First Bite

Chapter 1: Tav

Tav would be sleepless even if not for the full moon intruding upon his darkness through the seams of the makeshift tent. Too much has happened too fast. The tensions in the Grove. The missing Archdruid. The bejeweled skeleton with the power to recall the souls from the beyond. Karlach and her engine, Wyll and his patron, Gale and his arcane hunger—it just doesn’t stop, day in and day out. Half-digested moments of terror and relief flit before his wide-open eyes like a waking dream. Too tired to will them shut, too tense to quiet his mind, he squirms in his bedroll, feeling every bump on the ground under it.

It’s only when he hears Astarion that he realizes he’s been waiting to hear him.

Last night, Astarion sneaked out of camp a few hours before dawn. Tav knows it was him, and not one of the others, because of how little noise he made: barely a whisper between the sighs and snores of the sleepers. Tav would wager Astarion’s slight elven feet would leave no prints in ash. But he grew up in the Underdark, relying on his ears first, and he could tell exactly where Astarion was and in which direction he was moving. In the morning when, by unspoken agreement, the others allowed Tav to lead once more, he followed the trail of Astarion’s soft footsteps. And sure enough, they soon discovered the exsanguinated boar.

Tav had been confounded by Astarion’s tolerance of sunlight, but the boar cleared all lingering doubts. It was a healthy, mature male. Stroking absently the puncture wounds in its neck, Tav tried to estimate its blood volume. Half a bucket at least. That much fluid couldn’t possibly fit inside Astarion’s flat stomach, could it? Unless he had lay there all night, sucking on it slowly? The image of Astarion, bloated in the middle like a snake that swallowed oversize prey, almost made Tav laugh.

But his amusement wilted away while he questioned his pale friend, pretending to be clueless. There was a note of exhaustion under Astarion’s habitual posturing. It made Tav think Astarion knows that he knows. He gave Astarion more than his usual share of long looks every time they rested and when they finally made camp, hoping he’d come forward with it. Hoping he’d confide in Tav. He hasn’t.

And now… it sounds like he too is restless, again. Languid rustling issues from his tent, pitched alongside Tav’s on a patch of what had looked like fairly even ground. A perfect spot for him to disappear into the woods on another hunt, with the other tents clustered a ways away from the tree line, closer to the water.

Tav pictures him lounging in his nest of painstakingly pilfered cushions, the expanse of pearly, hairless skin on his chest revealed as he throws back the covers, his beauty enhanced by inscrutable ennui.

A splendid image, one that would soon have Tav reach under his own covers for comfort and relief, but what he’s hearing doesn’t fit with it. He raises himself on an elbow, frowning. What started as fretful shuffling of the sleepless has turned into the tossing of one caught in a nightmare. Astarion groans.

Tav focuses on his voice, trying to make out the muffled words—and suddenly they ring in his head as clear as doom. Mine. Forever! A tall, handsome elf, black of hair and red of eye, peers into Tav with a madman’s glee and he feels himself being pulled in, pulled to his master, against his will, against his overwhelming fear.

“No!” Astarion moans, and the vision fades.

Tears squeeze from the corners of Tav’s eyes in the wake of the tadpole’s nauseating wriggles. Gods! Did he just… witness… Astarion’s dream?

Tav hears him wrestle with the bedroll, spring to his feet, throw open the flap of his tent and stumble out with none of his usual grace. Astarion breathes in violent gusts that gradually tapper away into silence. Then Tav hears the soft patter of his feather-light steps, approaching. Halting. Just outside Tav’s tent.

Tav waits, wide-eyed and unblinking. He dares not move, out of fear he’ll scare Astarion away. But just as he takes air to whisper Astarion’s name, the flap lifts, and he peers in, his face cast sharply in the moonlight.

“Oh,” Astarion says when their eyes meet. Surprise replaces some dark, predatory expression Tav doesn’t have time to parse. “You’re awake.”

“I heard you cry out.”

Astarion’s brow flattens with annoyance. “Of course you did.”

