He was on the porch when she arrived. The night was clear and calm enough to hear the deep murmurs of his voice from the path. She’d thought he was praying, and he was, but it was different somehow. There was a desperation to it. The words mixed together in a hurried, jumbled whisper, as if he didn’t dare to stop praying, not even to breathe.
With his head bowed, he didn’t see her approaching the rectory. He didn’t know she was there at all until he heard her feet on the steps. He stopped rocking. He stopped praying.
“John?” She hesitated, her own voice barely a whisper. He was Father Paul now, that was what everyone knew him by, but she just couldn’t bring herself to use that name. She knew him. She knew that face, long before anyone else on the island saw it.
His head, so low his forehead almost touched the decking, lifted. She wondered if she would end up like that. She could already feel that clawing of desperation. What she didn’t understand was how it had happened. The dizziness had come and gone in the weeks following Easter. Sarah had found nothing unusual, only a high temperature. She hadn’t told anyone else about her dizzy spells, not even John. That was her first mistake. If she’d told him, maybe she wouldn’t have slipped away in her sleep and come back with a jolt.
Everything was different after that. The world glowed. Even the dimmest of lights appeared to sing, and her body didn’t ache anymore. Her hip didn’t hurt when she tried to get up. Her joints didn’t creak. All of it, at any other time, would have been cause for praise. But there was an emptiness inside her, and a voice told her to go to St. Patrick’s.
Panic widened John’s eyes – as if he understood her thoughts – and then the desperation came back and he unsteadily pushed himself to his feet. She hadn’t seen him like that before. Even in their youth, their real youth, the need for secrecy and all of their attempts to avoid being caught hadn’t panicked him. He was unflappable, until now.
A dark, errant curl fell over his eyes, and he rubbed his hands uselessly on the front of his jeans, trying to coax warmth and feeling back into his fingers.
“Millie…” He didn’t stand to his full height, and he held out his hand as if to both ward her away and beckon her closer.
She took a deep breath. It had been so long since anyone had called her that.
Wordlessly, Mildred took his cold hand and led him inside.
He didn’t protest, but he couldn’t meet her eyes when she turned to close the door. Once it was locked, with the rest of the island shut out, his hand slipped from hers.
They’d always been more comfortable like that, more open, behind a locked door.
“You should go,” John said, backing away. “I’m not– You should go.”
“I can’t,” she insisted, simple and steady.
There was no way to know what he was warning her away from, and what she was insisting to stay with, but it didn’t matter. Mildred only knew that she’d fallen asleep that evening, and a part of her hadn’t woken up. The only thing she knew with any certainty, was that John would have the answers.
His arms hugged tight around his middle. Pain lined his face, the edges of his eyes, and twisted his brow. No matter how hard he tried to hide it, she could see it.
“It’s time for the truth, John,” she said gently, stepping towards him. He backed away. “What’s happened to us?”
Shaking his head, John retreated back into the room, towards his bedroom door. Mildred didn’t follow him any further. She let him put space between them, and waited patiently for his answer. She could see that he wanted to say something, but she didn’t expect what she heard him say next.
“I need–” He waved a hand, trying to signal for something he didn’t know the words for. Then he gave up with a frustrated sigh and returned his hand to his stomach. “It is a miracle,” he started again, trying to convince himself of it as much as her. “A gift. But sometimes it… The pain is indescribable. The hunger. I’ve never felt anything like it, Millie. It’s all-consuming. It’s div–”
“I feel it too,” she interrupted. His eyes snapped up to her face.
Sarah’s work, the confused whispers and experiments Mildred had walked in on, before her condition had improved, came back to her. The smoke alarm went off at all hours of the day, whenever Sarah had a moment alone. There were vials of blood, hidden carefully away from the sunlight, and a petri dish of something inky and burnt. Sarah’s sudden fascination with it, with finding the cause, made sense now. It was natural for Mildred’s thoughts to travel from Sarah to her father, and his own sudden change; his fascination with something she could only now understand.
There was a voice, the same one that told her to seek him out, that told her what she needed. It compelled her to seek it out.
“You need to tell me everything,” Mildred said.
