torch 1996

This is a work of speculative fiction, intended for entertainment. It is not to be sold for profit or distributed without the consent of the author. Spoiler warning: features spoilers for The vampire Lestat and Queen of the damned. From what I've tasted of desire is the second story in the Roman Holiday series, which takes place in the same universe as And death shall have no erection. Do not archive this story without permission.

From what I've tasted of desire

"It's just a simple metaphor, it's for a burning love..." — Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, 'Forest Fire'

Scene: a terrace outside a long low house, some time after sunset. Wilderness encroaches on the house and its surroundings, but that may be an impression deliberately cultivated to the owner's taste. On the black basalt blocks of a long low balustrade lies a man, his hair blacker than the stone, and savors the last of the remaining heat. Another man, more slender of build, stands nearby and watches him with an indulgent smile. Beyond the balustrade, the ground slopes down towards the shore, and the sound of waves can be heard.

Eric: You're a hedonist.

Santino (smiles, without opening his eyes): Oh, there was a reason you built this of black stone. You like this as much as I do.

Eric: I'm not as blatant about it.

Santino (laughs): Sit down. You're making me restless.

Eric seats himself gracefully, not far from Santino's feet.

Eric: You're in a better mood tonight.

Santino (eyes still closed): I could hardly be in a worse one.

Eric (leans back, watches the horizon): No.

Santino (looks up): I'm sorry. If I took it out on you.

Eric (dryly): I'll live. (grins) Or whatever. You'd been to see Marius again, right?

Santino: Yes.

Eric: One would think you'd grow tired of that game.

Santino (raises one eyebrow, going from merriness to menace with remarkable ease): Game?

Eric (refusing to be intimidated): Whatever it is you want from him, you're not getting it. And you keep trying.

Santino: That's my affair.

Eric: And Marius', I'd rather imagine.

Santino (sitting up abruptly, spinning around to face his friend): Give over, Eric. Don't tease.

Eric: But it's what I do best.

Santino (suddenly smiling): Too true. (leans forward and tousles Eric's hair) I just don't take well to it on this particular subject.

Eric (not quite under his breath): So I've noticed.

There is a short silence as they both watch the stars coming out and listen to the sea. Santino is now sitting with one leg bent, arms resting across his knee, slightly hunched forward. Eric, though looking up at the sky, keeps stealing little glances at him.

Eric: Did you see Pandora?

Santino: No. (sighs) She doesn't stir, I imagine.

Eric (frowning): He should let her follow her instincts.

Santino: He cares too much.

Eric (snorts): If he cared, he'd let her go into the ground!

Santino: But he does care.

Eric: That's no great help.

Santino (bites his lip): No. (shakes his head) I'll try to mention it next time.

Eric (amazed): Next time! Santo, what kind of a fool are you?

Santino: How many kinds are there?

Eric: Any number, I would think. And you at the head of them. The man drives you crazy. I'd no idea you'd taken up masochism in your spare time.

Santino (mockingly): Suffering refines the soul.

Eric: Yes, but do you have to come and suffer in my house?

Santino (laughs): My poor Eric.

Eric: I'll start charging you rent.

Santino: Did buying that Matisse clean you out? I've told you to invest your money better. Anyway, I hope you take cards, I've no spare cash.

Eric: I was hoping for payment in kind.

Santino (grins): A pint of blood rather than a pound of flesh? (stretches lazily) You won't get many guests at that rate.

Eric (looks down at his hands): That's not quite what I'm after.

Santino: Do you still have that boat?

Eric (after a brief pause): No, I sold it when I moved here. (shrugs) I can always get a new one.

Santino: It doesn't matter. I was just thinking...

Eric: You'd like to go out there, tonight?

Santino (nods): It's the feeling of isolation. Privacy.

Eric: Well, this place is hardly Piccadilly Circus.

Santino (with a faint smile): Not quite. That's not what I meant. I'd just like to be away from everything and everyone for a little while.

Eric (tenses to rise): I can leave.

Santino (stretches out a hand): Wait. No. I didn't mean to — did I offend you?

Eric: It was an honest offer. Though if solitude's your aim you should not have come here.

Santino: I did want your company. Do.

Eric (relaxes slightly): Good.

Santino: I miss Pandora.

Eric (with a strange expression on his face): Me, too. (sighs) Another reason to wish that Marius would let her sleep, so she can rise again. This way, she could just sit forever, too awake to be healed.

Santino (nods): Yes. It should be pointed out.

Eric: Next time.

Santino: Right.

Eric: Santo, caro, why do you keep going back?

Santino (suddenly stiff and distant): Because I want to.

Eric looks at him and seems to come to some inner conclusion. He rises, walks slowly along the balustrade and stands at its farthest end, looking down. Then he turns slowly and walks back.

Eric: You love him, don't you.

Santino (shocked): What?

Eric: You're bloody well in love with the man. Santino, you've gone crazy.

Santino (recovered now, he leans back and looks up into Eric's face): And how did you reach this remarkable conclusion?

Eric: Just say yes, you know you'll admit it sooner or later. Might as well make it easy.

Santino: Get your curious prying fingers out of my psyche.

Eric: And that's what I get for four hundred years' friendship.

Santino (looks away): I'm sorry.

Eric (sits down next to him): You can tell me, you know.

Santino (still looking away): I know. I just wasn't ready to tell myself.

Eric (eyes fixed on Santino's face): So it really is true.

Santino: Yes.

Eric: And he... refuses you.

Santino (turns to face him again, eyes flashing): He knows nothing! I'm not — I don't—

Eric: Relax.

Santino: I can't. (draws a deep breath) It burns in me. You can't know.

Eric (very softly): I can't?

Santino: I think I've loved him since the moment I first saw him. (short pause) Crazy, did you say? (laughs) Oh, I know. There haven't been three civilized words between us since then.

Eric: You keep going back.

Santino (self-mockingly): It would take more pain than that to make me stop.

Eric: You punish yourself.

Santino: But not only that. It's a joy to see him even if all the rest of it hurts.

Eric nods and looks away for a moment, his eyes glittering.

Eric (as though to himself): One can bear a great deal for love. And just being in the presence of the beloved is worth every pain a casual word can give.

Santino: Yes, that's it. And even the not-so-casual words. (smiles) What it is to have understanding friends.

Eric (after a deep breath): So what will you do?

Santino: I don't know. Go on. It won't kill me.

Eric: No.

Santino: I try, I do try. To stay away and forget. But... (sighs) He is like a fever under my skin. He burns in me.

Eric stands up abruptly again, and turns his back to Santino; he stands quite still, looking down on the ground at his feet.

Santino (dreamily): And this pain of wanting is almost pleasant at times. I think of him and I suffer, and there's a certain happiness in that. (lifts an eyebrow) Perhaps you were right in how you named me before.

Eric (very very quietly): I don't think I'll ever buy another boat.


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Roman holiday III: Sex and the single vampire

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