John's Mustang broke down on the 101 somewhere before Los Angeles, shuddering to a halt with a sound like a dozen E strings breaking. He wasn't sure why he'd decided to drive in the first place--Red had offered to fly him down from San Francisco. It was the least he could do since John had saved his ass by agreeing to the tour at the last minute when Dusty had gotten a better offer.
But John hated to ride in any vehicle he wasn't in control of, and the tour bus was going to be bad enough. There was something irresistible about the idea of hopping in his ancient black Mustang and leaving the top down--sailing down the highway with the wind blowing through his hair and the moon lighting his way. He'd kept the pedal to the floor all the way down--passing through brightly lit towns, not knowing where he was, or caring.
Turned out this place was San Luis Obispo, if the lettering on the tow-truck he'd had to call was anything to go by.
It was two in the morning when John slid into the tow-truck's passenger seat. He'd been about to ask the driver to drop him off at the nearest Motel 6 equivalent, but the guy took a closer look at him and said in a scratchy voice, "I guess you'll want to be going to the blood bank."
John could feel his canine teeth lengthen a little in response to the smell of fear coming off the man. He met the driver's wide eyes and let himself have a moment to enjoy the man's nervousness--if he concentrated, he could hear his apprehension, thin and reedy like an oboe. He hadn't been hungry, but suddenly visiting a blood bank seemed like a fine idea.
He made his teeth go back to normal, and put on his most charming smile. John could smell the guy relax, and hear it too--the faint oboe sound mellowed like a clarinet.
"Sure," John said. "Blood bank it is."
The blood bank was in an old Victorian neighborhood that had been converted to lawyers' offices and medical practices; when the girl had shown John to his room, he'd taken a look at the velvet-draped bay window and heavy brass bed and thought, whorehouse--in the old days, anyway. That suited John fine. He liked places with a bit of character--they had more music. If he closed his eyes and breathed deep, he could still hear the tinny piano that must have once stood downstairs.
John had rescued his beat-up Martin from the backseat of the Mustang; he decided to go over the charts for the new songs while he waited for the donor to show up. He'd played with the Jumpers before, and it wasn't like Red knew how to write a song with more than four chords anyway, but it didn't hurt to be prepared.
He'd lost track of time when he heard a light tapping on the door. "It's unlocked."
The door opened and a sandy-haired man with the bluest eyes John had seen in months entered. "I would have been here sooner if every moron in the state of California hadn't decided they all needed to be on the PCH at--" He checked his watch. "Three o'clock in the morning. Why is everyone such a terrible driver in your country? It's a basic skill."
John was torn between saying it wasn't his country, particularly, asking the man if he began every session by making insulting generalizations about the client's nationality, and pointing out that hey, he was a pretty good driver. He settled for an amused shrug.
"And the drivers are so much better in..."
"Canada," the man said, shrugging off his jacket and walking the rest of the way in. "I'm Rodney McKay." One side of his mouth quirked up as he looked John over. "And you must be the man in black."
"John Sheppard." He gestured to his clothes. "All black is a little cliché for my kind, I know. But I like it."
"Suits you." Rodney shook the hand John extended, then took a step back. He clapped his hands once, and began to unbutton his collar. "Great. Pleasantries exchanged. Let's do this."
He didn't seem so much impatient as single-minded, and John felt unexpectedly like laughing.
"You have somewhere else to be?" John asked.
Rodney's hands immediately stopped their rapid assault on his collar. He held very still--only swiveling his head--and turned a blue, laser-like focus on John. A slow burn started in the bottom of John's belly as Rodney's eyes roamed over him.
"No." Rodney said, seeming to catalogue John from toes to hair. "Nowhere to be but here."
John swallowed. He felt caught by those blue eyes, any urge to laugh gone.
"So." Rodney slowly raised his hand back to his partially-undone collar. John could see a hint of light-colored chest hair just over the top button. "How much clothing do you want me to take off?"
When John had decided to go to the blood bank, he'd intended just to feed--he didn't have sex with donors that often, and then it was usually women--but he heard himself saying, "All of it."
Rodney eyes lit up in a way that John found extremely gratifying--and more than a little hot--then kicked off his shoes and undid his pants in one swift move. John grinned and moved in to help. Up close, Rodney smelled incredible, and John felt a sudden urgency to get his own clothes off. Their hands tangled together a moment before John took a step back so they could undress themselves.