And he did. He told her, halting and unsure at first, about the angel and the youth it had granted him. Both of us, he corrected, glancing at her. He told her about the miracles that had followed, and his sickness; that terrible sickness that plagued him to the point of death, until his life was also renewed. Now he felt something unusual, unspeakable. There was a hunger that wouldn’t leave him. It got worse when others were around, and it got worse the longer he didn’t sate it.
Mildred listened to it all, worrying at the little crucifix around her neck. At some point during his story, they’d moved from the front room to his bedroom, and she sat on the end of the bed as she listened. John didn’t sit. He couldn’t do anything that resembled sitting still. He paced, fingering the beads of his rosary. He ran his fingers through his hair. He clutched his stomach and doubled over with a groan.
Rushing to him, Millie knelt and cupped his cheeks. They were cold. His hand had been cold, but she’d put that down to him kneeling outside. She’d told herself it had to have been the night air that gave his skin that chill, but now they were inside, and she couldn’t avoid the truth anymore. She was cold too.
It took a moment, while the wave of hunger gripped him, before he looked at her. His dark eyes, lost and not entirely there, blinked down at her. He sank to his own knees, in the middle of the bedroom floor, and shook his head.
“You have to go,” he repeated, desperation setting back in. “I should be left alone. I– I need to be left alone. I’m sorry.”
She moved closer, resolute. “I’m not leaving you.”
She didn’t know what to think of his claim of an angel, and restored youth and life, but something had happened. Whether miracle or not, she couldn’t deny that that something was powerful, and now John needed help to shoulder the consequences. They both did.
Leaving him on the floor, Mildred shrugged off her cardigan and sat on the edge of the bed. John stayed where he was, on his knees on the floor, but he watched her closely. Neither of them reached for the light. They didn’t need to. The moonlight glowing through the window, silver and bright, was all the light they needed. It danced across her pale skin in a shimmering movement that could almost be mistaken for life, but she didn’t have that anymore. The life was just an empty illusion.
John watched her, her fingers, as she unbuttoned her cuff and rolled up the sleeve of her dress. There was hope there, in his dark eyes, tinged with a sickness that he could hope for such a thing, and his own hunger needing it. The moonlight caught in his eyes, in the pupils. They reflected the silver glow back to her, and her hands froze.
She took a deep breath, watched the way John’s eyes followed the rise of her chest, the flutter in her neck, and beckoned him closer.
“Come here,” she whispered, coaxing him with a flick of her wrist.
Staying on his knees, and not getting up as she’d expected him to, John shuffled closer. He near-crawled the short distance from the centre of the room to her feet, and looked up at her with wide eyes.
“Did prayer help?” she asked. He shook his head, and Mildred sighed. The answer didn’t come as a surprise. He’d been so desperate. Desperation didn’t come from prayers answered, but from a long time of being ignored.
The decision came easily after that. If he couldn’t find help from Him, then he would have it from her. Hooking her finger beneath his chin, Mildred offered her bare arm.
If he had any hesitation, he didn’t show it. Maybe he was too far gone to turn her away. He took her arm in a firm but tender grasp, and pressed his nose to her wrist, breathing her in. She wondered what he could smell; if it was her perfume or the racing of her pulse. They probably all blended into one heady mix, but she could smell him. Distantly, the scent of incense, pine, and copper reached her. She closed her eyes and breathed in.
John ran the tip of his nose up her forearm, peppering her skin with kisses, until he found the spot he wanted.
Mildred held her breath.
His teeth dug a white hot pain into her arm, and his tongue soothed it. He lapped at the initial spill, the red that pooled in the bite, and closed his mouth around it with a pleased hum.
She didn’t know how much he would take, or what she would do if he tried to take too much. All she could do was watch him take what he needed. Her free hand reached for him by itself, to brush her fingers encouragingly through his soft hair. He hummed again, and it was on the verge of a moan. It vibrated through her arm, softened the pull of his mouth drawing out blood, and drew out a hum of her own.
With bloody, slick streaks across his mouth, he pulled back and looked at her. Red. It was the only colour she could see clearly in the dark; like it had a light all its own.
