“Don’t fall in.”
The words drifted to me across the full length of the beach. I was crouched on the edge of the rocks ringing the tide pool. My attention had been caught by the small crabs who scurried across the bottom of the pool, and the gently waving tentacles of an anemone. Sea stars had suction-cupped themselves to the sides of the rocks. I was bent so low over the water that my nose was almost touching it. If my hair hadn’t been put up into a bun, it probably would have been in the water.
At the sound of Fred’s voice, I raised my head. My grip on the algae-slick rocks was solid; even with the occasional gentle waves that washed over the edge of the pool, I was immovable. Fred knew that, but he was a worrier. I hadn’t been in the best shape when we met, and the concern about my well-being had never really faded for him.
Fred was standing at the other end of the beach to me. I could see him standing at the edge of the water, his head turned slightly in my direction. He hadn’t shouted or raised his voice at all; a human being wouldn’t have been able to hear him. He was pale in the moonlight, his curly blond hair flattened against his forehead from the sea breeze.
“I’m alright,” I murmured back, attention back on the tide pool. One of the crabs was crawling over a sea star now, and it was waving one suction-cup arm in the water slowly, as though it were trying to shoo it off.
Besides the little animals in the tide pools, we were the only creatures on the beach. This late at night, no humans were around to play in the surf, which was just how we liked it. Neither one of us liked interacting with humans very much; they were good as prey, and not much else. I looked up at Fred again. He had drifted a bit closer to me, but not by much. His eyes were trained on the dark water. His eyes were much sharper than mine; he could probably see some type of fish that was hidden from my sight.
I felt a surge of fondness go through me. Honestly, meeting Fred was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I was barely fully grown then, only a little over seven years old. I had been on my own since I was little, and back then I hadn’t had the best grasp on how to take care of myself. By the time Fred found me, I was practically skin and bones, just wandering aimlessly through cities in search of humans to feed on. I was too scared to approach most of them. Fred was the one to show me that humans couldn’t hurt me. Fred had showed me a lot of things.
I had had enough of the tide pool; the crabs and sea stars and anemones were doing what crabs and sea stars and anemones did. It was interesting for a while, but my interest had waned. I picked my way across the slick ring of rocks, until I could put my bare feet down on the wet sand. In the few seconds it took me to get down, Fred crossed the length of the entire beach to stand at my side.
“Had enough?” he asked, holding out his hand to me.
I took it with a smile. “I’ve looked in every single pool,” I confirmed happily. “There were so many sea stars!”
“They’re called starfish,” Fred corrected. He led me up the beach towards the boundary where the sand ended and the forest began.
I wrinkled my nose at him. “Starfish doesn’t sound as good,” I protested.
That made him laugh at me. “My bad, Xanthe,” he chuckled. We had reached the edge of the sand. He let go of my hand to reach down and grab the hiking pack that we had left there earlier. He lifted it easily with one hand and settled it on his shoulders. “Where do you want to go next?”
I pursed my lips. Fred always let me choose where we went, ever since we started travelling together. I had tried to get him to pick a location before, but he never would. He always just said that he was happy to go wherever I wanted. “I really want to go on a whale-watching tour,” I confessed.
I could feel Fred giving me a Look out of the corner of his eye, but I ignored it. He could watch whales anytime he wanted; not needing to breathe or sleep meant that he could follow them underwater for as long as he wanted. Sure, he would be watching really panicked whales that would be trying to escape the presence of a vampire, but he could still watch them.
“...Alright,” he agreed eventually. “I think all the best whale-watching tours are up north, though.” His face didn’t change, but I could hear the emphasis he put on the words “up north”, as though they had capital letters in his mind.
Fred was originally from Seattle. He had told me that much, although he hated to talk about his past. He hadn’t told me how he had been turned into a vampire, or why he acted like the entire state of Washington didn’t even exist. I didn’t really need to know.
I squeezed his hand. “We can go around Washington,” I offered. “If we do that, we can see the Arctic Circle and then come back down to Canada for the tour.”
“Why the Arctic Circle? There’s literally nothing there.”
I gasped theatrically. “ Excuse you ,” I admonished him. “There are plenty of things to see in the Arctic!”
Fred grinned. “Name one that isn’t snow or ice,” he challenged me.
I pulled my hand away from his so I could count off on my fingers. “Um, snowy owls, arctic foxes, arctic wolves, polar bears , seals, the Northern Lights---”
A cold hand pressed against my lips, cutting me off. “You’ve made your point,” he said drily. “Let’s go ahead and find someplace to camp for the night. It’s going to start getting light out soon.”
A quick glance at the sky showed that he was right. There was just barely a hint of pale gray light at the edge of the eastern horizon. We usually camped out during the day so that I could sleep and so that Fred could stay out of the sun. The hiking pack had a small tent, a sleeping bag, and a tarp that we used to block out extra light.
Today, we would pitch the tent and cover it with the tarp. Then I would snuggle down in my sleeping bag with Fred sitting beside me, reading his books at the speed of light. And then when night fell, we would hunt and be on our way to the Arctic. I smiled happily at the thought.
Life with Fred really was perfect.