John managed to get his t-shirt off--his hands were shaking, for some reason, just a little--and then he was finally, finally naked. He felt Rodney's blue eyes pierce him like a laser, or maybe a tattoo gun. Rodney was looking at him like Rodney was the hungry one--and John could not wait even one second longer.
Rodney made a huff of surprise as John tumbled them onto the bed. Rodney was already half hard, and John grinned as he bent down and ran his cheek over his cock. Rodney groaned and got harder, so John did it again.
Rodney made a breathy, humming noise--just one extended note, pleased and happy, and John breathed in deep and moved up his torso, licking his way to his neck. "You smell so..." but John didn't have the words, and Rodney's neck was right there, anyhow. He yanked a handful of Rodney's soft hair, pulling his head back harder than he'd meant to, but Rodney just gave another pleased hum, and John sank his teeth into his jugular.
"God." Rodney gave a low moan. "Ohgodohgod. Jesus. John." He writhed underneath as John drank from him.
And God, how had John not realized he was so hungry? He was starving for Rodney. His blood was hot and thick and rich and perfect, and John thought he could come from that alone. It sang to him, as blood always did--deep, dark notes like a bassoon, but Rodney's blood was so much more than what John was used to, full of percussive crashes and high clear violins--Rodney's blood was a fucking orchestra.
Rodney suddenly gasped and thrust up hard--once, twice--John could taste the difference in his blood as he came. One last mouthful and John was grinding down and coming hard too.
John licked at Rodney's wound gently, until the blood stopped flowing, then gave his neck a light kiss. The word mine suddenly sang through his head, surprising him.
He rolled off Rodney and listened to him pant for a few moments.
"Christ," Rodney said. "Is it always like that with you?"
It had never been like that, but John couldn't think of any way to say that that didn't sound stupid, so he kept his mouth shut. He suspected the blood banks kept records of his kind, anyway; Rodney probably knew he'd never had a Companion or Changed anyone in his lifetime. John had been a loner when he'd left home in 1839, and he'd never seen any reason to be anything different.
"That was great," Rodney said, laughing a little. "I was great. We were great." He suddenly rolled in close and sniffed John. "You smell terrible. Get in the shower. Come on. Chop chop."
John wasn't used to being ordered around by donors; he found himself bemused and inclined to do what Rodney wanted. Besides, he did stink--of the road, and sex, and blood.
"Wanna join me?" John asked.
"Yeah." Rodney's eyes raked over John's body again. John fought not to preen. "What do you think?"
In the shower, Rodney turned the water on hot then stepped in behind John. He spent a considerable time soaping up John's shoulders. It felt incredible--John hadn't realized how much tension he was holding there.
"Where are you headed?" Rodney asked.
"Headed?" John couldn't think about anything but the feel of Rodney's hands slipping up and down his back.
"They said downstairs that your car broke down."
John wanted to tell Rodney that he didn't need to make small talk; John wasn't the sort of client that needed to be made to feel special. Instead he said, "Los Angeles."
"Don't tell me. You have a movie deal. Half my clients end up as technical consultants on some film or other."
John barked out a laugh. "No. I'm going on tour." He'd never felt the need to talk to a donor--never felt much of a need to talk to anyone, really, but for some reason he wanted to talk to Rodney, wanted to tell him about Red and the band.
"Ten weeks. The band's called the Jumpers. I didn't name them," he said when Rodney snorted. "I'll be playing rhythm guitar."
Rodney moved around to soap up his chest. "What kind of music?"
"Mmm." John leaned into Rodney's touch. "Country. Some roots rock. A little blues. The band's not actually that good." He shrugged, which caused Rodney's hands to slide in interesting ways. "It's work."
"I used to play the piano when I was a kid." Rodney's hands paused before continuing to work their way down. "Huh. I don't think I've ever told a client that. I wasn't ever that good. I lack soul."
"You're not the only one," John said.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, very funny."
John laughed. He leaned in to lick Rodney's ear. It tasted like soap. "I'm not actually much of a guitarist."
"Says the professional musician."
"Really," John said. "I'm not that naturally talented. But after a hundred and fifty-some years of practice you can't help picking up a few things."
"Mmm," Rodney said, leering in a way that made John laugh. "I'll bet."
"I doubt I'll sleep tonight," John said as Rodney slipped into the big brass bed. "I might play a little while. I'll try not to keep you awake."
"Please, I slept in graduate housing for seven years; I can sleep through anything."
Rodney made room for him in the bed. John hesitated a moment, then grabbed his guitar and sat down next to him. Rodney made one of his pleased hums and closed his eyes, seeming to fall asleep instantaneously.
