by Hinotori (火鳥)
Joe filed into the security line, along with what seemed like half the city. The airport speakers crackled with announcements every minute or so, and the line didn’t seem to be moving an inch.
At least he’d listened to his agent and turned up early.
He wondered what Alexei would make of this situation. Did vampires need to take airplanes? Alexei could fly, but it hardly seemed a practical method for cross-country travel. No, Alexei would need to take a plane, just like any human.
Alexei would hate the press of other people, the constant noise, the vague sense of irritation permeating the air from hundreds of people who felt this was a waste of their time.
Joe pulled his ever-present notebook out of his pocket and quickly jotted down some notes. As a legal teenager, would Alexei get unaccompanied minor status?
By the time he reached the front of the line, Joe was feeling just about vindictive enough to make Alexei’s school take a field trip across the country.
Would the metal detecting machine pick up anything strange about Alexei? Joe didn’t think they used mirrors, so his vampire protagonist was probably safe on that front.
Finally, he was through security and on the moving sidewalk leading to his gate. Joe stopped at Starbucks for a coffee and sat at the bar to drink it, people-watching and making notes as he went. Airports were a great resource for a writer, as long as you wanted all your characters to be irritable and harried.
Alexei wasn’t a people-watcher. He would probably pull his oversized headphones over his ears and ignore everybody else in the airport while he waited.
Coffee finished, Joe wandered over to his gate. Other passengers were already optimistically lining up, but Joe chose to sit down. There wasn’t a ‘real’ business class on a flight this small, but he’d been promised slightly larger seats and a little more legroom, and he was reasonably certain he’d be allowed to board first.
There had to be some advantages to being a successful author of novels for young adults.
His sole companion in the airport seating was a lanky man dressed in a smart suit, with very un-businesslike dreadlocks pulled tightly back into what effectively amounted to a ponytail. Joe opened his mouth to say something friendly, but the guy had a book open on his knees. Joe turned his attention to the woman manning the gate desk instead. Her ring said she was married – recently, by the way she kept playing with it – and she dyed her hair red. The ease in the way she leaned over to talk to the woman next to her said they’d worked together for a few years.
By the time they called his flight for boarding, he’d built up a profile including her origami hobby, her love of horror films, and her pet cat Samson.
Joe somehow managed to get his carry-on into the overhead compartment without assistance, though it was a close call and he had to adjust it with his fingertips. Being short was the worst. He slid his laptop case under the seat in front of him and sat back in his seat, wiggling his toes inside his shoes. He could probably deal with this for two hours.
Dreadlock guy filed in after the bulk of the economy class passengers, and turned out to be seated across the aisle from Joe. He sighed heavily as he clipped his seatbelt together.
“Long day?” asked Joe sympathetically.
This time dreadlock guy noticed him. He gave Joe a tight smile. “Could have gone better,” he admitted. “But it’s almost over.”
Joe nodded in agreement. “I know the feeling.” The guy had a deep, sonorous voice that made Joe instantly want to hear more of it. “You live in Seattle?”
Joe shook his head. “My first time. Any recommendations?” He was already planning on a visit to the science fiction museum, and he’d heard there was an actual life-size stone troll under a bridge somewhere in the city. He always thought you could tell a lot about a person by what they suggested to tourists, though.
The guy shrugged. “Nothing you won’t already have seen in the movies. You should try to catch a Mariners game while you’re here though.”
Joe made a quick mental note to figure out what Seattle’s major pro sports teams were as soon as possible. “I’ll look into it.” Suit, dreadlocks and sports fan were not helping him build a profile at all. “I’m Joe,” he said, after a moment.
“Tyler.” He made a motion in the direction of his book, and Joe tactfully withdrew.
The plane began to taxi down the runway, and Joe turned his attention to the window. Alexei, he decided, would probably be feeling kind of twitchy right about now. If the plane went down in flames, that would be the end of him, vampire or not.
Tyler put his book aside after a while, but Joe was engrossed in trying to finally beat the stupid gem-swapping game his agent got him addicted to. After a series of fruitless attempts, he angrily snapped his tablet’s cover shut and met Tyler’s amused gaze.
“Don’t let your friends recommend casual games to you,” Joe advised him.
“Noted,” said Tyler. Joe could see the cover of his book now, which turned out to be Richard Castle’s latest.
“Any good?” asked Joe, nodding at the book.
