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Tasting Notes

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Oz Clarke glanced across the campfire at James May, all long legs and tousled hair framing his face and pale neck, drunk enough to finally relax the way he never quite could, sober. The only word Oz could find for him was 'edible.'

And, oh, also 'off-limits.'

And he could practically smell James' blood alcohol content, even from this far away. He frowned as James picked up another bottle and waved it at him.

"Oz," James said, "You're not even slightly pissed. How is that possible? We've been drinking for all of twelve hours!"

"I'm not drunk because, unlike some people, I don't guzzle the whole glass every time someone offers me a taste. That's why you're just supposed to sip and spit, James, I've told you this repeatedly. Besides," he added, with a careful sideways glance at his companion, "I know they told you before you agreed to this trip; I don't drink.... wine."

"Yes, yes," said James, "You sustain your unnatural undead existence by feasting on the blood of the living, they made that very clear, but I didn't realize--"

"I was surprised at how calmly you took that, to be honest," Oz said, casually. "I thought for a bit that you didn't believe them, but then I remembered who you usually work with. But if you don't--"

James laughed. "I suppose after Jeremy and Richard, everything seems normal by comparison. Useful sometimes."

Oz raised his eyebrows. "Not exactly who I meant, but I'll take it."

James glanced up at him, eyes hooded. "You really can't drink wine at all?"

"Well, I can if I have to, to keep up appearances," Oz said, "but there's not much point, since I can't digest any of it. Not even the alcohol."

"And yet this is your job."

"James, it's not about getting drunk. When will you get that through your thick head? It's about the taste, the pleasure, the aesthetics of it. I enjoy wine as wine, not as a means to, to temporary oblivion." He waved his hands, a bit at a loss, and well aware that James, who was unwilling to take things at face value even when they were self-evidently true, was unlikely to buy what even Oz knew was a pretty flimsy obfuscation.

"Oz Clarke, that is possibly the most tragic story I have ever heard."

Oz rolled his eyes to disguise the small part of him that agreed with the other man. Why did James always manage to get the right answers just when Oz least wanted him to? "I wouldn't say it's tragic, James. It just is. Anyway, I can remember what it was like. And watch other people, which is almost as entertaining."

James blinked at him, slowly, and put down the wine as he sat up, straighter, probably unconsciously echoing Oz's posture. "You really can't get drunk at all?"

"I get everything I need through blood only. That's just how it works." Oz shrugged, and hoped rather strongly that James didn't notice the loophole there. Because he was under a very strict rule, no biting humans on the BBC's time, but to be honest there was only so much temptation he could take, and James seemed to have made a hobby - no, well, actually, a career, hadn't he - out of tempting fate. "It's okay, James. It really isn't about getting drunk for me. It's about the sensation, the sensuality, about savoring every experience to the fullest."

James didn't say anything, which Oz was rather thankful for; he was fairly sure even he would agree that last oration deserved the Ozzilator. Instead, though, James let the silence drag out, staring at Oz unreadably across the fire. In the uneven light his eyes seemed very dark; still loose-limbed from the drink, he was idly rubbing the collar of his t-shirt.

No, Oz realized suddenly, he wasn't pulling on his shirt; he was very deliberatly running two fingers back and forth over his jugular vein.

"No," Oz said, almost involuntarily. "No, James, I know what you're thinking, and it's a terrible idea."

"Tell me I'm wrong," James said, all challenge. Oz didn't reply. "It makes sense," James continued, "If you get all your nutrition in blood, than drinking from someone who has alcohol in their blood would affect you, too."

It was so easy to forget that James was really very intelligent, when he bothered to try. "Okay, I admit that it's true. Or at least I've heard rumours that it can work that way. But that doesn't make it a good idea."

"Why not?" James raised his latest bottle again and took a long, deliberate swallow, the column of his throat gilded in the firelight. "I am officially offering."

"It's a bad idea because the BBC frowns on having their presenters committing assault."

"I don't see any cameras here. And it's not assault if I consent."