John strummed a few chords softly, then gave it up. He watched Rodney as he slept. He wasn't like anyone John had ever met, and John had met a lot of people over the years, and had drunk a lot of blood. There was a way it always went--an exchange of money for services, sometimes a little shared pleasure.
Rodney smelled incredible.
It was going to take a couple of days to fix the Mustang. John could have rented another car--or even bought the motorcycle he'd been thinking about getting for the past year. Instead he decided to wait.
He didn't even try to tell himself it was out of attachment to his car, or to save money. He knew it was about having as much sex with Rodney as he could before he'd have to give him up. He bit Rodney every time as well--on the neck or the wrist--not drinking much at one time, but still drowning in his taste and scent, and the song of his blood.
Through it all, Rodney seemed equally eager for him, desperate even. And Rodney was doing a job, but he didn't strike John as a particularly good actor--whatever this was, he had to be feeling it too.
When they weren't having sex--quick and frantic, or slow and dirty--Rodney spent most of his time popping iron pills, or eating frequent meals.
"Hypoglycemia," he explained to John. "Not ideal for someone in my line of work." But what are you going to do, his shrug seemed to say.
It was all more than a little overwhelming.
"You're amazing." Rodney laid back on the bed panting after a particularly athletic session, apparently too blissed-out to move. "I haven't had this much sex since--well, ever."
John looked at Rodney's pale skin--the bruises at his hips, his shoulders, his neck. "I didn't hurt you?" He felt suddenly worried, even as his mouth watered from the need to sink his teeth into a vein--any vein--on Rodney's body.
"You're killing me with sex," Rodney said. "I'm surprisingly okay with that."
"I'm fine." Rodney sat up. "In fact..."
He crawled over to John and somehow insinuated himself onto his lap. John gave him a stern look, even as his cock hardened beneath Rodney and his hands reached up to play with his nipples.
"Really," Rodney said breathlessly. "I'm okay. It's weird. Normally I'd feel a lot more loopy after so many sessions--strung out, you know? Tired. And my usual clients are nothing like you."
John felt a quick burst of rage at the thought of Rodney with other customers, followed by a rush of confusion. What's going on with me? he wondered, even as he flipped Rodney onto his back, and sank his teeth into his neck.
John felt wired, energized by Rodney's blood. He'd meant to practice the one tricky chord progression Red had ever managed to come up with--instead he found himself fooling around with an idea of his own, something he almost never did. He wasn't a songwriter; he'd come to terms with that long ago.
"That's nice," Rodney said from the bed.
He was eating again, a Snickers bar this time. His cheeks were pink, rosy with blood. Some of the chocolate was smeared around his mouth.
John swallowed. "Come here."
"Oh, no." Rodney said. "Stop looking at me like that."
"Rodney." John was a little embarrassed to hear the whine in his voice.
"No," Rodney said. "You are within percentage points of being the hottest client I've ever had--if you were a blond, you'd be perfect--but even I can't possibly get it up again before I've had large amounts of a) sleep and b) iron--preferably in the form of steak. Let's order some food."
"You've got sex on the brain."
"Mmm." John fluttered his eyelashes in the way that Rodney in a moment of passion had confessed got him almost unbearably hot. "I like it when you talk about my brain."
"Idiot," Rodney said, but he was moving off the bed towards John. John had conflicting urges to laugh or pull Rodney close enough to crawl inside of him. He settled for grinning and shucking his jeans.
Rodney was already naked--he'd barely dressed in days--and John reached out, positioning him above him on the chair. Rodney gripped the chair back behind John--one hand on either side of his head. John turned his head to mouth a bicep.
"I'm still slick from last time," Rodney said and sank slowly, agonizingly onto John's cock.
"God," John said, his whole body thrumming. "I don't understand--This doesn't usually happen to me."
"You make me insane," Rodney said, pushing down. "Come on. Fuck me."
"God." John pushed up into him. Rodney was everywhere around him, smelling like heaven, and feeling-- "Jesus, Rodney."
"Yeah. Bite me. Come on, John. Please. Bite me now."
John sank his teeth into Rodney's wrist, swallowing hard and fast, feeling like he would drown in Rodney's thick strong blood.
Rodney moaned and began stroking his own cock with his free hand. John leaned back to watch. God, he was gorgeous that way--slowly pulling his dick, whimpering because John had stopped drinking from him.
"Mine," John said. He reached for Rodney's wrist, drinking him down. Rodney made a noise like a sob. John could taste Rodney's orgasm in his blood, and hear it, loud as if there was a fucking choir in the room.
