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In the Cold, Cold Night

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Hector couldn’t remember the last time his head had been clear.

His skin burned with fever, the cold air clutching at his skin like her claws. He could barely focus as he dragged himself up the stairs of Dracula’s castle.

Dracula will help me . . . after I tell him she betrayed him . . . He’ll spare me . . .

His legs had stopped working some while ago. He managed to wrap his hand around the handle of one of the great doors.

A wave of lightheadedness washed over him, and he passed out.

———

It was faint, but Alucard heard it.

Someone was scratching at the front door.

He set his book down, making his way to the entrance hall. He took his time. It may not have even been a human. It was very likely a rat.

But you could never be too careful.

He opened the door, the heavy wood creaking very slightly on its hinges.

And a human body fell inside Alucard’s home.

———

He was still breathing. Alucard could tell that for certain.

His heart was still beating.

But he was on death’s door.

Alucard shed his long coat, and hoisted the man up, wrapping one of his arms over his own shoulders. The man was in need of a soft bed, first and foremost. He would need a wash, too. Some clean clothes.

Alucard laid him on the bed in one of the spare rooms. He winced at the smudges of dirt the man left on the sheets, and the stink of old blood. He left the room to fetch some warm water and rags, but turned back at the last minute to drape one half of the sheets over the man’s body. Some warmth couldn’t hurt him.

When he came back, the man hadn’t moved a muscle. To anyone else, he would seem dead.

Alucard could smell the life in his veins.

He began his work, starting with his hands, figuring if the man woke suddenly it was the least invasive. His hands were naturally tanned, under the dirt and blood, but were pale from being inside. They were covered in callouses.

Who are you? Alucard thought as he cleaned under the man’s ragged nails.

As Alucard continued up the man’s arms, he noticed that they were covered with scars. Not entirely normal scars, either.

Bite marks.

Not pleasant bite marks, either. The man had struggled and made them worse.

A hunter? Alucard thought. Perhaps I should send Belmont a message.

The bite scars were surrounded by slashes, burns, and scratches, along with bumps where bone had been broken and healed poorly.

Alucard got up to refresh the water. As he dumped the murky water down a drain, he selected some medicine for pain he had made from a recipe in his mother’s journals. The man would certainly be in pain when he woke up.

After Alucard returned to the room, as he was preparing to start on the man’s face, his eyes fluttered open.

“Are you in pain?” Alucard asked, reaching for the medicine. He knew humans were more sensitive to such feelings.

“Why is your hair white?” The man muttered, sounding completely confused.

Alucard’s hand retracted from the medicine bottle, darting up to his hair. White?

“My hair’s not white,” he said, a little defensively.

“Wasn’t it black?” The man said, his eyes closing again.

“It was never black,” Alucard responded, but it seems that moment of lucidity was all he was getting.

Alucard sighed in frustration. He had brought this human into his house, cleaned him up, offered him medicine, and now he wasn’t even getting answers.

He took a deep breath before starting again. He was going to try and keep him alive — at least until Belmont and Sypha could collect him.

He went to fetch the man some food.

———

Hector slept. At one point he woke up, just for a few moments. Dracula was leaning over him. As soon as Dracula noticed his eyes were open, he reached for something out of Hector’s eyesight. “Are you in pain?”

Not surprising, Hector thought to himself. His wife was a doctor. But . . .

“Why is your hair white?” Hector asked. Dracula near flinched, slapping a hand against his hair. It was considerably lighter than it had been the last time Hector had seen it, that was for sure.

“It’s not white,” Dracula said, sounding angry. Hector found himself not caring about Dracula’s harsh tone.

“It’s supposed to be black,” Hector murmured, and gave himself over to sleep.

———

“Sypha,” Alucard said into his magic mirror. He was temporarily blinded by light as Sypha opened the little compact magic mirror he had made her.

“Alucard! What a pleasant surprise,” she said. “How have you been?”

“Well, thank you. And yourself?”

“We’ve been causing trouble as usual.”

Alucard chuckled lightly. “Of course,” he said. “I confess I called you with an ulterior motive.”

