On the run with nothing but his passport, his father’s stolen wallet, and the clothes on his back, Tim Connelly meets a tall dark stranger. A stranger with shaggy hair, a sweet smile, and an enormous backpack, who calls himself “Argent.” “It’s the first thing that came up when I googled ‘cool vampire names’ when I was thirteen,” he explains. Argent is traveling the world, and he invites Tim to come along for the ride. Shy, anxious Tim finds himself drawn into an unexpected adventure, contending with everything from giant snakes and swarms of hungry monkeys to angry ghosts. Most terrifying of all, Tim gradually realizes that he’s falling in love with Argent.
Be Warned: m/m sex
“So where are you headed?”
Tim turns his head. He had been staring blankly at the departures board, his heart pounding, unable to make a decision—so many cities, each blinking red, each as foreign and inhospitable-sounding as the next. The stranger’s voice cuts through the combination of panic and numbness that has filled him like a fog since he came home and saw his open laptop waiting for him on the kitchen table, the screen frozen on that video. “I don’t know,” he says, trying to sound calm. “I just need to get out of here as fast as possible.”
The stranger cocks his head, looking Tim over curiously. He’s tall, dressed in black, with a mess of shaggy dark hair around a pale, angular face. His big shoulders are hunched awkwardly under an enormous backpack. There are raccoon-like rings of smudged eyeliner around his dark eyes. And his sulky, full-lipped mouth is so red that it strikes Tim as vaguely improper, like something that shouldn’t be visible to the public. “I’m leaving for Bangkok in ninety minutes,” he says. “Is that fast enough for you?”
“Sure.” Bangkok, Tim thinks, at least it’ll be warm there. All he has with him is the thin sweater he had worn to school that pleasant fall day. “What airline?”
“Thai Airways.” The stranger jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “Ticket counter’s that way.”
“Okay. Thanks.” Tim moves off in the direction he had indicated.
Somewhat to his alarm, the stranger follows him. “I’m Argent,” he says, sticking out a big hand.
“Tim,” Tim says automatically, then wonders if he should have come up with a fake name. “Argent” certainly doesn’t sound like anyone’s real name. Argent’s hand is very warm when he shakes it—it envelops Tim’s smaller hand entirely. Argent holds on for a fraction of a second too long, his narrow, long-lashed eyes fixed on Tim’s face. Something about his gaze is deeply unsettling. Tim swallows hard, feeling goosebumps rise on the back of his neck.
At the ticket counter, Tim starts to offer his father’s stolen credit card to pay for his flight, then pulls it back when he realizes that the name on the card will be obviously different than the one on his passport. He pays cash instead. He looks into his father’s wallet afterwards. He has just over 40,000 won left. He wonders how far that might take him in Thailand.
Argent is waiting for him, shifting restlessly from one foot to the other. “So who’d you kill?” he asks, grinning at Tim, as they walk towards security.
“Nobody, unfortunately,” Tim says frostily, “at least not yet.” He walks faster, but Argent matches his stride.
“Come on.” Argent elbows him. “You’re desperate to get out of the country, you just bought a flight to Bangkok with cash, and when I first saw you, you looked like you’d just seen a ghost. What’s going on? You can trust me.”
“I don’t even know you.”
“Well, that’s what I’m trying to fix,” Argent says easily. “You’re obviously American and you’ve got that haircut—are you stationed here in Seoul? Did you desert from the military? Are the MPs chasing you down?”
“No. And what I’m doing is none of your business.”
“You’re coming to Thailand with me,” Argent points out. “We might as well get to know each other.”
“You suggested Thailand as a possible destination and for some reason I agreed,” Tim says crossly. “But I’m not going there with you.”
Argent looks hurt. “Fine,” he snaps. “If you’re in some kind of trouble, I just wanted to help. But whatever.” He flounces off.
Moments later, they find themselves standing next to each other again in the line to go through security. Tim stares resolutely straight ahead. He can feel Argent eyeing him. “Here.” Argent suddenly thrusts a small piece of folded paper at Tim. “That’s my WhatsApp number and the guesthouse where I’m staying. Come find me if you do need help, okay?”
Reluctantly, Tim takes the paper and puts it in his pocket. The reality of his situation—approximately forty dollars in cash, a stolen credit card that will immediately alert his father to his whereabouts if he tries to use it, and a plane ticket to a city where he’s never been—is beginning to overwhelm him. He debates just turning around and going home … maybe one of his friends would let him stay with them for a few days. But their parents are all in the military too. They would undoubtedly feel obligated to tell his father where he was. “Okay,” he says to Argent, “thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Argent shuffles sideways a few feet. “Now this is me leaving you alone.”
Tim feels a laugh unexpectedly burbling up from his chest. “You don’t have to do that.”
Argent looks at him. “I don’t have to leave you alone? Or I do, but I don’t have to do it from a distance?”
“Either way, I guess.” Tim hesitates. “This place you’re staying in Bangkok … is it expensive?”
“No, it’s really cheap. About thirty dollars a night.”
Oh, Tim thinks. Somehow he had thought that Bangkok might be the sort of place where a person could easily get by on just a few dollars a day, but apparently not. Argent is still looking at him.
“You know,” Argent says, “if you need a place to stay, you can crash with me. I’m just bumming around. You can do whatever, it won’t bother me.” He grins. “And I won’t tell the MPs.”
Tim peers suspiciously at Argent, wondering what he might want in exchange. He imagines Argent demanding that Tim suck his cock or … or something even more depraved … and realizes, with a guilty little shiver, that the idea is more exciting than frightening. After all, if he has to do it…
“Thanks,” Tim says, trying to sound casual. “Out of curiosity, do you make a habit of inviting murderers and deserters back to your hotel room?” The elderly man in the line ahead of them glances nervously at Tim over his shoulder. It occurs to Tim that the way he had worded his question might have sounded as if he thought Argent was hitting on him, and he feels his face go hot.
Argent laughs. “I’ve been traveling on my own for a while now. Gets kind of lonely.” He winks at Tim. “I’m willing to take a chance on a mysterious stranger.”