Another mouthful and John was coming harder than he could ever remember coming before.
After that, even John had to sleep, and Rodney was as good as unconscious, so when the phone rang two hours later, neither of them was prepared for it. It was the mechanic; John's car was ready.
John didn't want to leave, but there was no point being stupid. He couldn't get involved with a human. This was work for Rodney, anyway. John was sure he'd enjoyed it, sure he'd felt something of what John had been feeling. Even so, when John left, Rodney would move on to his next patron.
The thought made something soft and sick-making form in his stomach, but he signed the credit slip for the blood bank and left a generous tip.
Rodney looked puzzled as he read the amount. "This is--you don't have to leave this much. If you can't afford--"
"I've saved some money over the last century, Rodney. I work because I want to."
"Listen," John said, a lump suddenly in his throat. "It's probably not your kind of thing, but--I want to leave you a ticket for the opening date in L.A. Three weeks from now. The Key Club on Sunset."
"Songs about drunken cowboys and their cheatin' no-good wives?" Rodney smiled. "Wouldn't miss it."
John curled his fingers around Rodney's. He felt him shiver, and shivered a little in response
Three weeks isn't that long, John told himself as he walked out the door.
But three weeks later, the girl at the ticket booth shook her head. "Sorry, John, no one's claimed the ticket."
Her voice twanged like a broken guitar string and she was giving him a little purse-lipped frown of sympathy; it was the third time he'd asked.
Gabe patted him on the shoulder and Red looked at him funny, but John got through the two shows that night just fine, thanks very much. Red had been looking at him funny all last week as John had gotten more and more anxious as the show day approached. John knew he was blowing his reputation for never getting nervous, but the day he couldn't play one of Red's standard A minor to E minor to D to G songs was the day he'd voluntarily step in front of a stake.
He was perfectly capable of playing and singing backup and scanning the audience all at the same time. Rodney wasn't there, of course.
At the end of the second set, just before the encore, John thought he felt something--some weird tug at the back of his mind that weakened his knees for a moment--it was gone before John could puzzle it out. He was probably just hungry; he hadn't fed since he'd been with--since the blood bank.
The next day he lasted all the way until three p.m. before he gave in and called the San Luis Obispo Blood Bank to find out why Rodney hadn't come to the show.
"I'm sorry," the woman who answered the phone said. "Mister McKay isn't here any more."
"What? Where did he go? This is John Sheppard, did he leave any message for me?"
"I'm sorry, Mister Sheppard. All I can tell you is he's no longer an employee."
John made his voice soft. He tried to charm, to cajole, but it didn't do any good.
"Can you give him a message?" he asked finally.
There was a long pause.
"Yes," the woman said. "I think I can do that."
Now that it came down to it, John didn't have anything to say.
"Look. Tell him--tell him I want to talk to him. Ask him to call me. He has my number."
That kind of suavity would surely send Rodney running into his arms. He hung up, thoroughly disgusted with himself.
John still hadn't heard from Rodney three days later, and even he could take a hint. Rodney clearly wasn't interested. John had underestimated Rodney's acting skills, or his devotion to his job or something. It hadn't meant anything to him.
But Rodney had quit the blood bank.
John shook his head hard. He had to check over his guitars and get on the bus. He didn't have time to be worrying about someone who didn't want him. It was for the best, anyway; Rodney was doing him a favor. John was too old, too set in his ways, to start dallying with humans now.
He was probably just hungry; that was why he was feeling weird and edgy. In San Diego he'd find some pretty, willing girl in the audience, and he'd feed. That would make him feel better.
There were no shortage of appealing girls at the show. After the third song, John raised an eyebrow at a black-haired young thing who was as far from Rodney as he could imagine. He even talked to her at the bar between sets. Her name was Kelly--or Kim--and she smiled at him with pretty white teeth and told him she liked the way he played guitar.
She didn't smell like much of anything, and he was about to ask her to meet him after the show, when he got disgusted with himself and said good-bye instead.
San Diego was full of military--Navy and Marines. There were always a few of those who were eager to open a vein. John toyed with the idea--short hair beneath his hands, metal taste of a dog tag chain mingling with the metal taste of blood--but in the end he found the nearest blood bank.
Her name was Teyla. She was beautiful, with skin like light coffee. When he introduced himself, she answered with a singer's voice, golden and sweet as sun-warmed honey.