"You can't consent, you're drunk."

"I'm not that drunk," James said. "And besides it would be rather missing the point to try this when I'm sober."

Oh, James, Oz thought, if you think that, you really have no idea what you're getting in to. But all he could manage to actually say was, "Why?"

"Because it's an affront to basic morality and the justice of the universe that you're going on a month-long drinking holiday without ever getting drunk."

Oz just stared at him.

"Oh right, and because you've been staring at me all evening like I'm, I don't know, a bottle of two-hundred-year-old Chardonnay that you want intensely but don't dare open."

"I didn't think I was being that obvious," Oz mumbled. "Also, white wines don't improve that much after the first ten years."

"Oz," James said.

"All right, possibly not the right time for a wine fact."

James got up and moved around the fire, and then sat back down right next to Oz, nearly knee-to-knee. "Oz, unlike that bottle of wine, I'll just grow it back. Trying this isn't going to ruin anything forever."

"You say that now," Oz told him.

"Yes. I do say that," James replied. "I say that trying this isn't going to ruin anything."

Oz closed his eyes. This close, the scent was overwhelming - the rich blood bright with life, the overlay of alcohol, the complicated flavors of the wines James had been drinking all day, a hint of arousal that was simultaneously gratifying and scary, sweat and spam and petrol and sunlight and cool wind and rich soil and chlorophyll - with his training he could spend an hour just describing the smells. With his senses he could spend a day just lost in them.

He made himself open his eyes again. "You'll only grow it back if I leave you enough. And what makes you so sure I'd do that?"

James was laughing at him without making a sound. "Because the BBC wouldn't hire you if you had a history of killing co-workers. Because if you did leave drained bodies scattered around, I would have heard by now. Because we've been living in very close quarters for weeks now and I trust you. And I'll kick myself if we go home and we haven't tried this."

"James," Oz said.

"Oz?" James answered.

"You really - you're honestly willing to do this."

"Yes. I am."

"it's still a very bad idea."

"You haven't made that case."

"And you have no idea what you're getting in to."

"I almost never do," he said.

"I will admit that I've been wanting to," Oz said. "And it would be lovely to be drunk again, one more time."

"So you will then."

"If you truly want me to."


"Yes, all right, I will."

"Excellent," James said.

They stared at each other for a moment.

"Well, get on with it then," James said, exasperated. "Or is there some silly ritual you have to do first? Swish me around and sniff?"

Oz laughed. "I rather think I've covered that already. You really want--"


Oz took a deep breath - not biologically necessary, but sometimes the moment needed one regardless - and dropped his fangs as he leaned in a bit closer. James didn't react, not with the startlement or fear or disgust that most people did, even when they thought they knew what to expect - just with interest, and impatience.

Oz stopped. "James, I have to say - thank you. I didn't expect--"

"Now you're just being a tease."

"Fine," Oz replied, and leaned the rest of the way in.

Finding the vein (high enough that the blood was near the skin, low enough to be hidden under a collared shirt), making the punctures, taking James in to his arms as he reacted (everyone experienced it differently, or at least described it differently - Oz had occasionally thought that a proper descriptive vocabulary would be quite useful - but the one word they all seemed to agree on was 'intense') - that was all instinct.

And the flow of the blood, the taste and feel and smell of life going into him -- that was more than instinct. There was nothing in the world like fresh living blood from someone who had the experience, the will, the vitality to make it worth the living. And oh, James's was worth it. The first flavor, as always, was salt and iron; and was it only his imagination that the metallic flavor was more dominant, almost steel-like? The tendency was always to say 'rich', to that first unsubtle flavor, but, Oz thought, a better word for this would be 'languid'; the flavor wasn't thick or slow, by any means, but it wasn't in a hurry to go anywhere.

