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Let the Fire Be Started

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Alfred ended up having to do all the planning.

Sarah wasn't very concerned about the details. "So where do we go?" Alfred asked her when she was selecting her twelfth dress. He wondered exactly who was going to carry them. Probably him. Some things never changed.

"Oh, out into the world," Sarah said. "Do you think lace gloves would go well with this one?"

"The world is a big place."

"I know. That's why a lady needs lots of gloves. Don't think I don't know about ladies just because I've been shut up in that backward village."

"I mean, where do you want to go first in the world?"

"Oh, wherever. Just away from here."

Well, Alfred was the only one with experience in travelling all over the continent, so maybe it was best all the details were left to him. Besides, it was fun getting to decide where he was going, without the Professor looking over his shoulder and telling him what to do. He planned the routes they should take, scheduling so that they'd be able to travel mostly after dark and avoid places with too many people before they'd reached their destination. Sarah, meanwhile, kept trying to do her hair.

"How does it look? Stylish enough? I don't want it to look trashy. Hell, it's so difficult to do this without a mirror!"

"You should have thought about that before you ran off to become the Count's willing dinner just because he could give you pretty shoes and I couldn't."

Sarah rolled her eyes and sighed. "You don't understand. But how could you? You're only a boy."

Alfred thought about telling her he was almost two years older than she, but decided it was not a good idea. She might get angry, and he didn't want her angry, because then she wasn't as nice to him, and he liked it when she was nice to him. There were lots of lovely things then, like kisses, and things that were softer than sponges.

"Do I look beautiful?" she asked when they were waiting for the coach, surrounded by several suitcases.

"Wondrously beautiful," he told her truthfully.

"And fatal and tempting enough?"

"There's nothing more fatal and tempting in this world than you."

She smiled and kissed him. "You're so sweet, darling. I'm glad I took you with me."

It was a little difficult in the coach, because Sarah kept trying to give smouldering temptress looks to other male passengers, while Alfred had to see to them remaining incognito, and keep them from being spotted as vampires. He didn't like the idea of her trying to tempt other men, because he was sure they would be tempted - who wouldn't be? - and then she might find them more interesting than him, like she had found the Count. On the other hand, at least he had convinced her not to wear her most splendid ball gowns for the journey.

"They might attract a little too much attention."

"I want attention! Do you think I want to just hide in the shadows like I've done all my life?"

"We're going to have to do that for the rest of the eternity, thanks to you."

"I meant figuratively."

"You don't want to ruin your pretty gowns by travelling in them, do you? I promise that you'll have places to wear them in when we get to our destination." He hoped he'd be able to fulfill his promise.

As their journey went on, sometimes she dozed off, her head resting against his shoulder as the coach bounced on. Sometimes they looked out of the windows in mutual delight, Sarah squealing excitedly like any young girl who was getting to see new landscapes for the first time. It reminded him of what she had been like when he had first got to know her. He liked that. And then when they got off in places to rest and he signed them up as though she was his wife, and they went into their room together and shared moments of bliss and passion, and he was very happy that all this had happened because otherwise he probably would never have had the guts for this.

"Aren't these plains ever going to end?" she asked with a mournful voice on one night of travel. The first enchantment of new sights had gone out, maybe because the sights had been the same for a good long while.

"They will. Eventually. When we get there. This is the puszta."

"Oh. Are there hussars in shiny uniforms riding horses?" She peered out.

"Maybe, but it's too dark to see them."

"Oh. Pity." She sunk back in her seat. "You've been here before?"

"The Professor said we should come through Budapest. He wanted to use the libraries there before embarking into Transylvania."

"Is it a beautiful city?"

"I think so. The Professor mostly wanted to be in the libraries, so I didn't get to see a lot."

"Is that why we're going there now? So you can see more?"

"Partly. And I think you'd like it. It's your kind of city. Beautiful and full of secrets." He was very proud of having learned to say things like that to her. It made her smile in a special way.

"Are there people there?" Her eyes lit up hungrily.

