While everyone else was enjoying their New Year’s Eve festivities, LaCroix was alone at the radio station, pacing within his booth. Here it was, the cusp of a new year, and he did not feel this upcoming year was going to be any different than the many that preceded it. He turned around to pace back to where he had originated.
He had experienced many renewals of the calendar, LaCroix reminded himself. Each culture he had visited in his many centuries had their own unique date for this restart of the cycle. Each had promised a fresh start, that what had happened before was now in the past, something that could be dismissed, forgiven, and forgotten because something different was to happen in the future year. For many centuries it had amused him how many of these celebrations he had sat through. LaCroix stopped before he hit the wall. Turning, he chose a new direction to continue his pacing.
Now, LaCroix darkly lamented, these celebrations were just becoming tedious to endure. Not just tedious, but deceptive. The years for him had not really changed. For centuries, he had marked the new year by planning the activities and lessons for the children he kept by his side, especially for Nicholas. Now, he marked the turning of the cycle only as an ever increasing count of how many years Nicholas had been absent from his side. LaCroix stopped his pacing next to the desk, placing one hand upon its surface and slightly leaning over. He clenched his eyelids shut. All this night was was a reminder that the past year would be repeated again. Another cycle. Another year of fighting with Nicholas.
LaCroix heavily sighed as he rolled out his chair and sat down. He knew one way to make the next year different, but giving up on his wayward son was not an option. LaCroix leaned back and opened his eyes to stare at the blank, dull ceiling. So that would mean another year of fighting simply because his child refused to see and believe the obvious.
He shifted his eyes to glare at the microphone. He was almost tempted to turn it on and shout out, the station taking his voice and casting it across the whole city. So many people would hear it. But, LaCroix mused, only one individual mattered, and he probably was not listening since he was so busy with his mortal work and mortal celebrations. With that knowledge, LaCroix could find no good reason to interrupt the music that was automatically playing.
He closed his eyes again, concentrated on his mental link with Nicholas but found the same state he had found all night – his son was intensely concentrated on work and not even thinking about him. LaCroix ended his focused attention on his favorite, and the connection went back to the dull hum it usually was. So it would seem he would be spending another year thinking of new strategies to bring Nicholas back, thinking again of subtler and more gentle ways to accomplish that since the harsher methods had failed in the past.
LaCroix listened to the ticking of the clock on the wall, the sound marking the passage of time as it got closer and closer to the new year. Closer to the promise of something better. Closer to that time when so many, mortal and immortal alike, would make their pledge, their resolution, their goal for what they wanted for themselves for the next year. LaCroix righted himself and stared at the desk surface, his fingers automatically fidgeting with his silver ring. What was the point, he thought, of making a wish for the upcoming year? He wanted the one thing he could not have. LaCroix knew he could take it – force Nicholas to come to him, but that just was not the same as Nicholas choosing to be by his side, willing to be in his company, wanting to be in his company, wanting to be close to each other as they had been before. And since Nicholas was not likely to do any of that, fighting was really the only logical goal he should set for himself.
Glancing around the dim room, LaCroix realized he did not even really need to be there. Automation would keep the music playing without him. He pondered whether he wanted to accept the invitation he had been offered and spend time at the Raven. Janette, his favorite daughter, would be there, ensuring his comfort and providing any drink he could want. But Janette would not be alone; very likely the new vampire she was interested in would claim the majority of her free time. LaCroix scowled. He did not want to see couples tonight, a perpetual reminder of the absence at his side. Rumbling, he ran his fingers through the short-cropped hair on his head. The Raven was to be avoided, and he had no desire to go hunting for the few mortals who would be out, which meant spending the remainder of the night at his own place. Alone. Again.
Having made his decision, LaCroix slowly rose from the chair and grabbed his coat. Opening the door that led into the hallway, he paused as he walked through the threshold. Turning back to look into the room, he was reminded of his mortal life and the god Janus, who ruled over doorways, passages, and transitions. A unique god with two faces, one for looking into the past and the other into the future, he had also presided over beginnings and endings: of time, of years, of conflict, of war and peace. LaCroix shook his head while he turned and walked through the doorframe as the ticking clock finally arrived at midnight. A part of him wished the conflict with his son could end as quickly and as easily as walking through a doorway, while another part mocked the very notion.
LaCroix headed towards home, alternating between walking and flying as the whim struck him. He felt the link with his son again, finding Nicholas still distracted. Disappointed his child was so immersed into mortal activities, LaCroix allowed the link to return to its basal vibration. Still, he missed his favorite and decided he would play a few pieces Nicholas had taught him on the piano he had bought for his son decades ago. At least the house could sound like Nicholas was there.
Having arrived close to his dwelling, LaCroix slowed down his flight, landed upon the sidewalk, then strolled up the path while taking out the key to open the door. Entering the house, he began to take off his coat, then stopped. He faintly heard the sound of a piano. LaCroix frowned, thinking he might have left the radio on, but knowing that was quite unlike him. However, he had been very distracted this night, so it was possible. He resumed taking off the coat and draped it on the back of the nearby chair. The music had not stopped, and he was sure the piece was familiar but could not place it. He slowly walked down the hallway to the study and reached out to grasp and turn the doorknob, then paused. LaCroix finally recognized the piece and scolded himself for not identifying it sooner: it was a composition Nicholas had written for him and had always refused to ever have it recorded, so the only way for him to hear it was when Nicholas was around. He opened the door, now sure he knew what he would find in the room.
