"Remember Steven, the vampire is a creature of subtlety and grace."
Father leans back against the branch of the gilung tree, the only light from the hovering larval forms of ba'axt along the water below. Like marsh lights, father had once said, and twice as dangerous. Somewhere a mixlar howls, calling for its mate.
"But doesn't grace only come from Heaven, father?"
"Yes, it only extends from Heaven. But the vampire wears the face and heart of a man, and he remembers the promise that is now denied him. He makes a mockery of that promise."
Steven gazes out over the tree line. "Are they not capable of love?" He feels the fist of his heart open as father takes his time to answer.
"Attachment, yes. And the outward appearance of love. But it is only a lie meant to lure."
And he comes from that, born of lies, a creature himself, surely. Father's eyes narrow, regard him.
"You have a soul, Steven, a beating heart. You are an instrument of love and vengeance, the destruction of the lies they would spread. Do you not feel it?"
He does feel love and purpose, a shining thing, bright as steel. "I do, father."
"Doubt is human. We all engage in it. But that doubt must be examined so we do not hesitate from that which must be done when the time comes. You must not hesitate, for he will not. He will seek to blind you with his beauty and will not show his true face to you until he thinks you weak."
"Is he beautiful, father?"
"No less a monster because of it. Lucifer had been an angel once and surely wears that visage in the chambers of Hell to torment the damned."
Steven leans back, adjusts the ropes of the grebling trap. Tonight it will spring and in the morning they will eat. "That means the devil is my father."
"He gave you paternity and nothing else. You have a father and I must ask that you not doubt that. Who is your father, Steven?"
"My father in Heaven and you on Earth," Steven says. Quartoth is not Earth, but the only world that he's known.
Father smiles. "Yes," he says. "Soon you will be ready."
Sometimes when he dreams, he finds himself back in the basement of the Hyperion, Angelus grinning behind those bars.
"Well, look who decided to pay a little visit?"
Connor looks at him, a panther in a cage, a beautiful lie. "I have nothing to say to you."
"Oh, I doubt that." Angelus drapes his hands on the bars, lowers his lashes and grins knowingly. "Entertain me."
"Boredom should be the least of your worries, vampire." Connor steps closer, stake at the ready.
Angelus just tilts his head and laughs. "Kids today, blame a guy for everything. So I had a few custody issues, didn't get to push your bratty ass on the swings, drive you to the prom. Get over it."
Connor snarls, clenches his fist around the stake. "I had a father."
Angelus leans against bars. "Yeah, about that..." And somehow, horribly, he slides through, pushes Connor against the far wall, wrists held and the stake clattering uselessly to the floor.
"Who's your daddy now, pretty boy?"
And the lie shifts off his face, the true one emerging.
"Death is gonna be the least of your problems," the demon says as he descends, fangs bared. "Daddy always knows best, you little shit. When you wake up you're gonna have a whole new perspective."
The bite, when it comes, is quick. The true horror is that he welcomes it.
He and his dad set the buck's carcass near the hollow tree. Dad slings the rifle off his shoulder, places it on the ground. "Let's get to making that smokehouse," he says.
It's short work. The butchering takes longer. They hang the meat, light a wet fire, close the makeshift door.
"FEMA should have been here by now," dad says. "Jesus, how do they expect people to eat? A month of this shit. A month"
The water demons, leviathan, have probably tipped any boats, brought down any helicopters, but Connor doesn't say this. They're part of an isolated archipelago now overlooking the new Bay of Los Angeles. The San Bernardino mountains now a distant coastline.
Island of the Blue Dolphins, Kathy had said, laughing before going off with mom to pick deer beans and Indian cheese. Funny, she had said too, the crap we used to shove in our mouths for fun as kids is like food now.
"Don't tell your mother," dad says, taking out a crumpled half-pack of Marlboros. He lights two and hands one to Connor. They smoke for a while in silence. Connor leans against the big oak that still holds the treehouse that he fell out of when he was eight. Twelve feet and he just kind of bounced, no broken bones. Damn lucky, his parents had said. Damn lucky.
Dad looks at him. "What did they do to you down in L.A.?"
Connor takes a long drag, breathes it out long and slow, runs his free hand through his hair. Blood in his nails. The way dad looked at him as he leapt at that buck, bullet wound non-lethal in its flank, pulled its head back and slit its throat, bringing it down. Not exactly something you learn in boy scouts.
"Nothing," he says. He flicks ash to the ground.
Dad sighs. "I never told you about Guatemala. Your mother made me promise not to." He smokes a bit. "We never even got to call it a war." He looks down. "Your Grandpa Reilly only talked about his two tours in Nam when I got back."
Connor sinks to the ground. The laugh comes out thin, hysterical. "What, we're gonna talk war stories?"
Dad comes and sits next to him. "I never wanted this for you, Connor, you know?" He turns, looks at him and Connor feels bared and open.
"I can't talk about it," he says. But he knows.
"That's the problem with Reilly men," dad says, looking away. "We never do."
They finish their cigarettes, side by side, in silence.
He knows dad wanted something different for him, something that didn't put a knife and death in his hands.
He knows that wistful fear and inevitability when your kids just get swept away by circumstance and hard decisions.
After all, he had a daughter once.