"Are you interested in just feeding?" she asked, her fingers lingering on his after they'd shaken hands. "Or something more?"
"Just feeding," John said quickly. He smoothed a hand over her wrist, feeling the blood moving just under the surface, calling to him the way it always did. She had small, delicate veins.
Teyla smiled, and John raised her wrist to his lips. He took a deep breath and bit down.
He drank deep, and for a moment it was perfect--it was just what he needed. Then her blood turned sour in his mouth--sticky and bitter. He choked and spat, the sound of dissonant chords deafening him.
"God, that's awful," he said through the noise in his head. What was going on? He'd never tasted anything like that. Blood was always blood--it tasted like life, whether from men or women. Race, nationality, age--none of that made a difference. But her blood--It was...
No. It couldn't have anything to do with her. It had to be John, and whatever fucked-up twisted thing was wrong with him.
Teyla was looking at him in shock and rubbing her arm. "That hurt," she said, sounding more surprised than angry.
He grabbed her hand again, ignoring her flinch, and licked until it stopped bleeding. He had not to fight not to gag.
"I have heard of this," Teyla said once the wound had closed. "But I have never seen it firsthand. Why would you come here to feed?"
"Wait. You know what just happened?"
"Of course." She looked at him closely. "You mean you do not?"
Jon shook his head. It made him feel dizzy. His legs didn't want to hold him up, suddenly, and he sat down hard on the bed. Teyla pulled up the small armchair. John looked away, refusing to meet the sympathy in her eyes.
"You have never Changed anyone, then," she said. It wasn't a question. "Or taken a Companion?"
"No," John said. He felt a numbness wash over his mind. He was sure he didn't want to hear whatever she had to tell him, but he couldn't bring himself to care at the moment.
"But you have met someone, recently." She paused and he looked up to see her eyes widen. "John Sheppard. Of course. You were Rodney's last client."
"What about Rodney?" He sat forward. He didn't miss it when she leaned slightly away. "How do you know Rodney?"
"We are a chain," she said. "Of blood banks. Did you not know?"
There had to be four blood banks in a town the size of San Diego. Maybe more. Of course he'd come to one where they knew Rodney.
"Do you--Listen, do you know where he is?'" John tried not to sound desperate. He didn't think he'd succeeded. "I need to talk to him."
She frowned. "I do not know much. I am not sure what I should tell you."
"Please. I need to talk to him."
She would have to be blind not to see the urgency in his eyes, and deaf not to hear it in his voice. She sighed.
"He quit suddenly, two weeks ago. The owners of our branch were not happy--someone from here had to drive up there and sub. Which left us short-handed, but San Luis Obispo needed to have a manager."
"Rodney was the manager?" John asked. Why hadn't he told him?
Teyla nodded. "We were all surprised when we heard he quit. He was not what I would call popular with the employees, but he ran the bank well. Everyone did good, professional work under him."
She sighed. "People leave, of course. They get older; they find the lifestyle does not suit them any more, but everyone thought Rodney was a lifer. He had been donating for more than ten years." She looked at him with knowing eyes. "Now it makes sense."
"Not to me." The soft, unpleasant thing was back in his stomach, squirming around.
Teyla looked at him. "You really do not know what is happening to you? Your Maker did not teach you?"
"He died," John said, and left it at that.
Teyla, to her credit, didn't try to pry or offer him sympathy. She spoke in a calm, clear voice. "What you are experiencing is the start of the Luring cycle. Before your Maker died, was there a time--when you first met--when all you seemed to do was have sex, with him feeding from you every time?"
John shivered, remembering. When he'd met William they hadn't been able to stop touching each other; it had been like a drug--better than the morphine they'd given John when he'd been wounded. He hadn't felt anything like that since.
"It is that way with you both now. Did feeding from Rodney seem different? Did he smell like the best thing you had ever smelled?"
John nodded. "But--Luring. How is that possible? I never did anything to--Wouldn't I know?"
"No one really understands how Luring works. It is something in Rodney's blood. Or yours. Or something else entirely. There are many books exploring the phenomenon. You have never been curious?"
"I just--I always thought it never applied to me. I knew I'd never take a Companion, so--Wait. Will everyone's blood taste wrong from now on? Will I hurt the donors?"
His mind raced. He just wouldn't feed; not if it meant he'd be hurting people. It didn't matter what happened to him. And what about--
"Rodney?" John asked. "Will he be able to donate again?"
"If he cares to," Teyla replied. "And you will be able to feed, from a donor that will allow it. It won't taste right for six weeks--maybe two months? You will have to pay more if you use a blood bank--and sex is out of the question, of course."