“It’s okay. Pretty similar to the others, really. My ex-wife got me hooked on them, usually I don’t read a lot of fiction. My daughter is into those awful vampire novels, but I’ve managed to escape that, thankfully.” Tyler rolled his eyes.
Well, that was a pity. Joe considered making his usual argument in favor of the long and noble tradition of teen vampire novels, but decided it wasn’t worth it. “What do you do?” he asked instead.
“I’m an accountant,” said Tyler. Joe would not have predicted that, although it did explain the business suit. “You?”
“Teacher,” said Joe, truthfully but not entirely accurately. He hadn’t had a permanent position since the books started paying the bills.
“Yeah? What subject? My little girl just started high school last fall.”
“Math and English, depending on the grade.”
“Huh. Weird combination.”
Joe shrugged. “I just went where my strengths were.”
Over the intercom, the captain announced their imminent descent into Seattle.
“Nice meeting you,” said Joe. He scribbled ‘dreadlock-wearing mystery-reading sports-fan accountant’ into his notebook with a smile.
The signing wasn’t due to start for another ten minutes, so Joe was hiding in the back room, cradling a cup of coffee and idly chatting to the event manager. He could hear customers on the other side of the thin curtain that divided the back room from the rest of the store.
“Kiara, tell me again who this author is?” came the voice of a long-suffering father.
“Dad,” return the voice of an equally long-suffering teenaged girl. “It’s Joe Takayama. He writes the Alexei Shirokov books.”
“Which ones are those?”
“They’re the ones about the vampire detective in high school.” There was a telling silence. “See, he looks sixteen but he’s really five hundred years old, only he has to go to high school because he looks so young. And the local police get him to help with supernatural cases. And his assistant is a ghost, and his best friend at school is a black girl who is totally my hero. Only he hasn’t told her he’s a vampire yet.”
“I see,” said the dad. “How many of these books are there?”
“I’ve got four, and you’re buying me the fifth today so I can get it signed.”
Joe hid a smile.
“Mr Takayama? You ready?”
He nodded and got to his feet. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
Hand cramps aside, Joe loved doing signings. Despite common belief, he did have some adult fans, and they always tried to be polite and not creepy and just told him their names, took their books and moved on. The teens were Joe’s favorite, though. He didn’t get tired of being told how much his books meant to them, who their favorite character was and who they thought Alexei should date, or of their asking whether or not Alexei was ever going to tell Dana about being a vampire.
“My name’s Kiara,” said the teen girl in front of him. She passed over a small pile of Alexei novels, all with lovingly creased spines save the most recent.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Kiara,” Joe began, and then he looked up and met the stunned gaze of Kiara’s father.
“You didn’t tell me you were famous!” Tyler squeaked.
Joe blinked. “It didn’t come up.”
“Dad? Dad, you know Joe Takayama and you never told me?” Kiara’s tone grew increasingly outraged as the sentence went on.
“We met on the plane last week,” muttered Tyler.
“And I very shamefully lied and I said I was a teacher,” said Joe. “Sorry.” He turned his attention back to Kiara. “Who’s your favorite character, Kiara?”
“Dana,” said Kiara. “She’s awesome. But Alexei should tell her he’s a vampire. It’s getting silly – she already knows about werewolves and ghouls.”
“Maybe she’s already figured it out,” suggested Joe. He leaned forward. “The next book I’m working on is called Dana’s Story. It’ll be all about Dana solving a case on her own.”
Kiara’s eyes widened. Joe only hoped she’d still be a fan in the inevitable two years it would take for the book to be available on shelves. “That sounds awesome. Dad, I can’t believe you met him and you didn’t recognise him.”
Joe stole a glance back at Kiara’s dad, but Tyler still looked mortified.
“Look, how about I buy you a drink to make up for the lying,” said Joe, with a wink. He ripped a page out of his notebook and scribbled down his burner phone number. “Let me know.”
“Dad,” said Kiara as Tyler led her away. “Dad, you got Joe Takayama’s number.”
Joe grinned to himself, then turned to the next person in line.
Joe got a text two days later from an unfamiliar number.
Kiara says she’ll never speak to me again if I don’t take you up on it, so if you were serious about that drink, I’m free tomorrow and Tuesday.
Joe quickly replied, asking for suggestions for places to meet, and the next night he caught a taxi to a cozy looking mock-Irish Pub. He found Tyler sitting at the bar and they moved to a booth.
