just tell me now...”

--tell you that I care about you; that I wanted--want you; that it's been years of that for me-- seeing you look at me and really see me,” Shane’s tone dropped; a hollow mournful pain in the shaking heat of his words. “And now that I know that I made you look at me like that because I willed it is just--”

“What can I do to make you understand that I'm not under any hypnosis...that this is me, and--”

“You offered your blood so willingly to save me and I let it go on too long when all I ever really wanted was just... that look on your face right before you kissed me--god, I could live off that...and what you don't realise about me is if I didn't care that much; if I let myself get what I wanted-- you gotta know, when it's all over that I'm not-- I would never have just taken. In the end, it was just you I wanted.”

“...I hate you so much,” Ryan whispered, trying to swallow the tight cord in his throat. Hearing Shane say those words had scalded him and he felt a little lost because Shane should be there--looking blunt honesty back at him-- so Ryan wouldn’t be hearing something else in his tone, wistful and pained. Without Shane there and all the sharp things just looking at him did to Ryan’s psyche, he heard every note of the conclusion to the words ‘in the end…’ A renewed panic had crawled right up and fed his old one. “I swear to god if this is your weird way of trying to say goodbye--”

“It’s not. I don’t think it is. It depends on what I find in Jersey. If you don’t still hate me when you really understand what I did.”

Ryan paused. “What are you talking about--you're not--Shane, you're not going back there, are you, to the people who tried to lock you up?”

“I can't take any more chances, OK? I've ignored a lot of truths about who I am and I need answers and Ocean City’s the only place I know of where any trace of my history and species exists.”

Ryan's voice didn't sound like his own. “And if you don't come back?”

Shane had to know what he was talking about; it was in the opaque grains of his pause. “...I’m gonna fix this either way, Ryan; I promise it’s gonna be alright.”

Ryan had been clutching his phone so hard, his knuckles were beginning to ache. What if there wasn't anything to fix? A cold lick of mounting horror struck up his spine because he knew that tone of voice; the cool and effortless release of all of Shane’s mental barriers, always moments before he took a jump on something anyone else would advise against. He knew there were no words to make Shane stop, but he still said, “Nothing’s gonna be all right if you’re gone, man.”

A sheer pause. Ryan knew he was gonna say it before he did, but he still flinched at Shane’s soft, “Ryan, I’m... I gotta go,” before he heard the line cut.

He didn’t waste a second; the idea had already formulated the moment Shane had begun his broken, indecisive goodbye. He plugged his phone back in, sat down and pulled up airlines heading to Jersey. Ryan had spent months on end wallowing in his own sickness and doubt and in only a matter of minutes had gone from having everything he wanted to watching it crack and crumble. There was just no way, that after all that, Ryan could stomach sitting still. He didn’t care if Shane wanted to go it alone, if he wanted to shut Ryan out of this; it wasn’t gonna be up to him. Ryan booked the next flight to Ocean City for that night, laid down his phone, and got up to go take a shower.

Once he had the bleary bright lights of his bathroom giving his reflection in the mirror a waxy, stricken look, Ryan saw it. The space up the side of his throat where Shane’s teeth had ripped a permanent scar over and over again; the skin where Shane only just half an hour ago had a set of teeth deeply sunken in was clear. There was a white imprint, a shallow strip of tissue like a deeply aged scar. Ryan reached up and touched along the edges of it; it felt tender and thin like anything could tear it. New skin.

It was with an undercurrent of hysteria that Ryan caught himself thinking of the first time he’d let Shane drink from him, the way he'd drawn a hot line with the tip of his tongue up Ryan's throat, sealing it. He felt the pool of want swell in his stomach again, dull pang under all his dry panic. Ryan could recount every vivid moment of where Shane had pressed his lips, had breathed so delectably hot on his skin and in those final moments on his entryway floor, not once had Shane closed the wound for him.

Did that just heal on its own?

“You gotta be kidding me…,” he murmured to his reflection, watching the terror in his own eyes belie the irony he’d attempted. It was a mistake of course; had to be. Ryan didn’t have the emotional capacity to unpack that right then. He had to get to Ocean City at least before he could start hyperventilating about all the things Shane hadn’t told him simply because he didn’t know.

 

 

 

 

There were moments when he dozed off; once at the terminal, and then the next when he was crushed between a couple commuters near the back of the plane. It seemed odd that somehow this curt demand of urgency kept pushing him into fitful spells of sleep before he’d jerk awake, feeling the familiar swooping sickness as the edges of his tongue burned with the taste of saltwater and blood all over again.

It was a little after one a.m. when Ryan's flight touched down at the Ocean City municipal airport and by then, Ryan was a little deflated. The motivation that had propelled him to make this trip seemed a lot less like he was following someone and more like he had just sat in a cramped space in the air for five hours.

It didn’t help that he’d never set foot this far on the Eastern coast before. Ocean City, New Jersey. It was in the name. The most Ryan could say he knew about the place was everything he could surmise from things Shane had said and what he could read in a wiki article before the plane took off. So that had him with this glowing image of tourist spots on beaches along the Atlantic, a vague inkling of a small population, and that at least one point three percent of that tiny population was vampires.

This could be his only feasible excuse for why he couldn't stop staring at everyone he passed. The thought that any one of them could be part of the mysterious crew of creatures that had once locked Shane in a metal box and let him sink to the very bottom of the ocean had him wondering if he'd know when he saw one of them.

As a precaution, he unzipped his bag and took out his travel-sized bottle of holy water and slipped it in his shirt pocket. He threw his second strap over his shoulder and tightened the buckles under his ribs as he passed the long stretch of windows to the terminal exit. Ryan’s reflection dressed in dark sweats, a hoodie and beanie glanced at him wildly; he'd dressed as nondescript as possible but he still felt inconspicuous. He felt like a tourist, a target, a victim.

He stopped in his tracks, trying not to dart any looks around at the people passing him, in case he caught someone's eye. Any dangerous someone. What would he even do to defend himself if he did? Toss barely a splash of holy water and hope it connected. It wasn't enough.

That's when he saw it. Of course he'd been looking for it, multitasking a silent manic fight or flight attack in the middle of an airport. Right in one of the gift shop windows, a little rotating display with little charms, silvery keychains and necklaces hanging off the counter. He didn't fully know what it was until he'd practically barrelled into the small shop and had a hold of it.

It was a letter opener. A little crestfallen, Ryan examined it. From the window it looked like a cross on a chain, but it was literally just a tiny letter opener with its flat-bladed end and the handle was t-shaped with engravings that looked a little like a county flag. Yeah, it was definitely no crucifix, but it’d have to do.

 

 

The time on his phone read just after two A.M. when he slid into the backseat of a waiting cab at the airport’s entrance.

“Where we going, pal?” the man behind the wheel looked dark brows and a ruddy complexion in the rear view at Ryan.

"I...I don’t even know.” Ryan quibbled a little, practically perched on the car seat in case he needed to book it for any reason. “Take me to wherever the ocean is?”

The cab driver was blessedly quiet as he steered out onto the highway. The sights were dark along the road, shadows glaring out at him over the deepest blue backdrop.

"This is the Port o'Call hotel. Very touristy, if that’s what a guy like you travelling solo is looking for," the cab driver reported ten minutes later with a delicacy only possessed by those whose income depended on predictable, banal tourism.

“I’m meeting a friend here,” Ryan stated firmly. He was dead set on practicing the basics on traveling alone safely and he sure as hell wasn't about to look like a statistic waiting to happen.

The city had a calm dim evening light to it, the mood of a getaway scattered with beach houses in pastels and whites. It reminded Ryan a little of Main Street USA in Disneyland but there was an insidious iciness to the air when Ryan opened his door; it was more aggressive and invasive than the chills that would every now and then come over his chest when he breathed too thickly. Those were too familiar to him now; like fingerprints; reminders of Shane's fingers tripping curiously over his ribs.

Ryan steeled himself, teeth gritted. Anyone in this city could be like Shane, anyone could be the monster Ryan knew that Shane just wasn't. He had to keep his shit together.

"You and your friend... should also make a stop at Johnson's popcorn tomorrow..."

Ryan turned on the man and stared. It took a moment for him to notice that the cab driver was just as startled by his reaction as Ryan was. Maybe it had been just an innocuous statement. A mystified silence passed between them before Ryan scrambled for his wallet.

He tipped the man just to be safe, and his responding friendly squint didn't strike Ryan as very vampiric. As the cab peeled away and Ryan stood in the parking entrance of the hotel, he thought about it. Ultimately who was he kidding? As if he would ever have known vampires existed if the big guy hadn't stopped eating, hadn't decided that he was worth so little in Ryan's world that he didn't tell him.

Ryan shut his eyes; tried to shut off that part of his brain. Thoughts like that were beginning to feel all the same. Just a frustratingly dull ache.

 

 

 

The Port o' Call hotel was a massive building, the very image of a resort hotel with its wide courtyard and towering pink Bermudan stone. It was overwhelming to take in even from where he stood, and Ryan felt strange trudging indoors toward reception around people returning from seaside parties in their beach outfits and him striding through the lobby in all black.

The alarm clock on his hotel room night table read 03:37.

So what now?

This is what he got for not thinking any of this through. Standing in an empty hotel room, his eyes throbbing from exhaustion as he stared searchingly at a suspicious dark brown spot on the carpet.

How was he going to get to Shane? What had he expected to happen once he’d got here?

Ryan knew very well what he expected. He’d seen it, dumb as any fantasy he used to have about Shane; the really vivid ones he’d stopper up before they had any fuel. A little bit of the ending of The Graduate and a lot of Wesley Snipes in Blade, bursting in just as those awful soulless creatures were forcing Shane back into the metal box Ryan kept dreaming about. And it was stupid. He'd been in vampire central for all of two hours and there was little likelihood of his id-ing a vampire until one of them had its teeth in his neck--

As far as epiphanies went, Ryan felt this one more like a stone at the bottom of his stomach. He walked to the wide window and looked down at the massive stretch of beach houses, sand and the figures milling like ants across all of it. He was getting a very very bad idea. He knew it was bad because no other ideas would come forward to undo this truly terrible one and that usually meant that he was about to leap in with the kind of blank-faced confidence that would earn him one of Shane's vibrant grins and a soft fond utterance of, "You're out-dumbing yourself…"

But Shane had done something even dumber; he'd left Ryan to his own faculties.

"If you wanna find a vampire...," Ryan mumbled at the room, passing an absent hand over the surprisingly cool grooves of the healed fang marks on his neck.

Feeling a better kind of resolve that always hit him when he'd found a favourite terrible idea, he slipped the chain of the letter opener from the giftshop around the palm of his hand like it was a set of brass knuckles before dropping the tiny flask of holy water into the back pocket of his sweats. It wasn’t exactly Keanu Reeves at the end of Constantine level of holy war with darkness but the stakes were probably just as ridiculous.

He wanted to seem as arbitrary as possible, which was easy if he kept to his lost tourist vibe. Backpack and thick hoodie left in the hotel room and just him, his T-shirt, his wallet, his new piece of jewelry, and the bottle of holy water. Walking through very sparse groups of people, he was aware of an unmistakable humanity in the ghost-town small hours of just past the witching hour. He saw humanity even in the quiet night figures in swimsuits, shorts and sandals; some looking like they were headed for work, some with shoes in their hand. Ryan took it all in, the buildings smelling like the ocean, ice creams, salted snacks, and the warm sickly metal of theme park rides.

And he was so damn cold.

He didn’t stop anywhere but he walked slowly, eyeing up the concession spots, kept catching the eye of a stranger or two and his heart would crawl up his throat until the very second they dropped their gaze.

For a seaside boardwalk and every single standard of reputation that came with it, Ryan hadn’t seen a single bar on the strip. He must have walked nearly 20 minutes, following the long stretch of pier planks and the distant carnival-like music of games that hadn’t been shut down. What stopped his trek was a large beige building with black framed windows, a line of archways and French doors. Something about it struck him and he thought very suddenly of the Queen Mary, perched like a menacing graveyard on the edge of the sea.

Then Ryan heard music. Jazz. Slow jazz like a dirge straight out of an old film with its reverberating rumble of cymbals, deep breaking tones of the bull fiddle and a muted trumpet running a weird slow trudge to the finish of a song that had no end. Ryan stopped just under the third archway, A live band playing at nearly four A.M.?

The doors were all shut, and Ryan felt the same kind of trepidation he always felt when the stories of the place he was walking into spoke to a very soft craven part of him. Ghosts and the sepulchral speculation of the death of the people he loved most swam in the harsher tones of the french horn. Peering through one of the tiny rectangular windows, he couldn’t see very much; just the glare of a blue floodlight and the shadows of chairs. He put his hand to the door handle and pushed. The click surprised him; he hadn’t expected it to be unlocked…

He checked a bit blithely around for any type of security that might stop him. Finding none, he slipped in and quietly shut the door behind him.

The band played on, drowning out the sound of Ryan’s entry and now Ryan had a better scope of the room. It was a concert hall open to the ocean view with an empty audience of cushioned metal chairs row after row. Ryan had walked in on a rehearsal but the figures on stage could easily have just been the shadows they appeared to be, flooded with lights from both offstage and on. The arched floor to ceiling windows on the right spilled nothing but a charcoal grey seaside dawn into the theatre, lighting only a single line of chairs.

Maybe it was the lonely impression he got from just uselessly standing there, a secret solo audience to this faceless funeral march of a performance, practicing for some show Ryan would never see, in a city he knew nothing about; maybe he was just that tired but he felt a definitive sense that he’d come too far from home and that he’d finally hit a dead end.

He’d done this with way too much confidence, had picked up and flown across the country without even considering what that would do to him. Without considering what it meant that he probably would have followed Shane clear across the world if he had to.

And that was crazy, right? People didn’t just do things like that. He didn’t just do things like that.

He didn’t even want to admit it in his head. The idea of his being under a thrall, that he was no longer himself. It felt wrong trying to juxtapose it in his head with how deeply physical it had been to want Shane that badly and the self he was before Shane ever bit him. All of that plus the sick, shell-shocked look on Shane’s face as he’d drawn that conclusion about Ryan and the way they’d touched each other. And somehow even now, standing here doubting himself and his own motivation for being here, he knew it wasn’t blood; Ryan knew that Shane was wrong because...

Because…

“You don’t like it.”

Ryan almost shouted his surprise but he did in fact leap away from the voice, even as he whirled around and looked at the offending speaker. Some guy had just been sitting slouched in one of the chairs Ryan had pegged as all empty. Thick hoodie; no visible brand over jeans and sneakers. He looked like a mannequin in the glow of the blue stage lights, silvered doll-like sheen to his dark curls, and they really were curls, defined, short but tumbling over a set of vacant bright eyes, which weren’t looking at Ryan; they were fixed distractedly on the silhouettes on stage playing their next song, slower than the first.

“Wha...what?”

“The expression on your face just now. One look at you and I’d think the sax player just broke your heart…”

Ryan gestured aimlessly, his heart still hammering from the scare. “Sorry, dude. I kinda just got lost and wandered in. I’ll go.”

The guy shot him a sidelong look, darting and inattentive. “You out here alone?”

Every warning bell in Ryan’s head went off. “No...uhh, my friends are just outside.”

That won Ryan a good direct stare and a smile. Chiding and suddenly entirely too attentive. Ryan inadvertently looked at his teeth, could only really see the bottom edges as the guy spoke, gleaming blue. “No one’s out there,” he was saying with a comfortable little laugh. “It’s all right. This is just a jam session. You can stay. They’re about to play some Billie Holiday; perfect thing to heal a little heartbreak.”

Ryan looked back at the stage, uncomfortable with flagrant eye contact like that. “You guys hold some early jam sessions...”

Out of his periphery, he saw the guy’s smile spread like a melting pool of silver. “I like to work before the sun comes up. Come on, now that you wandered in, keep me company?”

Vampire. Ryan thought, taking a long breath in. Get out. Run.

Steeling himself, he swallowed his fear response, hoping the immediate tremor in his limbs wouldn’t show “Uh…” Ryan said with an expert show at sensibility. “Yeah, if you’re sure.”

“Cute company makes music feel better, don’tcha think?” He was still smiling when Ryan met his gaze again. He seemed so harmless; just a young dude in his early twenties maybe, unassuming and granting a laser-like focus on Ryan. A surefire intention in the way his smile beckoned. “Especially in the dark,” he added. The guy definitely knew how to draw people in, but all Ryan really felt was his feet fighting him as he tried to move, move closer.

“Can’t say no to flattery like that,” he sighed, forcing a smile.

He slid down a seat and Ryan took the chair right beside him, and immediately felt a disturbing lack of boundary. He could feel the guy’s stare, an unapologetic drag of a held gaze up and down whatever image Ryan made sitting beside him. Seemingly satisfied with just that look, he settled back in his chair, a soft and pointed creak of metal and cushion as he folded one leg over the other. Ryan could feel the sweat on his back and his forehead. He clenched his fists because he felt the letter opener slipping down his palm and shoved them under his arms in a gesture that he hoped looked like he was settling, crossing his arms.

“My name’s Jacob,” Ryan’s new companion offered after a tense minute. The saxophone notes flared and the tune got slower.

“Rrr..ricky?" There was no meaning to it. If things went sideways here or if the conclusion he'd drawn was wrong, he would be anonymous; he could disappear.

"Ricky?" Jacob echoed laughingly.

"Ricky," Ryan repeated firmly.