There’d always been something gentle and unassuming about John; the way he spoke to people, led and encouraged them, and the way he looked. It gave him a sweet charm. It was how they’d managed to hide their affair for so long. No one would ever truly believe him capable of breaking his vows, or any of the commandments, but now that look had changed. The tenderness hadn’t gone, but there was something else there with it. It lurked in the glow of his pupils, smeared his lips red, and came out in his hand gripping her thigh; tight and claw-like.
“Do you feel it?” he asked.
Mildred shook her head, and dropped her hand to the back of his neck. “Show me.”
She pulled him up to meet her lips. The blood, the wetness of it sliding between their mouths, didn’t bother her. A part of her had thought it would. She’d expected the taste, the copper of it, to throw her. It didn’t. It couldn’t when the taste of him, red wine and warmth, reached through it.
The hunger, the howling emptiness in her own stomach, began to stir. She ran her tongue across his lips, and remembered the first time she’d tasted herself there.
John pulled away first, but he didn’t go far. Breathing heavily, he pressed his forehead to hers and muttered something beneath his breath. His voice was hushed, whispered, but the depth of it rumbled in her own chest. She recognised it as a prayer, and slowly the words became clearer.
“Blessed be the Lord,” he muttered, holding her bleeding arm to his chest, “for he hath heard the sound of my pleadings.” He dropped his head and kissed her lips, then her arm, and ran his tongue up a long trail of red. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults.” He kissed the bite and sighed a shuddering breath. “And with my song I give thanks to him.”
His attention returned to her face, and Millie played with the hair at the nape of his neck.
“Will you sing with me, Millie?”
She nodded. “Come here.”
Even knelt on the floor, his height made it easy for him to reach up and kiss her. She sank back onto his bed. The mattress dipped just as she remembered it, under the familiar weight of him lifting himself above her. Her arm throbbed, but a rush of excitement and adrenaline overtook the pain. John kissed her, tenderly at first, but every little movement was undercut with hunger. The sweet kiss ended with a nip at her lower lip. He pinched it between his teeth, and licked away the smudge of blood left behind from his own mouth.
He muttered something – maybe a prayer or maybe praise – and moved lower. His kiss ran down her jaw and the column of her neck, and lingered over her pulse, where her neck met her shoulder. Her breath stuttered, and she moved. She couldn’t say why she did it, she only knew that she had to distract him. John’s teeth scratched her skin, and she nipped at his earlobe.
“Not there,” she whispered against the shell of his ear.
His breath puffed against her collarbone, and his teeth left her. He moved lower, continuing his trail of kisses with his lips rather than his teeth, and hurriedly unbuttoned her dress. Millie helped him as much as she could, pushing past the trembling in her hands to move aside the folds of her dress and lift the skirt.
The mattress shifted again. The weight of him left her. John lowered himself to his knees at the side of the bed, kissing her flushed skin all the way; over her sternum and stomach, to the inside of her thigh. He moved fast, too fast for her to keep up. He hooked her legs over his shoulders. Her panties had already disappeared somewhere on the floor.
“Here?” he asked. His cool breath fanned her wet, heated skin. Millie squirmed, threaded her fingers through his curls, and tried to anchor herself there. She had to stay focused. She had to remember why she was there and how she was supposed to be helping him.
She forgot as soon as his tongue swiped up her folds. The sound he made, the groan that followed as he tasted her, sent a heat through her stomach. He licked her with the same skill and surety he’d licked the blood on her arm, and the same hunger.
“Oh, Millie,” he moaned, looking up at her from between her thighs. “You’re always so wet for me.”
At one time, John had needed her to guide him and tell him what she liked. Now he knew, and he put that knowledge to good use, with his tongue and his fingers. He teased her clit with his tongue, sucked it gently into his mouth, and pleasured her with his fingers. He crooked them, just like she’d shown him how, and she moaned. Her back lifted off the bed, encouraging him.
He knew exactly just how much she needed, when to stop and alternate between sucking and licking and fingering. She was so close to the edge by the time she felt his teeth lightly graze her centre, that she couldn’t bring herself to worry about him biting her.
“That’s it,” she encouraged, twisting her fingers in his hair. “You’re so good– John. So good at this.”