And yet there was that familiar, slight astringency that was such a marker of British blood; in wines it would be about tannins, about too much rain and cold and not enough sunlight, but Oz, being largely British himself, was more likely to blame on the tea. Although this was James, so it could be petrol. The mouthfeel it produces, for all it seemed to linger, was almost standoffish, and yet that astringency produced the impression of clarity? No, that wasn't quite the word. Cleanness? Openness? Well, later.

Anyway, with James it was almost strong enough to give the impression of bitterness, and yet it wasn't bitter, exactly, or not mostly; it became a sort of musty botanical undertaste, woodsy and floral at the same time. Not fruity at all, though, and yet the more he drank the more he realized that the base flavor, underlying everything, was a subtle sweetness.

This was what he valued most about his work, though he doubted he could ever explain it to James; that learning how to come to a drink, with more than just thirst, but with an appreciation of everything that had gone into creating it, whether it was a wine or a life; to have the knowledge, the experience, the honed willpower to step back and say 'this is too wonderful a thing to come to it with anything less than the full power of my spirit and my mind, to waste on nothing more than satisfying a hunger...'

The downside of spending his daylights among wine was that it took him an embarrassingly long time to notice the other flavor in the blood; he was so used to something like 15% alcohol in a wine, and ignoring that unsubtle element, that his mind had simply skipped over the unmistakable, now that he'd tasted it, ethanol content in James's blood. And then he couldn't stop noticing. He hadn't supped from a drunk in a very long time. Was it supposed to be that strong?

He lapped on last long drink and then pulled back to say, "James, if your blood alcohol content is higher than .06%, we're going to have to have a very serious talk--" He frowned. James's eyes were closed, and while he was most certainly still breathing, he didn't seem to be responding at all. And he wasn't sure that sentence had come out the way he'd meant it to.
"James!" he said loudly, and shook him slightly.

James cracked an eyelid. "What? I'm fine. And I'm not nearly that drunk, you must just be a lightweight. Are you stopping already?"

"You're fine, are you?" Oz asked, dubiously. All other considerations aside, the last thing he wanted to do was break James, and stopping was always the hardest part - for either party. He lifted his hands off James's shoulders and watched as James fell backwards, barely catching himself on his hands.

"Er," James said. "Well, perhaps not." He paused contemplatively. "I think I'll just lie here for awhile, in fact, if that's all right with you."

"Right," said Oz. He planned to say something else - perhaps about how this was exactly why he didn't usually do this sort of thing - but his words didn't seem to be working right, so instead he said, "Right. Probably wise of you." He rather wanted to lie down for a bit himself, but he was fairly sure that directly the other side of the tent was the small cooler that contained both the (flat and tasteless) bagged blood that he usually sustained himself on, and several bottles of orange juice. It was not only polite but medically a wise idea to get your partner a drink afterward, so he levered himself up.

Or tried to: he got halfway up and fell over. Right onto James, though thankfully not very hard, as he hadn't been very high up. "My legs don't seem to be working,"
he said.

"That happens sometimes when you're pissed. I think you might be pissed already," James said. "That's a Pissed Fact," he added solemnly, and then giggled, and Oz giggled along.

And then he looked up. "Wow, the stars," he said. "The stars are --" and then he trailed off. Everything around him felt different, blurred by the alcohol. It felt almost like when he'd first come into his new senses, everything was just more there, except this was mellow and, well, happy. Which that hadn't been. He didn't want to do anything right then but look at the stars, and so he didn't.

"I've been wondering," James said suddenly. "How do vampires have sex?"

Oz groaned. "Not now, James. I've just discovered that my alcohol tolerance is now misu- minush-- tiny, and you've lost almost two pints of blood. I'm sure there are worse times, but--"

"I didn't mean now," James said. "Just - in general. I was wondering if that was it, actually. Not that I don't think that was something, I mean - oh hell, I'm cocking it up."

"Oh!" said Oz. "No. We can do all shorts of stuff. If you thought that was something there's a lot more I can show you."

"Yeah?" James asked.

"Yeah. Just not now. Shomeday. Someday. Someday shoon.

"Hey, I wonder if I can still say any tongue twisters..."