"Well, Ricky. I’m not a big believer in chance, but I’d say I got pretty lucky having you wander all wide-eyed, lookin’ beautiful and lonely right into my place of work,” he said, eyes narrowed like he was watching the effect of the words on Ryan.

Ryan laughed in spite of himself. “That’s...quite a line.”

Jacob bent in his seat as he leaned forward and twisted to look up at Ryan, “Looks like it worked?” Ryan twitched away just as a cool hand reached out in the dark and smoothed up his arm. He hadn’t meant to be so jumpy, but knowing Jacob could now feel him trembling made him all the more anxious.

Ryan shifted in his seat, laughing with a shiver. “Sorry…”

“Hey...hey,” Jacob said, and Ryan felt a hot cloying pang jerk under his ribs as if he had been stabbed. It startled him enough that he let Jacob glide a hand up his shoulder to his neck and cup his jaw. “No one knows you’re here. With me. It’s just us. Us and that big band up there and they’re not lookin’ atcha; they sure as hell aren’t lookin’ at me.”

That made Ryan look at him. Properly. Close across the short space of their seats and the unmasked now ardently hungry stare coming from him. The whites of his eyes were dazed blue by the stage lights and his wide, oddly perfect mouth formed a questioning moue, pointedly vulnerable. And it hurt Ryan somehow. He understood right then the stabbing feeling for what it was: it was a swelling sort of heartache. Something about Jacob’s tone reminded him so forcibly of Shane, and of how much their separation was doing him in.

It crystallized his intent. Ryan leaned in, grabbed at the side of Jacob’s hood with his free hand and pressed his mouth on his. The move must have shocked Jacob because he froze, palm of his hand that had slowly been moving up to touch at the ends of Ryan’s hair paused. Ryan drew right up close to him, wrapping a full arm around what he was quickly discovering was Jacob’s lithe frame, smaller and drowned in his big hoodie. Ryan felt how he went tense, his ribs swelling with a deep intake of breath, taking in a heady gulp of whatever Ryan was giving out. It actually terrified him how easy this was, how good Jacob smelled and felt to him, how openly Jacob responded when Ryan coaxed his lips open.

“You’re shivering,” Jacob whispered when Ryan broke off; laughter washed over Ryan’s cheek, desperate breaths soft and steadily getting quicker. “Your hands are cold, you know?”

Yeah, Ryan knew he was shaking, torn between nerves and the pure disparate feeling of kissing a stranger. He just hadn’t known that the ice in his lungs was something others could feel. “Wanna get outta here?” he mumbled back.

Jacob nodded, his curls crushing against Ryan’s forehead. Ryan gripped the letter opener tighter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sky had become a blue-grey; a pale soft light spilling over the stretch of boardwalk bordered by a long stretch of a metal gate. He could really see Jacob now; different out of the dim stage light; his curls were a startling auburn.

Jacob's eyes were burning black as he backed up against the portico's balustrade, pulling Ryan toward him by his belt. "C'mon," he said with a badly hidden urgency.

In the cool night air, gripping Jacob awkwardly at the hem of his hoodie, Ryan felt exposed. His mind was going a mile a minute, cramming every doubt he could come up with next to everything he could perceive about the way Jacob was trying to touch him, feeling at his arms and then shoulders, reaching up to press palms along his neck.

What if he's not…?

The confrontational question had been there in his head from the start but it was different now that he had his hands on Jacob; now that he could feel the warm metal of the letter opener against the palm he had against the balustrade.

He had to wait for the bite; that was clear now. With Jacob pressing cold, tentative kisses down his jaw and groping hands up his shoulder blades, Ryan screwed his eyes shut and inclined his head, waited as Jacob glided a whispering kiss down his throat. His mouth was dry. And hot. A familiar feeling soaked his lungs as he took in Jacob’s scent, like a grassy landscape soaked after a blazing hot thunderstorm. He waited, tense, as Jacob reached the tender space where his scar was; Shane's favourite spot…

Ryan had stopped breathing because Jacob’s scent was choking him, making him grit his teeth in a strange agony. He felt adrenaline, maybe something about the idea that he might have to hurt him, drawn blood. Blood. Sublime…

Ryan was lost. Jacob hummed a questioning sound, and Ryan thought the wait might kill him first. It took a solid hot moment before he realised Jacob was saying actual words to him.

"What?"

"I was just saying," Jacob leaned back much to Ryan's relief and simultaneous chagrin; his smile was a white glint in the dawn's dark. "It's a shame."

"What is?"

He felt Jacob's shrug. "When you realise you really click with a guy, but you know you can't keep him."

Ryan swallowed. What? He couldn't think what to say to that, so he stared at Jacob as he leant back in, beatific smiles and sharp breath over his lips.

"Maybe it's better you don't feel the same," he was murmuring between soft bites over Ryan's lower lip. "I'd hate to break your heart…"

His hand drew fingers along Ryan's cheek, pressed with his thumb so Ryan would tilt his head back.

"I don't see that happening," Ryan mumbled, feeling his doubt grow tenfold as Jacob pulled him closer, aligning their hips with an unmistakable intent.

"Good." Jacob's hold on his jaw became more confident as his teeth scraped Ryan's earlobe. Ryan expelled a sharp breath, waiting, almost mentally hoping in a new twisted way that that had been the hint. "I hate sad goodbyes."

It was supposed to be quick. Ryan just didn't expect Jacob to pull away so reflexively. One moment he kissed Ryan's throat, a wet touch of his lips and tongue up the very line of where Ryan could already feel Shane's teeth again-- like an alienating weariness and melancholy--and the next, Jacob's teeth touched down faint serrated edges, pierced him.

Ryan tensed, felt every muscle in him flex with revulsion just as Jacob breathed in sharply. “Trucizna,” he hissed in a low horrified tone.

Ryan acted quickly. If the chain hadn't been wrapped around his knuckles, he would have dropped the letter opener that moment when Jacob's fingers closed a tight bruising hold on his neck. Ryan brought his arm up in a vicious defensive swiping motion and felt the blade connect.

They both froze.

Jacob blinked up at him with a bold surprised stare in the waning twilight.

Ryan was panting with a converged effort not to let go but the strength in Jacob's fingers threatened to snap his neck easily. The only thing stopping him almost made Ryan recoil in alarm. He'd jammed the letter opener right into Jacob's jaw, pierced the skin and bone with a clumsy strength he didn't realise he’d had going in.

Trembling and clearly in shock, Jacob maintained his hold. For a wild horrified moment, Ryan thought he'd made a terrible mistake. Then in their frozen silence, Ryan stared down at Jacob; at the gleaming wild whites of his shifting eyes, and the stark porcelain of his features now hardened with something else. Something base. A cornered beast. Then of course the teeth. Ryan had never fully examined Shane's teeth but he knew they couldn't be like this; the points of Jacob's incisors were finely sculpted and curved, pink-tinted at the tips with Ryan's own blood. It had the same sort of impact on him as the first time he'd laid eyes on a hunting knife.

Ryan's own shaking had stopped; his hand was steady as he shifted his hold on the handle of the letter opener, so he could hold it under hand. "Let go of me," he said, trying not to look at the blood now on the side of his palm. "Jacob, let me go."

To his complete surprise, Jacob's fingers loosened. He didn't fully let go but his hand went slack enough that Ryan was able to push Jacob away slightly. He looked away at the sky in a sort of dazed fashion as if he couldn't quite fathom what had happened.

"Now, I need you to do something for me," Ryan began.

Jacob's eyes flickered up at him again, now more lucid and a whole new flavour of predatory. Testing the waters, Ryan twisted the handle of the letter opener back, and Jacob went pale, teeth gnashing together in pain. Ryan grabbed his arm and pushed him against the balustrade with his elbow.

"Don't try anything," he snapped with a lot more vehemence drawn from fear than he wanted. "I don't want this to end badly but I need to find someone and I need some answers to get to him."

Jacob made a strange noise that sounded like a scoff inasmuch as he could with a blade through his jaw. "This ends badly for ya either way, buddy. You've got venom in your blood. I give you a day or two if you're lucky."

Ryan felt his stomach drop, a very fundamental awareness of the ever-creeping cold in his lungs and the steady ache, bold and distracting in his middle. All of that he had pushed to the back of his mind in all his worry for Shane. He was going to lose his mind.

Jacob looked around at him, smugly aware of the effect of his words. "Is the someone you're lookin’ for the one who poisoned you?"

"How…" He meant to ask how a vampire was meant to do that. If just biting was all it was; or if it was something Shane might have known would happen. He also then realised that if he wanted answers, he wanted to talk to Shane first. "I...Yes. Where are the others just like you?"

"Look, man." Jacob strained his arm a bit more, obviously a little paralyzed with the pain, but he soldiered through with a shaky exhale. "Maybe the venom gave you something you didn't have before, but you're not invulnerable. If you want to meet the family, you'll need my cooperation."

"...the family…" Shane's family? How was he supposed to pull this off without even knowing where Shane was? Or even whether they knew either.

"No one but our family's allowed to feed in this city, so whichever idiot infected you has gotta be with me and my own. I can get you in..."

Ryan hated to do it especially with Jacob answering his queries just fine but he had to be sure. He twisted the handle again and pulled Jacob's arm further back when he let out a strangled sharp sob. "I need a guarantee you aren't lying to me."

Jacob was spitting expletives between gasping breaths. "Right now...I can hardly talk seeing as you put a knife in my cheek!" He made a realistic and startling attempt to wrench his arm free but Ryan put his weight forward and braced himself. "On top of that, some no-name blood bait human just overpowered me. Let me tell ya, my guy. All I really wanna do is go home."

Maybe it was the insulting notion of being called ‘blood-bait’ that put him off, but he pressed his elbow one more time into Jacob’s spine, gratified when he heard him spill another list of vehement words in that foreign language. “I'm gonna let go of you now. I wanna trust you, but I need you to be chill."

"I‘ll be a fuckin’ ice cream parlour if you’d just let me take this knife outta my face!”

Slowly, almost gingerly, Ryan drew back, waiting until the absolute last second of their contact to withdraw his hold on the letter opener. Jacob crumpled a little, grabbing at the balustrade for balance. Ryan gave him a wide berth as he turned, watching every movement Jacob made with a new disconcerting fear. Jacob shot him a fleeting baleful look as he straightened before reaching up; then with a few bracing breaths puffing out his cheeks, he yanked at the blade. The sound was awful, like a death scrape, flesh and bone under metal and Ryan flinched.

“That’s gonna leave a scar probably,” Jacob reported a little mournfully as he examined the offending object. “You got me with solar crosses?! You gotta be kidding me…”

Ryan didn’t dare respond to that. He’d already made it too apparent he had no idea what he was doing. “So which way we going?”

Jacob looked back at him as he let the letter opener hit the wooden planks under them carelessly, eyebrows raised; the remaining hole in his cheek just bleeding freely now. He looked a new sort of horror as his features turned up in a very sickly smile. “Oh right, about that…”

The air was shoved right out of his lungs when Jacob lunged at him, throwing a sudden effortless blow of a right hook against his jaw. Ryan found himself staring up at the sky as his body followed the upward swing of his head, and then he felt his back crack against the wood planks, heard a terrifying snap, but he’d been ready. The resounding crash of the bottle of holy water muffled his own cry of surprise as he accidentally bit down into his own lip on impact. He fell apart a little at the sting of glass in his palm but Jacob twisted away from him, a low pained breathless growl spilling from his mouth. That gave him time to recover as he rolled himself onto all fours, keeping weight off the hand with glass now in it.

“Told you…” he ground out through his teeth. “...I told you to be chill.”

He realised with a vague fatalistic relief that it was the wood beneath him that had snapped, not his actual spine. At least his legs weren't giving out as he leaned against the filthy building wall to try to get to his feet. Jacob on the other hand rolled over onto his back, which gave Ryan a good look at the damage. He’d cracked the little bottle of holy water over Jacob’s head. The curls now plastered to the right side of his head were soaked black with his own blood.

“I guess you knew what I was about to do,” Jacob spat, staring up at the sky with a stunned gaze; he reached up to carefully touch at his head. “Had your guns ready for it.”

Ryan huffed out a bit of a hysterical laugh. He'd never been in a fight before and he was never gonna watch one on TV again without thinking of this moment, with his heart hammering through his rib cage, barely enough air reaching his head so he was already reeling and dizzily blinking through sweat until a glint of metal caught his eye. The discarded letter opener! He swept down and grabbed at it quickly enough that Jacob flinched.

"Yeah…" he suffered through a laboured breath then, holding up the blade in his fist. "...this is life or death for me."

"All right, all right..." Jacob steadied himself, grabbing a wood railing to pick himself up as he spoke, slurring around the blood in his mouth. He was looking warily at Ryan, like he half expected yet another weapon to materialise, which only made Ryan himself go tense because he knew that had been his last chance; he’d have to kill Jacob if he attacked again.

“Just tell me what I need to know, Jacob,” he said after a cold considering silence.

Jacob’s now transformed features, bloody and wet, twisted in an annoyed grimace. "You know what? Fuck this. It’s called Stricks Cove Hotel," he spat without preamble.

Ryan didn't even get the chance to blink in response before a rush of movement blew right past him, kicking up sand and the fleeting honey scent of his blood. Ryan’s whole body tensed up and suddenly Jacob just wasn't standing there anymore.

"Fuck!" He hissed with deep feeling, pushing to his feet properly.

His lip was bleeding and he had to nurse his left hand as he did it, but he fumbled for his phone out of his pocket. One swipe of his thumb left a sticky blood streak across the screen and he swore again, tucking it under his chin and vigorously sweeping his hands over his T-shirt. He was shaking, letter opener still tightly clutched in his other hand under the phone, adrenaline rocketing through every nerve-ending. For a first fight--minus all the blood--that had been a little underwhelming. Unless of course this was what it was like to lose so pathetically.

He was scattered but he had cleaner, however scraped up hands resting on his phone now, with his map app open, not quite sure how to spell the hotel name but beginning to type anyway.

The broken feeling of relief soaked him through when he saw it. Stricks Cove Hotel in the listings as literally a three minute distance away on foot. He felt sick, his stomach twisted into angry knots as he staggered off the veranda onto the sandy path below the faded wood steps.

He was basically limping into certain death; he knew it, but the chance that Shane would be there; would at least understand before Ryan was gone, that he was doing this with his own heart, his own blood and breath.

Because--and he was absolutely certain of this now as his knees gave out on the last step and he nearly ate a mouthful of sand--- no amount of hypnotism or fucking thrall would have made him endure any of this until he'd met Shane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a direct contrast to the dreamy Port o’ Call hotel, Stricks Cove was a gold building under orange and pale blue turrets. Ryan clutched himself, dead tired and colder than ever as he stepped into an open courtyard of deep green vinery, freisa, and blue bougainvillea. While the rest of Ocean City smelled of salt, pastries and sea air, this place curtained by the tall buildings cupping it into a strange little clearing, was like a greenhouse, sweet floral smells, iron and dust.

In the tapered light of dawn approaching, hundreds of windows reflected back the place’s strange little garden and its white stone. The Jersey seaside feel was entirely gone; this place looked like something from a Baltic bay, a place completely anachronistic to the quaint little city he’d been stumbling through only moments before.

The hotel entrance canopy was built up out of brown stained glass and black frames darkening the swell of dawn as it had begun to spill around the shapes of leaves. Ryan could feel and hear his shoes scuffing along the pebbled pavement as he limped delicately to the doors. He could taste his own blood and the morning air colder than ever. He was gonna be sick…

The Shining. That was his first thought when he entered despite the fact that the entryway was small, covered in tapestries and walls of brocade bordered in thin gold stripes. There were a set of French doors made of mirrored glass at the end of the room, austere, but also gilded with gold. However, it was the wide front desk that drew his attention away from the rest of it. With the place so quiet, he hadn’t known what to expect when he entered; anyone could have been standing there and he wouldn’t have been half as surprised but he was brought to a standstill when he met the stare of a concierge, dressed neatly in a dark-coloured jacket, his brown hair piled on his head in a bun that was the only distinctive feature Ryan could see of him from that distance. He watched him languidly, taking in his current state, blood, sand, and bruises.

“Do you have a reservation?” His voice shocked him, low and carrying in the dusty silence of the building. “Or are you returning?

“I…” Ryan cleared his throat and approached the desk. Closer now, he could feel the man’s reserved strength, clearly bored out of his mind with Ryan’s unremarkable presence. Definitely vampire. “Listen. I’m looking for someone.”

“Oh.” His expression didn’t move. “A guest?”

“Yeah, maybe? He must have just come in…” He was so damn tired. He leaned heavily on the edge of the desk, shutting his eyes for a brief moment. The sickly sweet smell of the flowers outside faded and his unguarded senses were attacked by a new scent. It reminded Ryan of the first cloud of fragrant honey that would come from a newly opened jar but with an obscure note like the smell of hot water touched to stone burnt in electricity. It was enchanting and mouth-watering and it was coming from the concierge. The same smell he’d drawn from Jacob. His eyes shot open and he looked at the man across the desk wonderingly, who returned his stare with mild disinterest.

“I need a name, sir,” he reported coolly.

Ryan swallowed. He looked like a human being in every way possible down to the lines beneath his eyes and the freckles on his nose and cheeks. “A name,” he murmured, still lost in thought; distracted. “You….” Without even thinking it, he was smiling and the concierge looked a little taken aback. “Maybe it’s you.”