Sypha gasped dramatically. “Alucard! How could you!”

“I know, it’s terrible of me to ask. I found a human at the steps of my castle. I’ve been keeping him alive but I think he’s a hunter. Belmont may know him.”

“Are you sure? Trevor’s not exactly a people person, you know.”

“I . . . don’t know who else to ask,” Alucard said, wincing internally at his own helplessness. “I’ll admit to feeling a bit . . . lost.”

“Of course,” Sypha said, “We’ll be over as soon as we can. Does he look bad? I don’t know healing magic, but I can stitch a wound well enough. Maybe I can help you remotely, as we travel.”

“He’s scarred,” Alucard said. “And weak. But I don’t detect any blood where it shouldn’t be. And he doesn’t have any broken bones. At the moment, all he does is sleep.”

“Aw, getting wistful for your vampire lair?”

“It wasn’t a lair,” Alucard said, “it was a place of refuge. Can you help or not?”

“Of course we’ll help. As soon as he’s well enough, bring him into your mirror room and call me. I’ll check him out. In the meantime, make sure to keep him fed and hydrated. Soft foods that are easy to swallow, like porridge, soups, stuff like that.”

“Thank you.” Alucard made a mental note of it. He didn't really have a huge amount of food in the castle, but the woods were right outside, and he knew plenty of edible plants his mother had used.

“It’s nothing," Sypha said. "We’ll be at the castle within the fortnight.”

“Thank you again,” Alucard said, closing the connection.

He was grateful for Sypha’s help. She, at least, had knowledge of humans. Alucard’s interactions with humans were limited to Belmont and Sypha, and he could hardly count those two as the baseline.

Alucard sighed and went back to the man in his guest room. It wouldn’t do well for him to die just as Alucard was promising him to Sypha and Belmont.

———

Several hours later found Alucard trying to make soup for the first time in his life.

Alucard, contrary to Belmont’s belief, did consume substances other than blood. He’d just never made food himself, up until very recently, and never the kind of thin soup he was preparing now. It was usually his mother, or one of the nameless vampires that were ever-present in the castle when he was growing up.

He had a worn recipe book in front of him, and a stove that looked like a war zone. He was struggling to keep water from burning.

He added in a pinch of some kind of dry herb and took a sip with a spoon.

It tasted revolting.

Alucard snarled in frustration and put the burner out. He clenched and unclenched his hands into fists a few times before settling on tea. Tea was just boiling water. Surely he could do that.

It wasn’t very nutritious, but it was all he had that he would be able to feed an unconscious person. He doubted the man would appreciate being woken up to gnaw through one of the haunches of deer Alucard had in his icebox.

He managed to boil the water and pour it into his mother’s favourite teapot without incident, gathering up two cups, a jar of honey, a small pitcher of milk and a teaspoon and laying the whole setup on a dark wooden tray. He took it up to the room, where the man was still sleeping.

Alucard mixed the milk and honey into one of the cups of tea. Sitting at the man’s side, he slowly began to spoon the milky tea into his mouth, waiting patiently until he swallowed each sip before giving him more. Alucard did have a base knowledge of how humanoid respiratory tracts worked — he was in possession of one himself.

After a few sips of tea, the man stirred, and Alucard quickly set the cup to the side to prevent spilling it.

“Are you awake?” Alucard asked, resisting the urge to tap his cheek like he would anyone else. “How are you feeling?”

The man’s eyes opened again, but he didn’t seem any better than the last time.

“. . . hot,” he murmured eventually.

Alucard pressed the back of his hand against the man’s forehead. “You are warm. I’ll fetch some cold water.”

The man was silent as Alucard made to exit the room, but as soon as he crossed the threshold, he heard the sheets rustle abruptly. He turned back to see the man had sat up, his face pale as a sheet.

“Who are you?” He asked, his voice trembling. “Why are you in—in Dracula’s castle?”

“I live here,” Alucard said, and the man fainted dead away.

