Of course, he thought his client was a bit of an idiot. Beau had explained that he used specialized ink, permanent on vamps, and given that sun and lasers were a no-no for creatures of the night, it would never fade, never go away and maybe, just maybe, a guy who lived in the shadows didn’t want permanently glowing marks that were in highly visible locations. It kind of messed with one’s ability to lurk.
Johnny Stupid had insisted, though.
Beau could have turned the doofus away, but this kind of stupid got under his skin. So he’d quoted twice his normal rate, and was making a pretty penny on this particular piece of ink.
For a guy who made his reputation by his fangs, Johnny sure was whiny about the needles. Beau rushed the job just to get it done so he could usher the loser out of his shop. He should have said no and turfed the guy when he’d first walked in. Beau was smiling, though, when a nice fat wad of cash was handed over. He waved the guy off and stuffed the money into his safe.
A slow night had turned into a good take, thanks to Mr. Glow In the Dark Vampire.
The bell over the door rang, and Beau shook his head. Sunrise was near and he’d been shutting down the shop, pulling the heavy shutters across the windows and doors. “Sorry, we’re closed.”
“Beau?” The voice was a sweet, soft tenor that reminded him of long nights of feeding and fucking. Aaron.
Of course, Aaron had left him, what, eight months ago now? Calling Beau…an abomination and informing him that under no circumstance did Aaron want to become what he was.
He looked up to tell whoever it was who’d shown up that he didn’t want what they were peddling, but what he saw made his jaw drop and the words freeze in his throat.
Aaron was gaunt, milk-white, full blond hair gone limp and dull.
“A…Aaron? Is that you?” He wasn’t quite sure he believed it. His Aaron had been robust, tanned, hair like a romance cover model’s. His Aaron had been alive.
“I…I came to see you.”
“Satan’s balls, I barely recognize you.” He could feel the dawn like a specter breathing down his back. He had to lock up. “The sun will be up soon, you should go home.”
“Okay. You’re beautiful, still. I should have told you yes. Forgive me.” Aaron pulled his hoodie up and slipped out of the door, silent as a wraith.
Aaron always did have a flair for the dramatic.
Beau went to the door and called out after the figure fading in amongst the shadows. “Unless home is within a block or two, you’re going to be incinerated. Get back here and help me with the damned shutters.”
“I don’t have a home anymore.” Aaron stopped, but didn’t turn around.
Beau pondered his next move quickly. He could let Aaron slip away to whatever hole he was staying out of the sun in, or he could invite the man in and get answers to the questions bouncing around in his head. If he let Aaron go, he had a hunch he’d never see the man again.
He sighed and cleared his throat. “Get back here, A. And help me close the shutters.”
“I didn’t come to be a bother.”
Like Aaron wasn’t the biggest bother of his life already.
“You’ll help me close the shutters. There we go. Not a bother.”
He rolled his eyes and shut the door as soon as Aaron was through it. After locking it, he pulled down the heavy metal that blocked out the sun. “Get the windows, A.”
God, he was burning with questions. Burning.
They got the shop locked up tight and Beau pointed to the chair. To his credit, Aaron sat.
Beau took the stool. “So what were you looking at getting?” It wasn’t the burning question driving his curiosity, but it was familiar, comfortable. Besides, the ink—it had a way of making a man talkative.
“I… I was…I keep… Honeysuckle.”
He’d once fucked Aaron under a honeysuckle bower in the full moon, bound his lover’s hands with the vines.
His eyebrows went up, but he could see it already, the vines wrapped around Aaron’s wrist just like they had been that night, a couple of flowers hiding among the leaves.
Beau began grabbing ink and filling his little pots. “You trust me to do it freehand?”
“I can’t pay you.”
Beau looked up, meeting Aaron’s eyes. “You can pay by answering my questions.” It wasn’t like he needed the money. Aaron’s story, however—that, he was pretty sure he needed to hear.