“I’m...I’m sorry?”

“Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he continued, dropping his voice just low enough as he made a silent beckoning gesture.

Hesitantly and with great misgiving, the concierge leaned in.

It was near enough. One reach across the desk and his left hand was curled around his forearm in a mad, unthinking gesture. An expression finally flew across his face as he appeared to register what Ryan was doing. Outrage turned to perfect terror. Ryan didn’t even know what he was doing; it felt natural and loving and horrifying all at once. The easy way the wrist bent as he tried to pull away from Ryan and the thick tart scent of his blood under dark skin made Ryan’s mind reel. And he was fighting Ryan, using an inhuman strength to try to break his arm. The surface of the desk snapped as Ryan hauled him across the desk toward him in a fluid movement and for a wild moment, all he registered was the man’s eyes staring up at him in disbelief like a trapped predator finding itself in the clutches of something bigger.

The first swallow of it stopped him. His trembling dominant hand had drawn a line across the concierge’s naked wrist with the jagged side of his letter opener and he buried his face in the open wound. There had been zero thought or pause to it; he’d welcomed every blessedly relieving drop that sprang like an oasis into his open mouth. The taste was like he remembered it, heat and then of course he swallowed and that strange very human act made him release the other man with a gasp. The cold in his lungs was now a swooning burn, a comforting fire swimming down to his middle.

Ryan was horrified, licking away the taste at his lips absently, as he noted that the cut on his lower lip from earlier was gone. He watched the man scramble away from him. What the hell was he doing?! “I’m…Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”

He didn’t answer. His movements were quicker, sharper now and no longer languid as he shot to his feet, kicking himself over the desk in retreat and with a single leap grabbing for a thick gold rope with tassels. A bell rang, with an echo that was far off enough to be deep, deep inside the hotel. He cradled his arm, looking back at Ryan with hopeless distress even as Ryan backed away, hands up.

“I swear I didn’t mean to do that,” he began, not even sure how to apologise. Some part of him was distantly aware that his hand didn’t hurt; that he was walking normally; no pain in his leg where he’d struck the ground. The panic in him was in flight mode; he wanted to leave all of this behind him, tear off back toward the beach where everything had felt moderately normal only an hour before.

His back hit the double doors; he felt the glass start to crack and he was shaking all over again; felt like he’d had a hit of something dangerous and foreign, bad enough to make his skull feel like a prison because all he wanted was more.

He had to find Shane. This was crazy. He had to find him. He turned to push the doors open...

His thoughts came to a screeching halt when the doors swung inward without him revealing a glimpse of a furnished foyer framing a long, wide stairwell and a startlingly tall and beautiful woman emerged, looking distracted and very annoyed. She looked down at him and Ryan was awestruck. Not at the stark sharpness of her features--though they were striking and almost unreal-- but her eyes, black though they were, they were vibrant and speaking a warmth that Ryan had looked meaning into many times before. Maybe, too, it was how her mouth curved crookedly downward in a bothered frown at the sight of him; or even her high forehead under a wealth of wavy silver-grey hair spilling down her own suit jacket. Whatever it was about her that said it, Ryan saw it immediately. She looked almost exactly like Shane.

Neither spoke as she stood towering over him, holding the doors open in a frozen and thinking pause, just staring at him like he had said something deeply offensive.

“What happened?” she said at last in a throaty voice.

“He came at me with this…” The concierge rushed over from his spot by the bell rope, holding out Ryan’s letter opener for her to see. “He’s taken my blood,” he reported in hushed tones, and Ryan cringed at how she glanced at it, then him with obvious disdain.

“Hanna!” a voice behind her snapped.

She turned--slightly-- eyes never leaving Ryan’s and Ryan was almost afraid to look away. The reality of going up against a vampire like Jacob had come and faded; she was different. He had walked in here completely unarmed and alone, had done something unthinkable, and he could sense in the tension of her posture that she could snap his neck a lot easier than the gesture she’d swept the doors open with.

“Hanna, if I die of actual blood starvation, I swear to the elders--”

That made Ryan look. The accent for one and Jacob’s voice coming in at clear volume. He was sitting at the bottom of a wide wooden stairwell beside another muscular stranger with blond coiffed hair who was pressing a blood-soaked towel to Jacob’s cheek. Jacob accepted these administrations with a pointedly petulant expression on his face. The expression brightened when he saw Ryan, brightened inasmuch as a really malicious smile could strike anyone’s features with light.

“Well, hey there, Ricky,” he said slowly, eyes darting toward Hanna with a pointed excitement. “What took you so long?”

Ryan looked nervously back up at Hanna standing barely a foot in front of him. Hanna inhaled a slow and decisive breath through her nose. “Ricky…” she echoed, a careful and performative disgust lacing the way she pronounced her next words. “Nik, please lock the front doors.”

The concierge slinked off to head for the doors. Everything was quiet barring Jacob’s occasional hiss of pain and the finalising metallic ring of the front door’s bolts slamming into place.

Ryan’s jaw hurt; he was clenching his teeth hard enough to break them, but he forced himself to speak, mortified at the stilted quaking tone coming out of his mouth. “My name is Ryan--”

“Apart from being a liar,” Jacob interjected, half laughing. “He has Ichor, Hanna. All of his blood is sick with it. Zakażony… zakażony przez nieuważne ugryzienie.

“Had to be one of the children then,” the man beside Jacob murmured wonderingly. “No one has been so careless in decades…”

Hanna’s arms dropped from the doors and she finally turned to look at Jacob and his companion. “A child can’t infect, you idiot.”

“Yeah, Lukas, you dumbass,” Jacob quipped mockingly, twisting away to his feet when ‘Lukas’ grabbed for him with vicious intent. “All’s I’m saying is someone got careless.

“Do you realise how serious this is?!” Lukas snapped.

Ryan took a slow step backward, aware with each passing second, as the truth filtered out through this exchange that he had fucked up. Terribly.

Ryan had his eyes fixed primarily on Hanna who was still watching the two argue and appeared to lose patience right then. “Nie obchodzi mnie to! Zabiję go!

Jacob’s eyes darted at Ryan quickly at her invective words, waiting to meet Ryan’s eyes, which set Ryan on immediate edge. “Don’t tell me you don’t wanna know who drank from a human and just let him live? A little interrogation...” His young features seemed to drop all malice as he acknowledged Ryan’s stare. “You know, before you kill him?

Ryan couldn't turn on his heel fast enough. Like he was being thrown, his legs did most of the work. He barrelled for the front doors, frantic and spaced out with terror. He had to get out of there; he could at least overpower the concierge...

He must have shouted when he felt a pair of hands set on his throat from behind. As if being pulled by a yoke around his neck, he was yanked backward past the two mirrored glass doors and into a strong pair of arms, and he knew it was Hanna by the flash of silver in the corner of his eye. “I already know who did it,” she was telling them in tired tones as she twisted Ryan in her grasp.

“Hanna…” Ryan heard Lukas say. “What are you hiding?”

She was stronger than Jacob; even stronger than the concierge. Ryan fought and twisted, fists out and his heart hammering so hard, it was going to burst. He kicked away from her but she held him like a doll, setting one firm grasp on his chin and the other on the back of his head. His own mortality was tangible in that second and he was powerless. Hanna’s hands tightened and Ryan’s head was forced upward quickly at a fatal angle; he saw the upper landing overlooking the room he was in separated by columns and black banisters and in the middle of it all, a large skylight. Ryan’s gaze fixed on it. The night had finally vanished, and the daylight was blinding violent white. He thought he felt a breeze like the salty scent of the ocean; a beautiful wave coming over him and the knowledge that his death might mean absolutely nothing.

Just nothing.

The pain set in first and he knew it’d be over in a flash but it never came. He never quite stopped fighting, but he did flinch with his eyes screwed shut when Hanna’s fingers went taut with intent. However, everything was too still. He opened his eyes and Hanna had frozen, deadly still like a cornered cat, awaiting a move. He could feel Jacob and Lukas staring, the two of them as still as Hanna and everything else in the room.

“Give me an excuse, Hanna.”

He was vivid. Real. In the cracked frost of the mirror panels on the now closed double doors Ryan saw him reflected. Standing at Hanna’s right, he was loosely holding a knife pointed to her neck, looking calm and relaxed in his dusty jacket and his messy brown hair a halo over his head, but his eyes were hard, black under the shifting sun spilling into the room and his knuckles were stark white. Ryan’s heart stopped then. It fully killed him. He was dizzy with it, the strange ethereal onset of a heart attack perhaps, but to the sound of singing, of relief. He let out a small sound, too broken to be any words. Couldn’t even complete his name in his head.

“Holy shit…,” said Jacob from far off. “Is that…?”

“Anytime you’re ready,” Shane prodded in a surprisingly gentle tone. “I found this knife in the lockbox downstairs next to all the other weapons the elders have you convinced can kill you.”

Hanna’s hands uncurled from Ryan’s head, freeing him to drop to the floor in an undignified heap. He’d barely caught himself before Shane collided into him on the floor. It hurt; he might have broken a rib if he’d been twisted anyway, but he felt like liquid poured into Shane’s hands scraping around his neck and into his hair. It wasn’t a kiss, but he pressed his nose down Ryan’s cheek, and Ryan felt an open and delicious despair at that, fumbling to just grab Shane in one place--his collar; his shoulders; the front of his button-up shirt-- and hold on until his fingers hurt. It was so much like that first time on Shane’s bed, the day Ryan had agreed out of heartbroken desperation to let Shane bite him, furious with the realisation that he couldn’t lose him.

And even then, it was different; a whole mess of hunger on both sides. Ryan felt full of aches that might as well have been physical because where Shane touched-- fingers scooping up his shoulder blades and twisting into his T-shirt and then Shane burying his forehead against Ryan’s chest with a deep, rich sigh of “Ryan, I can’t believe you…you came after me”-- he felt a crumbling ease. His arms enveloped Shane’s neck and hadn’t realised he’d grasped the material of Shane’s jacket, to hold him down with him; keep him there in a flagrant panic. Shane’s bent knees shielded them from the rest of the room, holding him still and close. They couldn’t have come together more perfectly and Ryan was perfectly shattered by how much he’d wanted just this.

Hanna’s uncomfortable sound of dissent and a soft scoff from Jacob awoke them to the rest of the room and Ryan felt immediately overcome by the reality of what had just happened. He scrambled up, one hand fisted against Shane’s jacket, pushing him behind him, separating Shane from her. There was no way he’d let things get that close again.

Hanna didn’t even spare him a glance. “I knew your coming home would bring an onslaught of bullshit,” she shot at Shane wryly. "What were you snooping around for in the basement?"

Shane’s hand came down gently on Ryan’s shoulder, squeezing. “I only wanted answers. And this isn’t my home,” he replied offhandedly. “As you can see, there’s been a complication.”

“A complication?!” was the outraged reply, coming from Lukas who was standing closer now with a stance fully prepared to fight. “You’ve been so incomprehensibly stupid! Even our novices know better than to spread the Ichor! And to lead him to your family?! He already attacked two of our own and drank from one!”

“Well, let’s just say I never had a formal education,” Shane offered bitterly, sweeping out an affected hand wave. “I came to Hanna hoping for a solution, but she seems preoccupied with lying to me, and it seems you as well.”

Lukas turned on Hanna. “You were wrong not to tell us he’d come back. Jacob might have been more careful--”

“You think this is my fault?!” Jacob cried incredulously, gesturing at the oddly fresh wound still leaking on his cheek. “Even if I’d known the family’s escaped sea critter had come back, how would I have guessed he’d armed a human with a way to kill me personally?”

You got me with solar crosses… The words Jacob had spat at him only a while earlier repeated in Ryan’s mind. Was he not healing? How did vampiric healing even work? Had Ryan done more damage than he thought?

“You would have been safe at home with your brothers and sisters,” Lukas griped on, reprovingly.

“So what would you have done then?” Hanna snapped. “I was waiting to see what he really wanted! He showed up at ten last night raving about his self-inflicted exile, about ancient blood, the elders and the rules and his twisted love affair with the little abomination he’d created. Was I meant to present him to you personally, Lukas? Like this? When he’s very clearly unhinged?”

Shane laughed, a bitter withering laugh at Hanna’s statement. There was fleeting comfort in Ryan being able to lean back and feel Shane against him, warm through the fragile layers of clothing between them. Love affair, she'd said. He could feel every insinuation of movement Shane might make and in that way, he felt Shane’s discomfort; his own exhaustion as well as Shane’s. He felt almost furious about it. That was a love affair.

“Look, I get it.” Ryan announced, hoping he didn’t sound as terrified as he was when various pairs of vampire eyes zeroed in on him again including Hanna’s baleful stare. “I’m out of place here, and believe me when I say that I don’t know as much as you think. I just wanna know what’s happening to me.”

It was Jacob who spoke up, darting careful shrewd looks between Shane and him. “It’s like I said, cutie. You’re dying, and he’s the one who handed you the death sentence. Love hurts, am I right?”

“It can’t be that simple,” Shane interjected, tone hard with a feral warning. Ryan wasn’t sure Shane knew what had transpired between Jacob and him, but from the way his fingers slipped and curled around Ryan’s nape in an almost distressing possessive hold enough to make Ryan’s knees want to buckle, he had to have some idea. “If he were just dying then Hanna wouldn’t have tried to off him right then.”

“He is just dying,” replied Hanna, her black eyes dragging over Ryan. “The Ichor has had months to gestate in his bloodstream. He came here after stabbing Jacob with a solar cross blade and then he attacked Nik. I don’t think I overreacted.”

Shane growled. This was about to go sideways again in a matter of minutes. Ryan tugged lightly on Shane’s jacket, bracing himself.

“The great irony is you were the family’s weakest link, impotent and broken, unable to feed yourself,” Lukas scoffed, now relaxing as he perched on the credenza beside the stairway. “And here you are with an infected human because you couldn’t control your hunger.”

That lanced a spike of anger up Ryan’s spine. “Hey, Hans Gruber, maybe you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!”

The noise that erupted from Shane sounded like a snort and broke into full on laughter which was very gratifying.

Lukas wasn’t anywhere near as amused. “Laugh it up all you like. The Ichor will kill him with thirst or he’ll need to drink more and more of our blood until he chokes. If he’s at the stage of infection where he’s drinking, then maybe he’ll take you with him.”

“That’s bullshit,” Ryan blurted out, devastated. “That’s not happening. Ever.”

The fear was back. The notion of his own death seemed abstract within the elation he felt from being next to Shane again, but the idea of his killing Shane...the taste of vampire blood was still on his gums and--god help him-- he felt a prurient thrill every time a hint of it touched his tongue. Death was another detail in the crazy event horizon that had transpired since the moment Shane had walked out on him. That tedious sense that he would be Alone. That was real. “If I’d known what was happening to me, then I wouldn’t--I’m not,” he finished lamely, actively trying not to say the words Shane had said to him months earlier.

He had taken blood by force just minutes before...

“Ah, and there it is, Shane,” said Hanna, folding her hands in front of her as if coming to a resolution. “Out of ignorance and carelessness; you infected this poor man without even knowing the risk and lead him here--”

There was a resounding thump from behind them. Instinctively, Ryan tried to shoot himself out of the room, but Shane still had a hand to the back of his neck, and his grip tightened. If anything, he stepped between Ryan and the sound as they both swiveled to look along with Hanna and Lukas.

Jacob was on the floor; the place on his head where Ryan had hit him was still wet; as was his cheek now against the dark lacquered hardwood still an open and fresh wound, pooling under his curls.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

“Jacob!” Hanna shouted, cutting across the room at a rapid pace, her boot heels a reel of clicks as she and Lukas reached his side. Her earlier deportment; so teeming with veiled rage and violence was so gentle now. Lukas tipped Jacob’s head up as Hanna gathered him in her lap, turning him over in her arms like one might do to a small child. She didn't seem to mind as the blood on his face left a smear down her front.

"Nik!" She barked impatiently and Nik nodded, racing up the steps; the order in her mind clearly implied by circumstance.

Ryan started when Shane’s hand slid up his arm. “You should sit,” he murmured in an undertone. “You’re shaking.”

Ryan nodded, still watching the strange scene unfolding by the stairwell. Hanna said something soft in their language, so quiet he couldn’t make out the speech. She seemed changed by him in her arms and Ryan was shaking, overcome with a vicious guilt about it all. Between how crazy he’d been acting to come all this way, to how he’d inflicted this much pain in one evening to the fact that the steady palm gliding across the small of his back as he was guided toward the high-backed sofa in the center of the room by the fire was comfort he could easily keep eating up. He thought of this thing they kept calling the Ichor; such a different menace than the imagined thrall Shane had worried about enough to leave so abruptly; maybe worse in its own way.

God, but he was thirsty again.

When he dropped into the sofa cushions, holding his hands clasped between his knees, Shane was still beside him, resting an arm on the back of the couch, keeping Ryan tucked in the shield of his body as they both looked toward the three vampires to their left.

"What're they gonna do?" Ryan asked in an undertone.

Shane shook his head, brows curving downward as he stared at Hanna with a curiously concerned expression. "They'd either bring him someone to feed on or they'd call Papa…he's the only one with blood ancient enough to heal him."

Nik emerged from the top landing of steps, rushing down in a graceless stumble. He handed Hanna a metal object. A scalpel?

Ryan stared. "He's...where is he?"

