The silver sheen atop the lake gathered itself into a form vaguely resembling a tall, gaunt man. Form chosen, he stepped from the lake onto a damp, sandy beach and slowly moved his gaze across the tiny peninsula on which it stood. At this time of night the beach was deserted, but it never hurt to take precautions.
Where was his son? Not in the water, certainly. The gaunt man chose a name much as he had chosen his current form, something to hang his self on. As Fred, he started up the steep dirt road which led away from the water and into a wood dotted here and there with small cottages from which yellow or blue light occasionally streamed. But most of them were dark and quiet at this time of night.
Fred ambled down the narrow road until he came to a wider one, which dipped down and past the lake once more. He walked up a slight incline and past a dilapidated cemetery. There were no cottages nor houses of any sort for the next little bit, until he came to a farmhouse on the left, set back behind a small wood. This place resonated, but only slightly. He entered, not being bothered by such things as doors or locks.
This house, too, was dark. The only light came from small globes near the floor, put there to mark the way, Fred gathered. Clever. He ascended a stairway to the next level, passing by two closed doors before opening a third. A boy lay sleeping in a bed. Fred glided over and laid his hand, palm up, on the boy's forehead. One of his, most definitely. Though not much. Or perhaps, not fully. He had potential, this one.
Fred eased the door back shut and moved on to another room. This one also contained a sleeping boy, younger perhaps than the first one, but exuding that same sense of other which called out to Fred. Neither one of them was his missing son. But they both were clearly his bloodline.
Ian sat up with a start, blinking in the dark at the looming shadow scant inches from his bed. "Who're you?" he asked. His voice didn't have nearly the level of terror Fred had anticipated.
Fred smiled, close-mouthed. He had condescended to wear human form, but some things were too much to expect of him. The boy scrambled to his knees in the middle of the bed, wary and alert, but still not shaking in fear. Why not?
Ian reached out to the table by his bed, wrapped his hand around his cellphone, and pulled it towards him. Keeping his eyes firmly on the stranger who still hadn't moved, he pressed a button and spoke into the phone. "You'd better get over here. Fast."
Johnny could be fast when he wanted to. A few moments later he stood in Ian's room, not needing keys or locks any more than Fred had. Fred had felt it when his son entered the house, as surely as Eoin must have felt his presence. His son was now on his knees, palms up in the traditional offering. "Blood of my blood," he whispered in the old language.
Fred accepted, bending down graciously to drink. The boy on the bed gave out a startled gasp, then he was kneeling beside Eoin and offering up his own hands. So the boy knew that much, at least. He broke the boy's skin with his long, sharp teeth and then offered his own palm to both the boy and to his son. His skin split of its own accord, revealing blood that was dark and rich and nourishing to these beings in front of him—both these beings. Fred smiled genuinely, the need for hiding gone.
That out of the way, Johnny flipped on a bedside light and peered at his father suspiciously. "What are you doing here? For that matter, how did you get here? Did you fly?" Johnny had bad experiences with airplanes.
Fred cocked his head to one side. "Fly? No. I came from the lake."
For a minute it looked like Johnny was about to argue. He sucked in a breath, then let it out in a long sigh. His father was an altogether different creature than Johnny, for all that he drank blood too. He very well could have been in the lake all along—he was a water spirit. All water was his domain. Or so Johnny had puzzled out from cryptic hints his father had dropped over the years. "What are you doing here, then?" Johnny asked.
The bedroom door creaked open and Kevin poked his head in. "What's going-?" He spotted Johnny and the tall stranger next to him, and quickly entered the room, closing the door softly behind him. "Johnny?" His voice held a hint of question.
"Meet your great great great grandfather," Johnny said wryly. "Something like that. My father."
Kevin's eyes widened. He had heard of the old man who was father of their entire clan. "Crom?" he asked.
"Fred now," said Fred. He held out his hand. Kevin knew better than to shake it. He fell to his knees and offered his own, cupped, first. Fred raised the boy up, drank, and then offered this one, too, his own rich blood to complete the circle. "As to why I've come," he murmured in an aside to his son, "I was invited."
Johnny raised his eyebrows. That had been over ten years ago, when Crystal was still—unchanged. And it was more like he'd invited himself, anyway. Considering all that had happened in between, it was damn inconvenient that his father picked now to show up. "Let's go hunting," he suggested, as much to draw his father away from this house as to talk to him in private. He gave the boys his best glare when they raised hopeful eyes to him. "You two have school tomorrow."
"Very well," Fred replied, gazing at the boys curiously. They hunted?
Johnny led the way out the window, landing soundlessly on the gravel driveway below. His father was a dark shadow beside him. Johnny halted just out of sight of the house. He turned and faced his father. "Now. Tell me why you're really here, why now, at the equinox?"