"Lots. You'll love it." And it was the nearest place with lots of people. That's where she - they - would be able to do their thing without anyone paying too much attention. If Sarah had to content herself to small villages for long, she'd probably wreak such carnage that a local vampire hunter would find her and do away with her. And he couldn't allow that, not ever. He'd die a second time for her if he had to. Probably.

They arrived early one morning at the break of day. He took her to the Danube and they stood there marveling at the frost-covered rooftops and wondrous bridges crossing the river, a blue-and-pink wintry sky arching over all this beauty. And there were people everywhere even at this early hour. Crossing the river, lifting crates from boats docked by the shore, walking hurriedly in the sidewalks behind them, glancing around nervously but still probably not expecting that there were two hungry young vampires nearby plotting how to best get to eat one of them.

"I love it," Sarah breathed into Alfred's ear, and then her lips and fangs played deliciously at his neck.

He took her to the nearest little hotel they could find, and she was very nice to him indeed.

He had discovered that money was much less of a problem than it had been when he was human, even though he wasn't paid even the meager salary the Professor had given him. Loss of scruples was very practical. It was amazing how careless people were with their belongings, and how easily they could be persuaded to part with their money. So the next day they got up and moved to something fancier. Alfred wouldn't really have needed it - the cozy pretty hotel they had been in was nice enough for him, and almost had a view to the river, but he knew Sarah would like something impressive. He was quite happy with what they found.

"This bathroom is exquisite!" she said breathlessly and clapped her hands together. Then she turned to Alfred. "Now, darling, come on and I'll show you all kinds of things that you can do while bathing."

It was very, very nice.

When the next evening fell, she said: "Why don't we go eat someone? It's maddening to be in a place full of people and not get to drink their blood."

Alfred thought it was a good idea. But he said: "We could go to theatre first. And then eat. I'd like to go to theatre."

Sarah was thrilled with the idea. She dressed up very carefully and had him comment on her hair several times before she was satisfied. "Do I look beautiful?" she asked him finally.

"Always."

"But do I look even more beautiful than usually?"

"You look breath-taking." He kissed her neck. "And every man in the theatre is going to fall in love with you," he added ruefully.

"And some of the women, too?"

"Probably."

She patted his cheek. "You'll have the rest, I'm sure."

Alfred thought about telling her how unpopular he had been among the girls in Königsberg. But then he decided not to. Maybe it was nice to keep, for a little while longer, the charming aura of a boy from big city. Besides, it was not like he had dared to talk to the girls in Königsberg, so maybe it wasn't any wonder they hadn't noticed him. Things would be different now.

It was somewhat difficult to avoid mirrors in the theatre, but luckily the crowd was so huge that nobody paid attention to their missing reflections. Sarah was almost trembling from the smell of fresh human blood around them, and Alfred also found the lust deliciously hard to control. But they got into their box without any incidents. Alfred noticed that they attracted lots of admiring looks. It was strange to be the object of admiring looks. It seemed to fall naturally to Sarah, but he would take some time adjusting. He smiled timidly to a woman in the nearby box with an extremely low neckline and pretty lips. She looked at him like she was the beast who could eat him up, not the other way around.

Then the piece began and he forgot all about everything else. It was an operetta. He had always liked operettas, but had almost never dared to go to see them, because good boys didn't go to operettas. Now he didn't have to worry about that, and it was great fun. Sarah was excited, too. She laughed and clapped her hands, and shouted out her appreciation to the gifted singers and dancers. The heat of excitement also aroused their lust for blood, and they began to pick out people in the ensemble whom they'd most like to eat.

They settled on one who pleased them both, and set out to watch the back door of the theatre after the performance. He came out eventually, and it was easy going to him and persuading him to walk with them. It was a pretty, slender young boy with wide green eyes, pale skin and the most bitable neck. He gazed at them in wonder when they undid his shirt collar, and sighed with delicious surrender when they sank their teeth into him. His blood was fresh and full of life, and reminded Alfred somehow of summer strawberries.

After getting their first taste of him they took him into the hotel room with them and played with him all night. He was willing and sweet, and reminded Alfred of himself in his human days, yet was more yielding to lust and temptation than he had ever dared to be. It was lovely, all the hungers one sweet boy could satisfy.