"Not sure," replied Shane mutely. There was a dark look coming over his features as Hanna began to unbutton her jacket, letting Lukas pull at her sleeve so she could shake it off. She accepted the scalpel and in one fluid movement, drew it across the crook of her arm.

In a flash, Shane was sitting upright, his whole frame tense, and Ryan sank back in the sofa but he was rapt on the image of Hanna bending her arm against Jacob, pressing a now open wound spilling blood so dark it was nearly black to his slack mouth.

"What the...fuck, Hanna?" Shane ground out.

Hanna shot him an irritated glance, her mouth curved in a wince when Jacob seemed to come to as he latched on. "You've been gone a long time, Shane," she supplied bitterly before turning to Nik. “Go call the others."

Shane’s voice had risen. "I asked you last night about ancient blood and you lied through your teeth. You said Papa was away. Now, you..."

There was life in Jacob now as he reached up, gripping Hanna's arm as he drank. Lukas looked stricken as he glanced between Hanna and Shane.

"Why wouldn't you tell him?" He asked her softly. "He has as much right to know after all."

Hanna kept her gaze fixed on Jacob pointedly. For all her features seemed cool, Ryan saw the lines of her expression, how very much like Shane's they were, masking a fragility and deep pain with a blank veil.

"Where...are the elders, Hanna?” Shane asked, tone slow and warped with a burgeoning anger, and maybe fear.

“They’re gone, Shane!” she finally burst out, agony in the blazing flecks of her tone. “Over three thousand years on this crumb of an earth, filling up with worldly secrets, sharing so little and it all means nothing. They did it like it was natural. All of them. Even Papa. They had all the answers, but when the turn of the century arrived, they became silent breathing corpses. No one could speak to them, their children begged. I begged. We brought them blood but they’d stopped drinking. They didn’t need to drink; their blood was self-sustaining.”

“What happened to them?” Shane pressed.

"The moon," Hanna replied.

"What?" Shane returned flatly.

“Even I used to laugh at our childhood bedtime stories saying we are born to the cycles of the moon.” Lukas chimed in, getting to his feet a bit gingerly. “Then the moon engorged the tide, and took our Elders with it,”

“Um--once again-- what?” said Shane.

“One night on a full moon ten winters ago, the tide came high; they walked into the ocean,” Lukas explained. He seemed to have warmed to Shane, now that honesty was in the room. “One by one. Like zombies walking down our bay, all of our dead sinking into blue and black water.”

Ryan realised his mouth was hanging open and he shut it, looking from Lukas to Shane. Shane was still frozen, hand in his own lap, staring at the others, his breath coming in slow and shallow.

"That doesn't explain why Hanna has the ancient blood," Shane said at last, gesturing at her. "You don't expect me to believe two hundred years is enough."

As if in reply, Hanna tore Jacob away from her arm with an ease that belied the way Jacob seemed to fight, red-soaked teeth bared and scrambling for a sharp wild moment. His irises spilled black as he seemed to awaken to himself, replaced rather quickly with something quiet and shocked.

"Thankfully, just before they went silent, I got sick,” she finally began. “I drank from a drifter who had poisoned himself stupid with methamphetimine. I was the last to need the ancient blood." She picked herself up, unsteadily taking her jacket from Lukas and slipping into it, pushing her long silver hair back over her collar, not looking at Shane as she buttoned it. "Maybe I took too much, maybe it was meant to pass to me. Either way, I am the last of any of us with the ability to heal."

Ryan had known Shane long enough to know when a story wasn't hitting him quite right. It was in his body language. In the way he simply just relaxed; he sat back against Ryan with his arms folded across his chest and a leg over the other to follow. Everything on him went comfortably still, except his hands. Right on his knee, his fingers began tapping a frenetic and impatient rhythm. "OK, sure," he said quietly in that way of his that used to drive Ryan bonkers. It was Shane's most aggravating response --short of saying 'I don't believe you'-- except now he didn't smile. “So you can heal. Your veins are full of the serum to most of our illnesses with immunity to them too.” He reached over and drummed fingers on Ryan’s knee. “Why don’t you do us a solid and... just heal Ryan?”

The abrupt mention of his name had Ryan’s heart kick back up again. He looked over at Hanna who was staring at Shane with a new sort of wry expression even as her mouth curved into a very pained smile. “So then what? You come home to us, take what you want and then you’re gone for another hundred years…”

“This isn’t my home,” Shane reiterated flatly.

“--and what kills me is that I know you’ll be back too!” Ryan winced when her voice broke; the timbre of it shattering into a half-wail not unlike the moment Jacob was in her arms. She was paler than ever; practically grey. “Your teeth are weak and uncarved. If another vampire attacked you or if you were ever poisoned, it’ll be over for you! You need us!”

“So what do you expect me to do, Hanna?” Shane snapped, finally getting to his feet in a flash, his gestures became more erratic and poignant. “I’m asking for just one thing. One thing only you’ve got and I’ve never asked for anything from any of you. This damn place. Eighty-six years just a mile from the bay underwater--victim of the moon and the tide or whatever new fiction you’re trying to sell--and you expect me to believe you’re saying no to me is all some concern for my well-being?”

“Oh give me a break,” Lukas drawled. “It’s not just yours, you lunatic. It’s ours. The family’s as well. Now that we know you could create--” Ryan got another gesture his way--” more like him? What makes you think Hanna is obligated to just give you the blood only to let you galavant off into the world with our bloodline mixed with your recklessness; your lack of reverence for where you’ve come from. You’d sooner destroy what we hold precious than die by a victim on heroin.”

Ryan was suddenly windswept by a dizzying fragrance. Something crisp and gently sweet. It was like walking by a bakery; his eyes slid shut as he inhaled it. It was distracting enough that he didn’t notice Shane stepping closer to the others.

“If I thought she was obligated, I wouldn’t ask so nicely,” Shane replied through his teeth. “However ignorant you think I might be, I do know that the ancient blood is a promise from the elders at least. A promise in Hanna’s hands, but in the end, it’s a birthright to me just as much as it is to you.” Shane paused; he glanced at Ryan, a really quiet and sudden glance, then he did an even stranger thing and lifted his head appearing to address the ceiling. “As much as all of you.”

Ryan followed his gaze and he sucked in a razing cold breath. Nik had come back from his small errand once again and now the upper landing from the top of the stairwell to around the edges behind Ryan, stood at least thirty others. Different ages. Sizes. The rest of the family. Vampires. They had entered so quiet, and so naturally to be waiting spectators of whatever Shane had to say. Jacob, too, had recovered it seemed because Ryan caught his eye as he dropped his gaze from their audience; he looked alight with excitement, drinking in Ryan’s reaction. Ryan was alight with the source of the scent, however; even as fear curdled in his middle, he felt euphoric. His pulse beat faster in his ears as a strange sense of swelling yearning coiled into his stomach. His mouth was watering with it.

Buffet was the word that came to mind, which was suddenly much more terrifying.

“Fine,” Hanna breathed, folding her arms as she began to pace the bottom of the steps with a slow practiced gait. “You want your birthright, and I see no reason to deny that. But, Shane, we’re all aware of the circumstances of your exile. You relinquished your birthright when you disobeyed Papa’s orders. We have to adhere to the laws… “

Shane’s shoulders slumped. “The laws… ” he said helplessly, disbelief and defeat in the rust of his voice.

Ryan got to his feet; he felt every set of eyes in the room zero in on him, crossing the safety of the sofa to stand next to Shane. He felt sick again, practically shivering from a renewed spiked fever, hunger in all his senses like a repetitive stab in his gut and an inane knowledge that it was this or death. He didn’t care for any of it, really, but it felt good to set a grip on Shane’s wrist, watch the terrible pain in his eyes boil when he looked down at him, swell into Ryan’s favourite kind of resolve.

“I’m sorry,” Shane said. He barely got it out; his words were tight in his throat, trapped by a mess of regrets and frustrations. Like a balled up sock of screams.

“Listen,” Ryan told him in an undertone, knowing the whole room was all ears. “You shouldn’t have had to go through this for me; they’re not worth all this time. I’d rather just be spending it with you. We can figure this out without them.”

“That is to say, it’s not as if a birthright can’t be earned back,” Hanna continued as if Ryan hadn’t done or said anything. “That’s my point. We have all lived the long years in this house, learning the old secrets, understanding what is and what isn’t done. Shane, you were robbed of that, but what if we could give it all back?”

Shane didn’t look away from Ryan. Ryan shook his head at him. This was all another layer of bullshit. His head was starting to hurt as the scent flooded around him, went acidic in the air. Fear? Whose? This wasn’t fair to Shane in any way. Shane grimaced. “What do you mean?” he finally asked, looking up at her again.

“She means she wants you to come home, Shane,” Jacob finally said impatiently, then at Hanna’s furious expression, he went on. “Look, we can play mind games all fuckin’ morning, but at the end of the day, sea critter that he’s become, he’s all that’s left of the old days. I don’t care either way to be honest, but I’m sick of listening to this dumb episode of People’s Court. I got shit to do, you know?”

“More delicately put,” supplied Lukas with a deep sigh. “I wouldn’t trust you with your birthrights, especially now we have some of the young ones here to see you. We have to set an example.”

Shane’s wrist slipped out of Ryan’s grip, but only for a moment as he grabbed his hand, interlocking their fingers. It was seamless and sure. As if they had done it all the time. Ryan felt himself unconsciously tugging on Shane’s hand, stepping backward. He wanted to go. The infection be damned; they’d work around it maybe. As tight as his hand was in Shane’s, he felt him slipping away and that was agony, more so than the trickling burn he felt when he turned his head to the smell of the vampires up above them. What was happening to him?

“I have my life in L.A.” Shane stated firmly. “Ryan has a life there too; his family. We have friends, work we’re doing together.”

Hanna didn’t reply. Her black eyes finally dropped like a temperature degree directly on Ryan. Her expression of weary pleading crossed with a strange anxiety made Ryan balk a little. It was worse than if she had kept her fury; if she had kept looking disdain at him. Hers was a wistful speaking look. “They want me to go,” Ryan said slowly, horror as the realisation dawned. “This is...this is a trade. She heals me, and I leave you…”

Jacob’s eyebrows raised and his mouth opened, but he said nothing as he dropped his gaze. Lukas simply watched Shane with a guarded impatience.

“He has maybe a day left,” Hanna said softly; a deliberate and new sympathy in her tone. “The venom will go to his brain and rot him from the inside with thirst and then if he drinks, he’ll kill. Every one of your brothers and sisters; your cousins in this room is in danger because the venom drinks enough to drown its human host. It calls for a massacre.”

“No,” said Shane.

Then Ryan could really see it. In the back of his mind’s eye, he’d been mentally glossing over the room, wondering vaguely at the fragrance that had been coaxing him. Now it was as palpable as the touch of Shane’s palm against his. The vision of Nik’s spilling blood on his fingers, still a dusty stain he could smell. Only fresher, brighter; more delicious. Some of them were young, had to be; breakable and terrified like they knew a wolf had come in the room. Why could it be so simple? Ryan was salivating at the thought.

“No,” Shane said again and Ryan bit his own tongue, wishing he could throw the venom right up. “This isn’t a deal; it’s fucking blackmail. I’m not interested--” He tightened his grip on Ryan’s hand, and he began to walk. Ryan felt a blessed relief to be heading for the doors. He wasn’t going to kill anyone. “You were right,” Shane was muttering at him. “God, you were right; this is bullshit. Let’s just--you and me will fix it--”

The sound of over thirty sets of feet on the steps sounded like a roar and it happened all at once. Shane didn’t let a second pass. Ryan felt his side connect with the doors and he braced himself when Shane all of a sudden seemed, if at all possible, taller; bigger. He had unearthed the knife from earlier. It really was what Ryan imagined silver would look on a blade as Shane spread his arms, forming a shield between Ryan and the room just as the entirety of the gathering converged on the steps, every set of eyes wide with a ready threat.

“Shane,” Lukas said with mounting exasperation. “You are really so unfortunately stupid.”

Jacob had moved, but he wasn’t in any form of offence. Rather, he was guiding Hanna to sit down in the sofa where Ryan had been only moments before. She looked wilted. When he looked over at Ryan, though, he shrugged and grimaced as if he’d just watched Ryan make a bad bet at a roulette table. “Sucks, my guy,” he said. “They’re never gonna let you walk outta here with him.”

Shane’s growl was pronounced, low. Ryan felt it in his middle, like his veins were singing in offkey harmony to it.

Hanna spoke, but it was lazily, sullen and completely spent. “This could be a lot simpler. You could fight today, get away within an inch of your lives, but we know where you’d go now, Shane. You’d be running forever.”

“So we’ll run forever,” Shane replied with more ferocity in his voice than ever before. “And you’ll just be keeping a permanent flow of new blood for him to drink until I can find blood ancient enough to heal him.”

Lukas scoffed an immediate invective. A curse in their language so vehement, his next words seemed gentle in comparison. “Don’t you even get it yet? Surely, you have to have realised. He has family and friends and life in L.A., you said? Do you think it would stop with just you two?”

Hanna sighed, raising her wrist to her forehead. “Think of the amount of bloodshed we’d have to execute just to put things back into balance here.”

Jacob patted her hand, and Ryan thought of his mom, Jake, his dad. His stomach twisted. He was furious and suddenly it wasn’t Shane shielding him, but actively blocking him from leaping over his arm. He just needed to get his hands on one of them, one; so they’d see just what he’d do to any of them if they so much as thought of his family like that.

“I swear to god!” he shouted, already frantic. How would he warn his them? Get them out of the country? “You even fucking dare--” There were damn tears in his eyes.

Shane stayed him all the same, fighting him hard, arms now around his middle. “They won’t, Ryan. They won’t!” he insisted, agony in his breath. “I’ll make sure they won’t.”

Ryan went still; he stopped fighting Shane. The vampires had come closer, but Ryan was bent double with Shane wrapped around him and he just felt a weak sort of despair as the truth settled in, practically melted to the frank resolution in Shane’s voice as he said, “Hanna, I’ll stay. I’m here now. But you would have to swear it. You’ll give him the blood and never hurt him or anyone he knows. You and everyone else leaves him alone. Forever.”

Hanna’s now limpid black eyes swept the room; they all watched her for a command clearly. Finally, with a soft relieved smile, she nodded. “I accept. Once he has been given the ancient blood, he is free to go where he pleases, but he must go.”

Ryan was pulled apart, a perfect threadbare remnant of the self he’d been only seconds before. Shane loosened his hold on him but kept an arm on his shoulders. He would later remember Shane pressing his face into his hair for a moment, resting a contemplation to the side of Ryan’s head accompanied with a sigh. It was different now. When it would have been just them. A strange attitude of an old promise. Package deal. Them against the world. The ghoul boys. What a faint promise that all was now. They’d threatened his family and what they didn’t realise was that Shane was a part of that.

Ryan swallowed a bitter tirade rising up out of his mouth, to tell them that they were the parasites, coming into existence, ripping everything from him because they couldn’t just take his life. They had to break him off in two here.

It had to be Shane somehow. Had to be him. It was a cowardly thought; just in passing and he hated it when it crossed but it was still in flagrant hungry words. I wish they had killed me.

“I’m too weak. Jacob’s injuries were too deep, too much old magic used. I need…” Here Hanna sat up delicately. She was such a pale shadow of who she’d been when she burst out those doors just an hour before. “I need to rest. Nik, see that they are comfortable--Lukas, one of the suites maybe. I’ll call for you when I’ve restored enough for him to drink.”

The mass of vampires were beginning to disperse, some remained to gawk at Ryan or to make quiet whispering conversation behind their hands. Some walked right out the room as if they’d been busy with other things prior and had only interrupted their day to come by. A select few had come over to Hanna, taking her arms and helping her totter toward the steps. It was eerie in its own way because every one of them gave Ryan a wide berth.

They were afraid of him.

Shane still hadn’t let go of him when Lukas cocked his head to indicate they follow them upstairs.

 

 

 

 

 

It felt like he had lost track of time The open second-level landing was a lot brighter than it seemed from below. The wall hangings and landscape paintings were colourful, showing the seaside and what appeared to be one large framed oil painting of a forest with warped trees, most of them shaped like a ‘J’. Ryan took this in as he kept in step with Shane along the interior balcony past a smattering of different vampires watching them pass.

On the opposite side of the landing, Hanna was just closing the doors behind her as Jacob and a few others walked away. As her doors swung shut, she happened to look right at Ryan with the most imperceptible stare. Ryan stared back, puzzling a little that perhaps it was the distance across the mezzanine that made her look so ghostly with her skin as pale and ashy as her hair, but in that moment Ryan had never been more terrified of her.

Ryan had no way of relaying to Shane what he’d seen as Shane was well-distracted by another vampire rushing at a speed walk past him toward Lukas, handing him a cloth-covered bundle. Lukas had led them to a room door facing the back of the hotel as he unearthed a set of keys.

“The courtyard suite, huh?” Shane remarked dryly. “You spoil me.”

“Consider it my one and only homecoming gift to you, Shane,” Lukas drawled back. “And it isn’t permanent obviously.”

Ryan ambled in first, taking in the mint green brocade wallpaper and black wrought-iron covered windows looking out at a wide courtyard spilling into a stony rock path towards the ocean. A twin bed with a deep brown duvet was propped against the wall with a matching wrought-iron headboard. The room was situated like a hexagon because at least one side of the room towards the bay windows was blocked off by a sliding door opened to a small ensuite with a clawfoot tub shower under bordeaux paisley walls. Ryan barely got a glimpse of the clearly sloppy tile before he noticed Shane standing stolidly in the doorway as if to block Lukas from coming in any further. Lukas very clearly noticed.