Tav stops himself just short of apologizing. It doesn’t look like Astarion’s aware Tav accidentally blundered into his mind, and what good can come out of confessing? Gods only know how many times Astarion and the others have probed his in secret. They none of them know what they’re doing.

The silence grows awkward as he stares at Astarion dumbly. At last he utters, “Come in.”

Deep inside the tunnels the tadpole has burrowed in his brain, Talice shakes her head. I see you haven’t grown any smarter over the years.

Not now, he thinks back.

You wasted the opportunity to check if he can enter your tent uninvited.

And so he has. He barely resists the impulse to clap his stupid forehead. Straj!

Astarion slips under the flap, elegant and efficient with even the most mundane of movements, and settles primly at the feet of Tav’s bedroll. He takes breath to speak, but as Tav sits up, he closes his mouth and inclines his head to take Tav’s measure from the neck to the navel. He could not achieve a greater effect by dragging his pointed nails over Tav’s skin. Nervous shivers run down his bare back.

“So,” Astarion drawls, “they do go on below the neck.” Absurdly self-conscious, Tav brings a hand up to the scales on his chest. “But just how far, I wonder?”

Please, don’t let my voice shake. “Is that why you’re here?”

Astarion swallows, prying his eyes from Tav’s hand, which has crawled on its own accord to clasp the place where his neck meets the collarbone. “Hm?”

A giggle escapes Tav before he can do anything to stop it. He’s never seen Astarion’s eyes quite so… naked. There’s a hunger in them, a need, a focus so intense it could cut through stone. But it only lasts a second. His long lashes flutter and when he comes back from whatever distant place he’d gone to, he’s his old, guarded, calculating self. “What’s funny?”

“Nothing. You were about to tell me to what do I owe the pleasure of your company in the middle of this fine night.”

“Yes, I… I wanted to talk.” He looks at his hands, worrying at a thread that has gone loose from the hem of his sleeve. “I’ve been thinking and… well, I think there’s something you should know. About me.”

Tav’s pulse picks up. He ducks for a better view of Astarion’s downcast face, but all he gets in return is a furtive glance.

“You see, I’m a…” Astarion’s laugh is a ragged, serrated thing. “Let’s see. What’s the best way to put it. A—”


Astarion flinches so violently that Tav starts as well and suddenly they’re twice as far apart than a moment ago, breathing hard and watching one another warily.

“You—you knew?”

Tav has raised his hands on instinct, fingers splayed wide to show he’s not a threat, that he means no harm. He lowers them slowly, forcing his body to relax into its previous position. His heart’s racing. “From the night we met,” he says. “But after we met again—at the crash site—I wasn’t so sure anymore. I’m guessing the magic of the tadpole negated some aspects of the curse.” A shaky laugh tumbles out of him. “I missed the chance to see if you can enter my tent uninvited.”

By degrees, Astarion relaxes too, though his eyes never stray from Tav, wide and bright in the moon-streaked twilight. His lips are ajar, and when he wets them with the tip of his tongue, a pang of utterly inappropriate desire forks through Tav.

Somewhere inside his skull, Talice rolls her eyes.

“You knew,” Astarion repeats, then laughs a little himself. “All this time. And—” he leans closer, peering into Tav—“you’re not… afraid?”

He’s close enough for Tav to catch his odd scent, of orange peel and rainfall. It takes him right back to that deserted alley, the memory acute like the pain from a fresh cut. The unhinged joy of one driven to desperation, the cold-lipped kiss that singed him for life. Astarion drove him against that wall with a passion that takes his breath away even now, as he struggles with the conflicting urges to back away and lean right into him.

“Should I be?” he whispers, taut as a drawn bow.

“Should I?” Astarion parries.

Tav’s mouth has gone dry. When he licks his lips, Astarion’s eyes track his tongue with the same thirst from before, and somehow that helps Tav ground himself in the here and now. “Of course not.” He makes his voice firm, but soft. “If I wanted to be rid of you, I wouldn’t have waited for you to turn up at my tent. I’d have turned up at yours instead, with a stake, and backup.”

“How comforting.” Astarion’s words drip with sarcasm, but he does relax a notch. “I’m not some monster, you know. I feed on animals. Badgers, foxes, deer—”


“Guilty as charged.” He takes a bow, being dramatic as usual.