John sank his forehead into his hands. His fingers felt cool against his temples. "And after two months, things go back to the way they were? Blood tastes good. No more pain?"
"Rodney too. If you have no physical contact with each other, the Luring will pass. That much of it is voluntary, at least."
All he had to do was stay away from Rodney for two months. Could he do that? Just being apart from him as long as he already had been was making him crazy. He ached to see Rodney, to touch him, to hold him.
He needed to get a grip. It was clearly Rodney's decision not to see him. It was the wise and expedient choice, and John felt like it might kill him.
"Okay." He looked up. "I'm sorry I put you through this."
"I am glad to help." Teyla took his hand. "I only wish I could do more."
"Maybe you can."
Teyla raised one lovely eyebrow. "I am afraid I would not feel comfortable telling you where Rodney is. Even if I knew."
John sighed. "It's not that. Look. Rodney's lost his job because of me. If I give you a check, can you get it to him? Just--please try."
"I will do my best."
He wrote the check. He had that feeling he always got before he did something reckless and stupid, but he had to do something--anything--for Rodney. And if Rodney wouldn't see him, what else was there?
He gave Teyla the check, and as much of a tip for herself as he could get her to accept. It wasn't enough.
No way John was going to feed if it meant hurting anyone. It meant he felt dizzy and weak, but he also felt pulled apart with want for Rodney, so he barely even noticed the hunger.
Part of him--a big part--was meanly glad that Rodney had to be going through the same thing. John was nearly crazy with jealousy every time he thought about someone biting Rodney, or touching him, or even being near him. He would have cheerfully torn apart with his bare hands anyone who dared to try. Now Rodney would not be able to let anyone feed off him--at least as long as the Luring cycle lasted. And after it was over, John wouldn't be filled with such incoherent possessive rage, would he?
He tried not to think too much about that question. He wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.
It was affecting his playing. No music sounded right to him, and Red's insipid songs about heartbreak and fast cars were just too much to take.
Why the hell bother? John was nearly two hundred years old, and likely to live at least two hundred more. He didn't have to put up with that shit.
Red ranted and raved when John quit the tour, and threatened to sue. John laughed for the first time in weeks and showed his teeth.
"I'm Luring someone," he said in the coldest, deadest voice he could manage. "We're both sick with it. Be glad I'm not Luring you."
Red paled, and muttered something under his breath. There was no more talk of lawsuits.
John went back to San Francisco. He could hole up alone in his apartment for three months. That should be more than long enough. He'd read a book about it--skimmed one, anyhow.
In three months--only ninety days--he'd be able to drink someone else's blood, and he'd stop thinking about Rodney, wondering where he was, if he was okay. If he was thinking about John.
He tried to stop thinking about Rodney, but when he didn't, he thought about William, and that was almost worse. William had been the bravest man John had ever known, and the best musician. They'd had just a few short months together, and John had loved him beyond measure and reason. He was beginning to think what he felt then paled beside what he felt for Rodney.
After a week of sheer pathetic-ness and licking of metaphorical wounds, he pulled out his Gibson archtop. It felt solid and heavy in his hands, and it was the only guitar that sounded right to him. The music was flowing out of him in a way it rarely did--perhaps it never had before. He spent hours writing songs. They were probably all terrible, and they were all about Rodney. But the act of strumming his pick across the strings felt good, felt necessary.
After another week, a letter came in the mail from the San Luis Obispo Blood Bank. It contained his check to Rodney, un-cashed, the words, "You can't afford this," scrawled across the front in big, ugly letters.
I really can, John wrote on the memo line of a new check.
On a piece of paper he wrote, "You seem to have the idea that I'm some kind of seedy, out-of-work musician. I was left quite a bit of money 150 years ago, and it's been earning interest since. But your concern for my financial well-being is touching."
He sent it to the return address on the outside of the blood bank envelope.
Okay, Mr. Rockefeller. Then try this: I don't want your money. And you are out of work. You quit the band. (Why?) You're a little bit seedy, too.--RM
I was never in the band. I quit the tour because life's too short for some things. Even for me.
I'm sorry you had to leave the blood bank because of me. What I did to you was unforgivable. The fact that I didn't know what I was doing makes it worse. I would do anything to make it up to you.--JS
You can start by cutting out the martyr act. The Luring was just as likely to have been caused by something in my body chemistry as yours. In fact, the latest work out of Stanford suggests the Luring cycle is triggered by the Lur-ee (i.e. me), not the Lur-er (i.e. you). Not that that quote-unquote study is worth the paper it was written on.