“I’ll come for you specifically when Hanna is ready for him,” he said sternly, looking up at Shane with a severe threat. “I’ll have Melanie watching nearby… in case there’s anything you need before then.”

“We probably won’t be needing anything, thank you,” Shane returned curtly with one of his rare mean smiles.

“Then you’ll have no reason to leave this room,” Lukas shot back, shoving the cloth bundle at Shane’s chest as if waiting for the chance. “Here. A change of clothes for your guest so he doesn’t have to sit around covered in the blood of our family.”

“Sure,” Shane said, dropping it on the floor beside him. “If I think of any reason though, I do know my way around.”

Lukas opened his mouth, but Shane was clearly done being polite. He set a palm on Lukas’ chest practically throwing him backward with a sharp shove and he shut the door, throwing the latch closed in the process.

Ryan watched him and didn’t say a word, almost suddenly unprepared for the idea that for the first time since he had fingers clenched into Shane’s clothes, holding him close, speaking hotly over his mouth what seemed forever ago, they were really and truly alone together. He had literally no clue what to say.

Shane didn’t turn around. He lifted a hand and rested it with ease on the wall beside the door. Ryan felt a heady weight settle in the room.

“I know exactly what you’re going to say,” Shane spoke into their silence, still facing the door.

“Y-” Ryan cleared his throat, not liking the raw choke in his voice. “You do, huh?”

“Mhm.”

“Enlighten me, then.”

Shane twisted, dropping his arm and all the frightening energy, sharp edges and defensive lines on him had fallen with it. His mouth quirked up; an entreaty in his eyes. “You’re gonna tell me Hotel Transylvania was derivative at best, and I gotta say, you’re right.”

“Ff—” Ryan tried to speak, but he broke instead, wheezing out a harsh laugh as it all crumbled inside him. Shane was smiling for real now, watching as Ryan dropped to sit on the bed, hand over his face. Part of his laughter was beginning to feel like hysteria but he didn’t care; it felt good to do something so real, so concrete as laugh at something dumb Shane said, even as he felt the lump in his throat untwist because he was starting to sob...

Hearing the change in Ryan's laugh, there was the metal clatter of Shane setting down the strange blade he’d pulled on Hanna before he crossed the room and perched on the beige chintz ottoman sitting opposite the bed. Silently, he reached out and put a hand on Ryan’s knee, squeezing but saying nothing else. The wide window behind pushed a beautiful glare on his features and when Ryan looked up at him through his tears, he thought of how horrible it was that Shane had said something as faultless and wonderful as So we’ll run forever with such a certainty he was never going to forget it.

Ryan pushed at his tears with the back of his wrist. “So what, we kill ‘em all, throw Lukas in the ocean, then we go home and never look back?”

Shane’s smile twitched, and his thumb pressed over Ryan’s knee, a soothing pressure. “Not before we burn it down first, every stick of history in this place. Then we go home.”

They sat quiet for too long after he said that, mulling in truths and affections Ryan didn’t think he could bear putting words to. "What if…" he started to say, but he swallowed it. Concessions right now only made it hurt more.

Shane watched the floor, his mouth screwed into an unhappy shape. The only thing on him moving was his thumb sweeping up and down the inside of Ryan’s knee, stroking a tentative groove into the muscle there.

Moments ticked by and a wave of sickness swooped through Ryan at a tormenting ebb and flow. His eyes were finally dry, but he was dizzy when he sighed one more time; a long volcanic breath, right out from under his ribs. Shane muttered something under his breath.

“What?”

“I said, I think this is better. It’s not the best, but it’s—”

“Stop that,” Ryan interrupted dully, shutting his eyes. He shook Shane’s hand off his knee. He didn’t want to hear another word from him if this was what it was going to be. Shane being palliative and soft-spoken with him was worse than if he’d let Hanna snap his neck. “You don’t have to say any of that.”

“I’m just saying—”

“Well, I can’t handle you saying it!” Ryan snapped. “I know you’re thinking in that big head of yours that you deserve this, for biting me, for everything that happened but it’s like I said to you before you took off and I had to chase you back here, I wanted this just as much, wanted you— it’s on both of us, OK? God, I don’t want to leave you here with these people, Shane.”

Shane’s eyes dropped, melting brown and growing sadder by the second. “If it meant you were safe, and that your family was safe. All of our friends; everybody.” He glanced up, and there was the bloom of it, the hunger he would sometimes brand Ryan with, flooding his expression. “I would endure a whole lot for you, and that means more than how I feel.”

“Fuck, Shane…”

“Just, c’mere, will ya?” He leant forward then and did something that alarmed them both a little, hooking his fingers around Ryan’s waist and dragging him to the end of the bed so they were closer. Ryan’s legs were between Shane’s and he felt positively dwarfed as he rested his wrist on Shane’s shoulder to balance himself. Shane’s palms slid down his thighs, near contemplatively.

“I’m here,” Ryan said, his next inhale flooding back at him the most wondrous fragrance of Shane, of the coldest part of the sea; Ryan slipped his hands from Shane’s collar to rest on his jaw, grazing the rough patches of his stubble. “I’m here.”

“The real kicker is I’m glad you followed me,” breathed Shane, bending his head forward against the top of Ryan’s, his forehead pushing at Ryan’s fringe as he sighed again. “You see the thing is I miss you already--missed you the moment I walked away, and I don’t know if I— ” he said quickly, a little desperately like he was afraid the words would fall apart before they were out of his mouth.

Ryan uttered a frustrated sound; was embarrassed at the sound of it. “I know, I know. Me too,” he replied gruffly. He pulled Shane closer, grabbed relief when their lips touched, pausing as the thirst roared up, spilling cold right over the back of his tongue. Shane’s hands slid further up his thighs as their kiss was held in what felt like suspended motion while Ryan fought furiously not to scrape his teeth hard into Shane’s gorgeous skin and lap up whatever he gave.

“What’s wrong?” Shane whispered at Ryan’s pause.

Ryan swallowed. Shane was so close; he could taste the blood in the damp of his memory. “Shane, I’m— if you actually knew what this was doing to me. It’s bad...”

“What’s bad?”

“The—” He didn’t want to name it. The Ichor or whatever they called it. It sat weird in his mouth, the way the word ‘Cancer’ might. Terminal and distressing. He should feel weak and sick with it; paralyzed with pain but the reality of this warped energized hungry feeling was so wrapped up in his feelings for Shane right then, he couldn’t imagine wanting Shane without the thirst right there with it. He wanted everything about Shane. “I’m going full reverse-vampire here, man,” he admitted weakly.

“Reverse vamp--christ--that’s the funniest…” Shane replied, the rake of his laugh as warm as his thumbs tracing inviting, kneading patterns along the muscles of Ryan’s thighs — thus far, the most ambitious Shane had been with touching him. He glided a feathery laughing kiss up the underside of Ryan’s lip. “Believe me, I know. It’s OK, Ryan.”

“I kissed Jacob.” The words dropped out of his mouth before he could stop them; the soothing contrast of Shane touching him; being with him. Knowing so devastatingly well in that moment that he was fucked because he didn’t think he could want anyone else ever again.

Shane’s laugh was deeper this time, incredulous. “Wh...whaat?” He breathed, shoulders shaking.

“I was tryin’ to...I needed to find a vampire, make him bite me to be sure--”

“You turned his face into a kebab.” Shane was still smiling. "Was he that bad a kisser?"

"Still went better than our first kiss," Ryan laughed amicably. "At least he had a good reason to run out on me."

"Hey," Shane said, a sudden fervid growl coming out his chest. "Be nice to me right now. I just learned you copped off with who I'm pretty sure is my second cousin."

That made Ryan snort, breaking into a louder spate of incredulous laughter. "I really don't want to navigate your family tree like that."

Shane bumped their foreheads together albeit gently as his eyes dropped, softening the blow of his silence effectively.

Ryan frowned all the same. "So you're not upset?"

Shane's hands on his thighs did a faint clench just enough to make Ryan suck in a startled breath. "Well, he's never had you like I have."

The shudder that racked his spine at those words was more than erotic; it sizzled in his veins. A wistful little chill. "No," he replied, his voice shaken right out him, turned him to a whisper. “He tried…”

He felt Shane's smile, gratified, smug, oddly predatory. “But you were mine first.”

Ryan moved his mouth the tiniest amount, leaning into a soft and savoring kiss, shivering when Shane let his fangs skim his upper lip, catching him with the sharp side of his incisors. Ryan pressed in, eyes closed, feeling the fissured, focused pain. Even if it was killing him, Shane’s venom had marked him completely and he wanted more. Maybe if he pressed hard enough, Shane might let him…

Shane's hands slipped upward, palms circling his hips, blunt fingernails grazing up under Ryan's T-shirt. He grunted in pain when Ryan bit down. Ryan hissed; couldn’t stop it. His teeth were too blunt; he’d have to make a messy bite, only take a layer of skin, droplets like his first taste. It wasn’t enough. Ryan growled frustration turning into a soft breathless whine when Shane's whole body responded. He could feel Shane’s fingers dig deep in his skin, blunt sweaty lines as he trembled.

“F-fuck,” Shane swore, biting off his groan and panting against Ryan’s lips.

Ryan’s fingers traced up the stubble on Shane’s chin, his vision felt glazed, groggy before he touched at the tender bruise he’d left on Shane’s lower lip, dragging his thumb nail across it, watching a faint watercolour vision of the red blood blooming from pink. “Give it to me?” he whispered unthinkingly. His voice was not his own; there was a shaking violence in his muscles, writhing up his spine, making him want to scratch, bite and claw.

Shane shook his head like he was trying to clear it, brown eyes cloudy with hunger and Ryan absolutely loved that.

“Please?” he whispered again. Oh, he was so close. The smell was making him salivate; he could feel it cooling in his mouth. He was going to bite Shane again in a second, making him curve like that, bleed his terror right into Ryan’s lungs...

“Would you get mad if I said you make a better vampire than I do?”

His calm sardonic voice shook Ryan right out of it for a brief second. Shane smiled at him, eyebrows curved upward in the sweetest expression and Ryan was wrecked for how much he loved him. “Only because that’d make you a liar,” he retorted, half-joking. “To get your teeth in me all you had to do was show up. I’m here and I gotta fuckin’ beg...”

His voice faltered because Shane was still laughing at him, low and beautiful but abruptly he rose from the edge of the chair, and leaned down over Ryan in one fluid motion. He wasn’t sure what Shane was doing but he drew back in awe as Shane’s right serrated and curved fang dug deep into the flesh of his own tongue before suddenly he was descending on Ryan, lips parted. All it took was one tiny drop and Ryan felt his skin erupt in gooseflesh. It was just elation as the heat of it slid down the back of his tongue. It was more than thirst. It was like a day without eating, an overwhelming nausea. When he opened his eyes, there were black spots swimming around his vision. Shane was bleeding into his open mouth and Ryan’s hand shot up, grabbed him about the jaw to hold him still--there above him--perfect while he swallowed the long thick droplets down his throat.

He moaned as his heart started to hammer in his ears and his veins came alive. The bed sunk under them and Ryan got lost, unable to fathom letting go or living anywhere outside this moment. He could feel his mouth filling up and all at once like this--the taste was like earth--what had him reeling was the sharp tang of spiced salt, coppery and infatuating. Ryan slipped fingers into Shane’s hair, grabbed a handful of tendrils soft and pliant, dragged Shane deeper into his mouth, sucking a fantastic pressure into his tongue.

It hit like sensory memory as if he were just dreaming again. Stuck in the clouds of comfort, touching parts of Shane he’d been wanting to, unguarded in broad daylight with black-patterened shadows sliding up his arms as the trees outside in the courtyard wavered a soft sea breeze. This was deja vu though; the touch of Shane’s breath and Ryan holding him by the throat, stroking the comfort of his living pulse as blood smeared his lips, coated his tongue. He saw the dream just like it had been, except his hand was clenched around a knife, not unlike the one now laying on the dresser in the corner. His hands were soaked with Shane’s blood as he pressed the blade deeper and deeper. He could feel real Shane, his Shane, weakening against him, falling apart and dropping his weight back and Ryan kept drinking the flood, swallow after swallow as Shane began to feel like a limp doll.

It was like a flashbulb memory when he dared to open his eyes. Blue-bruised eyelids, transparent under the eyes. A picture from just months ago when Ryan, frustrated out of his mind at the thought that his best friend was suffering and hadn’t told him…

It wasn’t fair; wasn’t fair for Shane to have just rolled along into his life, to have made Ryan care what happened to him…

I don’t wanna do it anymore... It’s the fight I can’t deal with anymore, Ryan.

The twist in his gut broke him open, made the thirst in him and the taste of Shane’s blood like ashes and dirt. Ryan didn’t mean to shove so hard but he twisted away and staggered to his feet, practically throwing himself into the opposite wall. He knocked into a small table and had to catch a few porcelain figures clumsily righting them but they rolled back and off the table, shattering on impact.

Shane had fallen back against the chair, dazed, heaving and looking light-headed with his mouth stained a gorgeous red. He looked weakened, but not brokenly ill. Ryan was gaping fear at the fact that he’d anticipated it in his mind; the last drop until death...

Ryan shut his eyes; shut off his mind for a second. A proper reboot between heavy inhales and long exhales. Had to flush it out. The thirst couldn't matter, the blood was nothing. What mattered was Shane.

"I realise I asked you for it, but… I could’ve killed you--" he started and Shane buried his face in his hands at whatever he saw in Ryan's expression.

"I'm sorry. I'm-- I keep thinking how these could be our last moments together. I don't know what I was gonna do…" He spoke softly into his palms, pressing them to his eyes like he was trying to push the thoughts, the grief back in. “I don’t know what I thought I could give you by letting you drink me dry..."

Ryan stared at him, still clutching the edge of the table where all the figures had fallen off. He stared at the image Shane made, less out of a dream and much more present and alive for him. Not dead. Still here.

Still on this earth.

“You know what? “ he said finally. “I think I was doing the same thing to you. I kept hoping so badly that my blood would help you get better; that if I kept it up long enough you'd start seeing why I was so angry at you for giving up in the first place,” Ryan found himself murmuring, out of breath; his every nerve thrumming with the phantoms of Shane’s hands on him, the taste of him.

Shane still wouldn’t look at him. “God, I really fucked this up,” he mumbled into his palms.

“And you still don’t even realise it. I...care about you! You are so much more than whatever science did to make what you are a real thing. And now I get to see what it's like to feel like you; for there to be just one single mindless thing I gotta have and what I want to do to have it but that's what's so amazing about this experience, bloody and gross as it is…"

Ryan paused and waited for Shane to look up at him again, cloyed out by Ryan's silence. He did, and he looked like he was drowning. It fed Ryan a furor to say at last.

"... you wanted to show it to me and now I'm here with you and I see you and I think all of what you are, fangs, skepticism and all, is beautiful. And I need you to make it; you have to make it, you got me? Because for all of the monsters lurking outside that door right now with all their myths and stories about zombie vampires skipping into the sea, they will never be as miraculous to me as you are."

Shane shook out a breath, a small crumpled exhale and his eyes were glassy as he pursed his lips and nodded.

Ryan scrubbed his hand through his hair before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand reflexively. “I need a shower... and a nap.” He pointed at the discarded cloth bundle on the floor by the door. “Are those clothes for me?”

Shane got up, shaking off his jacket. “Yeah, they’re for you. It’s...uh, been a long night. I’m sure Hanna won’t call until she’s slept and fed, that is if the ancient blood requires feeding,” he rambled. “Maybe every time she bullshits, her blood gets stronger.”

Ryan snorted, walking toward the ensuite with what had turned out to be a pair of plain outdated jeans and a red Hawaiian shirt. He was already feeling normal albeit a little dizzy and the nausea was climbing him again, but he didn’t feel like a slippery beast in him was conniving up ways to kill whoever was in the same room as him. He pulled off his bloody shirt before the thought occurred to him. He turned to look at Shane who was standing in that way of his when he wanted to pace, but was holding himself still so as to appear less pensive. Hands on his hips, a towering scruffy figure staring indecisively at the myriad story of furniture around him, lifted out of the 1930’s.

This could have been them on location, cameras and lights propped around the room, Ryan getting ready for bed while Shane got comfortable in bed in his long johns and loose shirts. Odd how it felt almost comforting to think of it like that, as if Ryan might lie down and curl up in those sheets, knowing that first thing they’d pack up and go home together.

“Hey,” Ryan said from the doorway.

Shane turned. His hair was a total mess where Ryan had grabbed it earlier; he looked as tired as Ryan felt.

“You know before I found out you were a vampire, I used to think you were full of shit.”

Shane looked bemused, his shoulders lifting in a semi-shrug.

“Now,” Ryan went on, “I think you might be the only vampire I’ve met who isn’t full of shit.”

Shane’s brow quirked; a richer beatific smile creating itself on the right side of his mouth. “You’ve met like four. The others you looked at, to say the least.”

Ryan grinned at him, wanted him to know he meant it. He didn’t compliment Shane enough; he could see it in the perfectly surprised way Shane looked at him right then. “Yeah, but then again, “ he continued, trying not to blush or look away. "Maybe it’s the part of you that doesn’t buy into superstition. You’ve always taken the mystery and hysteria out of the things that scare me the most…and maybe you're the reason why I don't feel scared right now. Not for us anyway.”

