Reed was not a cruel person. His enemies might call him foolish, irritating, encourageable—even incorrigible. But even his worst enemy could not, in good conscience, label the man as cruel. Yet here he was, not only doing something that would be universally defined as unspeakably cruel, but also doing it to someone who was most likely certifiably insane. Someone he quite liked, even, despite everything.
"So, how've you been Duncan?" he asked, still trying to make the situation seem casual, his request reasonable. The two men sat across from each other in Reed's kitchen; Reed had wanted this conference to be comfortable, yet private. Duncan was unpredictable, and what Reed wanted from him was unusual and, as previously mentioned, unspeakably cruel. It wouldn't do to have witnesses.
"She left me, Joe," Duncan said. His left hand was raised to his forehead and he was tapping his eyebrow contemplatively with two fingers. He squinted at Reed as if imploring an answer. He let his head slide down into the palm of his large, bony hand and shook his head sadly. "A right princess, she was, that woman. Don't know what I'll do without her. Kept that old fiddle fiddling, if you know what I mean? That fiddle of mine, have you seen it lately? It needs a good polishing, I'll tell you one thing. Can't get anyone to put coins in my case if that fiddle don't shine the way it should. D'you know fiddle's just another name for the violin? Always thought t'was something different, but turns out they're exactly the same. Don't sound quite as good to say violin as it does to say fiddle, though, do it Reed?" Duncan sat straight up abruptly then, his long, skeletal arms dropping down to his sides, his shoulders stretched back and his eyebrows raised. "Reed!" he sounded a bit alarmed. "Don't let me go on like that. Thought you was Joe for a second, you gotta set me right."
He sat back then and smiled at Reed, somewhat expectantly, as if he had actually just answered Reed's question with a "Fine thanks, and yourself?" and was now waiting for the customary reply.
Reed ought to have been used to Duncan's erratic, yet harmless, behavior, but still every time he met with Duncan he had to remind himself that the challenges the man was facing were more than enough to make someone seem a little bit addled. And here he was about to add to that significant struggle—but how to bring it up? He needed to get Duncan to concentrate for a bit, needed him to remember where and when he was so that he could broach this rather difficult subject of an extremely significant favor. He tried to think of a conversation topic that was a little more relevant to Duncan's present situation than his former days as street performer, a topic that could be brought around quickly to the real subject at hand.
"So," he cleared his throat. "How long is it now that you've been a vampire?"
Duncan frowned a bit. "Have to think about that one, Reed. You know how things get all mixed up for me sometimes." He held up both hands and pushed each finger down one by one, counting. "Got to be about seven years since she turned me. A right princess, she was, that woman."
Reed inhaled sharply. He was afraid Duncan might start looping, and the thought made him feel a bit desperate. He needed Duncan to concentrate, needed him to be present. He couldn't handle hours of typical Duncan-style conversation. Not tonight. He opened his mouth to interrupt, but it seemed Duncan had caught on to Reed's agitated state.
"That woman—wait! Is this about that woman? Listen Reed, it means a lot that you haven't killed me as of yet. I know that woman wants you to. But you know I'm not like the rest. You've got to convince her and those other slayer friends of yours. I don't drink blood!" He looked as genuine as a three year old, his head tilted and his eyes wide with sparkling sincerity, as if to say Don't you know it?
Reed sighed, a mixture of relief and very heavy guilt. Duncan knew who and what he was, and he knew who Reed was as well. At least getting him to concentrate had been easy. Getting him to agree, though, that was another story.
"Would you ever consider making an exception to that policy?" he asked slowly, his voice very serious. Duncan looked as if he was about to protest, when Reed added soberly, "For a friend?"
"Now, what do you mean?" Duncan's eyes were suddenly very lucid, perhaps more lucid than Reed had ever seen him. He didn't know if that would make this easier or more difficult. He took a deep breath and launched into the meat of the issue, so to speak.
"Ok, Duncan. You remember Helen?" He looked at his friend a little uncertainly, sure he would have to prod a little to get Duncan's mind to clear enough that he could remember past conversations about Helen.
"Helen, yes, your wife," Duncan responded crisply, then rattled off several facts he knew about Helen. "Turned into a vampire; can't handle the moral implications of feasting upon the flesh of the living in order to survive; indescribably beautiful, if maddeningly frustrating; feels herself to be dead and therefore no longer bound to you by marriage; certainly still loves you, but feels herself unworthy of your devotion; usually a very funny person." He nodded severely to indicate he was quite finished with his list, thank you.
Reed had to laugh at the remarkably accurate description of the person Helen had become. But Duncan was not laughing: he was staring at Reed, wide-eyed and tight-faced. They both started talking at once—
"Now Duncan, be reasonable—"
"—I won't do it, I won't, I wo—"
"You're the only one I can ask—"
"—Will not do it! I have told you about my particul—"
"If there was any other way, you know I'd never—"
"—particular diet, and you know how I do stick to things once I've made up my—"
"It's not as bad as you think, just one little bite!"
"—mind. One little, excuse me?! Do you know how long I've gone without one little bite!"
Reed did know. Duncan had not bitten a human in all the years he had been a vampire. Not one, single time. A vampire could not starve to death, but that's not to say lack of food does not have its effects. His voluntary starvation had made him a pariah among his fellow vampires and had quite effectively alienated him from reality. But his desire to prove that one could be both a vampire and, simultaneously, a human being was more important to him than avoiding madness. He had been a vegetarian in his previous life, but at least in his previous life there had been vegetables to eat. For a vampire, there was no alternative to blood.
The outrage in Duncan's face was enough to cow Reed. He looked down, ashamed. But what he had said was true. He was desperate, and he didn't know who else he could ask.
"Duncan, please," he said quietly. "Helen won't have me as I am. She's got this idea that she's dead, so I have to be dead too. Don't you see? She thinks 'til death do us part.' I have to show her that death hasn't parted us. I need you to turn me."
"This," Duncan said very deliberately, "is unspeakably cruel."
To be continued…