I quit the blood bank because I'm an idiot. You don't know me very well, but I'm supposed to be somewhat intelligent. I was working on a doctorate before I gave it all up for the glamorous world of blood donation--maybe I'll go back and finish it now.
When I first realized I was... drawn to your kind, I read every book ever written on the subject. I was a sophomore at Northeastern at the time--I even considered changing my major, just so I could understand what was going on with me. I took a few graduate-level courses--Morris actually offered me a fellowship, before I realized what a load of voodoo it all was. Nobody knows anything.
What I'm trying to say is that I am something of an expert on your kind. If anyone should have know we were starting a Luring cycle, it should have been me. That's why I left the blood bank--I have no business there if I can't recognize something so basic when it's happening to me.
The truth is that Luring cycles just don't happen that often. You can go years--hundreds of people can feed off you (don't get all freaky-possessive on me, I'm making a point), and never trigger one. I never thought it would happen to me. And when I was with you, I was so out of control--I wasn't thinking about it. I wasn't thinking at all--you know what I was doing.
P.S. If I give you my email address will you email me instead? I don't like this letter-writing business. It makes me want to tell you things.
I am writing real letters on real paper because I am going to send you something, I think (not a check), if I don't lose my nerve.
Who writes the words "quote-unquote" in a letter? "These" are quote-marks, Rodney. "See?" You can just use "them." Or would using punctuation marks not denote the proper level of sarcasm?
You're also the only person who could tell me that nobody knows anything about Luring and then be angry at yourself for not knowing about it. I think I'm not the only martyr here.
P.S. What was your doctorate in? Isn't Northeastern in Boston? How'd you end up out here?
You're sending me something? Is it chocolate?
1. Thank you for the English lesson, Professor Sheppard.
2. That's not martyrdom, that's ego. We all have our little personality defects. Here is another one of mine:
I was at the show in L.A. I'd figured out we were in a Luring cycle by then--I even realized you didn't know, though I'll admit that confused me; wouldn't your Maker teach you?--but I was too much of a coward to say anything to you.
The band sucked, btw. But you were amazing.
P.S. Aren't you just full of questions. Don't you know that curiosity killed Schrödinger's cat? Or maybe the cat lived--I'm not sure because I never finished my doctoral studies in physics.
I came out here--it's a long, dull story, but I know you'll whine at me in print until you hear it. Remember, you asked--
What most of your kind never understands is that for people like me, it's a compulsion--needing to be fed upon. There are some people for whom it's necessary--as deep and basic as the need for blood is to you. It's not so much an addiction, as who they are. For those people who are like that and try to fight it--it consumes them.
When I first realized how I was--what my life was becoming--well, I was one of those that tried to fight against my nature. I couldn't think. I couldn't work. I dropped out of school, grew a beard, read a lot of Kerouac, and next thing I knew, here I was. With the peace. And the ocean. And the... peace. You get used to it.
Needless to say, I've long since come to terms with who and what I am.
Like I said. You asked.
It is not chocolate. It is not even an explanation, though I want to give you one.
My Maker probably should have taught me something about my kind--about Luring at the very least. I'm sure he would have, but he died.
In 1862, I was a soldier in the Confederate Army. I was poor and unskilled, but even after two months I knew I wanted out.
William Hollis was 400 years old when I met him. He'd been made a lieutenant, because he was rich and they were scared of him. He was handsome and bored, and he took a guitar with him wherever he went. You didn't see guitars much, back then.
We deserted the army together and he formally took me on as his Companion. We went to New Orleans. Nobody bothered us there, and he taught me about music--William played anything and everything, but it was the guitar he loved. We were ludicrously happy for three months, then there was an outbreak of yellow fever.
It couldn't have touched William, of course, but I fell ill. I would have died, but he Changed me instead.
I'm sure you can guess what happened. I was too sick, or maybe we'd waited too long. At any rate, it was too much for William. He became ill and died.
I've never told anybody all that before. I've never wanted to until now, and I apologize for burdening you. I only wanted to explain why I didn't understand what was happening between us. Of course, I could have learned something about my kind on my own, but you can see how that would have involved facing my emotions, which was never something I was willing to do.
I don't think you're a coward.