———

When Hector woke next, he was alone, save for a small plate of some kind of dried meat. Hector knew it was almost certainly drugged, but his stomach was clawing at him like a bear. He ate as much as he could stomach and surveyed his quiet surroundings.

Maybe the man who had usurped Dracula’s castle had gone to sleep. This was Hector’s chance.

He’d escaped from a lunatic once before. He could do it again.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed, noting his clean hands and arms. He appreciated the feeling of, well, lack of dirt on his skin.

He didn’t appreciate being reminded of all his previous injuries.

He very carefully transferred his weight from the bed to his feet. The soles of his feet still burned from where Carmilla had taken a hot iron to them last, to keep him unable to escape.

Human tenacity, you stupid bitch, he thought to himself as he struggled to stand up. I’d swim through glass to get away from you.

His legs shook and his knee ached where it had been broken but that was nothing new. He managed to make it to the door of the room before his mind caught up with him.

He’s probably locked the door.

His hands shaking, Hector tried the doorknob. If it wouldn’t work, he would go back to bed and try to stay awake for the next time the man came in. Hector probably couldn’t overpower him, but if he could surprise him . . .

The knob gave under his hand.

Hector’s breath released from his chest with a huff as the door opened, thankfully with no creak to alert anyone. Hector made his way down the long hall, bracing himself with a hand on the wall, thinking to himself all the while you don’t know how many people are here, don’t ever let your guard down, never again, just sneak out and get the hell to a town.

He tripped over a folded piece of carpet and stumbled to the ground. He wouldn’t have done that if his knee was in better shape, if he was healthier, if, if, if.

He held perfectly still, not daring to breathe, trying to listen for footsteps. He could probably hurry back to his room and feign sleep if he heard—

“Are you alright?”

That smooth, familiar voice shocked Hector out of his head, and he threw himself back instinctively. His tailbone cracked painfully against the hard floor, and the heels of his hands flamed with carpet burn as he scrambled backwards.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he pleaded, trying desperately to get away from his captor, trying desperately to put space between himself and the man’s boot, his fist, his hidden knife.

“It’s . . . alright,” the man said, crouching to the ground. When Hector dared look at his face, he looked like he didn’t know what do do with him. “Let me help you back to your bed, you’re still recovering.”

“No, don’t—“ Hector said, flinching away from the man’s outstretched hand. A hand was a stinging slap, a deep-aching punch, claws sinking into his flesh. A hand didn’t mean anything good.

“Are you alright?” The man asked, his hand halting in its motions. Hector swallowed bile and struggled to answer. He wants an answer, he wants an answer, HE WANTS AN ANSWER YOU STUPID PIG!

He ignored Carmilla’s voice in his head and forced his jaw to work. “Yes,” he said, because that was the right answer, always. The sooner the man thought he was okay, the sooner he would have another chance to run.

Hector nearly snapped his own neck trying to get away from the sudden cool touch on his forehead. He hurried backwards again, this time managing to get himself on his feet. He could stand well enough, as long as he didn’t put too much weight on his bad knee. The cold weather outside must have been affecting it.

“You’re feverish,” the man said. “You need to rest.”

“No, no, I’m fine,” the man said, despite the roiling nausea in his gut and the chills running down his spine. He told himself it was from fear.

“I . . .” the man sighed, looking irritated. That’s not good, you pissed him off, you’re going to get beaten for that, he’s going to burn your feet like she did, keep you from running—

“I’m not going to make you go back to your room,” the man said, as though it pained him. “I suppose. I cannot . . . make you. But I highly suggest you do. I . . . can understand if you don’t enjoy being told what to do.”

Hector relaxed his shoulders a fraction of an inch at that comment. Very carefully, he started taking some steps backwards, not taking his eyes off the man in front of him the whole time.

Walking backwards, he made his way back to his room, and shut the door. He flipped the lock as soon as he found it.

He realized as soon as he locked it that he would probably pay for that little bout of insolence, but in the moment, he didn’t care. He was exhausted to his bones, he ached everywhere and it had been God knows how long since he’d had the opportunity to sleep on a soft bed.

