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The Branch That Bends

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Marie likes to climb trees. Alucard has never climbed a single tree in all his life, but has fallen down the stairs and out of windows countless times before mastering levitation (to the great ire of Lord Dracula who could hear his sons foot slip from across the castle). A skill that Marie did not possess. While she couldn’t glide through air, she made up for it in the lightness of her steps. Alucard actively blamed Trevor for their eldest child’s love of scaling the forest verge. “That tree was everything to me. It was my house and my boat, my fort. Anything I wanted it to be,” Trevor had said. The Belmont family laid claim to one of the most lucrative hunting businesses of the last century and they couldn’t provide a young boy with toys– Alucard had thought to say that night in the wagon. Now, as he stares past meters of evergreen needles into the upper branches of an eastern white pine copse trying to glimpse his wayward daughter, he’s glad the barb never made it past his tongue. At thirteen years old Marie could fill an entire church with all her toys and trinkets, but more often than not chose to spend her time alone running through dirt, tripping over twisted roots, and attempting to send her mother into fits by waving at her from a branch level with the tenth floor window of the north tower.

It’s hard for him to let her wander so far abroad. His pointy ears Trevor likes to tease him about and Sypha enjoys pulling on could hear a scream for help from miles away. In fact, all of his enhanced traits and abilities make Alucard a theoretically ideal parent. Realistically he spent the first three months of Marie’s life on such high alert that Sypha broke down and sobbed for an hour from secondhand stress, so he redirected that nervous energy into “calming the hell down” (as Trevor put it.) He’ll never get in the way of his children’s happiness. If Marie wants to climb trees and while away her days in the forest like Papa Trevor then he’ll send her off with a smile. She’ll come home smelling like fresh grass and sap and potato blossoms and sun.

The haven’t seen her in over eight hours though, so Alucard takes his carefully arranged restraint and throws it out the window.

Marie may not have inherited many vampiric gifts, but there is one thing she can do that he cannot. She can disappear. It’s as if the world forgets she occupies its space. He can’t smell her or hear her heartbeat. There’s nothing at all besides sight to indicate she even exists. It drives Sypha up the wall to have to comb through all their worldly property to find her daughter. It gives Trevor a twitch in his whip hand when she’s there one minute and gone the next. Old habits die hard. For Alucard, he understands the desire of a prey animal to protect itself. It’s the thought that his daughter might ever hide from him that wells tears behind his eyes.

Simon came home in the early afternoon covered in oozing scrapes beaming from ear to ear. “We played thiefs and inquisitors and sword fought with sticks and Marie threw hers and it hit me right in the face!” Simon prattled on as Sypha dabbed a tincture on his cuts. The right side of his chin bloomed in a fresh purple bruise. Eight year olds were certainly made of some magical substance.

“Will I have a big scar like you?” Simon asked Trevor.

“Hopefully not,” he replied ruffling the boys hair. “I like your face just the way it is.”

Alucard tunes them out, Simon’s protests that scars will make him look more tough and Sypha making some joke or another about Trevor’s masculinity. This is why two hours later, he’s floating slowly up to the dizzying height of a pine bough where Marie sits, all curled up in her stained yellow dress with broken twigs woven through her black curls. She startles when he sits just below her, careful not to disturb her little cradle.

“Why are you up here?” she asks in a small voice. Alucard smiles.

“You’re always scurrying up things. I thought I’d see just how fun it is for myself.”

“You hate me climbing trees.”

“Ah, you’ve found me out. It’s actually because I miss you so much.”

At that she finally cracked a grin. Her laughter flooded over into Alucard.

“You didn’t even climb it! Floating doesn’t count.”

“Hmmm. Truth be told, I don’t know how. Will you teach me?”

“Of course I will.” Marie gives a lilt to her voice and it occurs to Alucard that she’s imitating him.

“Cheeky.” he mutters. “Your brother is getting his attitude from you.”

The grin falls off her face as if Alucard had doused her with freezing water. She hunches back a little, breaks eye contact to stare pointedly at her knees. Compared to the village girls she’s quite tall and regal looking (traits so obviously from Dracula it makes his heart clench). It makes even her sadness feel beyond her years. Out in the world she would be considered an adult. She might even be married by now if she were someone else’s child.

Alucard wants to run his fingers through her hair in comfort. He only refrains because he thinks she might flinch if he touched her.

“I’m sorry.” she whispers.

“Have you done something wrong?” he asks.

“I… “ It takes her a minute to gather the words, until they fall from her mouth like rain. “I hurt Simon while we were playing. I hit him with my stick and I thought I just tapped him but the whole thing broke! He had a big red mark on his arm and he was shouting about how cool it looked but I didn’t mean to! I didn’t mean to.” She finishes quietly.
“You feel as if you misused your strength.”

“Didn’t I?”

Alucard knows this problem all too well. “You mustn’t punish yourself for an accident.”

“But it keeps happening, tati.” Marie insists. “I break things and hurt people and I don’t want to.”

“You are a vampire, Marie. And you are young. I used to tear the bindings of books in my haste to read them.” He tries to joke, but his daughter stays stubbornly silent. Alucard sighs.

“ Look at me, draga mea.” She does, and the clear blue of her eyes are ruddy with tears. “You will always be stronger than other humans. It’s something that you can’t change. You’ll learn more control as you age but that’s all you can do, little duck. You are more than your vampiric heritage, and hating yourself for it is like hating the moon because it isn’t the sun. We miss you when you pull away like this.”

Deep down Alucard thinks– don’t resent me for giving you this burden. I want you to be proud of yourself. To be proud of me. He can’t help it now, reaching out to wipe a tear from her cheek, and thank God she doesn’t pull away but leans into the contact, giving over to full body sobbing. Alucard cradles his firstborn like a new babe and remembers when he was young. When his emotions were too big for his body.

Eventually Marie’s cries give way to quieter sniffles and sighs. The setting sun casts the world in hazy pink light. Alucard feels as if they are captured in a soap bubble distorting their reflections, making this moment something of an unreality. He supposes they can stay there just a moment longer.

*****

Alucard turns their journey back to the castle into a lesson in flash-stepping. By the time they reach the doors, however, Marie has climbed on Alucard’s back and laughs as he zips around, taking high leaps and floating slowly down. Sypha is sitting on the front steps grinning in a way that implies she knew exactly what happened and how it would end.

“I’m going to show Simon and papa what I can do.” Marie declares. She gives her mother a passing hug before running off down the echoing hall.

Alucard sits next to Sypha and promptly falls over into her lap.

“How is our girl?” she asks while playing with a lock of his hair.

“Struggling. Learning what it means to be who she is.” he pauses. “I think she’ll be alright, in the long run.”

Sypha hums.

“...I wish my father were here. He had all the ages of the world to decide what it meant to be a vampire. I want his advice.” Alucard doesn’t say he also wants to cry in his father’s arms, but when Sypha leans over to press a kiss to his mouth he understands that she heard him anyway.

“Speakers believe that the dead never really leave us. They exist across all of time and can see all that we do. It might not be real, none of us will ever know for sure until we die. But it’s a comforting thing to believe in.”

It’s almost full dark now. The foxes and frogs and owls send their baying cries echoing through the night- hoping that another one of their kind will hear them and understand.