Shane’s expression became deeply enigmatic, a soft mystified smile still in place as Ryan, cheeks hot and probably flushed, closed the door behind himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was dark when he opened his eyes again.

Shane must never switched on the lights. Ryan didn’t move. He was warm and while he still felt weak and a little light-headed, he was no longer fighting off nausea and the black circles in his vision were gone. He chalked it up to the possibility that most of the nausea from before had been from being up all night.

He was being held tightly to Shane’s chest. Shane’s one arm was under his head, a firm pressure of a pillow and the other was draped loosely over his hip, fingers curled in a fist against Ryan’s middle.

For all the new boundaries they’d had to navigate across these past months, this felt the strangest. Not exactly because it was different, but because Ryan felt an immediate sense that they’d perhaps done this before. Like maybe some morning or another-- once side by side in a dusty bed-- they’d fallen together like this.

Then Shane moved, one knee coming forward to touch the side of his and Ryan went stiff, aware too quickly of how he’d tapped out earlier; too drained and fatigued to fully register the grief of what was coming. Of the fact that he’d come so close to killing Shane.

It seemed bizarrely simple in the dark as Ryan groggily twisted around to look at Shane. Even if Shane was just there for comfort, Ryan wanted to look at him. Shane immediately responded to him; he shifted out of their now stiff position with an oddly shaky maneuver like he’d lost the use of his arm.

“Oh jesus, how long did I sleep…” he started to say, but his words died in his mouth when he realised Shane had grabbed the headboard to very gingerly roll Ryan underneath him, pinning him with the cage of his legs and one arm by his head.

Ryan blinked up at the sight he made crouched over him. Something had changed.

A quick almost-smile quirked up the corners of Shane’s lips; wide dark eyes burnt into Ryan’s. Just Desire; it focused on Ryan with an intensity that made him so sharply aware of the both of them, every point of contact they were making and the still unfamiliarity of lying under him, no blood between them, just Shane staring through sharp shadows under the lamps of the hotel courtyard from the window.

Ryan stared back, tried with a vicious masochism to read Shane’s expression, looking for any sign that he didn’t want this as bad as he did.

The expression on Shane’s face cast in shadow was jarring. It reminded Ryan of the first time he’d asked Shane if it was blood he needed. This time it couldn’t be blood. He couldn’t drink from Ryan anymore so...? It looked like he was starved for this, starved for just Ryan.

“Oh,” was all he said, now fully awake.

He rose up on his elbows, lifted his head, stomach clenching under Shane’s thighs and his lips closed over Shane’s before parting again, inviting Shane’s teeth to scrape along his lip, a deep threatening press like the vivacious horror of his favourite dream.

It could really have been a fever dream. The way Shane then drew slow hands down Ryan's chest and pushed him back down against the mattress; the way it made Ryan draw in a sharp, unsteady breath. They were still again as Ryan didn’t move under Shane’s palms. It felt like Shane was paused right at his ribs, waiting to feel Ryan’s chest expand underneath his spread fingers. Nothing had ever been that intimate; there was something in that, as if he could hear and feel something in Ryan when he breathed, and he was savouring the sound or the sensation of something that simple. Just breath.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about,” Shane told him almost conversationally, whispered but calm.

Ryan was all thoughts right now, mind racing over the feeling of Shane just touching, being there. Being everything Ryan had doubled down on dreaming of since he’d found out that this would be it for them. He let Shane kiss him again, but this time he drew his tongue over Shane’s bottom lip, waited for Shane’s and he trembled a little when they made contact--wet and tasting, now so familiar. He closed his lips over Shane’s tongue and sucked, achingly aware of the startling rhythm of Shane’s pulse under his hands compared to how it had felt earlier.

Shane broke away, exhaling sweet smelling over Ryan as he tried to breathe through his words. “...I swear I don’t have a real plan. Not about what we gotta do or not do or what will happen or how. It's more about my family than anything and--just hear me out-- and it’s got me thinking and thinking about you…about us...” Shane’s voice broke as he curved his hands down over Ryan's sides and swept his thumbs along his ribs.

For some reason that was what did it. Ryan stretched under him, wanted to feel the entire length of Shane on him, every inch and he moved to let him know. “For god’s sake, Shane,” he practically whined. “We don’t have to talk about it right now.”

“I’m--I’m just saying all this because …after what you said this morning, I feel like there’s more I could do, but I don’t want to go into this without— if this is our last hour together...I don’t know if you want...”

“I want. I want so much and you’re talking about all this other shit at the same time; I’m so confused. You’re making me crazy, dude.”

Shane laughed at him, a broken sound. Pained. And Ryan felt it in his core. In a jagged cramped place under his ribcage.

“I’m talking about how I wanna take a gamble tonight, but for now, I just want this--in case I’m wrong; in case things don’t go our way…”

That sounded like hope in Shane’s voice. Ryan swallowed, and the movement appeared to draw Shane's eye. He didn’t hesitate anymore, didn’t appear to think before he bent down to the hollow at the base of Ryan's throat – the scrape of his tongue was different this time, not clinical or careful; not caressing edges of a wound he’d made but tasting and licking up the hammering pulse Ryan could already hear in his own ears. He then shifted, slid down to set his teeth around one of Ryan's nipples, teased it with the tip of his tongue.

Then he bit down. Gently. Gentle enough that Ryan couldn’t stop himself; the tiniest gasp, a breath of a "yes" and his body responded in a reflexive and sharp arch up into Shane. That changed everything.

Somehow Shane managed to gather Ryan’s wrists in his hands and he dragged them up, pushed them into the pillows next to Ryan's head. Whatever that was, whatever it did had Ryan thinking wild crazy thoughts like whatever Shane asked him for right then, Ryan was going to give it to him until it hurt. His mouth opened easily to Shane’s and then Shane was molded to Ryan. Ryan got lost in Shane’s mouth and the feeling of his body, all lithe suppleness and yielding heat. Shane's clothed erection pressed against his and the odd roughness of Ryan sweats; and when he thrusted against Ryan, the layers of fabric between them did absolutely nothing to numb the pleasure that speared right through him, skewering him with need.

"Wrap your legs around me," Shane ordered, hoarse.

Ryan complied before he'd even finished speaking. He could only just feel his own ankles digging into the small of Shane’s back; when he thrusted again, Ryan felt his thighs tighten of their own volition and his body rose off the mattress, pushing into Shane.

“The amount of clothes you’re wearing… ” Ryan said, certain the words had jumbled when he spoke them. “... really starting to piss me off.” He was already twisting his lower half, slipping out of Shane’s grip on his wrists so he could reach down to Shane’s belt buckle, tug it open as Shane’s palms spanned the line of his arms, stroking up his biceps in a way like he’d been waiting to touch them.

"I thought you should know that every morning I get up and put on clothes just to piss you off,” Shane whispered, smile in his voice.

“Fucking knew it,” Ryan replied, unable to keep from cackling. He kicked at Shane’s jeans, a little overwhelmed suddenly at how the touch of Shane’s naked thighs felt against his calves and his laugh died a little in his throat when he began to pull Shane’s shirt over his head. He was so real, so open and present with him and Ryan wanted to touch every inch of him.

“There, no clothes… ” Shane murmured, setting hands at Ryan’s waistband. “Now do me a favour?”

“Uh huh,” was the only sound he could make as he felt Shane pull at his sweats and boxer briefs. He barely shook them off, couldn’t even let Shane go to pull them off his right ankle because he needed to have more of him, touch him more, get closer; they weren’t close enough, nowhere near. Nowhere near, so he locked his free arm around Shane’s neck and pulled. They rolled and Ryan sat right down on him, spread his thighs and shivered when Shane's erection slid up the skin of his ass. It jolted him to a reality of what was happening between them, the size of it and the raw touch of the head along his crease was real and he couldn’t believe he wanted that. Shane’s fingers on his ribs crushed in and Ryan almost choked on the sound that spilled out of his throat. Hard muscle and friction and pressure, and the heat in Ryan’s gut flared wildly, splintering into fire, and yes, that was so good, so good but still not –

“Hold on,” Shane broke out and Ryan’s eyes opened. He saw Shane’s jaw clench before he reached down between the both of them. Ryan grit his teeth at the feeling of Shane’s dick licking past the space behind his balls--as if he’d been singed--and he went rigid, his knees squeezing tighter against Shane’s hips. Shane closed a hand over the both of them, easily; massaging the underside of Ryan’s dick with his thumb as his fist went tight.

“Better?” Shane whispered, looking up to watch Ryan’s expression.

“You have no fucking idea.” It was more whine than real words. He felt his whole body go to jelly when Shane’s hips ground upward, pushing Ryan through his fingers, sweaty and slick. Every fiber of his being awoke to tingling awareness, smothering him in sensation. Shane settled into a slow rhythm, simulating the feel of what it could be; the act of fucking; his fist squeezed just where Ryan was digging in so sweet--they were just grinding awkwardly and off-beat and touching tentatively, but oh fuck yes, that was so good – so good.

Shane was flushed and tousled and beautiful underneath him, eyes wide, locked on Ryan’s. So beautiful; Ryan wanted to run greedy fingertips down his inner arms, along his neck, the damn near imperceptible curve of his cheekbones, his mouth, his eyebrows, the bridge of his nose.

He would have had to back off to touch him anywhere else, and he couldn't do it, not then – maybe in a little bit, but not right then. Not when he’d be gone maybe tomorrow or another day; all too soon. Right then Ryan was drunk on closeness and Shane and the scent of Shane’s skin, the way Shane gasped out broken words like "there" and "you" and "oh", the harsh trembling moans he made when Ryan bit the tender flesh just underneath his jaw almost hard enough to hurt, and then a little harder still. Maybe it didn’t matter that his blood was already saturated with the venom in Shane; that he could do it again, but he felt Shane twist away from his teeth.

This wasn’t the time to think about it. Ryan wanted it. He never thought he could possibly want two things like that at once but as he thrust against Shane’s erection, watched the teasing beautiful curve of a vein bloom just under white skin, Ryan wanted all of him. He’d promised himself earlier he wouldn’t risk it, but…

He was distracted almost instantly because Shane was already mouthing up his jaw again, searching blindly for his mouth in the dark. Ryan took Shane’s mouth, captured his tongue and lost himself in a hard, demanding kiss; freer and fiercer. In the silence with just their mouths and the careful thirsty hums of Ryan trying not to groan too loud, thinking of blood and skin and the swollen press of Shane’s mouth--hot and salty, Ryan rocked harder into Shane’s palm, dry, hard and beckoning. He shut it out, the bloodlust, the venom in him craving something fresher; instead he focused on the way Shane’s hips jerked, twitched; the way he moaned, openly and without shame, into Ryan’s mouth.

Embarrassment must have moulded the shape of Shane’s smile on Ryan’s lips. Helpless and panting as he huffed hot laughter into Ryan’s mouth. “God...Ryan...I actually want you to bite me...but we can’t...”

“I know, I know,” Ryan replied; his voice came out like he’d been crying, torn and needy. “Yeah…please don’t stop.”

He felt Shane shake his head, a comforting gesture like ‘never’ and ‘more’ as he licked into Ryan’s mouth, slipping his other hand down the curve of Ryan’s ass, squeezing with a vague and purposeful touch of possession. His fingertips drew a faint propitious caress along the crease, stopping short of actually touching along and inside him. Ryan keened a soft sound into Shane’s throat, rocking back into it without thinking. There were no words to explain what he was feeling, heat in the center of him like steam again; hunger that went beyond simple greed because he wanted to give Shane everything.

But he was starving.

He’d stopped thinking and he’d stopped breathing when a tight bullet of euphoria drew up his spine. He fisted the sheets by Shane’s head and his other shaking hand, gripped Shane’s jaw as his teeth crested a sharp and ambitious bite; not sharp enough but deep enough that Shane moaned again. His tongue was scraping where his teeth had been before he could stop, disconsolate in his hunger. It was only the one taste and he lost his mind.

You little...,” Shane slurred against his shoulder, laughing caustically; he sounded drunk, but the shift of his long arms when he let Ryan go was smooth like he’d waited ages patiently for the excuse to shove Ryan back. Ryan heard himself, like a dead dark growl come out of his lungs, and Shane was done being gentle. He threw him back and Ryan’s back struck the other end of the bed, but he refused to let Shane go, aware in some cooler recesses of his mind that he was strong enough to fight back; that Shane could do whatever he wanted while the venom was singing sharp murder in his veins. Shane exhaled a startled laugh, tickling up his throat when Ryan pulled him in, blunt nails grabbing the skin of his hips. Shane got a good grip on his thighs, forcing them open, but when he pressed himself right in the groove of Ryan’s thigh, a hot burning friction between them, asking but not asking that threw Ryan’s head for a loop; the thought hadn’t occurred to him, not concretely. There had always just been Shane and his hands; his body, his mouth and what Shane did to make Ryan feel like bad honey was drooling through his nerves when they were close together.

“I know you’ve never…” And-- fuck-- Shane’s voice was so soft, coaxing hot breath into the delicate skin of his Adam’s Apple; a jarring contrast to the provocative dig of his fingers circling touching the tender indents of muscle on the inside of Ryan’s thighs. “I can go slow...but if there's something you don't want me to do-- I can stop?”

The word ‘Stop’ hit him like an anvil. “No,” Ryan growled a little gracelessly, practically a whine with the ‘almost there’ sensation torn up by the tightness in his chest, and groin; unguarded lust. Shane seemed to know better what they were doing and he was making it so damn perfect. It was transcending something in him, and he wasn’t embarrassed when his voice came out kinda petulant, begging, “This isn't my first rodeo, Shane, whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”

Shane snorted into Ryan’s neck, which set Ryan off, the juvenile in him winning out as he cackled even though his breath was coming up short, but then the pad of Shane’s index finger was smoothing a dry path up the space right behind his scrotum, pressing what felt like a shock up his whole body. He made a rhythm; the massaging of his finger on Ryan’s perineum, a coarse circle that was making him utter faint curses. Then, Ryan felt Shane. The slick head of his dick, replaced his fingers and pushed hard. Ryan’s whole body flexed with it and he grabbed Shane by the back of his head, tangling fingers in his hair.

“Oh god,” he whispered through his teeth. “Oh god.”

“Nice of you,” Shane remarked dryly and Ryan had never in his life had to bite back a laugh while his body was singing and a sob was in his throat because he didn’t want Shane to stop.

“Shhh,” he gasped. “Shut up, Shane.” He may have dragged out the last vowel helplessly and Shane was clearly pressing wet kisses down his clavicle to soften the vibration of his chuckles. Smug as all shit that he’d taken Ryan apart with one move.

He didn’t really mind it because suddenly all he was thinking about was Shane’s fingers; the shape of them, the pressure of the tips of them circling that delicious spot. Ryan’s knees slid up Shane’s ribs, shuddering every time Shane switched between the dig of fingertips to the thick press of his erection and Ryan dug the sharp angles of his ankle bones into the ridges of Shane’s tailbone. Without even thinking of it, he'd started to rock to Shane's rhythm, arching each time Shane's hips thrust against him, skirting a hot wet line of his cock down towards his ass. It hurt, but just right like he could feel himself welcoming the push of it, feeling like he could come like that, let Shane make a mess of him.

Shane's hair was a mess in Ryan's sweaty palms, but they moved together each time Ryan pulled, trying to get him to go faster. Ryan agonized at Shane slowing right down despite how much he circled his own hips into it, unforgiving torture as his own dick pressed against the give of Shane's stomach. It still felt like he was burning up, something crawling under his skin. If Shane really wanted to stop Ryan wasn’t really sure he could let him. He heard his own voice saying Shane's name again and again.

Shane raised his head and kissed him, his thighs flexing as he rocked slowly then, slow like he wanted Ryan to beg into his mouth. Ryan did, moaning hungrily when Shane picked up his pace, breathing in all of the noises he kept sort-of-fucking out of him. Ryan’s eyes slid shut but he felt Shane dig his knees into the mattress to get leverage. Ryan’s calves slid further up Shane’s ribs, knees practically crushed to his chest and it deepened their contact, Shane’s dick slid once more down and made sizzling heat contact with the edge of his rim. Ryan’s lips parted unconsciously as his hips bucked, his thigh muscles protesting a burn as he felt himself rear up close, but it wasn't enough to get there; he felt caught in a purgatory between the delicious climb in his middle--sweat beading on his forehead, uttering sounds he couldn't stop-- and a furious painful ache.

Ryan opened his eyes again, startled by how much he wanted to beg Shane to fuck him, and how he hadn’t quite expected that of all things to fumble desperately into words about to come out of his mouth. He kissed Shane again, letting Shane’s tongue lap along his, let his lips fall open under Shane’s, panting as he tried to ride Shane’s rhythm, get himself there so he wouldn’t start saying anything crazy. It didn’t stop the torn up mewl from slipping out when Shane, as if set off by Ryan’s fever-pitch cry, dragged a threatening line with his fangs down Ryan's jaw. He then reached up with slick fingers, slipped like a soothing balm over the stinging strip of skin towards the corner of Ryan's mouth. He played two fingertips up the middle of Ryan’s tongue until Ryan closed his lips around them, licking up the blunt edges of his nails while Shane buried himself deeper into the skin of his perineum, ramming up into something sensitive and tickling.