Aaron nodded, eyes burning in his skull.
Beau hooked the machine up and stepped on the pedal, the buzz soothing him immediately. That sound was his blood, ink flowing through his veins. “Hold still.”
“Okay.” Aaron’s eyes were nearly clear now, barely any green there.
Beau watched them a moment longer, then turned to his work, touching needle to skin, punching the ink beneath the surface.
Aaron watched him, still and silent as the dead.
It looked like Beau was going to have to draw his former lover—and former live dude—out.
“When did it happen?”
“Six months ago. I was at the club and… It was stupid. I know I shouldn’t have gone without protection, but I was looking for… It doesn’t matter. Someone decided to claim me.”
Beau’s nostrils flared and his knuckles went white around the machine. He had to bite his lip to keep from snarling that Aaron had already been claimed. “If you weren’t interested in being turned, why were you at the club?”
“I was looking for someone.”
Beau took a few deep breaths and applied needle to skin again. “Oh?”
“You. I missed you like crazy. I fucked up. I wanted another chance.”
“So you went to the club on your own?” Beau nearly snarled the words out. Stupid, stupid move. Aaron knew better. “You know better than that.”
“I was hoping you were there. My skin didn’t fit, I couldn’t eat, and it was Monday. You always went on Mondays.”
“I stopped going after we…” After Aaron had left him.
He inked in another vine, putting a knot in it at the side of Aaron’s wrist.
Aaron fell silent again, but Beau felt the man’s eyes on him.
“So you went looking for me…” And he refused to take blame for this—Aaron knew better than to go to the club without being under someone’s protection. Not unless he wanted to be fed upon, used or worst, turned against his will.
“I did. Stephan decided that I’d treated you poorly and he turned me on stage so that I could pay for my mistakes.” Aaron wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I came to apologize. I mean, I’d come to apologize before, but now, too.”
Beau snarled, foot leaving the pedal, and the sudden quiet felt loud. “Stephan turned you? He had no right. He knew you were mine.”
Stephan was fucking lucky there was nothing but daylight out there right now, or Beau would go rip him to shreds this very moment.
Aaron unzipped his jacket, the scars where Stephan had drained his blood brutal and ragged. This had been no loving thing, or even a sexual one. Aaron had been subjected to the most pain possible.
“Fuck. Fuck, Aaron. Nobody tried to stop him?”
Stephan was a dead man. As brutal and painful a death as Beau could devise. Payback was a bitch.
“I deserved it. I was scared and stupid.” Aaron zipped back up, hiding in the heavy fabric. “The honeysuckle is beautiful.”
“I take it Stephan didn’t take you under his wing?” It wasn’t really a question. If Aaron had belonged to someone, he’d be thriving now instead of looking like the walking dead.
Aaron shook his head. “At least I knew to get out of the sun. They took my wallet, my clothes, broke my teeth and wished me luck. I found an attic in a little office building. I stay there. Insurance agents.”
Beau got up and began to pace. “I’m going to kill him. I’m going to take his fangs and throw him in a pit and then I’m going to let the sun take him, piece by piece.”
“I didn’t come to make trouble. I came to see you, literally. I just wanted to look.”
“So you still don’t want me?” Beau was stung, he really was.
He’d thought the big reason why Aaron had dumped him was because the man hadn’t wanted to give up his humanity, and that wasn’t an issue anymore.
“I want you more than anything, but I’m broken, Beau. Ruined.”
“I’m kind of a collector of broken things, Aaron.”
He went back to his stool and picked up his machine again, stepping on the pedal to fill the room with the buzzing. He let it encompass him, let it soothe him and bent back to his task.
Aaron sat beautifully, and Beau inked the life back into the milky skin. He wrapped the honeysuckle vines around Aaron’s wrist, then filled in a few light-colored flowers.
He sat back when he was done and grinned. “That’s my mark on you now.”