She was so close, she told him. The warmth in her stomach built up to something tight and maddening, ready to spring free. When it finally did, when John swiped his tongue just right across her clit, she cried out. Years of practice at keeping quiet didn’t matter anymore. She didn’t try to silence herself as her climax washed over her, and John’s mouth and fingers worked with her body, until he felt the last of the waves begin to ebb away.
The world faded, save for the movement of John around her legs. Millie forgot the island and everything that had led her there, and focused on that moment. She focused on her breathing and John lifting himself up, her legs slipping from his shoulders. Her eyes fluttered open just as he crawled over her, and his kisses found their way to her arm.
The worst of the bleeding had stopped. The bite had healed quicker than it should have, and the aching pain had dulled to a distant, almost-pleasant throb. It didn’t hurt at all, not even when he wrapped his lips around it and sucked. The sting that followed was a good sort of pain. It made her moan, and drew his attention back to her. She met his dark, wide eyes with a smile, and used her free hand to pat the bed beside her.
“Lie down,” Millie instructed.
He listened. He always did. Releasing her arm, John lay on the bed and watched her curiously. She straddled him, smoothing her hand over his clothed chest, and he groaned. Her centre pressed against the ridge of him through his jeans. The slightest move ground her against him, and she made no effort to stay still. A muscle ticked in his cheek. His hips pressed up against her, but his hands held her own hips firm and kept them both still.
He was trying so hard to hold himself back, and she couldn’t unbuckle his belt fast enough.
“How do you feel?” she asked, unbuttoning his jeans.
“Hungry,” he admitted.
Their eyes met, and a frenzy followed. They kissed, pushing and pulling at each other’s clothes. He must have been able to sense her own hunger. Each little touch from him, his hands on her hips or cheeks, his fingers caressing her breasts, fuelled it. He responded. He nipped playfully at her lips with a growl, ran his teeth along her jawline. Her head swam. Her thoughts whirled and focused on him and him alone.
Panting, gasping for breath, Millie slid her hand down the front of his jeans. Her fingers brushed his cock, and he groaned against her neck. The weight of him fit perfectly against her palm, with a slight warmth where the rest of him was cold. She stroked him, applying only just enough pressure to make him moan again, and smiled against his temple.
She pressed a kiss to his hairline. “Lie back.”
He did. He settled onto the bed, and she leaned forward with him, lining him up with her centre. It came so naturally and so easily. She eased herself onto the length of his cock, savouring the old, familiar fullness she still remembered. John held her gaze, intent and awed, as if he couldn’t believe they were really there again; that it was happening at all.
There was something almost dream-like about being with him again after so long. They hung in that dream, with him buried fully inside her, before Millie could bring herself to move.
It wasn’t the fullness her hunger ached for, but it brought her some relief to have him there. He scratched another sort of hunger deep inside her, as she began to grind her hips against him. She found the right pace, something slow at first, to rock herself up and down his length. John grunted. She’d forgotten how much she liked seeing him in those moments – his clothes and hair a mess – all sense of calm and control lost to need. His collar was twisted, but she wouldn’t take it off. He had to do that himself.
To distract her, Millie lifted her arm. His eyes skipped between it and her face. She rested her upper body on her other hand, still riding him painfully slowly, and offered her bloodied arm over his mouth. He accepted it, lazily lapping at the blood that still remained in the healing bite. His eyes closed in bliss, and Millie followed him.
Their bodies met with slow rolls of her hips, but that pace couldn’t last for long. The more John drank, and teased that pleasant sting with his tongue, the more her control began to wane. He opened his eyes and released her arm.
“Take what you need,” he said, grasping her hips and guiding them to ride him faster. She sighed and gasped, and twisted her fingers in the front of his shirt. “That’s it.”
His hand came up, first to caress her cheek, and then to tempt her in other ways. The soft pulse in his wrist beat close to her mouth, and his keen eyes watched her face, waiting. Millie didn’t take her eyes from him, or slow her pace. She turned her face towards his hand, his wrist, and brushed her lips down until she found a soft spot in his arm to bite into. John gasped, digging the fingers of his other hand into her hips.