“Could’ve hidden it better.”

“Excuse me? You try dragging fifteen stone of dead boar without leaving tracks even more suspicious than the carcass itself. It would’ve been a waste of what little strength I restored by draining it. No one was supposed to take an interest.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t have,” Tav muses, “if I hadn’t… expected it, of sorts.”

“Well.” Astarion effortlessly rearranges himself so the shafts of moonlight paint him like a work of art. “Maybe I wanted someone to notice. I’m tired of hiding. Of fighting by day and hunting at night and never getting enough rest. I subsisted on a slim diet in the life—for the lack of a better word—that I had before, but it’s not enough if—”

his mouth is full of hair, of slimy, squelching flesh and rancid, cold blood. He gags, but the stabbing, twisting hunger overcomes the revulsion. He swallows. He drinks. He sucks the last bits of moisture from the stinking fur, matted with refuse. It barely takes the edge off.

Tav comes back to himself swaying, spitting dream-hair, wiping dream-blood from his mouth. “I—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

“Godsdamnit.” Astarion grimaces with pain and disgust. They’re both massaging their temples. “Well. Now you know.”

The foul taste still lingers in Tav’s mouth. “The man… who starved you.” And so much worse. So, so much worse. The man from Astarion’s nightmare. “Who is he?”

“A story for another time.”

Tav would very much like to insist, but the way Astarion sets his jaw and turns away dissuades him. Yet under the facade, Tav glimpses that same exhaustion he sensed earlier. Astarion wasn’t lying when he said he’s tired, and not just from the physical exertions. Sympathy swells in Tav, almost too huge to contain, but he masters it, interlacing the fingers of his hands to preempt the temptation to touch Astarion. It’s not what he came for.

“You came for my blood,” Tav mutters.

Astarion’s shoulders drop, and so does his face, aging him a decade. He needn’t reply.

And Tav suddenly feels like he has aged a decade himself. The little flame that sparked to life the night they met, that he nursed and shielded close to his heart ever since, trembles precariously in the freezing wind of understanding. “You were going to finish what you started that night. Drain me in my sleep.”

“What?” Astarion’s eyes snap wide open with what looks like genuine shock. “Why in the hells would I want to do that? You’re no good to me dead. And I’m no good to you, all slow and weak. If I only had a little blood… I could think clearer. Fight better. These can be useful for more than just feeding, you know.” And he bares his fangs.

Tav has glimpsed them before, but never on full display. Moonlight glistens on their pinprick tips like dew on blades of grass. They’re… gorgeous. And Tav’s helpless. He realizes he’d do anything to keep that little flame alive. Believe anything.

With a monumental effort, he tears his gaze away from Astarion’s teeth and levels it at his eyes, a silent plea for mercy.

Astarion deflates. “I wasn’t going to hurt you. I only wanted a taste, I swear.”

Last chance to talk me out of this, Tav thinks at the presence skulking in his head. But the one time he could actually profit from her offhand cruelty, Talice is nowhere to be found. As in life, so in this strange, twisted afterlife.

“Alright,” he says, careful to curb the eagerness from his tone.

“Really?” Astarion’s face brightens up like someone lit it with a torch, his brows arching higher than Tav has ever seen. Whether it’s an act or not, it warms his heart.

He wonders if his own acting is up to the task of displaying some level-headed caution as he adds, “But only as much as you need.”

Astarion lays a hand over his heart. “Not a drop more.”

“So.” Tav’s breathless. “How do we—what do I—”

“Just lie down and relax, darling. I’ll take care of everything.”

Easy for him to say. Or is it? His clipped, jerky movements betray excitement under the veneer of confidence as he crawls closer and hovers over Tav’s face. Tav twitches like electrocuted when Astarion brushes the hair from his neck and shoulder. Those delicate, icy fingers. Who knew they could grip so tightly?

“This might… sting a bit,” Astarion whispers.

And then he strikes, like a viper, and sinks his teeth in Tav’s flesh.