Tyler looked like he wasn’t sure what game they were playing here. “Hey.”
Joe gave him an easy smile. “Thanks for coming. I am sorry for embarrassing you in front of your daughter.” He shrugged. “I just get a little tired of having to justify writing YA to people. Besides, I was a teacher before I started writing, so it wasn’t a total lie.”
“Can’t really blame you for lying, after I was so down on your work and all. Sorry about that.”
“Forgive and forget?” suggested Joe. He held up his glass.
Tyler clinked his glass against Joe’s. “Why are you in town, anyway?”
“I have a writer-in-residence gig at one of the colleges. I spend half the day teaching about writing, and the other half trying to actually write. Plus, my agent has me doing some school visits and signings.” He took a long swig of his beer. “They don’t tell you being a best-selling author involves actual work when you sign up.”
“Somehow I find that comforting to know.”
“No such thing as money for nothing,” Joe agreed.
“As an accountant, I am definitely comforted to hear that. Just think of the paperwork.” Tyler finished off his glass with a dramatic shudder.
Joe indicated to Tyler’s empty glass. “You want another of the same?”
Tyler nodded. “Thanks.”
When Joe returned, carefully sliding the drinks on the table, he found Tyler watching him with a rueful expression.
“What’s up?” he asked, leaning on his elbow.
“I was just thinking that it’s probably very inappropriate to have a one-night-stand with your teenage daughter’s favorite author.”
Joe laughed. “Well, if that’s the only thing holding you back, I’m not opposed to doing this again sometime. I’m in town for another month yet.”
“Tell me you weren’t actually trying to pick me up on the plane, though,” said Tyler. “Because that’s just sad, man.”
“No,” said Joe carefully. “I thought you looked interesting, and I like to include interesting people in my books.”
“Yeah? So I should tell Kiara to watch out for the thirty-something accountant in your next book?”
“Maybe. I won’t if you’re not comfortable with it.” He shook his head. “I think my last three dates have all been people I accidentally picked up in a public space, though.”
Tyler snorted. “Might have been accidental on your part. Doubt it was on theirs.”
“Yeah?” said Joe. He grinned.
Joe managed to steal a kiss from Tyler before getting into his taxi home and mentally pronounced the night a win.
Joe did end up catching a Mariners game, as suggested, but it was with the man who had suggested it. Tyler wanted to mix things up from their usual bar meetups for the last week Joe was in town, and baseball won the coin toss.
Joe had watched a lot of baseball growing up, but he hadn’t been to a live game since high school. From what he’d seen so far, it hadn’t changed much. Tyler insisted on treating them both with overpriced hot dogs and beer, and disappeared for about fifteen minutes to obtain some.
Joe rested his chin on his hand and watched the crowds file in.
It was already canon that Alexei thought sports were a phenomenal waste of time, but Dana was a track champion. She probably wasn’t that interested in baseball specifically, but whenever her dad was in town he took her to a game as a bonding exercise, so she liked games for that reason.
He wondered what kind of supernatural calamity could befall a ball game. Literal bats?
“Joe,” said Tyler, in the familiar tones of someone who had been trying to get his attention for a while. “Back from outer space?”
“I was thinking about my novel,” said Joe. “Don’t be surprised if there’s a ball game in it.”
Tyler smirked. “I’ll bear that in mind. Here, lukewarm hot dogs, fresh from the vendor. Don’t say I don’t treat you right.”
Joe accepted his and took a big bite. “Wow. This is a blast from the past.”
“There’s nothing like it.” Tyler settled himself next to Joe and put the beers in the cup holders. “Hush, the game’s starting.”
Joe managed to concentrate on the game for several innings, occasionally leaning over to ask Tyler something about the players. The game wasn’t going well.
Somewhere around the fourth, his phone vibrated several times in his pocket. Joe leaned over to murmur into Tyler’s ear. “Sorry, it’s my agent.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and glanced at the message on the screen.
He read the message, then read it again.
Tyler looked at him, less irritated and more worried now.
“Sorry, I have to go yell at some people. They want to cast a white girl as Dana.”
Tyler stared at him, then made shooing motions. “You go. I’ll hold the fort.”
He shuffled down to the corridor in front of the bathrooms, and pulled up his agent’s number. “What the fuck, Adriana?”
