Bastian sat at their usual table, his eyes darting around the busy street corner. The sun had just set, and he'd made it to his standing date with Riley early. When the server asked him what he wanted, he absently ordered whatever seasonal crap the place was serving. Coffee was coffee to Bastian, especially since that damn frat party last semester, and so he didn't really care what they brought. What he cared about was—
Riley came into sight across the street, and Bastian couldn't help but smile. They'd met by chance, or so Riley thought. He'd been watching the junior since the start of the year, but when they'd bumped into each other in the quad three weeks ago, Bastian had thrown caution to the wind. He'd asked Riley out for coffee, and now they met every Thursday evening for a couple of hours before Riley had to go to work.
"Bastian," Riley said, letting the heavy book bag he carried fall to the ground with a thud. "I'm sorry if I kept you waiting."
Bastian shook his head. "I haven't been waiting long, no," he insisted. Riley smiled, and it made Bastian's heart jump. That smile lit up the blue-green eyes that only enhanced his ginger hair. Riley, Bastian thought fondly, was the quintessential red-head, and he thought it was hotter than hell. "I ordered something for myself, but I didn't get you anything yet since I didn't know when you'd be coming..." God help him, was he rambling? Again?
Riley laughed and sat down. "It's all right. I like my tea really hot, so I can order when they bring yours out. How are you doing, Bastian? You don't look so pale tonight. You're feeling better?"
He loved how Riley called him Bastian. No one else had done it, but Riley had started immediately upon learning his name was Sebastian. "A little," he admitted. Yeah, he was feeling better. He'd downed a quart of the pig's blood he'd wrangled from a butcher 20 minutes away from the university. "How about you?"
"I'm all right," Riley shrugged. "Busy. Classes are hell this year, and the new schedule at Dr. Freedman's is just completely fucking with my free time."
"Night shifts can be a bitch," Bastian agreed. He'd been working them since the semester started. Luckily, he'd been able to switch around a couple classes so he could sleep in. "I'm just glad I have my studios in the late afternoon. The less sun I get, the better."
Riley ordered his tea, and then gave Bastian an odd look. "I've never met anyone with an honest-to-God sun allergy. It must make things really complicated."
"Yeah," Bastian mumbled unhappily, holding his coffee cup with both hands. Riley didn't know the half of it, and he hadn't offered up the information. It wasn't just that he had to avoid the sun; he had to be completely covered now from head to toe. It had only taken one careless morning that ended in third degree burns to teach him to cover the windows and every inch of skin when he went out. "It's a death sentence to social life. People tend to stay away when you're dressed like a ninja in the middle of fucking summer."
"And that doctor friend of yours hasn't been able to help?"
Bastian shook his head. It was a simple cover story, but there was no way he was going to an actual doctor. Something was seriously wrong with him, and he knew he'd only be studied, poked and prodded, and that wasn't how he planned on spending his college career. "It's just best if I keep covered up during the day. But, hey, the sun's down and I'm not dressed from head to toe."
Riley's eyes moved over his face and upper body, an appreciative light in them. "I say it's a marked improvement," he murmured.
He had just enough blood in his system to muster up a genuine blush. He knew he was good looking. Italian genetics had gifted him with a slightly olive complexion and silky, dark hair. He'd never had any complaints until he'd had to bundle up to go to class. Compliments were a bit more difficult to come by now, but the nighttime was his sanctuary, and these meetings with Riley were a lifesaver when it came to his ego. "Thanks," he finally said, making a show out of preening his hair. He stopped when he realized just how flamboyant and ridiculous it must look. He stifled an embarrassed laugh with a large swallow of coffee.
Riley grinned at him, all boyish charm. "We really should try doing something other than meeting for tea and coffee," he said. "Maybe... a movie?"
"A movie?" Bastian couldn't believe his luck. He was a freak now, shunned by most of his old friends, but Riley was asking him out. "Like... on a date?"
"Yeah," Riley said, his pale face suffusing with color. It made that new hunger in Bastian pique with interest. "Like on a date. You. Me. A crappy, cheap movie. The dark."
Bastian laughed. "I'd love that. I haven't been on a date in a really long time."
"I haven't, either," Riley confided. He shifted, and Bastian could immediately sense his discomfort. "My ex... well, he wasn't a very nice guy, and I decided to take a break from dating."
Bastian frowned, his eyebrows knitting together. He'd known that Riley wasn't dating just from their casual conversations, but he had sort of assumed Riley was getting a little action, maybe something without strings. Riley was hot enough for that, and it's what Bastian's M.O. had been before things got crazy. If Riley had a shitty ex, though, it probably meant he was wrong. "What happened?" he asked. "I mean, if you don't mind sharing. I don't wanna make it worse or anything but..." He let the sentence trail off and just rested his hand on Riley's in what he hoped came off as comforting.