LaCroix let the door swing open while he walked through the threshold. He saw the mahogany grand piano with its top closed and, to his right, Nicholas, eyes clenched shut, sitting down on the piano bench hunched over the keys as he played. “Nicholas.” Immediately, the music stopped.
Nick opened his eyes as he took his fingers off the keys. With a lopsided grin, he turned to face his maker. “Sorry. The piano was here, and I just couldn’t help myself.”
LaCroix walked cautiously closer to the piano, fully aware that, lately, Nicholas never sought him out this way. “Not that I mind this delightful surprise, and my home is always open to you, but what brought you here this night? I cannot imagine the clues in a mortal case you are working on led you here.”
“No, I’m not working on a case tonight.”
LaCroix tiled his head slightly to the side. “I thought you were engrossed with your mortal activities. All evening I sensed-”
“Yes, I felt each time our link vibrated. It took a lot of effort to hide what I was planning and doing.”
LaCroix was impressed that Nicholas had been able to do that. “I will admit I was sure you would be with your mortals, especially on this day. The first of January is the day picked as your birthday, is it not? I thought, given our most recent interactions, you would have preferred to be with them.”
“Well, the birthday was just for the paperwork, and no, I wanted to be with you, to wish you a happy new year.” Nick paused. “In person,” he faintly stated.
“I am ….”
“Surprised,” Nick supplied when his sire hadn’t said anything else. “Yes, I know. Considering everything, this would seem to be the last place I would be. And yet,” he said as he shrugged, “here I am.” Nick knew he had been thinking a lot about LaCroix after he thought his maker had died. Then when his sire had returned, Nick found he was thinking about their old life more. This was the first time they had both been in the same area for an extended period of time and were not living in the same house. And LaCroix had not forced that issue, and his maker had even relaxed considerably from pressuring him on his quest. Nick didn’t entirely know what to make of that, but he did like how it felt as if he had a choice and some freedom in dealing with LaCroix.
LaCroix knew, now that Nicholas was not forcing himself to distraction, that his son was anxious, and though he was here, he was also ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. Keeping his voice calm, he said, “What would you like to do? We could talk, or play chess ….”
Nick refocused back on the piano keys. He placed his right hand on the keys, and let a finger slide off a black key onto the neighboring white one. He lingered on the crack in that key, never repaired from one of their past fights, the specific instigation of that particular tussle he could barely recall. But a new year was for new beginnings, Nick reminded himself, or at least for trying. It would all depend on how LaCroix responded; Nick knew his sire would never be forced into anything. “I thought, perhaps,” he tentatively began, “we could play a duet to mark the beginning of a new year.”
LaCroix was intrigued; he was beginning to think it might be possible for their relationship to quickly improve and perhaps some of their conflicts to end. “Shall I fetch my violin?”
Nick shifted to the right edge of the bench. “No, not that type of duet.”
“You are referring to the piece you were playing?” LaCroix was surprised as that particular piece was a piano four-hands and required both performers to play on the same keyboard. Required them both to sit next to each other. Required them both to work and be in sync with each other. It was a very intimate piece, especially since Nicholas only ever played it when ….
“Yes.” When Nick had first sat down in front of the piano, he had played some of his favorite compositions. But being in this house, being in LaCroix’s home, he had naturally begun to play that piece. “Unless,” Nick hastily stammered as he glanced back at his maker, “you don’t want to.”
“No,” LaCroix deeply whispered as he sat down on the piano bench. “I would like to,” he reassured Nicholas.
Nick smiled. He knew he had been responding to LaCroix physically being in the city. Now, with LaCroix much closer, he found he was automatically responding more, beginning to slip back into their old pattern and relationship. And, though Nick knew that meant they could fight, it also meant he could again have some part of their relationship he liked. He placed his fingers on the keys, prepared to begin playing.
LaCroix looked down on the keys as he delicately placed his fingers upon them. As he heard Nicholas strike the first chord, he dropped his hands into his lap. “You composed this piece to be very complicated, Nicholas. I do not quite remember how to perform my part.” That was not entirely accurate, but he wanted to see how far Nicholas was prepared to go. After all, as every Roman knew and what Janus promised, how this first day of the year went, so would the whole year. LaCroix glanced over to see what Nicholas would do.
Nick unbuttoned the cuff on his left wrist and pushed the sleeve up. “There’s always the usual way we prepped to play this piece,” he said, arm extended.
LaCroix accepted the proffered wrist and gently brought it up to his lips. His fangs, already dropped into place, tenderly sank through the skin layers until a blood vessel was breached. As he drank the honied blood, LaCroix could taste the same thoughts he was picking up through their vibrating mental link. Intertwined with the finger positions he needed to play his part was Nicholas’ unconstrained passionate desire for him. LaCroix released the wrist and looked into the golden eyes of his duet partner. Both of them slid closer to each other on the bench and, reaching out, LaCroix knew playing the piano would have to wait until later.