Adriana explained about the casting call she’d seen, and Joe ranted for a good ten minutes about whitewashing and inclusivity and idiotic movie studios who obviously failed basic reading comprehension. He hadn’t asked for a lot of creative control in the contract, because he figured they knew better than he what would make a good movie, and he had never been a purist about book-to-movie adaptations before.
He hadn’t thought they’d screw up the casting, though.
Eventually, he ran out of words. “I’m sorry, preaching to the choir, I know. Who can I direct this anger to that can actually make a difference?”
“I’m forwarding you a list of names,” said Adriana, who was the best agent ever. “Where the hell are you, anyway? I can hear crowd noise.”
“I am on a date,” said Joe primly, “at a baseball game.”
Adriana laughed. “The Mariners? Good luck with that.”
Joe hung up the call and made his way back up to the stands.
Tyler gave him a sympathetic look. “I think that would be just about the only thing that would make Kiara boycott the movie. She loves Dana.”
“Could you get her to put that in writing? Maybe if I get enough of them I can make the studio see reason.” Joe slumped into his seat and shot a despondent glance at the field.
“You wanna head out?”
“Game’s not done,” Joe pointed out.
Tyler gave him a rueful smile. “I think the game is a foregone conclusion. But don’t tell anybody else I said that.”
“I’ll keep your secret,” said Joe, nodding sagely. “OK, let’s go. Where?”
“My place,” said Tyler. “It’s closer and Kiara’s at her mom’s.”
Tyler’s apartment was small and surprisingly neat, for a place that occasionally housed a teenager. Joe wondered if Tyler had tidied for him, and felt pleased at the thought. They ended up together on the loveseat, getting tipsy on better-quality beer and complaining about the movie industry.
“I’m going to write a blog post,” Joe declared. “And, like, start a petition. And start a letter-writing campaign. Because… it sucks. And they suck. And has anybody ever told you your dreadlocks are really hot?”
Tyler patted Joe’s hand, then leaned over and kissed him.
After a moment of compliance, Joe wriggled out of Tyler’s grip to put his glasses on the side table. They were already smeared beyond usability. Then he rearranged them so that he was on Tyler’s lap, kissing again.
He could feel Tyler growing hard underneath him and wriggled appreciatively.
Tyler broke the kiss, breathing heavily into Joe’s right ear. Once they’d had a moment to catch their breath, Tyler nipped at the lobe of Joe’s ear and followed it up with a kiss.
Joe wormed his hand down the back of Tyler’s pants, exploring the swell of his ass with intent.
“Not here,” Tyler said, at last. “Kiara–”
“Bedroom,” Joe agreed.
Getting naked was a slow process, every loss of a layer being punctuated by greeting the newly exposed skin with hands, lips or tongue. Tyler’s hands were firm, his stomach slightly soft, and his cock a thing of beauty.
“You are the least boring accountant I’ve ever met,” said Joe, breathlessly.
“You haven’t met many accountants, then,” replied Tyler. “We’re all awesome.” In one smooth move, he managed to push Joe down onto the bed and take the tip of his cock between his lips.
Joe’s eyes closed involuntarily at the sudden influx of wet heat. He bit his lip and clawed at the bed with his fingernails.
Tyler was in no hurry, content to work Joe up to his climax in fits and starts. By the time he moaned out a warning, Joe wasn’t certain he could have strung together a coherent sentence if his deadline were tomorrow.
Tyler took heed of the warning, finishing Joe with a strong hand, not seeming to mind when this resulted in Joe coating his hand. Joe lay panting at the ceiling for a moment, dimly aware of Tyler moving up the bed to lie on his side next to Joe, the same hand now gently fondling his own cock.
Once he managed to regain control of his facilities, Joe rolled over to face Tyler, tangling his own fingers with Tyler’s slippery ones and taking over the job. It was a gratifyingly short time before Tyler came.
“You know,” said Tyler, fingers still tangled in Joe’s. “I travel to San Francisco a lot for work.”
“Mm?” said Joe.
“I’m just saying, I wouldn’t mind continuing this. If you’re up for it.”
Joe smiled into Tyler’s shoulder. “Yeah. I’d like that.”
Author’s Note: Joe and Tyler’s first two meetings were inspired by an anecdote of Anne McCaffrey’s in her essay ‘So, You’re Anne McCaffrey’, which is full of hilarious tales about what it’s like to be a reasonably famous author. It’s collected in The Girl Who Heart Dragons.