Here is what I wanted to send you. I've never been much for writing songs, even after 180 years of life, and most of those years spent playing music. But this is something I've been working on lately. Since it's mostly been done thinking of you, I wanted you to have it. It's been a while since I've written down notes on a staff, but I've given you the melody line and the chords. If you still play the piano, I think you'll be able to play it.
I don't know what to say about William, so I won't say anything at all. Except--thank you. For trusting me.
I played your song. It's beautiful. Does it have words?
I don't know how to sign this.
I miss you,
It has words. They're about you. If you asked me to, I would probably write them down, but then I would spontaneously combust from shame. So do us both a favor and just imagine the lyrics. Or write your own.
Look, Rodney, I don't want to do this any more. I miss you so much it's driving me crazy. I know it will pass, but right now it feels like I might die from wanting you.
And it's not--it's not just the Luring. I miss you.
I can't write you any more letters.
I've enclosed my number. Call me please, when you get this. If you don't, I'll understand what that means, and I promise to accept your decision.
John was not waiting for the phone to ring, except for how he was.
He'd decided to give Rodney four days to call him. After that he would concede that Rodney really didn't want anything to do with him. He would reserve the right to be mopey and pathetic for a very long time, but he would do his best to move on.
For the first time since the Luring cycle began, the hours and days flew by, but it was not officially Day Five until midnight. John would not declare his heart broken until then.
At eleven p.m. on Day Four John was sitting still as a corpse, listening to his empty apartment. He knew he was being ridiculous. Maybe he should get out one of his electric guitars--play something loud and obnoxious so he wouldn't notice the clock hands ticking past twelve.
He was just getting the guitar out when he felt that same tug in his brain. He dropped the guitar and staggered, falling against the wall. There was a knock at his door.
He swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat. "It's unlocked."
John watched the doorknob slowly twist. Rodney entered. He closed the door carefully behind him and leaned back against it. He looked like hell, with dark shadows under startled eyes, and red, bitten lips. He was maybe the best thing John had ever seen.
John felt rooted to the spot, unable to move, not quite trusting his eyes. Finally, Rodney spoke.
"You leave your door unlocked all the time? With all the crazies running around San Francisco? I suppose it's too much to ask that you have some sense of self-preser--"
"Rodney." John let his teeth lengthen and sharpen for a second.
"Oh," Rodney said. "Okay, fine. Point. Maybe you don't have to worry about the nuts, but now that I'm here--"
John's legs suddenly worked again and he was across the room, fingers digging into Rodney's biceps, and God, he'd almost forgotten how good Rodney smelled.
"You're here?" John asked, breathing him in. "Really? You're really here?"
For good? he didn't say, but he thought Rodney heard it nonetheless.
"You do know you're an idiot."
"Hey," John said, happiness bubbling up in his throat, threatening to choke him.
Rodney raised a hand, which couldn't have been easy with the grip John had on him. "Okay, yes. Resist the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo supernatural connection between us. Fine, I get that. Everybody likes free will, right?"
John pulled Rodney further into the apartment, unbuttoning Rodney's shirt as they moved. Rodney never stopped talking.
"But this makes us happy. Being together makes us happy, right?"
John had gotten Rodney's shirt off. He licked a stripe up his neck. Rodney blinked, as if unsure how he'd suddenly gotten half naked. John had to laugh, which made Rodney smile--which made warmth diffuse through John's whole body.
"Rodney," John said.
"And why shouldn't we be happy, if we can? Life's too short, that's what you said."
"I can't believe you're still talking." John growled and pushed Rodney down onto the nearest piece of furniture. It was his sofa; that'd work fine.
"You don't--Ah," Rodney said as John's hand found his cock. "You don't really know me that well yet. You'll see--God--you'll see I can talk through anything."
John felt something break open inside him, leaving behind a feeling of tenderness that was almost overwhelming. He raised his hand to Rodney's cheek. Rodney leaned into the caress.
John could probably spend the rest of his life happily just looking at Rodney in this moment, breathing him in deep and listening to him hum in that pleased way he had.
"Jesus," Rodney said. "Are you going to bite me sometime?"
"What?" Rodney asked, blinking at him.
"I'm just taking a moment to mourn the end of the romance."
Rodney looked up at him with such pure delight that John felt his stomach flip.
"I'll show you romance." He tugged on John's shoulders hard. John's face smashed into Rodney's neck. Rodney moaned as John's teeth scraped lightly over his jugular before he bit down.
As Rodney's blood flooded his mouth, John could feel everything shift, just a little--order from chaos, a world gone suddenly right. If he could have, he would have laughed. Instead he just listened.
Rodney's blood sang.