The pain is sharp and intensely erotic, but all too soon it fades to a heady numbness. An anesthetic agent in his spittle? Gods. His lips latch onto Tav’s skin, cold, lifeless, yet so charged with yearning. The passion of his onslaught gushes into Tav as his blood gushes into Astarion. He feels himself growing hard. A needy groan tears out of his throat.

Astarion doesn’t pause, but does shift in response. His grasp on Tav’s shoulder loosens, his fingers twine with Tav’s hair. His breaths come in bursts laced with soft, barely voiced moans that are driving Tav mad. When Astarion straddles his thigh, pressing a knee to his crotch, the fizzling euphoria balloons in him and he thinks he might come. He turns to let Astarion’s hair caress his face, and exhale hotly into his hear, extracting a delicious sigh out of him. He holds Tav the same way he did that night, when they kissed. And is this not a kind of kiss too?

A kiss, my ass, Talice snorts in the back of his mind. You let him go on like that, and he’ll suck you dry.

In a flash of sobering panic, Tav realizes he can’t tell how long they’ve been at it. How much of him Astarion has already taken. He’s lost all sense of time. He’s also lost sensation in his toes and fingers. The rapid drumbeat of his heart—it’s not the excitement of new love, but the struggle of the body to make up for the blood-loss.

“Enough,” he croaks.

Nothing happens. His mind’s already befuddled enough that he’s not sure he said it aloud.

“That’s enough,” he repeats, lifting his arms to push Astarion off—but instead he buries his fingers in Astarion’s hair. Only he hasn’t the strength to make a fist. “Astarion, stop!”

“Mmmmh,” he replies at last, then pulls out of Tav, and it feels as wretched as when a lover does the same. “That…” he whispers, rolling his forehead atop Tav’s, “that was… amazing.”

His breath is warm and heavy with the coppery odor of blood. It covers half his face, shining like oil in the dark, and when he presses a brief, hard kiss on Tav’s lips, Tav gets to taste it too. Laughter bubbles out of him.

“How do you feel?” Astrion asks.

“Dazed.” Drunk on what feels like the aftermath of lovemaking.

Astarion licks the wound in great, flat-tongued, wet laps while the moonlit seams of Tav’s tent dance in slow, sinuous figures. He feels like he’s floating, barely aware of his body. Perhaps Astarion’s taken too much, and Tav’s about to faint, or even die. He can’t seem to muster an interest. It would be fine by him to go out like this. It’s bliss.

“Why won’t it stop bleeding?” Astarion mutters.

“Anti-clotting agent in your spittle.” Aphrodisiac too, he’ll wager. He can barely wriggle his fingers, but he’s still hard as stone.

Astarion lifts himself up to look at him. “What? How do you know that?”

Tav laughs. “How do you not?”

“I’ve never bitten anything without draining it. Stop laughing. It makes the bleeding worse.”

But that only makes Tav laugh harder.

“For goodness sake.” Sitting up, Astarion sways wildly. “You sound even more intoxicated than I feel. Here.” He produces a kerchief from his sleeve. “Press this to the wound.”

“Can’t. Too weak.”

“Oh, for the love of…”

Tav can barely feel the pressure, and no pain whatsoever. Sleep beckons.

“A-a-a.” Astarion slaps his cheek. “Don’t you dare go unconscious. If you die, the others will come at me with torches and pitchforks.”

“Tell them I asked for it.” Tav grins. “They’ll believe every perversion, coming from a drow.”

“And would they be wrong, my dear?”

In some other situation, Tav might’ve taken offense at this display of casual racism, but he’s too high on… whatever this is… to do anything but laugh. “Not about this drow, no.”

“All this blood, gone to waste,” Astarion moans. “And look at my poor kerchief. It will never be white again. Do you have a healing potion at hand?”

“In my pack.”

“Gods, what a mess.”

Astarion rummages through Tav’s things with one hand while nearly choking him with the other and through a thickening fog, Tav realizes Astarion’s fingers are warm. As are his legs, folded on either side his thigh. Tav’s blood has restored a modicum of life to him.

Drifting off, he smiles.

Entirely worth dying for.