Fred, as he currently styled himself, smiled lazily, revealing sharp teeth. Unlike Johnny's, Fred's teeth were all sharp. His smile tended to be deadly. "You called me."
"I did what?"
Fred sat down on a convenient rock. "The girl you changed—how is she?"
"Crystal?" Johnny tried not to let his startlement show. Perhaps he had cried out for help in his slumber beneath the lake. "She's—fragile."
Six months ago at the autumn equinox Crystal had taken blood from her brothers and that blood had been strong enough to give her control over her urges for almost a week before Johnny had taken her back under the water. This time she'd stayed awake longer, though soon she would have to sleep again or face losing control. It was hard on her family to see her this way, and then only in little bursts twice a year around the equinox.
It was hard on Johnny, too. Even though they both slept under the lake, it wasn't as if they could be together as husband and wife. It was only during these precious few weeks that they could truly be together. So he begrudged the time others demanded of her, time that should belong to him.
When Crystal was first changed, everything had seemed fine. She and Johnny were a pair of blood-drinkers who had their whole town to protect them. Crystal had had control, then. She even finished school and graduated with her class, though she had to be home-schooled due to her aversion to sunlight. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth year after she was changed, she started to lose control. It happened gradually, and in much the same fashion as when she was initially undergoing the change. She developed an insatiable thirst for blood, and once started, she couldn't stop drinking it.
Johnny blamed himself. He knew what was wrong. She should have gone under the water sooner and stayed there longer. All his father's children, as well as the companions he converted because they were strong enough in the family blood to undergo the change, had spent years, sometimes decades under their lochs in between awakenings. The healing waters gave them control. Johnny hadn't allowed Crystal the time underwater which she needed to grow into her powers.
Fred chuckled, interrupting Johnny's reflection. "She craves blood."
"We all crave blood," Johnny pointed out. "But we learned control."
Fred's chuckle became a full-blown laugh. Johnny had had his own issues with control over the centuries, to the detriment of hundreds of humans. In the far past, it hadn't mattered as much as these days, when every life was measured and counted. These days, blood-drinkers had to be very careful not to kill. Johnny's lips curved upward in rueful acknowledgment. He still had issues in that regard.
"I want to see her."
Johnny figured as much, though he didn't have to like it. Having his father here was dangerous to all of them. The old being was capricious and no longer bound by the restrictions he himself had once posed on his offspring. Would he still honor the blood exchange and consider family untouchable? Johnny didn't, not really, though he went through the motions every equinox. He had spent too many years not knowing who he was, and had killed too many with family blood to regret it now. He honored the blood exchange with Lisa's family because he loved them, plain and simple.
Fred smiled knowingly at him, easily reading his thoughts. "She does, too," he replied.
If only it were that easy. "Come on, I'll take you to her." Johnny started off, but the old man didn't follow. He stared behind them at the dark shadow of Lisa's house. Johnny looked too, then swore under his breath. "You might as well come out!" he called softly. It wouldn't do to wake Kenny or Lisa at this point.
Ian and Kevin crept out from behind the bushes where they had been hiding. Johnny had been so caught up in his own memories that he hadn't even sensed them. "We want to go hunting, too," Ian called, always the more aggressive when it came to blood.
"They drink blood already?" Fred asked. "Have they gone under the water yet?"
"No!" Lisa wouldn't have it, and after what happened with Crystal, Johnny did not want to trigger a change in the boys until they were ready. Neither one of them had expressed a desire to follow in their sister's footsteps, though Lisa feared Ian might one day.
"These are Crystal's brothers?" Fred asked.
"Different fathers," Johnny replied curtly. Crystal's father had been stronger in the blood than Kenny, although Kenny's family were traditionally keepers, and had a fair amount of his father's blood running through their veins as well. The boys could choose his life, as Crystal had.
"I understand," murmured Fred. He smiled his disturbingly sharp smile and added, "Let us hunt together, then, before we visit young Crystal." He crooked a finger at the boys. "Do you think you can keep up?"
Eyes shining, they nodded eagerly.
Together, they ran through the woods in back of the boys' house. Johnny knew his father did not have the same craving for blood that drove the rest of their kind, so he avoided the newer neighborhoods of Lockwood he usually hunted. Instead, he tracked deer, bringing down one and then another in a few short minutes.
Kevin and Ian panted noisily, making his father smile again, but they descended upon the deer without hesitation. Johnny noticed his father watching them speculatively. "They've tasted human blood, too," he said. They preferred animal, which was a telling difference between the boys and their sister, who had always preferred human blood.
Fred nodded absently, and watched with interest as the two boys helped Johnny dispose of the carcasses. He would not have killed the deer, but he understood his son's nature was different from his own. He eyed the boys speculatively again. Maybe he would take a hand in their education after all.