Blood, red and bright and full of life in the dark, coated her tongue. It should have disturbed her. At the very least, she should have been disgusted at the thought of biting him, or making him bleed. It shouldn’t have excited her. It shouldn’t have sent a pleasant shiver through her, or made her moan, or thrilled her to hear his moans while she rode him and drank her fill.
John groaned, and she rode him faster.
She knew the moment when he started to crest that peak. Millie felt it too. She felt the tightness building within her, and saw the same, tight tension straining the muscles in his arms and stomach. He focused so hard on holding back his own release, that his brows drew down in a frown. It made her smile. Even with his blood bright on her tongue, there was an awe and devotion in his eyes that finally pushed her to the edge.
“Sing with me,” he muttered, his own breaths as sharp and ragged as hers. He was a wreck, bloodied and dishevelled and so thoroughly fu–
She cried out, arching her back, and let his forearm fall from her mouth. Her second orgasm rushed through her, different but just as wonderful as the first. She gripped his shirt tighter and tighter, threatening to rip off the buttons, and he followed her over the peak.
She’d always enjoyed the sounds he made; the moans and groans and sighs. They were a personal, private thing that only she got to hear. When he came inside her with a groan, her stomach flipped pleasantly. It didn’t seem to matter that she’d just climaxed for the second time. Her whole body thrilled in experiencing his pleasure as much as her own.
Smoothing her hands over the creases in his shirt, and panting heavily, Millie lowered herself onto his chest. His arms, even the bloodied one, circled her waist and held her close. She sighed, content, with her cheek resting against the rise and fall of his solid chest. She settled into the rhythmic rise, breathing in time with him, but it couldn’t last for long.
“We should get up,” John suggested. “Clean off this–... The blood.”
Reluctantly agreeing, Millie sat up. The bites had already mostly healed, but the drying blood pulled uncomfortably at her skin.
After John insisted she use the bathroom first, and she reasoned there was no need for propriety now, they cleaned themselves up quickly; washing away the congealing blood from their skin and wetness from between her legs. She waited for the horror to sink in, but it didn’t. She felt no sickness over the blood she’d drank or the blood she washed away. She felt no guilt for falling back into her old relationship with John. The only thing she felt was the worry that she might have hurt him, but he assured her she hadn’t.
Cleaned and dressed in a set of his pyjamas, they settled back in bed. John turned on the light, and a gold cast, swirling and dancing, replaced the silver sparks of moonlight. Millie watched them, with her head on John’s shoulder.
It would have been nice to stay there, watching the lights and hanging in that moment of bliss and domesticity, but they’d never been able to ignore the rest of the island. Reality always came back eventually. John sighed, and she knew what that meant. Reality had returned.
“You know, I–” He shook his head. “I kept meaning to go to you. To tell you the truth. I don't know why I didn’t.”
“The hunger,” she reminded wearily. “It wasn’t safe.”
John rubbed his stomach, and there was a moment of silence while he thought over everything. He’d always been a quiet, thoughtful person when there was no one else around, just her. She supposed it came from years of being alone, and only having his own thoughts to fill the silence.
Her heart clenched at the thought, the reminder that his life had been spent alone in his church and the rectory, save for the invisible presence of God.
She lifted her head and looked at her; his lips downturned, but his head and eyes lifted to the ceiling.
“I didn't mean for this to happen,” he confessed. “I didn’t understand what it would do to us. I thought it would… heal our minds. Restore us. I thought it was a second chance.”
Millie’s own mouth turned down. She sat up a little straighter, turning her full body towards his. He looked at her expectantly, but she couldn’t find the words to placate the sadness she found in his big eyes. And then they flashed, his pupils caught in the light from the window, and she could only think of one word to say.
“Oh, John,” she whispered, touching his cold cheek. He leaned into her palm.
“Can you forgive me?”
She kissed him. The movement came easily, gently rocking forward on the bed to meet his lips. It was tender, short and sweet and only lasted a handful of seconds, but John’s hand came up to grip at the side of her shirt; his shirt that she’d borrowed. It was too big for her.
Millie smiled, and pressed her forehead to his.
“I can,” she promised. “I already have.”