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Dracula didn't offer Lisa from Lupu a room so much as she saw one and claimed it for herself. This was the way she did most things in life, he was rapidly learning - she decided what she wanted and then seized it with both hands, without asking for permission. She came into his castle, into his laboratory, into his entire existence like a very stubborn whirlwind, upending everything in her path. (Not literally, fortunately - she was careful and respectful of his scientific apparatus and his books. He would have been far less forgiving if she hadn't been.)

The room she laid claim to was in one of the towers of the castle, an architectural improbability that jutted out at an angle. "I like the view," she said, leaning too far out the window. Vlad resisted the impulse to grab hold of the back of her dress just in case she fell. Lisa would not do with being constrained, even for her own safety. "It will do nicely." She turned with a smile, the fading sunset limning her hair with flame. He couldn't step forward into what remained of the light, but he could, and did, enjoy the sight of her basking in its last embers.

"Is there anything else I can get you?" he asked. It had been far too long since he'd had a visitor for him to recall what things mortals might need. "Food and drink?"

"That would be appreciated," she said. "The last thing I had was that garlic, yesterday. I'm famished. If you prepare something - anything, really, I'm not picky - I'll eat it."

"Very well," said Vlad, panicking internally. "I will see that you have something suitable to eat." He bowed and departed to try and figure out what he could possibly procure for dinner that would befit a human guest.


Lisa's eyes widened as she entered the hall, and she burst out laughing. Dracula frowned. "Is it not to your liking?"

"It's... oh, goodness," she gasped, catching her breath. "It's wonderful, but it's a lot to take in."

"Too much?" Perhaps he had overestimated the human stomach capacity.

Lisa gazed at the table laden with pies filled with both meat and fruits, the mountain of bread, the multiple pots of soup, the barrel full of apples, the gleaming haunches of venison. "Did you make all of this by yourself?"

"No," Vlad admitted. If he had tried to cook, it would surely have been an unmitigated disaster. "I went to the inn in the nearest village and bought everything they had. I didn't want you to be hungry."

Lisa smiled. "I won't be hungry for a month at this rate. Is there a way to keep it from spoiling before I can eat it all?"

"Yes," he said. "We can discuss various methods of preservation after you've eaten your fill." He sat down and watched with a certain pride as she took a serving of everything and began to devour it eagerly. He might not have made it himself, but he had provided it for her, and for some reason seeing her take pleasure in it was strangely satisfying.

"See," she said, between bites. "You've already started traveling - venturing out to Viscri. I told you it would be good for you."

"Is that the name of the village, Viscri?"

Lisa rolled her eyes ever so slightly. "Yes, that's its name. Your castle has been here how long, and you don't even know the name of the nearest town?"

"I don't get out very much."

"I can only imagine what the innkeeper said when you appeared on his doorstep and asked for all his food," Lisa smiled. "You probably terrified the poor man."

"He was compensated for his goods," Vlad replied. "And for the... inconvenience."

Lisa's grin widened. "The inconvenience of having to change his trousers, I imagine."

"Perhaps. You don't seem to be scared of me, though, Lisa from Lupu," he said. "I wonder why that is."

"When you meet a bear or a wolf in the woods," she said, gesturing with a chicken leg, "the proper response is not to scream and run - that just encourages it to attack. It is to remain calm, talk to it politely and respectfully, and go about your business. When it recognizes you as a person, it is rare that such a beast will attack. If you act like prey, that's what you become. I decided I was not going to be your prey. But that doesn't mean I wasn't scared."

"I see," Dracula said. "There is no need to be afraid of me. I welcomed you in - you are my guest."

"Better than a guest," she said. "You've recognized me as a person. We can proceed on equal footing from here."

Dracula didn't know what to say to that.


Lisa worked her way through his library as voraciously as that first dinner. She proved to be an attentive and curious student, and delighted in asking questions he didn't know the answers to. "We can find out together, then," she would say, smiling. Vlad found himself encouraging her to ask more questions, harder questions, so they could puzzle over the mysteries of the universe night after night.

She changed her sleep schedule to be awake when he was most active. He got used to taking meals with her, even though he didn't eat at them. They could complete one another's sentences. Like a branch that had been grafted onto a tree, they gradually grew together, becoming seamless and whole.

Dracula didn't know how to tell her how he felt - how he couldn't bear the thought of her leaving one day. Going back to how his world had been before seemed impossible, and yet why was she gathering all this knowledge if not to take it back to her people? She had said from the beginning that she wanted to make the world a better place, and she could hardly do that if she never left his side. He tried to put the worry out of his mind and focus on the present, if this was all they could share together.

One night when she had been there a few months, Vlad sat conversing with her as she conducted an experiment, examining the residue left behind in the alembic, and felt an unfamiliar urge. At first he thought it was hunger - a desire to bite her, to drain her blood - and was horrified with himself. Then he realized that wasn't it at all. He didn't want to consume her, or at least not like that. His horror deepened.

"This substance," she was saying, "doesn't match with the description of the caput mortuum given in the axiom of Maria... are you even listening?"

Dracula drew back, shaken by the force of his desire, and certain she would be just as aghast at the thought as he was. "I need to go. Excuse me."

Lisa was not so easily dissuaded, though. He should have known that by now. She set down her tools and followed him out of the room. "Are you alright? What happened?"

He leaned against the wall, not trusting himself to look at her. "I am well. It's nothing. A momentary lapse. It won't happen again."

"Lapse? What lapse? We were in the middle of a discussion and then all of a sudden you walked away." Lisa circled around in front of him, refusing to be dismissed. She crossed her arms, which he recognized by now as a sure sign that she wasn't going to let this go.

"Do not forget what I am. I am a monster, Lisa." He spoke in a whisper, one that generally had a threatening effect on most humans, but Lisa was not most humans. She just gave him a dubious look and stood her ground.

"Lisa," he said, in a voice barely under control, "you need to leave now, or..."

"Or what?" she demanded.

"Or I will not be able to let you go."

That, for once, stunned her into silence. "Let me go?" she said at last, arching one eyebrow. "Am I a captive here, then, and you are my jailer?"

"No," he told her. "I am your captive, and you hold the keys to my heart."

Lisa fell silent again. Vlad couldn't bear to look at her, fearing that he would see disgust or worse, pity on her face. Then, to his surprise, he heard her laugh. Not a cruel, dismissive laugh, but one that was full of warmth and affection. "Oh," she said, "is that all? You want me to leave because you love me?"

It did sound a little ridiculous when she put it that way.

"So you tell me you're a monster and hope that I'll run away? You should already know that isn't how I work. I recognized you as a person a long time ago, Vlad. You don't scare me." Lisa reached up, standing on tiptoes, and put her arms around him. She was so small, so fragile and yet so unafraid. He bent down to meet her lips, warm and full of life.

"Now," she said with a knowing smile when their kiss ended at last, "come to my room and we can conduct some other experiments."