The Crossroads Diner sat at an actual crossroads in the backwaters of South Dakota, and boasted ‘pie you’d sell your soul for’ on a big sign in the window. Crow wasn’t there for pie, or the un-eaten burger that sat on a plate in front of him. He was there for information.
“I don’t think your guy is coming,” John said. He was already halfway through his turkey club and had a blob of mayonnaise at the corner of his mouth.
The diner had been Bobby’s idea. Neutral territory. Plus, it was never good to let vampires – even half-vamps like Crow – know where you lived. Crow didn’t blame Bobby for being cautious. That was the kind of thing that kept a man alive in dangerous times.
“You gonna eat those fries?” John asked, but he was already picking them off Crow’s plate.
For a skinny guy John ate a lot. Crow thought at first he was just blessed with high metabolism, but now he wasn’t so sure. In fact, he had the sneaking suspicion John was trying to fortify himself if the occasion to donate blood arose again; he probably wasn’t even consciously aware of what he was doing. It was addict behavior.
The mayo was still on his face and Crow had to fight the urge to lick it off. There were a whole host of urges he had to fight when it came to John.
Movement out in the parking lot caught Crow’s eye. An old, beat-up Chevelle pulled in next to the equally dusty truck that Crow was driving these days. Bobby got out, looking the same as always in jeans, a flannel shirt, and a dark blue trucker’s hat.
John looked out the window. “That’s the expert? He doesn’t look like much.”
Despite his words, Crow could feel the anticipation coming off of John. He wanted to find a way to break his addiction to the vamp bite, wanted a way to get control back. If Bobby couldn’t help Crow wasn’t sure where that would leave them.
The bell over the door jangled when Bobby walked in. He seemed to know without checking that Crow would be in the booth at the rear of the room, where he had a good visual of the door, the parking lot, and a handy wall at his back.
“Rodney? Is that your real name?” John slid across the seat on his side of the booth to make room for Bobby.
“Who’s your friend?” Bobby asked as he sat down.
“John. He’s the reason I called.”
“He’s the fang banger?”
Crow slapped his hand on the table, making the plates move and the silverware clink together. “Don’t call him that.”
Bobby held his hands up in supplication. “Relax. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
The anger bled back a little, leaving Crow a little shaken and a lot frustrated. He needed to get a grip on himself. Irrational emotions weren’t going to help anyone.
“Crow thinks you can help me,” John said. He’d turned in his seat so he could look at Bobby, but he kept shooting wary looks in Crow’s direction. “Can you?”
“Not gonna lie. Your situation is unusual. You know why they didn’t kill you?”
John’s expression darkened. “No.”
It wasn’t unusual for a vamp, or even a nest of them, to take humans to feed from over a long period of time. Most older vamps had the control to keep from draining a victim and could make that blood source last. Crow didn’t know how long they’d held John, just that it was long enough to get him addicted to the euphoria of the bite. He wanted to kill every last vamp who put a fang to John.
“Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I couldn’t turn anything up that would help in your situation.”
Crow could practically smell John’s disappointment, and watched as all his emotional walls slammed into place. John shrugged, like Bobby’s words didn’t matter, and went back to poking at the French fries.
“No big deal.”
“About the other thing –”
“Outside,” Crow snapped. “I’ll be right back, John.”
Another shrug. Crow slid out of the booth and make hurry-up motions for Bobby to do the same, practically pushing the other man out the door.
“Here’s your hat , what’s your hurry,” Bobby grumbled. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”
“John doesn’t know, and I want to keep it that way.”
“Fine. I’ll cut right to the chase.” Bobby leaned back on the hood of his Chevelle. “I checked all my sources, reached out to some people. What do you know about soulmates?”
Crow stared at him, incredulous. “Soulmates? Are you fucking with me? This isn’t a rom com, Singer, or did you miss the part where I have fangs?”
“You’re still half human. And everything you described – the taste of his blood, the immediate attraction – it points to soulmates. Blood calls to blood, Rodney.”
Crow wanted to knock the amused expression right off Bobby’s face. From the moment Kaleb turned Jeannie into a vampire, and she in turn tried to do the same to Crow, he’d been forced to believe in something most people thought was just the stuff of low-budget movies and improbable romance novels. Knowing vampires to be real wasn’t the same as believing in Santa or Bigfoot or soulmates.
“A vamp and a bite addict are soulmates? Even you have to see how absurd that is.”
“How long have you known John?” Bobby countered.
“And look how angry you got when I called him a fang banger.” Bobby shook his head. “You’re already in deep.”
“How do I turn it off?” Because Crow didn’t need another complication in a life that had become nothing but complications. He’d taken out Kaleb but there were still more vamps that needed to be dealt with, more human lives to save. That wasn’t a scenario that spoke to soft, romantic moments with a fucking soulmate.
“You don’t. You can try to leave him behind, but now that you’ve met you’ll keep being drawn to each other. That’s how it works.”
Crow ran a hand through his hair. “He should’ve let me die.”
“Are you being intentionally stupid?” Bobby pushed up off the car and fished in his pocket for the keys. “I don’t have time for your fangy angst fest. I’ve got two boys going up against a nest in Colorado and they need a hell of a lot more help than you.”
He got back in his car, turned it on, but then something occurred to Crow and he stopped Bobby from leaving by the simple expedience of sticking his head in the passenger side window.
“Wait! This soulmate thing. Is there some way that can cure John?”
“You’re blazing a new trail here, Rodney. I don’t have any answers for you.”
“Did you really make me drive all this way just to tell me you have nothing?” Crow’s hand tightened on the door and he felt it give a little under his enhanced strength.
“I came here to tell you that you have a chance at something good in your life, ya idjit. You think soulmates are common? They’re not. Do yourself a favor and step away from hunting for a while. There’s more to life, and you used to know that.”
Crow pulled his head out of the car just before Bobby stomped on the gas and backed out. Step away from hunting? Like it was that easy. He absently rubbed at the scar on his neck, the one some well-meaning human hunter had given him when she tried to take his head off.
He wasn’t fully vamp and he wasn’t fully human. Crow didn’t have a life to get back to. He didn’t have a place where he belonged. He knew too much to just go back to teaching bored college kids about the workings of the universe. Planets and wormholes and quantum theory were all impossibly distant to him now. Maybe he should’ve taken his doppelgänger up on the offer to travel to an alternate Earth.
Crow turned and looked at John through the diner window. The human’s head was bowed and the tension in his shoulders was like a neon sign pointing out his disappointment. How would he feel if he found out his soulmate was a scarred, tattooed shell of a man who wasn’t fully a man anymore? What did Crow have to offer John? Nothing but heartache.
He needed to make a choice. He just wished they weren’t all bad.