Ryan's mouth went slack. That was it. He felt his muscles seize up, stomach going tight. It was then Shane chose to go still, stop what he was doing like the firm end of a dream. Ryan must have let out a frustrated growl around Shane's fingers. He thought he swore loudly, muffled and nothing but vowels.

"You’ll come when I tell you to.” His voice was rough, shattered with need, kissing around the spaces where his fingers ended and Ryan’s mouth began. Ryan literally couldn’t speak; he was a mess, and he had been so close.

He really tried, held himself tight as Shane reached down with his other hand and pressed the head of his cock, smeared himself wet and wanting along the edges of Ryan’s rim before going still. Ryan was having a fit; it had to be. Everything on him was hot and trembling and writhing with whatever the heck being that close had made of him.

He didn’t even realize he was whining until Shane pulled his fingers out of his mouth with an obscene sound, drenched with a mess of Ryan's own saliva. He hadn’t even realised how hard he’d been sucking them, but they were wet when Shane brought them down, index finger slick enough to caress the edges of his rim and pull lightly, stretch him out. Ryan's hands fell from Shane's hair straight to the sheets under them and he twisted two good handfuls in his fists, seething with want.

"Tell me if I hurt you," Shane growled against his lips, dropping a kiss, taking Ryan's lower lip in his mouth a little teasingly.

Ryan grunted out a soft percussive blissful noise he didn't know he could make in a moment like this because Shane's finger slid in, hard ridges of his knuckle pressing against him inside.

"You'd be so delicious like this, you know," Shane told him heatedly. "Blood hot for mine, all worked up and wanting me inside you."

"Oh fuck," Ryan keened tragically, his words spilling out slurred. Who knew he'd be so weak for the sound of Shane speaking liquid contemplation into his skin? Or that Shane might talk to him like that. He was molten, and trying very hard not to black out because he already felt so full. Shane was pressed into his thigh and it felt heavy, and the head of it kept blooming sticky on his skin. He reached down, wanting to feel it. Shane's erection twitched in his hand and Ryan's fingers circled it, his whole frame twisted to its limit. Every muscle on him was protesting but he was grinding upwards, hard, as Shane started to slide his finger in deeper, pulling out quick enough that Ryan must have uttered a plea.

Shane’s whole body went taut when Ryan squeezed him, and it felt like it; like Shane was twisted deep inside him, screwing him through the mattress. And like that, coiled perfectly together, Shane started to bring him off. He thrust hard against Ryan's fist in tandem with his second finger inching in, stretching a gorgeous fluid burn and going deep enough that he kept glancing against a bundle of tight nerves inside Ryan.

"You can do it, Ryan. Come for me," Shane urged, going faster. His fist tightened each time Ryan’s dick twitched against his palm, the head slick with fluid at the same time his fingers buried inside Ryan slipped upward and rubbed that spot in him that sent vibrant bolts of pleasure to Ryan’s brain where they starburst against his eyelids. Everything was pooling tight in his stomach, faster than usual, overwhelming him completely.

He probably should have been more shocked when Shane bit him, right in his clavicle. Instead it was pain, so sharp and bright and perfect, teeth sinking deeper into the base of his throat with sharp force instead of blunt, and he could feel the skin tearing and blood welling and Shane’s low base sound of desperation. That felt like everything all at once. Ryan couldn’t help it; he came all over himself with a startled sound, gasping wordlessly and fucking himself deeper onto Shane’s fingers at the same time. It was more than anything else ever, he felt completely ripped apart caught off guard by his own orgasm and the sheer force of it.

“Ugh, bad idea,” he heard Shane mutter into his neck.

Ryan was too dazed to say anything, his body thrumming with aftershocks and a swelling numbness where Shane was hot in his hand. He had already come, but Shane’s fingers were still fucking him higher, tighter and hotter, he was going to peel right out of his skin. It was too much but he couldn’t admit it, greedy for the way Shane was rocking against him, pounding him into the mattress, every bitten off gasp and curse. He was just gone over the feeling of having his fingers in Ryan and that too, suffocating in heat and the crush of Shane’s skin on his, felt wonderful.

When Shane came, it was with a startling stillness, an awed gasp and his entire frame froze, taut and paralyzed with it as he streaked fluid over the inside of Ryan’s thighs and his hand. Ryan gripped him through it and tried so viciously not to bite him back because from the way he felt and the tingling sharp sensitivity inside him— his dick was still rubbing soft, but slick against Shane— he might really kill him.

“You really do taste awful, Ryan,” Shane informed him, coming down with a sweet, blinding smile, and Ryan, still shivering, couldn’t gird up the strength to give him a shove. So he basically did the opposite, unfolding himself, legs practically asleep before wrapping every inch of his arms around Shane and tugged him close; tight enough until it was like he could stop him breathing.

“First of all, rude,” His voice was gone; it was all scraped up together like sex rolled over rocks, but Shane relaxed on him, a wonderful comforting weight, sticky though it was. “Second of all, no one told you to bite me…”

“Mmm,” Shane said by way of reply, burrowing his face against Ryan’s neck. Ryan caught his breath as the strands of hair on top of Shane’s head tickled his chin. He was thinking again, clearer than before.

“What time is it?” he asked, hating the question while almost hoping Shane didn’t know. Shane's long fingers were rubbing slow strokes up his chest and his palm was curved almost possessively over Ryan's upper arm, enclosing the muscle there in a squeezing grip.

“It’s gotta be just after five,” Shane murmured, not even moving to check the time as if they could really facilitate an immovable circle around them, make this last.

“I slept all day?" Ryan groaned and the cowlick on Shane's head quivered under his breath. "Fuck, I...you wanted to talk and I got kinda lost for a while there.”

Shane made an amused sound of assent and Ryan felt an immobilizing loss when he shifted sideways, resting his weight on his elbow, chin resting on his fist. “Don't worry about it. Like I was saying earlier before you jumped me--”

Ryan spluttered. “That’s not how I remember that--”

“--before you went 'reverse-vampire' and jumped my innocent and unsuspecting bones, I had had some time to think things over. I … just need to know that you trust me."

Ryan raised himself up on his elbows to really glean a vision of Shane's expression right then. His eyes were still squinted up in a warm look, but the curve of his mouth twitched. "Of course I trust you," he said earnestly. He couldn't even make a joke about it; Shane had just spilled so much more than hope into him and it felt like the world was teetering on a cliff's edge. "I'll do whatever I gotta do, if you've got any ideas."

"I don't want to make promises, Ryan." Shane stretched up, one palm smoothing over Ryan's right bicep as he coaxed Ryan's lips against his, pressed kisses and held Ryan still all the while. "You don't need to do anything…" he murmured. "You should clean yourself up though. I mean, the idea of Lukas seeing you like this already kills me…"

"Yeah I'm not into that," Ryan replied flatly, pushing himself off the bed reluctantly, padding across the room until he was standing on the cold tile in the ensuite. He twisted around with an afterthought and caught Shane with a languid, caloric look fixed on him, taking in the naked sight of him. It was strange, all those moments in the past he could recall Shane’s careful not-looks at him when his shirt was off or when they happened to change around each other; calculated the way Ryan used to just not think when his thoughts wandered, considering that it was one of those truths he believed that Shane was just uncomfortable with too much skin.

It was kinda funny in hindsight.

“I’m gonna shower again,” he told the room around Shane, carefully fixing a stare on his hand on the door knob. “If you’re interested in joining me…”

“Ryan, if I go in there with you, neither of us is comin’ out,” Shane sighed, resting back on his folded arms behind his head, looking every kind of delectable with his elongated limbs bent and curved with milky yellow light loving his every bold angle through the window. Ryan was already thinking what it'd be like to have Shane's endless legs curved around him; what it’d be like to lift the whole weight of those thighs in his arms while he fucked him.

Oh.

Ryan chewed his lip, wondering if it showed on him, the trickle of arousal climbing his spine like a coercive breath. “Maybe that was my plan?” Ryan offered, smiling in spite of himself.

“I like your plans,” Shane said. He then sat up and for a wild moment Ryan thought he might get up, cross the room to him. “Listen,” he continued as he swung his legs off the bed and rested hands on his knees. “If we do get separated; if something happens … to me, I want to say this before it’s too late. Putting aside the blood and all that crap, I--”

“Don’t,” Ryan snapped quickly; everything shifted on a dime and the breath in his lungs were barely enough to make the words carry over Shane’s. “Don’t say ‘love’. Don’t say it like you’re about to leave me.”

Shane nodded, gaze dropping with a rueful curve to his mouth. “You’re right; I’m sorry. That’d be selfish. I’m just bad at goodbyes, Ryan.”

Ryan hated that; hated that he couldn’t bring himself to hear it, that maybe saying it could have been some comfort to Shane, but he didn’t want to hear it. “Then don’t say it,” he whispered. He felt sick again as he pushed the bathroom door shut.

 

 

 

It couldn’t have been more than five minutes. He’d stepped inside the shower and rinsed off quickly, eager to get back to Shane, to explain what was inside him if he could. He knew the words were perched on his tongue but to say them when they were about to lose each other forever hurt more than the damn constant dryness in his throat and chest.

He was thirsty again, dammit. If there was some relief to be had from what was coming, it was that he wouldn’t be swallowing past a searing steamy heat in his throat anymore. He was dizzy from thinking of it; the flavour and the cool wet of it on the back of his tongue.

He’d only just dried off and slipped into the clean pair of jeans-- ignoring the strange wear in places like stains had been scoured off-- when he heard the urgent and invasive knock on the room door.

They’d come for him.

Grabbing the Hawaiian shirt, he wrested open the bathroom door to get to Shane, but he stopped still in the doorway.

The lights were on. The bed was just as he’d left it, but empty. He did a quick sweep around the room. No Shane. The thumping on the door became louder, rising in volume and intensity. He had zero time to process before he heard keys in the door. He finished buttoning up his shirt as he walked unsteadily toward it, terrified while some small part of him was hoping it was Shane, about to walk back in.

It wasn’t. The door opened and Lukas stood there with two others. A pastel pink-haired woman holding what was unmistakably a long taser stick and another guy, bigger than Lukas and Ryan, tall and square like a thug out of a Batman comic. Normally, Ryan would avert his gaze, act like furniture around a threatening presence like that, but in the sudden rise of his grief--where had Shane gone?-- and thirst, he could only think one thing.

That if Lukas drew close enough-- it was all just skin--he could probably rip his throat open before the big guy got to him. The taser would hurt, yeah, of course it would, but it was also a handle to grab, to get her closer to him and he’d have teeth in her neck before she could raise it against him again. He could bite hard enough to tear something. And once that was in his hand--oh--he could probably climb the boulder of a guy if he simply paralyzed him with the taser.

So much delicious blood.

“Where is he?” Lukas barked into his thoughts and Ryan swallowed, dispelling violent thoughts as he felt the vacancy in his ribs swell into agony.

“I don’t know,” he replied flatly. Would he have really just left? Like that?

Lukas shot the woman at his right a look. “You’ve been in front of the door all day. And there’s no way he left the building, not if he thought we had him.”

She nodded, pale eyes darting around the room as she stepped further into the room. Closer to Ryan. Ryan’s gaze shot to the credenza; the blade was gone. He’d have to do this barehanded…

Lukas’ arm flew out, blocking her from drawing near. “You can search the room after we deliver him to Hanna.”

She looked at Ryan only then, sizing him up while taking a calculated step back, lifting the taser in a firm warning. Ryan had to hope Shane was coming back; he couldn't lose his head now. Regardless of how fearless the venom was making him, he knew that even if he killed all three of them there in that room, he still had a hotel of over thirty vampires to contend with thereafter.

"He's not here, all right?" He snapped. "Let's just get this over with."

Lukas grimaced as if the sound of Ryan speaking had put a bad smell in the room. "If you and he are planning anything, let me make it very clear that Hanna is bestowing you the rarest of honours-- letting you even touch the ancient blood-- we could just as easily lock you up in the basement until you're a hollow husk eaten up by your own disease-ridden veins."

Ryan actually hated the guy.

“So are we doing this or what?” he pressed, sweeping his hands up which made the big dude’s fists clench. They were so terrified of him, and it should be so easy…

“Hanna’s in the atrium waiting. After you.” Lukas made an expansive gesture while signaling something to the woman. The large semi truck of a man came around behind Ryan with a surprisingly smooth movement. Something was telling him he wouldn't be coming back to this room.

 

 

 

 

 

Hanna was in fact waiting for them downstairs in the atrium, seated in surprisingly human-fashion with her legs tucked under her, resting her head on her propped hand as she watched them descend the stairs coolly. She had changed out of her blood-stained outfit as well and the contrast was jarring. She was in a pale blue sweater and jean-capris which gave her a decidedly softer look overall in spite of her expression going very dark just then as Ryan followed Lukas and approached the couches where she was planted.

"Where’s Shane?"

Ryan had no reply. The brittle tug on his ribs when he stuffed down his desire to think about Shane just leaving without a word made it hard to put words to anything.

Lukas gestured an exasperated throw of his hands up. “When we entered the room, his human was alone--Melanie, go double check--”

The woman-Melanie--turned on her heel behind Ryan to head back up the stairs.

He went to get blood!”

All four of them looked up. Jacob was just at the top of the stairway, hand on the banister, other hand cupped around his mouth in a silly overt performance of town crier.

“What?” Hanna exclaimed. “What do you mean? Did you see him?”

Jacob nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets before trotting down the stairs. He looked a bit blithely at Ryan as he hopped off the last two steps with a final stomp. “He said cutie over here nearly drained him earlier. He’s done; his tank was empty, so he went to get a drink in town.”

Ryan stared at him. “Did he…” There was no way he’d just… “Did he say wha--”

Jacob shrugged, deep brown eyes dancing with that same curiosity he’d fixed Ryan with earlier like a detached spectator at the manifestation of Ryan’s world falling apart. “He said he's bad at goodbyes and couldn't do it. Not with you,” he stated, emphasizing words like someone spilling an old trite movie quote.

Hanna sucked in a breath and Ryan heard her get to her feet. “So he’s not home at all? You...he just left?”

Jacob’s gaze drifted away from Ryan like a reluctant beacon, his mouth twisting with impatience. “That’s what I said, right? I watched him walk out of the courtyard just minutes ago.”

Lukas’ strange sculpted features formed a perplexed expression. Ryan watched him and Hanna exchange a quiet stare. “Melanie; Cameron, sweep the entire downstairs,” Lukas ordered after a beat.

Jacob’s eyes rolled and he pulled his hands out of his jeans pockets as Melanie and the large suit of armor they were calling Cameron passed him to head behind the stairway towards the back rooms. “Cool. Anyways. He told me to come and tell you in case you were lookin’ for him. Ah, and he, uh, asked me to give you this--”

Ryan drew back when Jacob crossed the short three steps between them and reached out, clasping him about the neck, held the space under his ears, palms against his pulse.

“Wh--” he started to say as Jacob leaned in, pressing his cold curving mouth against Ryan. It was a peck, nothing more. Soulless. Then Jacob made as if to nuzzle up his jaw where his breath grew hot on Ryan’s earlobe, a whisper without any diction, soft enough he barely made it out.

They’re going to kill you.

Ryan’s skin froze, stalled and wordless fear stamping up his veins like icy talons, He stared at Jacob backing away from him, his impish smile not reaching his eyes as he spoke a sharp puzzle without words at Ryan.

“Tragic,” Hanna said, dropping the word like a poker bet. Ryan turned to look at her, his adrenaline singeing his nerves; he could feel he’d started breathing faster. “I was going to suggest he not be here for this to begin with. I don’t think it’d be nice for him to see any of this unpleasantness.”

Ryan’s mind was racing. The two other vampires were gone. It was just Lukas, but if Hanna was closer and sufficiently more powerful…

“I just want this over with,” Ryan told her. “I should thank you--uh, for helping me.”

“Of course,” she said, her brows coming together in a statue’s version of concern, staid and slow. “I hoped you would understand that this family needs to stay together. Separation breeds decay, you know?”

Ryan’s chest burned when he exhaled and he could feel the well of fresh tears, panic-induced and dead, building around his eyes, widened in terror. She was going to kill him; it had been in the cards since the start.

“I know,” he whispered.

Ryan strained his periphery because Lukas had begun circling him, coming around to stand behind Hanna and the door. No way out. Hanna took a step toward him and lifted her hands in a placating gesture when Ryan stepped back.

“I know you know,” she offered softly. “I know. Because when you’re gone, unfortunately he’ll forget you but he’ll be here to see that our bloodline stays alive.”

Ryan looked at Jacob, gauged his distance; he had backed up against the stairs and planted himself on the bottom step, chin in his hands, looking on.

“That’s really all you wanted, huh?” he asked; he heard his own tone come out hollow. His stomach was hurting, the old knot of before had come back and he couldn’t swallow with his throat so dry.

Hanna reached up, pulling her loose ponytail over her other shoulder, baring her throat. “Come here to me,” she ordered, and she opened her arms with a fraught sort of welcome. She really did look so much like Shane, but wherever his silly, ginger warmth would have made Ryan pliant in quick seconds, Ryan felt a suffering edge come over him as he walked closer to her. His skin ached with the scent in the room, now blazoning over him like a wave when he drew close into her arms. She cupped his cheeks, palms warm for all of everything on her was like heated marble. “I’m so happy we understand each other, Ryan.”

He felt awkward doing it, but he reached up and touched her neck, testing his reach with his fingers pressed over a vein he could feel. It radiated a singing vibration into him. She was like the cold stone in a riverbank, fresh moss and violent sunshine, tearing apart the sprinkles of cool water with frank and angry heat.