Keeping his eyes on the doorknob the whole time, he slid back under the sheets of the grand bed, falling asleep instantly.

———

Alucard sighed when he heard the door lock. Surely, he can’t have been that terrifying. He heard the man’s heart rate even out a few minutes later.

Must have fallen asleep.

Alucard left the man in peace.

———

The next time Alucard heard stirring from the bedroom, it was several hours later. He set his book down — a textbook his mother had written on suture methods; it was dry but it was all he hadn’t read at this point — and went to the bedroom to see what was going on.

The door was still locked, unsurprisingly, but Alucard could hear the man’s panicked heartbeat through the thick door. He leaned closer, trying to get a better sense of what was going on.

The man’s breaths were quick and sharp, and Alucard could hear him thrashing.

Alucard knew that if he broke into the man’s room, he would shatter what little trust there was between them.

On the other hand, if the man was having a seizure, Alucard couldn’t have him asphyxiating on his own vomit only a day or two after promising him to Sypha and Belmont.

With a well-placed kick, the locking mechanism splintered and Alucard hurried to the man’s bed.

He wasn’t seizing — he was having a nightmare.

“Please—please don’t—please don’t—“ the man was whimpering as he squirmed about.

Alucard had absolutely no idea what to do. The only humans he’d had a lot of contact with were his mother, Belmont, and Sypha, and none of them had ever been in such a state.

After scanning the room and quickly running over his options, he figured the best choice would be to just wake the man up. Alucard grabbed him gently by the shoulders and shook him a little.

“Wake up,” he said, “It’s not real, it’s just a dream.”

The man was sweating bullets, but Alucard couldn’t feel any fever radiating off him. It had broken a few hours ago, after the man had had a chance to rest and recover for a few days.

“Wake up!” He said, a bit more forcefully this time. He was trying not to sound commanding, but the man’s eyes snapped open and he kicked Alucard squarely in the gut.

Alucard stumbled back a few steps, more from surprise than from any actual discomfort, and the man seemed to be in a similar boat. He had his knee tucked to his chest and was hissing quietly in pain.

“Are you alright?” Alucard asked, straightening up. He took a few steps closer while the man was distracted with his pain.

“What do you want with me?” The man asked quietly. That certainly wasn’t what Alucard expected.

“I . . . don’t want anything of you,” Alucard said carefully. Alucard had seen the bite marks on the man’s body, the scars and knobbly bones. He didn’t know where the man was coming from, but it couldn’t have been anywhere good.

“Did you . . . kill Dracula?” He asked, sounding a bit more hesitant this time.

“Yes,” Alucard said after a short pause.

The man’s face drained of colour, but he clenched his fists and kept talking. “Are you a vampire?”

Alucard wasn’t sure how to respond to this. “My father was a vampire.”

Alucard heard the man’s heart stutter, and his breath hitch in his throat. “So you’re a vampire,” the man said.

“I’m half human.”

The man opened his mouth a few times before finally settling on a sentence. “What are you going to do to me?”

Alucard kept his face carefully neutral. “What do you mean?”

“What do you want me for? Are you going to—to drink my blood?” The man’s voice got a bit strangled as the topic of drinking blood came up.

“No,” Alucard said honestly. “Since I only have one vampire parent, I can subside on animal blood comfortably.”

The man seemed to relax a fraction, but the guarded look in his eyes didn’t go anywhere. “So what are you going to do to me? I . . . I’d prefer to know in advance.”

“I’m not going to do anything to you,” Alucard said, feeling a bit like a broken record.

Now the man looked surprised. “I locked the door.”

“Yes. This is your room, for the time being. I don’t expect to be allowed to come in as I please.”

“You’re not . . . angry?” The man said, his voice getting very quiet.

“You’re allowed to have your own space,” Alucard said.

The man stayed silent for several long moments until Alucard spoke.

“Perhaps we could exchange our names. It . . . might help you to trust me.” In truth, Alucard just needed a name to put to the man's face.

The man blinked, not looking at Alucard. “Hector.”

“My name is Alucard Tepes.”