“It’s beautiful.” Aaron stared into him, so intense. “I was wrong, Beau. I went to the club to say I was wrong.”
He reached for Aaron’s cheek, cupping it. “You’re so skinny. How have you been surviving?” Had Aaron’s fangs grown in at all? Was it even possible with his teeth knocked out when he’d been made? Stephan had some nasty payback coming his way and Beau would make sure he paid it.
“Rats. The building has a rat problem.”
Six months. His lover had been living on rats for six months.
“And your fangs?” Because having to squeeze out the blood would make it even worse.
Aaron exposed his teeth. The human teeth were there and whole, clearly grown back in thanks to the regenerative abilities of vampires, but the fangs were barely long enough to push past them. Feeding would be possible, but a bitch until they finished growing back out. “It took time to be strong enough to come see you.”
Beau touched the baby fangs. “You need a protector. You need a teacher.” Aaron needed him.
“I think. I think he should have killed me. It would have been kinder than this.” A single bloody tear slipped down Aaron’s razor-sharp cheekbone. “I’ve been so frightened.”
If Aaron had shown up at his doorstep the day after Stephan had done this, Beau would likely have hesitated, still hurt from Aaron’s rejection. But eight months had passed and he could feel the pain Aaron had suffered, could see it.
He wrapped Aaron in an embrace. “You don’t need to be scared anymore—you’re mine now.”
“I’m not worth saving.”
He would have spanked Aaron if he’d thought it wouldn’t have knocked him over. “You made a mistake. I’d say you’ve paid for it.” He stood. “You can be the shop apprentice for now. Cleaning up, running errands. I’ll show you how to clean the machines.” He wasn’t ready to offer more at the moment.
If only Aaron had accepted his offer in the first place. Of course what ifs could drive you crazy, he’d lived long enough he knew that.
Aaron nodded. “I can clean.” The too-big hoodie went up, Aaron hiding his lean face again.
“There’s living quarters in the back. You can sleep at the foot of my bed.”
He got a silent nod. They tidied up, then he led Aaron back to the room where they’d made love so many times. Aaron sat on the floor at the foot of the bed, looking like a pile of discarded clothes.
Beau tugged a box out from under the bed and pulled a thick comforter from it, handing it over.
Then he took a pillow off his bed and gave that to Aaron, too.
“Thank you.” Aaron disappeared in the blanket, hiding from the world.
What a waste. Aaron had been a lovely, vibrant boy, eager to know everything.
Beau went to the fridge and grabbed a bag of blood. “Heads up.” He tossed it over.
Aaron looked at him, confused. “I’ve never…”
“You’ve never what? Fed from a bag?” That was hardly a shock, if Aaron had been living off rats.
Aaron shook his head and handed the bag back. “I’m okay.”
He crouched next to Aaron and handed the blood over again. “You clearly haven’t looked at yourself recently, because you look like shit and you need to feed.”
“I haven’t been out of the building until today.” Aaron reached for him.
Beau let Aaron hold onto him, snaking an arm around the too-skinny body. “You can’t live on rats. You need this.” Aaron didn’t even need to use his fangs on the bag, it had an easy drip line.
He brushed his fingers over Aaron’s eyelids, closing them. Then he brought the drip line to Aaron’s lips. “Suck.”
When Aaron didn’t immediately do as he’d been told, Beau squeezed the bag, forcing the blood down the tube and into Aaron’s mouth.
Aaron’s eyes went wide, the green flaring back in them. That was better already. Beau leaned in and said it again, “Suck.”
Aaron keened, pulling hard, the dying body trying to come back to life.
Beau bet he’d need to go on a blood run soon, and Aaron was going to be surprised by how much better he’d feel when he woke up.
Aaron began to sink into the covers, clearly fed and safe enough to feel the weight of the sun urging him to sleep. Beau nodded and went to climb into bed. He stopped himself, though, going to the door and bolting it closed. Then he went to bed.
It never hurt to take extra precautions.