Her strong hands came around him, up his shoulder blades with too easy of a grasp. Ryan had hold of her throat; if she was planning to kill him, she was hiding it well, and she wasn’t afraid of him in the slightest.

“Go on,” she said and Ryan’s chest was hammering so hard, his breath in quick aborted gasps, she must have felt it. His teeth wouldn’t be sharp enough, but she didn’t seem to mind when he drew close to the vein that was calling him most.

Maybe the promise of blood was too strong or his heart was broken, stridently not thinking of Shane walking away from the hotel, of Lukas waiting for Hanna to reach up and crush him, he didn’t care anymore. His hands curled, tightened and Hanna made a soft sound of discomfort. She moved, a sharp and struggling effort, but Ryan held still, unmoved. He wasn’t weak and blood-hungry this time; just as she had had time to recover, so had he. Over her shoulder, Ryan saw Lukas go tense, his narrow blue eyes swimming with disgust and a little anticipation. He had no idea.

Ryan bit down. Hard.

Silence. He waited; he could already taste it but he waited even as Hanna squirmed in his hands more desperately, as the blood slid down his chin, molten and sweet to his breath. The ichor was alive in him and he could feel it. Hanna was fully fighting him now, finally aware that this wasn't just about blood. It was personal. Shane’s face looking up at him from the bed only just an hour before seeped into Ryan’s vision, looking longing and lost at him. Hanna’s hands had come to grip him by the throat as well, reaching up to snap the muscle and bone there, the violent and deadly intent in the very tension of her wrists and body. She tried and tried, but Ryan only savoured the sound the back of her neck was making when he squeezed just a little harder than she did.

He had drank from Shane with such a depraved lust for his life that he had had to leave, listening to Ryan's last request that he just not say goodbye.

Ryan was despair; he was hunger. He drank.

Lukas let out a low cry just as Hanna uttered a pained, outraged growl against Ryan.

“Get him off me, Lukas!” she shrieked, but Ryan saw Lukas was frozen, eyes wide, not staring at them but looking toward the upper floor in a wooden quaking fear.

“Hanna…” he breathed.

Ryan shoved her away; he’d heard the footsteps, smelled the change in the air like a cresting splash of salt and brine. Hanna dropped to the floor like a thrown spider, all legs and scurrying, sliding across the carpet away from him. She looked at him in horror, holding the open wound at her neck as her eyes dragged upward, to where Lukas was now gazing in blind whimpering terror.

Ryan turned.

It was like something out a Tim Burton film, only bloodier. Standing at the very top of the stairs; the figure looked like an insect of some sort, covered in a soot-like substance, skin ashen and white. The threads of its clothing were frayed and caked with old brown stains, dried up flakes of blood. But its eyes. Ryan almost stumbled back. Its eyes were cavernous holes, dripping black over its mouth, wide and formed into a gormless shape of excruciating agony. It seemed to become aware that it wasn’t alone because with a creak of its viciously unhinged jaw, it uttered a terrifying scream so pitched that Ryan had to clamp his hands over his ears.

“What is that?!” Jacob shouted, all forms of his usual firm blase gone. “Guys, what is that?!”

The figure was so distracting in its grotesque form, silent and tall-- unreal in its corpse-like image that Ryan almost didn't see Shane step forward onto the stairway. He was fiercely beautiful, smiling, teeth serrated and ill-shaped with fangs white and crisp under the big lamps of the ceiling. His mouth and chin were stained black and it only took seconds for Ryan to put two and two together just as Shane did a really stupendously horrifying thing; he kicked the figure standing beside him, kicked it so its wiry useless legs crumpled under it and it slid and rolled and tumbled down the stairs like a pile of bones until it landed with a choked gasp at the bottom, splattering poor Jacob with its visibly gelatinous black blood.

“This, Jacob?” Shane called down the stairs. “This is our patriarch and he looks like that because he’s been locked in a chest in Hanna's room.”

They all stared at it, a now broken shivering thing, spitting out a strange string of words in another language, eyes still leaking as its head veered around the room as if looking for something to grab. Bony white fingers reached out at Jacob who backed away quickly, nearly tripping.

“What the fuck,” Jacob breathed. “Wha...that’s Papa?”

Ryan agreed with every fiber of fear in Jacob's tone. “Shane,” he mumbled, not even fully sure he hadn’t passed out and was watching the blueprints of his own subconscious feed him a bloodbath horror film.

Shane looked at him and there was a razor’s edge in his stare, blind with something new coursing through him. His smile never moved; he looked triumphant. “Go on, Hanna; answer him. Lukas?”

Ryan looked toward Hanna who was still on the floor, blinking in shock, the wound at her neck still flowing freely through her fingers. Lukas bent to help her up and she grabbed his forearm, using it to help her get to her feet. She was staring back at Shane, her expression twitching down, eyes wide.

“Hanna?” Jacob entreated. He seemed different now; young and scared. “What happened to Papa?”

Hanna stared venom hatred at Shane, her lips trembling white. “Did you drain him?” she hissed. “When you drank?”

Shane appeared to shrug.

“Did you drain him, Shane?!” she shouted, her low voice bellowing.

“Why, Hanna. Are you worried I’ve emptied your last bid for power in this city? The only reason any young vampire would choose to stay here? The so-called ancient blood you were supposed to have inherited? You should be worried. Your family lies are spitting black ichor on the family rug right now.”

Ryan couldn’t help it; he looked at it again. It felt strange to attach a word like patriarch or ‘Papa’ to a decrepit crumbling zombie dragging its exposed bone across a now stained rug.

“How is he still alive?” he heard himself whisper, buried in shock.

Shane took a few steps down toward them, and despite it all, Ryan just wanted to walk up, reach him, make sure he was there to stay. “His heart. The pathetic little organ rattling around in his chest. I drank him until he had just enough to keep it running, which, honestly? Gross by the way.”

The impact of Shane’s statement was dimmed by the sound of footsteps approaching from the back hallway. Cameron and Melanie were clearly returning. Either way, more vampires in the room.

The only warning Ryan had to make a move right then was Hanna’s shriek of rage. He didn’t know what she meant to do, but only that she was crossing the room at breakneck speed toward Shane, and he wasn’t having it. He didn’t think; he didn’t pause. His hold on her was everything his hands could grab as he dragged her towards him. She rammed a paralysing blow to his chest, but he already had a mouthful of the bleeding rivulets drooling down her throat. It was a relief to know he had let go; no prison of conscience or clarity. Just the thirst. He practically inhaled the blood, choked as he swallowed desperately; every gulp a new ecstasy to the venom in him. There was nothing else for sacred moments, except a distant call like a shout from above water.

Ryan!

He could actually feel it, the daring emptiness of the way she wilted, a fist coming down on his head but he couldn’t let go. Her terrified acid-beating heart was carrying every last drop to him in a rush. And she fought him so hard that his blunt nails creased into her skin, squeezing enough to--

It came like a blow and he was gasping. Lukas was holding him by the throat, teeth bared and eyes wild, aiming to kill him as he wrested him away from Hanna. All he could think was “I wasn’t done,” in some annoyed detached fashion because every iota of his response was rage that Lukas was touching him, that he’d interrupted, that he smelled just as intoxicating as Hanna had.

“Cameron, stop him!” Lukas broke out through his teeth as Ryan felt the pressure in Lukas’s wind pipe burst under his fingers.

It was so much easier this time even as he felt someone huge grab him around the ribs, pull him away. Shane scent was suddenly even nearer. He hit the floor as another blow came from his right but when he opened his eyes Lukas was trapped under his forearm, scratching up torn lines into the carpet desperately. Ryan held Lukas down like a pinned butterfly and sunk his teeth in with a delicious ease, the very enamel of his front teeth forming a blessed edge and cutting a clean incision straight to a messy spray of blood. He opened his mouth, and it spilled on his tongue, dirtier this time, tasting like cold mountains, stone and ice landscapes gazing out at him in terrifically angry blue as Lukas twisted, growling and twitching in his arms.

He was blind by the visions, the sensory flavour stripping across his tongue and in his nose. He looked out through a blurred gaze across the room. Melanie--wherever she had come from--lay on the floor face down, a pool of dark blood spilling around into the fibers of the carpet and Shane was holding Cameron by the throat above her; it was a fleeting thought but it hit Ryan at that moment that with Shane’s clothes now splattered with deep red blood, his eyes wild with the spite of his win while he spilled the history of the people who had hurt him on the floor, Shane had never looked more like himself.

Cameron grappled against him. Shane clutched a handful of Cameron’s shirt and threw him down, using his weight to bowl him over when Cameron wrenched away from him. It worked and as Cameron hit the floor, Shane pulled out his blade, stalking with a cold and unflinching intent toward him.

Ryan felt Lukas’s heart pitch clear; a faint squish of a noise when he sucked a thinner, flavourless sort of blood from the wound, surprising himself at the sudden disparate feeling that overcame him. He stood, dropping Lukas to the floor, or the thing that used to have Lukas in it. Dead.

He looked around. Cameron had grabbed the blade from Shane, had a hand around the sharp end, the meat of his palm pierced and bleeding as he grabbed Shane, shoving him against the french doors, the mirror finally giving way. Ryan was quaking with renewed energy, his thirst climbing more and more as he fantasized the taste of Cameron’s blood; the size of him promising more…

Shane kneed Cameron and rolled them over, pressing the blade harder as Cameron pushed it back toward Shane. Ryan was going to suck the life out of him.

Just then, Shane looked over, alarm twisting his features and Ryan followed his gaze. Hanna had crawled across the room, her arms weakly carrying her across the carnage, almost slipping in blood as she was going to reach the creature Ryan had forgotten was curled up by the stairway. Why she would be going for it was a mystery to Ryan until Shane looked at him, and yelled, “She’s going for his heart, Ryan; stop her!”

He was closer, but it took a moment for the blood-heavy steps to catch up with his brain. He raced toward her and watched in shattering alarm and horror as Hanna used one last spurt of strength to shove her fist through the chest of the thing as it writhed away from her, spewing babbling, gurgling sounds that could have been words. Hanna threw the creature away from her, but her hand came out soaked black, covered in its blood and in her hand, small and throbbing, was their patriarch’s heart.

Ryan reached her, dropping painfully to his knees and grabbed her wrist, meaning to take it from her, not sure what he was meant to do as she flailed back, her withered frame no match for him but speed on her side as she opened her mouth and swallowed the heart whole.

“Fuck!” Shane shouted and there was a loud creak of a blade thrusting through bone; a now too familiar sound to Ryan. He swiveled to look, heart and breath stopping for terrible seconds as his eyes swept across the bodies of three vampires now lying dead in the atrium. A head toppled, hair soaked in blood and Shane stood over it, the blade in his hands pressed straight through Cameron’s neck. “Fuck!” he said again, dropping Cameron’s torso as he clumsily yanked the blade clean to stumble back over to Ryan.

Ryan was still holding Hanna’s wrist and she uttered a throaty laugh, the black blood from the heart had stained her mouth. She was waiting and Ryan felt it; the muscle in her wrist began to feel less pliant. Ryan didn’t know what he was doing until he did it, but he would later remember the sound it made, the feeling not unlike the unfamiliarity of searching for something he needed in an unsavory place. The comparison hit him in that moment because he would never in any other life have the instinct to form a fist and slam it, straight through someone’s ribs.

The true horror of what he had done only hit him when he was holding it in his hands. It wasn’t dark and small like the creature’s she had just killed. It was more than his hand could fully carry, slippery and red, but it still beat even as Hanna lay there, splayed and lifeless, unseeing grey gaze fixed on the top of the stairs.

“What do I…” Ryan gasped. “Oh shit…”

Shane was beside him in seconds, taking in the sight of Hanna, the sight of Ryan holding the heart out.

“Give it to me?”

For a wild moment, Ryan couldn’t place the voice. It sounded soft with no inflection. He and Shane both looked up. Jacob had been standing midway up the steps the whole time it seemed, but in tow, was a gallery of eyes belonging to the rest of the family, looking on with faces mixed in horror and confusion.

“Ryan, give it to me,” Jacob finally said, louder, stronger. He descended the remaining steps until he was crouched near them. His black eyes were wide and gleaming with unshed tears. Ryan drew back as Jacob reached out a shaking hand, but Shane’s hand swept up his back, a warm and reassuring touch.

“What’re you...gonna do with it?” he stammered, trying with determination not to look at it. “Why do you want it?”

Jacob’s eyes flickered up at his; he looked much older than Ryan suddenly; the ferocity in his gaze spoke a tired and virulent timeline of memories and secrets. “Because it was my mother’s,” he said firmly, holding both hands out then.

“Jesus, Jacob,” Ryan said, heaving the words out like an illness. “I’m so--if I knew--no one told me, and she was--”

Jacob shook his head, his mouth set and eyes still gazing unflinchingly at the heart as it throbbed and pulsed in Ryan’s fingers. “She broke our laws, Ryan. You did what you had to. Consider us even.”

Shane’s arm was coming around him. Silent. Sure. It was gonna be fine. This was fucked, but it was gonna be all OK.

Ryan practically spilled the heart into Jacob’s waiting hands and they watched as Jacob perched over the step with the red bleeding thing in his hands. He appeared to take several sharp breaths like someone about to deep dive before he opened his mouth, pushing the entirety of it in with a laborious swallow.

“Fuck…” Ryan mumbled. He was overcome and dizzy. He wasn’t thirsty anymore; in fact his insides felt oddly full and warm. He looked up blearily at the sea of faces watching them, staring down at the bloodbath they’d left. Not a single one of them moved to do anything.

“We’ll go, Jacob,” Shane said firmly. “I never wanted the birth rights or the hotel. This is yours now. We’re leaving.”

“Oh yeah...uh, sure.” Jacob wiped his mouth with his wide hoodie sleeve and when he looked up; his eyes were gleaming with something newer, teaming with chaos. “So we’ll do this again around Christmas?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What are you thinking?”

Shane called the question at him under the spell of wind that hit. The ocean was so black at night but Ryan was glad to get himself clean even in salt water, just to smell something different than dust, flowers and the all-consuming saccharine scent of all sorts of blood. He imagined this is what he’d feel if he ever indulged and ate a whole box of doughnuts to himself. Another wave rushed up and Ryan stepped deeper, letting his toes dig into the cold sand.

The Ichor was gone; he was pretty sure. At least he was going to live.

He was soaked, but he didn’t care. Shane stood safely on the shore, pants rolled up his calves and waiting for him patiently.

“I’m thinking about family,” he called back to Shane, turning to face him, letting the bob of water push his legs closer to shore. It was relaxing. “I’m thinking of the people in mine, distant relatives; the ones I don’t see as much living off in places I’ve never been. How much it makes me glad you’re alive, that you climbed out of a box and somehow found your way to me…”

He was a little lost trying to find the words. Shane crossed his arms and took two solid steps further into the tide toward him. Ryan let it push him some more, his bare feet dragging across coarse icy sand.

“You know the first day I met you, I thought I might bite you,” he told Ryan conversationally, smiling like he thought he was so funny.

There was something about it; a connection he was making that he wanted to map out or draw a graph for. He wasn’t sure, but it was almost entirely lost to soft theories and the fact that he looked at Shane then, dark eyes, safe and burning with blood far older than the ages of all those vampires they’d walked away from safely, and he felt so filled to the brim with hopes. They all sounded like love songs in his head.

“I’m thinking about Hanna eating your father’s heart.”

Shane stepped into the water. Ryan had wondered if he was afraid, but he hadn’t asked him; worried that the notion of fear was something you could manifest with words especially after what he’d seen tonight.

“She would have killed you, Ryan; the both of us...don’t feel guilty--”

“I don’t.” Ryan was standing on higher ground now, the tide too low to carry him fully toward Shane. He felt the hum in his ears, and the coaxing touch when he drew close to him, even wet and cold as he was, it felt like Shane knew him inside out and was ready to warm every layer. That was really something. “Not really. I just think that Hanna did love your Papa a lot, and Jacob, weird as he is, loved Hanna.”

Shane reached out, touched a fond line under Ryan’s lip as he was speaking, thumb grazing over his lower lip thoughtfully. “You know I don’t remember what it was you said that made me change my mind about biting you back then, but I remember thinking you were such a strange little guy that if I ever broke, if I was ever so weak...you would have had to be my last. It helped to think that, so by the time I knew I wanted you, it didn’t hurt so bad.”

“Shane, I’m trying to say that I would eat your heart.”

Silence. Shane stared down at him, and Ryan was promptly very embarrassed, He’d said that wrong. Or Shane was going to shut him down, tell him that it was all a bad idea. That they’d go back to L.A. and never talk about any of this again. Instead, Shane leant down against him, pressed his forehead on Ryan’s, eyes closed.

“Me too, Ryan,” he sighed, all of his frame relaxing, pulling the firm touch of Ryan’s hips against him, settling deeply and indulgently with the sprig of arousal that swam between them. “Nothing grosser than eating a whole heart, but damn me, I’d do it for you too..”

Ryan kissed him, lips sealing over Shane’s, as he marveled a little at the still strangely amplified sense the Ichor had left him. The smell of the ocean’s quiet, the roaring pattern of Shane’s heart, and Shane himself; the taste and feeling of him, every vein of his swimming with ancient blood and no more thirst. Yet, here he was, kissing Ryan with a hunger for so much more than blood.