Riley smiled, but the expression didn't make it to his eyes. Bastian much preferred the more natural, bright smile he'd been gifted with when Riley had first sat down than this new, artificial one. "Jake just wasn't a nice guy once we moved in with each other. We met in freshman year, and while he was the jealous type, I liked how much he wanted my attention."
"Jealous type?" That set off warning bells in Bastian's head.
"That's what everyone said about him." Riley set his cup aside. "I thought it was sweet. We moved in together at the start of our sophomore year. Things devolved. Jealous isn't the word I'd use to describe Jake anymore. He was obsessive about me. I had to tell him where I was going, who I'd be with, when I'd be back... unless he went with me, which he usually did." He sighed, eyes turning to the street. "We'd been together a few months when he hit me the first time. It went downhill from there."
Bastian swallowed thickly. "Shit."
Riley gave him a wry smile. "I moved out over the summer, just before the fall semester started. I got a new job, transferred schools, and basically uprooted my life. He wouldn't have stopped what he'd been doing."
From those words alone, and the haunted look in Riley's eyes, Bastian had a good feeling Jake hadn't just been hitting Riley. Out of respect, he didn't dig. If Riley wanted him to know, he'd tell him. "Started over?"
"I've new friends, and I like the University of Tennessee better than Tennessee State," Riley said. "I have my own little apartment off campus, a job that helps with the bills, and some great professors. I think my situation was greatly improved by leaving Nashville and Jake behind."
Bastian dared to grin, wanting to lighten the mood just a little. "And you met me, the oddball of UT."
Riley laughed, shaking his head. "You may be an oddball, but you're nice and gorgeous and smart, so I can accept that you're weird."
"Good, 'cause I'd be heartbroken if you couldn't."
Silence fell between them as they sipped their drinks and watched the people passing the coffee shop. When Riley arched his neck to watch a woman with her dog at the crosswalk, murmuring that choke chains should be illegal, Bastian's gaze was drawn to the exposed flesh. He knew, just beneath a little muscle and some tissue, was a beating, pulsing artery that was full of warmth and life. It made that nagging thirst cry out, demand to be fed and sated for once, and Bastian squeezed his eyes shut.
But it was too late. He was starving. Ravenous almost. He wanted to pant, to claw at himself to stop the burning inside him. If he wasn't careful, he'd lunge right over the table, in front of dozens of witnesses, and just savage Riley, which he didn't want to do. He didn't want it, but, God help him, he did. Bastian wanted the hunger to stop, the pain to ease even for a few hours, and that dark voice in his head assured him if he'd take Riley's life...
Bastian stood up suddenly. "I have to go," he ground out, not looking at Riley. "I forgot I have to... do... something..."
Oh, Riley's voice was concerned, gentle, and Bastian wanted to look, to explain, but he just shook his head. "I'll call you tomorrow night? We can decide what movie and day and all that shit, okay? I just really have to go. Now."
He could see Riley nodding in his peripheral vision. "All right, Bastian. Call my cell. I'm working tomorrow night."
Bastian nodded, the movement jerky and painful. "Tomorrow night. Your cell. I'll call around eight." He didn't even say goodbye. He didn't even let himself register the disappointed 'goodbye' Riley threw in his direction. Bastian simply took off across the street. He wanted as much space between Riley and him as he could get. He needed to breathe. He needed to get his head on straight. Had the pig's blood just not been enough? It had been a whole damn quart!
"Fuck," he hissed under his breath. He headed toward campus and his lonely dorm room. If the need didn't ease soon, he'd stop off at the grocery store. Maybe they'd have something... like a six-pack of people.
He laughed, and the desperate edge to it drew stares from the men and women he passed, but he didn't care. He felt insane; they might as well think he is, too. Bastian's mind turned again and again to Riley's throat and what coursed just under the skin. He stopped for a moment and took several deep breaths. When he opened his eyes, he looked around. He needed to find someplace where he could get his fix.
Fix. He sounded like an addict, but this wasn't an addiction. He couldn't kick the need for blood any more than a normal person could kick the need for water. It was a dry scrape through his veins, a twisting in his gut. His tongue was thick and dry in his mouth. Every person he passed tugged at his fraying control. Bastian was dangerous. He knew that in a sudden, frightening revelation. It was just like the first night, that first and only kill. If he didn't do something now, someone was going to get hurt.
There was a Fresh Market on Kingston Pike. That wasn't too far from where he was now. Bastian ducked his head and took off down the street at a jog. It wouldn't take him too long, and there was no denying the truth. If he'd been that tempted to rip Riley's throat out—someone he wanted to date and know and, hell, maybe even fuck—then the hunger was out of control. One quart of pig's blood a week wasn't cutting it anymore.
He often wondered if human blood would satisfy him longer, but the thought of giving in to that urge turned his stomach. He shook his head as an image of Riley rose up in his mind. No, not Riley. Not anyone. Never again.