He felt sorry to wake up next day and discover that the boy was dead. Probably of blood loss, he concluded, and thought the Professor should have been proud of his logical deduction skills. They proved correct, too, as the boy woke up and stared at them both with hungry eyes and asked them where he could have blood. Sarah was eager to take him out into Budapest's night world.

"Isn't he lovely?" she whispered to him, giggling. "And we made him!"

"Yes," Alfred said, staring at the boy and wondering if this was always going to happen now. He confessed in his mind that he had liked it better when the boy was wide-eyed and alive and let them drink from him instead of wanting to drink from someone else. But he also had to admit that the boy was still very pretty with this new gleam in his eyes and his body dancing from the desire to know his new nocturnal life. He didn't even mind watching the boy kiss Sarah eagerly, because it looked so lovely. Besides, he was still allowed to kiss both of them, and it also felt very good.

They took the boy to a dancing hall, where ladies moved in dresses with baring necklines and everyone wore masks on their faces. It was easy to get a dip of blood there, and then they could dance all night. Alfred had never guessed how much fun it could be, but Sarah and the boy taught him how to dance without caring if he was making all the right steps at the right time. And Sarah was still his more than anybody else's, the beautiful queen of the ball that everyone else looked lustfully at.

He wondered how much longer she would be only his.

When the evening was almost over and the ballrooms closed, he kissed their boy tenderly goodnight, tasting the fresh blood in his mouth. Then he went out for a walk alone. There was an island in the river between the two halves of the city, and he had always wanted to go there. It was empty and quiet now in the early winter morning, and he could walk in peace, scaring only the occasional rabbit or deer. He passed the grave of the girl saint by some distance, not wanting to know how it would feel to be near such places now, and he went into the very end of the island. Ahead of him and on both sides of him, the mighty river Danube rolled slowly on to the south. And ahead, where its waters came from in the unseen distances, lay all of Europe for them to discover and play in. It was a thrilling thought. But somehow with it also came sadness. Maybe it was the river that brought it.

Sarah was at his side, suddenly. "Where will we go, if we go up that river?"

"To Vienna. And eventually to Germany."

"When we're done with Budapest, I'd like to go to Vienna. They have more balls and operettas there, don't they? And palaces and imperial people. I'd like that. Do you think I could bite the Emperor?"

"You probably could, but I don't think you would. He's not your type."

"Oh. And the Empress?"

"I'm not sure there's much blood in her. She's very thin and I heard she never eats."

"Oh. Maybe she's already a vampire."

"Could be." Alfred remembered the Professor had had this idea, at one point. It was about then that the university had suddenly decided to find him funding to go on a year-long research trip. "But we'll find someone for you."

"Isn't it amazing?" Sarah sighed, leaning against Alfred's side. "Such a big world, so much fun to be had. And so many people to bite."

Alfred wondered if they could just stay with their new boy for a while, without looking for a new person to bite. Of course they needed blood every now and then, but until then… Well, if Sarah wanted someone new, he guessed she could find one while he'd keep the boy. If he wanted to remain kept. It would be nice to have someone who was all his.

"You'll always stay by me, won't you?" he suddenly asked Sarah.

"Always is an awfully long time," she said and kissed his neck and mouth. "Because we really have it now, you know? But you're sweet. I'll like to have you around for a good while."

"It's just that so much as changed. It would be nice to have something left. Something that I knew already when I was human. Something that I loved."

She kissed him. "Oh, sweetie. Don't worry. You'll always have me. Even if I'm gone…" She gently touched the bite wound at his neck. "I'll always be with you somehow."

That much was certainly true. "Even if you won't remember me anymore."

"I could never forget you, darling." She kissed him once more. "My first." She stroked his face and smiled at him. "Oh, my dearest. We'll wreak a wonderful, bloody chaos over all of Europe, won't we?"

He kissed her long and held her close, trying to remember if this was what he had dreamed of back when he had dreamed of her. "I'm sure we will."

They walked home before the sun rose, hand in hand, as the city around them woke to life, a wonderful, vibrating, pulsating life that was echoing through the whole world. A world that would be theirs.