Johnny sent Kevin and Ian home before he led his father down the road past the lake to his own log house on the main road. It was dark, still, which was a good sign. Crystal had been drowsing in their bed when the phone rang. Johnny had certainly tired her out tonight before he got Ian's call. She hadn't even moved when he left. Of course, he hadn't intended to stay away this long.
He eased the door open. "Crystal?"
She wasn't there. Quickly Johnny backed out of their small home. It wasn't that unusual for Crystal to wander at night, but not alone, not after what had almost happened several years ago. Maybe she'd followed him to her parents' house, or maybe she'd gone down to the lake looking for him. She wouldn't have gone to the new neighborhood a few miles away from their home without Johnny. He hoped.
He was about to head back toward's Kenny and Lisa's house when he saw her, framed in moonlight, still in her white nightgown her mother had bought her for this latest awakening. She looked like a specter from a romantic horror film. There was blood on her lips, and a few drops had sprinkled the front of her nightgown. Her flat, dark eyes were huge.
Johnny went to her. "Crystal, I thought you were still sleeping." He wrapped his arms possessively around her and led her back to his father.
Crystal seemed to snap out of whatever daze she was in. Her mouth turned up in a little smile. "Grandfather! Or is it Bob?" She stood on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"It's Fred these days," Fred answered. He took hold of her upper arms so he could peer searchingly into her face. "My son is worried about you."
Crystal craned her neck back to look at Johnny. "I'm fine now," she said.
"No, you're not," Johnny muttered. "Why aren't you in bed?"
Crystal looked confused for a moment. "I was hungry," she said petulantly. "You were gone."
Fred pinned Johnny with a hard stare. "You've been feeding her?"
Johnny glared right back. "Sometimes. When it's necessary." He'd been giving Crystal blood nightly to tide her over so she could stay in control longer. The alternative would have been to let her drink from family, and he didn't want to test her control much past the ritual equinox blood exchange.
"I see," said Fred. He rubbed his chin.
"Where did you go, Crystal?" Johnny asked, taking her back now that Fred had released his grip on her. He gently wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth. "Whose blood is that?" If she had killed, then he would need to go take care of it before someone noticed.
Crystal bit her lip. "Walking. I didn't hurt anyone."
Crystal lowered her eyes. "I don't know. But I didn't hurt him."
So, not family at least. "Where is he?"
"On the little beach." There were two beaches on their side of the lake, the big peninsula where most of the summer families gathered, and the little beach, not as good for swimming but good enough to use as a launch for rowboats. Lots of fishermen used the little beach.
Johnny sprinted through the woods, not bothering with roads, with Fred and Crystal at his heels. He found Crystal's blood donor slumped over in his fishing boat, with an empty bucket at his feet. It appeared that he had just gotten ready to depart for some late night fishing. He quickly checked the man's neck, sighing in relief when he saw the telltale red rash. Crystal hadn't taken too much. She had stopped in time.
"See?" Crystal crossed her arms. "He's fine."
Another time, and Johnny would have gone with her to indulge in a little late night snack. Now, he felt no desire to drink. He only wanted to get Crystal home and forget about this. If his father hadn't shown up, then Johnny would never have left Crystal alone, and none of this would have happened.
Fred checked the man, too, raising an eyebrow where only Johnny could see it as if he couldn't see a problem here, either. He smiled at Crystal and opened his arms. "You should never go hungry," he murmured, bending down so she could reach his neck. "Drink."
The old man's blood was powerful. It bore no human taint, and would not deteriorate in the light of day. Crystal drank and drank until she could hold no more, and yet Fred did not seem at all weakened. He nodded to Johnny to partake as well. This was something beyond the ritual blood exchange. Only rarely did the old man allow his children to drink so deeply. This blood, the source of all their family's rich, nourishing blood, banished all other cravings. Johnny knew he would not need to cover his face from the light of the sun for a time because of it, nor would he need to drink again unless he wanted to. What was his father doing?
He broke away, feeling invincible. Crystal fairly glowed beside him, her blonde hair a silver cascade in the moonlight. He wanted Crystal, again, right now, but there was his father, who was looking at him with a wry grin.
"Will you go with me under the water?" Fred asked, knowing what the answer would be. His smile grew wider.
"Another time," Johnny replied for both of them. He grabbed Crystal's hand in case she had other ideas. "Not tonight." Or what was left of it. A faint sheen in the distance bespoke the impending dawn.
Laughing, the old man stepped past the rowboat with its sleeping occupant and waded into the lake. "Tomorrow," he promised, a gleam in his eye, right before he disappeared underneath the dark water.
"I feel good," Crystal said, watching the lake where not even a ripple marked Fred's passage. "Let's go home."
Johnny laughed and scooped Crystal up in his arms. He ran with her through woods and people's backyards until they came to their place. Then, making sure the shades were firmly pulled down against the coming dawn, Johnny tossed Crystal onto their king-sized bed and followed her. Thanks to his father's blood, he didn't feel even remotely tired.