30. The Desire for Desires

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His hand felt warm against mine.

He placed his thumb over mine.

"And I never let my victims live. Feeding on them gave them the disease. The virus is in our saliva. In most cases, the infection would kill them, painfully. If not, it would turn them into yet another monster. I wouldn't let that happen."

His face was pale in the weak light. He didn't look like a monster to me. Well, maybe he was one, but then he was a monster of the sad, tragic kind.

"Then came World War I. I fought in it. I joined my former enemies and became a soldier in the French Foreign Legion. War is a wild, uncaring beast, leaving destruction, misery, and dread in its wake—and the dead and wounded. It was the dead that I was after to sate me..." He gulped. "And the wounded."

That last part was once more a whisper that cut me with its pain and hurt.

I pressed my fingers against his.

He took a long breath. "One day, I was shot and ended up in a lazaret. That's where I first learned about blood transfusions and plasma."

A hunger lurked in his dark stare, but the wrinkles around his eyes blended it with something different, something suffering and humane.

I detached my hand from his and moved it to the line of his jaw, caressing his stubble.

He closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, his gaze held me. He reached up and took hold of my hand. His touch felt as gentle as the look on his face—any sign of craving or anger gone.

He moved my hand to his chest, placing it over his heart.

Then he continued his tale. "With what I learned about taking blood without infecting people, things started to move up. First, I volunteered to work at the lazaret. I stole blood, or sometimes I took blood from a patient using a syringe, and then I drank it.

"Later, when the war and my service in the Foreign Legion came to an end, I joined the Red Cross. The organization was young then, and full of opportunities. After some years, I basically ran its blood donation branch. My life finally fell into place. I could satisfy my needs without hurting anyone and, at the same time, I did something good. I would never be able to amend the atrocities I had committed, but it was at least something.

"I even fell in love." He gave my hand a squeeze. "She worked as a nurse in my group. One day we kissed. A few days later she was dead. I didn't know it then, but the disease can spread through spittle alone."

He let go of my hand.

I left it where it was, on his heart, wondering how it could keep on beating after all the pain it had suffered.

He might be contagious. I dared the virus to infect me.

"And then?" I asked.

"I stayed at my job, buried myself and my feelings in the work. Later, I met others like me. Blood attracts us, and I was working where the blood was. We grouped, and we organized ourselves. That was when I met Bruna. We... were together for some time.

"Then there was World War II, which brought many changes. The Red Cross became more institutional and political. Some of us moved into the United Nations as they were founded. I changed to the private health sector, and later into the blood plasma business. We cannot stay in one place for too long because people will start to notice that we're not aging."

"You and Bruna..." I searched for words. "You were lovers?"

He nodded. "Yes, a long time ago."

It didn't surprise me. The familiarity between the two had spoken a clear language. What was their relationship now, where had it gone after all these decades?

I shied the topic.

"Do you think she's still alive?"

He shrugged. "She's tough and resourceful."

A bark sounded in the distance.

He tensed. "They've got dogs. They'll search the island for survivors. They'll track us."

"Let them," I said. I didn't care. Lying in this stinky, muddy hole, next to Farid, made me feel warm and safe. "I've done my running, and there's nowhere left to run to. They either find us, or they don't. I'm in good company, that's enough."

"You make me smile, Megan. And you're good company, too."

"Tell me more about your life," I asked. I longed to hear him, to relish in his soft voice telling me who he was and what made up the elements of his strange life. I wanted to be part of his journey through all of the 20th century and into the new millennium.

And he did tell me more about it. He related a tale that spanned generations. It was about people that came into his life and left again, and about a few friends that remained through the decades. About a growing business, and about growing tensions. About the countries he had seen. About the increasing menace of the Syndicate, the vampires that hunted the others as they gained power in international organizations and administration. About hiding and scheming.

And all the time I watched his eyes, which sometimes smirked and sometimes filled up to the brim with unshed tears. And I watched his lips, which now smiled more often than not—lips whose kiss might be lethal.

At some point, he stopped his narrative and pinned me with his gaze.

"Yes?" I felt nervous under his scrutiny.

"What about you, Megan? Who are you? What's your life?"

"Oh, it's as short as it is boring, nothing like yours. I'm just a teacher turned into a UNESCO clerk because she wanted to escape monotony, but now I'm just writing reports... boring reports, and living a life of boredom."

He smiled. "Boredom... it's the desire for desires, Tolstoy once said."

"You're so good with quotes."

"It comes with being a vampire. It not only makes us stronger, but it also gives us excellent memory."

"Doesn't sound so bad."

The smile disappeared. "It is bad, believe me, when the things you remember with all that detail haunt you in your dreams. But let's talk about you, not me. If Tolstoy is right, you should feel the desire of desires. Do you?"

My husband's blood on the pavement, it had taken my desires with it as it trickled into the gutter. It had drained them. Did I miss my desires, yearn for them?

"I don't know. Before the plane crash, my life formed a string of days, like a pearl necklace. The pearls look pretty enough, shiny and glimmering. But they're all the same. Rounded and featureless. Yes, I've travelled, and I've met people all over the world. But after a while, all these committees, meetings, minutes, reports, dinners, L-shaped hotel rooms, and politics become irrelevant, vain and boring if there's no one who... cares. They turn into a sea of molasses you can barely wade through."

"No one who cares?"

"No." I shook my head. "He—"

A dog's bark stopped me. It came from much closer than the last one.

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